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 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 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 >>