A doctoral dissertation shall consist of peer-reviewed scholarly publications or manuscripts accepted for publication, as well as a summarising report on the said documents (an article-based dissertation); or, a doctoral dissertation shall be a scholarly work in the name of the doctoral candidate alone and based on previously unpublished research results (a monograph). The summarising report of an article-based dissertation shall be a balanced work based on both the publications included in the dissertation and research literature.
The article-based dissertation can also include manuscripts that have been accepted for publication. Manuscripts submitted for publication may be included as long as they do not constitute a significant portion of the dissertation contents. The preliminary examiner must evaluate the significance of such manuscripts to the dissertation contents, and indicate any shortcomings in his or her report.
Co-authored publications may be included if the author’s independent contribution to them can be demonstrated. The doctoral candidate must include in the dissertation a report on his or her contribution to the publications included in the dissertation as well as whether the publications have been used in previous dissertations. The Faculty recommends that this information be provided in the list of publications included in the dissertation.
The University Rector has issued instructions on the scope and structure of dissertations on 20 June 2017. According to these instructions, the maximum recommended length for a monograph shall be 250 pages. At the Faculty of Science, the summarising report of an article-based dissertation is typically no more than 50 pages in scope.
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According to the University's guidelines for doctoral education the doctoral dissertation is the main part of the doctoral degree. In addition to the doctoral dissertation the doctoral degree includes 40 credits of studies.
According to the University's guidelines the doctoral education will be organised so that the doctoral degree can be completed in four years of full-time study.
The Rector's decision (nro 498/2017) of the general criteria for doctoral dissertations at the University of Helsinki and the criteria at the Faculty of Science are presented below.
General criteria for doctoral dissertations
The supervisor and the doctoral candidate must limit the topic and content of the dissertation in such a way that the degree can be completed in four years of full-time study.
The doctoral dissertation must have a brief abstract of one to two pages, providing a summary of the dissertation and its key results. The abstract must outline the doctoral candidate’s objectives or research questions as well as the core research methods, results and conclusions.
Doctoral candidates must be informed of the requirements and grading criteria for doctoral dissertations when they are granted the right to complete a doctoral degree. The same information must also be provided to supervisors, supervising professors and monitoring groups as well as preliminary examiners and opponents when they are appointed. The dissertation requirements and grading principles must also be publicly available, for example, on the faculty website.
A doctoral dissertation may include not only articles that have been previously published or accepted for publication, but also articles that have not yet been accepted for publication. In such cases, the preliminary examiners must be instructed to pay particular attention to the unpublished articles. The number of articles required depends on their a) scope, b) scientific quality and significance and c) publishing forum as well as d) the author’s independent contribution. The number of articles may vary between disciplines, but the number must be determined by taking into account the equal treatment of doctoral students and the target duration of four years for completing the degree. Typically, the number of articles ranges from three to five.
The maximum recommended length of a monograph is 250 pages.
Criteria for doctoral dissertations at the Faculty of Science
At the Faculty of Science the summarising report of an article-based dissertation is typically 50 pages long.
At the Faculty of Science doctoral dissertations are either article-based or monographs.
Dissertations are assessed by the following criteria: a) The significance and status of the research within the research field b) The scope of the work and adequacy of the research material c) Application and development of research methods d) The deduction of results from the material studied e) The consistency of the structure of the work f) Familiarity with and use of literature g) The composition of the dissertation (presentation, style and language) i) The doctoral candidate's performance at the public defence.
If a doctoral dissertation is highly distinguished and ambitious in the light of assessment criteria, it may recieve the grade Pass with Distinction. The preliminary examination process is used to ensure that the dissertation can be approved after the public defence. The dissertation can however be receive the grade Fail if it contains deficiencies that are serious enough in the light of assessment criteria and does not meet the minimum requirements for a dissertation.
The Faculty Council will appoint preliminary examiners of the dissertation, decide on the permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination and finally decide on the approval of the dissertation and on the grade. When planning the schedule for graduation, it is good look at the days of meeting of the Faculty Council.
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The Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students' Rights at he University of Helsinki includes provisions regarding the preliminary examination of doctoral dissertations. In addition, the Rector has given a decision about the preliminary examination of doctoral dissertations on 20 June 2017 and the Faculty issued its own instructions on preliminary examination on 12 December 2017.
