PhD Student FAQ



Handbook for Visiting Researchers and Research Students

Swedish Higher Education Authority

The Handbook for Postgraduate Students


‘Trygghetsstiftelsen’ – The Job Security Foundation

Entrance Requirements and Admission (Information about higher education studies)

What do I need to apply for a postgraduate position?

Each department is free to state specific requirements, for instance in language, work experience or certain undergraduate courses given at the department. With some exceptions it is not a necessary prerequisite to command Swedish to be a postgraduate student. However, in those cases a very good command of English is mandatory. The basic requirements are as follow:

- a Bachelor’s Degree (in some cases a Master’s Degree), or the equivalent; a major in the subject of interest (equivalent to 90-120 ECTS, i.e. at least one and a half to two years of full-time study).

How do I apply?

A department is not allowed to accept PhD students who do not have full financing for the entire PhD programme. This means that they cannot accept any applicant unless they are prepared to pay a form of salary, or if there is full financing already granted by an external body in terms of grants or scholarships. PhD student positions at a department are to be advertised and open to all eligible applicants. An application should typically include your CV, a project presentation, and time schedule. It is always a good idea to contact a professor at the department beforehand to ask for their guidance and advice when applying.

Who decides who is admitted?

At Stockholm University it is the respective Department Board at each department. In cases where the PhD studnet is financed through grants or a scholarship the Faculty Board needs formally approve the application.

If I am not admitted, can I appeal the decision?

No, you may not. You can ask for the decision to be re-evaluated, but that rarely leads to success unless there is a clear case of discrimination or bias. Instead, try to contact the professors and ask for any feedback and suggestions they may have on how you can improve your application in the future. Do not give up, try again. There are very few PhD student positions available in many subjects and rejection does not necessarily mean that the professors did not appreciate your project.

Funding and salary

Can a professor pay for my research with grants until I get a formal position?

It is strictly forbidden for Swedish departments to fund PhD students through tax exempted grants and scholarships, and no professor has the right to hire a postgraduate under these conditions, which are referred to as ‘shadow PhD students’. Only the Department Board can admit postgraduates, and only the Faculty Board can accept PhD students who do not receive a proper salary. However, foreign PhD students may be accepted with ‘external financing’ through grants and scholarships from their home country under certain circumstances. In those cases there should be a formal agreement between the funding agency and the department, with a fully funded project.

I am financed by a scholarship, is there a catch to that?

International and exchange postgraduates are often funded through grants they receive from their home country. If you have a scholarship you are not entitled to social security in Sweden if you get sick or pregnant. In addition, you do not have the same insurance coverage as the other PhD students in case of an accident. However, you have all formal rights to quality supervision, seminars, and equal treatment. You are a staff member of your department with the right to information and administrative help, you are a member of the PhD student council if your department has one, and you are eligible to be elected as a PhD student council representative. You do not automatically have the right to extra funding or prolongation if you have been elected as a PhD student representative, but most departments are very open to accommodating this. Discuss the matter with your colleagues or the PhD Student Ombudsman at the Student Union.

Can I finance my PhD studies with a part-time job?

It is extremely rare for this kind of personal financing to be accepted today, and it is strongly discouraged by the faculties. There are three major conditions:

  1. The minimal monthly income should still be equal to that earn by employment as a PhD studnet (doktorandanställning), which is approximately 20.000 SEK per month after taxes.

  2. The PhD studies must be possible to complete within eight years so it is mandatory to be at least 50 percent active as a PhD student. You cannot work 80 percent and do research 20 percent in order to secure an income.

  3. You need to have financing for your entire PhD studies secured.

All PhD students need resources in terms of supervision and administrative help, so departments are very reluctant to accept anyone who is not properly funded.

What form of employment exists for PhD students?

The PhD student positions advertised by departments entail some sort of employment, but there are two different types of position with very different terms and conditions. A full employment (anställning) means a proper salary and full social security if you get sick, go on parental leave or become unemployed once your project is finished. However, most PhD students will initially only receive utbildningsbidrag (study grant). A PhD student that receives a study grant is guaranteed by law to be employed as a PhD student when he or she is reckoned to have no more than two years of full-time study left to complete (though not if you are financed by external projects/grants).

