Monday, September 24, 2007

A Swedish PhD defence

I'm in Sweden for a few days to attend Mattias' PhD defence. In Sweden it works as follows. The thesis is published as a book a few weeks before the actual defence. It is then sent out to the committee and the opponent (more on that later) at least three weeks before the defence.

The actual defence is completely open, anyone can attend. Your colleagues are there together with friends and family. There is one opponent, in this case Marc van Kreveld. He will present the thesis which usually takes between half an hour and an hour. After that there's a short break which is followed by a long questioning session where the opponent starts, followed by the review committee. The committee has three members which usually ask a few questions each; however, I've been to defences where this part has been very long. When this is done, usually between one and two hours, anyone is allowed to ask questions. This is the part where some entertaining questions sometimes can be heard. This concludes the defence and now the committee, the opponent and the supervisors have a meeting to discuss if the candidate deserves to pass or not (although the supervisors are only there to observe and to give additional information to the group). In the Swedish system there is only pass or fail, however, the latter decision only happens at very rare occasions. The best part is the party afterwards where everyone gets drunk.

In Australia the system is very different. When you finish the thesis you send it off to a committee consisting of three reviewers. The reviewers will (hopefully) read it and return their report within six weeks (although I heard stories that it could take several months). The decision can be accept, accept with minor revision, accept with major revision or fail.

Even though the Swedish tradition might be slightly outdated I very much enjoy it. I like it since your PhD reaches a climax at the defence. I thought it was great to have friends, family and colleagues listening to what I spent all those years on. For some reason you don't get the same feeling in the Australian system when you send off the pdf file to the university administration.


  1. I found this helpful. I'm the opponent for a PhD at Umea University next month and have just received an advance copy of the thesis. It looks quite different from PhD theses I have examined in the UK. I assume the previous seminar presentations have covered ground that would be included in a UK PhD. I also have the four accompanying published papers so I guess this is a compilation thesis. The party will be found but I am teetotal!

  2. I found this helpful. I am the opponent for a PhD in digital education next month. I have just received an advance copy of the thesis and accompanying published papers (4) so I imagine this is a compliation thesis. I still do not know what to expect next month. The thesis is small (welcome!) than many UK PhDs I have examined and supervised. I imagine much of the groundwork has been defended in seminars. I hope it is OK to ask for more detail on theoretical background and premises employed? The party afterwards sounds fun but I am teetotal!