Each graduate student is guaranteed supervision by two supervisors. However, exceptions may be considered due to individual graduate student needs. One supervisor functions as main supervisor. That person is always affiliated with the department where the thesis should be presented and has all formal responsibilities. From the year 2010, it also includes eligible supervisors at Södertörn University; the conditions are regulated by the two universities through an agreement regarding graduate studies in Man-Machine-Interaction. Sometimes there is a group of supervisors called a ‘supervising committee’, however, it totally lacks formal status and has a different role than the corresponding group in e.g. the United States.

The main supervisor determines in dialog with the assistant supervisors when a thesis is ready for examination. The content of a thesis should preferably be published in well recognized conference proceedings or journals. However, not everything has to be published. If nothing is previously published, one may use the heuristic that the core of the thesis has to be judged to be of a quality that is on par with recent publications of the above mentioned form. The form of the thesis may be either a monograph or a collection of papers preceded by an introductory summary. The size of a thesis in our subject may vary greatly. With the risk of being overspecific the following figures are given. A thesis of average length may range from 100-200 pages (including papers). Less than 100 pages is considered ‘short’ and more than 200 pages is considered ‘long’.

The finished thesis is discussed at a public defense act. The roles at this public defense act are as follows: a chairman, a respondent, an opponent, and an evaluation committee. An extra backup, usually a person from the department, is often assigned, prepared to stand-in should any member of the committee be unable to serve. The opponent has a PhD degree, and the evaluation committee members each have a habilitation (‘docent’ grade) or a professor’s title/chair. The chairman at the defense act is often the supervisor. One advantage on using another senior staff member as chairman is that this person can cut the discussion short as necessary, without being accused of trying to protect the respondent. The chairman has only a formal procedural role at the act

The opponent is an expert in the specific field of the thesis, and is usually a nonSwedish researcher who lacks formal professional relations with the respondent. The opponent has only an advisory role in the sense that he/she does not take active part in the formal decision meeting following the public defense act. However, the opponent bears the brunt of the defense act. It is also supposed that the evaluation of the thesis presented by the opponent should be given a heavy weight in the evaluation committee’s judgement.

Normally the defense act has four parts.

  1. In the first part (very short) the respondent comments on errata (such as formal errors)
  2. In the second part (normally 30-45 mins):
    1. a) the opponent positions the thesis within the field and gives a personal view on its contributions, or
    2. b) the respondent is presenting his or her work.
  3. In the third part, (normally 45-60 mins, but might run longer), the opponent systematically discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis on all levels of detail. This part is typically carried out in ‘Questions and Answers’ interaction with the respondent.
  4.  In the fourth part the evaluation committee and the audience may pose questions. It is normal for each committee member to ask one or two questions, but more questions are acceptable and are not seen as an indicat\on of low thesis quality.

It is desirable that at least some fractions of the defense act are understandable for the whole audience. This is in practice the responsibility of the opponent to try to achieve. The defense act is public and the size of the audience is unpredictable. It may be around 50 people, but it could also be less. The audience is typically very mixed ranging from friends and relatives of the respondent to fellow researchers.

The evaluation committee attends the defense act and has a formal decision meeting immediately afterwards. The supervisors and the opponent are allowed to be present at this meeting but have no votes. At present a thesis is  judged ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. No grades are given.

The opponent and the evaluation committee should get a printed copy of the final version of the thesis at least three weeks before the public defense act. During this period the thesis should also be available for public inspection. In average the time to print the thesis is three weeks. This means that the final version of the thesis must be available six weeks before the public defense act, and hence an electronic version of the final thesis can be made available at that time.

Each respondent has carried out a pre-defense, or a similar dress rehearsal for the defense, to which an opponent is assigned. The pre-defense is normally attended by the supervisors, plus some fellow graduate students and faculty. After the predefense, there is an informal discussion about what should be corrected before the final version of the thesis goes to print, typically involving several senior faculty members. This is a pragmatic form of quality control, and the department believes that the pre-defense protocol, together with the quality control by the senior faculty members, helps increase the quality level of theses in general.

The practice in Sweden is that one never wants a thesis to be judged ‘fail’ by the evaluation committee. This means that there must exist a common understanding between the main supervisor, opponent and evaluation committee in that all involved persons have made up their minds to the informal decision to pass the thesis before the formal proposition of the public defense is submitted to faculty. Cases of ‘fail’ grade are extremely rare in Sweden and are often a result of the respondent pressing the point of having the defense, against the wishes of supervisors and department.