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Research studies


  1. Scope
  2. Research studies subjects
  3. Graduate schools
  4. Subject directors
  5. Director of third cycle studies
  6. Courses and other credit-earning elements
  7. The research project
  8. The thesis
  9. Individual study plan
  10. Supervision
  11. Public defence of the doctoral thesis and degree


1) Scope

Third cycle studies cover 240 credits, where 1.5 credits correspond to one week of full-time study. The study programme concludes with a doctoral degree. For a doctoral degree, the doctoral student must have obtained a pass grade on the exams included in the study programme, as well as on a research thesis (doctoral thesis). The doctoral thesis must have been orally defended at a public defence. In general, the thesis work itself should correspond to studies of at least 120 credits, while the remaining credits are made up of courses or other credit-earning components.

Third cycle studies which conclude with a licentiate degree cover 120 credits. A licentiate degree can also be obtained as a stage in research studies, in which case it is still to be worth at least 120 credits. For a licentiate degree, the doctoral student is generally required to have obtained a pass grade on the exams included in the stage of study, and on a thesis corresponding to studies of at least 60 credits, after a presentation at a seminar.

2) Research studies subjects

There are a number of defined subjects and specialisation areas at the faculty, within which admissions to research studies are possible. For each subject and specialisation, there is a general syllabus describing the requirements for admission and for obtaining a degree.

 Subjects and general syllabi

3) Graduate schools

A graduate school is an organised collaboration between several subjects and several higher education institutions. Each graduate school has a host university/higher education institution. Many of the faculty’s doctoral students can be admitted to the activities of several graduate schools. The faculty’s website features a list of the graduate schools present at the faculty.

Information on graduate schools within the faculty

4) Subject directors

For each subject and specialisation in research studies, there is to be clearly delegated responsibility. Previously a subject director was appointed for each subject and specialisation by the faculty board, but since 2010, decisions on how to organise responsibility for the subjects have been delegated to the head of department. The responsibility for a subject usually still rests with an individual. This person’s task is to be responsible for the development and quality of the subject or the specialisation, where applicable. The responsibility for a subject includes:

  • deciding when the third cycle programme has been completed
  • submitting proposals for a date, location, external reviewer, examining committee and chair for the public defence of doctoral theses and for licentiate seminars
  • being the examiner for licentiate theses

In cases where the subject director is also the supervisor, the head of department is to ensure that another member of teaching staff functions as the subject director for the doctoral student with regard to the ongoing tasks.

5) Director of third cycle studies

Each research student at the faculty is to have access to a director of studies. This person’s main task under the head of department is to be responsible for information and advice and to strive to offer an adequate range of courses within research studies. Normally, the director of studies shall

  • be responsible for information on the regulations and conditions for third cycle education, and for the range of courses on offer
  • strive to ensure that there is a suitable range of courses within his or her area of responsibility
  • be at the disposal of all research students as a discussion partner and advisor and thereby be prepared to handle conflicts of various kinds
  • otherwise fulfill the tasks assigned by the head of department.

6) Courses and other credit-earning elements

Part of the study programme consists of courses and other credit-earning elements outside the thesis work. The exact number of credits varies between the various subjects and is defined in the relevant general syllabus. Each subject features a number of courses which are compulsory for all doctoral students in the subject. All doctoral students, regardless of subject, must attend introductory courses of at least 1.5 credits. Of these, 0.5 credits are to represent the faculty’s general introductory course, offered every semester, while the remaining credits are to consist of introductory courses at the doctoral student’s own department. All doctoral students are to have attended this introduction within one year of admission.

In addition to the compulsory courses, the doctoral student is free to propose courses which are relevant to the chosen research assignment or to broaden knowledge within the field. The individual study plan plays an important role for planning in this respect. The head of the department, through the approval of the individual study plan, formally decides which courses are to be included in the study programme. The faculty board recommends that doctoral students fulfill the majority of their course requirements within the first 18 months of their studies, to the extent possible. This provides a good basis for conducting the independent research project and also provides a knowledge base enabling students to actively follow seminars in the subject and to participate in international conferences. In addition, it is an advantage to have completed the courses in order to concentrate on the thesis work during the latter part of the study period.

