Doctoral Dissertation

These rules and guidelines are based on HY/498/2017 and HY/134/2019 Rector’s Decisions entitled “Preliminary examination and approval of doctoral dissertations as well as general dissertation criteria at the University of Helsinki”, and further specifications laid down in the decisions of the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

The doctoral dissertation is a consistent scholarly work based on independent research that makes an original contribution to knowledge, on a topic belonging to one of the disciplines represented at the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

The instructions on submitting the dissertation for preliminary examination can be found in Instructions for Students. About the procedures and formalities related to the public defence, please see Welcome to the public examination -pages.

The doctoral dissertation is a consistent scholarly work based on independent research that makes an original contribution to knowledge.

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 dissertation).

The maximum length of a monograph is normally approximately 250 pages. If, in addition to the monograph, the author has previously published reports on the same research topic (B1, B2 and A1), they must be referred to in the monograph in the same manner as other previous research. Furthermore, previous scientific publications must be mentioned in the report on the doctoral candidate’s scholarly contribution required when the dissertation is submitted for preliminary examination.

The minimum requirement for an article dissertation is three articles for which the doctoral candidate is mentioned as the first author and which have been published or are in press in peer-reviewed scholarly journals as well as a summary of these articles.

More information on article based dissertations in the Faculty of Educational Sciences (pdf) >>

The pre-examiner is initially contacted by the doctoral candidate’s supervisor, but it’s important to note that the examiners are experts appointed by the Faculty and examiners must submit their statements to the Faculty only. During the examination process, the examiners will not submit their statements to the doctoral candidate, nor will they discuss the contents of the statement or any other matters related to the dissertation.

The preliminary examiner must not supervise the doctoral student or accept revised versions of the manuscript or any other material related to the dissertation except through the Faculty's Education planner.

In the appointment of preliminary examiners, the University of Helsinki regulations on the disqualification of preliminary examiners must be taken into account. The preliminary examiner can have no relationship with the doctoral candidate, the doctoral dissertation or another party involved that may compromise his or her impartiality. Consequently, e.g. the following persons can never be named as preliminary examiners:

  • A person who has co-authored at least one of the articles used in an article-based dissertation
  • A person who is currently engaged in research cooperation with the doctoral candidate or was engaged in such research cooperation during the dissertation project
  • A person who has been engaged in close research cooperation with the dissertation supervisor during the three years prior to the preliminary examination of the doctoral dissertation
  • A close relative of the doctoral candidate
  • The immediate superior or subordinate of the doctoral candidate, or the supervisor
  • A member of the doctoral dissertation monitoring group, in cases where such group has been appointed

Moreover, a close relative of the dissertation supervisor cannot serve as the preliminary examiner, the opponent or the internal examiner of the grading committee.

The same provisions on disqualification also apply to opponents and the internal examiners of the grading committee.

The Faculty Council of the Faculty of Educational Sciences has specified the definition of close research cooperation for cases of disqualification. Consequently, when deciding on disqualification, it must also be ascertained that, in the past three years, the preliminary examiner, opponent or member of the grading committee has not:

  • Published a book, a chapter or an article together with the supervisor
  • Written and submitted for publication an article together with the supervisor
  • Engaged in close cooperation with the supervisor in a research project
  • Applied for the same position as the supervisor
  • Submitted a pending application for research funding together with the supervisor

In addition, the relevant parties must not have been in close contact or have influenced appointment decisions in the past three years (connection between an applicant and a member of an appointment committee).

Being on the editorial staff of the same publication, writing an article for the same collection of articles (special issue or compilation) or submitting an unsuccessful application for funding do not constitute grounds for disqualification. Supervisors themselves must decide on their disqualification and refrain from evaluation or decision-making if there is reason to suspect grounds for disqualification.

The Faculty strives to clear up any issues related to ineligibility before the examiners are officially appointed. However, should the examiner be unsure of his / her eligibility for the task after having been appointed, we ask the examiners to immediately contact the Faculty's Education coordinator (edu-research@helsinki.fi).

