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. The Custos appointed by the faculty acts as the official chair of the examination, so any details regarding the examination procedure should be agreed with him or her.
Welcome to the public examination
respondentti ("Respondent") – the doctoral candidate
opponentti ("Opponent") – the person debating with the doctoral candidate at the public examination
kustos ("Custos") – Faculty-appointed chair of the public examination
lectio praecursoria – introductory lecture by the doctoral candidate
karonkka ("post-doctoral party") – an evening party in honour of the Opponent
The public examination is arranged no earlier than four weeks after permission to defend the dissertation has been granted so that there is sufficient time to distribute information on the dissertation.
The Faculty Council will appoint the Opponent(s) and the Custos. The doctoral candidate may object to these appointments.
The doctoral candidate, the Custos and the Opponent will decide the date of the public examination, and the doctoral candidate will book a suitable facility from the University. The candidate must then notify the Faculty Office of the date and place of the public examination. Public examinations are usually scheduled to take place on Wednesdays and Fridays at 12 a.m. and on Saturdays at 10 a.m. However, the examinations actually start a quarter past the scheduled hour ("the academic quarter").
Men usually wear a tailcoat and a black waistcoat. They may also wear a dark suit, clerical attire or a military uniform. When wearing a tailcoat, black socks and shoes (not patent leather) should be worn. A white pocket handkerchief should not be worn with a black waistcoat. Women wear a long-sleeved, high-necked short black dress or two-piece suit. Hats and prominent jewellery must not be worn. The University also stocks some doctoral gowns, which may be reserved from the porter of the Unioninkatu side of the Main Building, tel. (09) 191 22338. Foreign opponents may use the gown of their own university or may borrow one from the University of Helsinki. The doctoral candidate, the Custos and the Opponent should decide on the dress code.
The Custos and the Opponent, provided that they are doctoral degree-holders, will carry their Doctor's hats in their hands when entering and leaving the auditorium. During the public examination, they will place the hat in front of them on the table with the lyre emblem facing the audience.
There are no guidelines for the audience dress code at the public examination. As the examination is public, it is open to everyone. It is thus perfectly acceptable to attend the examination in everyday clothing. However, guests invited by the doctoral candidate usually wear a dark suit or other more formal clothing.
At the public examination, the form of direct address is "Mr / Madam Opponent".
The doctoral candidate and the Custos may discuss in advance the examination's degree of formality. The participants do not have to resort to pre-formulated modes of expression. Some of the expressions traditionally used at public examinations are, however, mentioned below.
The public examination will begin when the participants enter the auditorium and the audience rise from their seats. The doctoral candidate will enter the auditorium first, followed by the Custos and the Opponent, in this order.
The Custos will introduce the doctoral candidate and the Opponent and will open the examination by saying, for example:
" As the Custos appointed by the Faculty of ....., I declare this public examination open." The audience will then take their seats.
The candidate will stand up to deliver his or her introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) of at most 20 minutes. In the lecture, the candidate will introduce his or her dissertation and the research methods used. The introductory lecture may begin, for example, with the following words: "Mr/Madam Custos, Mr/Madam Opponent, ladies and gentlemen". The lecture is usually given in the language of the dissertation.
After the introductory lecture, the candidate will turn to the Opponent and will say: "Mr/Madam Opponent/Professor/Dr NN, I now call upon you to present your critical comments on my dissertation."
The Opponent will stand up to make a short statement about the scientific status and significance of the dissertation and about other general issues. After the statement, the Opponent and the candidate will take their seats.
In the actual examination, the Opponent will discuss the dissertation, commencing from its title and proceeding to the methods, sources and conclusions. The candidate will respond to the comments made, defending his or her choices, conclusions and results.
The Opponent may spend at most four hours on the examination, since sufficient time should be reserved for questions from the audience. If the examination is likely to take a long time, the Custos may interrupt it by announcing a break.
At the conclusion of the examination, the Opponent and the doctoral candidate will stand up. The Opponent will then make a final statement and will (usually) announce that he or she will propose to the Faculty that the dissertation be accepted.
The doctoral candidate will remain standing to thank the Opponent.
After thanking the Opponent, the doctoral candidate will ask the audience to make comments and pose questions:
"If anyone present wishes to make any comments concerning my dissertation, please ask the Custos for the floor."
The Custos will ensure that the doctoral candidate has the opportunity to reply to each comment and that the comments do not digress from the topic in hand.
Finally, the Custos will stand up to announce that the examination is completed. The total amount of time spent on it may not exceed six hours.
The Custos and the Opponent will carry their Doctor's hats when leaving the auditorium in the same order in which they entered: the doctoral candidate will leave first, followed by the Custos and the Opponent.
The audience must not applaud or cheer during the public examination. Congratulations will be extended to the doctoral candidate once he or she has left the auditorium and has had the opportunity to thank the Opponent and Custos.
Doctoral candidates are sometimes given flowers and gifts after the public examination. The candidate should make advance arrangements for their transportation or should agree with the guests that flowers and gifts, if any, will be delivered directly to the candidate's home.