The form of the courses varies from scheduled activities such as lectures, exercises or laboratory work to independent study courses with the doctoral student as the only participant. As a rule, the courses are established teaching components with a clear structure (timetable, etc.) while other credit-earning elements could include active participation in research conferences, excursions, etc.

The selection of courses is not limited to the range on offer at the department. The choice of research specialisation determines which courses are relevant; they may be most easily found at another department or another faculty. Several of the faculty’s subjects have good research contacts with departments at the faculties of engineering or medicine.

The faculty has established guidelines on the delimitations between courses and other credit-earning elements and on the type of activities which do not earn credits in research studies.

You'll find the regulative document "Guidelines - course vs 'other programme component'" on the webpage about regulatory documents and forms.

Teacher training courses

It is compulsory for doctoral students who teach to have undergone some training in teaching and learning. Such courses are organised by CED, the Centre for Educational Development, each semester.

See teacher training courses

Summer schools

Courses in summer schools are organised within certain subject areas. These are arranged by various academic departments and not only within the natural sciences. The summer schools offer a cost-effective way to gather internationally recognised lecturers and doctoral students from various higher education institutions during an intensive period of one or two weeks. In addition to often excellent lecturers, summer schools provide international contacts with doctoral students with the same or similar specialisation.

Setting credits for courses and other elements

Doctoral students can have credits transferred from courses studied outside their own subject. The unit responsible for offering a course states its value in credits, but the head of the doctoral student’s department takes the final decision on whether credits can be transferred from a passed course. It may be that only some credits from the course can be transferred, or the course is deemed to be worth fewer credits than those originally stated. Here too, the department decides the final allocation of credits. Decisions on credit transfer from courses are formally taken through the approval of the individual study plan, in which the courses included in the study plan are defined.

Registration of study results and credit transfer

During the study programme, all completed credits within courses or other credit-earning elements are to be registered in LADOK. The degree of activity, that is the percentage of working time for which the student has been paid under a doctoral studentship during the year, is to be registered. This is done by the LADOK manager at the department, usually an administrator or a university secretary.

If doctoral students study a course outside Lund University, this must also be registered by their home department. As documentation for this registration, the doctoral student must apply for a certificate from the department offering the course. The certificate is to include all necessary information (name, personal identity number, course title, grade, credits, date, examiner).

Doctoral students who have successfully completed some higher education in the second cycle have the right to transfer these credits to third cycle studies if, on review, the department deems the previous education admissible for credit transfer. Credit transfer is to be reviewed on the doctoral student’s request, in every individual case. Credits from a course included in the entry requirements for research studies cannot be transferred.

To transfer credits from previous studies, the doctoral student must submit a request on a special form available on the faculty’s website. Credits are not transferred at the time of admission, but later on. The decision on credit transfer is taken by the head of department (who can delegate this decision) and the faculty’s research programmes board is to be informed of each individual decision. Credit transfer of previous studies entails that the time allocated to research studies is reduced accordingly.

For courses offered to students in both the second and third cycles, the doctoral student will have the course registered in LADOK as a second cycle course. Then the simplest procedure is for the doctoral student to request a document as described above (if the course was studied outside Lund University) and to allow the home department to register the credits from the course as transferred to the third cycle. If the course was studied at Lund University, the doctoral student must ensure that the department also registers the course at the research studies level.

You'll find the form "Form for credit transfer from second cycle courses" on the webpage about regulatory documents and forms.

7) The research project

The concrete goal for the doctoral student’s research project is to produce sufficient results, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, within the stipulated time, i.e. four years of actual work, to enable the compilation of a doctoral thesis.

