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Quality assurance of examination and thesis

A high quality doctoral education involves turning out theses of an excellent scientific standard as well as employable, competent and independent graduates. A sound, legally secure examination process is essential to this objective.

Quality of examination and thesis

Prior to all public defences, Karolinska Institutet (KI) makes sure that its examination rules have been complied with and that the constituent papers of the theses are of the scientific standard to be expected at this level.

The Dissertation Committee

The Board of Doctoral Education appoints a Dissertation Committee to oversee compliance with the university’s examination rules. In order to check that all parts of a student’s education have been successfully completed, applications to hold a public defence/licentiate seminar are to be submitted to the committee in accordance with the instructions given on the KI staff portal: Time to defend your thesis.

The Dissertation Committee checks:

  • that the thesis meets the formal requirements set by the Higher Education Ordinance and KI
  • that the student has adhered to his/her study plan
  • that ethical guidelines have been followed.

The Dissertation Committee also:

  • appoints the examination board and, for public defences, the opponent
  • sets the date and venue for the public defence/licentiate seminar.

Preliminary review of the constituent papers

Once the Dissertation Committee has approved the defence application, the examination board performs a preliminary review of the constituent papers of the thesis (scientific articles and manuscripts) to assess whether they are of the scientific standard to be expected from an internationally renowned university and of a scope that corresponds to four years of full time doctoral education.

If the quality and scope are considered inadequate, the examination board is obliged to advise against a defence. Some two per cent of students are recommended to postpone their defence.

More on the preliminary review


An anonymous survey of examination board members was conducted in the spring of 2013 on the quality of KI’s doctoral students and theses. The response rate was 75 per cent. Over 60 per cent of these respondents felt that the thesis they assessed maintained a high or very high scientific standard.

Report on the examination board survey


Bibliometrics is a useful tool for measuring the quality of the constituent papers of a thesis. In order to ascertain whether the papers published by KI with at least one doctoral student as co-author differ bibliometrically from those published elsewhere within their research environment, a bibliometric analysis was conducted in 2011 of doctoral research at KI between 2005 and 2010 with respect to scientific publication in Web of Science. No indications were found that the students’ papers differed from other publications, and the field normalised citation scores were the same. Other indicators also suggested that the students’ papers were on a par with those not involving students (e.g. Journal Impact Factor, number of citations per paper, and number of highly cited papers).

Improving the quality of examination and thesis

Thesis quality

Several steps have recently been taken with the aim of improving the quality of the thesis frame (known as kappa in Swedish).

“Kappa” writing seminars. The Board of Doctoral Education has earmarked funds for “kappa”-writing seminars that can be applied for by departments and doctoral study programmes. The aim of these seminars is to help students get started composing a high-quality thesis frame.

Guidelines and aids for writing thesis frames. Two documents – Support for writing the thesis and Guidelines for writing a compilation thesis summary chapter – have been produced to help students write their thesis frames.

Plagiarism. It is important for students to learn the proper principles of scientific writing and reference management in order prevent plagiarism. To this end, KI has purchased an online course on avoiding plagiarism, which is now incorporated into the compulsory introduction programme for new doctoral students. All doctoral students can take the course through their Ping Pong accounts.

KI has also purchased the plagiarism detection tool iThenticate for systematic plagiarism checks of all theses. Doctoral students and their supervisors are also welcome to use the tool.