After the public examination of the doctoral dissertation, the doctoral candidate may invite the Opponent and the Custos to lunch. Instead of or in addition to the post-doctoral party, which takes place in the evening, the doctoral candidate may also offer coffee and refreshments after the public examination.
The post-doctoral party is an academic tradition. The Finnish word for the celebration, karonkka, derives from the diminutive form (koronka) of the Russian word korona, which means ‘crown’. The Finnish term karonkka is thus related to the Russian word koronovanije, signifying ‘coronation’. The post-doctoral party marks the end of the dissertation process and is arranged by the doctoral candidate to thank the Opponent, the Custos and others who contributed to the work. Nowadays, doctoral candidates may invite friends and family along with members of the academic community to this party.
Invitations to the post-doctoral party
As formal decisions on the doctoral dissertation are not made until the conclusion of the public examination, invitations to the post-doctoral party were traditionally not sent in advance. In the past, the doctoral candidate contacted the Opponent before the public examination to enquire whether the doctoral candidate could make dinner arrangements, and after obtaining a positive response, the candidate "hinted" at the successful outcome to the guests to be invited. Nowadays, however, doctoral candidates send invitations in advance. Permission to defend the dissertation in a public examination, given by the Faculty, is sufficient indication of the quality of the dissertation. The doctoral candidates themselves formulate the wording of their invitations, but it is recommended that the invitations contain information on the dress code, especially if the doctoral candidate prefers the guests not to wear tailcoats and evening dresses, as is the custom, or wishes to suggest alternative styles of dress.
In addition to the Opponent and the Custos, the invitees to the post-doctoral party should include professors working in the field of the dissertation and others who have aided in the dissertation work. The additional opponents, that is, persons who ask questions or make comments at the public examination, were previously invited to the celebration, but, according to an unwritten rule, they were not to accept the invitation.
The post-doctoral party may be arranged at home, in a restaurant or in the facilities of a student association (osakunta) or one's own department.
Men usually wear a tailcoat and a white waistcoat (a black waistcoat at the public examination), while women wear an evening dress. The doctoral candidate wears a black evening dress. The traditional colour used in academic celebrations is black, but other colours have also become common. Instead of a tailcoat, men may wear dark suits, in which case women wear a short formal dress. Should the doctoral candidate wish the guests to wear some other style of dress, this should be stated in the invitation.
The doctoral candidate is the host or hostess of the party, and the Opponent is the guest of honour, seated immediately to the right of the doctoral candidate. If there are two opponents at the public examination, they will be seated on both sides of the doctoral candidate. The next guest in the seating order is the Custos, seated to the left of or opposite the doctoral candidate. The other guests then follow, usually in the order of their academic achievements.
The doctoral candidate offers food, drinks and possibly other forms of entertainment to the guests invited to the post-doctoral party. The candidate starts by welcoming all those present before dinner is served.
Speeches are made after the meal when coffee has been served. The doctoral candidate thanks the Opponent and others who have aided in the work. The Opponent's answer is usually light-heartedly dignified rather than too solemn or formal. Next, the Custos may address those present. After this, other guests may speak in the order in which they were mentioned in the doctoral candidate's address. If the doctoral candidate wishes to thank his or her family members, this should be done at the conclusion of the candidate's address.
After the public examination and the following celebration have taken place, the Faculty will decide whether to accept the dissertation and grant the doctoral degree.
The Opponent must submit a reasoned written statement on the dissertation within two weeks of the public examination to the Faculty Council. In the statement, the Opponent must propose that the dissertation be rejected or accepted. The Opponent may also propose a grade for the dissertation.
The doctoral candidate may respond to the Opponent's statement.
The Faculty Council will decide on the acceptance or rejection of the dissertation and on its grading. The doctoral candidate's defence at the public examination will also be taken into account in the grading.
Once the doctoral dissertation has been accepted in a meeting of the Faculty Council, the dean will decide on the granting of the doctoral degree. The degree certificate may be obtained either in a traditional graduation ceremony or directly from the Faculty Office after a few weeks. The graduation ceremony is an uncomplicated event where the degree diplomas are awarded and some refreshments may be served.
Persons who have completed the doctoral degree are automatically awarded the title of Doctor. The right to use the doctoral insignia, that is, the Doctor's hat and sword, is usually awarded in a solemn conferment ceremony, in which doctoral degree-holders may participate either in attendance or in absentia.
Participation in public examinations of doctoral dissertations was originally a formal part of studies. The objective was, to quote the Finnish scholar Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804), "to train the students in grasping matters quickly, stating their arguments clearly, examining matters from a variety of perspectives and distinguishing between issues of primary and secondary importance." The professor wrote a dissertation manuscript, which was then defended and debated by his students. For students at the outset of their studies, these examinations were private, while the examinations of more experienced students were public. Sometimes a professor would discuss a given matter in several succeeding dissertation manuscripts, but the candidate was required to be familiar only with the primary issues and contents of the dissertation in hand so as to be able to defend it independently.
The degrees of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy were not separated until 1828 when new university statutes were issued. Subsequently, students had to write their own dissertations to obtain the doctoral degree. The candidates also had to give one (in most cases) or more lectures. This tradition is reflected in the introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) currently given at public examinations of doctoral dissertations.