Master's degree Course

General Information on the Master's Degree Course

Students who have successfully completed their Bachelor degree program in Biology at UZH can continue their studies by choosing a consecutive Masters program (application for a direct entry via the semester enrolment) or applying to a specialized Masters program (requiring an application at the specific program, admission based on specific criteria). Students with a Bachelor degree from an university other than the University of Zurich must apply online at UZH (further information). Required is a Bachelor degree from a renowned university, the content of which is considered equivalent to the content and level of modules of a Bachelor degree in Biology from the University of Zurich. The chances of being admitted do not depend on the chosen concentration.

The MSc program in Biology comprises either 90 or 120 credit points (120 ECTS = 90 ECTS major and 30 ECTS minor). Admission to the MSc program in Biology is no guarantee for a Thesis project in a particular Master's concentration. Depending on the choice of the concentration, specific modules are mandatory. Students who did their BSc at UZH usually have completed some or all of these mandatory modules during their BSc. For their MSc course work, they choose other courses from the list of recommended modules. Further information on required courses are listed at the respective Master's concentrations.

Qualification Framework

Master of Science MSc in Biology

Students completing the Master of Science in Biology should be able to:

  1. describe and explain complex biological systems, especially – but not only – in the field of their chosen master.
  2. define the key concepts and methods used in the field of their chosen master, identify and explain interrelationships between them.
  3. extract, compile, critically analyse and judge the significance of data from the literature, thereby outlining the state-of the-art in a specific field.
  4. evaluate biological information, taking account of underlying scientific theories, concepts and practical aspects.
  5. identify the unsolved problems and key questions that exist within a specific biological field.
  6. formulate a scientific hypothesis; design and conduct experiments and/or field investigations to test it.
  7. devise appropriate experimental strategies to tackle particular biological problems, including the use of appropriate positive and negative controls; critically assess the advantages and drawbacks of a specific strategy.
  8. acquire, analyse and interpret data from independent scientific investigations qualitatively and/or quantitatively.
  9. undertake field and/or laboratory investigations of living systems in a competent, responsible and autonomous manner, applying ethical considerations.
  10. communicate results concisely and effectively in both written and oral forms to a scientific audience (reports, oral presentations, posters).

Structure of the Master's degree course (90 ECTS)

The Master’s degree course consists of:

20 ECTS Course work (Schedule)

Core elective modules ("Wahlpflichtmodule") from the advanced studies curriculum:

at least 15 ECTS* (not more than 12 ECTS out of Block courses):

Block courses UZH fall semester spring semester
Block courses ETHZ fall semester spring semester
Special lectures UZH fall semester spring semester
Concept courses ETHZ see ETHZ course catalogue  
Other core elective modules Wahlpflichtgruppe 3  
  Elective modules: at least 5 ECTS*
Free choice from the full range of modules offered by UZH and ETHZ (but not modules of the Bachelor basic studies curriculum of Biology and Biomedicine).

BIO 338 Introduction to Scientific Writing (compulsory module, 0 ECTS)

This one day course should be taken before writing up the Master’s Thesis.

60 ECTS Master’s Thesis Project
completed over a period of twelve months, alternatives see below

BIO 520 Integrated knowledge in Biology

oral and written exam

*Actualisation of the Program Regulation / "Studienordnung": students, who finalise their Master program from fall semester 2021 or later, need only 15 ECTS from Core elective modules ("Wahlpflichtmodule") completed during the Advanced Studies. Nevertheless, already signed Learning Agreements are still valid.


Seminars and colloquia provided by the individual research groups are an integral component of the Masters thesis projects. Students are not awarded with additional credit points for attending these seminars and colloquia. 

Please read the very important rules for block course registration and attendance

Research internships are not counting towards a Master's degree!


Learning Agreement

At the beginning of the Master’s program, students must draw up a written agreement with the supervisor of their Master’s thesis and the coordinator of their chosen concentration, setting out their full program of studies. This learning agreement must also be signed by the Head of the Academic Support Office of Biology and is binding. The same modalities which count for compulsory modules ("Pflichtmodule") apply for all courses listed in the Learning Agreement. Which means, only two attempts are allowed and in case of failing twice, there is no replacement with another course possible. The Dean’s Office will only issue Master’s degrees if the courses and modules listed in the learning agreement have been completed.
Procedure: Fill in the online form, you will then get a pdf. Get the signature of your supervisor and your Master's coordinator, and bring it personally to the Academic Support Office of Biology (Irchel Y13-J-01). The Learning Agreement must be signed at the latest before starting the Master thesis project work. 
Changes to the agreement are possible when all signees agree on them. You don't need to fill out a new form. Up to 10 ECTS worth of additional modules than required can be accounted in the final grade average. 