The Faculty’s Education planner will deliver copies of the statement to the doctoral candidate, the supervisors and members of the Faculty Council as well as (once permission to defend the dissertation has been granted) to the opponent and other members of the dissertation grading committee.

The doctoral candidate can lodge his or her objection to the preliminary examiners’ statements with the Faculty Council before it decides on the permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination. The statement will be enclosed with the minutes of the Faculty Council meeting in which it decides on the permission to defend the dissertation, after which the statement will become a public document.

The Faculty Council of the Faculty of Educational Sciences will appoint two preliminary examiners for a doctoral dissertation based on the proposal of the responsible professor. The preliminary examiners must be professors or docents, or doctoral degree holders with equivalent academic qualifications. Doctoral candidates must have the opportunity to inform the faculty council of their objections, if any, to the appointment of the pre-examiners (section 44, Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki and Rector's decision HY/498/2017).

Once the Faculty Council has made the appointment decision, the Faculty’s education planner (doctoral studies) will send the dissertation manuscript and the report on the doctoral candidate’s independent contribution to the dissertation to the pre-examiners by email.

Ethical guidelines

The doctoral candidate’s supervisor initially contacts the preliminary examiner, but it’s important to note that the examiners are experts appointed by the Faculty and examiners must submit their statements to the Faculty only. During the examination process, the examiners will not submit their statements to the doctoral candidate, nor will they discuss the contents of the statement or any other matters related to the dissertation. The preliminary examiner must not supervise the doctoral student or accept revised versions of the manuscript or any other material related to the dissertation except through the Faculty's education planner.

As a rule, the preliminary examiners must come from outside the University of Helsinki. A person who has co-authored publications or worked together on a research project with the doctoral candidate may not be appointed as a pre-examiner. Please see Ethical instructions below. The Faculty strives to clear up any issues related to ineligibility before the examiners are officially appointed. However, should the examiner be unsure of his / her eligibility for the task after having been appointed, we ask the examiners to immediately contact the Faculty's Education coordinator (edu-research@helsinki.fi).

Instructions for preliminary examiners

The pre-examiners will be requested to submit their statements to the Faculty within two months (taking into account the holiday seasons).

Preliminary examiners are paid a  fee of 340 euros once their statements have arrived at the Faculty. The examiners are asked to fill in a fee form and return it as an email attachment together with their statement.

The preliminary examiners must submit to the Faculty a separately or jointly written statement in which they either
a) Recommend that the doctoral candidate be granted permission to publicly defend the dissertation in its current manuscript form or with minor corrections that the supervisor can approve
b) Find that the manuscript contains deficiencies that are serious enough for them not to be able to recommend that the doctoral candidate be granted permission to publicly defend the dissertation

When drafting their statements, the pre-examiners must take into consideration the assessment criteria for doctoral dissertations approved by the Faculty of Educational Sciences (see below). The pre-examiners are also expected to assess the doctoral candidate’s independent contribution to the research for the dissertation. The doctoral candidate will enclose with the dissertation manuscript a written report, approved by the supervisor, describing his or her contribution to the research.

In assessing an article based dissertation it must be noted that the articles have already been published and therefore focus on the summary.

In addition to submitting their statements to the Faculty, the preliminary examiners may make comments and detailed suggestions for corrections directly to the author of the dissertation. The author must then discuss with the supervisor which corrections should be taken into consideration in the final version.

A preliminary examiner may also require that the doctoral candidate make corrections to the manuscript, which the preliminary examiner then approves before providing a statement recommending the granting of permission for the public defense. After approving the corrections, the preliminary examiner must submit to the faculty his or her final statement on the manuscript. The doctoral candidate’s report on the corrections made must also be sent as additional information to the other preliminary examiner and be appended to the preliminary examiners’ statements when permission for the public defense is granted. In such cases, the preliminary examiner must contact the education planner (doctoral studies).

The Faculty’s Education planner will deliver copies of the statement to the doctoral candidate, the supervisors and members of the Faculty Council as well as (once permission to defend the dissertation has been granted) to the opponent and other members of the dissertation grading committee.

Before the Faculty Council decides whether to grant permission to defend the dissertation in public, doctoral candidates must have the opportunity to submit an objection to the preliminary examiners’ statements (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).

