Vademecum for Supervisors of thesis

Following the decisions taken by the Conseil Fédéral on February 16, 2022, the organization of both private colloquia and public defenses returns to normal. The hybrid mode remains possible, in particular for external experts for colloquia and public defenses and for the public during public defenses.

Please contact the Doctoral Students' Secretariat for details.

Concerning the aperitifs organized after the public defenses, the doctoral student, as organizer, must contact Unisep and Unibat to make sure of the current conditions for their realization.

These rules are likely to evolve according to the decisions taken by the federal and cantonal authorities and by the UNIL Direction; when organizing, please make sure that you are aware of the rules in force during the period to be considered.

This is a summary of the main steps

In the event of any questions or disputes, only the current regulations are authoritative. The FGSE Doctoral Regulations clarify the role of each of the actors involved in the Thesis. The role of the Thesis director is essentially specified in articles 5 (Thesis director) and 10 (Thesis co-director). The role of the PhD student in article 11. The Thesis is described in articles 1 and 16.

Before the PhD - Initial steps

When discussing potential studies at UNIL with a potential doctoral student: discuss your and his/her expectations for the doctoral studies and later career plans, identify and explain the funding situation, define potential research topics.


Inform the candidate about the thesis supervisory committee and how it works.


Inform the candidate of the following documents and services:

  • FGSE doctoral regulations (especially art. 11, 4, 14 & 15)
  • UNIL doctoral charter
  • Institute secretariat (IGD, IDYST, or ISTE)
  • Doctoral secretariat (Dean Office, FGSE)
  • Immatriculation office - (SII-UNIL)
  • Graduate campus (GC-UNIL)


Depending on the type of doctoral student (assistant, FNS, other funds, independent), advise the student on the relevant procedures. Explain that the process of academic immatriculation for studies (with SII) is separate from human resources procedures with the Institute (contract, office space, etc.):

  • Academic (PhD): Doctoral secretariat (FGSE) + SII.
  • HRS if relevant (contract) : Secretariat of your institute + HRS.
  • Other respects (Campus card, office space, phone, copiers, etc.) : Secretariat of the institute.


Inform your doctoral candidate that he or she must immediately register with SII (irrespective of his or her status or contracts). Inscription can take place at any time during the year, with inscriptions received before 31 July valid for autumn semester and before 30 Nov for the spring semester. To do so, after having contacted the SII, the student must fill in two copies of the form (Attestation de thèse). You must sign both copies and your doctoral candidate submits them to the doctoral secretariat.

Notes regarding the Attestation Form: The question "section/branche/orientation" can only include one of the four following options for PhDs: Geography, Geology, Environmental Science/Studies, or Tourism Studies.This choice can be changed later (up until the private thesis defence).

The Attestation form is then signed by the Vice-Dean and submitted to the SII for final decision on admission. Note that the status of doctoral student is only granted upon final decision by the SII, after evaluation of the student’s formal qualifications (including equivalence of foreign degrees).


If you are considering having a co-director of the thesis (or if your status requires it), he or she needs to be approved by the Faculty Council. Prepare a letter addressed to the Vice-Dean, signed by yourself, the proposed co-director, the student, (and if relevant the rapporteur/referent) explaining the situation and how responsibilities will be divided between the director and the co-director. For a co-director external to the Faculty, a CV with publication list must be attached.

During the PhD

Clarify as far as possible from the beginning your expectations in terms of: presence, personal involvement, frequency of meetings (supervision meetings, group or laboratory meetings, Institute meetings, ...), communication, attachment to an external doctoral school (CUSO, other...), etc.


You are responsible to establish, in consultation with your student, the thesis supervisory committee (see Reg Doc article 5.3, and 14). The composition of the committee may evolve over time.

The first meeting of the thesis supervisory committee should take place before the end of the first year, or earlier if you or your student deem necessary (for instance, if contract renewal depends on such a meeting). Further meetings should take place on an annual basis.

During the thesis supervisory committee meetings, the student presents his or her progress and plans for the future. The "Thesis committee report" form is designed to facilitate this process. Ensure that the student prepares an activity report before the meeting and, together with the student, prepare the meeting report for submission to the Dean’s office (at a minimum after the first meeting).