The doctoral candidate is responsible for the content of the work he or she submits for preliminary examination. The supervisor(s) are responsible for ensuring that the quality of the work is such that it can be submitted for preliminary examination. The primary supervisor decide if language revision is necessary.
Before the preliminary examination a plagiarism recognition must be done the dissertation (Urkund).
Appointment of preliminary examiners
The Faculty Council appoints at least two pre-examiners for each dissertation. The pre-examiners should be professors or have the title of docent or PhD's with other equivalent academic qualifications. The pre-examiners are appointed outside the Faculty and normally outside the University of Helsinki. The Faculty Council considers exceptions to the above rules only on the basis of a written reasoned request. The supervisor of a dissertation cannot be appointed as its pre-examiner.
A pre-examiner cannot be:
The Faculty Council discusses the appointment of pre-examiners on the initiative of the doctoral candidate’s supervising professor (e-form). The nominated pre-examiners are notified in writing of the Faculty Council’s decision. Doctoral candidates must be provided with the opportunity to lodge an objection with the Faculty Council against the appointment of pre-examiners.
Instructions for preliminary examiners
The pre-examiners must, within two months, submit a written statement, either jointly or individually, recommending explicitly that the doctoral candidate be granted or denied permission to defend the dissertation at a public examination. The time period within which this statement must be submitted cannot be longer than three months, unless there are special grounds.
In their statements, pre-examiners must pay attention to at least the following:
The pre-examiners should in their statement either
If a pre-examiner identifies shortcomings which he or she believes must be addressed before the doctoral candidate can be granted permission to defend the dissertation at a public examination, the pre-examiner must contact the candidate and agree on a course of action. The Faculty requests that pre-examiners not set conditions in their statements for granting a doctoral candidate permission to defend his or her dissertation. Instead, the pre-examiners’ statements should clearly indicate whether or not they recommend that the candidate be granted that permission.
Doctoral candidates must be provided with the opportunity to object to a pre-examiner’s statement before the Faculty Council decides on permission to defend the dissertation at a public examination.
Because of differences of opinion between the pre-examiners or shortcomings in the dissertation, the pre-examination process cannot be concluded in some cases within the set time period or a reasonable extension period that the pre-examiners and the doctoral candidate have agreed on with the issuance of a statement recommending that the doctoral candidate be granted permission to defend his or her dissertation at a public examination. In such cases, the pre-examination process is terminated unless the doctoral candidate wishes to take the matter to the Faculty Council.
After a pre-examination process has been terminated, the doctoral candidate can request another pre-examination of his or her dissertation, once the changes referred to in the rejecting pre-examination statements or other changes have been made to the dissertation manuscript, and once the supervisor or another professor in the subject area has recommended that the pre-examination be restarted.
Dissertations are examined at a public examination after the preliminary examiners have recommended that the doctoral candidate should be granted the permission to defend his or her dissertation. The public examination should be organised within 12 months after the permission to public defense is granted.
Appointment of opponents and custos
The Faculty Council appoints one opponent or two opponents for a public examination (e-form). The opponent(s) must have the qualifications of a docent or other equivalent academic qualifications. The opponent must be appointed from outside the Faculty and normally outside the University of Helsinki. The supervising professor will propose the appointment of opponents.
An opponent must be able to assess the dissertation impartially. A person who has co-authored a publication with the doctoral candidate or is cooperating or has cooperated in research with the doctoral candidate cannot be appointed as an opponent. Likewise, the supervisor or pre-examiner of a dissertation cannot be appointed as an opponent.
Doctoral candidate must be provided with the opportunity to object the appointment of the opponent to the Faculty Council.
The nominated opponent is informed of their duties. They also receive a brochure by the University Communications on the practices and procedures followed at the public examination. The PhD affairs office provides the instructions on the opponent’s statement.
In his or her statement, the opponent must pay attention to the following
A. The scientific value of the dissertation:
1. The significance and status of the dissertation in the field
2. The scope of the dissertation and the sufficiency of the material; the significance and shortcomings of any manuscripts submitted for publication
3. The doctoral candidate’s ability to obtain results from the material examined in the dissertation
4. The logic of the dissertation’s structure
5. The knowledge and use of literature in the field
B. The doctoral candidate’s defence:
1. The doctoral candidate’s input into the achievement of the dissertation results
2. The knowledge of the dissertation field
3. The knowledge of literature in the field
4. The ability to apply research methods
5. The ability to discuss, debate and respond to criticism
The Faculty Council appoints one of the Faculty professors as the Custos. The Custos can also be one of the Faculty's associate professors, on the level 2 of tenure track. The pre-examiner of a dissertation cannot be appointed as the Custos.
