Title of doctoral student changed to doctoral researcher

The Board of the University of Helsinki has decided to change the title of doctoral student to doctoral researcher.

In future, the University will use the title ‘doctoral researcher’ in official contexts to refer to anyone pursuing a postgraduate degree. While the change has been recorded in the Regulations of the University, it does not affect related eligibility requirements or job descriptions.

The new title will be introduced for those who start their employment at the University to complete a doctoral degree as of 1 January 2022. Titles will not be changed in currently valid employment contracts, but doctoral researchers can independently switch to using the new title in relevant contexts as of the beginning of 2022. In the case of doctoral researchers employed by the University, the title change will be implemented in the SAP HR system and their personal profiles.

Those completing a doctoral degree with other funding can also switch to using the title of doctoral researcher. In Finnish, the title of ‘tohtorikoulutettava’ is replaced with ‘väitöskirjatutkija’. In Swedish, the title remains unchanged: ‘doktorand’.

Vice-Rector Paula Eerola commented on the change as follows:

“We wish to express our appreciation of this large group of researchers at the University of Helsinki, and to emphasise through this title change that researchers are professionals at all stages of their careers. The title of doctoral researcher refers to both the content of their work and their career stage. The change is aimed at promoting the researcher identities and careers of anyone pursuing a doctoral degree. People completing a postgraduate degree have themselves wanted this change for a long time.”

A better match between the new title and the job description

A total of roughly 4,700 people are pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki, of whom approximately 1,350 are employed by the University. Each year, the University awards around 500 doctoral degrees.

The decision to change the title was made because ‘doctoral researcher’ describes the principal duties associated with the position, that is, research, better than ‘doctoral student’. Doctoral researcher is also an appropriate title as it acknowledges the research conducted by doctoral researchers. Moreover, the title indicates the career stage of its holders. The goal is for the title to promote the future careers of doctoral graduates so that the time spent completing the doctoral thesis is taken into account when assessing experience of research work.

The title change has been discussed, among other forums, by the steering group for doctoral education and the extended management group of the University as well as in cooperation meetings. For a long time, changing the title has been a topic of discussion in the academic community, both within the University and on the national level.