Instructions for the examiners of doctoral dissertations

The Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki offers high-quality doctoral education in various fields of theology from Old Testament Studies to Church History. Important values for the examination of doctoral dissertations and Licentiate theses include objectivity, transparency and expertise. The examiners appointed by the Faculty Council are experts in their field and play a key role in assuring the quality of doctoral education at the Faculty.

N.B. The global corona virus situation affects also the arrangements of public examination. If you have questions, please contact: teol-tohtorikoulutus@helsinki.fi.

A doctoral dissertation is a consistent scholarly work based on independent research that makes an original contribution to. Besides being in the form of a monograph, the dissertation may also be a compilation of several separate scholarly articles (see below). The manuscript submitted for preliminary examination must be written in the same language as the final version of the dissertation.

Ex­am­in­a­tion pro­cess and pre­lim­in­ary ex­am­in­er’s role

The examination of doctoral dissertations is a two-stage process: first, dissertations are examined in a preliminary examination, and then, in a public examination.

After the public examination, the Faculty Council approves and grades, or rejects, the dissertation based on the documents compiled during the examination process and on its expertise. The members of the Faculty Council have access to the preliminary manuscript (preliminary examination) and the dissertation (final approval and grading or rejection) before they make their decision.

The preliminary examiners have great responsibility in ensuring that incomplete dissertations are not allowed to go forward to public examination. It is highly problematic in terms of students’ legal rights if it is not discovered until the public examination that the dissertation does not meet the minimum requirements set for dissertations.

The Faculty Council appoints at least two preliminary examiners. The preliminary examiners are expected to provide a reasoned written statement in which they explicitly recommend either that the doctoral candidate be granted permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination or that the candidate be denied this permission. In other words, the duty of the preliminary examiners is to assess whether the manuscript fulfils the minimum requirements for a doctoral dissertation in its present state or after minor revisions. The recommendation must not be conditional, meaning that the examiner must not recommend granting the permission for a public defence after certain corrections have been made.

As­sess­ment cri­teria

  • The choice of topic, research problem, scope of the research and research problems: The information value of the topic, the appropriateness of the research problem and the scope of the research. The Faculty recommends that a monograph be no more than about 250 pages long, excluding appendices.
  • Acknowledgement of previous research: Setting the research appropriately in the framework of existing research.
  • The clarity of the concepts used and the theoretical mastery of the topic.
  • The research methods used: The justifiability of the chosen approach/approaches and research methods for the research problem. Demonstration of mastery of the chosen methods.
  • Materials: Quality, relevance and quantitative adequacy from the point of view of the topic and the research problem.
  • Presentation of the results and conclusions: Consistency of the analysis and consideration of various viewpoints. Are conclusion based on the results of the research? The production of new knowledge. The significance of the research to the field and/or to society in general. Interesting proposals for further research or new methodological or theoretical approaches may be considered an additional merit.
  • Insight and criticality: Critical assessment of previous research, theories, methods, materials and sources. An insightful approach may be considered an asset.
  • Implementation of the research:  The consistency and functionality of the structural and technical presentation, clarity of language.

The assessment criteria has been confirmed by the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Theology on December 12th, 2017.

A pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive state­ment?

The preliminary examiners must recommend in their statement that the doctoral candidate be denied permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination if it is clear that the dissertation is not a consistent scholarly work based on independent research that makes an original contribution to knowledge (definition approved by the Faculty Council). The preliminary examiners should also consider rejecting the dissertation if there are other serious deficiencies in the dissertation, such as the following:

  • The theoretical framework has serious deficiencies.
  • The research material is clearly too limited for a doctoral dissertation.
  • There are serious deficiencies in the writer’s knowledge of literature in the field.
  • The dissertation is otherwise obviously incomplete and requires major revision.

A positive statement is not, however, necessarily prevented by deficiencies that can be remedied by simple revision, the need for additional material that can be acquired with moderate effort or the need for further reading of research literature that requires moderate effort.

A negative statement usually means that the preliminary examination is discontinued upon the student’s request or the Faculty Council’s decision. The Faculty Council makes its decision on the basis of the preliminary examiners’ statements and its own deliberations. The members of the Faculty Council have access to the manuscript before they make their decision.

