Rules on Doctoral Studies

1. Introduction

The aim of doctoral studies at Reykjavik University (RU) is to benefit society by strengthening research and knowledge generation in the university’s academic fields, and by providing advanced training in research and science.

The university rules consider the Bologna Process on cooperation in higher education in Europe as well as internationally recognised principles relating to the organisation and quality of doctoral studies. These rules are also set in accordance with rules no. 37/2007 on Rules for doctoral programmes in universities according to Article 7 of law no. 63/2006 (the Higher Education Act), issued by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture on 17th of January 2006.

The University rules apply to doctoral studies at RU, regarding both the organisational framework of the studies and their quality requirements. Within the framework of these rules, the university's departments have the freedom to organise their doctoral studies in light of the unique features and traditions of their respective fields of study.

2. Administrative arrangements of doctoral studies

Reykjavik University has a Research Council that governs Ph.D. programmes and reports to the RU Executive Board. Departmental Research Councils manage Ph.D. programmes within departments and report to the corresponding Department Chair and the university’s Research Council on admissions, progress reviews and recommendations from examinations that occur within their departments. Departmental Research Councils organise their respective Ph.D. programmes on the basis of these rules and with such further details as appropriate for their department. Furthermore, departmental Research Councils shall make recommendations to the Department Chair concerning the admission of candidates to the Ph.D. programme, as described in Section 4, and recommend the appointment of Thesis Committees to supervise doctoral research projects, as described in Sections 5 and 6. The departmental Research Councils and the supervisors shall observe the development of doctoral studies at the international level and monitor the quality of the studies at RU accordingly. The departmental Research Councils shall ensure that the quality of doctoral studies at RU is comparable with the quality of similar studies in other countries.

3. Substance of doctoral studies

The core of Reykjavik University's doctoral studies is scientific research conducted by doctoral candidates constituting an independent contribution to the creation of new knowledge in their chosen field.

The Reykjavik University Ph.D. programme comprises 180 – 240 ECTS, normally to be completed within 3 to 4 years respectively for full-time Ph.D. candidates and 5 to 6 years respectively for part-time Ph.D. candidates. Extensions of up to 12 months can be granted where there are approved mitigating circumstances warranting an extension. Parental leave, illness and bereavement would all be examples of mitigating circumstances that warrant an extension. Applications for such extensions are made to the chair of the Research Council in the given department. The departmental Research Council decides about the application for extension based on the evidence provided. In exceptional cases, Ph.D. studies may be completed in fewer than 3 years but no less than 2 years and only in instances where credit not exceeding one year’s worth of research (60 ECTS) has been granted for prior work.

On the conclusion of doctoral studies, candidates should have acquired the following knowledge, skills and competencies:

  1. General knowledge of the basic principles of their academic fields and expert knowledge of the specialist field or research field forming the subject of their study.
  2. Knowledge of research methodologies in their chosen field and skills in the use of scientific working methods.
  3. The ability to formulate, plan and carry out independent academic research.
  4. The competence to make independent and original contributions to the creation of knowledge in their field.
  5. Conduct critical analysis and assessment of the subjects of their field.
  6. Present the conclusions of their research and prepare them for publication in peer-reviewed scientific outlets.
  7. Conduct scientific work in their areas of expertise.

4. Applications and requirements for admission

Only candidates who have completed master's studies at the university level or comparable studies may enrol for doctoral studies at Reykjavik University. Applicants must have demonstrated excellent performance in their studies and / or career and be perceived as capable of showing initiative in the advancement of scientific knowledge. The proposed subject matter of any Ph.D. thesis must be within the scope and expertise of the university, given the departments of the university and their research interests. The departments may impose additional requirements with regard to the preparation of applicants, e.g. regarding expert knowledge and course attendance.

The application should, at the minimum, be accompanied by transcripts of diplomas, a curriculum vitae and list of publications, together with a statement of purpose.