Learning Agreement

Example Learning Agreement (PDF, 1 MB)

Master's thesis (including FAQ on layout)

The students find a supervisor and arrange their Master’s thesis project directly with him/her. The supervision of a Master’s thesis can only be undertaken by a researcher who is participating as a teacher in the Bachelor/Master program of the the Faculty of Science UZH and has the approval of the coordinator of the respective Master's concentration. There is a list of potential supervisors on each Master’s concentration website. Some websites of the institutes within the Division of Biology of the University of Zurich also inform about possible thesis projects.

The Master’s thesis is a graded module. The module numbers for the 14 concentrations of the MSc in Biologyare between BIO 501 and BIO 516. These modules and BIO 520 cannot be booked, they are entered with the grades by the Academic Support Office only after completion.

The Master’s thesis project work is not paid and must be done in full-time mode.
The start and end date of the Master’s thesis project must be specified in the learning agreement. The duration of the Master's thesis is exactly one year. However, if work on the thesis is interrupted by one or more block courses, a corresponding extension of the duration is possible and should be noted on the learning agreement in advance.

Applications for extensions of the deadline due to unforeseen, external reasons (e.g. illness) have to be submitted immediately after the delaying event to the Academic Support Office, including the written consent of the supervisor and the Master’s Coordinator.

By the submission deadline, the Master’s thesis must be submitted to the supervisor and the Academic Support Office in the definitive, printed form and as a PDF on a USB stick. The Master’s Coordinator is responsible for the grade and is entitled to reject unsatisfactory Master’s theses. A one-time repetition of the Master’s thesis with another topic is possible. 

The Master's thesis is commonly written in English.

Download FAQ on Master's thesis layout (PDF, 58 KB)
List of printing and binding services

Optional: Combination of Research project and Master's thesis

 Instead of a twelve months running Master’s thesis (60 ECTS), students can complete a three-month research project (BIO 500, 15 ECTS) and a nine months Master’s thesis (45 ECTS) or two three-month research projects (15 ECTS each) and a six months Master’s Thesis (30 ECTS). The two latter options are chosen rarely. In any case, the full learning agreement including the Master's thesis must be agreed and signed before the start of one of the projects, and the research projects must be completed prior to the Master’s thesis projects.

Generally, the rules of the Master’s thesis apply analogously. By the submission deadline, the project work must be submitted to the supervisor and the Academic Support Office in the definitive, printed form and as a PDF on a USB stick.  

Integrated Knowledge in Biology (BIO 520)

The compulsory module BIO 520 “Integrated Knowledge in Biology” (10 ECTS) must be completed before or (usually) after the Master’s thesis project. It consists of a period of self-study of 6-8 weeks, and at the end a three-hour written and a 30-60 minute oral examination within the same week. An approximate date must be given in the Learning Agreement. 

In this exam, students demonstrate their understanding and command of relevant biological facts, methods and concepts. They identify and explain interrelationships between the various facts, methods and concepts and show they are able to summarize and critically review scientific literature efficiently and effectively. The module allows students to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of specialized areas of the Biology curriculum, especially – but not only – in the area of their chosen Master's concentration.

Students agree on the date of the exams directly with the examiners (usually the Master’s coordinator of their concentration and the supervisor of the Master’s thesis). The examiners discuss and design the scope and content of the module with each student individually, following the guidelines of each concentration.

 The module BIO 520 is passed if both the oral and the written exam are passed (grade of at least 4 in each part). If a part is failed, it can be repeated only once. A cancellation due to illness or other unforeseen, external reasons must be communicated immediately to the person in charge of the exam.


Application for the final degree MSc

Once the Master thesis, BIO 520 and the other modules agreed on in the learning agreement have been completed, students must apply for the master's degree via the student admin platform of the faculty:

A form no longer has to be handed in to the Academic Support Office. In case of questions you will be contacted by e-mail.