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Change of environment

In section 7(3) of the ministerial order on PhD education in Denmark, there is a requirement that during the study programme a change of environment should be made, primarily abroad. The requirement is not quantified or further specified. In section 12 of the faculty’s rule set, however, the change of environment is described in more detail:

The aim of a making a change of study environment is to give PhD students the opportunity to form part of one or more active environments outside their own institution in order to extend their network, to take part in a broader range of academic activities, to enter into a broader dialogue about their project and to find new inspiration. In the planning of the change in study environment, high priority should be given to the relevance to the project, and insofar as this is compatible with a period of study abroad this should also be given high priority. The time frame and the aims of a change in study environment, which should typically lasts 3-6 months, should as far as possible be fixed in the PhD plan. The final plan for the change in study environment is worked out with the supervisor and sent in with the first annual evaluation for approval from the PhD Board.

Many of the Danish PhD students at the PhD School are older than PhD students abroad, and therefore they often have family obligations (with a cohabiting partner and/or children), which may make an uninterrupted stay abroad of 3-6 months a real, and sometimes insurmountable, challenge. The PhD committee is therefore quite pragmatic with regard to how the change of environment is made as long as the purpose is achieved. The stay abroad could, for instance, consist of several separate stays over the three years of study with a duration as short as 1 week each (e.g. for a conference), as long as the total is at least 13 weeks.

The PhD committee considers that high project relevance is even more important than a stay abroad when planning a change of environment, but stays abroad are encouraged whenever feasible. Some PhD students do their change of environment by attending other Danish universities with particularly project-relevant research teams. Others commute 3-5 days a week to destinations within easy reach, such as Malmö, Lund, Flensburg, etc., and are still able to participate in family life with children in daycare in e.g. Odense or Kolding.

In connection with international stays, it is very important that the change of environment is arranged as informally as possible, so that the PhD students are seen more as independent ‘visiting scholars’ than as students (in Denmark – unlike most other countries – they are not ‘only’ students, but also salaried academics). Typically, the change of environment can be arranged informally through the supervisor’s or other colleagues’ networks. The PhD school does not require documentation for the stay and recommends that students avoid enrolment or any other formal affiliation at the foreign university (which will typically trigger tuition fees or other payment). Our students bring laptops themselves and do not need a separate office (but can manage with, for example, a study space at the library, a shared office, or completely without). The only specific wish of the PhD School is for the students to gain insight into a different research environment, including getting the opportunity to participate in research activities (research group meetings, guest lectures, study circles, etc.) and to discuss their project with other fellow researchers.

During the stay, students have the opportunity to earn ECTS credits by participating in courses, conferences and other research activities.

The PhD committee cannot make an exemption from the requirement for change of environment as it is a ministerial order requirement, but in special cases, the faculty’s quantification may be exempted if there is specific justification and as long as the statement of purpose in section 12 is considered satisfactorily fulfilled.