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Academic pressure ETH Zurich faces new bullying allegations

Students in a classroom at ETH Zurich

Students in a lecture at ETH Zurich


A quarter of doctoral students at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich say they are treated badly by their academic supervisors. An investigation has been opened into three professors. This follows similar allegations of bullying last year. 

Almost a third of the students who took part in the survey, carried out by the Academic Association of Scientific Staff at ETH Zurich (AVETHexternal link), said their professors did not carry out their role as a mentor properly. Common complaints included being humiliated, a lack of respect and emotional pressure. One in 12 said no one helped them at all. 

AVETH sent a questionnaire to all 4,100 doctoral students at ETH Zurichexternal link, regularly ranked one of the top ten universities in the world. Just over a third responded. The results were published on Friday in the Swiss media. 

The institute’s rector Sarah Springman said ETH Zurich took the failings mentioned by students very seriously. She stressed, however, that academic life was demanding and occasionally tough. “Young researchers need to learn how to deal with pressure,” she said. 

Not the first time 

This is not the first time ETH Zurich has had to defend itself against these charges. Last October it said it was opening an independent administrative enquiry into allegations of bullying by two professors

The allegations by several doctoral students, first made in February 2017, centred on an unnamed female professor who founded the university’s institute for astronomy along with her husband in 2002. 

According to the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, which broke the story, the professor was accused of subjecting students to condescending requests and late-night badgering about minor issues. The alleged bullying extends back more than ten years. 

ETH Zurich placed both professors on sabbatical while it investigated the matter. The results of the investigation have not been published.


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