The choice of the research project is free in principle, but in practice influenced by several factors, not least financial ones. As observed previously under “Choice of supervisor and project”, a doctoral student usually joins a more or less defined project in connection with admission. Hopefully, the doctoral student applied to the project or the research team because its activity seemed exciting, interesting and meaningful. Within the laboratory subjects, access to good methods and equipment can be reasons to apply to a particular group. The doctoral student’s general research assignment should always link to an existing research project. In this way, the doctoral student is integrated in a group and gets to make the most of other people’s thoughts and ideas, while having a sounding-board for his or her own considerations. In addition, it is easier to get help and support when progress is slow or there are other difficulties.

For most people, acquiring a scientific approach is a process of maturation which, besides talent, requires both time and patience. From an educational point of view, the principal aim of the doctoral student’s research project is for the student to learn to

  • ask research questions
  • systematically seek knowledge
  • select and apply scientific methods for problem-solving
  • independently and critically review and analyse results and information
  • formulate research text and communicate research information

Research studies as a whole are to provide the doctoral student with the skills and abilities specified in the Higher Education Ordinance Annex 2 – Qualifications Ordinance.

In principle, the doctoral student is admitted to complete and acquire an education, not primarily to carry out a particular research project. However, these two aspects are naturally connected in the vast majority of cases. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the doctoral student never has any responsibility towards an external funder to produce certain research results within a given time, for example.

8) The thesis

The doctoral thesis or the licentiate thesis can either be written as a monograph or as a compilation thesis. A monograph is a unified text presenting the research task, the issues, working methods, analysis, results and discussion. A compilation thesis consists of a number of research articles together with a summarising introduction, in which the doctoral student provides a background and a context to the articles as well as a general discussion of the results. As a rule, the articles included in the thesis are to be published in scholarly journals, although manuscripts can be accepted. A thesis may contain contributions from several authors, but their various efforts are to be clearly distinguishable.

The nature and tradition of the subject usually determines whether the doctoral student chooses to produce a monograph or a compilation thesis. The clearly dominant thesis form within the faculty is the compilation thesis. The thesis is normally to be written in English. The faculty has certain general guidelines on the content and duplication of the thesis. Doctoral students should become familiar with these guidelines in good time before starting to write their thesis. Theses, like all other official documents produced at the University, are covered by Lund University’s graphic profile, which means that inserts and covers are to be designed according to a given framework.

9) Individual study plan

Establishment and purpose

The Higher Education Ordinance states that an individual study plan is to be established for each doctoral student. This is done as part of the admission process to the study programme; the plan is set up in consultation between the doctoral student and the supervisor. It is to be approved by the head of department. There is an electronically available template in a database for study plans which is to be followed. It should be noted that the individual study plan can often have features which are not explicitly stated in the form, but everything deemed relevant in the specific situation is to be taken up.

The individual study plan is an important instrument in the study programme. The plan defines the commitments undertaken by the doctoral student and the department in the research studies specific to the student in question, and it is therefore legally significant in case of conflict between the supervisor and the doctoral student on the conditions and implementation of the educational project. Hopefully, the plan also serves to steer the complicated process leading from admission to doctoral degree four to five years later. It functions as a support for the doctoral student in planning his or her studies and structuring the research work. For the supervisor, the plan can clarify how the research studies are progressing and can act as a tool in the planning of the remaining research work within the project. Furthermore, it provides the subject director and the director of studies with an insight into the doctoral student’s research studies and a chance to assess how the work is progressing from a more objective perspective.

System for Individual study plans


The Higher Education Ordinance states that the plan is to contain the undertakings of the doctoral student and the University (the department) as well as a timetable for the study programme. The individual study plan is to clearly formulate the specific framework and the aims of the doctoral student’s entire study programme, such as they appear at the time the plan is set up. The plan is to contain a description of the research task and the scientific purpose of this task. It should also include a general plan for the whole of the thesis work. The purpose here is not to create a definitive marked path toward the public defence of the thesis, but rather to provide a rough sketch of a likely scenario and to clarify that the existing general ambitions and goals are actually feasible within the time and budget limitations of the research studies programme. In addition to the more long term aspects of the study programme, the study plan is also to include more concrete planning of activities for the coming year. Participation in courses and any study visits or conference travel are to be specified as far as possible. The plan also establishes whether and to what extent the doctoral student is to be engaged in departmental duties such as teaching, administration, equipment supervision or suchlike. The plan is to specify how the research work is to be moved forward, with any allocation of responsibilities between the doctoral student, the supervisor and other team members, and how any fieldwork or limited access to critical instrumentation etc. is to be handled. It can be very helpful to set up concrete intermediary goals with a specified timeframe. The individual study plan is also to contain a description of the supervisors’ roles and commitments. This concerns the supervisors’ availability and the scope of the supervision, but also things like exposure to the supervisor’s international network and financing of instrument time, field studies, conferences, study visits, etc.