After the discontinuation of the preliminary examination, the doctoral candidate may request a new preliminary examination once the changes recommended in the preliminary examiners’ statements, or other changes, have been made in the dissertation manuscript. In these cases, the Faculty can, depending on the case and the schedules of the examiners, either ask the same preliminary examiners for the task again or search for new ones.

Dis­ser­ta­tions writ­ten in a non-nat­ive lan­guage

A dissertation manuscript submitted for preliminary examination has not usually been revised by a professional language reviser. After the preliminary examination, the doctoral candidate must have the language of the dissertation revised to a publishable standard. The Faculty supports the language revision of doctoral theses written in a foreign language, but typically the language revision is done to the final version of the manuscript before the final thesis is printed. Thus the preliminary examiners need not revise the language of the dissertation, but may comment on the language from the perspective of the dissertation’s scholarly value in such key areas as incorrect specialist terminology, translation errors or structural issues that hinder understanding.

Art­icle-based dis­ser­ta­tions

A doctoral dissertation may also be a compilation of several (between three and five, depending on their scope) separate scholarly publications or manuscripts accepted for publication and of a summarising report on them. The summarising report must introduce the topic, present the objectives and methods of the publications and evaluate the significance and applicability of the published results at the time of publication of the summarising report. The length of the summarizing report should be 30–60 pages (about 60,000–120,000 characters). Articles not yet accepted for publication may also be included in the dissertation. The number of articles required shall depend on their a) scope, b) scientific quality and significance and c) publishing forum as well as d) the author’s independent contribution.

Article-based dissertation may include co-authored publications. The doctoral candidate’s input into these shall be clearly demonstrable. One co-authored publication may be used in several dissertations by different authors. To determine the doctoral candidate’s independent contribution to co-authored publications, the doctoral candidate and her/his supervisor shall draft a report on the doctoral candidate’s contribution to each publication. If the co-authored publication has been used in another dissertation, this shall be mentioned in the report. The doctoral candidate should deliver the draft of the report on her/his contribution also to the other authors of the publication. The doctoral candidate shall deliver the report to the Faculty when submitting the dissertation for preliminary examination. It’s recommended that the report be included in the dissertation.

The preliminary examiners should assess the academic standard of the entire dissertation (both the summarising report and the articles) irrespective of whether or not the articles have been published. In their statement, the examiners should evaluate whether the various sections form an adequately consistent whole of sufficient scope to meet the criteria set for a doctoral dissertation.

Doctoral candidates will submit the published articles or articles accepted for publication without editing or revision. Consequently, minor overlaps and repetition due to the close relationship of the topics of the articles can be allowed. Article-based dissertations are thus to be assessed using different criteria than for monographs.

Eth­ical guidelines

The Faculty of Theology places great emphasis on the impartiality and transparency of the preliminary examination of doctoral dissertations. Even though the examiner may initially be contacted by the doctoral candidate’s supervisor, the examiners are experts appointed by the Faculty. Thus in order to avoid legal problems, the examiners must submit their statements to the Faculty only. During the examination process, the examiners will communicate only with the Faculty Doctoral Student Services, and the examiners will thus not submit their statements to the doctoral candidate, the doctoral candidate's responsible teacher or the supervisor, nor will they discuss with them 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 Doctoral Student Services.

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

The Doctoral Student Services will deliver copies of the statement to the doctoral candidate, the supervisor(s), the responsible teacher, the other preliminary examiner 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.

State­ment

The time limit set for the preliminary examiner’s statement should not exceed two months. We ask that you follow the set deadline strictly to avoid delays further in the process. The Doctoral Student Services must be informed if the preliminary examination exceeds the time limit. The recommended length of the preliminary examiner’s statement is between two and five pages. The examiners are allowed to write a joint-statement, should they so wish.

Preliminary examination statements should be written in either Finnish, Swedish or English. In cases where the doctoral candidate's mother tongue is not Finnish, we recommend that statements be written in English, if possible.

