PhD training at Karolinska Institutet

PhD training at Karolinska Institutet – setting the same framework for both clinical and non-clinical students

Elias ArnÈr, M.D. Ph.D.

Dean of Postgraduate Education, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

Karolinska Institutet is a medical university having at present approximately 2400 Ph.D. students in total and more than 370 dissertations per year. The research environment at the university is international and about a third of the doctoral students come from foreign universities. The study background of the Ph.D. students is also diverse and the number of non-clinical students has increased in recent years. As of today, 44% of the Ph.D. students at Karolinska Institutet have a background in clinical training, with 33% being M.D.ís whereas the remaining clinician doctoral students come from odontology, nursing, physical therapy, and other clinical fields. Among the clinician Ph.D. students, several pursue their Ph.D. training in parallel with clinical duties, which imposes time restraints and some unique clinically related issues, as compared to students that engage in full-time postgraduate studies.

In 2006 the regulations for Ph.D. training at Karolinska Institutet were thoroughly revised with the intent to streamline the training and optimize the conditions for clinical as well as non-clinical students, aiming to ensure high quality postgraduate training for the diverse categories of students trained at the university. Instead of having different regulations for different categories of students a path was taken to set an identical framework for all students, emphasizing what should be the common denominator for every student obtaining a Ph.D. degree at Karolinska Institutet. As a tool to achieve this goal, more than 200 previous Ph.D. study subjects (eg. radiology, tumor biology, microbiology, etc.) were abolished and a single subject, Medical Science, was introduced throughout the university. Within this new subject, a general study plan sets the overall framework, which should guide the common denominators for all students, while an individual study plan sets the unique aspects of training for each student. The individual study plan is detailed in terms of form while highly flexible in terms of contextual content. The underlying principle for the training is a concept of ìtrinity in postgraduate trainingî, namely the concept that an optimal combination of i) student, ii) study plan with courses and research project, and iii) supervision, is a prerequisite for good training. Steps are therefore taken with the attempt to ensure a high quality in all of these three components of the Ph.D. training. The combination of these three components is therefore evaluated in detail before admission of each new Ph.D. student.

Each student, foreign as well as Swedish, is required to have good knowledge in the English language. The proposed individual study plan should be jointly written by the suggested supervisor/student combinations and is subsequently discussed at an admission seminar, with the aim to evaluate that good conditions for high-quality training are fulfilled in each individual case. As parts of the individual study plan, not only courses, literature and research project must be specified, but also planned financing sources and training schedules for the complete full-time equivalent of the four coming years until completion of a Ph.D. degree. For clinical students that wish to engage in Ph.D. training in parallel with clinical practice, endorsement from the Head of clinic is also required, in order to ensure that sufficient time is allowed and made available for the clinician to engage in Ph.D. training. This step is taken because time restraints have otherwise proven to become a hampering factor for the clinical students. In addition to these general measures, a number of research schools, postgraduate training programmes, recruitment processes and other actions are taken in order to facilitate diversity and high-level competence in students and supervisors engaged in the Ph.D. training at Karolinska Institutet. A competitive funding programme has also been initiated, to which potential students and supervisors may jointly apply with a proposed study plan, which is evaluated and if awarded subsequently funded in a four-year programme. That programme has an approval rate of approximately 25% and both clinical and non-clinical students are eligible. The funding programme serves the dual purpose of not only ensuring quality in terms of directing faculty funding to peer-reviewed Ph.D training, but is also believed to emphasize and improve the general quality in the framework of Ph.D. training throughout the university.

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