All applicants must provide plans to cover tuition and living expenses for the duration of their doctoral study, as well as plans to cover study related capital and consumable costs. This does not require funding to support the entire programme to be in place at the beginning of the research. For example, where there is a supporting grant, the planned schedule of grant payments can be described. The application should also include a letter of support from a proposed (and eligible) supervisor, who has a permanent faculty position in the relevant department at RU. Where the doctoral study is relevant to more than one department and with supervisors from more than one department, the application will be made to the department of the proposed primary supervisor. The application assessment should consider applicants' education and experience and the statement of purpose. The assessment shall also take into account if the staff and research environment of the department(s), as described in Sections 5 and 7 of these rules, will permit the admission of doctoral candidates in the field requested. Selection of candidates for doctoral studies shall be based on objective criteria and principles of non-discrimination.

A response to an application for admission to the Ph.D. programme shall be made within two months of its submission. If an application for admission to doctoral studies is rejected, a statement of the reasons shall accompany the response.

A contract shall be made between the department and each doctoral candidate, providing for the progress of studies and the rights and obligations of the candidate on the one hand, and the department on the other hand. The contract will be agreed before Ph.D. research commences and will cover the application of these rules. Normally, new Ph.D. researchers are enrolled to commence their programme of research at the start of the Fall or Spring semester. Doctoral candidates must be registered for Fall and Spring semesters during their doctoral studies.

5. Supervisors

Departments shall assign a primary supervisor to each doctoral candidate pursuant to the nomination of the departmental Research Council. The primary supervisor shall have a permanent position as an assistant professor, associate professor or full professor at RU, and satisfy the criteria stated for R3 or R4 level researchers (Euraxess, no date). In the case of a joint degree, the primary supervisor may come from the other university. In addition to the primary supervisor, doctoral candidates may be assigned additional supervisors from within or outside the university. The role of the supervisors is to advise doctoral candidates in their research work, track the progress of their studies, and monitor the quality of their research work. Doctoral candidates shall have regular access to their supervisors. The workload of a Ph.D. supervisor is expected to be 60 to 70 hours per year for a full time Ph.D. candidate’s supervision. Permanent members of academic staff at RU can be primary supervisor to a maximum of six full-time doctoral candidates. Primary supervisors are required to meet the following academic requirements:

  1. A primary supervisor shall have a Ph.D. degree.
  2. It should be ensured that the candidate's research pertains to the field of specialisation of the primary supervisor and that the primary supervisor has published work relevant to the candidate's research in recognised academic outlets.
  3. Primary supervisors shall be active participants in the research community and experts in their respective fields with a clear contribution and impact. Assessment of this qualification shall take account of academic publications, experience of research supervision, supervision training done, international research cooperation and involvement in funding of research projects.

If a primary supervisor becomes unable to adequately supervise the candidate, then the departmental Research Council shall find a replacement, or resolve the issue otherwise.

The university provides research supervision training for supervisors to keep them up to date with procedures and systems, as well as training for early career or inexperienced research supervisors. This allows supervisors to benefit from experience and expertise from across the university’s various departments. Further, Ph.D. supervision training is provided in collaboration with other institutions, in some cases overseas institutions. This allows Ph.D. supervisors to benefit from international best practices.

6. Thesis committee

Departments shall appoint a Thesis Committee pursuant to the nomination of their respective Research Councils. The role of the Thesis Committee is to evaluate the research proposal, follow the progress of study (see Section 8), report setting and completion of progress reviews to the departmental Research Council, and provide a reasoned opinion on whether a doctoral thesis is acceptable for defence. The Thesis Committee may be assigned other tasks in consultation with the supervisor and the departmental Research Council. The Thesis Committee shall be appointed not later than 9 months after the start of a candidate's doctoral studies.

The Thesis Committee shall consist of 3-5 scholars who are active participants in the research community and recognised experts in the relevant field of study. In this respect, account shall be taken of the academic requirements for primary supervisors, see Section 5. At least one member of the Thesis Committee shall work outside RU. Attention should be given to gender balance when forming the Thesis Committee.