Work environment

Am I entitled to a workspace of my own?

Your department is obligated to offer you decent workspace and working conditions, which entail a desk and a chair, but you may have to share a room.

Am I entitled to a computer and specific software?

The policy of Stockholm University is that all PhD students should receive necessary resources to complete the PhD programme. There is good reason to argue that a computer is absolutely necessary for any project, regardless of discipline. The hardware and software are open to negotiation, however, so try to communicate your needs to the department well in advance. If they have limited means they might be able to help you apply for extra funding to cover these expenses.

I am dissatisfied with my supervisor, what can I do?

First try to address your grievances through dialogue, prepare yourself by noting down relevant points and try to have constructive suggestions on how to make the situation better. If this does not work and your supervisor is acting inappropriately in any way by harassing or threatening you, or ignoring you and shirking the duties expected of a supervisor, you are absolutely entitled to request a change in supervisor from the department. Contact the PhD Student Ombudsman at the Student Union for counseling, anything said here is in the strictest confidence.

Can I change supervisor?

Yes, you absolutely have the right to change supervisor. It is stated in the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 6, paragraph 28) that a PhD student may change supervisor if he or she wishes to do so. Your department is not allowed to deny your request.

What should I consider when changing supervisor?

You should try to handle the situation with care. Try not to make a big deal out of it so that the entire department needs to get involved and where people feels obligated to choose sides. You should also try to avoid the prestige in the matter. Talk to the head of department that is responsible for assigning you another supervisor. If the head of the department seems reluctant to deal with the matter, if it is in fact the same person, or if the supervisor or other tutors at the department should approach you with threats or warnings you need to contact the PhD Student Ombudsman ath the Student Union for support.

What can I do if it is not working out with my supervisor but there are no alternative?

Your supervisor is of course very important to you, but you can get one or several well suited assisting supervisors, at your department or at a completely different higher education institution. You could also ask that your supervisor only have a formal position and that an assisting supervisor takes the responsibility of your supervision. In this way you can get better support and assistance without your supervisor losing face and you will not be forced to change research project.

PhD programme and courses

How long is the PhD programme?

Basically, for four years of full time studies or 240 credits. But with service at the department, different assignments and other circumstances such as parental leave, the PhD programme usually takes 5-7 years.

What does deduction mean?

Deduction means that study time is deducted. I.e. If you have been registered as a PhD student and engaged a PhD programme based on scholarship, student grant or own resources, that time will be deducted from your utbildningsbidrag or PhD studentship (doktorandanställning). It is the net study that is deductable. The main principle is that one's net study, regardless of the form of supply, won’t exceed four years.

How much of the education credits will be thesis?

The thesis must constitute at least half of the credits, which means 120 credits, but it is up to the department to decide the exact criteria for each PhD programme. The most common is that the mandatory PhD studnet courses independent study represents 60-90 credits.

Do I have the right to inspect the economy of the department and the project?

Yes, you have an unconditional right to full transparency. Stockholm University, as all other government funded higher education institutions, is a public authority. Therefore constitutive laws such as Administrative Law, Freedom of the press and Privacy laws applies.

What is the individual study plan?

The study plan is both a time schedule and a contract for your PhD programme, since all PhD students have different needs and goals. The individual study plan is a description of the obligations that the PhD student and the university have agreed upon during the PhD programme and what else is necessary, so that the education is conducted in an efficient manner at all time.

Who is responsible for the individual study plan?

The faculty board has the main responsibility to make sure that all PhD students have an individual study plan, and that it is being followed-up annually. The actual work has been delegated to the departments, but the faculty still has the responsibility to ensure that they live up to their commitment.

Why is the individual study plan so important?

The purpose of the individual study plan is to guide the PhD student’s PhD programme. This mean that the department promises to provide sufficient guidance, necessary equipment and good study conditions in general. For the PhD student the individual study plan contains different goals with the PhD programme.

