Guidelines for evaluation for the PhD degree at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bergen
These guidelines are derived from and formulated within the parameters of these Regulations and the Programme Description, with particular focus on the process of evaluation. The guidelines provide supplementary information of the norms and procedures which are assumed to be common to all PhD degrees at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bergen.
The Committee's mandate
The evaluation committee’s mandate is to assess the thesis and issue a written reasoned recommendation to the Faculty whether they find the thesis worthy of being defended for the doctoral degree at the University of Bergen. If the thesis is worthy of being defended in a public defence, the committee must evaluate and approve the trial lecture and the public defence before the doctoral candidate is awarded the PhD degree. Part 1 of the guidelines deals with the committee's assessment of the thesis. Part 2 deals with the committee's assessment of the trial lecture and public defence. Legislation and rules the guidance is authorized in, is at the end of the guidelines.
Note that there should be no contact between the committee members and the candidate/supervisors during the assessment of the thesis. All queries should be directed to the faculty's contact.
Part 1: The evaluation committee's assessment of the thesis
The duties of the chairperson
The chairperson of the committee:
- serves as a full member of the committee
- coordinates the committee evaluation process and ensures that progress is made and deadlines met
- coordinates the compilation of the committee's report on the thesis and distributes tasks among the committee members in connection with the public defence.
- serves as a link between the committee and the faculty
- clarifies a tentative date for public defence as early as possible and communicates this to the faculty officer
- sends the title of the trial lecture on the assigned topic and a brief written reason for the choice of topic to the faculty contact person no later than 3 weeks before the date of the public defence.
- is the department’s link with the external members and meet the opponents upon arrival in Bergen.
Level requirements for the thesis
A Norwegian doctoral degree is awarded as certification of the candidate's competence in research at third-cycle level in accordance with the Norwegian Qualifications Framework for Higher Education.
The thesis must be an independent work of high academic standard regarding the formulation of the research topic, conceptual clarity, formal presentation, ethical considerations, and the use of methods, theories and empirical material. It is important to consider whether the material and methods applied are relevant to the questions raised in the thesis, and whether the arguments and conclusions posited are tenable. The thesis must contribute to new knowledge in the discipline and be of a quality appropriate for publication in the scientific literature of the field. Overall, the thesis must satisfy the minimum requirements for research competence – demonstrated through the learning outcome for the PhD degree at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Non fundamental queries, that the committee may have, can be discussed during the defence.
The thesis can be submitted as one large coherent work (monograph) or as a collection of several smaller academic works (article-based thesis). In the case of the latter, clarification must be given of how the individual pieces are related.
Requirements for monographs
A monograph must strive to have a clear focus and delimitation. It must provide a clear presentation of the research topic, use of theory, methods, procedures for data collection and analysis. The thesis' position and contribution in relation to the research field should be clearly stated. If parts of the monograph have been published as part of another work, this must be specified. A monograph should not normally exceed 300 pages (110 000 words).
Requirements for article-based theses
Several shorter works may be approved as parts of the doctoral thesis if their contents form a whole. In such cases, the doctoral candidate must write a framing introduction that explains in detail the coherency of the thesis. The framing introduction should demonstrate how the thesis relates to the existing research in the field, indicate its contribution to the field, outline the broader theoretical framework of the study, and provide an in-depth methodological discussion. The framing introduction thus goes beyond being a summary, as it also presents the problems and conclusions in the articles as a whole to document the coherency of the thesis. This part of the thesis is therefore very important for both the doctoral candidate and the committee in its assessment. The scope of the framing introduction should normally be between 20 and 80 pages (7,000 to 29,000 words). The scope requirement varies between the disciplines.
An article-based thesis should in addition to the framing introduction comprise of at least 3 articles, or article manuscripts, of standard length with the candidate as sole or main author. The first author is normally regarded as an author who contributed at least 50% of an article. To be counted as the first author, the candidate must have contributed substantially to the development of the idea and research design, data collection, and the analysis and interpretation of the data.
Exceptions from this norm can be made, in line with traditions in the disciplines to which the thesis belong.
