Life and Earth Sciences

Doctoral study
Tartu Ülikool

1 May

Application system opens

15 May

Application deadline

15 July

Admission results

4 September

Academic year starts

In addition to the main intake in May, admission for some specialities may take place on

1-15 February, 15-30 September or 15-30 November.

Level of study
Doctoral study
Study language
Estonian, English
4 years

Doctoral program in Life and Earth Sciences is a multidisciplinary training program for students interested in Biodiversity and Ecological Sustainability, Geography, Geology, Molecular Biosciences, or Genomics and seeing their future in the academy or as a top specialist in the public or private sector. Doctoral studies are research-oriented, and doctoral students usually work as junior researchers at the institutes, where they, together with leading researchers in the field, participate in the work of research groups, thus acquiring the necessary professional knowledge and skills.

From the academic year 2022/2023 started a doctoral programme in  Life and Earth Sciences, which includes five specialities:

  • Biodiversity and Ecological Sustainability (Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences)
  • Geography (Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences)
  • Geology (Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences)
  • Molecular Biosciences (Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology)
  • Genomics (Institute of Genomics)

Biodiversity and Ecological Sustainability
The curriculum is aimed at students having a deep interest in biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, nature conservation and environmental problems, and seeing their future in the academy or as a top specialist in the public or private sector.

The doctoral curriculum in Biodiversity and Ecological Sustainability allows specialization in botany, mycology, plant ecology, ecophysiology, natural resources, animal ecology, entomology, and mammalogy.


The doctoral curriculum of geography allows specialization in the fields of physical geography and landscape ecology, geoinformatics, and human geography. Doctoral studies are carried out in close integration with working groups across the respective disciplines, using state-of-the-art scientific equipment and an extensive international research network. Specialization in natural geography covers all classical research subjects (climatology, hydrology, landscape ecology) while the focus is on improving understanding of material- and energy flows and the processes that affect them on different scales. In human geography, the main emphasis is on studying the temporal-spatial processes and dynamics taking place in society, using both classical and innovative ICT solutions. The geoinformatics covers the field of spatial data analysis and geographical modeling, integrating the subjects of natural and human geography, as well as enabling independent technological development. Passing the doctoral curriculum of geography provides an extensive knowledge of the processes occurring in nature and society and their interrelationships, and provides the ability to apply various methods of analysis according to the scale of the phenomenon from microorganisms to landscape level, as well as knowledge to expand the research results to global level. This will ensure excellent opportunities for academic careers but also in private business, as well as in public institutions. 

The doctoral curriculum in Geography allows specialization in physical geography and landscape ecology, geoinformatics, and human geography.


The doctoral curriculum in Geology is a research-oriented program with main focus on research in different working groups in geochemistry and mineralogy, isotope geology, paleontology and stratigraphy, and applied geology. Available state-of-the-art scientific equipment offers opportunities to study critical raw materials and secondary deposits for the green transition, as well as past climate change and its impact on the development of groundwater resources, landscapes, and human settlement. The curriculum is for young researchers seeing their future in the academy or as a top specialist in the public or private sector (eg geological surveys, geo- and environmental technology industries).

The doctoral curriculum in Geology allows specialization in the fields of geology and mineralogy, paleontology and stratigraphy, and applied geology.

Molecular Biosciences

Curriculum in Molecular Biosciences is a state-of-the-art, research oriented program in life sciences. It focuses on the study of biological problems at the molecular level using conventional biological approaches as well as chemical, computational, mathematical and statistical approaches. The curriculum helps each graduate develop in-depth research ability in a specific area (biochemistry, bioinformatics, biotechnology, cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, molecular modelling, and structural biology) and prepare for successful careers in academia, research institutions, or industry (e.g. biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries), or in government as policymakers.

The doctoral curriculum in Molecular Biosciences allows specialization in biochemistry, bioinformatics, biotechnology, cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, microbiology and molecular biology.


The Genomics curriculum covers all the research topics of the research groups at the Institute of Genomics, comprising a very wide spectrum of different genomic studies - from modern human population genetics to applications in personalised medicine. The research topics include, for example,  genome wide association studies, functional genomics, risk scores, microbiomics, metabolomics, pharmacogenomics, archaeogenomics and metagenomics. Different mandatory courses have been created in the genomics curriculum, the completion of which provides an extensive background in different research directions in the field of genomics, analysis methods, and various application possibilities in the field of genomics.

The doctoral curriculum in Genomics allows specialization in functional genomics, microbiomics, metabolomics, pharmacogenomics, archaeogenomics and metagenomics.


