Guide to the work of the evaluation committee

This guide is based on the Guidelines on the assessment of Norwegian doctoral degrees recommended by Universities Norway on 22 March 2007 and is set up within the framework of INN University's regulations for doctoral education. The purpose of the guide is to provide evaluation committees with information on the work with the assessment of a doctoral thesis, on how the committee’s recommendation should be formed, and on the evaluation of the trial lecture and the public defence of the thesis.

The committee's assessment is based on the following regulations:

1. INN University’s PhD regulations.

2. The individual PhD programme's supplementary guidelines (see the individual programmes' websites)

The evaluation committee's assessment of the thesis

The faculty determines a deadline for the committee's recommendation at the time of the appointment of the committee. The evaluation committee's recommendation shall be submitted no later than three working months after the committee has received the thesis, and under normal circumstances, no more than five working months shall pass from submission until the public defence of the thesis. As a rule, it will not be necessary for the committee to meet. If this is nevertheless deemed necessary, the committee’s chairperson must clarify in advance the coverage of any expenses with the faculty.

Assessment of the thesis

A Norwegian doctoral degree is a certification of research competence at a predetermined level. In addition to the thesis' academic level and quality, competence can also be documented through tests and participation in various types of activities related to the taught/training component of the PhD. The doctoral candidate must satisfy the minimum requirements for research competence – expressed through requirements for research question formulation, precision and logical rigor, originality, mastery of relevant methods of analysis and reflection on their possibilities and limitations, as well as an overview of, understanding of and a reflective relationship with other research in the area.

In the assessment of the thesis, special emphasis is put on whether the thesis is an independent and comprehensive scientific work at a high academic level in terms of research question formulations, methodology, theoretical and empirical basis, documentation, use of literature and form of presentation. It is particularly important that it be considered whether the material and methods are appropriate for the questions raised in the thesis, and whether the arguments and conclusions presented are sustainable. The thesis should contribute to new academic knowledge and be at a level that indicates that it can be published as part of the discipline’s scientific literature.

If the dissertation is composed of several individual works, there must be documentation and consideration of whether their joint content constitutes a unified whole. In such cases, the doctoral candidate must, in a separate part of the thesis, not only summarize, but also compile and unify, the research questions and conclusions presented in the individual works in a holistic perspective, and thus document the overall context in the thesis. This part of the thesis is therefore very important for both the doctoral candidate and for the committee in its assessment.

If the thesis includes joint work (by more than one author), the doctoral candidate shall obtain statements from co-author(s) and, if applicable, his / her / their consent that the work is used as part of the doctoral thesis. The committee shall assess whether the doctoral candidate’s efforts in the relevant work/works can be identified, and whether the doctoral candidate is solely responsible for a sufficiently large part of the thesis. The thesis's summary must be formulated by the doctoral candidate alone.

In special cases, the evaluation committee may require the doctoral candidate to submit the thesis’ “basis materials,” and supplementary or clarifying additional information. The evaluation committee may also ask the supervisor to explain the supervision and work with the thesis.

If the thesis is submitted in its entirety as a joint work, it is reasonable to expect that the research project and/or thesis will be more extensive than one would expect from an individual work. As far as possible, each of the doctoral candidates must be assessed and tested according to the same requirements as when the work is performed by one person. A thesis for the PhD degree cannot be submitted for a joint evaluation of several people.

Revision of submitted thesis

The evaluation committee may, on the basis of the submitted thesis and any basic material, cf. § 15-1, recommend that the PhD committee grant permission for minor revisions before the final recommendation is made. This must only be done in cases of changes that are not of a substantial nature to the thesis, but which will elevate it to a higher level. This is not a normal scheme and the committee should only return such a recommendation if it believes that a revision could produce satisfactory results within the framework of approx. three (3) months of work efforts.

In such cases, the committee shall provide a concrete overview in writing of what the doctoral candidate must rework. It should provide some guidance on the areas in which the thesis must be strengthened (for example, method use, the relationship between material and conclusion, use of terms, clarity of the research question) without the recommendation being perceived as an insurance for approval at the time of final assessment.

If the committee finds that profound changes regarding theory, hypothesis, material or method are necessary for the work to be recommended for public defence, the committee shall reject the thesis.

If the PhD committee allows a minor revision of the thesis, a deadline shall be given for such reworking which shall normally not be longer than three (3) months. A new deadline shall also be set for the submission of the committee's final recommendation. The possibility of making minor revisions should not be regarded as a new assessment, but does lead to the assessment being postponed. The scheme therefore does not affect the possibility for re-submission if the dissertation is subsequently rejected.

Correction of formal errors in the dissertation

A submitted work cannot be withdrawn until a final decision is made regarding whether it is worthy to be publically defended for the PhD degree. The PhD candidate can, after submission, apply for permission to correct formal errors in the thesis once. These must be in the form of a separate overview ("errata list") and be approved by the faculty before they are sent to the committee, no later than three weeks before the committee's deadline for producing its recommendation.

The committee’s recommendation

The evaluation committee issues a joint written recommendation that is normally between 3 and 6 pages long. The recommendation should include a brief description of the thesis' format (monograph / article collection), type (for example theoretical / empirical work) and size. Furthermore, the recommendation must include a discussion of the scientific significance of the thesis and its most important aspects concerning theory, hypotheses, material, methods and findings.