The individual study plan should be followed up and revised regularly (each year at Stockholm University). This is done by the supervisor together with the PhD student. At the occasion you look into the work that has been done during the year and compare it to the individual study plan and revise it accordingly. The individual study plan is also a legal document. If the PhD programme doesn’t work out as planned this document is of great importance.

A PhD student that has repeatedly failed to follow the individual study plan can lose their ‘resources’, and a department that has failed to live up to their commitments in guidance, resources and PhD student courses can be obligated to extend the PhD studentship.

Do I have the right to keep my PhD studentship until the contract ends if I make the public defense of my PhD thesis in advance?

Formally you have the right to keep your PhD studentship (doktorandanställning) for up to a year after you got your doctoral degree according to the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 5, paragraph 7). Please note that the public defense of the PhD thesis and the doctoral degree is not the same – some wait with their third-cycle courses and graduation until after the public defense of PhD thesis. If you have a PhD studentship you have an assignment and your employer has no formal right to cancel your PhD studentship in advance if you fulfill your assignment. Please note that the assignment normally expires in one year, but there are assignments that expire in six months or even less. If your assignment is about to expire and you have a chance for a renewal and you do your public defense of doctoral thesis right before that you might lose the assignment.

If you estimate that you can finish sooner than expected, you should talk to your supervisor and the head of department (that is responsible for the economy) about their point of view. No one can force you to do your public defense of your Doctoral thesis ahead of time and if they don’t want to give you any guarantees regarding the time remaining you could wait with the public defense of PhD thesis. However, often the head of department sees this as a positive progression since they then get a post doc at the same price as a PhD student. As long as you spend your remaining time of your employment with writing articles, search for research projects and to establish a network this usually will not be a problem. Make sure that you have a clearly promise from the head of department if it extends over a longer period of time.

You should also keep in mind that a doctor’s degree holds more than just publishing a book and a few articles. It is an education where you are expected to participate in the research group at your department, participate in seminars both as orator and auditor and broaden your knowledge by studies. Take this unique opportunity in consideration and ask yourself what is in it for you if you do your public defense of your PhD thesis in advance.

Can I get guidance and other resources withdrawn?

Yes you can, but that requires that the Vice Chancellor issues an order according to the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 6, paragraph 30). The procedure is complicated – it is only if the individual study plan is significantly disregarded that it can lead to a withdrawn. However, minor changes that occur during the programme are nothing unusual.

At Stockholm University the Faculty Board is preparing decisions to withdraw resources or restore withdrawn resources according to the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 6, paragraphs 30-31). Before the Vice Chancellor takes such a decision, the PhD student and the supervisor have the right to state their views. Essentially, if you have had poor guidance and/or an insufficient research environment you get to keep your resources, but you might need to change supervisor. If the PhD student does not have an individual study plan or the existing plan has major weaknesses the PhD student will keep the resources.

If the department has fulfilled their commitments with a good guidance and a good research environment but the PhD programme is still not moving forward there is a risk that the PhD student will lose the guidance. If you are being investigated you should contact the PhD Student Ombudsman at the Student Union as soon as possible. The resources can be recovered if you can demonstrate a learning outcome that shows that it is likely that you can fulfill the remaining commitments under the individual study plan. This requires that the Vice Chancellor issues a special order.

If my resources are withdrawn, will they take me of the PhD programme?

No, you will keep your PhD student status until you graduate or until you decide to leave. This means that you at least have a theoretic chance to present and defend your thesis. However, if you want to have the right to the ‘unemployment benefit found’ (a-kassa) during this period you need to officially leave the PhD programme.

Am I allowed to go abroad to visit a fellow researcher?

Yes you may, it is written in various documents that PhD students are encouraged to spend one or several semesters at a foreign university. A necessary condition is that it is approved by your supervisor and department, whom often play an important role by helping the PhD student with contacts, certificates and letter of introduction.

Do I have to deduct the time abroad?

It depends on how you finance your stay abroad. Do you use student grant or if you have a PhD studentship (doktorandanställning) this counts as normal study time and will be deducted from your four years of studies. If you can finance your stay abroad in another way such as scholarship, it might be considered as a non-completion period so that you won’t need to deduct any study time.