Doctoral dissertations are graded on a scale of Pass with Distinction, Pass or Fail. As a rule, doctoral dissertations receive the grade Pass. The Fail grade must be given only if the dissertation includes serious ethical deficiencies. In exceptional cases, if a doctoral dissertation is highly distinguished in the light of all assessment criteria, the dissertation may receive the grade Pass with Distinction.

Dis­ser­ta­tion grad­ing scale

Pass with distinction
The dissertation is outstanding and ambitious in the light of all the assessment criteria. The dissertation meets the relevant ethical criteria.

Pass
The dissertation fulfils the Faculty’s definition of a dissertation and meets the relevant ethical criteria.

Fail
The dissertation does not fulfil the Faculty’s criteria for a dissertation and/or the relevant ethical standards.

As­sess­ment cri­teria

Choice of topic and research problem
While the dissertation topic must be connected to previous research, the dissertation should also generate genuinely new knowledge. It may also serve to open a new line of investigation. The study must be appropriately delineated. The research questions must be phrased in a way that allows them to be reasonably answered within the scope of the study.

Conceptual clarity and theoretical mastery of the topic
The concepts must be clear, and the author must demonstrate that he or she is in command of the theories behind the research and able to conceptualise the research problem.

Use of methods
The methods must be well grounded and enable the author to address the research problem. Diverse use of research methods is commendable, as is in-depth mastery and insightful use of the research methods.

Material
The material must be high quality and sufficient considering the choice of research problem and method.

Presentation of the results
The results must be presented clearly and logically. Analysis should be logical and well grounded.

Conclusions
The conclusions must be systematic and well grounded and pertain to the research problem, material and method. The author should avoid speculation.

The dissertation as a whole and the standard of the language used
The dissertation must have a logical structure with clear language. The text should be coherent and logical and focus on the essential. Argumentation must advance logically. The researcher must demonstrate critical thinking, originality and independence.

Brief summary of the practices and procedures followed in the public examination of doctoral dissertations

  • The public examination of a dissertation begins a quarter past the indicated hour (weekdays at 12 and Saturdays at 10). The audience should be seated at the indicated hour.
  • When the doctoral candidate, custos and opponent arrive, the audience rises. The audience sits down when the custos takes his or her seat.
  • The custos opens the public examination.
  • The doctoral candidate delivers an introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) of at most 20 minutes.
  • The opponent begins an examination of the dissertation lasting at most four hours.
  • The audience can then pose questions.
  • After the custos has closed the examination, the doctoral candidate, custos and opponent leave first, followed by the audience.

Opponent

The Faculty Council appoints one or two opponents for each public examination who are professor or have the title of a docent or equivalent academic qualification (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).

After the doctoral candidate’s introductory lecture, the opponent makes a short statement examining the status and scientific significance of the dissertation topic as well as similar general issues. In the actual examination, the opponent discusses the dissertation. He or she may spend at most four hours on this examination. At the conclusion of the public examination, the opponent makes a final statement.

The Opponent is expected to present in the public examination all the critical remarks into which he intends to refer in the final statement, i.e, the candidate has to be given an opportunity to defend to all the remarks during the public examination.

The opponent is a member of the grading committee and attends the committee meeting following the public examination. Please see instructions below (Grading of doctoral dissertations).

The opponent must submit to the Faculty Council a reasoned written statement on the dissertation within two weeks of its public examination.

The grading of the dissertation must take into account the doctoral candidate’s defence of the dissertation at the public examination and preliminary examiners statements (Rector's decision HY/498/2017). The opponent must assess the dissertation in his or her statement and must propose a grade for the dissertation based on the assessment criteria and grading scale approved by the Faculty of Educational Sciences, after negotiating with the Faculty’s internal examiners. The grades are pass with distinction, pass and fail.

In case the Opponent has questions concerning the practices of the public examination or dissertation grading, he or she is encouraged to contact the Custos.

Custos

The faculty council appoints one of the professors of the faculty to act as the custos in the public examination (Section 44, Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki). At the Faculty of Educational Sciences, the coordinating professor of the doctoral thesis is usually appointed as the custos.

