Note about PhD studies

Note about the PhD degree programme at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences - primarily for supervisors and assessment committee members

A set of rules and regulations for PhD studies at the graduate school including guidelines for PhD studies at the Aarhus Graduate School of Business and Social Sciences is available from the website: The present note summarizes key points from the above rules and regulations and provides additional information particularly relevant for supervisors and assessment committee members at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences (PSY).


All PhD students must have one principal supervisor and one or more co-supervisors who are appointed prior to enrolment. The principal supervisor must be an associate professor or a professor employed by PSY who has participated in the pedagogics course for university lecturers or similar. Co-supervisors may be employees of PSY (or other institutions) at least possessing the qualifications for assistant professor.

According to the teaching norms at PSY, the principal supervisor is credited with 15 hours and the co-supervisor with 5 hours per semester. Actually, supervisors often spend more time with the students, particularly, of course, in cases of research collaboration and joint authorship of academic papers. Co-authorship always requires a substantial contribution to the publication and is not a natural consequence of the supervisor-student relationship.

According to the general rules and regulations of the Aarhus Graduate School of Business and Social Sciences, the student's PhD plan must contain a description of the mutual requirements and expectations of the supervision process, including its form and frequency. In the biannual assessment, the principal supervisor and the PhD student must confirm that the supervision process has been satisfactory.

Most students are satisfied with their supervisors. Nevertheless, quite a few students call for more focus on the course of the PhD study, and some complain of the supervisor's lack of availability, which is why regular meetings are recommendable, even in cases of no special advisory tasks. Further, some complain of pressure from supervisors to undertake teaching duties in addition to the rule set out. Such pressure is, of course, completely unacceptable.

In accordance with the Ministerial Order on the PhD Degree Programme, the university is obliged to offer the PhD student guidance in teaching. Also, if teaching includes examination, the supervisor should render help with this. The principal supervisor is primarily responsible for the PhD student’s education, so in the first instance it is the supervisor’s duty to ensure appropriate student guidance. According to the general rules and regulations of the Aarhus Graduate School of Business and Social Sciences, the supervisor must in particular pay attention to the PhD student’s need for advice, interest and encouragement in regard to teaching duties. The planning of the supervision may vary; however, clear guidelines should be established within the individual sections. In connection with basic course exams, a meeting should be held with the person responsible for the course on examination question contents and possible answers. In the event of any doubt in the assessment the student must be given the opportunity to consult a permanent lecturer. In the case of several PhD students as examiners, it may be a good idea to gather in a group in order to expose a few papers to joint assessment.

Continuous Evaluation

The Ministerial PhD Order says that in the course of the PhD degree programme the university is obliged to conduct regular evaluations of whether the PhD student follows the overall PhD plan, and if necessary ensure adjustment of the plan. Biannual assessments are held at the BSS graduate school, of which the one in January is supplemented by the so-called ‘board of supervisors’. The purpose of the board of supervisors is to help meeting deadlines set out and to improve the quality of the PhD theses through constructive discussion of the individual PhD student's studies in an overall context. Also, the board of supervisors should focus on the supervisory process.

PSY has decided to use two models for board of supervisors, a comprehensive model resembling a mini conference held in the research units (model 1), and a simpler model in the form of a meeting between the principal supervisor and current or former members of the PhD field committee, usually with participation of the student (model 2). The specific rules are forwarded together with the notice convening the board of supervisors.

Currently, the biannual assessments take place electronically via the PhD Planner (Supervisors’ PhD Planner login page). The principal supervisor as well as the head of the PhD degree programme at PSY must give final approval to both biannual assessments and boards of supervisors. Likewise, the PhD Planner is used for the listing of activities (e.g. courses, conferences, study abroad, and teaching) which must be submitted together with the thesis towards the end of the study programme. Submission of the thesis must be notified one month in advance to the principal supervisor and the department secretary.

Appointment of Assessment Committee

According to the Minesterial PhD Order, the assessment committee must consist of three members. Usually the chairman comes from PSY while the other committee members come from other institutions, including at least one from abroad (unless this is found undesirable from an academic point of view). The members must at least possess the qualifications for associate professor or senior lecturer. The dean appoints the assessment committee upon recommendation from the head of the field programme (on behalf of the field programme).

