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Ecology MSc
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Ecology Master

Officially, the degree is termed MSc in Biology - Ecology and represents one of several concentrations of the MSc in Biology.


Ecology is about understanding the links among organisms and their biotic and abiotic environment. This MSc degree aims to provide students solid grounding on the theory, scientific basis, analytical methods, and practical applications of modern ecological analysis.

Coping with ever-increasing ecological problems requires knowledge of a variety of scientific disciplines beyond ecology, including evolutionary biology, genetics, mathematics, statistics, and conservation biology. The multidisciplinary approach adopted in this MSc degree will prepare students to conduct rigorous ecological analysis and apply the inferences to improve conservation decision-making.

In this degree, students learn about the latest research in the field and have the opportunity to conduct a project in a research group at the University of Zurich (UZH) or at one of the affiliated Swiss research institutions. They can choose from a variety of theoretical, experimental, and empirical projects, and from a wide range of organisms and ecosystems, from microbes to tortoises and glacial streams to alpine meadows.


“MSc Coordinator” of the Ecology Master: Prof. Arpat Ozgul

“Study Coordinator” of the MSc in Biology: Dr. Karin Isler


The Ecology Master consists of three parts:

Part I – BIO510 (The MSc Thesis - 60 ECTS)
This part comprises 12 months of practical scientific research, in which a question in the field of ecology is tackled under the guidance of a supervisor. A written thesis documents the research and provides the basis for assessment.

Part II – BIO520 (Integrated Knowledge in Biology - 10 ECTS)
This part comprises a self-study period of 6
8 weeks, at the end of which students demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the assigned topics. Assessment is based on a written and an oral exam. The topics are determined together with the supervisor and the MSc Coordinator.

Part III – Coursework (20 ECTS)
This part
comprises multiple courses. Students and the supervisors choose together courses that meet the training needs. Time allocated to courses is in addition to BIO510 (12 months) and BIO520 (2 months).

Further details on each part are provided below.

Enrollment Steps

Step 1: Check Eligibility

The Ecology Master welcomes students from all universities, provided they have a suitable bachelor’s degree. To check the eligibility of your bachelor’s degree, please contact the Study Coordinator. If you are applying from outside UZH, make sure to complete this step before you proceed to the next steps.

Step 2: Apply to UZH

If you come from outside, you need to apply to study at UZH. For details, please consult the UZH admission page. Only if you are admitted to UZH without conditions or if you successfully passed your MSc preparatory phase at UZH with the modules listed as conditions, you can proceed to step 4.

Step 3: Contact a Supervisor

The MSc thesis is the most important part of the MSc degree. Therefore, finding an MSc Supervisor who offers a project that meets your interests is paramount. You can check the Ecology Masters Projects list and this page for currently offered projects or directly contact the following research groups and organisations.

Research groups at UZH:

External research and conservation organisations:

If you have any doubts if a particular person can be your MSc Supervisor, please ask them. If they have any doubts, please have them contact the MSc Coordinator. This is particularly important if you are considering an MSc thesis with an external supervisor / organisation. In this case, you may also need an internal supervisor who will take on the official supervisor responsibilities. Further details are provided in Note to Supervisors at the end of this document.

Step 4: Complete the Learning Agreement

The Learning Agreement sets out the programme of learning and research; it must be completed online. Detailed information on the Learning Agreement process can be found here. To complete the Learning Agreement, take the following steps:

  1. Prepare a complete draft of the Learning Agreement in collaboration with the MSc Supervisor.
  2. Enter the draft provisionally in the online tool.
  3. Email the draft to the MSc Coordinator for feedback and revise the Learning Agreement as required in collaboration with the MSc Supervisor.
  4. Finalise the Learning Agreement in the online tool and submit it for confirmation (by the MSc Supervisor) and clearance (by the MSc Coordinator and the Study Coordinator).

The MSc Supervisor, the MSc Coordinator, and the Study Coordinator will be notified automatically by email. If they do not confirm or clear the Learning Agreement within two weeks of submission, contact them directly. To make later changes to the Learning Agreement, specify the changes and repeat step 4.

