Doctoral dissertations in the Faculty of Social Sciences
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 its expertise and on the documents compiled during the examination process.
Defin­i­tions and cri­teria for doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tions

A doctoral dissertation is a scholarly monograph or a compilation of articles, based on independent research, that makes an original contribution to knowledge. Article-based dissertations typically consist of three to five scientific publications on the same topic along with a summarising section. These publications must be peer-reviewed scientific articles; in addition, publications in high quality, refereed working paper series expressly specified by the discipline, as well as peer-reviewed book chapters in edited collections, may be accepted. In addition to published articles and articles pending publication, article manuscripts not yet accepted for publication may also be included in the dissertation. Co-authored publications may be included if the author’s independent contribution to them is sufficient.

The dissertation is graded on a scale of Fail ‒ Pass ‒ Pass with Distinction. The criteria for a passing grade are listed below.

The dissertation must

  • contain new scientific information
  • demonstrate critical thinking
  • demonstrate thorough familiarity with the field
  • demonstrate mastery of research methods and their application
  • be scientifically convincing
  • contain justified results
  • demonstrate scientific integrity and adhere to the ethical norms of research.

Specifications on article-based dissertations by the Faculty of Social Sciences are the following:

The number of articles. Three non-overlapping, full-length articles are sufficient for a dissertation if the doctoral candidate is the principal author of the articles (i.e., the articles are single-authored or the candidate is the first author).

If some of the articles are shorter than usual, the articles report the same results, or the candidate is not the principal author, more articles should be included in the dissertation. The candidate must be the principal author at least in some of the articles.

Relation of published and unpublished articles. The dissertation should contain at least two articles accepted for publication, and the number of not yet accepted manuscripts should not exceed the number of accepted articles. Published articles, articles accepted to be published, and book chapters must be peer-reviewed, and their publication forum must be relevant for the dissertation. Articles not accepted for publication (i.e., manuscript for an article) should reflect normal standards for journal publication with respect to length, formatting, and scientific quality, and they must be submitted to a journal or a book relevant for the dissertation.

Introduction. Typically, the length of the introduction will not exceed 20.000 words. If the articles are not enough for a full dissertation, this should not be compensated by making the introduction longer, but adding an extra article.

Documenting the candidate’s contribution. For co-authored articles, the candidate and the supervisor should prepare a report that states the contributions of each author. The candidate is responsible for informing the other authors about the report and ensure that they agree with it. The report should be included in the introduction of the final dissertation.  

These rules and guidelines are based on the Rector’s Decision entitled “Preliminary examination and approval of doctoral dissertations as well as general dissertation criteria at the University of Helsinki”, and on the "Amendment to the decision on the preliminary examination and approval of doctoral dissertations" and further specifications laid down in the decision of the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Two preliminary examiners are appointed for the dissertation. The preliminary examiners must be professors, docents or scholars with equivalent academic qualifications. They may not be employed by the Faculty of Social Sciences or, preferably, even the University of Helsinki. The dissertation supervisor may not serve as a preliminary examiner. Further information on provisions on disqualifications is available on the website "Instructions for Doctoral Students". The preliminary examiners are proposed by the dissertation supervisor and the coordinating academic, or if a coordinating academic has not been appointed for the doctoral candidate, the discipline coordinator.

The preliminary examiners must present their statements within two months of receiving the invitation. The statement must indicate whether the dissertation manuscript can be approved as is or with minor revisions. For particularly compelling reasons, the examiners may propose minor but non-negotiable revisions that do not preclude receiving permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination. In this event, the dissertation supervisor must, upon applying for permission for a public defence, approve the revisions and confirm to the Faculty Council in writing that they are sufficient.  

A preliminary examiner may also require that the doctoral candidate make corrections to the manuscript which the preliminary examiner then approves before providing a statement recommending the granting of permission for the public defence. After approving the corrections, the preliminary examiner must submit to the faculty his or her final statement on the manuscript. The doctoral candidate’s report on the corrections made must also be sent as additional information to the other preliminary examiner and be appended to the preliminary examiners’ statements when permission for the public defence is granted. In such cases, the preliminary examination may take up to six months in total. However, even then the status of the preliminary examiner is not equal to that of the supervisor.