The statement may contain suggestions for corrections and improvements, but should also explicitly indicate whether the examiner recommends that the doctoral candidate be granted permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination, or whether the candidate should be denied this permission. Should the examiners wish to comment on minor errors, such as spelling mistakes, they may enclose a separate list of corrections with the statement, or return the manuscript with their written comments to the Faculty's Doctoral Student Services. The Doctoral Student Services will forward the list or manuscript to the doctoral candidate. If the examiner has not written any comments on the manuscript, it need not be returned.

An undersigned, scanned copy of the statement should be sent to the Faculty's Doctoral Student Services (teol-tohtorikoulutus@helsinki.fi).

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:

Doctoral Student Services
Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Theology
P.O. Box 24
00014 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI, FINLAND

Fee

Preliminary examiners receive a fee for their work. For further information and fee form, please see bottom of the page.

Fi­nal stages of the ex­am­in­a­tion pro­cess

When the Faculty Council grants the doctoral candidate permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination, it will also appoint a dissertation grading committee (the opponent, the custos and the faculty representative chairing the committee and possible second faculty representative), and the candidate may then begin the practical arrangements for a public examination of the dissertation. The Faculty Council will make a final decision on the approval or rejection of the dissertation and on its grading after the public examination – positive preliminary examination reports are, nevertheless, considered as the de facto verification that the doctoral manuscript fulfills the minimum requirements set for doctoral dissertation and can thus be accepted after a public examination. The preliminary examiners have no right or obligation to supervise the revision of the dissertation; the responsibility for this lies with the doctoral candidate and the supervisor, and in the last instance, with the opponent. The Faculty may ask a preliminary examiner to act as the opponent as well.

 

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 Faculty Doctoral Student Services will send the preliminary examination statements to the members of the grading committee for their information and consideration.

Opponent

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 Doctoral Student Services (teol-tohtorikoulutus@helsinki.fi).

Custos

The custos chairs the public examination. The thesis supervisor often acts as custos, but another faculty's professor can also be appointed to the task. One of the faculty’s associate professors who is at level 2 of the tenure track can also serve as the custos. 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 custos acts as a host for the opponent and will familiarize the opponent with the faculty’s practices regarding travel and accommodation (for further instructions, please see the bottom of the page).

Faculty representatives

The faculty representative is a Faculty professor or docent who was not 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 chair and 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. The first faculty representative is, as a rule, appointed from outside the doctoral candidate's discipline.

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. The second faculty representative can also be appointed from the doctoral candidate's discipline. Both faculty representatives must be professors or members of the research and teaching staff who have the qualifications of a docent.

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. 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. 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 on the University's Welcome to the Public Examination website.

Grad­ing of doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tions

A 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-based dissertation).  The recommended maximum length of a monograph is 250 pages excluding appendices. An article-based dissertation consists of three to five scholarly publications focusing on the same topic and a summarising report.

As­sess­ment cri­teria

  • The choice of topic, research problem, scope of the research and research problems: The information value of the topic, the appropriateness of the research problem and the scope of the research. The Faculty recommends that a monograph be no more than about 250 pages long, excluding appendices.
  • Acknowledgement of previous research: Setting the research appropriately in the framework of existing research.
  • The clarity of the concepts used and the theoretical mastery of the topic.
  • The research methods used: The justifiability of the chosen approach/approaches and research methods for the research problem. Demonstration of mastery of the chosen methods.
  • Materials: Quality, relevance and quantitative adequacy from the point of view of the topic and the research problem.
  • Presentation of the results and conclusions: Consistency of the analysis and consideration of various viewpoints. Are conclusion based on the results of the research? The production of new knowledge. The significance of the research to the field and/or to society in general. Interesting proposals for further research or new methodological or theoretical approaches may be considered an additional merit.
  • Insight and criticality: Critical assessment of previous research, theories, methods, materials and sources. An insightful approach may be considered an asset.
  • Implementation of the research:  The consistency and functionality of the structural and technical presentation, clarity of language.

The assessment criteria has been confirmed by the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Theology on December 12th, 2017.

Grading scale

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.

Grade proposal
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 the right to vote. The faculty representative submits the grade proposal to the Faculty Doctoral 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.