Public examination and its language
The public examination begins with an introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) given by the doctoral candidate on the topic of the dissertation. The opponent the Faculty Council has appointed then presents his or her comments on the dissertation. This part of the public examination cannot last longer than four hours. Afterwards, others attending the public examination may also comment on the dissertation. The public examination cannot last longer than six hours.
The language of the public examination is decided in advance by the custos (the chair of the public examination) after consulting both the doctoral candidate and the opponent. The language of the examination is usually Finnish, Swedish or the language of the dissertation, but it can be another language if the doctoral candidate agrees to it. In addition, the doctoral candidate and the opponent can use different languages at the public examination if they agree to such an arrangement.
The Faculty Council decides on the approval of the dissertation. It also decides on the grade of the dissertation after hearing the grade committee. The grading is based on the opponent's and preliminary examiners' statements.
The opponent is required to submit to the Faculty Council a reasoned written statement on the dissertation within two weeks of the public examination. If there is two opponents they can give a joint statement. The grading of the dissertation must also take into account the doctoral candidate’s defence of the dissertation at the public examination.
Before the grading of the dissertation, the doctoral candidate must be provided with the opportunity to object to the opponent’s statement.
The Faculty Council appoints the dissertation grading committee after the proposal from the supervising professor (form). The grading committee consists of the Custos, the opponent 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 two members entitled to vote.
The grading committee makes a proposal of the grade of the dissertation. The proposal should take into account the scientific value of the dissertation and the doctoral candidate’s defence of the dissertation at the public examination. The proposal should also take into account the preliminary examiners' statements.
Assessment criteria in the faculty of science
The University of Helsinki, and thus also The Faculty of Science, assesses doctoral dissertations using the grades Pass with Distinction, Pass and Fail. Doctoral dissertations are graded by the Faculty Council. The dissertation grading committee proposes the grade. The documents that serve as the basis for the grading of doctoral dissertations include statements by the preliminary examiners, the opponent and the dissertation grading committee.
The approval and grading of doctoral dissertations is governed by Section 44 of the Universities Act (Act No 558/2009) and Sections 42–44 of the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki. To supplement the above regulations, the Faculty of Science issued on 4 December 2012 instructions entitled “The doctoral dissertation and its preliminary and public examinations, approval and grading” as well as this decision on the Faculty’s dissertation assessment criteria and grade descriptions.
According to Government Decree No 794/2004 on University Degrees (Section 21), the objective of scientific postgraduate education is that the student
According to the Faculty’s decision, a doctoral dissertation is a consistent scholarly work based on independent research that makes an original contribution to knowledge. The author must master the most salient rules of academic writing and demonstrate an ability to produce independent and critical work. The research must be scientifically convincing and the results well-grounded. The research must be scientifically honest and meet the norms set for research ethics.
The grade of Pass with Distinction will be awarded only to dissertations of exceptional quality under the assessment criteria. The purpose of the Faculty’s preliminary examination procedure is to ensure that the dissertation can be approved after its public examination. However, a dissertation study authored by a doctoral candidate who has been granted the right to defend his or her dissertation at a public examination must be failed if, in the light of the assessment criteria, the dissertation has serious deficiencies and cannot be deemed to fulfil the minimum requirements set for doctoral dissertations
A dissertation cannot be accepted at a Faculty Council meeting before the Faculty has received a written statement from the doctoral candidate, indicating that
The Faculty notifies the doctoral candidate of its decision on the acceptance of the dissertation.
According to the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki, students dissatisfied with the grading of their Licentiate thesis or doctoral dissertation may appeal in writing to the Academic Appeals Board within 14 days of the receipt of the grading decision. The Board can refer the grade back to the Faculty Council for reconsideration.
The procedures and formalities related to the public defence of doctoral dissertations have evolved in the course of several centuries. Today, faculties have different views as to the degree of formality of the public examination of dissertations. Some faculties observe old traditions, while others aim to create a seminar-like atmosphere with vivid discussion.