Internships and PhD studies in Sweden
Professor Richard Torkar
Head of Software Engineering Division
Chalmers and University of Gothenburg
As a professor in Sweden, my colleagues and I receive emails every week expressing an interest in doing an internship or conducting PhD studies. I’ve written this page to explain how this works in Sweden and, in general, in the Nordic countries.
In Sweden, we don’t hire people on shitty contracts. This is a good thing™, but it also has some adverse effects. The good thing is that you don’t pay tuition fees, you have a reasonably good salary (PhD students are paid on avg. €3,000 monthly by their university), and you are insured (social security) with additional benefits such as parental leave, pension, etc.A Twitter post by Anne-Kathrin Kreft provides much more background about how great it is to be a PhD student in Sweden.
The bad thing is that for us to hire someone, it costs a lot (see above), and we can’t hire anyone unless we give them the above, i.e., we can’t say: Come to Sweden on the stipend you got from your government. Chances are, it won’t be enough to survive here, so you’ll have to get an extra job. So the result is that we need to say no to a lot of bright people which, I’m sure, would one day become fantastic researchers.
Generally speaking, to get a PhD student position in Sweden, we require that you:
- Have a master’s degree, or equivalent (i.e., at least five years of full-time studies).
- Can read, write, and speak English well.
- Fulfill the specific requirements for the position (and this varies a lot depending on the subject area).
If you apply for a position, you always compete with other applicants (anything from 30 to 150 applicants depending on the topic). In short, no professor in Sweden has a bunch of interesting positions waiting for the right candidate to contact them. All positions must be, according to law, publicly announced (internships, PhD student positions, and all the way up to full professor positions). The idea is that one should pick the best candidate and that personal relations with someone should not be the critical factor in deciding if someone gets a position; excellence should be the guiding principle.
At our division,Software Engineering Division at Chalmers and University of Gothenburg. the professor who will be the supervisor often assembles a team of colleagues (including a PhD student since we see them as colleagues), where each person then ranks the candidates according to pre-specified requirements. As an example, for one announcement we had concerning sustainable software engineering, the team decided to rank all candidates that fulfilled the minimum requirements according to five categories:
- Relevant MSc, i.e., the closer to software engineering, the better.
- Previous research experience (quantitative, qualitative, grant writing, etc.)
- Previous work experience. Any field related to the topic proposal.
- Knowledge about policy or psychology, or other areas of social science.
- Previous publications.
The supervisor has already set the topic for the PhD student. A PhD student can rarely pick their own research topic. In software engineering, we hire people on external grants, which means that we have made promises to someone what we should do with the money. Additionally, we do not require that PhD students know Swedish. At our division, we are 60+ people, and I would guess that 10–15% are native speakers of Swedish. Also worth mentioning is that if you have published results from a thesis in a WoS journal or top-conference,In no particular order: ICSE, ESEC/FSE, and ASE. Of course, one can find other conferences focused on a particular research topic, e.g., testing, requirements, etc. then many researchers immediately rank you higher when you apply for a position. I would argue that their hope is that the candidate has thereby genuinely shown that they can write in English.Virtually all PhD theses in software engineering consist of a collection of papers published in journals or conferences.
So, how do you then apply? In short, you do not send emails to professors saying that you would like to become a PhD student or that you would like to come on an internship. They can’t help you. You need to keep an eye open for announcements in the area you are interested in. For Chalmers and University of Gothenburg, you find such announcements online.Search for open positions (pick department or area of interest) at Chalmers University of Technology & University of Gothenburg