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Public defence

Guidelines for the formal procedure of the public defence of a doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Arts, University of Gothenburg.*


The doctoral programmes at the Faculty of Arts lead to two different degrees: Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Divinity after four years. The requirements for the doctoral degree include both course-work and a thesis. The thesis normally corresponds to two and a half to three years of full time work in a specific field of research.

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 Dean of the Faculty. The Dean also appoints a chairman of the public defence—usually the candidate’s principal supervisor —and an examining committee (usually three persons). The examining committee judges the thesis and the candidate’s defence performance. Based on their evaluation, the committee assigns a grade of “Pass” or “Fail”.


The thesis must be available in print at least three weeks before the day of the defence. It should immediately be sent to the opponent and the committee, to all university libraries and to sister departments within Sweden. If the opponent or a member of the committee has serious doubts about the quality of the thesis, s/he should notify the Dean or the chairman of the defence.

Public defence

The people present at the public defence are the candidate, the opponent, the examining committee, the chairman of the public defence and the assistant supervisor(s) of the candidate, if any. In addition, colleagues, experts in the field of the thesis, friends and relatives of the candidate, as well as any interested member of the general public may attend.

The common procedure for public defences is outlined here. Please note that there are no detailed rules describing how the actual examination of the thesis and the defence should be conducted; the procedure may be modified by the Dean or the chairman. If, however, significant changes are made in the procedure outlined here, the candidate and the opponent must be notified well in advance.

1. The chairman welcomes those present and introduces the candidate, the opponent and the examining committee.

2. The chairman turns the floor over to the candidate giving him/her the opportunity to make formal corrections, send round an errata sheet and comment on any errors that might lead to misunderstanding.

3. The opponent briefly introduces and summarises the thesis (15–20 minutes).

The work should be presented in such a way that it allows a scholar not specialised in the work of the candidate, but working in the same general field, to get an impression of the work and the contribution of the candidate. The problems addressed and the results achieved should be stated in the context of other relevant work in the same field. Please note that the presentation should deal with the thesis. It should not be a lecture on current research problems in the particular scholarly field.

4. The candidate is given opportunity to comment briefly on the opponent’s summary of the thesis and to bring out aspects that in his/her view have not been paid sufficient attention.

5. The opponent discusses the thesis with the candidate by asking questions, giving the candidate ample opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the topic and the ability to counter criticism. The questions should be precise and deal primarily with the work reported in the thesis. The discussion should concentrate on matters such as the relevance of assumptions made, the validity of methods used, and the scholarly significance of the results presented. It is also desirable, however, to place the thesis in a wider context. During the discussion the opponent may indicate satisfaction with the candidate’s answers and point out any section of the thesis that is particularly valuable. It should also be made clear if any part of the thesis or the candidate’s answers deserves criticism. The opponent should also comment briefly upon formal aspects of the thesis such as the style of presentation, the use of diagrams, figures and tables and the treatment of references.

This is the main part of the defence and usually takes between one and two hours. At the end, the opponent makes a general assessment of the thesis and its possible contribution to the field.

During the discussion between opponent and candidate, questions or interruptions from the audience are not normally allowed.

5. The chairman then invites questions and comments from the examining committee and the audience. The opponent may participate in the discussion.

6. The chairman concludes by thanking the opponent and the candidate.

The whole procedure should normally take no more than two and a half hours. If the opponent foresees that the defence will last for longer than two and a half hours, s/he may suggest to the chairman that there be a break.

Immediately after the public defence, the examining committee meets to decide whether the candidate has passed. The committee elects a chairman among its members. The opponent is present at the meeting and may provide additional information and comments about the thesis and the defence. The chairman normally asks at least one of the supervisors to be present. However, the opponent and the supervisor(s) do not take part in the final decision. If a member of the committee votes against passing the dissertation, s/he may add a written comment, explaining the reason for assigning it a “Fail”.

When the committee has agreed on the outcome and signed the form, the chairman of the examining committee announces the result.

* These guidelines have been adapted from guidelines used at Chalmers Institute of Technology by Alf Björnberg and Elisabet Engdahl

Page Manager: Eva Englund|Last update: 1/25/2018

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