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Doctoral candidate/doctoral studies

Individual study plans

An individual study plan is the documentation describing the plan for your doctoral studies. It is written by you and your supervisor together and is the framework used to measure your study performance. It includes your commitments, but also protect your rights as a doctoral candidate.

The Higher Education Ordinance stipulates that the higher education institution has an obligation to ensure that an individual study plan is created for every doctoral candidate.


The individual study plan is both a schedule for the doctoral studies and a description of the obligations of the candidate and the higher education institution during the period of the programme. It must also include information regarding other requirements for the studies to be conducted effectively.

The schedule should specify the courses that the doctoral candidate is to undertake and preliminary dates for planned articles and each section of the thesis. The schedule should be more detailed for the immediate future and should be adjusted and updated at each annual review to list what will happen in the coming year.

Routines regarding supervision should be documented, for example that the candidate and supervisor are to meet every other week. Other commitments might involve attending seminars or conferences relevant to the subject or participation in a research project. The higher education institution should provide doctoral candidates with a place to work and reasonable conditions for study in other respects.

Regular follow up

The higher education institution is to follow up your individual study plan regularly, which for many departments means annually. During this review, you and your supervisor report on how your doctoral studies are progressing. The higher education institution can then, or at any other time it is required, make any necessary changes to your individual study plan. You and your supervisor have the right to respond to and comment on proposed adjustments and must confirm in writing that you have read and understood the individual study plan and any changes made to it.

If conditions related to your studies change, for example if you teach more than planned, fall ill or take parental leave, this must be documented and your individual study plan adjusted accordingly. If this does not happen and your thesis has not progressed as planned, the higher education institution will be unable to see why and may then suspect that you have neglected your studies.

Who makes decisions on individual study plans can vary between higher education institutions. For more information on what rules apply at your higher education institution, we recommend that you contact your supervisor or your local Saco-S association.

Factors that can impact doctoral studies

Many factors could affect your ability to complete your studies according to plan. Too much teaching, secondary employment, positive or negative events in your private life, as well as setbacks in your thesis, working environment problems and supervision issues are just some of the things that could impact your studies.

It is important to deal with problems early if you notice that your studies are being affected. Contact your supervisor, department head or SULF for advice and support as soon as you suspect that there may be an issue.

Not all events and occurrences entitle you to an extension of your doctoral studies. The Higher Education Ordinance allows scope for extensions in certain circumstance, for example sick leave, parental leave, posting within the armed forces or work as an elected trade union or student organisation representative. Other factors may entitle you to an extension, but there are no guarantees.

Your individual study plan – your protection

If a doctoral candidate neglects their studies, or in the words of the Higher Education Ordinance “substantially neglects their obligations under the individual study plan”, the higher education institution may decide to withdraw supervision and other resources. It is therefore essential that your individual study plan is accurate and kept up to date.