Course syllabi for doctoral courses

All doctoral courses at Karolinska Institutet must have a syllabus, established by the Committee for Doctoral Education. The syllabus covers the content, purpose, intended learning outcomes (ILOs), learning activities and examination for the course. What to keep in mind when writing the syllabus and its components is described on this page.

Creating a course syllabus

In order to give a doctoral course at Karolinska Institutet, the course director must write a syllabus according to the guidelines and have it established before the course is announced. The decision to establish a syllabus is taken by the chairperson of the Course and Programme Committee, by delegation from the Committee for Doctoral Education.

The syllabus must be entered into the course database KIWAS in the language that the course will be taught. For the course to be included in the course catalogue, the syllabus must be submitted through KIWAS and a course occasion created in the system before the respective deadline.

Current deadlines for doctoral courses.

Before entering a syllabus proposal in KIWAS, the course director needs a preliminary approval from the doctoral programme that intends to finance the course, alternatively from the coordinator of the Course and Programme Committee ( if the course doesn’t fit within a doctoral programme (see Applying for funding of freestanding doctoral courses). Research school directors usually enter syllabi themselves in KIWAS.

Would you like to improve your skills in course design?

We recommend signing up for the course Designing doctoral courses both if it is the first time you are planning a doctoral course and if you already have some experience as a course director of doctoral courses.

A syllabus proposal that has been submitted via KIWAS will be reviewed and any feedback communicated via email until a final draft is ready for approval. An approved syllabus will be established in KIWAS. All established syllabi for doctoral courses are available via the syllabus database.

Once a syllabus is established, a course code is also created in Ladok, our study documentation system, so that participants can register before the course starts, and the course results can be reported after completion of the course.

The final syllabus is linked to a course occasion (unless the course is only available for participants in a research school) which means that the course will be published in the next course catalogue.

Here follows important information about some of the syllabus components:

Specific entry requirements

"Specific entry requirements" means prior knowledge required of the applicant to be considered for admission to the course.

This should not be confused with selection criteria (defined in the course occasion).

Purpose of the course

The purpose of the course gives a short overarching description of why the course is offered. By reading the purpose of the course, a potential participant should be able to quickly understand what the course aims at. Instead of detailing the knowledge and skills that will be developed and assessed during the course, as done in the intended learning outcomes and examination, the purpose of the course should be general enough to cover all abilities the course helps a participant to develop, even those that may not be fully achieved during the course nor summatively assessed. Typical examples of such outcomes might be generic skills, such as ability to think critically and communicate academically as well as an ethical attitude in relation to the subject of the course.

A purpose of the course should be formulated fairly brief and inspiringly!

Some examples of how purpose of the course statements might be written:

  • “The purpose of the course is to enable doctoral students to acquire a basic understanding of statistical methods and the fundamental principles of statistical inference and to develop their skills of using statistical software for data analysis.”
  • “The course aims to provide participants with a fresh perspective on the cell cycle and advanced approaches that researchers are taking to study this fascinating topic, to stimulate your curiosity and to inspire your own research. The purpose is also to help you practice key academic skills that you will need throughout your career, such as learning from scientific presentations, proposing experiments, and providing constructive criticism.”
  • “This course is given to show students how to get inspiration from several different disciplines and techniques and apply it to their own infection biology research. Through examples of cutting-edge technologies and their applications across a broad range of infection biology fields, students are encouraged to think about how such techniques can be translated into new applications. The course will also teach participants to critically appraise presentations, to ask and answer questions in orally.”

The above examples are modified from actual syllabi and intended only as examples.

For further guidance, see Purpose vs Intended Learning Outcomes.

Intended learning outcomes

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are to be written from a doctoral student’s point of view. A useful method is to introduce the intended learning outcomes with: “At the end of the course, the student is supposed to be able to...”, followed by bullet points specifying the knowledge, understanding, skills, evaluation abilities and approach that a student is to possess after completing the course.

You can learn more about how the ILOs for course syllabi may be worded in the guide Formulating Learning Outcomes.

ILOs, learning activities and assessment (examination) must be related and coherent. This is called "constructive alignment" (Biggs, 2003). Constructive alignment involves: 

  • Intentionally determining objectives for what students should learn and how they will demonstrate their achievement of these ILOs, and clearly communicating these to students,
  • Designing teaching and learning activities so that students get feedback and practice in achieving these learning outcomes,
  • Creating assessments that will allow students to demonstrate their attainment of the learning outcomes and allow instructors to discern how well these outcomes have been achieved. 

See also Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Compulsory elements

If there are requirements for attendance during certain parts of the course (eg seminars, laboratory work) in order to be able to fulfill the outcomes, this must be stated under compulsory elements. It should also be clear if, and in that case how, absence can be compensated. Avoid stating compulsory attendance simply as a percentage. See also p. 6 in the guide Formulating learning outcomes.


The examination must be coherent with the learning outcomes and learning activities. You are invited to consult the KI resource Designing Assessments that provides guidance, suggestions and inspiration for teachers on how to design assessments.

Learn more about examination and course examiners.

Literature and other teaching materials

The literature and other teaching materials that are relevant for the course are indicated at the end of the syllabus. Consider the following when writing this section:

  • Please indicate what is recommended and what is mandatory course literature. The most common is that all course literature is recommended reading.
  • The number of pages should be relative to time available for reading. When it is not required to read an entire book, either the relevant book chapters should be specified, or it should be written that the book can be used as reference literature.
  • Please write literature references according to a uniform reference style, e.g. according to APA or Vancouver, see Writing references.
  • For recurring courses, it may be useful to write "latest version" for books and other text that is continuously revised. This to avoid the administrative process having to revise the syllabus each time the course is to be given.
  • It is relatively common that students may select several publications from a list for a course assignment. Additional specification is distributed through the course's learning platform. A reference to web pages can be useful for students, but web pages quite often get inaccessible. To avoid constant revision of the syllabus, it is better to refer to web pages in the course's learning platform that the course provider self can update before the next course occasion.
  • All course literature should be available well in advance of the start of the course.
  • It is not allowed to buy books from the KI course budget, but many course books are available as e-books through the KI library and can be uploaded at the course platform before course start. See Reading e-books through KI Library

Revising a syllabus

A syllabus only needs revision if changes to the content is needed.

Please note: If you want to change the title, the number of credits or the responsible KI department for the course, you must create a new syllabus. A new course number is then generated as well as a unique course code in Ladok.

If only the name of the course director or contact persons is to be changed, this is done without revising the syllabus. See the quick reference guide under Help in KIWAS.


Anna Gustafsson

Administrative officer

Erika Franzén

Chair of the Course and Programme Committee

Emilie Agardh

Vice chair of the Course and Programme Committee

Ingeborg Van Der Ploeg

Central director of studies