Section 44 of the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki and Rector's decision HY/498/2017 govern the dissertation examination process. The Faculty Council will appoint a grading committee for the grading of a doctoral dissertation. The committee will include an opponent (or in exceptional cases two), the custos and one or several faculty representatives.
The opponent’s task is to carry out a final academic examination of the dissertation in the form of a public debate and to participate in grading the dissertation as a member of the dissertation grading committee who has the right to vote. Opponent(s) are always named from outside the doctoral candidate's home faculty and, as a rule, from outside the University of Helsinki. Additionally, in the appointment of opponents, the University of Helsinki regulations on the disqualification of thesis examiners must be taken into account (for more information, see "Ethical guidelines" earlier on this page). The Faculty strives to clear up any issues related to ineligibility before the opponent is officially appointed. However, should the opponent be unsure of his / her eligibility fot the task after having been appointed, we ask the opponent to immediately contact the Faculty's Postgraduate Student Services (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The custos chairs the public examination. The thesis supervisor often acts as custos, but another professor from the same or closely related discipline can also be appointed to the task. In the grading committee, the custos acts primarily as a representative of the doctoral candidate and the discipline. If the custos him- or herself has served as the supervisor, he or she can participate in the grading committee meeting and has the right to speak, but not to vote. In such cases, the custos will not participate in the drafting of the proposal for a grade.
The faculty representative is a Faculty professor or a docent who has not acted as the dissertation supervisor. The faculty representative’s duty is to familiarise the opponent with the Faculty’s grading scale and other relevant regulations, serve as the grading committee’s secretary and to ensure that the Faculty’s regulations are followed throughout the examination process. The faculty representative is a full member of the grading committee with the right to vote. In cases where the custos does not have the right to vote, a second faculty representative may be named to assure that there are always at least three members in the grading committee with the right to vote on the grade.
Procedures followed at the public examination
The examination of doctoral dissertations is a two-stage process: first, dissertations are examined in a preliminary examination, and then, in a public examination. The below instructions focus on the latter stage.
Time and place of the public examination
Because the grading committee’s proposal must take into account not only the scientific value of the dissertation, but also the doctoral candidate’s performance in defending it in public, all members of the grading committee must be present at the public examination. The doctoral candidate and the members of the grading committee must agree on the time of the public examination. The custos should ensure that the date of the public examination is agreed upon as soon as possible after the doctoral candidate has received permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination. The doctoral candidate is responsible for booking an auditorium for the public examination.
Language of the public examination
The custos determines the language to be used at the public examination after consulting the doctoral candidate, the opponent(s) and the faculty representative(s). The language of the public examination must be Finnish, Swedish or the language in which the doctoral dissertation has been written. The examination may also be conducted in another language if the doctoral candidate agrees to this. The doctoral candidate and the opponent may also use different languages if they so agree.
Procedures and duration of the public examination
The public examination begins with an introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) by the doctoral candidate, followed by the opponent’s comments on the dissertation. All the criticisms on a dissertation must be presented in the public examination (not in subsequent written statements). The examination may last at the most four hours. Members of the audience may then make comments. In the Faculty of Arts, the faculty representative must be assigned the first turn to speak after the opponent has made his or her comments. The custos can then give the floor to additional opponents (members of the public who wish to comment) at his or her own discretion. The overall duration of the public examination may not exceed six hours. The dissertation grading committee may agree on more detailed procedures for the public examination. Further information on the practicalities and formalities of public examinations in Helsinki is available here>>
Grading of doctoral dissertations
A doctoral dissertation is a consistent scholarly work, based on independent research that makes an original contribution to knowledge and written in a field represented at the Faculty of Arts. Besides taking the form of a monograph, the dissertation may also be a compilation of several separate scholarly articles or manuscripts (i.e., an article-based dissertation). The recommended maximum length of a monograph is 250 pages (approximately 2,000 characters/page), excluding appendices. An article-based dissertation consists of three to five scholarly publications focusing on the same topic and a summarising report.
- Choice of topic, research problem, the scope of the research and research questions: The topic should have significant informational value. The research task should be defined appropriately. The Faculty recommends that a monograph be no more than about 250 pages long, excluding appendices.
- Acknowledgement of previous research: The work must serve as a meaningful continuation of previous discussion or introduce a completely new initiative. Previous research must thus be acknowledged, but not repeated as such.
- Conceptual clarity, definitions and theoretical knowledge: The reader must be able to clearly understand what the research is about.
- Methods used: The methods used must be presented and justified.
- Material: The material must be qualitatively relevant and quantitatively sufficient.
- Presentation of the results and conclusions: The academic significance of the results and conclusions should be neither exaggerated nor underestimated. The analysis must be logical and consider different points of view. Interesting prospects for future research can be considered as a merit, as can the social relevance of the research.
- Format: The structure of the dissertation must be logical and the language clear. The thread of thought must not be obscured by a flood of information.
- Critical approach: The writer should demonstrate a critical attitude towards previous research, theories, methods, material, sources and the academic significance of his or her own work. In other words, good research is original and independent.
Doctoral dissertations are graded on a scale of Pass with Distinction, Pass or Fail. As a rule, dissertations are approved and receive the grade Pass. When a doctoral dissertation is of exceptionally high academic merit and ambitious in the light of all essential assessment criteria (above), it may receive the grade Pass with Distinction.