Do I need to print my PhD thesis?

No, it is not demanded legally any longer, but separate departments may have different rules. In general the thesis is printed in Sweden before they are handed in for graduation. Within the faculty of humanities and social sciences the thesis is usually in the form of a book, a so-called monograph. In the natural sciences and medicine it is more common that the thesis is shorter and contains a number of separately published articles, a so called compilation thesis.

PhD studentship and teaching

Is teaching and administrative work a part of my PhD studentship?

Not in the actual PhD studentship. The Higher Education Ordinance states that ’a person who is employed as a PhD student shall mainly focus on their education‘ (chapter 5 paragraph 2). The department has no more right to demand you to perform unpaid work within your PhD programme than to demand the first cycle students to perform unpaid work. However, the department has the right to demand a PhD student to accept a part-time employment for departmental duties.

Am I going to do any work at the department?

PhD students often have 20 percent departmental duties written as a clause in their contract. You can be employed as a teaching assistant, assistant or in some cases as a lecturer, and that employment should be on payroll even though you are on doctoral grant for the time you are conducting research. If you do not have departmental duties as a part of your PhD studentship you should be employed and get paid if you are teaching or performs work that takes time of your research.

What do departmental duties mean?

It can mean different things. It can include teaching and lecturing, supervision of laboratories, excursions and seminars, but library chores or administrative chores can also be a part of the departmental duties. The time needed for preparations, correction of examinations, and student supervision etcetera should also be included in the working hours.

My department wants me to work more than 20 percent, is that OK?

According toThe Higher Education Ordinance, the department does not have the right to demand more than 20 percent of your time for departmental duties unless you want to work and think that it would be rewarding. You could agree to extend your working hours with teaching and other assignments but no more than 50 percent. You should also keep in mind that it is your own decision and that you have the right to cut down on your working hours down to 20 percent of your time if you wish to do so. Part time research may make it difficult to get the working atmosphere you need to complete your work. The main focus should be to get your thesis finished, not be cheap labor to your department.

Is it necessary for me to teach and do other departmental duties?

Most of the PhD students have departmental duties, because it is an obvious qualification, but if you for some reason absolutely don’t want to, you usually don’t need to. If that is the case you need to notify your supervisor well in advance. Keep in mind that it is necessary to have a teaching qualification as a PhD student if you would want an academic teaching post later on in your career. The experience of organizing seminars and conferences is also providing a useful qualification further on, and the administrative work also gives you better insight of how your department is organized.

I would like to teach, but I don’t have any departmental duties, what can I do?

You should talk to your supervisor and the director of studies. Point out how important it is for your future to get teaching experience within the university and in other workplaces. Talk to other PhD students that are in the same position as you and see if there is something that you can do together. Engage in non-profit assignments within the department and faculty that will give you experience and the opportunity to observe the everyday work at the department.

Do I get prolongation if I get elected to non-profit assignments?

Yes, almost every non-profit assignment gives you the right to a prolongation of the student grant and paid service employment. If you choose to represent your fellow students you should not lose any study time. You can read how many extra days per year different assignments give you here. Remember that it is calculated on the working week, so in reality five days of prolonging actually means one week of extra time. The prolongation is compiled and is added to your duty in the end of the period. This could mean several months of extra time in the final year of your PhD programme.

Parenthood, illness, vacation etc.

Do I have the right to Stockholm University healthcare?

Yes, all admitted PhD students have the same right to use the occupational healthcare as any other staff. You can contact Feelgood for telephone-counseling if you experience work related problems or if you feel psychological illness due to your work environment.

Am I insured when I am employed as a PhD student?

If you have an employment you also have a Personal Injury Insurance (PSA) as every other employed. If you have a student grant or scholarship you are only covered by the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency general student insurance that you can read more about here. All doctoral students are covered by the ‘Tjänstereseförsäkring‘.

Do I have the right to parental leave if I have a PhD studentship?