The principal supervisor is responsible for making a suggestion for possible assessment committee members and for obtaining consent to take on the task from the persons in question (see Appendix 1 for example of inquiry e-mail). The suggestion should be forwarded to the chairman of the assessment committee/the department secretary at PSY prior to submission of the thesis.

Requirements for the PhD Thesis

In accordance with the Minesterial PhD Order, the PhD thesis must substantiate the author’s ability to apply the scientific methods of the field in question and must consolidate the author’s research contribution to the particular field, and such contribution must correspond to international standards for PhD degrees awarded in the field.

In accordance with the general rules and regulations of the Aarhus Graduate School of Business and Social Sciences, a PhD thesis may be in the form of either a monograph or a collection of academic papers, including a summary and a conclusion accounting for the relation between the publications and their individual contribution to the total PhD project (please see Appendix 2). The monograph as well as the collection of papers must include contributions to research that either already have been, or have the potential to, be published in reputable academic journals (cf. Guidelines for assessment committees on award of the PhD degree, BSS, April, 2014).

In the majority of cases, the PhD theses at PSY consist of a collection of academic papers. The papers will normally be either published, submitted (with indication of journal) or be available in a form corresponding to a submitted paper.

In accordance with the rules and regulations for the PhD studies at the graduate school, the monograph is typically 150-300 pages long, while a collection of papers usually will consist of three to six papers. It must be stressed that three papers (corresponding to Scandinavian standard) is sufficient, and that it is better to submit three papers of solid academic quality than more of inferior quality. In case of joint authorship papers a co-authorship declaration must be submitted specifying the candidate's contribution (an example of such a declaration is shown in Appendix 3). Only papers with a significant contribution from the candidate (in most cases as the first author) should be submitted. The minimum requirement is first authorship of two papers.

The thesis may be written in English or Danish, unless exception has been granted. At PSY, nearly all theses are written in English.

The Duties of the Chairman of the Assessment Committee

All contact with the assessment committee should go through the chairman, who must also ensure that deadlines are observed or extended (via the department secretary). It is normal practice for the chairman to divide the assessment task between the committee members, so that each member is primarily responsible for assessing a particular part of the thesis, however all committee members are, of course, responsible for assessment of the entire thesis. Normally, the primary assessments are almost equally divided between the committee members. In cases where the appointed chairman has no expert knowledge of the topic of the thesis, the major part of the assessment task may be handed over to the external specialist assessors.

The chairman must adapt the individual contributions from the committee members to form one combined statement accounting for the committee’s joint assessment.

Furthermore, the chairman must ensure that the principal supervisor, who assists the committee without voting rights, is involved in the work of the assessment committee, e.g., the members’ points of view should be presented to the principal supervisor to a reasonable extent, and the committee’s draft to the written recommendation should be presented to the principal supervisor well before the deadline for the assessment. The above is particularly important in case of disagreement on recommendations, required improvements, or rejection of the PhD thesis. The final written assessment must always be presented to the principal supervisor before it is sent to the head of the graduate school.

Experience has proven that it is very important to make a suggestion for a public defence date at an early point in time assumed that the thesis is found suitable for public defence (the committee members as well as the principal supervisor must be able to attend), and, the chairman should as quickly as possible inform the PhD student of the provisional date. In cases of industrial PhDs, or in cases where the co-supervisor plays an important role as to supervision, the chairman must inform the co-supervisor of the date for public defence.

The chairman should also be of assistance to the committee members with regard to questions about travel arrangements, attendance and procedure at the PhD defence (see below). Research secretary Anette Christensen is responsible for travel arrangements and hotel reservation, so in this connection reference can be made to her.

The Preliminary Recommendation

No later than two months after submission of the thesis, the assessment committee must forward a preliminary reasoned recommendation addressed to the dean through the head of the PhD degree programme at PSY/the department secretary (see Appendix 4 for example of recommendation letter). In a few cases, the assessment committee may find that the thesis is not suitable for public defence in the submitted version; however, after revision within a set deadline after minimum three months it may be accepted (cf. the rules and regulations of PhD studies). It is also a possibility that the thesis is assessed as suitable for public defence in the submitted version, but the assessment committee recommends certain improvements, which are assessed as feasible to implement before the specified defence date (this is a very rare occurrence at PSY).