If this condition is not met the candidate should increase the number of articles. The candidate must be the sole author of the framing introduction. The evaluation committee makes the final assessment as to whether the doctoral candidate meets the required standard of independence and quality for the thesis to be publicly defended.
Requirements concerning joint publications
When the thesis includes joint publications, the doctoral candidate must obtain declarations from his/her co-author(s). The committee must consider to what extent the candidate's contribution to the joint publication can be identified and whether the candidate is responsible for a sufficient portion of the thesis.
If the documentation submitted by the candidate is insufficient, the committee may ask for further information by contacting the faculty officer. In special cases, the committee may require the submission of supplementary or clarifying information.
Description of the work – The committee’s report and title of the trial lecture
The committee must issue a joint report, with any individual statements enclosed. Grounds for dissent among the members of the committee must always be stated. Individual statements may be enclosed with the report even if the committee's conclusion is unanimous.
Deadline and address for the evaluation report
The committee’s evaluation report shall be submitted no later than three months after the committee has received the thesis, but no later than four weeks before a planned public defence. The committee submits the signed evaluation report as a pdf-file by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with copy to email@example.com. If the thesis is approved for public defence, the committee may sign the evaluation report at the public defence.
The committee’s evaluation report must address the following:
- Headline: Evaluation report from the evaluation committee regarding [NN’s] thesis [title] for the degree of PhD at the University of Bergen
- Names, titles and institutional affiliation of the committee members
- A brief description of the format of the thesis (monograph or collection of articles)
- Nature of the thesis (for instance theoretical or empirical) as well as size (number of pages)
- If the thesis is based on a series of articles, the evaluation report should clarify whether the candidate has lone or shared authorship of these, and in the latter case whether the candidate is the main author. The report should also mention if the articles have been published or not, and when and where, if applicable.
- A description of the thesis’s academic significance and its key components in terms of theories, hypotheses, empirical material, methodologies and findings
- Evaluation of the thesis’s strengths and weaknesses
- Conclusion, i.e. whether the committee deems the thesis worthy of public defence.
- Date and signatures.
If the thesis has been submitted for the second time, or it has been submitted on the recommendation of revisions required from the committee, it should be mentioned initially. The committee should briefly state whether the candidate has taken note of the recommendations and then point out the changes that have been made in the thesis.
The Committee's recommendation
In the committee’s recommendation, an evaluation and weighing of the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis is made. This leads to a conclusion as to whether the committee finds the thesis worthy of public defence, or whether the committee recommends that the thesis cannot be approved for public defence. Dissent must be justified in the report.
The Committee's assessment can lead to three possible recommendations: thesis approved for public defence, revisions required, and rejection.
Thesis approved for public defence
The thesis is considered approved for public defence if it is considered an independent and comprehensive scientific work of international standard, where the doctoral candidate satisfies the minimum requirements for research competence (ref. Level requirements). It does not mean a thesis recommended for public defence has to be without flaws of weaknesses. However, the weaknesses should be of such a nature that they can be defended in an oral defence. The recommended length of the report is three to six pages.
The thesis is considered to have substantial flaws that render it not suitable for public defence in its present form. Satisfactory standard may be reached if the candidate revises the thesis in accordance with the committee’s specific proposals for amendments. The committee should only recommend revisions of the thesis if it is likely that the candidate can revise it to a satisfactory level within a three-month period. (Regulations § 11-4). In such cases, the committee must provide a written list of the specific items that the candidate must rework and which parts of the thesis are in need of revision (for example, methodology, relationship between material and conclusion, use of concepts, clarity of questions raised, data processing and serious reference errors or deficiencies). The revisions requred should not give the impression that a new evaluation will necessarily lead to approval of the thesis. The Dean has the authority to decide whether to permit revision of the thesis.
The candidate is asked to revise the thesis before the committee finally decides whether it is worthy of public defence. A recommendation of revisions required does not count as a new evaluation of the thesis. The deadline for the candidate is up to 3 months.