Part I - BIO510: The MSc Thesis


This part lasts 12 months (60 ECTS). Instead of a 12-month thesis, the student may conduct a 3-month research project (BIO500, 15 ECTS) and a 9-month thesis (45 ECTS). This option of combining a research project and an MSc thesis, however, is not recommended as it does not allow enough time for the thesis project.

If work on the thesis is interrupted by part II or III, the student has to ensure that the end date of the MSc thesis accounts for the interruption and note it on the Learning Agreement in advance.

At the end of the thesis work, the student writes a thesis and designs an accompanying research poster. The written thesis has to comply formally with the common standards applied to scientific publications. The research poster has to be added to the thesis pdf and include the names and affiliations of the collaborators. You may find the following guidelines and tips useful:

On or before the end date indicated on the Learning Agreement, the student has to hand in the pdf copy of the thesis, including the poster, to the MSc Supervisor, MSc Coordinator, and Study Coordinator. In addition, the student needs to hand in a hard copy of the thesis to the Study Coordinator.

About every six months, the MSc Coordinator will print the latest posters in A3 format and display them at a social gathering of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies.

A one-time repetition of the MSc thesis with another topic and/or supervisor is possible.


Once the student hands in their final thesis, the MSc Supervisor will provide a short evaluation based on the below criteria and suggest a grade for BIO510 to the MSc Coordinator (quarter grades permitted). The MSc Coordinator has the right to ask for revisions of MSc theses that do not fulfil formal standards. Once the grade is agreed between the MSc Supervisor and MSc Coordinator, the MSc Supervisor fills out and signs the MSc Grade Form, which also includes the BIO520 grades (see below). When all grades have been entered, the MSc Supervisor sends the MSc grade form to the MSc Coordinator.

The MSc Supervisor is expected to provide feedback on the draft thesis well before the hand-in date, and the student should have the opportunity to address the feedback in the final thesis (several rounds of revision may be necessary). The MSc Supervisor should base their evaluation and grade recommendation not only on the final thesis but also on the overall process. Evaluation of the thesis will take into consideration the following criteria:

MSc Thesis:

Research Poster:

Overall Process:


The MSc project lasts one year, except in special circumstances. Such circumstances include:

Extensions that can be anticipated must be planned from the start and included in the Learning Agreement (as extended end date). The only reasons for extending the MSc project beyond 12 months are:

Circumstances that do not qualify for an extension include:

To request an extension, first discuss the issue with your MSc Supervisor, and then email the request to the MSc and the Study Coordinators (cc your MSc Supervisor).

Part II - BIO520: Integrated Knowledge in Biology

Study Material

This module comprises a total of 300 hours (corresponding to about 68 weeks) of self study. At the beginning of the module, the MSc Supervisor assigns study material (e.g., chapters from selected books, series of scientific articles) to the student. The MSc Supervisor suggests a scope and related reading material to the MSc Coordinator who will evaluate and approve the study material. This material should not focus too narrowly on the research field of the MSc thesis but cover more broader ecological topics. An example (~500-600 textbook pages):

By the end of this module, the student should be able to demonstrate comprehensive understanding of the assigned learning material – including relevant facts, concepts, and methods – and to review scientific literature efficiently and critically.

Written and Oral Exams

Evaluation of this module is based on a written and an oral exam. While the approximate exam date should be entered in the Learning Agreement, the precise exam dates have to be arranged among the student, MSc Supervisor, and a co-examiner at least two months before the proposed dates. The exams can be scheduled before, during, or after the main thesis period. However, taking BIO520 before, or early during, the thesis work may in many cases be more sensible and useful.

The written exam is administered by the MSc Supervisor and lasts three hours. In an essay (a few pages), the student demonstrates their general comprehension of the subject. The MSc Supervisor prepares an essay question based on the assigned study material and gets the approval of the MSc Coordinator before the exam takes place. The essay question can be in the form of a single question with sub-questions on the same topic or multiple questions on different topics (see the example below). The student can bring written notes (maximum 10 double-sided pages), but is not allowed to bring a complete copy of the assigned study material.

