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Conflict of interest in PhD studies

There are a number of different situations during the PhD programme in which a conflict of interest situation can occur. One example is between a supervisor and a doctoral student. The supervisor and the doctoral student should maintain a professionally helpful relationship and avoid personal relationships that may cause the parties to become biased, thus creating a conflict of interest in the workplace. Another example is between supervisors who are supervising the same doctoral student. If a personal relationship does develop, however, it is the responsibility of the supervisor and the doctoral student to promptly initiate a change of supervisor. 

There is also a risk of conflict of interest in the examination of PhD studies. In this case, it is between the supervisor/doctoral student and the examining committee members/external reviewer. Grounds for conflict of interest can be based on previous collaborations that may be in the form of joint publications, research funding and applications, shared supervision or similar. 

The Research Studies Board has identified a number of situations in PhD studies and the parties between whom a conflict of interest may arise. Below is a description of these situations and how a conflict of interest is to be managed and documented. 

Situations in which a conflict of interest may arise

Between which parties the conflict of interest may arise

How conflict of interest is to be managed/documented

When establishing a project plan

A conflict of interest can occur between the supervisors (close relationship/relation).

All supervisors are to declare that there is no conflict of interest between the supervisors.

When establishing a project plan

A conflict of interest can occur between the supervisors (close relationship/relation).

All supervisors are to declare that there is no conflict of interest between the supervisors.

At admission

A conflict of interest can occur between supervisors or between the supervisor/the doctoral student (close relationship/relation).

All parties are to declare on the admission form that there is no conflict of interest.

When changing/adding supervisors

A conflict of interest can occur between supervisors or between the supervisor/the doctoral student (close relationship/relation).

All parties concerned are to declare on the change of supervisor form that there is no conflict of interest.

Assessment of courses and portfolio

A conflict of interest can occur between the examiner and the doctoral student (close relationship/relation).

The parties concerned are to report the conflict of interest themselves by contacting the chair of the Research Studies Board.

Halfway review

A conflict of interest can occur between the reviewer and the doctoral student/ supervisor (close relationship, relation, shared supervisor roles).

The parties concerned are to declare that there is no conflict of interest on the halfway review certificate.

Public defence/licentiate seminar

A conflict of interest can occur between the external reviewer/examining committee and the doctoral student/ supervisor. (close relationship/relation, co-publication or collaboration).

The doctoral student and supervisor are to certify that there is no conflict of interest in the request for a public defence/ licentiate seminar. 

Public defence/licentiate seminar

Prior to public defences and licentiate seminars, the Faculty of Medicine applies the Swedish Research Council’s rules on conflict of interest.* 

The members of the examining committee and the external reviewer are therefore to be completely independent from both the doctoral student, supervisor and the project. 

A conflict of interest can occur if the supervisor is the editor of a journal in which the doctoral student has published a paper.

The supervisors state in the supervisory report attached to the request if they are the editor of any journals in which the doctoral student’s papers have been published. It does not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest, but is to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, particularly if it is systematic in any way.

A conflict of interest can also arise during PhD studies in the periods that occur in between the aforementioned assessment instances. In accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, it is primarily the person with the disqualifying conflict of interest who is to report the conflict of interest and they are to do this by contacting the Assistant Heads of Department in charge of PhD and disclosing the conflict of interest. 

*The Swedish Research Council’s rules state the following:

  • There is a conflict of interest when research collaboration and co-authorship has taken place during the last five years. A co-authored article is considered enough to constitute co-authorship. 
  • Conflict of interest may last for more than five years if close collaboration has taken place. 
  • A relationship between the doctoral student and supervisor is considered a conflict of interest regardless of how long ago the collaboration took place. 
  • Exceptions to the five-year rule can be made for collaborations in the form of multi-centre studies, which are judged on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the parties concerned are to certify in writing that there is no conflict of interest. 

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