Dissertation, defence, and the doctoral degree

A major requirement of doctoral programmes is that you publicly defend a research thesis. The thesis is graded after the defense, and this is in almost all cases the final step before graduation. 

The research work that goes into the thesis should account for at least 120ECTS – half of the total needed for completing a doctoral education. The purpose of the thesis is to demonstrate that the doctoral student can contribute to the development of knowledge in the field. 

In the doctorate, the thesis is called Research thesis, while for the doctorate in the fine, applied and performative arts, the thesis is called Documented artistic research project. Detailed descriptions of the educational outcomes of both types of doctoral educations can be found in the HEO – the outcomes regarding research are mainly achieved through the thesis and the defense. 

There are generally two forms the doctoral thesis can take: the monograph and the compilation thesis. The monograph is a unified scientific work covering the entire research work you did during your PhD. The compilation thesis is a collection of your published scientific works (for example articles), together with an introductory chapter called a comprehensive summary (kappa). The introductory chapter should tie the published works together and summarise them. 

The procedure for registering your thesis and submitting for a doctoral degree varies widely between universities and departments. You should ask those responsible for research education what the procedure is. You should be prepared for the process to take a while: in some departments you may be able to apply for a defense as soon as you and your supervisor agree that your thesis and academic work meet the formal requirements, in others there is an evaluation involving the head of research education. Some departments recommend, or require, pre-defences or mock-defences where the work is evaluated within the department and feedback is given before the final defence. It is your right to, at any time, present your work for final assessment. However, the supervisor should, as part of their duties, ensure that the thesis is of a high enough standard to pass before recommending that the doctoral student undertakes a public defence. For compilation theses, the articles have often already been published in peer-review journals. It is therefore unusual for a doctoral student to fail the public defence of his or her doctoral thesis, but it can happen.

The thesis needs to be publicly available before the defence. Once you have a set defence date there is usually a set date by which you need to make your thesis available. There is also a date by which you need to submit your thesis to the evaluation committee. You should ask your department for a calendar of important dates connected to the defence. 

While it is possible that you defend your thesis and afterwards complete a requirement such as a mandatory course, this happens rarely – you should be able to complete all requirements for the degree before defending the thesis. If there are external factors delaying the availability of a course for example, it is still customary that time is organized such that you defend at the end of your education. The thesis and the defence are just part of the requirements of a doctoral education, but they carry a symbolic weight. 

The defence is a public event, hosted and organized by your department or university. It is announced to the public by the institution. It involves, according to the law, a faculty examiner called an opponent (the Swedish word is the same). While the exact procedure for the defence and the tasks of the opponent may vary, the opponent is the main examinator. At least one member of the examination committee needs to be someone not employed by the HEI awarding the degree. It is the committee and the opponent who decide whether the doctoral student passes or not.

You should remember to apply for a doctoral degree after graduation, as one is not issued automatically.