The final recommendation must be accompanied by a written reasoned (and of course professional as well as objective) assessment. Points of criticism must be specific, precise and well-documented. The overall assessment must take account of the fact that this is a PhD programme, so that documented ability to apply the scientific methods of the discipline and to provide a research effort at international level counts more than the specific results of the studies.

If the thesis is found suitable for public defence in the submitted version, the recommendation must include a defence date and a suggestion for a topic for the public lecture initiating the oral defence. Normally, the topic for the public lecture is identical with the title of the thesis, but in special cases the topic may deviate from the title, e.g. if important subject areas within the topic of the thesis are neglected in the thesis, however, without this being of vital importance to the overall assessment. In such cases, the candidate will have the opportunity to give the missing additional information in the lecture.

A written assessment of theses consisting of collections of papers may consist of an introductory presentation of the topic and content of the thesis, an evaluation of the separate papers, and a conclusion. According to BSS’ Guidelines for assessment committees on recommendations for award of the PhD degree, a written assessment should not exceed 12 pages; preferably it should be much shorter.

If the preliminary recommendation concludes that the PhD thesis must be improved, a precise description of the necessary improvements should be provided by the assessment committee.

The Public PhD Defence

According to the general rules and regulations of the Aarhus Graduate School of Business and Social Sciences, the public defence must take place no earlier than two weeks after the committee has released the preliminary recommendation, but no later than three months after submission of the thesis – though the latter deadline may be difficult to meet.

The head of the field programme, or his/her representative, leads the public defence which is scheduled to last for about two hours and ten minutes. After the welcome by the leader of the defence, the defence begins with the candidate's lecture, which can take up to 45 minutes. After a 10 minute break, the chairman of the assessment committee presents the overall assessment of the thesis (approx. 5 min.). Then each of the external assessors has about 25 minutes to comment on the thesis and ask questions to the candidate (the order is arranged in advance - not according to any ranking of the opponents - and communicated to the department secretary). Lastly, the chairman of the assessment committee gets approx. 10 min for detailed comments and questions; however, the assessment committee may decide that the chairman shall refrain from these last comments and questions and thus leave additional time for the external assessors. After the public defence, the assessment committee leaves the room to consider whether they can recommend  awarding of the PhD degree.

Comments and questions for the candidate during the defence should endeavour to ensure a fruitful dialogue and discussion and not only be an examination of the candidate in details from the thesis. The purpose of the defence is also to stimulate an enriching discussion of the subject area, including methodological challenges and perspectives. It is customary practice that most of critical themes brought up during the defence relate to points of criticism in the assessment, so that the candidate is not surprised by completely new critical questions.

In order to avoid overlap, comments and questions should be coordinated between the assessment committee members.

Practical Framework of the Public PhD Defence

The head of the field programmeis responsible for the practical framework of the defence, however the tasks are delegated.

The department secretary is responsible for reserving a room for the defence, ordering of technical assistance (an ‘IT- specialist must be present until it is ensured that all the necessary equipment functions) as well as the preparation of a form to be signed by the assessors after the defence. In addition, the department secretary is responsible for communication out of the house, e-mail information to the members of academic staff and the PhDs, and for printing 40 copies of the thesis prior to the defence.

Normally, the assessment committee, the principal supervisor and the head of the field programme (or his representative) have lunch together prior to the defence. Ordering lunch and room booking belongs under the department secretary. The chairman of the assessment committee is responsible for inviting the committee members and for showing everybody their way to the room. Furthermore, if possible, the chairman of the assessment committee should arrange a dinner for the assessment committee members in the evening before the defence.

It is customary practice that the PhD student pays a reception after the defence. A room can be reserved via the department secretary.

The aim is for all assessment committee members to be present during the defence, which is possible in almost all cases.

If a public PhD defence is to take place via video conference or Skype, it must be ensured that an IT-specialist is present during the entire defence. In case of force majeure problems, it is important to pay attention to the fact that it is possible to go through with the defence in a legitimate way provided that the absent assessment committee member approves a sound recording of the defence.