7. Research environment

Steps shall be taken to ensure that doctoral studies at RU are conducted in an active research environment. Doctoral studies shall be conducted in cooperation and connection with domestic and foreign groups of recognised scientists or research institutions. Doctoral studies may be planned in cooperation with other academic institutions and a doctorate may be awarded jointly with another university. On successful enrolment into a Ph.D. programme, Ph.D. candidates will engage with the university’s induction programme for Ph.D. candidates and the university’s Ph.D. handbook. Departments may have their own more specialized and detailed handbooks and induction programmes which candidates need to engage with. These will direct candidates to sources of information about policies, procedures and regulations. During induction, candidates will receive some generic research training at Ph.D. level, and be directed to other generic training that needs to be undertaken. Candidates are encouraged to identify specific training needs for their own research programmes. Training continues throughout doctoral studies with some training needs being identified during annual progress reviews (see Section 8).

Chairs of departmental Research Councils are responsible for ensuring that their departments and research centres organise regular research seminars within the department, providing opportunities for Ph.D. candidates to present research, receive feedback, attend presentations by international scientists, network with them, and benefit from research discussions. Seminars may also be cross-university events and include invited international speakers. Each department is also strongly encouraged to maintain a vibrant guest programme and to make sure that their Ph.D. students engage with international visitors. Doctoral candidates shall be provided with adequate working conditions within the department´s designated area. Doctoral candidates shall be given the opportunity to monitor trends and innovations in their respective fields of study in community with other doctoral candidates and/or scholars, e.g. by attending meetings and conferences or carrying out research at a foreign research or academic institution during part of the period of study. All policies and procedures are covered within a university-wide Ph.D. Handbook, that also contains supporting information for doctoral candidates.

Reykjavik University should ensure that doctoral candidates reap the benefits of the exploitation (if any) of their R&D results through legal protection and, in particular, through appropriate protection of intellectual property rights, including copyrights. The contract between the doctoral candidate and the university should specify what rights belong to the doctoral candidate and/or, where applicable, to the university or other parties, including external commercial or industrial organisations.

8. Progress of study

8.1. Reporting research progress

Progress will be monitored regularly and include formal progress reviews at the end of the first and second years for full-time Ph.D. candidates. These reviews are conducted by Thesis committees. A part-time Ph.D. is undertaken at a slower pace than a pull-time Ph.D. Part-time candidates should accomplish 30 ECTS of doctoral level work per year.

The formal progress review can recommend that the Ph.D. studies progress, they progress under stated conditions or with actions to be completed by stated deadlines, or that the studies should be discontinued. Part-time candidates will have formal progress reviews at the end of years two and four of their research programmes. Part-time candidates will have interim formal progress reviews at the end of years one and three due to the length of time between their formal reviews. These reviews are conducted by individual Thesis Committees who report to their departmental Research Councils. The departmental Research Councils monitor the setting and completion of progress reviews and report on this to the university’s Research Council.

8.2. Schedule and content of reviews

By no later than the end of the first year of study (end of the second year for part-time Ph.D. candidates), a doctoral candidate shall submit to the Thesis Committee a complete research proposal as part of their first formal progress review. The research proposal shall include a summary of the state of the art in the field in question, a description of proposed research topic(s), and based on that, a research problem statement as well as an overview of any research results the candidate might have already obtained, which will serve as basis for the doctoral thesis. The proposal shall also include ideas about research methodology and a planned schedule of the progress for the remainder of the studies. The Thesis Committee shall evaluate the research proposal, basing the evaluation on whether the proposal reflects the candidate's possession of adequate expertise, whether the candidate's proposed research is feasible, and whether the project adequately extends the frontier of knowledge and is of sufficient academic importance. In exceptional cases candidates may be granted an extension of their deadline for submitting a research proposal. Once a research proposal has been approved by the Thesis Committee, it shall be reviewed by the departmental Research Council. The university’s Research Council also monitors the scheduling of progress reviews as reported by departmental Research Councils to ensure a complete audit of candidates’ progress each year.

