Norwegian PhD candidates are content

June 15, 2017 - 06:20

Postgraduate doctoral degree candidates are more satisfied with their educational and future prospects than they were a few years ago.

There are now twice as many persons in Norway working on doctorates than 15 years ago. Many, however, realise that they will never land a professorship. (Illustrative photo: Syda Productions / Shutterstock / NTB scanpix )

In recent years universities and other institutions in Norway have made modifications in the education of future researchers. 

The numbers of PhD candidates has been rapidly swelling simultaneously.

A new study issued by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) on behalf of the Norwegian Association of Researchers concludes that this growth has not been detrimental to the women and men working on their doctorates.

Good and costly

Positive responses from many of the PhD candidates in the survey show that more of them are now satisfied with their advisors, the learning they are doing and professional follow-ups in their field of study.  

Broadly speaking – much seems to be working right in the education of researchers.

Humanists are negative

The NIFU report does not obscure the exceptions. There are still many working on their PhDs in Norway who are dissatisfied with the help and follow-ups they are getting.

PhD students in the humanities and political and social sciences tend to be the least content. 

In general, the study shows that doctoral students who work with a community of others are more positive. They learn more and gain better experience in publishing and dissemination. They also enjoy a larger international network.

Less than 10 percent of all PhD candidates now have just one advisor. Nearly 40 percent have three or more. The ones working on doctorates in the humanities and social science get the least advice and help.

The survey was answered by about half of the roughly 8,000 doctoral degree candidates in Norway right now. It shows a clear connection between frequent follow-ups from mentors and advisors and candidates’ measures of satisfaction. 

The candidates who are working through research universities and university colleges are more satisfied than others. Candidates who are included in research projects are also more satisfied.

Better structure

Universities and other institutions that educate researchers have been making changes in recent years to right some wrongs of the past. 

The education of researchers in Norway has generally become more structured.

A surprising discovery in this survey was how easily so-called external PhD candidates find it to work on their doctorates while being engaged in other work. This could be because many of them already work with research in the health sector or at a research institute.

Another fact revealed by the study is that fewer institutions are now entering four-year agreements with PhD candidates, committing them to work as part of the contract.

The new universities in Norway are the most apt to use three-year contracts instead. The departure point in these is that the candidate should not bound to work on anything but her/his own doctoral degree. Still, four out of 10 of these candidates say they are engaged in other tasks. In the humanities and social sciences these postgraduates are used in teaching students. However, it should be noted that many PhD candidates consider such job responsibilities to be relevant for their future careers.

The NIFU report questions whether it is right to offer three-year contracts rather than four-year ones when the doctoral degree candidates are still required to do various types of jobs.

Fewer expect to become professors

The study shows that six in 10 PhD candidates now hope to get jobs in research.

The results show that it has final dawned on those working on doctoral degrees that the clear majority cannot expect to ever land a future research job crowned with the title of professor.

Only three in 10 candidates says they want a job at a university or university college.

More than before are looking for jobs in the public sector.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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