The preliminary examiner may also conclude that the dissertation does not meet the criteria for doctoral dissertations and propose that permission for a public defence be denied. In this case, the examination process will be discontinued and may only be reinitiated with the approval of the dissertation supervisor and the coordinating academic.

Detailed instructions on preliminary examiner's statement are available below on the section ‘Instructions for Pre-examiners’.

If both preliminary examiners present statements in favour of a public defence, the Faculty Council will grant the doctoral candidate permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination, after which he or she may finalise and print the dissertation and organise the public examination. The public examination must be held within a year of receiving the permission.

The Faculty will provide official instructions for this purpose after granting the permission. The instructions can also be found on the Instructions for Doctoral Students.

When granting permission for a public defence, the Faculty Council also appoints one or two opponents, who must have the qualifications of a professor or docent or equivalent academic merits. The opponents must be selected from outside the Faculty and, as a rule, the University of Helsinki as well. Preliminary examiners may serve as opponents only for well-grounded reasons, such as when suitable opponent candidates are unreasonably difficult to find due to disqualifying factors or the language or topic of the dissertation or the small size of the pool of the available experts. The dissertation supervisor may not serve as an opponent.

As a rule, the faculty council appoints the primary supervisor of the thesis to act as the custos in the public examination. The custos must be a faculty professor or associate professor, or a docent employed by the faculty.  

Grading committees will comprise the custos, the opponent(s) and one or two Faculty representatives, who must be either professors or docents from among the Faculty teaching and research staff. The Faculty representatives are proposed by the coordinating academic. At least three members of the committee must be entitled to vote. In the event the custos is disqualified, two Faculty representatives must be appointed. The grading committee will have access to the preliminary examiners’ statements. All committee members must be present at the public examination.

Provisions on disqualifications apply to all members of the grading committee.

The coordinating academic proposes the grading committee by using the e-form.

The grading will be based on the opponent’s statement and the custos’ report on the public examination. Both statements must propose a grade for the dissertation; this proposal must also take into consideration the preliminary examiners’ statements. The doctoral candidate’s performance in the public examination must also be considered. The grading proposals must be submitted to the relevant presenting official within two weeks of the public examination.

As a rule, doctoral dissertations will be approved with the grade of Pass. Dissertations that are particularly distinguished and ambitious in terms of all key assessment criteria may be awarded the grade of Pass with Distinction.  The pass with distinction should be proposed to the dissertations that in the judgement of the grading committee belong to the top 15 % of the dissertations in the field.

The Faculty Council will approve the dissertation and award it a grade of Pass or Pass with Distinction based on the criteria listed in the section “Definitions and criteria for doctoral dissertations”.

Further information on grading and statements can be found in the section below ‘Instructions for the grading committee’.

Instructions for doctoral students, preliminary examiners and members of grading committees

The Faculty Council appoints the dissertation examiners for both stages upon the proposal of the supervisor and the coordinating academic assigned to the doctoral student, after which the Faculty sends the appointees an official invitation and related instructions.


Start by seeing what it is to be expected in the process of evaluation of the dissertations: planning the timetable in the Instructions for doctoral candidates.  

When your manuscript is almost ready for pre-examination, please check the following points with your supervisor:

  • As a rule, your studies for doctoral degree are completed and registered as modules
  • Faculty Council meeting schedule and deadlines for the material for them
  • Report on co-authored publications (signed by the doctoral candidate and the supervisor)
  • General qualifications of pre-examiners

The specific instructions how to submit for pre-examination and the link to the proposal form for pre-examiners in this faculty are in the Doctoral Student Guide.



The preliminary examiners hold the responsibility of ensuring that incomplete theses are not allowed to go forward to a public examination. In fact, it is the duty of preliminary examiners to ensure that the thesis is of a sufficient quality.

The preliminary examiner’s statement should be submitted within two months of the date on which the Faculty Council has appointed the preliminary examiners. The recommended length of the preliminary examiner’s statement is between two and five pages, and it should be written in Finnish, Swedish or English depending on the language in which the thesis has been written. If they so wish, the preliminary examiners may draw up a joint statement.

