Shadow doctoral students are students who are involved in research at an institution while waiting or hoping for admission as a doctoral student. They often live in uncertainty.

Students who conduct third-cycle studies must have been admitted to third-cycle education. However, there are instances in which some institutions attempt to circumvent the rules by allowing people to participate in research activities with having been formally admitted. People who have agreed to such a period in the hope of being admitted to third-cycle studies are called shadow doctoral students.

Reasons for using shadow doctoral students may include a lack of funding, a desire to prolong a period of study or that the period as a shadow doctoral student is regarded as a trial period. There is nothing to guarantee that a shadow doctoral student will eventually be admitted as a doctoral student.

The former National Agency for Higher Education’s report Att forska i det fördolda [Research in the shadows], 2005:34 R (pdf, 217 kB, in Swedish)

No social benefits

Shadow doctoral students are not covered by the laws and agreements that regulate third-cycle education. They are often financed via scholarships, which do not provide any social benefits or the legal protection offered by a doctoral studentship or doctoral grant. There are also cases of students who perform laboratory experiments without being covered by the university’s insurance policies, because they have not been formally admitted.

It is currently difficult to get an overview of how many shadow doctoral students there are at Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs), because the shadow doctoral student, the institution and the supervisor often have a mutual interest in not revealing the actual purpose of the cooperation. Many HEIs try to use local regulations to prohibit these types of arrangements.

In the most recent Doktorandspegeln (doctoral student survey), from 2008, 40 per cent of doctoral students answered that they had begun their studies before admission. This figure was a reduction on that of 2003, when the first Doktorandspegeln was carried out.

Doktorandspegeln 2008:23 R (pdf, 3,57 MB, in Swedish)

Page last updated 2015-07-02