Doctoral candidate/doctoral studies


The Higher Education Ordinance provides entitlement to supervision during doctoral studies. Universities have an obligation to appoint at least two supervisors, one of which must be lead supervisor.

Scientifically active researchers

All supervisors, but especially lead supervisors, must be scientifically active researchers. Their knowledge and contacts are important instruments to be used for candidate education.

Assistant supervisor

In addition to lead supervisors, universities must appoint one or more assistant supervisors. These may be located in the home department but may also work at other departments or universities. Depending on the expertise necessary for the thesis topic, assistant supervisors at overseas universities may also be appointed.

In addition to the supervisor and assistant supervisor, other resources may be necessary in order to complete the thesis. Colleagues on the doctoral programme, and others too, may form a source of support and help.

The tasks of the supervisor

There are no ordinances that stipulate the tasks or responsibilities of supervisors. The content of the role varies between different people and faculties. Generally, however, it can be said that supervision of doctoral candidates should include:

  • Support in the selection and formulation of thesis topic.
  • Continuous review and feedback on manuscript/related material.
  • Support in the selection of graduate courses.
  • Acting as a sounding board for literature/projects /field studies /etc.
  • Acting as a source of ethical standards and good research methods.
  • Helping to establish relevant contacts in the academic world.

Supervision may also include help in participating in academic conferences (inside and outside Sweden), information on where to apply for funding and lots more.

Different traditions and styles of supervision

In the 2000s, it became increasingly common for universities to require new supervisors to undergo relevant training before being assigned candidates at doctoral level. The objective of this supervisor training is to create a common base for supervisors, but with or without training it is difficult to ignore the fact that supervisors have different supervision styles. Similarly, there are long traditions concerning thesis work and supervision within certain subject areas/faculties.

Whatever your faculty tradition or supervisor’s style, supervision must be implemented in a professional manner that provides good support for thesis work.


Depending on the thesis topic, the supervisor and many other factors, supervision may differ considerably between students. There is great benefit in regular (how often is determined by the candidate and the supervisor), well-prepared (from both sides) meetings.

Both the doctoral candidate and the supervisors need to check off the development of the thesis project. This not only concerns the thesis but also how well the supervision is working and the factors affecting the situation, for example the balance between the time devoted to teaching and to research.

The work should be structured in both the long and the short term and all important changes documented in the individual study plan. In certain cases clearly-stated targets to be checked at the next supervision session are appropriate.

It is the supervisor’s task to guide the candidate through the thesis. This also means that it is the supervisor’s responsibility to provide feedback but also support and help if the thesis schedule is slipping. Supervision meetings can sometimes be challenging both for doctoral candidates and supervisors and it is important to build a relationship characterised as much as possible by mutual confidence in order to achieve this.

Useful documents

Discussion on supervision arrangements (Word)
Discussion Material for Newly Accepted PhD students and their Supervisors – questionnaire (Pdf)

The relationship

The relationship between supervisor and doctoral candidate is often intense and it is vital that it be founded on trust. It is essential to maintain the relationship on a professional basis. If an emotional relationship between doctoral candidate and supervisor develops, a change of supervisor is recommended. If this does not occur and the relationship ends, there is a risk that major problems will occur for the doctoral candidate.

Sexual harassment is never acceptable and should never occur within the framework of the supervisor/doctoral candidate relationship. If you experience sexual harassment, contact SULF, your departmental HR section or the health and safety representative.

Right to change supervisor

Doctoral candidates are entitled to change supervisor. There may be different reasons for wanting to change supervisors during a doctoral programme. There are, for example, changes in response the reorientation of the thesis as well as due to cooperation problems between supervisors and doctoral candidates. This may sometimes cause practical problems, but the department or university is obliged to provide another supervisor.

If cooperation issues mean the candidate wishes to change supervisor, we recommend a serious discussion with the relevant supervisor. If this meeting does not result in constructive proposals for change, discuss the situation with the department head or the Director of Postgraduate Education. Doctoral candidate colleagues as well as SULF or local Saco-S associations can provide support and offer a sounding board in these situations. It is always possible to call the SULF Membership Helpline.

Supervisor retires

Sometimes a supervisor retires before as a doctoral candidate has completed his/her course of study. In such cases the university has an obligation to arrange a new supervisor.

Supervision withdrawn

If doctoral candidates neglect their agreed undertakings to, as is set out in the Ordinance, a “significant” degree, the department may take a decision that they are no longer entitled to supervision and other resources. Universities do take such decisions, but not very often. According to the Ordinance, the President/Vice-Chancellor of the university takes such exclusion decisions, but universities may delegate this task to, for example, faculty boards.

Before a decision on exclusion from supervision is taken, candidates are given the opportunity to express their views. Similarly, the relevant supervisor is also given the opportunity to be heard. An examination will then be carried out based on these reports and any other evidence available. Whether the department has fulfilled its own commitments according to the individual study plan must also be taken into consideration. The decision must be written and reasoned. Resources may not be withdrawn for the period the person is employed as a doctoral candidate.

Appeal of decision to withdraw supervision

If the university takes a decision to withdraw resources for a candidate’s education, he/she is entitled, upon application to the President/Vice-Chancellor of the university to regain supervision and other resources. In order to achieve this, the candidate must prove that he/she can fulfil the remaining commitments within the individual study plan, for example by showing what the Ordinance describes as “additional study results of considerable quality and scale”.