Excellence Program for PhD Students

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What is the DSI Excellence Program for PhD Students?

Digitalization is fundamentally changing science and society. The Digital Society Initiative (DSI) at the University of Zurich (UZH) offers an Excellence Program for new and beginning PhD students interested in the digital transformation. As a complementary curriculum to a doctoral program, general doctorate or doctoral subject, it prepares students of all disciplines for a world in which interdisciplinary collaboration is a top priority for tackling digitalization topics. In a cross-disciplinary environment, PhD students build up and expand interdisciplinary thinking and skills as well as digital competences at the highest level in the disciplines affected by digitalization. The program promotes interdisciplinary networking across all UZH faculties. It features courses about digital skills and technical knowledge, interdisciplinary thinking and problem-solving, and critical reflection on all aspects of a digital society, including ethical, legal, and societal aspects of digital change. Participants will receive a DSI Excellence Program certificate upon successful completion of the program. If you would like to know more about the idea of the program, please go to Background.

Who is the program intended for?

All prospective or recently enrolled PhD students at UZH interested in the digital transformation process in society and with the expectation that digitalization will have a significant impact on their PhD research are invited to apply. Applicants can come from all disciplines (social siences and humanities, medical sciences, natural sciences, economics, law, computer science,…). Candidates who already have a PhD supervisor must discuss their planned participation in DSI activities and the corresponding time resources with the PhD supervisor before applying.

When does the program start and what does it look like?

The DSI Excellence Program kicks-off in every Fall Semester with a one-week block course just before the official semester start. The program can be completed within two years. The language is English. For more information, please go to Program Details.


Prospective doctoral students who are not yet employed as such at UZH and who are not yet enrolled in a UZH doctoral program can additionally apply for a DSI scholarship when applying for the DSI excellence program. Scholarships are competitive; selected candidates receive a scholarship equivalent to the salary of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for doctoral students for up to four years, contingent on performance.

Scholarship conditions

  • An application to the DSI Excellence Program is a prerequisite for applying for a scholarship. Scholarship holders have to go through the Excellence Program.
  • Applications for scholarships are only open to people from abroad and from Switzerland who have not yet started their PhD at UZH (e.g. Master students who have completed their Master's degree or are about to complete it).
  • If the person applies for the DSI Excellence Program and a doctoral program at UZH at the same time, he/she must inform the respective parties.
  • The idea behind the DSI scholarship is that scholarship holders are given the freedom to start their research independently from a supervisor and a UZH doctoral program, as well as to choose their PhD topic freely (thematically depending on their previous education). Scholarship holders have one year from the start of the DSI Excellence Program to find (with the support of the DSI) their definitive PhD supervisor who fits their research topic and to enroll in a doctoral program at UZH. The supervisor will also be the line manager of the scholarship holder.
  • The scholarship is renewed annually, depending on the performance of the doctoral candidate. The doctoral candidate reports regularly to the DSI on his/her performance. These achievements include the successful completion of the DSI Excellence Program, sufficient engagement in the DSI communities (networking, exchange, attending events, working partly in DSI facilities), as well as sufficient progress in the enrolled doctoral program and dissertation. The details will be regulated in a scholarship agreement.


Who can apply?

There are two possibilities to join the Excellence Program:

Prospective PhD students

Prospective PhD students who are not already enrolled in a UZH doctoral degree program (PhD program, doctoral subject, general doctorate) can apply to the DSI Excellence Program and include an application to the doctoral degree program of choice at the UZH. Depending on the need for a DSI scholarship, there are different options for the timing of the applications:

  • If the candidates depend on a DSI scholarship, they first apply for the Excellence Program and DSI scholarship and wait for the decision of the DSI. If accepted, they have one year after the start of the Excellence Program to find a PhD supervisor and to apply/enroll for a UZH doctoral program.
  • If the candidates want to do their PhD at UZH independently from a possible DSI scholarship, it is recommended to start the application process at the DSI and to a UZH doctoral program at the same time. It is also important to note the individual application deadlines for each doctoral program.

Accepted students will need to comply with regulations of the chosen doctoral program to receive a PhD degree. A good command of English is a prerequisite for the DSI programme. Applicants are expected to have an MSc or MA degree with an excellent academic track record. (Students who have not yet finished their Master’s studies must demonstrate credibly that they will finish their studies before the start of the DSI program. In exceptional cases, outstanding bachelor students can enter special Fast-Track doctoral programs. Please check the doctoral degree programs from the faculty of your discipline).

PhD students enrolled at UZH

PhD students enrolled at UZH can additionally apply for the DSI Excellence Program. Applicants should have an excellent academic track record and must be enrolled in a UZH doctoral degree program (PhD program, doctoral subject, general doctorate). The PhD supervisor must agree that the doctoral candidate will invest some time in the DSI program and in DSI activities. A good command of English is a prerequisite for the DSI program. Students at the beginning of their doctoral program are preferred. Applicants must show in their application that they can complete the two-year curricular part of the DSI Excellence Program before completing their doctoral studies. Doctoral students already enrolled in a doctoral program cannot apply for a scholarship.


How to apply?

If you are a prospective PhD student, please see Application for New PhD Students.
If you are a PhD student already enrolled in a UZH doctoral degree program (PhD program, general doctorate, doctoral subject), please see Application for Enrolled UZH PhD Students.

More information

For more information, contact Nina Cornelius-Malecha at