The preliminary examiners are expected to provide a reasoned written statement in which they explicitly recommend either that the doctoral candidate be granted permission for a public defence or that the candidate be denied this permission. In other words, the duty of the preliminary examiners is to assess whether the manuscript meets the minimum requirements for a doctoral thesis in its present state or after minor revisions acceptable to the supervisor.

Exceptionally, a preliminary examiner may also propose that revisions be made to the manuscript, which the preliminary examiner will have to approve before issuing a positive statement. After having approved the revisions, the preliminary examiner will issue a final statement on the manuscript to the Faculty. A report on the revisions drawn up by the doctoral candidate will also be submitted to the other preliminary examiner for their information and attached to the preliminary examiners’ statements when granting permission for a public defence In this case, the preliminary examination in its entirety may not last longer than six months. Even in this case, a preliminary examiner’s status does not equal that of a supervisor.

Negative statement
The preliminary examiners must recommend in their statement that the doctoral candidate be denied permission to defend the thesis in a public examination if it is clear that the thesis 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 thesis if there are other serious deficiencies in the thesis, such as the following:

  • The theoretical framework has serious deficiencies.
  • The research material is clearly too limited for a doctoral thesis.
  • There are serious deficiencies in the author’s knowledge of literature in the field.
  • The thesis is otherwise obviously incomplete, especially in light of the above criteria.

A favourable 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 would require moderate effort.

A negative statement usually results in the cancellation of preliminary examination. In the event of cancellation of the preliminary examination, the doctoral candidate may request a new examination once the changes recommended in the preliminary examiners’ statements, or other changes, have been made in the thesis manuscript and the doctoral candidate’s coordinating academic or thesis supervisors recommend that the preliminary examination procedure be restarted. In these cases, the Faculty may at the proposal of the coordinating academic either appoint completely new preliminary examiners or, if needed, confirm the same preliminary examiners for the job.

Language revision
A thesis 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 thesis revised to a publishable standard. The Faculty supports the language revision of theses written in foreign languages but language revision is typically performed only on the final manuscript version. Therefore, the preliminary examiners are not required to revise the language of the thesis, but may comment on the language from the perspective of the scholarly value of the thesis in such key areas as incorrect specialist terminology, translation errors or structural problems hindering understanding.

A signed statement is to be submitted as an email attachment to the doctoral student services at

Doctoral candidates can lodge their objection to the preliminary examiners’ statements with the Faculty Council before it decides on granting permission for a public defence. The statement will be enclosed with the minutes of the Faculty Council meeting in which it decides on granting permission for a public defence, after which the statement will become a public document.

During the preliminary examination process, special attention is paid to impartiality and transparency. The general disqualification provisions and the complementary guidelines provided by the rector of the University of Helsinki are applied to the appointment of preliminary examiners. Preliminary examiners may not have a relationship with the doctoral candidate, the doctoral thesis or another relevant party that may challenge their impartiality. Consequently, for example, the following individuals are disqualified from serving as preliminary examiners:

  • Individuals who have co-authored one of the articles included in the thesis
  • Individuals who are or have been during the thesis project in research collaboration with the doctoral candidate
  • Individuals who have conducted close research collaboration with the thesis supervisor within three years prior to the examination of the thesis
  • Close relatives of the doctoral candidate
  • Immediate supervisors and subordinates of the doctoral candidate and the supervisor
  • Members of the thesis committee, if any

The aim is to settle possible disqualification issues before the appointment of preliminary examiners. However, should a preliminary examiner be uncertain of their status with regard to disqualification in hindsight, they are requested to contact the Faculty’s doctoral student services as soon as possible.



The opponent’s task is to carry out a final academic examination of the thesis in the public examination and participate in grading the thesis as a member of the grading committee entitled to vote. The opponent must be a professor or docent or a scholar with equivalent academic qualifications. The opponent or opponents are always to be selected from outside the doctoral candidate’s home faculty and, as a rule, also from outside the University of Helsinki. A preliminary examiner can act as an opponent only for a good reason. Such a reason may be based on the language or the topic of the thesis, or it may be that due to disqualification principles, no new opponent candidates would be reasonably available. The thesis supervisor may not act as the opponent.

