The Covid19 pandemic has been – and continues to be – a difficult and stressful time for many PhD students. At the national level this has been mapped out in a report from the Doctoral Committee within the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS-DK). It is important that we have good knowledge of the consequences of the crisis for the Science Academic Area’s own PhD students, since the circumstances are so variable among universities, between the different parts of the Academic Area, and between PhD projects of different types. For this reason the Dean has heeded the suggestion from the PhD Councils to form a task group with the mission to investigate how the quality of the research education has been affected by the pandemic. I will lead this group, in my capacity as chair of the research education committee. One part of the plan for the group is to perform a local survey, and then report on problems that should be paid attention to, as well as good examples of how to keep the quality of the education as high as possible even under this and future pandemics.

Some conclusions can be drawn already now, based on the SFS-DK report, the letter from the PhD councils to the faculty, and the dialogue that I have had with representatives of the PhD students and with the members of the research education committee. There exists a clear frustration among the PhD students over the fact that the problems have not been given enough attention, and also a concern that the PhD students are not treated in a fair and equal way in the current situation. This is due to the considerable variation in circumstances among departments and projects, as well as the dependence on the supervisors’ attitude to the problems arising. This can involve seemingly simple aspects such as the possibility to perform PhD studies successfully from home, considering e.g. broadband capacity, or being allowed to borrow a larger screen or a chair from the office. I would like to call upon the leadership at departments and centers to be aware of these problems, and do whatever is possible to simplify for those PhD students that can and want to work from home to do so.

A more difficult problem is that concerning prolongation of the PhD studies due to ”special reasons” connected to the Covid 19 pandemic. Such decisions are taken by the Dean based on proposals from the head of department (or corresponding). Here the situation is very variable between PhD projects of different types – and in different stages of the project – so that some projects may have been delayed considerably whereas others have hardly been affected at all. In our decentralized organization it is a clear challenge to ensure that the PhD students are treated fairly based on their own particular situation. Thus it cannot be up to only the PhD students and their supervisors to determine whether a prolongation should be sought, and for how long time. Instead this should be assessed at the time of the follow-up of the individual study plan, with involvement also of an external follow-up group (or corresponding), the person responsible for the PhD subject and the director of studies for PhD education. Hopefully this will ensure that the assessment is done as fairly and equally as possible at least within the department, and to the extent possible also within the Academic Area as a whole. The department leadership should also be aware that the economical basis for a particular project via external grants cannot be allowed to determine whether a prolongation will be sought. Even in the current difficult economic situation the departments should for this reason be prepared to contribute resources from faculty grants for this purpose.


Sören Nylin

Section Dean (Biology) and Chair of the Research Education Committee