In the second formal progress review, progress will be monitored in relation to objectives, plans and timetables established in the first formal progress review. Part-time Ph.D. candidates will also have their progress monitored in this manner during interim formal progress reviews. The nature of objectives, research methodology (i.e. data collection and analysis), writing up, planned publications and other research activities covered in the formal progress reviews largely depends on the nature of the study. The progress reviews will also identify any training needs not already identified during the application process and induction.

8.3. Evaluation of progress

Supervisors shall monitor the progress of the studies and the quality of the research work during the period of study. To ensure the quality of their doctoral studies, departments may set requirements in their programme descriptions for course attendance, presentations of research projects and/or publication of works in peer-reviewed outlets.

The annual progress reviews both guard the rights of the candidate as well as the quality criteria of the departmental / university. In preparation for the annual progress review, the candidate submits a progress report, to which the primary supervisor adds comments. The Thesis Committee evaluates the complete report and may request changes to it. When the progress report has been approved by the Thesis Committee, it shall be reviewed by the departmental Research Council. If progress is substandard and the Thesis Committee is unable to propose a solution, the departmental Research Council may suggest ways to remedy the situation, including such possibilities as assigning the candidate to other supervisors, or terminating the doctoral study depending on the stage of doctoral study. The candidate will have the opportunity to produce a plan of action that could lead to Ph.D. level research being completed within the remaining time for their programme. This needs to be considered by the Thesis Committee who may either agree to the plan of action and progress towards a Ph.D. award, or they may conclude that the plan of action is not realistic, will not lead to a Ph.D. level contribution, and that the research should be terminated.

The respective department grants ECTS credits for each semester, based on progress reviews and consultation with the primary supervisor.

9. Doctoral thesis and defence

9.1. Content of the thesis

Doctoral candidates will complete their research with a doctoral thesis, which is an independent body of work constituting an original contribution to the field. The thesis can follow alternative formats and the length can vary based on the research done. In general, there is an introductory section, the original contribution, and an overall discussion at the end. The introduction should include a critical review of the knowledge in the field. The original contribution can be presented in a study by study format, a collection of papers, or an alternative structure, depending on the area of study and on the nature of the contributions. The overall discussion can be presented as separate discussion and conclusions and recommendations chapters, or these chapters can be combined. The write-up should clearly represent sustained research effort equivalent to 180 to 240 ECTS of Ph.D. level research.

9.2. Submitting the thesis

The thesis committee will evaluate the thesis and return a reasoned opinion to the departmental Research Council on whether the thesis satisfies the department's requirements so the candidate should be invited to submit the thesis for defence. When the Thesis Committee confirms this, the candidate submits the thesis to the Research Council of their department. The defence will normally be scheduled to be 5 months after the thesis is submitted. The defence may be done later than this if major amendments to the thesis are required. The defence can be completed in fewer than five months after the thesis submission when very minor or no amendments are required to the thesis.

9.3. Structure of the defence

The defence is an open defence that is open to the public and that follows an examination of the thesis. Before the defence, the thesis is examined by a Thesis Examination Committee. The Thesis Examination Committee comprises two independent external examiners and a chair. The external examiners shall be recognised authorities on the topic of the thesis, from outside RU, preferably from foreign institutions. They shall be independent from the candidate and the supervisors, which includes not having joint publications or joint grants in the preceding five years. The selection of examiners, which needs to be ratified by the departmental Research Council, should be made at least 5 months before the Open Defence. The thesis should be sent to the examiners on the same week as it is submitted by the candidate. Thus, examiners should be invited and confirmed before the thesis has been submitted.

The chair of the Thesis Examination Committee co-ordinates the defence. This person could be the Director of the department’s Ph.D. programme (or nominee, who may be a member of the departmental Research Council) serving in an administrative capacity without participating as an examiner. The external examiners independently provide reports on the thesis within 2 months of receiving the thesis.