In order to obtain a doctoral degree, a doctoral student must do research based on an individual plan and complete additional studies in the amount of 30 ECTS. The Study module is divided into two: specialist knowledge (15 ECTS), which aims to support the doctoral student's research project, and transferable skills training (15 ECTS), among which it is mandatory to complete the subject "Introduction to doctoral studies in Science and Technology". The choice of the remaining subjects in the module is flexible and is based on the doctoral student's research and career choices. The doctoral student's progress in the program is evaluated at least once a year during regular attestation. To complete the program, an original doctoral thesis must be written and its results must be presented at the public defense.

Admission requirements for Life and Earth Sciences

  • Masters’s degree or equivalent qualification

    This means that your master’s degree should enable you to apply for doctoral studies in the education system in which you received the master’s degree. However, there might be differences between higher education systems and access requirements to PhD programmes in different countries. To apply to the University of Tartu, your qualification should correspond to a master’ degree in the Estonian higher education system.

  • English language proficiency - please make sure you also meet our language requirements.

Citizens of the Russian Federation who, under the legislation of the Republic of Estonia, cannot apply for a long-stay visa or residence permit to study or do not have a valid legal basis to stay in the Republic of Estonia until the end of the curriculum’s standard period of study are not eligible to apply to the University of Tartu in the 2023/2024 academic year.

According to the current legislation, citizens of Belarus can apply for Estonian long-term visa or temporary residence permit for studies and are therefore eligible to apply to the University of Tartu.

There will be a set list of thesis projects, which applicants must choose from. It is not possible to apply with your own topic during the application period. The list of projects will be published by 15 April. If you wish to propose your own topic, it is advised to find a supervisor earlier and reach a prior agreement.

The main admission period is on 1-15 May. In addition, admission for some specialities may take place on 1-15 February, 15-30 September or 15-30 November. 

See the topics and admission details for May 2023 intake on the open calls webpage

Evaluation of applicants

All candidates must submit a motivation letter and CV with their application in the Dreamapply application system. Candidates are evaluated in two stages:

  1. After the application deadline, the Admissions Commitee evaluates the motivation letters. It is assessed on a scale of 0 to 50 points, minimum positive score is at least 35 points.
  2. Applicants whose motivation letter is assessed positively will be invited to the interview. International applicants who cannot be present at the interview in Tartu, may conduct an online interview. Applicants will be informed of their interview date and time by the respective faculty. Minimum positive score is at least 35 points out of 50.

The maximum final score is 100 points. Based on the number of available study places, the best applicant(s) acording to the admissions ranking receive the admission offers.

Motivation letter

Applicants must indicate in DreamApply which project they apply for. You can apply for one study place only. Please write a brief motivation letter (in English, maximum of 6000 characters with spaces) based on the following points:

  1. Why are you interested in this PhD project, explain your choice.
  2. What is your previous experience in this field? Explain how your educational and professional background relates to the project you are applying to.
  3. What are the analytical/scientific methods you have practiced.
  4. Describe briefly the methods and main results of your MSc thesis.
  5. Decribe your earlier research activities, including research publications and conference presentations, if available.

Assessment criteria for motivation letter:

  • motivation and argumentation of skills and the choice of the project
  • relevant study and work experience and other relevant activities (publications, project management etc.) as required to present in the motivation letter.


The applicant must describe the wider scientific background of the doctoral project and possible applicability of the results, also their motivation to be admitted to PhD studies with particular project. The entrance interview conducted by the committee lasts up to 25 minutes. Only applicants whose motivation letter is assessed positively will be invited to the interview (minimum positive result is 35 points out of 50).

The entrance interview is used to assess the following:

  • knowledge of the wider scientific background of the project and possible application of the expected results
  • applicant’s motivation to pursue doctoral studies in the relevant field of science and to work in this field
  • wider analytical and generalization skills regarding the research and study topics.

Minimum positive result is 35 points out of 50.


How to apply

International applicants can apply online via the DreamApply application system. The application form is open during the application period and you must upload all required documents there by the application deadline. If you fail to submit the documents by the deadline, your application is not considered for admission and we do not process it further. You can only apply for one study place. 

If you apply with a master´s degree obtained in Estonia, you can apply via SAIS or DreamApply (see details below).

All documents listed below must be uploaded to your DreamApply application by the application deadline. Documents submitted after the deadline are not accepted.

  1. online application
    Complete the application form in DreamApply and submit it by the application deadline.
  2. motivation letter
    You will find guidelines on how to prepare the motivation letter in the section "Motivation letter and entrance interview requirements"
  3. education documents in their original language
    The following documents are required:

    - official copies of both bachelor's and master's diplomas
    - diploma supplements (bachelor's and master's transcript/mark sheet, including the description of the grading scale).

