What the country’s doctoral students think – comments by the Dean

Published 2016-12-15 13:19. Updated 2016-12-15 13:20Denna sida på svenska

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Doktorandspegeln 2016 är den tredje i ordningen. Foto: iStock

The Doktorandspegel survey is the third in a series of nationwide surveys focusing on doctoral students’ views of their education. Photo: Istock


Most doctoral students in Sweden are satisfied with the education they receive. Almost 30 per cent, however, feel that their supervision has been so deficient as to jeopardise their research work. This is one of the observations in the latest nationwide survey of doctoral students’ study situation, commented on here by Marianne Schultzberg, Dean of Doctoral Education at Karolinska Institutet.

Good or very good. This is what 86 per cent of doctoral students say about their doctoral education, according to the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s 2016 Doktorandspegeln survey. The findings are based on a questionnaire answered by 4,751 doctoral students, 336 of them from KI, who have completed between three and five terms of their doctoral programme. The response frequency of 47 per cent, however, must be regarded as low.

Marianne Schultzberg forskarutbildning dekanIn the field of medicine and health sciences, which is where most of KI’s doctoral students are to be found, 90 per cent say their overall opinion is good or very good. But the report also shows that there are problems.

In all, 27 per cent of the doctoral students perceive such shortcomings in their supervision that their research work is impeded. In the field of medicine and health sciences, 15 per cent say that their supervisor has shown little or no interest in the doctoral student’s studies.

But KI’s own surveys of its doctoral students have not indicated such serious problems with supervision, says Marianne Schultzberg, Dean of Doctoral Education at KI.

Better figures at KI

“Our own figures look very much better. The vast majority of supervisors do a very good job, but there are some doctoral students who perceive shortcomings. This is sad and we are working on different ways to improve things. We have a compulsory supervisor course for principal supervisors and we’re planning a new procedure for ensuring that the research education environment is appropriate already before the doctoral student is recruited,” she goes on.

The procedure is based on the environment needing to be approved from both a research and a psychosocial perspective before recruiting a new doctoral student.

The report also highlights dissatisfaction with the introduction to doctoral education. KI has compulsory introduction for newly admitted doctoral students that is currently under review to find ways to improve it.

Two out of ten get no follow-up

The Higher Education Ordinance states that doctoral students’ individual study plans are to be followed up on a regular basis. In spite of this, two out of ten doctoral students in the field of medicine and health sciences say that their study plan has not been followed up during the current year. KI recognises the problem and the situation is expected to improve when electronic individual study plans are introduced next year. A reminder will appear in the programme when the time comes to update a study plan.

Roughly a quarter of the doctoral students say that their research findings have been used without their being cited as the author or originator. It is not clear, however, what kind of illicit utilisation occurs most often or in what fields. KI does not ask about this in its surveys of doctoral students in the field of medicine and health sciences and in Marianne Schultzberg’s opinion it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions from the findings.

The report shows that 11per cent of the doctoral students in the field of medicine and health sciences have experienced some form of discrimination, gender being the most common reason.

“It’s too many. We’ve seen this in our own surveys and we’ve discussed discrimination with every department’s management. We’re hoping that our new procedure for preparing for a doctoral student recruitment will prevent doctoral students being admitted to environments that are not suitable,” she says.

Shadow doctoral students

Being a shadow doctoral student, meaning participating in a doctoral programme without being formally admitted, was most common in the field of medicine and health sciences. 55 per cent of those who answered the questionnaire had been in that situation, which can be uncertain and insecure. At KI, however, Marianne Schultzberg thinks that these are mainly people who work in care and who are beginning a research project at their place of work.

“But it’s naturally important to all the time make sure that there aren’t any students working in research projects who lack economic support and who have not been formally admitted,” she says.

Despite the shortcomings, 84 per cent of the doctoral students in medicine and health sciences nonetheless say that they would probably or definitely embark on doctoral studies again if they were choosing today.


Text: Sara Nilsson

About the Doktorandspegel survey: The 2016 Doktorandspegel survey is the third in a series of nationwide surveys focusing on doctoral students’ views of their education. The two previous surveys were conducted by the Higher Education Authority’s predecessor the National Agency for Higher Education and published in 2003 and 2008.


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