In­struc­tions of ex­amin­ing doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tions

These regulations and principles are based on the Rector’s decision 'Pre-examination and acceptance of doctoral dissertations and also general criteria for dissertations'’  on 20 June 2017 and on the specification of that decision by the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Law on 26 September 2017.

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

At the Faculty of Law, coordinating professors/persons may be professors or docents on the third or fourth tier of the career path for teaching and research staff at the Faculty who are in a permanent contractual employment and have prior experience in supervising dissertations to their completion.

Further instructions on initiating the examination process can be found at the Instructions for Doctoral Students.

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.

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 Law or, preferably, even the University of Helsinki. The dissertation supervisor may not serve as a preliminary examiner. The preliminary examiners are proposed by the dissertation supervisor and the coordinating professor/person, or if a coordinating person 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.  

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 professor.

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 the doctoral candidate with official instructions for this purpose after granting the permission.

When or after 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. The dissertation supervisor may not serve as an opponent.

The Faculty Council also appoints a professor or an associate professor (on the second tier of the tenure track) of the Faculty from a field closest to the dissertation topic to serve as custos.

In addition to the opponent and custos, the faculty will, at its discretion, appoint one or two faculty representatives to the grading committee. Faculty representatives must be either professors or docents the University of Helsinki or members of the university's teaching and research staff with the academic qualifications of a docent. The Faculty representatives are proposed by the coordinating professor/person. If the custos has not acted as a supervisor, he or she can also be appointed to the task of faculty representative. If the custos has served as the supervisor, he or she cannot participate in the grading of the doctoral dissertation. The grading committee will have access to the preliminary examiners’ statements. All committee members must be present at the public examination.

The rector of the University of Helsinki has decided on the composition of grading committees in Rector’s Decision 134/2019.

The grading will be based on the opponent’s statement and the custos’ report on the public examination and the grading consultation. 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.  This grade may be awarded to up to fifteen percent of all dissertations. However, each dissertation must be examined independently on the basis of the assessment criteria.

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