The thesis is not considered worthy of a public defence. If the committee concludes that fundamental changes to theory, hypotheses, empirical material, methods and/or analysis are necessary before the thesis can satisfy the minimum requirements for research competence (ref. Level requirements), the committee shall recommend rejection. In cases where the committee recommends rejection of the thesis, a somewhat more detailed evaluation will be expected. The committee may recommend submission of the thesis for re-evaluation, or choose not to recommend a new submission. It is very rare that a committee does not recommend that the candidate submit a reworked version of the thesis.
A rejected thesis may be submitted in a revised version only once.
Title and reasons for the trial lecture on the assigned topic
If the thesis is approved for public defence, the committee must decide the title of the candidate's trial lecture on the assigned topic and serve a written argumentation for the choice. The purpose of the lecture is to test the candidate's ability to acquire knowledge beyond the central topic of the thesis, and the ability to communicate it in a lecture setting. The theme of the topic should not normally be selected from key issues in the doctoral candidate's degree work, but normally a related topic. It could be at topic relevant for the thesis that the committee want the candidate to elaborate. The faculty announces the assigned topic for the trial lecture, including the written argumentation for the doctoral candidate 10 working days before the lecture.
Part 2: The committee's evaluation of the trial lecture and public defence
The trial lecture
Objective and level requirements
The objective of the trial lecture is to document the doctoral candidate's ability to impart to others the knowledge gained through research. The trial lecture should last for 45 minutes and should be structured so as to be accessible to an audience with knowledge of the subject equivalent to one year of study in the academic field.
Title and written argumentation
The faculty announces the assigned topic for the trial lecture, including the written argumentation for the doctoral candidate 10 working days before the lecture. The lecture must not be a summary of the thesis and findings therein, but must represent an independent academic contribution to the field. The title of the trial lecture on the assigned topic and the brief written reason for the choice of topic is made known to the public by the Dean or his or her appointee shortly prior to the lecture is held.
Evaluation of the trial lecture
In the evaluation of the trial lecture, emphasis should be placed on both the academic content and the candidate's ability to impart knowledge. The trial lecture is part of the doctoral degree examination and must be approved prior to the public defence. If the trial lecture is not satisfactory, a second attempt at the trial lecture and public defence may be made once, and no later than 6 months after the first trial.
The public defence
The PhD candidate must give a public defence of the scientific work in the thesis. The public defence must be an academic discussion between opponents and the PhD candidate regarding the formulation of the research topic, methodical, empirical and theoretical decisions and rationale, use of concepts, as well as the documentation of sources and formal presentation. A primary objective is to test the validity of the central conclusions drawn by the candidate in his/her work. The questions that the opponents choose to pursue need not be limited to those mentioned in the committee’s report. The opponents should seek to give the discussion a form which allows those unfamiliar with the contents of the thesis or the subject area to follow the discussion.
Procedures for the public defence
The public defence will be presided over by the Dean or his or her appointee and will commence by an academic procession. The procession will be headed by the leader of the public defence, followed by the doctoral candidate, the first opponent, the second opponent and finally the third member of the committee. The leader of the public defence will enter the rostrum, while the rest take up their assigned seats.
The leader of the defence will open the proceeding. The doctoral candidate will be kindly requested to enter one platform to give his or her presentation. The leader of the defence takes his or her assigned seat and gives the floor to the candidate.
The candidate must provide an account of the purpose of his/her scientific research, explain the reason for the choice of research questions, and present an overview of the most important results/main findings in the thesis with a duration of 15 minutes.
After the doctoral candidate's introduction, the leader of the defence asks the first opponent to take his or her place at the second platform.
The first opponent positions the thesis in the field of research and gives a presentation and evaluation of the most important elements of the thesis. It is common practice to ask the doctoral candidate whether he or she would like to comment upon the presentation and evaluation as presented. The first opponent then enters into a discussion with the doctoral candidate on more specific themes and questions, in a conversation between the opponent and the candidate. The opponent will conclude the first session by thanking the candidate for the discussion. Both will remain standing until the leader of the defence has adjourned this session of the public defence, announced a break and the time for reconvening.
