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You are hereUNIL > PhD Program in Cancer and Immunology > PhD Program description: Courses, exams and requirements

Program description: courses, exams and requirements


Students enrolled in the Cancer and Immunology PhD program are registered at the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

Admission deadline

Please go the doctoral school web page

Financial support

Salaries are according to the scales of the University of Lausanne or the Ludwig Center for Cancer Research of the University of Lausanne, and/or the Swiss National Science Foundation and are competitive on an international level.

Organization of studies

PhD studies usually last 4 years. In the exceptional event that it should take more time, the thesis committee must be informed of the reasons and be asked for approval of a specific extension period. The working language is mainly English.


Students are expected to attend introductory or advanced courses in the field of their interest. For more information please consult the COURSE BOOK

Within the first month, the student informs the PhD program administrator of the courses that they have chosen to attend within the first year. Each course corresponds to a defined ECTS credit number and these credits are only given to students who were subjected to an evaluation of knowledge acquisition during the course.

Original course certificates must be transmitted to the doctoral program office. The local administrator is responsible for keeping track of the credits obtained by students and keeping all original course documents.

Students must accumulate 6 ECTS credits before the second year qualifying exam.

Within the first year, there must be :   2 credits from UNIL tutorials or various CIIL courses out of the 4 credits required. Students must obtain at least 12 ECTS credits before their final thesis defense. Link


As part of their obligations, PhD students enrolled in UNIL laboratories teach practical classes for Biology and Medicine students of the University of Lausanne.

First year evaluation exam

Within 6-9 months from the official day of entry into the program, there will be an official exam to evaluate the student's performance and potential. Failure by the student to organize and take this exam is equal to failing the exam.

COMPOSITION OF THE JURY: The exam committee will be composed by the thesis director and two other members of the program (the PhD Committee member and  a third person from the program called "CIIL representative). Please note that someone in the committee should be from a different department, i.e. the expert or the PhD program member. It is the thesis director's responsability to check the validity of the jury before the exam is organized.


The requirements are as follows:

- Use Arial font 11 for the text and font 8 for the figure legends.

- 4 pages divided in the following sections:

1. overall working hypothesis, specific aims and brief description of approaches to be used to achieve the goals: 0.5-1 page

2. summary of significance: 4 sentences, max., bullet style

3. background with novelty/significance of the questions to be addressed: 1 page

4. preliminary results: 1-1.5 pages

5. project plan: future approaches : 0.5.1 page

Figures and legends are included in the 4 pages. On the contrary, references are out of the 4 pages.


Please note that the purpose of the first exam (to be held withing the first 9 months), is to evaluate the potential, dedication and capacity of the student to focus. The exam is not meant to assess the results already obtained. If the committee finds that a student is unlikely to be successful in completing a he/she will be informed and, after  potential additional probation period, the contract will be terminated (by the end of the first year).

Intermediate thesis exam

Graduate students take an intermediate exam 24-28 months after having started their PhD studies. Failure by the student to organize and take this exam is the equivalent of failing the exam. The exam committee will be composed by the thesis advisor and two other members, including a PhD program committee representative and an external expert. The exam consists of a written report (10 pages maximum), organized as a tentative thesis, an oral presentation (approximately 40 min), and a discussion. The report must be submitted to the members of the thesis committee two weeks before the exam. The purpose of the exam is to evaluate the student's progress and make constructive suggestions regarding the thesis project. If the intermediate exam shows a lack of progress, the student will be told so by the thesis committee. After a potential additional probation period, such students may be excluded from the PhD Program and their contract terminated (by the end of the third year of studies).

24th-36th month report

In the period 24th-36th month Submission of the form ‘Annual Progress Report/UNIL’ (see below) to the doctoral program office and short discussion with the PhD program representative on the work progress. It is strongly advised to have accumulated at least 12 credits within the first 3 years.

Final thesis exam

After 4 years of thesis work, graduate students have a thesis exam in the presence of the thesis committee. Typically three weeks later they present their work to their family, friends and co-workers in a public thesis exam.

