Study Recommendations

The SSPH+ IGC Study Recommendations aim to support IGC PhD students to pursue an internationally competitive doctoral track in public health sciences in line with the WHO ASPHER public health competencies framework and the principles of the WHO Essential Public Health Operations.

SSPH+ IGC - What it is about (PDF)

Study Recommendations of the IGC (PDF)

What IGC is about

The SSPH+ Inter-university Graduate Campus provides PhD students with:

  • State-of-the-art training in public health methods and topics
  • Cost-free access to PhD courses offered by the IGC (only a processing fee of 30 CHF per course applies)
  • Access to courses offered by partners of the IGC at reduced course fees
  • Broad access to the inter-university multidisciplinary SSPH+ research and teaching faculty
  • Guidelines for what constitutes a high quality PhD track in public health relevant sciences
  • Unique networking opportunities with other PhD students and SSPH+ junior and senior scientists all across Switzerland

Eligibility Criteria

PhD students who meet the following conditions are welcome to apply to become a member of the SSPH+ Inter-university Graduate Campus:

  • PhD students must be formally registered and approved as a PhD student in one of the SSPH+ partner universities
  • The primary supervisor of the PhD student must be a SSPH+ Faculty Member

Academic Board

The SSPH+ IGC Academic Board sets the priority tasks of the IGC and is responsible for the content and quality of courses offered in the Graduate Campus.

Student Body Representatives

Representatives of the student body take part in the Academic Board meetings and bring in students’ suggestions and questions.

SSPH+ Certificate in Public Health

Note: SSPH+ does not award doctoral titles or degrees. This is the sole authority and responsibility of the university at which the student is enrolled. Universities award PhD degrees according to their own regulations, which PhD students need to follow.

The student has:

  • earned a total of minimum 18 ECTS or more
  • successfully attended courses in the following 4 study fields:
    • Epidemiology
    • Social and behavioral sciences in health research
    • Health systems research
    • Transferable skills and other public health relevant courses

A minimum of 2 ECTS is required for each field.

The SSPH+ Certificate in Public Health can only be
awarded after the student has handed in a copy of his/her final PhD diploma of his/her university.

Study Recommendations

The SSPH+ recommendations aim to support IGC PhD students to pursue an internationally competitive doctoral track in public health sciences in line with the WHO ASPHER public health competencies framework and the principles of the WHO Essential Public Health Operations. It is the responsibility of the PhD student and supervisor to observe these recommendations.

Please note: SSPH+ does not award doctoral titles or degrees. This is the sole authority and responsibility of the student’s university. Each university awards the PhD degree according to its own regulations, which the PhD student needs to follow.

Broad education

Training activities

The basic study recommendations of the IGC encourage and support students to graduate with a broad education across the various disciplines of public health. In line with the personal needs and academic background, specific tracks can be chosen on an individual basis if agreed with the primary supervisor.

  • The IGC provides PhD students with:
    • A broad course program offered by national and international experts
    • Courses on basic and specialized knowledge in public health relevant disciplines
    • Theory and methods training in public health relevant disciplines
    • Courses on historical and current global public health topics
    • Training in teaching, advocacy, communication and other transferable skills

To become a public health expert, each PhD student, together with his/her university-based doctoral committee, should plan PhD training activities that cover the broad topics of public health oriented fields, as defined in the ASPHER core competencies.

The content of activities and the number of ECTS planned should be determined according to the student’s needs. The plans should account for the student’s educational background, her/his current knowledge in the major domains of public health, and the specific requirements of the planned PhD project.

In general terms, it is recommended to plan at least 18 ECTS and to engage in a minimum of 2 ECTS in each of the prime public health research relevant fields, namely i) epidemiology, ii) social and behavioral science in health research, iii) health systems research, as well as in iv) transferable skills and other public health relevant courses (see below for details).

The IGC follows the Bologna Standards and the guidelines of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). 1 ECTS corresponds to an approximate student workload of 25-30 working hours. Course certificates are issued if students attend at least 80% of class hours, and pass the required assessments or assignments.

Study recommendations for public health students

Widen interests and acquire basic understanding

PhD students in public health tend to acquire particular expertise often in only one specific field of public health research. IGC encouragesits students to widen their interests and expects them to acquire at least a basic understanding of the following fields of public health

  • Epidemiology: determinants of health and illness, epidemiological study designs, sources of error and bias, causal inference, risk factors, statistical concepts for analyzing and interpreting data, public surveillance and monitoring, etc.
  • Social and behavioral science in health research: social conditions of health, health inequities, cultural and psychosocial factors that affect health and health behavior, theories and interventions in health promotion and disease prevention, and methods of quantitative and qualitative health research.
  • Health systems research: effectiveness, efficiency and equity of health care systems, outcome research, basic knowledge of health economics, health policy and health law.


Achieving expert knowledge

Students should direct their studies towards achieving expert knowledge in one of the fields (the area most relevant to their major research project) and basic knowledge in the other areas.

At the start of the PhD studies, PhD students should agree with their supervisors about a schedule of trainings that fill the gaps and cover these fields with appropriate coursework.


​Self-management of progress

PhD students are advised to maintain a portfolio so that they can closely monitor the development of their scientific skills and competencies together with their supervisors. The portfolio can serve as a basis for regular assessment of the student’s progress.

The student’s self-assessment documents should indicate in detail their learning progress and describe their competence to conduct research in their specific research area. Self-assessments also detail the process by which broader public health competencies were acquired, the development of personal and soft skills, and achievements in management and leadership competencies and other transferable skills. If gaps are identified, the working plan should be adjusted to fill these gaps. In case a student’s university does not provide a PhD portfolio, students may use the SSPH+ template.

Write scientific papers, submit grant applications

  • Basic transferable skills are part of the PhD training. In particular, students should be able to:
    • Conduct ethical and responsible research, adhere to all local, national and international rules and codes of ethically sound and responsible research.
    • Write scientific papers, submit grant applications.
    • Pose innovative and important research questions, based on a thorough knowledge of the literature, public health needs, and relevant theoretical and conceptual models; select the most appropriate study design to address a research question.
    • Work in a multi-disciplinary team, communicate the findings and implications of public health research effectively to scientific and lay audiences through multiple modalities such as scientific writing, teaching and presentations to wider audiences.
    • Show management and leadership competencies.
    • Describe the policy implications of their own research and present these implications to wider audiences.

Non-academic internships

In light of the fact that a majority of PhD graduates do not pursue academic careers later on, it is highly recommended to consider a non-academic internship to support career decisions and opportunities for non-academic paths. Ideally, such internships may be placed toward the end of the PhD studies or follow immediately thereafter. The SSPH+ Internship Program supports PhD students in such plans and supervisors are encouraged to discuss this with their students at the beginning of their studies.


Doctoral committee

In line with the respective university or graduate school requirements, a doctoral committee should be established to guide the student’s PhD work. The committee should discuss the most appropriate training requirements with the student, carry out the annual assessments, and meet with the student to discuss and support her/his progress on the PhD project. At least once a year, students should organize a meeting with the members of their doctoral committee to discuss their progress on their PhD project and to adjust the training plan if necessary.