If the custos is also the supervisor of the thesis, they may be present at the meetings of the grading committee, but do not have the right to vote. If the custos has acted as the responsible professor but not as supervisor, they are allowed to participate in the vote. The faculty representative can also invite (other) supervisors of the thesis to the meeting for a hearing before deciding on the grade. All supervisors should depart the meeting before the decision on the grade is made.

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 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.

Opponent’s statement
The opponent provides the Faculty with a statement (recommended length: two to five pages) on the dissertation and submits it to the Faculty's Doctoral 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 Doctoral Student Services (teol-tohtorikoulutus@helsinki.fi).

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:

Doctoral Student Services
Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Theology
P.O. Box 24
00014 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI, FINLAND

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 Doctoral 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.

Fees

Opponents receive a fee for their work. For further information and the fee form, please see the bottom of the page.

The Licentiate thesis is a scholarly work that demonstrates the postgraduate student’s ability to independently and critically apply methods of scholarly research. The Licentiate thesis may be in the form of a monograph or a selection of articles. A Master’s thesis or other undergraduate thesis as such cannot be approved as a Licentiate thesis or as part of a Licentiate thesis.

An article-based Licentiate thesis consists of a compilation of several separate scholarly articles or manuscripts that all focus on the same topic and have been accepted for publication. An article-based thesis must always contain a summary that clearly presents the objectives, methods and results of the research. Co-authored publications may be included if the author’s independent contribution to them can be demonstrated.

For special reasons, a published research paper or a research paper accepted for publication may be approved as a Licentiate thesis if it meets the general criteria set for a Licentiate thesis.

Ex­am­in­er’s state­ment

Once the Faculty has appointed two examiners for the Licentiate thesis, the examiners have two months to submit to the Faculty a written, reasoned statement (2-4 pages), either individually or jointly, recommending either the approval or rejection of the thesis. Licentiate are graded with the following scale: Pass with Distinction, Pass and Fail.

Sub­mit­ting the state­ment

The examiners will submit their statements to the Faculty that has appointed them to this expert assignment. The examiners should not submit their statements to the student, the student's responsible teacher or the supervisor. Nor should the examiners discuss with them the contents of the statement or any other matters related to the thesis while the examination is in progress. The preliminary examiner must not supervise the student, accept revised versions of the manuscript or any other material related to the thesis except through the Faculty's Doctoral Student Services. Before submitting their statements, the examiners may, however, attend a Licentiate seminar if such is arranged by the relevant department.

Ap­proval of the thesis

Licentiate theses are approved or rejected by the Faculty Council. The examiners’ statements will be enclosed with the agenda and minutes of the Faculty Council meeting where the thesis will be discussed, and after this meeting they will become public documents. The Faculty's Doctoral Student Services will deliver copies of the examiners’ statements to the student, the student's responsible teacher and the supervisor. The student may submit a written objection to the statements or may request a discontinuation of the examination process. In such cases, the student may revise the thesis and resubmit it for examination. The Faculty Council will at its discretion appoint either new examiners or the same examiners for the thesis.

Fee

Examiners of Licentiate theses receive a fee for thei work. For further information and the fee form, please see the bottom of the page.

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 for preliminary examiner (opens in a new tab) and return it as an email attachment together with their statement.

The opponent is paid a fee of 470 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 for opponent (opens in a new tab) and submit it to the Doctoral Student Services together with his or her statement after the public examination.

Examiners of Licentiate theses are paid a fee of 160 euros. (Professors and acting professors of the Faculty of Theology will not be paid a fee, unless they are on a leave of absence.)

Opponent's travel and accommodation

The Faculty covers the opponent's costs of travel and accommodation.

The travel contact person for the Faculty of Theology, Ms. Sonja Pakarinen (sonja.pakarinen@helsinki.fi) 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 Theology 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 as an email attachment to hy-laskut@helsinki.fi. We kindly ask you to also send a copy of the message to controller Marja-Liisa Lonardi (marja-liisa.lonardi@helsinki.fi).

Lunch and dinner expenses for opponent and custos

The custos can offer opponent dinner on the night preceding the public examination and/or lunch on the day of the public examination. The Faculty will cover reasonable costs.