Doctoral Dissertation

These rules and guidelines are based on the 20 June 2017 Rector’s Decision 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 Flamma.

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 >>

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).

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.

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

The pre-examiners are requested to submit their statements to the Faculty within two months. Their statements must explicitly recommend that the candidate be either granted or denied permission to defend his or her dissertation in public.

When drafting their statements, the pre-examiners must take into consideration the assessment criteria for doctoral dissertations approved by the Faculty of Educational Sciences. The pre-examiner may write his own statement or a joint statement with the other pre-examiner. 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.

The pre-examiners may demand that corrections and improvements be made to the manuscript before recommending that permission for a public defence be granted. In such cases, the pre-examiner should contact the Faculty’s education planner (postgraduate studies) and professor in charge of supervision and agree on the corrections to be made and how they should be made.

The doctoral candidate must not contact the pre-examiners during the examination process. Any contact should be made through the Faculty’s education planner (postgraduate studies).

In addition to submitting their statements to the Faculty, the pre-examiners may make comments and detailed suggestions for corrections directly to the author. The comments should sent to the Faculty’s education planner at the same time as the pre-examiners statement. The author then discusses with the supervisors which suggestions will be included in the final version of the dissertation. In assessing an article based dissertation it must be noted that the articles have already been published and therefore focus on the summary.

Before the faculty council decides whether permission for the defence of the dissertation in a public examination can be granted, doctoral candidates must have the opportunity to submit an objection to the pre-examiners’ statements (section 44, 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 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 also take into account the doctoral candidate’s defence of the dissertation at the public examination (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 opponent and the internal examiners must together complete the dissertation assessment form.

Custos

The Faculty Council appoints one of the Faculty professors or acting professors to serve as custos of the public examination (Section 44 of the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki). In the Faculty of Educational Sciences, the dissertation supervisor (the professor in charge of dissertation supervision) is usually appointed as the custos.

As the chair of the public examination, the custos opens the examination, presents the doctoral candidate and the opponent as well as ensures that the doctoral candidate is able 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 gives the floor 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 examination cannot last more than six hours. The custos closes the public examination.

The custos must write a statement on the public examination and submit it to the Faculty Council. This statement must mention the time, place 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 his or her statement.

It is standard practice in the Faculty of Educational Sciences that, unless the custos has supervised the dissertation, he or she participates in its grading, serves on the grading committee appointed by the Faculty Council and is entitled to vote as a committee member. If the custos has supervised the dissertation, he or she will have the right to speak but not to vote at the committee meeting.

Grading of doctoral dissertations

Members of the committee include the custos, the opponent(s) and one or two faculty representatives. The faculty representative must be a professor or a member of the research and teaching staff who has the qualifications of a docent. If the custos has supervised the dissertation, he or she will have the right to speak but not to vote at the committee meeting. The committee must include at least three members entitled to vote. The Faculty Council decides on the committee’s composition.

The members of the grading committee must attend the public examination of the dissertation and the committee meeting following the public examination. The internal examiner’s duty is to familiarise the opponent with the Faculty’s grading scale and other relevant regulations, act as the grading committee’s secretary and ensure that the Faculty’s regulations are followed throughout the examination process. At their meeting, the opponent and the internal examiners must together complete the dissertation assessment form. If the opponent and the internal examiners decide to propose different grades, they must complete separate forms, and the Faculty Council will decide on the grade.

The internal examiners must prepare his or her own statement (or ja joint statement) on the dissertation and submit it to the Faculty Council together with the dissertation assessment form. In the statement, the internal examiner must assess the dissertation and the public examination as well as propose a grade for the dissertation based on the assessment criteria and grading scale approved by the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

Before the grading of the dissertation, the author shall have the opportunity to object to the opponent’s statement and any other documents related to the grading process (section 44 of the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki).

If the proposed grade is Pass with Distinction, it must be separately justified.

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. Separate daily allowances are not paid.

The travel contact person for the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Mrs. Tiina Reilly 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. 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).