Respond to the annual Graduate Campus Survey of your assessment of your students each year (compulsory). Attention:

  1. This is obligatory
  2. Unless legally required, your response does not necessarily result in any action by the Graduate Campus or the Faculty.
  3. This process is separate and complementary to the annual reports of the thesis supervisory committee.

Every doctoral student has the opportunity to fill in a similar survey form.


In case of difficulties during the supervision of a thesis, do not wait.

  1. Privilege direct and transparent discussions with the doctoral student as soon as a problem appears (cf. art. 15)
  2. Keep notes and records, in particular the annual thesis committee report
  3. If necessary, call an extraordinary meeting of the thesis supervisory committee
  4. There are several avenues for further discussion and action
    • The Dean’s office (Vice-dean Research, Research administrator, or doctoral secretary) may be contacted informally for advice
    • The case should be notified formally to the Vice-Dean if it warrants
    • Graduate Campus is available for advice for doctoral students and supervisors.
    • The SHR can advise on contractual, human resources issues
    • Mediation services.
  5. If the issue concerns only assistantship (HR, not academic issue), take contact with the institute direction first; if it concerns an FNS or other third part funding, please contact the Vice-Dean too. The SHR can advise on contractual, human resources issues


A change of discipline can occur at any time, but at the latest at the registration for the private colloquium. A letter with a justification, signed by the thesis supervisor, by the doctoral student (and possibly by the designated faculty referent) indicating this intention is to be sent to the Doctoral Students' Secretariat in order to obtain the formal prior agreement of the Vice-Dean RCQ.

If the request for change is made lately at the time of the procedure initiating the private colloquium, it must be explicitly formulated in the letter of proposal of the thesis jury and will be valid only after confirmation by the Vice-Dean. The title page of the thesis is then adapted accordingly, as well as the following correspondence, to avoid confusion.

When the request has been made before the procedure of organization of the colloquium, the written agreement by the V-D must be joined to the documents mentioned under article 19 of the RegDoc FGSE. No request for a change of discipline made after the above mentioned deadline is admissible.

At least six weeks before the private defence

As soon as you authorize the deposit of the manuscript and the presentation of your doctoral student at the private colloquium, submit to the Vice-dean in the form of a letter (or scan) a proposal for the composition of the thesis jury co-signed by the possible co-director and by your doctoral student, including the following information:

  • the thesis director,
  • the discipline in which the thesis is being defended (in the event of a change since registration at the beginning of the thesis, a copy of the Deanship's decision must be included in the accompanying documents); if the procedure has not been followed yet and is desired and justified, the request must be made in the same letter,
  • the names of at least two experts, including in principle a member of UNIL (who may also be the referee) and an expert from outside UNIL who is not involved in the thesis project, for a maximum of six people, including the president of the jury (and possible referee).

In addition to the first and last names, please indicate for each person:

  • main university of affiliation and email of each member of the thesis jury;
  • proposed date and time (or possible dates) for the private conference.

Send this letter to the Doctoral students' Secretariat to the attention of the Vice-dean, who will give you confirmation of the Deanship's approval. The Vice-dean for Research or his representative (another professor) will chair the conference. See articles 17 to 21 of the FGSE doctoral regulations for details regarding the private colloquium.

One week before the private defense at the latest

Like all other jury members, you must submit a confidential report on the thesis submitted by your student including your evaluation of the thesis to the President of the Jury (via the doctoral secretariat). The defense cannot take place without this document. The doctoral secretariat collects the other jury members’ reports. These reports are only for internal use by the president of the jury and are thus confidential (refer to RegDoc art. 20.4).

Before the public defence

If the jury has requested modifications and designated you to approve them, coordinate with the student to have time to evaluate the modifications. Your formal validation will be usually required by the doctoral secretariat after these modifications (RegDoc art. 22.1).


The date of the public defence is decided by the jury with the candidate, and the organisation is coordinated by the doctoral secretariat.

Public defence

For the public defence, you (the director), the co-director (if relevant), the president, and at least one of the experts must be present (the Referent may replace if they exist). In case of force majeure, presence by visioconference may be arranged.