It is the duty of the custos to orientate the opponent with regard to the public examination practices of the faculty. Prior to the public examination, the custos will speak with the opponent and inform them of the nature of the public examination, its course and attire formalities as well as the assessment of the doctoral thesis. The custos also takes care of the opponent’s travel and accommodation arrangements.

The custos chairs the public examination. At the beginning of the public examination, the custos explains the general nature of the public examination to the audience members. The custos opens the event and presents the doctoral candidate and the opponent. During the public examination, the custos ensures that the doctoral candidate is given the opportunity to respond to each comment and that the speakers do not digress from the topic. When the doctoral candidate asks the audience for comments and questions, the custos decides on the order in which they will be taken and writes down the audience’s questions and comments as well as the doctoral candidate’s responses. The custos also ensures that the public examination proceeds appropriately and in a dignified manner. If the examination takes a long time, the custos may interrupt it by announcing a break. The duration of the public examination may not exceed six hours. At the end, the custos declares the public examination completed, after which the doctoral candidate, the custos and the opponent are the first to leave the venue, only then followed by the audience.

The custos writes a statement on the public examination and submits it to the Faculty Council. This statement must mention the time, place, language used and duration of the public examination, as well as the number of participants, and provide a description of it. The custos must also record the comments and questions from the audience in the statement.

It is standard practice at the Faculty that, unless the custos has supervised the thesis, they participate in its grading, serve on the grading committee appointed by the Faculty Council and are entitled to vote as a committee member. If the custos has supervised the thesis, they only have the right to speak on the committee but not to participate in the grading or discussion regarding the grade.

Grading committee members

As a rule the opponent, the custos and one or two faculty representatives are appointed to the grading committee. The faculty representative must be a professor or docent at the University of Helsinki or a docent-level member of the research and teaching staff of the University of Helsinki. The custos may serve as the faculty representative, provided they are not the supervisor of the thesis. If the custos has supervised the thesis, they have the right to speak on the committee but not to participate in the grading or discussion regarding the grade.

As a rule, the faculty representatives are appointed from within the Faculty. In exceptional cases, when it is expedient considering the discipline of the thesis, the faculty representative may be appointed from some other unit of the University of Helsinki. If the faculty representative is from another unit, the matter must be specifically justified in writing to the Faculty Council.

The members of the grading committee must attend the public examination of the thesis and the committee meeting following the public examination. The faculty representatives orientate the opponent with regard to the Faculty’s grading scale and other relevant regulations, act, if necessary, as the grading committee’s secretary and ensure that the Faculty’s regulations are followed throughout the examination process. In their meeting, the opponent and faculty representatives on the grading committee together fill in the Doctoral thesis grading form. If the opponent and faculty representatives of the grading committee disagree on the grade, they will fill in separate forms and the Faculty Council will make the decision on the grade.

The faculty representatives of the grading committee draw up their own or joint statement on the thesis to the Faculty Council to which the thesis grading form is appended. In their statement, the faculty representative(s) assess the thesis and the course of the public examination as well as propose a grade for the thesis based on the assessment criteria and grading scale approved by the Faculty. The proposal will also take into account the statements of preliminary examiners.

As a rule, doctoral theses are approved with a grade pass, and the grade fail is only given if the doctoral thesis has major ethical deficiencies. In exceptional cases, when a doctoral thesis is exceptionally praiseworthy in the light of all of the assessment criteria, the grade pass with distinction may be given. In this case, a separate statement providing the justification for the grade must be drawn up.

Before the grading of the thesis, the author must be provided with the opportunity to respond to the opponent’s statement and any other documents related to the grading process (Section 44, Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki).

Doctoral candidate

Doctoral dissertations are examined at a public examination which must be held within 12 months of the granting of permission for the public defense.

Dissertation writers must be allowed to submit to the Faculty Council their objection to the selection of the opponent and dissertation grading committee members (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).