Thesis committee

The thesis committee consists of :
-The Thesis Director (the **co-director or the rapporteur if one has been assigned)
-A Member of the program
-An External expert
-A University representative

The composition of the thesis committee is agreed between the student, the thesis director, the PhD Program committee chairperson and the FBM-UNIL Doctoral School. No committee members (except the advisers) can be co-authors of papers with the candidate.The members of the thesis committee offer guidance, advising students on the feasibility of their research project and evaluating their progress. The PhD program committee chair should be consulted by the student and/or his director on issues related to the project, or in case of conflict. The thesis committee evaluates the student's performance at the intermediate exam.

**Thesis co-direction: information, formalities and forms

Type of exam Date Requirement Research proposal Oral or Written Exam Committee composition

Qualifiying exam


Within the 6-9 first months from the official day of entry in the program


2 pages and figures
(4 pages max)


Oral :
30 min


- Thesis adviser
- PhD Committee member
- 3rd person from the PhD program

Mid-thesis research proposal At the end of the 2nd year
(24 to 28 months)
10 pages max Oral:
40 min

-Thesis Adviser

-Phd committee representative
-External expert***

*** for the half thesis, the external expert is external to your department but can belong to UNIL, CHUV, LUDWIG (art. 5. al.2 from the UNIL rules). The reason is that the Faculty of Biology and Medicine does not reimburse any expenses at the half thesis level.


At the end of the 4th year     -Thesis director
-A Member of the program
-An External expert
-A University representative


Thesis Defense

The private thesis defense occurs in principle within 4 years of enrolment. If the doctoral studies are anticipated to last beyond this limit, a request for maximally 6 months of extension must be submitted to the chair of the PhD program at least 6 months before the end of the 4th year. In case of very good reasons (longer sickness, pregnancy, etc) a second prolongation of up to six months can be envisaged but needs the agreement by the majority of members of the PhD program committee.

Publications are strongly encouraged but are not a requirement to obtain a PhD degree.

The thesis jury usually has the same composition as the qualifying exam committee (including a PhD program committee member). In addition, the UNIL Doctoral School nominates a president of the jury.

The jury composition, date, time and place of the private thesis exam as well as the title of the thesis are proposed by the student to the local PhD program administrator at the latest 10 weeks before the private thesis defense. The chair of the PhD program validates the composition of the jury. The local administrator verifies that the candidate has 12 credits and prepares a letter for the UNIL Doctoral School stating the completion of credit requirements.

The proposition of the thesis jury is submitted to the FBM-UNIL Doctoral School at least 7 weeks before the private thesis defense. The composition of the thesis committee is approved by the Doctoral School which nominates the president of the jury and the "Rapporteur" (if necessary).

At the latest 5 weeks before the private thesis defense the student has prepared his 'thesis manuscript' according to the rules of the FBM-UNIL Doctoral School. He submits one copy of the manuscript to the FBM-UNIL Doctoral School office in Dorigny (Bâtiment Biophore) along with the approved form "Proposal of thesis jury", a letter confirming the 12 credits acquired, CV, list of publications/commmunications/conferences, scientific abstracts in French and English and a lay description of the work in French. The student pays the exam fee to the UNIL doctoral office. Finally, the student submits his 'thesis manuscript' to all committee members.

The public thesis defense takes place at least 3 weeks (and maximally 6 months) after the private defense. The modifications to the manuscript requested by the jury must have been completed and a new manuscript approved by the thesis director must have been submitted to the UNIL Doctoral School. The UNIL Doctoral School is responsible to advertise the public defense.

The candidate defends his thesis publicly to present a lay version of his thesis work. It should be an approximately 45 min presentation followed by questions by the experts and the public. The language is in principle French. A different language may be authorized upon request to the jury.

The president of the jury informs the candidate of the recommendation of the jury. Based on these recommendations the director of the UNIL Doctoral School will attribute the diploma.

After having received the "Imprimatur" the final version of the manuscript is deposited at the academic office at the latest 6 months after the public defense at UNIL. The UNIL Doctoral School is responsible for sending the manuscripts to the archives and libraries while the student is responsible for communicating them to the jury members.

In case of disagreement between the candidate and jury, the UNIL Doctoral School director shall be consulted.

Check list for the thesis

Doctorat in Life Sciences

Qualifying Exam - 6 to 9 months

24-28 months Report

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