It should be noted that, from a regulatory point of view, the study plan is mainly to be a plan for and documentation of the implementation of research studies, not only the results and progress of the research project itself. Its overall purpose is to plan for the doctoral student’s conditions to complete the project (for example access to necessary equipment, opportunities to acquire methods and techniques, etc.) and for the doctoral student’s achievement of the qualitative targets as formulated in the Higher Education Ordinance. In order to enable follow-up of the research work, the plan should also feature elements of pure work planning (e.g. certain specified activities or concrete partial goals with stated time frames).

Revising the plan

The study plan must be revised on a regular basis, at least once per year but preferably more often, in order for it to work as a planning tool and provide important guidance throughout the study programme. In a research project, the conditions change constantly through the researcher’s own insights or those of others. Furthermore, the external conditions for the work can change, as one gets access to new equipment or different collaboration partners. In order to respond to this inner and outer dynamic which should be present in a research project, one has to be constantly prepared to revise one’s plans. A revision of the study plan also becomes an opportunity to stop and review what has been achieved so far and what further initiatives are required to enable the doctoral student to complete his or her studies within the given timeframe. Furthermore, one should discuss any difficulties or conflicts which arise within the research activity. By clarifying problems in good time, one can avoid ending up in a situation in which mistrust has gone so far that external help is required to solve the conflict. From the department’s side, recurrent revisions of the plan are a condition for documenting and following up any shortcomings of the doctoral student in relation to set goals and agreements. Such supporting documentation is required if it becomes appropriate to ask the vice-chancellor to withdraw resources from a doctoral student.

The study plan can be revised at any time by the doctoral student and his or her supervisor, but it is to be annually documented and approved by the head of department. At least once per year, the individual study plan is to be revised during a formalised appraisal, in which all supervisors and the doctoral student take part. On at least one such occasion during the period of study, an external person, such as the director of studies or the subject director, should participate in order to bring a more objective perspective to the progress and planning of the project and the study programme. A doctoral student who requests it always has the right to have an external observer present during the appraisal.

It is important to realise that the completion of a third cycle studies programme involves at least three parties: the doctoral student, the supervisor and the department. The establishment of the study plan means an agreement between these three parties, who should all see the establishment and revision of the study plan as an important opportunity to clarify their mutual expectations. The department is to establish a procedure for an annual revision of the study plan, but all parties have the right to call the others to a meeting to revise the plan as and when they feel the need to do so.

The original of the signed plan is to be archived at the department, which is also to ensure that it is documented in LADOK with a date for the decision and a registration number. This also applies to revisions of the plan.

10) Supervision

Who can be a supervisor?

Supervisors in third cycle studies must have undergone the University’s compulsory training for supervisors. At the faculty, this is included in the course for future readers, which all applicants for readership must undergo. Qualifying supervisor training courses are also provided by CED.

In connection with admission, the head of department appoints two or more supervisors. The principal supervisor is to be a reader or to have equivalent research and teaching expertise. At least one of the supervisors is to be employed until further notice at Lund University. As a rule, the principal supervisor should be the one expected to have the greatest ongoing responsibility for the thesis work. The individual study plan is to state the tasks and areas of responsibility of each supervisor.

The principal supervisor has the most immediate responsibility for the quality of the thesis and for ongoing supervision. He/she also has a responsibility to ensure that the individual study plan is kept up to date.