During the public examination, the doctoral candidate delivers his or her introductory lecture and then asks the opponent for his or her comments on the dissertation. The doctoral candidate responds to the opponent’s comments and to any questions and comments from the audience, defending his or her choices, results and conclusions. At the end of the public examination, the doctoral candidate stands up to thank the opponent. The doctoral candidate should provide those friends and relatives who will attend the public examination with information about relevant practices and procedures. The formalities of the public examination can be discussed in advance with the custos.

Audience

The audience must arrive in good time before the public examination is due to begin. The audience rises when the doctoral candidate, custos and opponent arrive, and sits down when the custos takes his or her seat. Members of the audience can pose questions and make comments at the end of the public examination when the doctoral candidate encourages them to ask the custos for the floor. The audience leaves the public examination after the doctoral candidate, custos and opponent, and must not congratulate the doctoral candidate until he or she has left the auditorium and has had the opportunity to thank the opponent and the custos.

Please see the procedures and formalities related to the public defence of doctoral dissertations >>

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 Educational Sciences.

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 Faculty of Educational Sciences 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.

The opponent is paid a fee of 475 euros for examining the dissertation in public and writing a statement on it. The opponent is requested to complete a fee form and submit it to the Faculty of Educational Sciences Doctoral study services together with his or her statement after the public examination. Separate daily allowances are not paid.

The travel contact person for the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Mrs. Tiina Reilly (ktdk-yleishallinto@helsinki.fi) takes care of the necessary reservations. Opponent (or custos) 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. The subject ot the e-mail should include: Faculty of Educational Sciences/Opponent's travel arrangements. Also, the Opponent should fill up this form; after that our contract travel agency can look up the flight options for You.

If preferable, opponents are welcome to make their own travel arrangements. The Faculty of Educational Sciences 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 Mrs. Tiina Reilly. 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).

Dissertation theses on Helda, the Digital Repository of the University of Helsinki.

Definition of a licentiate thesis

A licentiate thesis must show that the student is able to apply scientific research methods critically and independently. The thesis must be either a monograph or an article-based thesis. A master’s thesis or another thesis included in a second-cycle degree cannot as such be accepted as a licentiate thesis or a part thereof.

An article-based licentiate thesis must contain a minimum of two articles published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed scholarly journals in which the author of the thesis is the first author of the articles and the thesis contains a summary of the articles presenting the aims, methods and results of the research.

The number of articles and workload required for them may be lower than for a doctoral thesis, but the scientific quality of the articles must comply with the quality of articles to be included in a doctoral thesis.

Examination of a licentiate thesis

The licentiate thesis examination and grading follow the same examiner disqualification provisions applied in the preliminary examination of doctoral theses. The licentiate degree coordinator will propose examiners for the licentiate thesis.

In accordance with the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights, and the Rector’s decision (1370/2018), the Faculty Council shall appoint a minimum of two examiners for licentiate theses. These examiners must have completed a doctoral degree. The examiners of a licentiate thesis must submit, either jointly or separately, a written reasoned statement within two months of the date of being given the task.

Examiners must submit their statements directly to the faculty that has appointed them. During the examination process, the examiners must not submit their statements to the student, the student’s coordinating academic or the supervisor, or discuss with them the contents of the statement or other issues related to the licentiate thesis under examination. The examiner must not supervise the student, or accept revised versions of the thesis or other material related to the study from a party other than the faculty.

Licentiate theses are graded on a scale of pass with distinctionpassfail.

Postgraduate student services of the faculty delivers copies of the statements to the student, the student’s coordinating academic and supervisors. Before the grading of the thesis, the author must be provided with the opportunity to respond to the examiners’ statements.

Before the grading of the thesis, the author may request in writing that the grading of the thesis be discontinued, in which case the grading procedure will be cancelled. This enables the author to revise the thesis and resubmit it for examination. The Faculty Council will then appoint new examiners (the same or different examiners as they see fit).

The grading and publication of licentiate theses

Licentiate theses are graded by the Faculty Council. The statements are appended to the Faculty Council’s agenda and minutes and are subsequently public documents.

Based on the University’s principles of open publishing, the licentiate thesis will be published in the University’s open digital archive (Rector’s decision 1370/2018).