Before the defence

Instructions and traditions regarding the doctoral thesis defence

The doctoral candidate should familiarize him-/herself with the formalities of the doctoral thesis defence prior to the defence date. Although the defence date is an important day for the doctoral candidate, the latter should keep in mind that the opponent is the day’s guest of honour who must be treated as such throughout the day.

Preparing for the doctoral thesis defence

As a doctoral candidate, it is strongly recommended that, before defending your own thesis, you attend the defence of your friends and colleagues in your faculty. This helps you to familiarize yourself with how the event proceeds, get some ideas for the content, structure and presentation of your lectio praecursoria and discover the nature of the issues the opponent may raise.
With the help of your close colleagues and supervisor(s), you should also analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your thesis objectively, paying particular attention to issues raised during the pre-examination of the thesis by the reviewers, and prepare any counter-arguments to differing opinions and interpretations of your work. It is recommended to rehearse for the doctoral thesis defence, or at least to practice answering questions. Your supervisors could be very good stand-ins for the opponent during these rehearsals, because they not only know your work well, but also understand its broader context. Some faculties also arrange practice thesis defences for their students, but you could also arrange less formal practice sessions by asking a couple of colleagues to read your thesis and ask you questions about it (be sure to return the favour if they ask you to do the same for them).

You should make a PowerPoint presentation of the most important figures and tables in your thesis for the defence day. You might also add notes, outlining answers to likely question, to your own copy of the thesis that you will take with you to the defence.
The lectio praecursoria must be prepared in advance. It should introduce the subject matter of your doctoral thesis in a way that can be understood by an educated member of the general public. If the doctoral candidate’s native language is Finnish, the lectio praecursoria is usually given in Finnish, even if the language of the doctoral thesis defence is not Finnish. In other cases, the presentation is given in the language to be used with the opponent during the doctoral thesis defence. You should keep in mind the fact that the lectio praecursoria may be the only part of the whole doctoral thesis defence that is understood by all those present at the event. Although not required, a PowerPoint presentation is frequently useful for highlighting and illustrating the main points of the lectio praecursoria.

Caring for the opponent

The doctoral candidate should submit the final bound version of the doctoral thesis to the opponent(s) as soon as it has been received from the printing house. This copy of the thesis is usually printed so late that the opponent will only have time to browse through it. If the opponent comes from abroad, instructions on the doctoral thesis defence, its duration and an abstract of the lectio praecursoria should be sent to them beforehand.

Traditionally, the doctoral candidate act as the host or hostess of the opponent(s). The opponent may need help in travel arrangements, such as purchasing the airplane tickets, or for transportation from the airport to the hotel. For accommodation in Oulu, you should find out with which hotels the university has an accommodation agreement. Some faculties or research units have a named travel arrangement support person. Sometimes the custos also acts as the host. Travel and accommodation costs of the opponent are covered by the faculty or research unit.

The research unit or faculty may want to offer the opponent a lunch on the thesis defence day or some other cordial reception. The candidate should meet with the opponent at dinner on the day preceding the thesis defence, for example, to get to know him/her and review the schedule of the defence day. This dinner is usually arranged by the custos, or the candidate’s principal supervisor. At this time, you could also agree on how you will address the opponent (unless agreed otherwise, they should be addressed formally).

Booking a venue

The hall in which the thesis defence will take place should be booked through the janitor as soon as the thesis defence date has been set. The doctoral candidate must agree on any “tools” needed in advance with the janitors. Most halls at the university include a wide-screen television projector, a computer and a sound system, but it is wise to check on their availability beforehand. The doctoral candidate must also ensure that there are beverages, flowers and a photographer (if required) for the thesis defence, unless the faculty or research unit has a support person who takes care of these issues.

The doctoral candidate should visit the venue with the custos and the opponent(s) before the thesis defence, such as on the morning of the defence day to see how you will be able to move about in the room, and where the tables, podiums, etc. are. The doctoral candidate should also check that all the necessary equipment (wide-screen television projector, computer, sound system, microphones, notebooks, pens, etc.) is available and in working order. If the doctoral candidate needs some help with a PowerPoint presentation, etc., he/she should agree on this in advance with a colleague.

It is good to have the first slide of the lectio praecursoria presentation ready on the screen when people come in, which shows the doctoral candidate’s name, faculty, the name of the thesis and the names of the opponent and custos. The doctoral candidate can also add the same slide at the end of the lectio praecursoria presentation and leave the projector on for the duration of the discussion.

In case of problems, the custos should check the university’s safety instructions on Patio and and have the contact information of the janitors in charge of the venue at hand, just in case. The doctoral thesis defence may also be arranged at a venue outside the University of Oulu, in which case that venue’s safety instructions must be taken into account.

A sufficient number of copies of the thesis (40 – 50 is usually sufficient) should be available at the venue for the audience, unless it is available in electronic format, in which case the members of the audience may be encouraged to use the electronic copy of the thesis. In the case where hard copies are provided, the doctoral candidate should make sure that somebody will brings them to the venue on time.

Dress code for the doctoral thesis defence

Agree on the dress code for the doctoral thesis defence with the custos and opponent (Table 1). The custos makes the final decision on the dress code.

The custos, opponent(s) and doctoral candidate should follow the same dress code (alternative 1 or 2); an exception to this rule is a person who has graduated from a non-Finnish university: they may use their own doctoral outfit that may include a cape or a hat, for example. A male doctoral candidate, custos or opponent should wear a tailcoat and black vest or a black business suit. A female doctoral candidate, custos or opponent should wear a black pant suit, a knee-length black skirt/dress, or a jacket suit. The dress should not be very low-cut or otherwise too “revealing”. A black jacket may be used over the dress, or blouse and skirt. If the male participants wear a tailcoat, the female participants may also wear an ankle-length dress. The dress code for a doctoral promotion ceremony should be used.

Table 1. Dress code alternatives for a doctoral thesis defence.

Male doctoral candidate, custos or opponent
Female doctoral candidate, custos or opponent
A tailcoat and black vest, white bow tie, no pocket handkerchief, no patent-leather shoes, black socks, no wrist watch
A black ankle-length dress/jacket suit, or black knee-length dress/skirt, or jacket suit, no hat, no large jewellery
A black suit and dark necktie
A black knee-length dress/skirt or black jacket suit

The research unit or faculty may pay for the opponent’s costume rental, but the doctoral candidate and custos must pay for their own clothes. The practices of the faculties in this issue vary. There is no specific dress code for the audience of the doctoral thesis defence. The thesis defence is an event that is open to everyone, so regular, everyday clothes are considered to be appropriate. Guests invited by the doctoral candidate often wear a black tie, or other festive outfit.

Coffee or sparkling wine

The doctoral candidate traditionally offers coffee or sparkling wine to the audience after the doctoral thesis defence. When the thesis defence has been concluded, the doctoral candidate will invite the audience to a “cocktail”, or coffee event. The easiest way to arrange this is to use the university restaurant services. A separate table should be reserved for the more honored guests, such as the custos, opponent, etc. Sparkling wine may also be served in the corridor next to the venue.

Arranging a doctoral thesis defence party

It is tradition that the doctoral candidate arranges a party to honour the opponent(s) on the evening of the thesis defence day. See more details about the thesis defence party here.

Last updated: 20.4.2020