How thesis is defended in Finland

If you follow us on Instagram or Twitter (as you should), you know that Mariana defended her thesis three weeks ago (12.10.2018). Hurrayy! Inspired by that really exciting day and the super fun evening party, we decided to write a post about how a thesis is defended and celebrated in Finland. Here is the first part about how to defend your thesis in Finland.

Before the defense

After years of hard work and after your thesis has passed the pre-examination, you can apply the permission to defend your thesis publicly from the University Graduate School. During this process, the University appoints you officially the opponent and custos for the defense day, both of which are usually suggested and agreed upon by the candidate and his/her supervisors already before the official appointment by the University. Opponent is the person who is invited to debate with the doctoral candidate at the public examination. He or she is usually a highly appreciated scientist in his/her field. Custos is a faculty-appointed chair of the public examination, who’s role in the examination in the old days was to stop the debate between the candidate and the opponent to become too violent (true story).

(To be noted: in order to get to the stage where you can really apply for the final permission to defend your thesis, a hell of a lot of bureaucracy and paper work has been done. But this stuff is so boring, that we will spare you from this)

When you have officially got your permission to defend your thesis, the doctoral candidate, custos and the opponent find together a suitable date for the examination. After this, the candidate can book a lecture hall from the University for the event. The candidate must also notify the University of the date and place of the examination. Now the candidate can also send invitations to people who he/she wants to join the big day (although anyone can actually attend the public examination).

The Defense

Public examination usually begins at 12 a.m. The most common days are Wednesdays and Fridays, but one can have the examination also on Saturday.

The audience is expected to arrive at 12 o’clock, but the examination actually starts a quarter past, due to the “academic quarter”. When the time is right, the doctoral candidate, custos and opponent enter the room (in this exact order!) and the audience rise from their seats. While everyone is still standing, the custos opens the examination with the words: “As the custos nominated by the University of Oulu Graduate School, I declare the public examination of Master of Science xx to have begun”. (This might differ among universities).

After this, the audience, custos and opponent sit down, while the candidate stays up to give his/her introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria).  In the lecture, the candidate starts with the words “Honourable custos, honourable opponent, ladies and gentlemen”, the candidate introduces the main themes and main results of his/her dissertation preferably putting it in a wider context. The lecture can be in Finnish, Swedish or English. The speech ends with the words “I now request, honourable Professor (Doctor etc.) xx, as the opponent nominated by the University of Oulu Graduate School, to offer any criticism, to which my doctoral dissertation, in your opinion, gives rise”.

(More text after the photos! Just keep scrolling 🙂 )

Lectio praecursoria: Introductory lecture given by the doctoral candidate at the beginning of the thesis defense.  The opponent L. Sandin and custos J. Erkinaro seem quite happy in the situation.
Also, if you look closely, you can sometimes see how the custos in the middle (and sometimes the opponent, too) are struggling to keep awake. Although, here, it seems that both A. Kolada as the opponent and J. Oksanen as the custos seem to be paying attention.
Ok…this is just the third lectio praecursoria photo, just because there’s three of us. 🙂 Here, both the opponent N. Friberg and the custos J. Hjort seem to pay attention nicely.

After the introductory lecture, it’s the time for the opponent to stand up and give his/her short statement about the thesis’ significance to the field as well as his/her own perspective to the theme at hand. After the statement, the opponent and the candidate will sit down and the actual examination begins.

During the examination, the opponent usually first asks general questions related to the research topic, data, theory used, methods etc. to which the candidate responds. Then the discussion usually moves on to more detailed questions related to the articles of the thesis. During the whole process, the candidate tries to respond to the opponent’s comments and defend his/her results and conclusions without passing out due to the high amount of stress and nervousness. In total, the examination can last up to six hours, but usually it is over more quickly (which is a relief for the candidate as well as for the opponent, custos and audience).

In the end of the examination, both the opponent and the doctoral candidate stand up and the opponent will make his/her final statement about the thesis and the performance of the candidate. At this point, the opponent also announces if he/she proposes to the University that the dissertation should be accepted. The candidate will  then thank the opponent, after which the candidate turns to the audience and asks: “I  would now like to invite those members of the distinguished audience who have anything to ask, or remarks to make, about my dissertation, to ask the custos to be given the floor”. The custos  gives the audience the chance to ask questions related to the thesis. The custos also ensures that the candidate has the opportunity to reply to each comment that is given. However, it is very unusual for anyone from the audience to ask anything at this point. Usually, it is just a deep and awkward silence that lasts too long (at least from the perspective of the candidate).

Finally, it is time for the custos to stand up and announce that the examination is finished: ”I declare this public examination closed”. The candidate, custos and the opponent will then leave the room in the same order in which they entered. The audience will be standing up but no applause or cheers are given (hey, this is a respectable, serious academic event after all!!). Anyways, this is the moment of huge relief for the candidate!

After the defense is over, there are usually either coffee and cake or sparking wine (which is the more common option nowadays…wonder why?) and other refreshments served for the audience. There can also be some short talks, and the candidate sometimes gets flowers and gifts after the defense.

Speeches after the defence. What a huge moment of relief!

Grant­ing the doc­toral de­gree

After the public examination, the Faculty will decide whether they accept the thesis and grant the doctoral degree. The opponent submits a written statement of the thesis within two weeks of the public examination to the Faculty Council, where the opponent proposes, with reasoning, whether the thesis should be accepted or not. The opponent also proposes a grade for the thesis. The candidate is then awarded the opportunity to respond to the opponent’s statement. However, if no objections against the opponents statement are given, the Faculty Council will continue to decide on the fate of the thesis.

Once the thesis has been accepted by the Faculty Council, the dean of the University will decide on granting of the doctoral degree. The candidate can then finally obtain the degree certificate after a few weeks and call him/herself officially a PhD/Doctor/whatever fancy name imaginable.

But what happens at the party that is arranged in the evening, after the defense? We will write a post about that soon!



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