When appointing an opponent, the same disqualification principles are followed as when appointing preliminary examiners. The aim is to settle possible disqualification issues before the appointment of an opponent. However, should an opponent be uncertain of their status with regard to disqualification after the appointment, they are requested to contact the Faculty’s doctoral student services as soon as possible (


The custos chairs the public examination. As a rule, the faculty council appoints the primary supervisor of the thesis to act as the custos in the public examination. The custos must be a faculty professor or associate professor, or a docent employed by the faculty.  If the custos is the thesis supervisor, this will preclude them from participating in the drawing up of the grading proposal. If the custos is not disqualified from participating in the grading, they may act as the second faculty representative.

In particular in the case of an international opponent, it is the duty of the custos to ensure that the opponent receives all the necessary information about the public examination practices and the grading of doctoral theses. The custos is responsible for ensuring that any negotiations related to the grading of the doctoral thesis have been completed prior to the opponent submitting their statement. The custos will also host the opponent and, when needed, advise the opponent on the Faculty practices related to travel and accommodation arrangements (see the section Opponent fee and travel expenses).


Fac­ulty rep­res­ent­at­ives

The Faculty Council appoints one or two faculty representatives of professor or docent level and belonging to the research or teaching staff of the University of Helsinki to the grading committee. The faculty representatives are entitled to vote in the grading committee.

If the custos has acted as the doctoral thesis supervisor and is consequently disqualified from voting in the grading committee, two faculty representatives will be appointed for the public examination, which will ensure that the grading committee always has at least three members entitled to vote.

Pub­lic ex­am­in­a­tion

Since the grading committee will submit a proposal on the grade which must take into account the scientific value of the thesis and the doctoral candidate’s ability to defend their work in the public examination, all members of the grading committee must be present at the public examination. The custos is responsible for ensuring that the candidate and the members of the grading committee (opponent, custos and faculty representatives) agree on the public examination time as soon as possible after permission for a public defence has been granted. The doctoral candidate is responsible for booking an auditorium for the public examination.

The custos determines the language to be used at the public examination after consulting both the doctoral candidate and the opponent, as well as the faculty representatives. The language of the public examination must be Finnish, Swedish or the language in which the doctoral dissertation has been written. The doctoral candidate and the opponent may also use different languages at the public examination if they so agree.

The custos will open the public examination, after which the doctoral candidate will give a lecture on their thesis topic (lectio praecursoria). After this the opponent will present their own general statement on the scientific significance of the doctoral thesis. This is followed by the actual examination, during which the opponent reviews the thesis. All the criticisms on the thesis must be presented in the public examination. The doctoral candidate will defend the thesis and respond to the questions presented by the opponent. Once the opponent has completed the examination, they will announce that the examination has been completed and present their final statement and (in most cases) propose to the Faculty that the thesis be approved. Members of the audience may then make comments. Read more about the public examination on the University’s website. 

N.B.! The current coronavirus situation affects the arrangements of public examinations. For further information, please see the updates on Doctoral defences and corona virus situation.

Grad­ing in­struc­tions

The definition and the criteria for doctoral dissertations are explicated above.

Grade proposal

Doctoral theses are graded on a scale of fail – pass – pass with distinction. The grading statements of a doctoral thesis are the opponent’s statement and the report written by the custos on the public examination and grading negotiations. Both statements must include a grade proposal, which also takes into account the preliminary examination statements. The grade is also affected by the doctoral candidate’s defence in the public examination.

As a rule, doctoral theses are approved with the grade ‘pass’. The grade ‘pass with distinction’ may only be given to a doctoral thesis that with regard to its quality is considered to belong to the top 15% of doctoral theses. This grade may be given to theses that are especially meritorious and ambitious in light of all of the assessment criteria. The grading will take place according to the above criteria (see Definition of a doctoral thesis).

Opponent’s statement

The opponent provides the Faculty with a written statement (recommended length: two to five pages) on the thesis and submits it to the Faculty’s doctoral student services within two weeks of the public examination. The statement must be written in Finnish, Swedish or English. When the doctoral candidate is not Finnish, the statements should be written in English.

The statement should include a thorough estimate of the scholarly significance of the doctoral thesis and the doctoral candidate’s ability to defend the thesis in the public examination against critique provided by the opponent. However, 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.

