Master Curriculum

The Master Degree requires 4 semesters (2 years) to complete, the aim being to accumulate 120 credits in the ECTS system. A thesis project is assigned 60 EC and coursework makes up the remaining 60 EC. As most of the courses are held only biennially, students work on their thesis concurrently during the entire 2-year period.

The Master curriculum is composed of 4 modules, structured as follows:

Module A: Mandatory Courses (6 EC credits)

This module ensures that all Master candidates have some knowledge of the local geology of Switzerland, and some basic practical skills for their research thesis. It includes a field trip through the Swiss Alps, which has two aims: to view some world-class geology up close, and to foster social interaction between students in the same semester.

The Module also contains two (for Bern students only) soft-skill courses to improve communication in the Earth Sciences (written, oral, graphical) and to acquire experience in research seminars. Fribourg students can check with secretariate to find out what further soft skill courses are offer and required in Fribourg.

Module B: Specialization Courses (30 EC credits)

This module allows students to gain well-defined expertise in a selected field of interest. As well as meeting personal interests, this specialized training is later advantageous when graduates seek jobs in research and industry. Each student must select at least 30 EC in courses from those offered in their chosen specialization. All the specializations offer at least 40 EC in courses, so a subset of these may be selected to suit the student’s Individual Study Plan.

The five specializations within the Bern–Fribourg Master’s programme reflect the diverse research strengths of the two partner institutes.

Module C: Elective Courses (24 EC):

This module permits students to broaden their Earth Science training in fields outside their chosen specialization. Courses that sum to 24 EC can be selected from the entire list of courses offered in the Bern–Fribourg Master’s programme. Students who instead prefer to strengthen their specialized expertise are free to select additional courses from among those offered in their specialization (provided these courses have not already been chosen for Module B).

A few EC credits from outside the Bern–Fribourg partnership (e.g. SEM Exchanges or other scientific disciplines) may also be counted in this module. In all cases the choice of Elective Courses should be made in consultation with the student’s Advisor Committee.

Module D: Master Thesis

Experience working on a research project is an extremely effective form of scientific training. In recognition of this, many employers, whether in industry or basic science, prefer candidates who have completed a research project of considerable scope and depth. This module is designed to meet these needs by allowing students to work over a two-year period on a topic that carries half the weight of their Degree credits.

Most students view their research project as the most rewarding part of their Master training. It is a very intensive learning experience, it is a chance to think about Nature deeply and it is a strong motivator for related coursework.

The key to success with the thesis is to select a topic of personal interest, preferably with a lead into future career options. This topic may involve any combination of field, laboratory and/or computational work, but its aims and methods should be discussed in detail with the chosen Supervisor. The concurrent courses in Modules B and C should be chosen to support the scientific questions and methods addressed in the thesis project. Students are encouraged to select topics within on-going research projects at the Universities of Bern and Fribourg (many of which involve government and industry partners), to take advantage of contact with groups of active scientists.

During the first semester of the curriculum the student reviews the literature relevant to the chosen thesis topic and presents an oral and written research proposal. The remaining 3 semesters and one intervening summer period (free of coursework) are devoted to collecting and analysing data and to writing up the results. The thesis work terminates with oral and written presentations at the end of the fourth semester. The thesis may be written in English, German or French. Other languages may also be permitted depending on the supervisors involved.