Defence party

Arranging a doctoral thesis defence party (Karonkka)

It is tradition that the doctoral candidate arranges a party to honour the opponent(s) on the evening of the thesis defence day. The party usually starts between 6 and 8 pm, depending on the schedule of the doctoral candidate and opponent(s). The venue is usually a restaurant, but arranging the party at home, or elsewhere, is also possible.

Arrangements need to be made for the party: invitations, the venue, catering and possibly some entertainment. Depending on the venue and the programme, decorations, lighting, a sound system, a band or orchestra, etc. may also be needed. The speeches to be given at the party (such as a thank you speech to the opponent) should be prepared in advance.

If the venue is a restaurant, the personnel will assist in the selection of the menu. You should ask for offers from several different venues to make sure that the quality of the catering and the price will not be a surprise. The menu usually consists of an appetizer, a main course, a dessert and coffee/tea. The party usually starts with a toast of welcome, which may be sparkling wine, regular wine or a cocktail, for example. Wine and iced water are usually served during the meal. A non-alcoholic option should always be available. Special diets should also be taken into account. Do not forget table placement cards (and maps), if they are needed.

The doctoral candidate traditionally pays for the thesis defence party. However, the doctoral candidate may also pay only for the dinner of the opponent and custos, in which case the other guests will pay for their meals, in whole or in part, in the form of an admission card. Usually other people will join the party after the official programme, or the party continues at another venue. The guests are usually expected to pay for their own drinks at the after-party.

Invitations to the doctoral thesis defence party

The opponent(s) and the custos are naturally guests at the party, with the opponent being the guest of honour. Other people to be invited include the supervisors of the thesis and any co-authors of the publications included therein. It is also polite to invite the reviewers, the follow-up group (or its chairperson) and any other people who have clearly contributed to the doctoral thesis, such as members of the research team and support persons. The guest list usually also includes the doctoral candidate’s spouse, parents and closest friends.

The easiest way is to use the same invitation to invite people to both the doctoral thesis defence and the party. You should clearly indicate whether the invitation is personal, or plus one. According to traditional etiquette, an invitation to the party should not be given until after the thesis defence, but in practice the invitation should be sent before to facilitate the catering and other arrangements. The invitation must include the exact address of the party venue and the dress code. Make sure that the opponent and custos know how to find the venue. The custos could also pick up the opponent at the hotel and accompany him/her to the party venue.

Invitation template:

Welcome to my doctoral thesis defence 
on xx xx 20xx at xx:xx
in xx (address xx)
and, should you be able to attend, a thesis defence party in honour of my opponent, Professor xx,
on xx xx 20xx at xx:xx
in xx (address xx)
RSVP by xx xx, tel. xx or
White tie, doctoral hat/Black tie, doctoral hat
Diet limitations will be taken into account

Dress code for the doctoral thesis defence party

The dress code is usually “white tie”. For men, this means a tailcoat with a white vest, patent leather shoes and a white pocket handkerchief, while female doctoral candidates and those accompanying men in white tie, a long dress that may be black, or any other discreet colour, is most appropriate. The dress code indicated in the invitation should be followed. Doctoral thesis defence parties are no longer as formal as they used to be, but the preferences of universities, faculties and doctoral candidates vary a great deal. You should ask for tips from your colleagues and other people who have participated in doctoral thesis defence parties at your unit.

Seating at the doctoral thesis defence party

The doctoral candidate will be seated in the middle of the table on the side of their choice. The doctoral candidate never sits at the head of the table. The opponent gets the seat of honour to the right of the doctoral candidate or, if there are two opponents, this is the seat of the senior opponent. The custos of the doctoral thesis defence is seated to the left of the doctoral candidate. If there are two opponents, however, the junior opponent gets this seat and the custos is seated to the right of the senior opponent. The doctoral candidate’s relatives and friends are usually seated on the opposite side of the table with the doctoral candidate’s spouse directly opposite the candidate.


Official speeches are usually give during the dinner. The most common time for speeches is after the main course and before the dessert; alternatively, the speeches can be given after the dessert before the coffee and tea.

  • The first speech will be given by the doctoral candidate who will start by thanking the opponent for examining the doctoral thesis and for the valuable observations offered during the public defence of the thesis.
  • The doctoral candidate will then address the custos of the doctoral thesis defence. The doctoral candidate is free to use the rest of the speech to address any people of their choice, such as the supervisors, co-authors, other people who influenced the creation of the doctoral thesis, their spouse, their parents, etc. The spouse is often addressed at the end of the speech.
  • The next speech will be given by the opponent, who will only address the doctoral candidate.
  • The third speech will be given by the custos, who will address the doctoral candidate, focusing on their shared experiences, the candidate’s studies, and the significance of his/her achievements. Finally, the people addressed by the doctoral candidate usually give their speeches in the order in which they were mentioned by the doctoral candidate.
Hat table

An agreement with the custos and opponent on taking doctoral hats to the party should be made. The academic tradition is that there is a separate table at the party which is reserved for doctoral hats. The guests should also be notified about the need to take their doctoral hats with them to the party. Taking the doctoral hats to the party is not mandatory, however.

Thank you cards

Thank you cards should be sent to all the people who offered the doctoral candidate flowers or other gifts on the thesis defence day. It is not expected to thank everybody who simply offered their congratulations. Those who contributed most to the doctoral thesis should be given something more substantial than a thank you card; an autographed copy of the doctoral thesis is traditionally considered to be a good token of gratitude. Traditionally, the doctoral candidate’s spouse receives flowers on the morning of the defence day, or on the day after, to thank them for sacrificing their valuable family time to the thesis. Although still practiced, this custom is no longer as frequently as it used to be. The custos will know the current traditions and practices of the field.


Last updated: 20.4.2020