Doctoral program

The PhD program is a 3-4 year research-driven degree program. During the program, students complete a flexible and individually tailored series of academic and professional development activities.

These activities are in addition to individual research supervision and include a minimum of 20 ECTS of training events and seminars, enabling students to acquire theoretical and methodological expertise in sociolinguistics, a broad-based set of interdisciplinary skills, and a scientific research network. See the Events pages on the CSLS and the GSAH websites to get an idea of the various types of training activities we organize.

The doctoral program Studies in Language and Society (SLS) at the University of Bern is a research-based and interdisciplinary program offered in conjunction with the Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities (GSAH). It offers advanced training and research supervision across multiple areas of sociolinguistics, including variationist sociolinguistics, interactional sociolinguistics, critical sociolinguistics, and discourse studies. The PhD program is run by the Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS) in cooperation with the Institutes of Linguistics, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Slavic Languages.

There are two pathways to joining the PhD program:

Project-based applications:

We occasionally have openings for doctoral students as part of a new or ongoing research project. Calls for applications for project-based positions are circulated when such positions are available. Sign up to our mailing list via to receive the latest CSLS news.

Student-led applications:

Prospective PhD students can apply independent of existing projects to pursue a research project of their own. Inquiries should be sent directly to prospective PhD supervisors, i.e., professors affiliated with the CSLS.

The information below is primarily for student-led applications. Information about project-based applications will appear in the published calls for applicants.

The application process for the SLS PhD program consists of three steps:

1) Secure Supervision and Finalize Topic:

The first step involves drafting the scope of your PhD research and confirming supervision for your project. If you have a possible PhD project in mind, you should first contact a potential supervisor. A list of Professors currently affiliated with the CSLS can be found here. Note that only Professors can act as supervisors for PhD research. After having secured agreement from a supervisor, you work with them to finalize the details of your PhD project proposal and discuss funding options. You then draft and sign a Doctoral Agreement, which outlines the overall structure of the project you will pursue.

2) Formal Application for Admission to UniBE:

When the proposal is finalized and supervision has been agreed, you next need to apply for formal admission to the University of Bern. See the Admissions Office website for details of this process and the documents you need to submit. The Admissions Office will review your submitted materials upon receipt and make a decision as to whether your prior training qualifies for admission to a PhD program. Note that this process can take some time, so plan on submitting your materials well in advance of your anticipated start date. If you will require a visa to live in Switzerland, you can only begin the visa application process once you have received formal notification of admission to the university.

3) Application to join the GSAH:

Once you have been formally admitted to UniBE, you can apply for admission to the GSAH to become a member of the doctoral program SLS. This membership is not obligatory for the completion of your doctoral degree but offers many benefits. Information about the GSAH application process can be found here.

Life in Switzerland can be expensive and working while conducting doctoral research, although possible, is not easy. Information on average cost of living and studying in Bern can be found here.

PhD funding options vary depending on your country of origin/residence and other factors. Options may include grants by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Swiss Government Excellence Awards, the European Council, Fulbright Scholarships, etc. Further information on locating doctoral funding can be found here.

Members of the SLS program additionally have access to funding for visiting events, archives, museums, or libraries (travel expenses, conference fees, accommodation, no living expenses), as well as in purchasing licenses, reproductions.

Each of the steps in the application process (Securing Supervision/Finalizing Topic, Applying for Admission to UniBE, Applying to Join the GSAH) has its own set of deadlines:

Securing Supervision/Finalizing Topic:

Inquiries about a PhD project can be made at any time. Note that developing a viable PhD proposal and drafting a Doctoral Agreement can take a number of weeks/months, so be sure to leave enough time to meet other administrative deadlines (see below). External funding schemes have various deadlines of their own, and these should also be kept in mind when planning the application process.

Applying for Admission to UniBE:

Application materials are accepted at any time. Materials received between 1 April and 15 October are considered for admission in the Fall semester (begins mid-September every year). Materials received between 16 October and 31 March are considered for admission in the Spring semester (begins mid-February every year). Note that processing of applications by the Admissions Office can take time, so be sure to submit your application materials well in advance of the deadline.

Applying to Join the GSAH:

Applications for GSAH membership are accepted twice a year: at the end of June and the end of December. Information about the GSAH application process can be found here.

If you have any questions or for further information, please contact the CSLS office at