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1 September, 2019

Ph.D. in Sweden

Did you get accepted for a Ph.D. position in Sweden? Or are you a new Ph.D. student? Moved for a postdoc? Or maybe your spouse is in academia? Then keep reading. The Swedish academic system is rather unique.

Following your passion for science often requires that you move to another country. For many researchers, including me, it was also an excellent opportunity to gain experience of living in another country. The decision to move is much easier if you know it’s going to be for a limited time.

There are, however, pitfalls to this mentality of moving temporarily. See here to avoid those pitfalls.

What is academia?

The traditional way of an academic career is that you first get a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. Then continue as a Ph.D. student. During this time, you focus on one or two research questions. And hopefully, you will slightly expand the knowledge of humankind.

After you defend your thesis, you would do one or two postdocs. Then you start your own research group and work your way up to become a professor. 

As I am about to finish my Ph.D., I will mainly focus on the Ph.D. degree. I will briefly touch a little upon postdoc positions as well. Please keep in mind that every University in Sweden has slightly different rules. Even within the same university, different faculties might have different requirements. Also, if you come with our own funding, then different rules might apply. So please check with specific rules apply for you.

Being a Ph.D. student in Sweden

As a Ph.D. student, you are in between being a student and a university employee. This brings a lot of perks! You receive all student discount and get a salary. 

Let’s focus on the “being a student” part. Part of your education will take courses. But your primary focus will be on working on your own research project. Your supervisor will advise and guide you during this time. In contrast to many other countries, the load of courses is much lower. The courses focus more on practical matters and are designed to give you tools to finish your Ph.D. Like e.g. the statistical course.

Sweden is a great place for Ph.D. students

Most Ph.D. student positions in Sweden are adequately funded. And you are properly employed at the university. This means you pay taxes and you are into the social system (including health care, pension, parental leave etc.). The second is a bit hard to understand, as this is deducted before you receive your salary and it’s not declared on your paycheck. This was very confusing to me at the beginning, as I was used to seeing how much of my salary goes to pension.

Another benefit is that you are eligible for unemployment benefits. But remember to sign up for them yourself. This information sometimes is not clear. You need to sign up for A-kassa and a union. You find a full guide for this here.

Overall, the PhD student salary in Sweden is relatively good. This means you can afford a decent life and be independent.

Ph.D. student in Sweden. Structure

A Ph.D. in Sweden usually lasts for 4 years (5 if the position includes teaching responsibilities). Every faculty has slightly different requirements regarding what you need to have at the end of your Ph.D. This includes courses and publications.

In my particular case, I need to have at least 2 published papers and two manuscripts. Once you apply to the faculty to do your exam, they will review your work. Then they make a decision whether you are allowed to defend your work or not.

Writing your thesis

Most Ph.D. students in Sweden write a composite thesis. This means you include all your manuscripts and papers and just write a brief summary. This is in opposition to what many other countries do, where you write a unified, coherent treatise (monography), that takes a lot of time. Therefore, the thesis writing process is taking around 2 months. However, this doesn’t mean in general you write less, as you already need to have publications before writing the thesis.  

Defending your thesis

In the end, you need to pass the final exam – a public defense. You’ll present your work and then defend it. Your examiner/opponent and your committee will question you regarding your work. Once you have answered all their questions, they will asses your performance.

And then, hopefully, award you a Ph.D. degree. 

A few words about postdocs in Sweden

Now briefly some words about postdoc positions. For some reason, the Swedish system is not as beneficial to international postdocs as it is for the Ph.D. students. In many cases, if you come from abroad, you will receive a scholarship for 2 years. Therefore, you are not a proper employee at the university. You will not pay taxes, and you are not eligible for social benefits like parental leave or A-kassa. Once you have worked in Sweden for 2 years, you need to get a “proper” contract, including all the benefits. If you have done your Ph.D. in Sweden, you get a contract automatically.

How is your experience with academia? Does the Swedish system differ a lot from where you come from? Leave a comment and tell us your stories!

Michaela Roth
My name is Michaela and I grew up surrounded by mountains in Switzerland. When I moved to flat Lund to do my Ph.D., I initially thought it would only be for the 4 years that it takes to obtain this degree. Of course, life had other plans, and falling in love with a Swede changed my life completely. I am passionate about science, outdoor activities, and balancing multicultural traditions.

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