A guide to the procedure for the public defence of a doctoral thesis

A doctoral thesis at a Swedish university must be defended in public in the presence of an expert in the field from another university. This is a guide to the procedure at Halmstad University.


It takes four years of full-time studies to obtain a doctoral degree. However, in practice, it takes longer, as doctoral students tend to participate in other work such as teaching. The research programme culminates in the submission of a doctoral thesis. A doctoral thesis at a Swedish university must be defended in public in the presence of an expert in the field from another university, known as the opponent. The opponent is officially appointed by the Faculty Board. The Faculty Board also appoints a chairman of the public defence and an examining board (usually three people). The examining board evaluates the thesis and the candidate’s defence of the thesis. Based on their evaluation, the Board assigns a grade of “Pass” or “Fail”. The thesis defence is a formal event for which the procedure is explained below.

The doctoral thesis

The doctoral thesis may be presented either as a monograph or as a compilation thesis.

The participants at the defence

  • The opponent: A distinguished researcher, who is a specialist in the relevant field, is selected to oppose the doctoral thesis at the public defence.
  • The candidate: The candidate is the author of the doctoral thesis. During the defence the candidate (in Swedish “respondent”) may be addressed either by his or her first name, or more formally as Mr. X, Ms. X.
  • The chairman of the public defence: The chairman of the public defence is often a professor or associate professor from the candidate's department
  • The examination board: The examination board is appointed by the Faculty Board, and consists of three to five members, normally three. At least one board member must be from another university. The grade for the thesis is to be decided by the board.
  • The audience: The audience will include the candidate's friends, relatives, and colleagues, and can be addressed simply as “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

The outline of a public defence of a doctoral thesis

  1. The chairman of the defence welcomes everyone, and presents the candidate, the opponent and the members of the examination board. The chairman continues to present relevant information about where the research has been performed and the other persons involved. Furthermore, the chairman will present the outline for the defence.
  2. The chairman leaves the floor to the candidate with a request to present any errata.
  3. The candidate* presents a summary of the thesis including the scientific contributions (that is described) for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, the opponent presents the thesis and compares it relatively to other research in the field. The candidate must then be given the opportunity to comment on the opponents perception of the thesis.
  4. The opponent will discuss the thesis with the candidate through asking questions which enables the candidate to show his or her expected knowledge and ability to discuss the results. During this part of the defence other listeners may not participate in the discussion.
  5. The chairman gives the members of the examining board the opportunity to ask questions to the candidate.
  6. The chairman gives all listeners the opportunity to ask questions to the candidate and comment on the thesis.
  7. When the discussion is finished, the chairman formally closes the public session and the members of the examination board withdraw for their meeting.
  8. The examination board meeting is held behind closed doors. The board decides within itself who is to be the chairman of the meeting. The opponent, the principal supervisor and the second supervisor have the right to attend the meeting with the examination board. They may participate in the deliberations, but not in the decision. Although the opponent does not have a vote, his or her opinion is considered an important contribution to the board’s discussion. The opponent will often be asked how the standard of the thesis and its defence compare with those in his or her home country. The board announces its decision as soon as possible.

It is very rare for a Swedish thesis to be rejected after the formal defence. The content of the thesis has already been reviewed internally and also externally. However, if as opponent you find that the thesis is not of the standard required for a PhD degree, please contact the supervisor or examiner well in advance so that the public defence can be called off.

The entire act usually takes approximately 2–3 hours.

The public defence may be held in Swedish or English. The language is determined primarily with regard to the candidate, opponent and the members of the examination board, and secondly with regard to the expected audience.

*For the area of Health and Lifestyle, the normal case is that the opponent presents a summary of the thesis as well as its scientific contributions.