The oral exam is administered by the MSc Supervisor and at least one co-examiner, nominated by the MSc Supervisor. If the responsible MSc Supervisor is from an external research organisation, the oral exam is administered by the internal (UZH-based) MSc supervisor and includes the external supervisor as a co-examiner. The oral exam lasts 30–60 minutes and takes place approximately one week after the written exam in a room organised by the MSc Supervisor. During the oral exam, the student is questioned on the content of the assigned study material and on general ecological concepts.

The final BIO520 grade is the arithmetic mean (rounded to half grades) of the grades obtained in the written and oral exams. To pass BIO520, both exams must be graded at least 4.0. Failed exams (grade <4.0) can be retaken once. The MSc Supervisor enters the oral and written exam grades in the MSc Grade Form, which also includes the thesis grade. Once all grades have been entered, the MSc Supervisor submits the MSc grade form to the MSc Coordinator.

Example Written Exam Question

Ecology is a discipline which involves the interplay of processes at different levels, ranging from individual movement and physiology, through population dynamics, through community interactions, to ecosystem processes. Solving an ecological problem often requires one to weave together knowledge and insights from each of these levels.

Large predators such as wolves and lynx have recently recolonised the Alps. These predators prey on species which are also hunted by humans and they prey on domestic livestock. Many people think that the predators cause too much damage and ask the authorities for permits to shoot the predators, and legislation considers “recreational hunting” as a human activity that could be jeopardised by predators. The new Swiss hunting law states that predators may be shot if game populations (e.g. deer, roe doer, chamois, ibex) decline. This implies that we know the state of game populations and trends in their abundance.

Your task is to outline a conservation monitoring plan to monitor and identify the causes of game population declines in a specific region. How would you measure the state of game populations? How would you show that negative trends are caused by predators such as wolf and lynx, and not humans? How would you take into consideration the movement of predator and prey species in your analysis? What kind of field and analytical methods would you choose?

The outline of your conservation monitoring plan should bring together information from ecological processes at different levels, and should be based on the principles, concepts, and methods discussed in the assigned chapters.

Part III - Elective Courses

BIO338 (Introduction to Scientific Writing, 1 day / 0 ECTS) is the only compulsory course. The student chooses the rest of the courses in collaboration with their MSc Supervisor and according to their training needs (no mandatory courses). The chosen courses must provide a total of at least 20 credit points (ECTS), and they must be listed on the Learning Agreement.

UZH bachelors can transfer some of the bachelors course credit points to their MSc programme. Such transferred credit points need to be indicated clearly in the Learning Agreement and approved by the MSc Supervisor and the MSc Coordinator. Journal clubs and research seminars, which are expected to be part of the MSc thesis experience, do not contribute to the required 20 credit points.

Completion of the Degree

When the student completes BIO510, BIO520, and elective modules, the student must apply for the MSc degree via the student admin platform. This step completes the degree in Master of Science in Biology - Ecology.

Note to Supervisors

Open MSc projects can be posted on the Ecology Masters Projects list using THIS FORM. You can post either a specific project title or a general description of research topics you offer. Specific projects will stay on the “Current” spreadsheet for one year after the post date and then move to the “Archive” spreadsheet. To keep it in “Current” beyond one year, you can re-post the project. General description of research topics, on the other hand, can stay permanently. You can change the details of a posted project, using the link automatically emailed to you. You can remove a project (e.g., if you already found a student) by changing the title to “please delete”.

Supervisors should be aware of their duties and be fluent with the information on this page. To be eligible as supervisor, one should meet the following criteria:

Candidate supervisors who do not fulfil the first two criteria (this may apply, for example, to PhD students, junior postdocs, external supervisors) must seek the help and guidance of a senior researcher, working at UZH, who fulfils all criteria. The senior researcher will ultimately act as the responsible supervisor, supervise the supervision, and bear the primary responsibility.

If you are interested in supervising an MSc student but are unsure if you meet all criteria, please send to the MSc Coordinator:

The MSc Coordinator will then either confirm you as the responsible supervisor or suggest seeking co-supervision from a senior researcher, who will act as the responsible supervisor, with you as the functional supervisor. The MSc Coordinator will generally liaise with the responsible supervisor.