Documents required for grading
The documents required for grading should be drawn up in either Finnish, Swedish or English. In cases where the doctoral candidate's mother tongue is not Finnish (or Swedish), we recommend that the grading documents be drawn up in English.
The grading committee shall submit to the Faculty Council a written statement proposing that the dissertation be either approved or failed, and including a proposal for a grade. The grade proposal must be based on consultation between the members of the grading committee with a right to vote. The recommended length of the proposal is one page, and it must be signed by all members of the committee with a right to vote.
The grading committee need not be unanimous in its proposal. If the committee disagrees, each member with a right to vote must separately justify his or her view in writing. When proposing the grade Pass with Distinction, the grading committee must always attach a separate, written clarification to their statement on the merits which have lead to the proposal of the highest the grade. The clarification must be written with the above-mentioned assessment criteria in mind, with each set of criteria handled separately.
The faculty representative submits the grade proposal and the possible additional clarifications to the Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Student Services.
The faculty representative shall also ensure that only those members of the grading committee who are entitled to vote participate in writing the grade proposal. He or she should organise the committee meeting so that all members first discuss general issues and the members with a right to vote then discuss the grade proposal among themselves.
The custos must inform the committee of any information which is available to the supervisors and to the discipline and which may influence grading. Therefore, the custos should contact the other supervisors, if any, before the public examination. If the custos him- or herself is not a supervisor, he or she can also invite the supervisor(s) to a meeting with the committee. The supervisors are not, however, committee members and will not participate in writing the grade proposal. If the custos is the supervisor of the dissertation, he or she may be present at the meetings of the grading committee, but without the right to vote. In such cases, the custos should depart the meeting before the decision on the grade proposal is made.
The opponent provides the Faculty with a statement (recommended length: two to five pages) on the dissertation and submits it to the Faculty's Postgraduate Student Services. To protect the rights of the doctoral candidate, the opponent’s statement cannot include any new criticisms, but only comments to which the doctoral candidate has been able to respond in the public examination. The opponent is expected to submit his or her statement within two weeks of the public examination. The matter can then be placed without delay on the agenda of the Faculty Council meeting, and the doctoral candidate will receive his or her diploma as soon as possible.
An undersigned, scanned copy of the statement should be sent to the Faculty's Postgraduate Student Services (email@example.com).
If you are unable to scan the document, we ask that you send the statement as an email attachment (e.g. a Word-file) to the aforementioned email address and also send us a signed hard copy by post to the following address:
Postgraduate Student Services
Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Theology
P.O. Box 24
00014 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI, FINLAND
Custos’ report on the public examination
The custos can provide a written statement on the public examination (custos’ report), indicating at least the date and place of the examination, its duration (start and end times and any breaks), an estimate of the number of audience members and a short description of the opponent's/opponents' presentation and of the doctoral candidate’s defence. If any additional opponents take the floor (in other words, if the internal examiner or members of the public wish to comment after the official opponent’s comments), they should be mentioned in the report by name, if possible. The report is to be delivered to the Faculty's Postgraduate Student Services. The custos' report does not form a part of the documents used for the grading of the thesis, and writing one is therefore not obligatory.
Grading of the doctoral dissertation by the Faculty Council
The Faculty Council will decide on the passing or failing of the dissertation and on its grade once the opponent’s statement and the grade proposal have been submitted to the Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Student Services. The doctoral candidate is entitled to respond to all of the above-mentioned documents. Any responses by the doctoral candidate are distributed to the Faculty Council together with the documents submitted by the dissertation grading committee. The documents will be appended to the minutes of Faculty Council meeting, after which they are made public. A doctoral candidate dissatisfied with the Faculty Council decision can appeal for its amendment to the Academic Appeals Board.
The opponent is paid a fee of 480 euros (taxable income) for examining the dissertation in public and writing a statement on it. The opponent is requested to complete the enclosed fee form and submit it to the Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Student Services together with his or her statement after the public examination.
The internal examiner is paid a fee of 250 euros. The internal examiner is requested to complete the enclosed fee form and submit it to the Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Student Services after the public examination. The fee will be paid once the Postgraduate Student Services has received all the documents required from the dissertation grading committee.
Travel and other expenses
The Faculty of Arts takes care of the travel and accommodation costs for opponents. Accommodation is covered for up to two nights (opponents coming from inside Europe) or three nights (opponents coming from outside Europe) at most. Separate daily allowances are not paid.
The travel contact person for the Faculty of Arts, Ms. Tarja Vuorimaa (firstname.lastname@example.org) takes care of the necessary reservations. Opponents are asked to be in touch with the travel contact person well in advance to settle the travel dates and other details needed for the purposes of the reservations. If preferable, opponents are welcome to make their own travel arrangements. The Faculty of Arts will cover reasonable travel costs in exchange for the receipts.
After the trip, the opponents are asked to fill in the enclosed specification of travel expenses and the payments abroad form. The forms, together with the receipts, should be scanned into a single pdf-file and sent to Ms.Tarja Vuorimaa (see email address above). If the reservations for travel and accommodation have been made by the Faculty and there are no other expenses to be reimbursed, there is no need to send the expense forms.
If needed, the Faculty can also reimburse lunch costs for the grading committee (custos, opponent and faculty representative, up to 20€ per person) and dinner costs for the custos and opponent (up to 80€ per person).