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 instructions below and have it established before the course is announced. You are welcome to use the guide for designing a course for meaningful learning. 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 should give a short overarching description of why the course is offered. The the box below presents in more detail how the purpose of the course should designed, in relation to the course's intended learning outcomes.

Purpose vs Intended Learning Outcomes

Purpose of the course describes the overall aims of the course and should answer questions such as, “Why is this course given”, or “How is this course useful for the participant”. A well formulated purpose will help the potential participant to quickly understand what kind of competence can be obtained by way of the course. Ideally, purpose of the course would be formulated in a way that would help awaken the motivation of the potential participant.

The purpose of the course should be at a general level, thus covering even competences like knowledge, skills and attitudes to be gained/developed that may not be explicitly assessed during course, nor fully achieved. Typical examples of such learning outcomes might be generic skills, such as ability to think critically, write academically and act in an ethical and/or sustainable way, even when these aspects are not included in the more specific intended learning outcomes.

Intended learning outcomes, on the other hand, describe competences the course participant need to be able demonstrate in an examination. Intended learning outcomes should express what the student is expected to be able to do by the end of the course and should thus also be examined. 

Purpose of the course should be fairly succinct in order for a potential course participant to quickly grasp what he or she can get out of the course. More detailed descriptions of intended learning outcomes, contents of the course and teaching and learning activities can be given in other fields of the syllabus.

A purpose of the course should be formulated fairly brief and inspiringly! Here are a couple of examples of how this can be written (slightly modified from actual syllabi and are intended as examples only):

Some examples

  • “The purpose of the course is to enable doctoral students to obtain 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 you as a participant the possibility to acquire 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 orally.”

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 expected to be able to...”, followed by bullet points with active verbs that can be assessed in the examination stating what the course participants are expected to be able to demonstrate they have achieved.

Avoid terms such as know, understand, learn, appreciate as they are generally not specific enough to be measurable, but use terms like eg. explain, discuss, describe, design, give constructive criticism.

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.

Guide: Formulating Learning Outcomes

Teaching and learning activities

It is recommended that the course's forms of teaching and learning are described in such a way that campus teaching is not specified and thus binding but allows room for some flexibility in the event of unforeseen events (see below under Deviation from syllabus).

Compulsory elements

If there are requirements for attendance during certain parts of the course (eg seminars, laboratory work) in order to be able to fulfil 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. 


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. Read more about the availability of e-books and how you can create links to library resources in the course platform.

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 Manual in KIWAS.

Deviation from syllabus in unforeseen situations

The section “teaching and learning activities”, as well as the form of examination, in the syllabus should preferably be worded in such a way that campus teaching isn’t specified and thereby binding, but allows room for some flexibility in case of unforeseen events.

An unforeseen event can be, for example, the spread of infection, a natural disaster or that a planned and irreplaceable lecturer is acutely prevented from traveling, leading to that that the course must be rescheduled at short notice to distance learning, to prevent cancellation of the course.

If the syllabus is designed in such a way that teaching and learning activities and examination form need to be changed in order to urgently switch to distance teaching, a decision on deviation from the syllabus can be made, provided:

  • that it applies to special and unforeseen events (as above)
  • that there is no time for a regular revision of the syllabus, according to the current deadlines
  • that changes only apply to teaching and examination form.

A decision on deviation shall not be used as a result of missing the regular deadline for revising the syllabus.

The course director is responsible for a decision document being prepared, containing a description of changes made in relation to the established syllabus, and sent to the administrative officer of the Course and Programme Committee (via for approval by the chairperson. As far as possible, such a decision should be made before the course is given.


Anna Gustafsson

Administrative officer

Anna-Karin Welmer

Chair of the Course and Programme Committee

Vladana Vukojevic

Vice chair of the Course and Programme Committee

Ingeborg Van Der Ploeg

Central director of studies
Content reviewer: