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Common topics during a PhD

On this page, you can find the overall answers to common topics that you may come across during your PhD study. The answers contain links and references to where you can find more information.  


Elements of the PhD programme

PhD course activity (28–31 ECTS credits)

During your PhD study programme, you are required to complete PhD courses or similar subject elements totalling 28–31 ECTS credits. If you have less than 28 or more than 31 ECTS credits of PhD course activity, you must apply for a dispensation – please see GSTS rules and regulations, section

You can find a list of the scientific skills courses offered by the GSTS programmes on the GSTS webpage. You can also find an overview of the scientific skills courses offered by other Danish universities in the National PhD course database.

It is recommended that you use a maximum of 10 ECTS on transferable skills courses, that is, courses in generic skills offered by the Graduate School, e.g. academic English or project management. On the GSTS transferable skills webpage you can find more info on transferable skills courses and a link to the Course Management System (CoMa) where all the Graduate School’s transferable skills courses are listed.

Science Teaching and local follow-up activities (compulsory)

The Science Teaching course and the local follow-up activities are compulsory for all PhD students at GSTS.

From autumn 2023, the content of the Science Teaching course corresponds to 2.5 ECTS, and an additional 0.5 ECTS are given for activities at the Department in connection with the course. The content of the local activities is decided by the Department. After completing the activities at the Department, the PhD student asks for the main supervisor’s signature on a document confirming that 0.5 ECTS have been earned at the Department (find template at the GSTS website). The document must be signed by the main supervisor and uploaded to the PhD student’s PhD plan.

In addition to ECTS course credits for ordinary PhD course participation, the Programme chair can grant ECTS course credits (1 ECTS credit per 25–30 hours of student activity) for documented activities at PhD level related to

  • courses and/or extended visits at private enterprises or other research institutions
  • individually planned study activities
  • projects that are not part of the PhD project
  • participation in schools, workshops, conferences, etc. A maximum of 5 ECTS course credits can be earned from attending conferences and workshops

Change of research environment/Going abroad

A PhD programme at GSTS includes participating in active research environments, including stays at other, mainly foreign, research institutions for a period of at least three months. The mobility requirement may also be met by combining several shorter visits and/or by stays at research institutions or companies within Denmark. Going abroad gives the PhD student the opportunity to make international contacts and gain new perspectives on his/her research.

To help facilitate the planning process, GSTS has collected important info, links, and inspirational stories on the website.

PhD students enrolled at GSTS can apply for a GSTS mobility grant for research stays abroad for up to DKK 20,000.  

Please note that if the planned research environment change is less than three months or more than 12 months, the PhD student must apply for an exemption within the final year of the PhD programme. The application must be approved by both the Main supervisor and Head of programme and then forwarded to the PhD partner at GSTS.

For more information, please see GSTS Rules and Regulations, section 6.1.5 and

Dissemination activities

According to the PhD Order, the PhD student must gain experience in dissemination related to the PhD project. The dissemination activities are arranged between the Department/main supervisor and the PhD student and could for example be

• teaching
• preparing courses
• assisting students with lab work or exercises
• co-supervision of Bachelor students/Master students/group work
• public lectures
• writing articles for newspapers
• creating web pages, book chapters or manuals communicating disciplinary material
• activities involving high school students
• presentation of research results to companies

NB: Industrial PhD students and self-financed PhD students (not employed under the above regulation) must still meet the dissemination requirements.

Please register all dissemination activities in MyPhD.

Employment as student teacher (3+5 and 4+4 PhD scheme, part A)

In addition to the scholar grant and the PhD SU scholarship, 3+5 and 4+4 PhD students on part A are offered employment as student teachers to work as teaching assistants or to perform other kinds of academic work.

Progress report and qualifying exam

The qualifying examination is typically held halfway through the PhD study programme and consists of a 30- page progress report and an oral exam.

Approx. three months before the qualifying examination date, the PhD student and supervisor will receive an e-mail from the GSTS PhD partner. This e-mail contains information on registration for the exam and what must be done in this connection.

Read more at the GSTS website and in the GSTS Rules and Regulations, chapter 9.

Work obligations for PhD fellows (5+3 PhD scheme)

PhD fellows: PhD students employed on the basis of a Master’s degree.

One-sixth of the PhD fellowship salary is given as compensation for an obligation to work 280 hours per year as a teaching assistant or for doing other academic work decided by the Department and/or GSTS.
The PhD fellow can decline the offer (with a corresponding reduction in the amount paid). All PhD fellows are granted one semester’s exemption from this work obligation without reduction in payment. Furthermore, PhD fellows may get exemption with no reduction in payment during extended stays abroad for up to six months in addition to the general exemption of one semester. If the stay abroad lasts more than six months (or one year, if including the general exemption of one semester), the PhD student must compensate by additional work before or after the stay.

Open Access publishing agreements and discount agreements at AU

Employees at Aarhus University have the opportunity to publish with discounts from several publishers and in a wide range of journals - without paying a publishing fee (APC).

On this AU staff website, you can read more about AU’s Open Access policy, Open Access and copyright, make you publication accessible via Open Access, and find support contact info, etc.

PhD thesis and defence

The PhD thesis presents the results of the PhD project and documents the PhD student’s ability to
communicate theoretical and experimental skills.

Approx. three months before the enrolment end date, the PhD student and supervisor will receive an e-mail from the GSTS PhD partner. This e-mail contains information on what must be done in connection with the submission of the PhD thesis and the defence.

Find more info at the GSTS website (incl. timeline of the defence process) and in the GSTS Rules and regulations, chapter 11.

Leave and extensions

Illness and parental leave

PhD students who fall ill or are going to have a baby will typically be allowed a leave of absence from their PhD study. All cases regarding illness and parental leave are handled by the GSTS PhD administration.

If you are absent from your work/studies due to illness or will be taking leave in relation to becoming a parent, please contact us as soon as possible – use the blue dropdown menu on the website to identify the contact person for your PhD programme.

AU-employed PhD students follow the same rules regarding parental leave and illness as other AU employees. However, different rules may apply if you are enrolled but not employed as a PhD student (e.g. industrial PhD or 3+5/4+4 before the qualifying exam).

For more information, please see the GSTS website and the GSTS Rules and regulations, chapter 7.1.

Leave not related to illness and parental leave

Leave for any other reasons than childbirth, adoption or prolonged illness is normally not granted for activities that could equally well be integrated as part of the PhD study, for example internships in
companies and work on related research projects. This kind of leave are normally granted only once and for a maximum of six months. The leave should preferably be planned so it does not interfere with scheduled activities in the PhD project such as fieldwork or scheduled lab work.

Before starting the application process, it is always a good idea to discuss a potential period of leave with the main supervisor – you are also welcome to contact your GSTS PhD partner, if you have any queries.
To apply for a period of leave from the PhD study, the PhD student must write a motivated application that must be approved by the main supervisor, head of programme and head of Department before the GSTS PhD partner can process the request.

Please see the GSTS Rules and regulations, chapter 7.2.

Postponement of the PhD thesis submission

If the PhD thesis is not submitted within 14 days after the submission deadline, the PhD student must apply as soon as possible for an extension of the enrolment period. The motivated request for extension, preferably including a timetable for the last study period, must be sent to the main supervisor, the head of programme and the GSTS PhD partner for approval.

Normally, an extension of the enrolment period is only given if there are compelling arguments for why an acceptable thesis cannot be completed within the original deadline. An extension is not given to further improve or extend an already adequate amount of research work.

Please be aware that specific rules apply for international PhD students as the PhD work and residence scheme does not allow the PhD student to work on the PhD thesis after the study period ends.

Please contact your GSTS PhD partner for further information regarding project-related extensions.

Well-being during a PhD programme

Supervision – expectations and disagreements

GSTS strongly recommends that you and your supervisor(s) discuss your mutual expectations for the PhD study - both when initiating your PhD project, e.g. when you fill in MyPhD together at the beginning of your PhD and continuously during your PhD study. To help you ensure that this discussion covers all relevant issues, you can draw inspiration from a list of topics to put on the agenda found on the GSTS website.

If you continuously experience problems or issues in your working relationship with your PhD supervisor, you have the option of addressing these with your Programme Chair or the head of your Department/Graduate School, who will work with you to find a solution. Your PhD partner can also help refer you to the right people to talk to. If it is not possible to resolve the problem in this way, switching to a different supervisor might also be an option.

Find contact info on your Programme Chair or PhD partner.

Preventing and managing stress

Even when we are thriving and feeling well, it is natural to experience brief periods of stress. As long as the stress is temporary, it is an appropriate reaction to help overcome strain. Basically, you can talk about three stress zones: the well-being zone, the risk zone and the danger zone. On the GSTS website, you can read more about the three zones and what you and your supervisor can do to prevent and manage stress. Furthermore, you can find info on the signs of stress, test your stress level and learn more about coping strategies here.

If you experience work-related psychological problems, please note that psychological counselling is available to all PhD students at GSTS. You can either contact AU’s psychological counselling service anonymously or by referral after dialogue with the GSTS PhD administration. Find more info here.

Remember to recharge

Prioritise and schedule activities that give you energy, e.g. do your favourite sport, go out with friends, play your guitar or whatever else you like to do. Learn to relax, e.g. by practising relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness. Danish Center for Mindfulness offers online and physical meditation sessions for AU staff. You can read more about the sessions here.

Build and cultivate your social network in both your professional and private life. The GSTS Associations page has links to various associations such as the University International Club, the PhD and Postdoc activity group and Aarhus University Sport.

To foster social connections and nurture the sense of community among PhD students, financial support is available for organising tailored social activities for GSTS PhD students in 2024.

Need help?

Depending on the subject, you are always welcome to contact:

26936 / i43