Part A. PhD handbook for candidates and supervisors

A Philosophiae Doctor (PhD) programme involves supervised research that qualifies candidates for research activities and other work where high demands are placed on scientific insight and analytical thinking.

The aim of the PhD programme at the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) is to train independent researchers with qualifications at a high international level. This will be done in collaboration with national and international research communities and in accordance with recognised scientific and ethical principles.

The PhD Handbook is based on the Regulations relating to the Degree of Philosophiae Doctor (PhD)

USN’s PhD Handbook is developed and managed by the Department of Research and Innovation and is based on USN’s Quality System for Education. The PhD Handbook is intended to be a work of reference for use by those who administer the PhD programmes, for PhD supervisors and for PhD candidates. It is divided into two parts: PART A for candidates and academic supervisors and PART B for those who administer the PhD programmes. Both Part A and Part B deal with tasks, procedures, roles and responsibilities associated with the start-up, implementation and conclusion of PhD programmes. In addition, there is a set of procedures and work descriptions that describe the practical and administrative tasks that belong to the different phases. These are linked to USN’s Quality System for Education.

We recommend reading both parts A and B – together they provide a basic and holistic understanding of responsibilities and various tasks involved in a doctoral programme. The Handbook can also be used as a work of reference if you have questions or queries.

Responsibility for implementation of a PhD programme

  • The Board at USN is primarily responsible for the PhD programmes
  • The Research Committee advises on harmonisation and quality development in the doctoral programmes. This includes offers of adaptations, available courses and requirements for participants in the programme. The Research Committee is chaired by the Vice-Rector for Research.
  • The day-to-day running of the PhD programmes is assigned to the faculties, with administrative support from a PhD coordinator affiliated with each programme
  • The Department of Research and Innovation (AFI) must ensure uniform and well organised research training at USN and has overall coordinating responsibility for all USN’s PhD programmes.
  • The candidate is admitted to one of USN’s PhD programmes. The candidate will either be employed at a department at USN (pursuant to Ministry of Education and Research or an externally funded research project), or at another institution. Alternatively, the candidate may have been admitted to the relevant PhD programme based on an Industrial PhD, Public Sector PhD or other externally funded collaboration agreement.
  • If the candidate is employed at USN, the head of department is responsible for the appointment and terms of employment (HR responsibilities)
  • Each programme has a PhD programme committee that is responsible for the operation of the programme, admission of candidates, academic content, and programme development and teaching within the adopted framework and guidelines. The chairperson of the programme committee has academic responsibility and holds the role of PhD programme coordinator (separate role description). Each programme also has a PhD coordinator who has the administrative responsibility for the entire PhD programme.

Good luck!

Heidi Ormstad

Vice-Rector of Research

1. Start up

Goal: PhD candidates at USN must be ensured a good start that lays the foundation for successful completion of the PhD programme.

Preparation, admission and start 

Admission requirements are described in Chapter 2 of the PhD regulations and their supplementary provisions.

PhD candidate:

  • Is responsible for applying for admission to the PhD programme within the given deadline, normally no later than three months after appointment/start-up of an externally funded project. Application requirements are described in Section 2-2 of the PhD Regulations
  • Must familiarise themselves with laws, regulations and guidelines in relation to the use and storage of research data, ICT regulations and the Export Control Regulations where relevant
  • Must familiarise themselves with research ethics guidelines, The Health Research Act and data protection considerations where relevant

The admission application must contain:

  • Documentation of the education that forms the basis for admission
  • A description of the research project, which includes an academic account of the research project, a progress plan and preliminary publication plan
  • A plan for the training component (minimum 30 credits)
  • Documentation of funding
  • Documentation of special requirements regarding academic and material resources
  • Plans for stays at other institutions, including foreign institutions
  • Details of any intellectual property restrictions to protect the rights of others
  • At least one proposed co-supervisor in addition to the main academic supervisor, and a description of an active research community
  • An account of any legal and ethical issues raised by the project, and how these are to be clarified. The application must state whether the project is dependent on permission from research ethics committees or other authorities, or from private individuals (informants, patients, parents, etc.). If possible, such permissions should be obtained and attached to the application

The main supervisor:

  • Must normally assist the candidate with the application process, the design of the project description and the implementation plan
  • Must ensure that the candidate has implemented the requirements stipulated in the Health Research Act and data protection considerations, and that they have applied to REK, Sikt or other agencies, if relevant
  • Is responsible for quality assuring the candidate obtains permits for the use of research data and ensuring that research ethics guidelines are followed
  • Provides information to the candidate about the rules for co-authorship

Admission is formalised by the faculty entering into a contract with the candidate. The PhD contract is described in Section 2-6 of the PhD Regulations. Part B of the contract regarding academic supervision in the PhD programme must be completed and signed by the candidate, all academic supervisors and the host faculty.