In the statement, the opponent will also estimate the doctoral candidate’s ability to produce new scientific knowledge in their thesis. The statement must also clearly demonstrate that the thesis meets the criteria set for a doctoral thesis. After having consulted the other members of the grading committee entitled to vote, the opponent will propose a grade for the doctoral thesis in the statement.  

A signed scanned statement is to be submitted as an email attachment to the doctoral student services at

Custos’ report on the public examination

The custos must provide the Faculty Council with a written report, which must include the name of the doctoral candidate and the title of the doctoral thesis, the time and location of the public examination, the duration of the examination and an estimated number of attendees as well as a description of the proceedings of the public examination, the doctoral candidate’s defence of the thesis and possible deviating views presented during the examination (‘external opponents’). The report must also state what language was used in the public examination.

The grade of the doctoral thesis will be discussed in the grading committee, which in addition to the custos and the opponent includes a faculty representative or representatives. If the custos has acted as the supervisor of the thesis, they are disqualified from the grade negotiations in any other role than that of a chair. If the custos has not acted as a supervisor or is not otherwise disqualified, they are entitled to vote as a full member of the grading committee and partake in the grade negotiations. This must also be indicated in the custos’ report. In addition, the custos’ report must include the grading committee proposal as the grade of the doctoral thesis. Should the grading committee not reach an agreement on the grade of the thesis, the custos will present the arguments for the proposed grades in the report. The grounds are also to be presented when the grade is ‘pass with distinction’ or ‘fail’.

Grading of doctoral theses by the Faculty Council

Once the custos’ report and the opponent’s statement have been submitted to the Faculty’s doctoral student services, the Faculty Council will make the final decision on the approval and grading of the doctoral thesis. Both statements will also be delivered to the doctoral candidate, who is entitled to respond to these documents. Any responses by the doctoral candidate are submitted to the Faculty Council together with the documents produced by the grading committee. The documents will be attached to the minutes of the Faculty Council meeting, after which they will become public. A doctoral candidate dissatisfied with the Faculty Council decision can appeal for its amendment to the Board of Examination Appeals.

Op­pon­ent fee and travel ex­penses

The opponent’s fee is €490. The Faculty will pay the fee when the signed statement on the doctoral thesis has been received at the Faculty’s doctoral student services. The payment of the fee requires that the opponent has also submitted a fee form to the Faculty in conjunction with or after having submitted their statement.

The Faculty will compensate the opponent’s travel and accommodation expenses and per diem allowances for a maximum of three days. The condition is that the trip has been organised as economically as possible (economy class flights , the hotel stay at maximum approx. €150 per night). The Faculty will also cover reasonable lunch and dinner costs to the custos serving as the host. Likewise, the Faculty will also compensate for a light lunch/coffee service for the grading committee after the public examination.

It is recommendable that administrative services of the on-site team make reservations for travel arrangements and accommodation.

Opponent travelling from Finland: The Custos can start travel bookings for the Opponent by e-mail to the administrative services ( The e-mail titled Travel reservation/ SocSci/ Opponent should include the follorwing information: who is travelling for whose defense, when, which wbs is used for costs and how to contact the person travelling (e-mail address).

Opponent travelling from abroad: If the Opponent fills in the travel reservation e-form  her-/himself, the administrative services receives all necessary information to make the reservations through it. The link to the form has been sent to the Opponent and the Custos.

If the Opponent does not use the e-form, the Custos informs the secretary in the administrative services ( about the following details concerning the Opponent’s travel:

- The opponent’s preferred flight schedule and route
- The passenger’s name on their passport
- The date of birth
- Gender
- Mobile phone number and an email address to which the flight tickets are to be sent.

This e-mail message should be titled: Travel arrangements + Name of the traveller + Opponent + H700.

The opponent’s travel claim form will be sent both to the opponent and the custos. The form must be returned signed by the opponent together with scanned receipts to the Faculty’s doctoral student services ( or as instructed in the travel form, directly as s pdf-file to the invoicing robot:

Invoices incurred by the trip will be checked at Financial Services and then sent electronically through the University’s accounting software SAP for approval.