Conditions for PhD students and postdocs
A doctoral degree can be an opportunity to fulfil your dream, but it can also mean tough working conditions. Information and important terms and conditions that apply to students who intend to become, or already are, PhD student or postdocs can be found below.
Becoming a PhD student means that you have been admitted to a postgraduate degree course. There are two degrees in postgraduate education in Sweden today:
- Licentiate, which comprises 120 higher education credits, i.e. two years of full-time studies. The thesis must be equivalent to at least 60 higher education credits.
- Studies up to a doctoral degree include 240 higher education credits, i.e. four years of full-time studies. The thesis must be the equivalent of at least 120 higher education credits.
In order to be admitted to a postgraduate programme, the applicant must:
- Possess the basic qualification, which is a university education equivalent to 270 higher education credits.
- Fulfil any special qualifications that the university/university college/faculty may have established.
- Fulfil the preconditions to complete the programme.
According to the Higher Education Ordinance, which regulates all higher education programmes, universities may only accept students for postgraduate education who can be offered supervision and acceptable study conditions in general and whose positions are financed in some way.
It is possible to be employed as a PhD student or to use other types of funding. New legislation stipulates that the university is required to employ PhD students on scholarships when three years remain of their study period. This change will come into force on 1 July 2018 and apply to those who are admitted from that date.
There is no interim or probationary employment period in postgraduate education. You are entitled to be admitted directly. A person who commences postgraduate education without being formally admitted is usually called a shadow PhD student. These often live in a very uncertain world as they are usually funded by scholarships, which do not provide social insurance benefits. There may also be problems in laboratory subjects if university insurance covers only formally-admitted students. There is also no guarantee that a person who is a shadow PhD student will actually be admitted.
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The single most important factor for successful postgraduate education is proper supervision. The university is responsible for appointing a supervisor for each PhD student admitted.
As a PhD student you are entitled to supervision during the time considered necessary for your course. In addition to the principal supervisor, it is also possible to appoint one or more deputy supervisors or mentors for PhD students.
Take references on your intended supervisor. Talk to the person about the prerequisites for postgraduate studies to see if you agree on how you want to conduct research, the degree of autonomy you can expect in your project and the scope of supervision.
If, however, the supervision process does not work properly, the Higher Education Ordinance stipulates that PhD students are entitled to change supervisor. It is then the duty of the department to help find a suitable new supervisor for the PhD student in question.
Your study plan is an important document for you as a researcher. Invest time in it at the beginning of your programme and make sure it is updated regularly. The university is responsible for establishing study plans and for following them up on an annual basis.
An individual study plan is to be established by PhD students and their supervisors. The individual study plan is the most important legal document for the research student as, among other aspects, it forms the basis of withdrawal of the right to resources.
According to the Higher Education Ordinance, the study plan must contain:
- A schedule for the PhD student's postgraduate education.
- A description of the commitments of the PhD student and the faculty board during the doctoral study period.
- Everything else necessary for the effective implementation of the programme.
In practice, this means that the university/department is required to provide supervision, a workplace supplied with the necessary equipment and a range of theoretical courses in the doctoral studies subject. It is recommended that an individual study plan should also include:
- A timetable and objectives for PhD studies.
- A description of the research project.
- Requirements concerning literature and theoretical courses, possible work at the department and the scope of these requirements.
- Funding plan for PhD student and project.
- If there are multiple supervisors, the responsibilities of each supervisor as well as the type and extent of the supervision planned.
In accordance with the Higher Education Ordinance, the individual study plan must be reviewed by the PhD student at least once a year. During this monitoring process, the student and supervisor will provide information on how the course is progressing. The university/university college can then, or when otherwise necessary, make changes in the individual study plan if required. PhD students and supervisors must confirm in writing that they have taken part in the study plan review and state the changes made to it.
If the study plan is not followed
If a PhD student fails to fulfil his/her commitments according to their individual study plan, the university has the opportunity to withdraw the right to supervision and access to the university's premises. However before the situation goes that far, supervisors and PhD students must discuss the problems in order to revise the individual study plan and also to see if additional supervisors are necessary.
Only the President/Vice Chancellor may make a decision on the withdrawal of the right to resources. Such a decision cannot therefore be taken by the supervisor, the faculty or the department.
Right to comment
Before such a decision is made, the doctoral student and the supervisor have the right to submit comments. The examination of the matter will be carried out on the basis of the student and supervisor statements and other information available to the university. When making this assessment, how well the university has fulfilled its commitments should also be considered. The decision must be issued in writing with explanations. If the university has failed to provide good quality supervision or study environment, or did not establish an individual study plan, the PhD student normally retains the right to resources.
If the Faculty Board decides on the withdrawal of resources, the decision may be appealed to the University Appeals Board (ÖNH).
The PhD student may also be regranted the right to resources upon application to the university if they can show study results "of significant quality and scope" or in some other way show that their studies will be completed.