Appointment of supervisors and content of supervision

Regulations relating to the appointment of academic supervisors are referred to in Section 3-2 of the PhD Regulations.

Work on the PhD thesis must be carried out under individual supervision. The faculty, c/o the programme’s PhD committee, appoints academic supervisors for the candidates. In some programmes, a PhD scholarship will be linked to a specific academic supervisor when the call is announced. As a general rule, the main academic supervisor must be employed at USN. The PhD candidate must have at least two academic supervisors, one of whom will be appointed as the main academic supervisor.

All academic supervisors must have a doctoral degree or equivalent academic qualifications in the area of study and be active researchers. At least one of the appointed academic supervisors should have experience in supervising candidates at PhD level. The main academic supervisor must normally be employed at the faculty where the PhD candidate has been admitted. The Faculty may appoint a main academic supervisor who is not employed at the faculty where the candidate has been admitted. In such cases, the co-supervisor should be employed at the faculty where the candidate has been admitted. The co-supervisor is another academic member of staff who provides supervision and who shares academic responsibility for the PhD candidate with the main academic supervisor. The main academic supervisor is the candidate’s primary contact person.

An external supervisor is a supervisor from a faculty other than the one the PhD candidate is admitted to, or who comes from an institution/enterprise outside USN.

The main academic supervisor is responsible for following up the candidate’s academic development and advising on the training component. All academic supervisors are jointly responsible for the academic follow-up, and must ensure that the candidate participates regularly in an active research community with senior researchers and other PhD candidates. Good dialogue, mutual trust and respect between the PhD candidate and academic supervisor are crucial for productive collaboration and good results. The various doctoral programmes may have individual guidelines regarding supervision.

The academic supervisors must also provide advice on the formulation and delimitation of topics and issues, discuss and assess hypotheses and methods, discuss results and their interpretation, discuss the planning and implementation of the presentation, such as outline, linguistic form and documentation, and provide orientation regarding academic literature and source data from libraries, archives and online resources.

Provide guidance in academic dissemination.

Help introduce the candidate to relevant international networks, which may lead to stays abroad of varying duration.

Support the candidate’s future plans and talk about possible career paths, in or outside academia.

Ensure that the candidate is informed about USN’s commitment to EU's Charter & Code. 

The candidate and the main academic supervisor may separately ask the faculty to appoint a new main academic supervisor for the candidate. A main academic supervisor may not withdraw until a new main academic supervisor has been appointed. USN’s application form for changing supervisors must be used. Disagreements between the academic supervisor and the candidate regarding access to or management of collected data, disputes about the size of contributions to joint article projects, and disputes regarding copyrights, etc., should preferably be resolved at the lowest possible level at the faculty.


TIPS for academic supervisors:

  • Invite the candidate you are going to supervise to a start-up meeting where you familiarise yourself with the candidate’s academic background. The aim of this is to assess whether there is a need for strengthening special knowledge or skills at the start of or during the PhD period. Clarify expectations regarding supervision and the implementation of the project. Be clear about your own expectations and make sure to create trust from the start.
  • Write a supervision contract
  • Be clear about different roles and responsibilities in the research project. An academic supervisor can be a co-researcher and co-author, but also a project manager who is responsible for the research idea for a larger research project. If the plan is for the academic supervisor to be a co-author, review the guidelines for co-authorship. It is a good idea to document any agreement on co-authorship along the way
  • Familiarise yourself with ethical relationships between the academic supervisor and the candidate. Just like everyone else, academic supervisors are subject to research ethics guidelines. Supervision and collegiality | Research ethics
  • Help ensure that the candidate has a safe and good working environment and be aware of psychosocial conditions along the way that may lead to leaves of absence over long periods of time
  • Be a research colleague as much as an academic supervisor, and view the PhD candidate as a resource for more than just the PhD work
  • Help contribute to communication tools: scientific skills in writing, presentation and language
  • Be a motivator and provide as much enthusiasm and positive feedback as possible, and constructive criticism when necessary

2. During

Goal: PhD candidates at USN must be ensured good quality and support in all areas of the programme so that they can complete it within the normal length of time and achieve the described learning outcomes for the programme

During the PhD programme

All the forms and information relevant for the research training can be found here

The PhD candidate:


  • Must register for and complete the courses that constitute the training component. If changes are to be made to the training component, the candidate must apply to the programme committee for approval
  • Must participate in the planning and implementation of supervisory meetings
  • Must follow the agreed progress plan and submit an annual progress report (cf. Section 3-7 of the PhD Regulations.)
  • Must participate in PhD seminars if this is required by the faculty/PhD programme. In addition, the candidate is expected to participate actively and present their project in internal and external academic forums during the PhD programme.
  • Is invited to participate in an annual evaluation/survey of the PhD programme
  • Has a duty to report work results with commercial potential that are made while employed at USN
  • If you apply for an extended period of time in the PhD programme due to project delays, you must update the progress plan. The application must be submitted to the PhD coordinator. The application must be approved by the programme committee.
  • Must take the initiative to discuss with academic supervisors the challenges and issues that may arise with the research work or supervision. If you do not wish to discuss the problem with your academic supervisor(s), please contact the programme committee chairperson or the PhD coordinator for the programme. The PhD committee is responsible for appointing new academic supervisor(s) in the event of long-term illness, leaves of absence, etc. The application form for changing supervisors must be used. If you find it difficult to talk to any of those mentioned above, you can contact the safety representative at the faculty.
  • Other mental or physical health problems? Please contact SSN for individual advice. SSN offers free help/counselling to all PhD candidates at USN.
  • Is encouraged to get involved in USN’s scholarship organisation – USN SPO. As a PhD candidate, you automatically become a member of the organisation that aims to gather information about and promote common academic and social interests.


Leaves of absence
It is important to notify USN about lengthy leaves of absence from the PhD work. In the event of leaves of absence involving maternity/paternity leave, illness or other matters related to your employment, you must contact the Human Resources Department. When applying for a leave of absence due to work on another project or similar, confirmation from the employer/project manager must be attached to the application. The application must be approved by the programme committee. Regardless of the reason for your leave of absence, you should discuss this with your academic supervisor so that the best possible arrangements can be made for resumption of the work when you return.

Please note that USN IT accesses may be changed in the event of long-term absence – contact the IT department for clarification.


Mobility - research stays abroad
USN encourages its PhD candidates to undertake a period of study abroad at foreign institutions. Such periods of study should, as far as possible, be included in the project description. You can do this even if you do not have an agreement or details in place at the time of application. If, after the start of a project, a PhD candidate wants to spend part of their research period at a foreign guest institution without this having been included in the original plan, this must be clarified with the academic supervisor and the faculty. Read more about PhD mobility, applications and opportunities here: USN mobility


Working Capital

Working capital refers to funds that are to be used to carry out a project. Information about working capital in your programme will be provided during the start-up meeting with the PhD coordinator. These funds are normally used to cover the costs of conferences, equipment, books, etc. The amount of working capital will depend on your employer and funding source. If you are not employed by USN, access to working capital must be described in the PhD contract.

If you are affiliated with an overarching project, you must normally go through the project manager to access the funds, but some PhD candidates may access funds independently. Nevertheless, working capital must be used in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations relating the use of public funds. Unused working capital will accrue to the institution (USN). Working capital for USN-employed doctoral research fellows and other doctoral candidates in the university and university college sector is classed as public funds. In principle, this means that anything procured using such funds does not become the personal property of the PhD candidate. This particularly applies to major procurements. You can clarify details relating to the use of working capital with your project manager or head of department. Contact your department (head of department) if you are unsure of anything relating to working capital.

USN has framework agreements in place that must be used for procurements. It is important that you use these for all procurements and follow the guidelines for employee travel when booking trips. Contact the PhD coordinator if you need help with this.


TIPS for candidates:

  • Notify the PhD coordinator if you wish to apply for an extended programme period, a change of course or academic supervisor
  • Inform the academic supervisor and/or the PhD coordinator about all matters that may affect the supervision or progress of the project. This also applies regarding any external partners.
  • Make sure you have an overview of the time you have available
  • Keep yourself orientated regarding the job market – build networks and create a career plan
  • Participate in international networks, apply to summer schools offered through our YERUN network, and apply for mobility grants if you would like to take part in a lengthy period of research outside Norway
  • Help ensure that your own and other PhD candidates’ doctoral education at USN is a good journey. Participate, get involved and take an interest!


The main academic supervisor:

  • Is responsible for planning and conducting supervision meetings and must provide the candidate with regular and predictable high-quality supervision in accordance with the PhD Regulations, so that the project complies with good research practice and maintains the correct academic level
  • Must ensure that the candidate is affiliated with relevant academic communities, receives international orientation and is included in relevant research groups
  • Is responsible for dialogue between co-supervisors during the PhD programme
  • Is responsible for ensuring that the candidate is familiar with the laws and regulations on the use of research data, and identifying and dealing with any non-conformities associated with the candidate regarding misconduct or breaches of research ethics.
  • Has, together with the candidate, a duty to report work results with commercial potential that are made while employed at USN. The Department of Research and Innovation can provide support in the assessment of cases
  • Is responsible for further developing their own supervisory skills through participation in external academic communities and supervisory courses
  • Must ensure the candidate’s progression. The candidate and academic supervisor are jointly responsible for providing an annual report on the PhD candidate’s work and progress (cf. Section 3-7 of the PhD Regulations).
  •  Must follow up academic matters that may delay completion of the PhD programme, so that it can be completed within the nominal length of time.
  • Must participate in the candidate’s mid-way evaluation and assist with the coordination of this
  • In addition to individual follow-up, it is expected that the academic supervisor participates with the candidate in certain seminars.