If you have a PhD studentship (doktorandanställning) you are covered by the parental insurance which means that you get 80 percent of your salary and that your PhD studentship will be put on hold until you come back from parental leave. You are still employed and you have the same rights as all other employees. In addition to parental benefit from Försäkringskassan the university pays ten percent of your salary as parental salary. If you are a scholarship holder it might be different since it is up to the scholarship donor to approve your parental leave. It is very uncommon to withdraw a scholarship for this reason. However, it could mean that you won’t get it extended when you apply for a renewal of the scholarship.

Am I entitled to any vacation if I am on student grant?

No. You are able to go on vacation at your own responsibility but you don’t have any statutory right to vacation or any paid vacation.

Am I entitled to any vacation if I am employed as an assistant?

Yes, equivalent to the amount you work.

Am I allowed to ’save up’ my vacation days?

You have no right to save up all of your vacation days until the end of your service, and your department has the right to demand that you use your vacation days since they will be forced to make an extra tax payment otherwise. But as any other employee you have the right to save up vacation days from one year to another. In that case, discuss with your head of department when and how you would like to use that vacation.

Can my department demand me to use my vacation days, even though I know that I need to work that period?

To report vacation even though you are at work is not okay. You are not insured at that time if something happens at work or on the way to or from your office. It is common that the department tries to register the PhD students saved vacation days the last weeks of service, but since many of the PhD students are working hard to get their thesis finished in time this is not right. It is you and the department that is responsible to make sure that the vacation is used at a suitable time. The individual study plan could be of help to plan the vacation.

Can my supervisor expects me to work during vacation?

There are some supervisors that believe that PhD students should not have any vacation at all. Remember that vacation is not only your statutory right but also a necessary break for your health, and your research. Many students forget to rest and gets worn-out. Your vacation is often a very constructive period for your research: You have the time to relax and reflect on your research and you get a fresh start when you come back to work with new energy. If your supervisor criticize or make threats on your decision to take a vacation you should contact your PhD Student Ombudsman at the Student Union or your student council representative.

Do I have the right to leave of absence?

Leave of absence is a question of negotiation between you, your supervisor and the head of the department if it is not about leave of absence because of service in the total defence, positions of trust in trade union organisations and student organisations, parental leave and other similar circumstances.

Could my supervisor request me to take a doctorate on part-time?

According to The Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 5, paragraph 3a) a PhD studentship (doktorandanställning) should relate work at fulltime. On the request of the doctoral student the PhD studentship could relate to work part time at a minimum of 50 percent, so part time PhD studentship is only acceptable if it is initiated by the doctoral student and only if the department approves. There is one exception from the regulations and that is the agreement of 20 percent departmental duties.

Do I need to deduct the time from my research when I am away on leave of absence?

It depends on what you do during your leave of absence. If you are working on your PhD programme it should be deducted according to The Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 5, paragraph 7, third fragment). However, if you do not conduct dissertation research during your leave of absence i.e. if you are spending a year abroad as a scholarship holder or doing something completely different, the time should not be deducted.

‘Trygghetsstiftelsen‘ - The Job Security Foundation

What is The Job Security Foundation

The Job Security Foundation covers all employed within the governmental agreement areas, and it includes employees that has had one or several employments under a period of three years during the four latest years. If you have engaged a PhD studentship for at least three years when you graduate you can get support from The Job Security Foundation. Please note that student grant doesn’t count as an employment.

What is the purpose of the Job Security Foundation?

The foundation sometimes helps out with a Job security income supplement that helps you raise your unemployment benefit fund. The foundation also provides healthcare, job coaching, guidance in how to start your own business and other specific training. The foundation also has a recruitment service that many employers use before they advertise the service.

How do I apply to the Job Security Foundation?

It is your employer, that is the department and not you that applies to the foundation. Make sure that your head of department don’t forget this when your PhD studentship comes to an end and it seems that you will be out of work after the studentship ends – this doesn’t happen automatically.

Is it only hours worked that counts or can I count i.e. parental leave?

Yes – The Job Security Foundation covers everyone that has been employed for at least three years during the last four years regardless if they have been on parental leave or on sick leave during a part of that time, so keep track of how long you have been employed.