Opportunities to continue
Withdrawal of resources for a PhD student does not mean that the student is expelled from postgraduate education. The student is still entitled to present and defend his/her thesis, although this may be more of a theoretical opportunity.
The Faculty Board may only admit research students with funding. At the same time, exceptions for other funding systems may be made if the Faculty Board assesses that funding can be secured throughout the programme period.
The most common forms of funding for PhD students are:
- Assistant positions
- Employment as a PhD student
Funding must be specified in the individual study plan for each PhD student.
Scholarships may either be internal, thus established or administered by the university, or external, i.e. issued by an external donor. However, state funding can never be used for scholarships. Most institutions have established rules for their internal fellowships. Contact the director of the postgraduate education programme at the relevant department to find out about the conditions.
PhD students funded by scholarships are considered students and the university cannot therefore require the person to work with departmental administration or teaching. However, if teaching can be regarded as an educational element in the programme, this may be included in the student's individual study plan but should earn credits, be supervised and limited in scope.
The following applies to scholarships:
- They are not taxed.
- No pension rights are earned. A realistic figure is that the individual's pension will be approximately 2.5% less for each year they are on a scholarship.
- They do not provide access to the social security system, so none or only basic allowances can be paid by the Social Insurance Agency for illness or parental leave.
- They do not qualify recipients for membership of or income-related benefits from unemployment insurance funds. However, scholarship-financed studies are considered as a period that can be discounted for qualification according to unemployment insurance funds, provided the individual has already qualified for unemployment insurance benefits.
- Recipients are not entitled to statutory holiday leave. However, the individual is entitled to take out leave after consultation with his/her supervisor/department.
Some universities have introduced provisions in their local regulations that provide benefits during sick or parental leave for scholarship PhD students.
2. Assistant positions
Assistant positions are governed by the Higher Education Ordinance, provided that the university is the employer and applies the terms of Villkorsavtal-T. However, PhD students with assistant positions are exempted from provisions concerning overtime. Salary is determined in local collective agreement.
Only those who receive educational grants for PhD students may be employed as assistants. The assistant position should normally not exceed the equivalent of 20 per cent of a full time position. If there are special reasons, the position may consist of up to 40 percent of full time. The assistant position has been introduced to enable universities to hire graduate students to work with teaching, research (other than their own) or administrative duties.
3. PhD student employment
PhD student positions are governed by the Higher Education Ordinance, provided that the university is the employer and applies the terms of Villkorsavtal-T. However, PhD students with assistant positions are exempted from provisions concerning overtime. Salary is determined in local collective agreement. A number of universities apply a PhD student ladder, which specifies salary levels linked to the degree of progress in their graduate education programme.
- Employment as a PhD student refers to full time work. However, at the student's request, the position may be awarded for at least 50 percent of full time. Such positions may be held for a maximum of four years in total with deductions for any periods the PhD student spends using other types of financing.
- Individuals employed as PhD students must primarily devote Themselves to their own doctoral studies.
- The university is entitled to request a PhD student to work with other research, administration or teaching, known as departmental duties. Departmental duties may only amount to 20 percent of full time. Generally accepted practice at universities is that PhD students who have departmental duties as part of their position, and hence their educational period, are entitled to extend their doctoral studies by the equivalent period.
According to the Higher Education Ordinance, PhD students who have received an educational grant for a doctorate must be employed in a PhD student position no later than two years before the end of their full-time education period as specified in their individual study plan. However, in order to obtain a position, it is necessary to apply. The application must be made to the employer, usually the head of the department.
The following applies to PhD student employment:
- Income is taxed. The employer pays social insurance contributions.
- The income is pension-qualifying.
- It provides access to the social insurance system.
- It fulfils requirements for income-related unemployment benefits from Akademikernas a-kassa. Read more and apply for membership of the Akademikernas a-kassa.
- Employees are entitled to a statutory holidays. The number of days is governed by collective agreement.
According to employment regulations, a position as an employed PhD student may be terminated if there is no funding. This is relatively unusual and most departments and faculties take responsibility for PhD students being able to complete their programmes. The period of notice applied is determined by the length of employment, but is at least one month.
If you have a postdoctoral scholarship, you are considered a student and this period must be discounted by the unemployment insurance fund Akademikernas a-kassa. Please note that a maximum of 5 years only may be discounted when the unemployment insurance fund is to determine if you meet their conditions regarding length of working period. Consequently if an individual was employed and paid tax earlier, the period as postdoc can be discounted. You will then qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
If you receive a salary during your postdoc period, this is considered a job and the period cannot be discounted by Akademikernas a-kassa. Work abroad can be credited on condition that you have been employed in an EU/EEA country. Non-EU/EEA employment, on the other hand, may not be counted and the time may not be discounted. If you have any questions about this, please contact Akademikernas a-kassa directly.