The recommendation must have a clear conclusion as to whether the work is worthy of being defended for the PhD degree. Dissenting opinions must always be justified. In cases in which the committee is unanimous, it may be desirable for individual statements to be included, as well. In cases in which the committee concludes to approve the thesis for public defence, the justification should be relatively brief. The committee should then strive to give the recommendation a general and concise form. In cases where the committee recommends rejection of the thesis, it will be natural to provide a somewhat more detailed justification.

Processing of the evaluation committee's recommendation regarding the thesis

The committee's written recommendation and conclusion on whether the thesis is recommended to be approved for public defence, shall be sent to the faculty. The faculty then sends the recommendation to the doctoral candidate. If the doctoral candidate has comments, these will be sent in writing within 14 days to the faculty, which will forward them to the committee's members. Any comments from the committee on these are sent to the faculty. Following processing by the faculty, a decision is made regarding whether the work is worthy of being defended publicly and whether the doctoral candidate may face the doctoral examination, or if the thesis is not approved for public defence.

The committee's assessment of the trial lecture(s) and the public defence of the thesis

The trial lecture

The trial lecture is an independent part of the doctoral examination and must be on a predetermined topic. The purpose is to test the candidate's ability to acquire knowledge beyond the topic of the thesis and the candidate’s ability to disseminate these in a lecture situation.

The trial lecture will be conducted in the language of the thesis, unless the PhD committee approves another language.

The purpose of the trial lecture is for the doctoral candidate to document her/his ability to disseminate research-based knowledge. The lecture should normally be set up so that output can be followed by listeners with previous knowledge equivalent to that one would expect to find among advanced students in the discipline (at least one year's education in the discipline).

The theme for the given topic should normally not be taken from key research questions in the doctoral work. The doctoral candidate is informed of the topic decided for the trial lecture 10 working days before the public defence.

In the evaluation of the trial lecture, emphasis is placed on both academic content and the ability to communicate. The trial lecture is part of the doctoral examination and must be approved before the public defence of the thesis. If the trial lecture is not approved, the doctoral candidate can conduct a new trial lecture within 6 months, with a subsequent public defence no earlier than 6 months following it.

The public defence of the thesis

The committee that has originally assessed the thesis also assesses the public defence. The public defence takes place in the language of the thesis unless the PhD committee, based on a proposal from the evaluation committee, approves another language.

The public defence is led by the dean or a party entrusted by the dean. The faculty or the evaluation committee itself appoints the opponents. The choice of opponents should facilitate that critical objections to the thesis are not suppressed. The first opponent initiates the discussion and the second opponent concludes the defence. Other attendees who wish to participate in the discussion ex auditorio must, during the public defence, notify the head of the public defence within a set time that is announced at the beginning.

The public defence must be an academic discussion between opponents and the doctoral candidate regarding research question formulations, methodology, empirical and theoretical basis, documentation and presentation. Special emphasis should be given to verifying the sustainability of important conclusions that the doctoral candidate has drawn in her/his work. The research questions that the opponents choose to pursue need not be limited to those mentioned in the committee's recommendation. The opponents should strive – as far as possible – to give the discussion a form that also allows those who have not read the thesis or know the academic field in depth to follow the discussion.

The head of the public defence is responsible for portioning the time appropriately according to the allocation for the various parts of the public defence and within the time frame set for the public defence as a whole. The head of the public defence declares the defence to be closed. The head of the public defence must not refer to an evaluation of the public defence, but indicate that the committee's assessment of the defence is given in the committee's report.

Assessment of the public defence of the thesis

If a work is found worthy of being publicly defended, this will normally result in the thesis and its defence being approved for the doctoral degree. If the thesis’ central conclusions nevertheless, in light of new factors that come to light during the public defence, prove to be undoubtedly untenable, the evaluation committee must consider the public defence as not approved. The same applies if during the public defence, negative matters of significant importance for the assessment of the work, such as breaches of norms of research ethics or good academic practice in general, arise.

The committee’s recommendation

After the public defence, the evaluation committee sends a recommendation on whether the trial lecture and the public defence have been jointly approved.

It is the committee's responsibility to make a recommendation for approval or rejection of the public defence. If new issues arise during the public defence that create uncertainty in the committee and which cannot be brought to light during the public defence itself, the committee should clarify and assess any consequences of these before announcing its final assessment in the recommendation.

Final proceedings

The committee's recommendation on the outcome of the trial lecture and the public defence is sent to the faculty for approval and conferment. The faculty is in principle free in its decision, with it only being necessary to depart from a unanimous committee position if there are extraordinary and weighty grounds for it. Such grounds may, for example, be that the committee has obviously misinterpreted the institution's quality standards, or that, after the recommendation has been made, new information has emerged that is of crucial importance for the matter of approval (for example disclosure of "cheating").

If the faculty approves the public defence, the institution's Board confers the doctoral degree on the doctoral candidate.

If the PhD committee does not approve the public defence, the PhD candidate can defend the thesis once more. A new public defence can be held no earlier than six months following the original defence, and is judged as far as this is possible by the same committee as the original one.