    Please see our country-specific requirements as well. There may be special requirements for education documents depending on the country in which study took place.
  4. official translations of both bachelor´s and master´s diplomas and diploma supplements into English
    Translations are not required if the university issued these documents in English. As certified translations we consider

    1) official translations made by the issuing institution (university) bearing their original signature, stamp, etc., or
    2) translations made and certified by a sworn translator (or certified by a notary).
  5. proof of English language proficiency
    This applies to all international applicants. A language certificate must be submitted by the application deadline. If you need to take an accepted English language test, the test must be taken by the application deadline.
  6. copy of passport page stating the applicant’s personal particulars
    Your passport must be valid during the application period.
  7. curriculum vitae
    You will find an example form here. You can format your CV differently, but it must reflect all the points given in the sample file.

Submitted applications can not be edited. It is only possible to upload new documents (e.g. graduation certificates). Applicants will receive feedback and notifications through the DreamApply system to their e-mail. Incomplete applications or those submitted by e-mail will not be considered for admission.

Guide to submitting electronic application on DreamApply.

Applying if you have not yet graduated

Applicants graduating in 2023 and having their diplomas issued later than the application deadline, must electronically submit their most recent official transcript by the required deadline along with the rest of the required documents.

Please note that you must have graduated from your master´s studies by 1 August, 2023. The graduation documents must be submitted by 7 August.

For the September and November intake you must have graduated by the application deadline. If you are applying in February and your studies start in the same spring semester, you must have graduated by the application deadline.

Evaluation of your previous qualification

We will assess your qualification during the application period and may send your education documents to the Estonian ENIC/NARIC (Academic Recognition Information Centre) for evaluation at any stage of the application process. The official evaluation at the ENIC/NARIC Centre takes about 30 days. If the evaluation is negative and your qualification does not give you access to PhD studies in Estonia, we cannot admit you to doctoral studies at the University of Tartu and will withdraw the admission offer, if you have received one.

We start processing all applications after the application deadline; you will receive feedback on your application in DreamApply. Processing applications takes time, and we kindly ask you to be patient. During the main intake in May we are able to give feedback to all applicants within three weeks after the application deadline. During other periods you will receive feedback one week after the application deadline.

Please note that applications with deficiencies will be rejected and will not be considered for admission. The decisions on applications will be made based on the electronic copies uploaded to DreamApply.  

Evaluation by the Admissions Commission

If you have uploaded all the required documents to DreamApply by the deadline and meet our admission requirements, your application will be forwarded to the Admissions Commission for evaluation. If your motivation letter receives a positive score, you will be invited to attend an entrance interview (online video interview for international applicants). The respective institute will send you the exact time of the interview a few days before the interview date. 

Admission results (including offers) will be announced to all applicants personally via DreamApply. Admitted candidates have seven days to accept or decline the offer in the application system. The university may withdraw the admission offer if the admitted student fails to inform the university of his or her decision by the stipulated deadline.

Admission offers are conditional. This means that the applicant needs to fulfil certain conditions in order to be admitted (for example, sending application documents by post, obtaining the required level of education). If the conditions are not met, the admission offer can be withdrawn.

The university reserves the right to withdraw or amend any offer or revoke the matriculation of a student if it becomes evident that the application contains fraudulent information, the qualification does not provide access to the chosen study programme, the student is found to have omitted key information from the application or a long-term visa or a residence permit for study is not issued to the applicant. Should such circumstances occur, the university will not be liable for any material or immaterial loss suffered by the student as a result.

All admitted students are required to send application documents by post to: Student Admissions, University of Tartu, Ülikooli 18-132, Tartu 50090, ESTONIA.

The package must include:

  1. a printed and signed application from DreamApply
    Please see guidelines
  2. officially certified copies of diplomas and transcripts/diploma supplements (bachelor´s and master´s, guidelines below)
    Please check if you have to follow country-specific requirements when sending education documents
  3. official translations of both bachelor´s and master´s diplomas and transcripts/diploma supplements into English (if applicable)
  4. simple copy of passport credentials page
  5. simple copy of English language certificate

You may send the hard copies of the application documents by the application deadline. This allows us to process the documents earlier, and if you get admitted, the following process will be smoother.

However, you can also prepare the documents and postpone mailing them until you receive the conditional admission offer. If you are admitted, send the documents in the fastest possible way (by courier), making sure they arrive within two weeks. If you choose this option, please prepare the certified copies now so that you can send them out at once if necessary. Getting your documents properly certified can take quite a while. If the documents do not arrive on time, the university has the right to withdraw the admission offer.

Applicants will be informed when their documents have arrived. Please note that the documents are first delivered to the university´s Postal Service and are taken to our office once a day. If you see that your documents have reached the University of Tartu, it does not necessarily mean we have already started processing your documents. Please be patient and wait until you receive a notification via DreamApply, confirming that we have started processing your documents. Please note that the application documents will not be returned.  