There will be no procession after the break, but the candidate will return to his or her place, while the committee members take their assigned seats. The leader of the defence will take his or her place at the podium table and announce the commencement of the second part of the defence proceedings. Any ex auditorio opponents will be given the floor ahead of the second opponent, to enable the second opponent to conclude the public defence.
The second opponent may directly enter into a discussion and conversation with the doctoral candidate on particular themes and questions in the content and form of the thesis. The two opponents should be in agreement with one another regarding the distribution of issues to discuss.
The second opponent will conclude the opposition by thanking the doctoral candidate for the discussion. Both will remain standing until the defence has finished.
There are no formal rules for how long time the opponents may spend on their opposition. In actual practice, this may vary considerably. As a general rule, however, the first opponent will use one to two hours, while the second opponent will take somewhat less time, approximately one to one and a half hour. It is up to the opponents’ discretion to decide the length of the opposition.
Evaluation of the public defence
If a thesis is found to be worthy of public defence, this will normally lead to approval of the thesis and its defence for the doctoral degree. Should the main conclusions of the thesis prove to be untenable through factors which come to light during the course of the public defence, the committee must evaluate the public defence as unsatisfactory. This is also the case if blameworthy factors come to light during the public defence which may be crucial in the evaluation of the work, such as a breach of ethical norms in research or sound academic practice.
If the public defence is not approved, a new defence may be held once. A new defence should as far as possible be evaluated by the original committee.
It is the responsibility of the committee to decide whether or not to recommend the public defence for approval. Should new factors come to light during the course of the public defence which create uncertainty among the committee members and which cannot be resolved during the public defence, the committee should assess the possible consequences of these factors before signing the documents for approval of the public defence.
The Regulations and Programme Description
The evaluation of scientific PhD theses at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bergen is regulated by:
Impartiality for appointed members of the evaluation committee
The provisions of the Public Administration Act will ensure that decisions are based on objective criterias. Please make a personal assessment of your impartiality, and in due time let the Faculty know about relations that may lead to disqualification. If you are in doubt, please contact the Faculty as soon as possible to discuss the matter.
- According to section 6 of the Public Administration Act you are automatically disqualified if you are related by blood or by marriage. At the Faculty of Social Sciences, you are also automatically disqualified if you are, or have been within the last three years, academic adviser to the candidate working towards a doctorate.
- Disqualification may also be based on a discretionary assessment. You will have to decide if there are any other special circumstances which are apt to impair confidence in your impartiality (see section 6 of the Public Administration Act, second paragraph).
Special circuminstances may be:
- Close professional collaboration, including co-publication and supervisory activities. Scope and proximity is important, especially within the last three years. Generally, it would take a lot for collaboration in the line of work duties to warrant disqualification; the nature of the collaboration must be exceptionally close and extensive before it alone can give rise to the question of disqualification. Normal collaboration in the line of work duties or contact based on work in the same field will normally not lead to disqualification.
- Co-authorship. We will look at the number of contributors to a publication, the role you played, the number of co-publications and publication frequency. Collaboration conducted within the past three years normally warrants disqualification. It will seem reasonable to consider you, as a co-author, to be disqualified if assessment of the applicant's portion also essentially entails a review of your own participation. Editorial responsibility will normally not warrant disqualification.
- Close personal friendship/unfriendship.
When assessing disqualification, due regard shall be paid to whether the decision in the matter may entail any special advantage, loss or inconvenience for you personally or for anyone you have a close personal association to. Due regard shall also be paid to whether any objection to your impartiality has been raised by one of the parties. Could several of the abovementioned factors be called into question? It is vital that all pertinent factors are assessed. If more than one factor emerges simultaneously, this may increase the likelihood of disqualification.
These guidelines are based on the guidelines from the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions from 23 March 2007. Adopted by the Programme Board for the PhD Programme at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bergen 4 September 2019 (Norwegian version). Translated to English by the Faculty of Social Sciences. The guidelines was revised in the Programme Board 14 December 2023.