3. Conclusion

Goal: Research work and publications undertaken by PhD candidates at USN must meet high international standards.

Submission and assessment of a thesis

All the forms and information regarding submission and assessment can be found here.

PhD candidate:

  • Must inform the academic supervisor before submitting their thesis
  • Must submit the application for assessment of a thesis (including attachments) to the PhD coordinator, in accordance with 
  • Section 4-3 of the PhD Regulations
  • Must submit a PhD thesis of high ethical and research-related quality that is in accordance with the applicable regulations and of a good international standard
  • Must ensure that the contributions of all parties involved can be identified and safeguarded in accordance with applicable regulations, and that the co-author declaration(s) is(are) signed
  • The PhD candidate should have the thesis ​​proofread before submission
  • Must submit a brief summary of the PhD thesis in Norwegian and/or English (cf. Section 4-12 of the PhD Regulations and USN’s language policy guidelines USN’s language policy guidelines) and write a short press release, and possibly take press photos. Use the press release form – must be submitted to the Department of Communication
  • Must ensure that the thesis is sent for printing at the University Library and that the proof copies are proofread
  • PCs and other IT equipment must be handed in after employment/the contract with USN has ended. Contact the IT department for the return of PC and IT equipment. After the employment/contract with USN has ended, it is important that research data is deleted, shared or transferred in accordance with approvals and agreements. Contact the Research Data Group for help with sharing, deleting or transferring research data. 

The faculty, c/o the PhD coordinator, is responsible for submitting an electronic version of the thesis to the Assessment Committee. During the assessment period, the candidate must not make contact with members of the Assessment Committee. Please note that it may take some time before the thesis is submitted to the Assessment Committee. This is because it must first be processed by the programme committee.


The main academic supervisor:

  • Is responsible for ensuring that the PhD thesis maintains high ethical and research standards in accordance with applicable regulations
  • Should normally have given a green light to the candidate prior to submission
  • Must propose an assessment committee for the faculty. Forms with proposals for members of the committee must be submitted together with the CVs of external members and signed declarations of impartiality to the PhD coordinator. The programme committee must approve the proposed assessment committee


Trial lecture and public defence

All the forms and information regarding the trial lecture and the disputation can be found here.

The topic of the trial lecture must be announced to the candidate and made publicly available 10 working days before the lecture is to take place. The Assessment Committee determines the topic of the trial lecture. The topic must not be directly related to the topic of the thesis. See Sections 4-14 and 4-15 of the PhD Regulations.

The public defence is the candidate’s defence of the thesis. The faculty organises the public defence. The time and place of the public defence are made public no later than 10 working days before it is to be held. As a general rule, the trial lecture and public defence are held on the same day. If physical presence for candidates, academic supervisors and opponents is not possible, the public defence may be conducted digitally.

The academic supervisor plays no formal role during the trial lecture and public defence, but participates in a reception after the public defence, at a lunch together with the opponents, and attends a Doctoral Dinner if this is held. However, it is natural for the academic supervisor to make themselves available to the candidate in terms of support and encouragement, and contribute to good preparation for the candidate.


Tips for candidates regarding trial lectures and public defences:

  • Carefully read the Assessment Committee’s feedback so that you are prepared for questions from the opponents
  • Familiarise yourself with technical equipment in the room where the public defence will be held. If the implementation is digital, you will receive help from IT services on campus to check internet access, sound and image quality.
  • Practice your presentations – it is especially important that you comply with the stipulated time frame


Doctoral Dinner

It is optional for the doctoral candidate to arrange a dinner or social gathering after the defence has been completed. The doctoral candiate must cover the costs. Tax deductions: Deductions for the expences for printing, travel and dinner in connection with the defence, are covered by the minimum deduction (from 2023). You will only be entitled to a tax deduction if your actual costs exceed the minimum deduction. 


Doctoral conferment ceremony

USN arranges an annual joint doctoral conferment ceremony for all doctoral candidates who defended their thesis in the previous year. The ceremony marks a moment of transition from doctoral candidate to conferred doctor, which is institutionalised through the highlight - the award of the doctoral diploma. The conferment ceremony is a celebration of USN’s newly-graduated doctors, and emphasises the fact that we conduct education at the highest academic level, in close collaboration with society and the business sector. The ceremony is normally held on the last Thursday of April each year and alternates from campus to campus.