ISTA welcomes students with different academic backgrounds who can bring their skills and experiences to the scientific setting.

At ISTA, it is possible to be admitted to the PhD straight out of your Bachelor’s program.

We welcome applicants holding (or expecting to hold before enrollment) a Bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, neurosciencemathematicscomputer sciencephysics, data science and scientific computing and related areas. It could be a 3-year Bachelor’s degree or 4-year Bachelor’s degree.

Students with undergraduate studies are required to complete more elective coursework (in addition to the core courses and project) and are also granted more time to complete the Phase I of the PhD (a total of 2 years as opposed to 1.5 years for Master’s students). At the time of admissions, Bachelor’s students are by default assigned the “long-route” status (as opposed to the “short-route” status for students with a Master’s degree).

More about the Long route/Short route.

Master’s degree en-route to PhD option

ISTA offers a Master’s degree en-route to PhD option. With this option, students can earn a “Master of Science (MS)” degree in addition to their PhD degree, under the condition that additional curricular components are fulfilled whilst working towards their PhD.

MS en-route to PhD: what do I need to do?

Curriculum requirements

In order to earn an MS en-route to PhD, students need to complete research training and coursework in addition to the curricular elements of their Long Route PhD.

The MS requirement at ISTA corresponds to the typical 120 ECTS workload of European two-year Master’s degrees.

PhD curricular elements for the Long Route (72 ECTS):

    • core curriculum (core project, track core course, core components) (18 ECTS)
    • rotations (3 in 3 different groups) (24 ECTS)
    • elective courses (24 ECTS)
    • background research and mentored study for the Qualifying Exam (6 ECTS)

Additional MS curricular elements (48 ECTS):

  • research training and coursework (rotations, lab immersion, courses, training, mentored self-study) (18 ECTS), and
  • writing and successfully defending a MS thesis (30 ECTS credits)


  • any time within the initial PhD contract duration (currently issued for 5 years)
  • no prescribed order, curricular components can be completed both in phase 1 and 2, MS thesis does not need to be defended prior to the start of the PhD project

The research leading to the MS can be either conducted in the same group where the PhD project is also conducted, or – in consultation of the PhD supervisor – in another group. Parts of the research leading to the MS thesis can be completed during rotations, lab immersion, or independently, prior to affiliation. Work reported in the MS thesis must, however, be distinct from the work written up in the PhD thesis. After the Qualifying Exam, the PhD research always takes precedence over the MS research.

Students can request a “primary focus” to be specified on their MS degree certificate, if they have taken 60 ECTS worth of coursework/research from one track (then, the primary focus would be one of: Biology, Computer Science, Chemistry & Materials, Data Science & Scientific Computing, Mathematics, Neuroscience, or Physics). A “secondary focus” can be additionally requested, if students have taken at least 30 ECTS additional credits from a different track.

Who can earn a MS-en-route-to-PhD?

In principle, any student admitted to the PhD program after 2021 can complete a MS en-route to PhD, provided they meet the requirements above. Typically, these could be students on the Long Route who are

  • entering with a BS degree, or
  • MS level students who are switching fields and need to acquire relevant background in a new field.

Whether or not a MS-en-route makes sense for a student depends on their educational background and future plans and we are happy to discuss this with you individually.

The Graduate School neither requires nor indeed expects that all students admitted with a BS degree should make use of MS en-route option.


Master’s degree en-route to PhD FAQs
  • Is it possible to apply for the MS degree without applying for the PhD Degree?

    The answer is no. The MS degree option is only open to students who have been admitted to ISTA Graduate School and are employed as PhD students.

  • When can I apply for the MS en-route to PhD degree?

    You can request the MS degree at any point during the initial five-year contract employment period upon successful completion of all MS requirements (see requirements above). No separate application is necessary, either prior or after admission to the Graduate School.

  • I am a Bachelor’s student and plan to apply for the PhD program. Do I need to complete the MS en-route to PhD degree to obtain my PhD at ISTA?

    Students with a Bachelor’s degree are eligible to apply for the PhD Program. You do not need a Master’s degree to apply and complete your PhD program at ISTA. The MS degree at ISTA is an option you can request during your PhD program, it is not an obligation and it is not a prerequisite to complete your PhD.



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