The role of the supervisors

The overall role of the supervisors is to support and encourage the doctoral student in the research work and to act as advisors in situations of choice with regard to both research and course range. They are to monitor the satisfactory progress of the research studies and ensure that the doctoral student is using available resources in a reasonable manner. The department has the ultimate overall responsibility for the quality of the education, but the supervisors are to ensure quality in the individual case.

Usually, the supervisor or supervisors formulate the overall framework for the research project in connection with admission. The doctoral student can very well be a part of this process but responsibility lies with the supervisors to ensure that the research task is sound and realistic with regard to both material resources and time. When the study plan is annually followed up, the doctoral student will naturally take an increasing part in specifying the remaining research activities, but the supervisor is responsible for monitoring the feasibility of all plans.

It is also the supervisors’ responsibility to ensure that the doctoral student receives an adequate introduction to the methodology he or she will be using in the research task. It should be borne in mind, however, that it is in the nature of research to be difficult. There must always be a point at which the doctoral student is left to his or her own devices to overcome the difficulties that arise. Too much supervision or too little are thus equally undesirable and it is one of the great challenges of supervisors to find the right balance between these extremes.

Even if the head of department has the ultimate responsibility for safety, the supervisors are to ensure that the doctoral student is not exposed to unjustified danger during the research work. It is important to monitor compliance with safety regulations and also to avoid compromising one’s own safety, that of the doctoral student, or anyone else’s, in the unusual situations which sometimes arise in research work.

 A supervisor is to be available to his or her doctoral students. This can be arranged through scheduled group meetings and times for discussion, but also through spontaneous contact in the workplace. The individual study plan is to state the number of hours/days per week/month when each supervisor is available to the doctoral student. As a minimum, a doctoral student is to have access to a dedicated supervisor at maximum intervals of two weeks. In critical experiment situations, supervision is always to be available at short notice. Critical experiment situations are for example situations in which access to instruments, materials, organisms, etc. is very limited, where the attempts cannot be repeated for other reasons, or where there are elements of risk. The supervisor and the doctoral student can very well spend time apart due to travel or research visits, as long as satisfactory communication can be maintained, for example via email, etc. In experimental work and during fieldwork, there should be a locally available supervisor to whom the doctoral student can turn for concrete advice in cases where the supervisor and the doctoral student are working in different locations over a longer period of time.

You'll find the regulative document "Minimum standards for supervision" on the webpage about regulatory documents and forms.

Conflicts between doctoral student and supervisor

Usually, a doctoral student works closely with his or her supervisor/s and it is natural for conflicts to arise over a period of four to five years in this work. The core of these conflicts can be anything from purely personal antagonism to dissatisfaction with management/performance or disagreement over research issues. It is important to draw attention to any conflicts at an early stage so that they can be dealt with before becoming entrenched. The faculty is working on establishing guidelines for the management of conflicts and complaints.

Personal relationship between doctoral student and supervisor

Another potential consequence of the professional relationship between doctoral student and supervisor is that the relationship between the two becomes too close. As the supervisor has to take part in certain formal decisions concerning the doctoral student’s education, this creates a conflict of interest. A similar conflict of interest also arises if a close relative gets the role of supervisor. The faculty board recommends that a close relative or a partner of the doctoral student should not be appointed as a principal supervisor or as an assistant supervisor. A new supervisor is to be appointed as quickly as possible if the relationship between the doctoral student and the supervisor should become too close during the course of the study programme.

Changing supervisors

Experience shows that in the vast majority of cases, the study programme is completed with the originally appointed set of supervisors. There are, however, a number of situations in which it becomes necessary to appoint a new supervisor. Some of these situations have been mentioned above.

If a supervisor moves to another higher education institution, or takes employment in the private sector or public administration, he or she is to be replaced. This also applies in the case of extended leave of absence or if the supervisor gets new assignments within the University or becomes ill, making it difficult to fulfill the role. Sometimes the research task originally intended can be of a nature which does not suit the doctoral student; a change of supervisor can then be brought on by a change of project. The faculty is working on establishing a procedure for changing supervisors.

