Doctoral Studies in Sweden

Author – Dr. Naveed Razzaq Butt (

Sweden offers an excellent environment for doctoral studies, providing a strong research culture and attractive salary/scholarship packages for PhD students. A distinguishing aspect of PhD studies in Sweden is that most PhD students are employed by the universities, are considered part of the teaching staff and are generally involved in some teaching duties. An employed PhD student typically gets a salary of 14,000-20,000 SEK per month (after tax). It is also possible to join a PhD program in Sweden on a foreign scholarship. In that case the stipend is expected to be at least 12,000 SEK per month. Swedish universities announce new PhD positions on their webpages as they become available (see Finding Open PhD Positions). The application procedure is simple and the requirements (along with contact details) are clearly mentioned with each announcement. Generally, additional tests such as GRE/TOEFL etc. are not required. This page provides some basic information about doctoral studies in Sweden.


  1. Vocabulary
  2. How to apply
  3. Typical admission requirements
  4. What increases my chances of admission
  5. How long is a PhD program
  6. Coursework and research
  7. Teaching duties
  8. Related links
  9. Disclaimer

1. Vocabulary

  • PhD Studentship: A PhD position where the student is employed by the university on a 20% teaching contract. This is the most common form of doctoral studies in Sweden. A university/professor first secures funds and then invites applications from prospective students.
  • Doktorand: The Swedish title for a member of staff employed on a PhD Studentship.
  • PhD Scholarship: A PhD position where the student is not employed by the university, and is getting a stipend through some international scholarship. Many Pakistani students currently in Sweden are on HEC scholarships.

2. How to apply

Applying to open PhD positions (‘Studentship Vacancy’)

  • The most common way of getting a PhD position in Sweden is to apply to an open PhD position.
  • Swedish universities announce new PhD positions on their webpages quite frequently (see Finding Open PhD Positions).
  • Visit these pages from time to time to see if a position of your interest is currently available.
  • Once you find a relevant position, read the announcement carefully to understand the application procedure.
  • The application procedure is relatively simple and typically involves submitting a CV, cover letter, BS and MS transcripts, three letters of recommendation and sometimes other supporting documents through email or post.
  • Entry/language tests such as GRE/TOEFL are generally not required.
  • If your qualifications match the requirements, you may be called in for an interview (if you are outside Sweden, you may be asked to give an online/telephonic interview).
  • If the handling professor is then interested in hiring you, he/she will arrange a letter of employment (that will also show your monthly salary) which you can use to apply for a study visa.

Applying directly to a professor/departmentIf you do not find an open PhD position among the announcements, you may consider applying directly to a professor working in your field of interest. Many students on international scholarships use this approach. This is, however, a less common way of getting a doctoral position in Sweden.

  • Visit the research/faculty pages of the university you want to apply to.
  • If you find a research group or professor working in your field of interest, then drop them an email to ask if they are interested in admitting/hiring you.
  • Attach your CV and a cover letter (outlining your research interests) with the email. Also, if you hold a scholarship, remember to mention this in the email.
  • It is quite possible that you get a positive response. Do not be disappointed if you don’t – keep trying.

3. Typical admission requirements

Documents typically required for a PhD application are:

  • CV
  • Cover letter
  • BS transcript
  • MS transcript
  • MS thesis
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation
  • Publications (if any)

These are generally submitted via email, post or an online submission portal (the options are clearly mentioned in each announcement).

4. What increases my chances of admission

Although this may vary considerably from one position to another, a rather loose set of dominating factors is:

  • Relevance: The more relevant your previous qualifications/research/work are to a position, the better your chances.
  • Research output: Having a published journal or conference paper on your CV can multiply your chances of admission. It is, therefore, very useful to choose an MS thesis topic that you can publish on.
  • Grades: Having exceptionally good grades in BS and/or MS can also increase your chances of getting an interview call.
  • Communication skills: If you do get an interview call, your ability to present yourself and your work, and your general interpersonal skills will play a critical role.

Finally, the importance of having an excellent CV cannot be overstated. Make sure to write a powerful CV that highlights the points that the hiring professor might be looking for. Review your CV and cover letter several times before submitting them. Also have some colleagues proofread them for you. The following flaws in your CV or cover letter will considerably decrease your chances for an interview call:

  • Bad formatting.
  • Spelling/Grammatical mistakes.
  • Inability to highlight your strong points (especially the ones that make you more suitable for the announced position).

5. How long is a PhD program

A PhD program in Sweden involves at least four years of fulltime studies/research. So, if you are on a ‘studentship’ (which involves 20% teaching), the PhD program will take five years. If, on the other hand, you are on an international scholarship (like HEC’s) then you may finish in four years.

6. Coursework and research

Generally, doctoral studies in Sweden involve both coursework and research (thesis work). In almost all cases, a student has to earn a total of 240 ECTS credits, of which 120 – 150 ECTS credits have to be from research leading to a doctoral thesis. The rest of the credits are earned through coursework. The exact distribution of credits between coursework and research work may vary between departments and universities.

7. Teaching duties

As noted earlier, most doctoral students in Sweden are employed on a 20% teaching contract (this does not apply to students on international scholarships). This means that the employed students are expected to spend 80% of their time on their doctoral studies/research and 20% on teaching duties. The teaching duties are roughly evenly spread over the five-year study period. These may include giving tutorial sessions, teaching labs, grading exams, co-supervising MS theses, and sometimes lecturing. International students are not required to learn Swedish for their teaching duties.

8. Related links

9. Disclaimer

All the information on this page is given as guidance only, and though believed to be accurate, it does not entail any warranty by the author or the person forwarding it to you.

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