All copies of education documents (diplomas and diploma supplements/transcripts) must be officially certified. Certified copies should bear an original signature and seal of the certifying authority stating that they are true copies of the original.

The documents can be certified either:

  • by an authorised official from the issuing institution
  • by a notary
  • with an Apostille attached.

Please note that the university does not accept simple copies of original documents or copies of certified copies. Some country-specific requirements also specify the way documents must be certified.

Never send us your original degree certificates, as documents sent by post may get lost and application documents will not be returned. Only send attested copies of degree certificates.

The official admission letter will be sent to admitted students electronically via DreamApply only after the admissions office has received and reviewed hard copies of the application documents and received the evaluation from the Estonian ENIC/NARIC Centre (if applicable).

NB! The electronic admission letter is also sufficient for non-EU students for applying for visa/residence permit at an Estonian embassy.

If you have been offered a doctoral student place with a state-funded junior research fellow position at the University of Tartu, you need to sign a work contract after accepting the study offer. The junior research fellow's salary is comparable to the Estonian average and corresponds to the minimum salary rate of junior research fellows at the University of Tartu (which is in 2023 1,720 euros per month for full-time work, net salary ca. 1400 euros). 

You will be contacted regarding the contract by the faculty in one week after accepting the study offer.

Junior research fellows are generally expected to study and work full-time from the time announced on the open call webpage. The exact workload and starting date will be agreed during the contract negotiations. If the university and the applicant fail to reach an agreement on the conditions of the employment contract within one month from accepting the student place, the university has a right to revoke the admission decision. As a general rule, junior research fellows must arrive in Tartu by the beginning of studies and work. Non-EU students also need to have a valid D (long-stay) visa or temporary residence permit (TRP) to stay in Estonia legally.

Once the admission letter has been issued, admitted students may proceed with arranging their arrival.

All non-EU students should first consult information on the process of visa and temporary residence permit application to know where and when to apply for the relevant documents.

Note that housing at the UT dormitories can be applied for during a limited period only, unless specified otherwise on the website. For housing alternatives please find further information on Tartu Welcome Centre website.  
Travel information can be found here.

Based upon common queries, the most important information has been summarised into a pre-arrival information website UT Getting Started.

Beginning of your studies

If you apply in February or May, your studies start at the beginning of the academic year. The academic year starts on 4 September 2023.

When applying in September or November, studies begin during the autumn semester (in February at the latest).

General information on academic matters related to PhD studies is described here.

Estonian applicants should apply via National Admission Information Systems (SAIS). Further information in Estonian.

International applicants graduating in Estonia

International applicants who have completed their previous study level in Estonia or who are about to graduate from an institution in Estonia may apply via SAIS or DreamApply. NB! You can access SAIS only with a valid Estonian ID card or residence card.

Required documents for international applicants graduating in Estonia

  1. online application in SAIS or DreamApply
  2. motivation letter
  3. curriculum vitae (example form here)
  4. proof of English must be submitted only if you have not graduated from an English-taught bachelor´s or master´s programme in Estonia (applies to international applicants)
  5. copies of master´s documents. If you apply in DreamApply and your degree is not from UT, upload the graduation documents. Information about UT graduates will be verified from the Study Information System and scans are not needed. If you apply in SAIS, the information about your master´s studies will be available in the "Education" section and uploading additional scans is not needed. SAIS uses the data available from the Estonian Education Information System (EHIS)
  6. a copy of your passport is required in DreamApply, but not in SAIS

If you graduate from the University of Tartu in summer 2023, the most recent transcript of your master´s studies is not required. Information will be verified from the Study Information System. If you graduate from some other higher education institution, you must upload the most recent transcript to DreamApply.

If paper copies of documents are required, we will inform you via SAIS/DreamApply after processing your application.

Applying in SAIS is different from applying in DreamApply:

  • Some of the instructions in SAIS are available only in Estonian
  • In SAIS we do not give feedback to all applicants. You will receive feedback only if we require additional information or documents. In this case, you will receive notification from SAIS by email. Please check your mailbox regularly, including junk mail
  • If you are admitted, you must accept the study place in SAIS (the same is true with DreamApply) within seven days. International applicants in SAIS receive an official admission letter by email in two weeks after accepting the study offer.

Admission to doctoral studies

Open calls

Status and funding of doctoral students

Centre for Doctoral Studies in Science and Technology

Virge Anso
Centre for Doctoral Studies in Science and Technology
Virge Anso
Centre for Doctoral Studies in Science and Technology
Student Admissions
Student Admissions