11) Public defence of the doctoral thesis and degree

Public defence

The doctoral thesis is to be defended orally at a public event, where the printed thesis is to be available. Before the public defence and after a proposal from the department, the pro dean appoints an examining committee (three to five members), an external reviewer and a chair for the public defence. The event is to take place during the semester and the thesis is to be completed and printed at the latest three weeks and three days prior to the public defence. At the latest on that date, the doctoral student is also to register the thesis in the University’s digital archive LUP (Lund University Publications).

The external reviewer goes through the thesis in detail in a discussion with the doctoral student and gives his or her assessment of the thesis during the public defence. After the discussion, the members of the examining committee have an opportunity to ask questions of the doctoral student. The floor is then declared open, at which point the audience members can address their questions to the doctoral student in the order decided by the chair. The doctoral student always has the right to speak in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or English. After the discussion, the examining committee meets and then announces whether the public defence has received a pass or fail grade.

The examining committee has the task of assessing whether the doctoral thesis and its defence live up to the requirements of the research community. The external reviewer and the principal supervisor can take part in the deliberations of the examining committee but not in its decision. If the committee so decides, the doctoral student’s other supervisors can also take part on the same conditions. The committee is quorate when all members or their duly appointed substitutes are present. Decisions are taken by majority and the grade awarded is only pass or fail. It is extremely unusual for a doctoral student to receive a fail grade at the public defence of a thesis.

Rules, advice and instructions in connection with the public defence of theses

Defence of a licentiate thesis

A licentiate thesis is worth 120 credits in research studies, in which the thesis is to account for at least 60 credits. The general syllabus specifies in greater detail the requirements for a degree within each research studies subject. Similarly to a doctoral thesis, a licentiate thesis can take the form of a compilation thesis (with at least one article and a summarising introduction) or a monograph.

The licentiate thesis is to be defended at a public seminar with a critical reviewer. However, there is no examining committee at the licentiate seminar; the thesis and its defence are examined by a specially appointed examiner (usually the subject director or equivalent).

The request for a licentiate seminar is to be submitted to the faculty office at the latest five weeks before the chosen date. The pro dean then takes the formal decision on the nomination of the external reviewer, the chair and the examiner.

Regulations and form for request of a licentiate seminar

Degree certificate

When all the course requirements are met and the public defence of the thesis has been successfully completed, the doctoral student is to apply for his or her doctoral degree (or licentiate degree). Thus doctoral students do not receive their degree and associated certificate automatically; they have to apply for them to the degree office. The application is made on a special form and the processing time is between six and eight weeks.

Doctoral students in the Faculty of Science are awarded a degree of Doctor of Philosophy. If the doctoral student has a degree of Master of Science in Engineering as a basis for meeting the entry requirements for research studies, a degree of Doctor of Engineering can be obtained. In that case, the desired degree title is to be indicated in the application for the degree.

Apply for a degree on Lund University webiste

Doctoral degree conferment ceremony

The doctoral degree conferment ceremony is held every year in late May or early June. The ceremony celebrates the doctoral graduates who completed their research studies at Lund University during the previous year. The degree conferment ceremony is a solemn occasion on which the traditional insignia are bestowed upon the new doctoral graduates; for doctors in the natural sciences these are a laurel wreath, a ring and a diploma. The doctoral degree conferment ceremony has been held at Lund University since 1670 and takes place in the cathedral. Nowadays the ceremony is not a requirement for the actual degree and participation is voluntary.

Please note that the degree titles are not linked to the insignia at the degree conferment ceremony. Doctors from the Faculty of Science receive a laurel wreath at the ceremony, regardless of whether they have obtained a degree of Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Engineering. Only doctoral graduates from the Faculty of Engineering have the right to wear the Faculty of Engineering’s ring and hat emblem.

Page Manager:


Tobias Nilsson
Scientific Officer
046-222 71 82
tobias [dot] nilsson [at] science [dot] lu [dot] se

Faculty of Science
Visiting address: Sölvegatan 27, 222 62 Lund
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Email: kansli [at] science [dot] lu [dot] se

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