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.
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.
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 responsible professor of dissertation supervision) is usually appointed as the Custos.
The Custos’ responsibility is to familiarize the Opponent with the Faculty’s policies concerning the dissertation assessment and also to inform the Opponent on the regulations concerning the public defense. The Custos is also responsible for the travel and accommodation arrangements of the Opponent.
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 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 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 internal examiners must prepare his or her own 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.
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. In such cases, the grade must be separately justified.
Before the grading of the dissertation in the Faculty Council, the doctoral candidate 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).
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.
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 >>