9.4. Examination of the thesis

The Thesis Examination Committee can make the following decisions based on the external examiner’s reports:

  1. In case of no flaws, the committee can recommend an Open Defence take place without any amendment to the thesis.
  2. In case of minor flaws, the Thesis Examination Committee can give the student no more than 6 weeks for the refinement of their thesis. This is followed by an Open Defence.
  3. In case of flaws in structure or lack of academic rigor, the Thesis Examination Committee can request a resubmission of the thesis within no more than 12 months for the candidate to work out the defined flaws. This is followed by an Open Defence.
  4. In case of irreparable flaws, the Thesis Examination Committee can fail the thesis without the Open Defence taking place and without the option of resubmission.

The external examiners’ reports and the decision of the Thesis Examination Committee are provided to the candidate via the chair of the Thesis Examination Committee. In case the candidate is invited to make an Open Defence (decisions 1, 2 or 3 above), the candidate firstly makes any changes necessary to address the examiners’ comments within the stated time frame. The candidate should discuss changes with supervisors, who are responsible for helping candidates revise the thesis in preparation for the Open Defence. The candidate must provide the amended thesis and a detailed audit of where and how the external examiners’ comments have been addressed to the chair of the Thesis Examination Committee. This is typically completed one month before the Open Defence. The chair of the Thesis Examination Committee forwards the amended thesis and audit of changes to the external examiners. This allows arrangements for the Open Defence to be made. The Open Defence normally takes place 6 weeks after the amended thesis has been sent to the external examiners.

9.5. Open Defence

The Open Defence is typically conducted at Reykjavik University, though some members of the Thesis Examination Committee or audience may use Zoom, Teams or some other live distance communication medium. The Open Defence is typically chaired by the Chair of the host department of the doctoral studies, though the chair could be a nominee. The external examiners discuss the research with the candidate; their role is as “opponents” asking questions that need to be answered by the candidate during the Open Defence.

As the Open Defence is open to the public, supervisors may attend this event as observers and note any issues that may need to be addressed if further amendments are required. However, the supervisors in attendance do not contribute to the defence.

During the Open Defence, the Thesis Examination Committee shall evaluate both the substance of the thesis, including any amendments, and the candidate's defence. Immediately following the Open Defence, the Thesis Examination Committee shall decide whether to award a Ph.D. degree. A Ph.D. degree may only be recommended if the candidate has carried out independent original research that sufficiently extends the frontiers of knowledge and is of sufficient scientific value and scope to merit the degree. The following decisions may be made by the Thesis Examination Committee following the Open Defence:

  1. The candidate is to be awarded a Ph.D. degree without further revisions to the thesis.
  2. Where original amendments have not fully satisfied the external examiners or the Open Defence has highlighted the need for some further amendment to the thesis, a Ph.D. is to be awarded subject to minor amendments being completed in 4 - 6 weeks. The Thesis Examination Committee can decide whether these amendments need to be checked by the chair or the external examiners.
  3. Where the Open Defence identifies that the candidate does not have sufficient ownership of the research, has not worked sufficiently independently, or has failed to defend the research satisfactorily, the Thesis Examination Committee can decide that a Ph.D. is not to be awarded.

The chair of the Thesis Examination Committee provides the recommendation and list of any refinements to the Ph.D. candidate within 1 week of the Open Defence. Any resubmission of the thesis should be to the departmental Research Council. The candidate has a right to a full written explanation of the Thesis Examination Committee's decision in case of failure or flaws found in the thesis and/or Open Defence. The decision of the Thesis Examination Committee is final and cannot be challenged except by a competent appeal by the candidate on procedural grounds supported by credible authentic evidence.

Once the candidate has graduated, the final approved version of the thesis is made available electronically through the library.

10. Rights and Benefits of Doctoral candidate

For all purposes, Ph.D. students are classified as students and hold the rights of students. The university’s Ph.D. Handbook contains details of facilities, processes used during Ph.D. studies and details of benefit of Ph.D. students.


Euraxess (no date),, accessed 25/5/23.

Rules approved by the RU Executive Committee, March 2014.
Rules reviewed by the RU Research Council, January 14th 2023.
Rules reviewed by the RU Executive Committee, March 23rd 2023
Rules reviewed by the RU Research Council with final comments addressed on May 12th 2023.
Rules approved by the RU Executive Committee, June 13th 2023.

Was the content helpful? Yes No