Glossary for new doctoral researchers

The instruction belongs to the following themes

By selecting a degree programme you are able to see the general content as well as the possible degree programme-specific content. You do not have to select a degree programme to see the Open University's instructions.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the number of new terms you have encountered at the start of your doctoral studies? Have you taken a long break from your studies and are in need of a bit of orientation? Are you unsure of what the difference between a doctoral school and a doctoral programme or between a curriculum and a study plan is? Whether you are a new or a seasoned doctoral researcher, this page will help you to effortlessly navigate through the most important terms you will encounter during your doctoral studies.


  • Curriculum. Each doctoral programme has a curriculum in accordance with which all programme doctoral researchers must pursue their degree. A curriculum consists of courses, some of which are compulsory. The curriculum is also sometimes referred to as a degree structure or degree requirements. The curricula of all doctoral programmes comprise two study modules: discipline-specific studies and transferable skills. The curriculum of your doctoral programme is available in Sisu in the course catalogue for your doctoral programme.
  • Course. The curricula (degree structures) of doctoral programmes have been divided into two study modules consisting of courses. Some of the courses are compulsory, some optional. In most cases, it is possible to complete a course in a number of ways. The completion method may, for example, be course attendance meeting the learning outcomes for the course, a closed-book examination or an essay or, say, a conference presentation or scholarly publication.
  • Study plan. The study plan is your personal plan about what studies you will complete for your degree and within what timetable. The study plan is drawn up together with your supervisors at the very beginning of your studies and it is important to familiarise yourself with the curriculum of the doctoral programme in order to know which studies you are expected to complete. You can update the study plan when your plans become clearer as your studies progress.
  • A certificate of student status. A certificate of student status can be used to prove that you are a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.
  • A transcript of studies. A transcript of studies is a certificate verifying the studies you have completed at the University. You may need the transcript, for example, when applying for funding.
  • Activity percentage. Once a year, in conjunction with the registration for attendance for the academic year, you will need to present an estimate of whether your studies are full-time or part-time.


  • Supervisor. Each doctoral researcher has a supervisor, most have at least two. The supervisor supports doctoral researchers in the writing of their theses and the planning of studies while also helping them to integrate into the researcher community in the field.
  • Coordinating academic. In addition to supervisors, each doctoral researcher will be assigned a coordinating academic, who is a professor or docent employed by the doctoral researcher’s home faculty and is well versed in the practices of doctoral education. The duties of the coordinating academic include ensuring the continuity of the supervision arrangements, familiarising the doctoral researcher with the degree requirements and thesis examination practices if necessary, as well as proposing examiners for the doctoral thesis when the time comes.
  • Thesis committee. The thesis committee assigned to a doctoral researcher by the doctoral programme steering committee will regularly monitor the progress of the thesis, give feedback on progress and the supervision arrangements if necessary, and support the student in graduating within the target timetable and in planning their future professional career.
  • Supervision plan. A supervision plan, sometimes known as a supervision agreement, is a plan drawn up by the supervisors, the coordinating academic and the doctoral researcher, and signed at the very beginning of studies and updated when needed. The supervision plan defines the responsibilities and obligations of the doctoral researcher and the supervisors and specifies, for example, how frequently the doctoral researcher and the supervisors will meet and what actions they agree to take before their next meeting. The electronic tool Thessa is used for drawing up a supervision plan.


  • Doctoral researcher. All students pursuing a doctoral degree at the University are doctoral researchers. This term is most commonly used in official contexts at the University of Helsinki and contracts for salaried doctoral researcher positions are established using this term. The term doctoral researcher describes well the beginning stages of your research career and helps to identify you as a member of the research community.
  • Doctoral candidate. The previously common term doctoral candidate is rarely used nowadays for students pursuing a doctoral degree.
  • Postgraduate student. However, it does make an appearance every now and then in our instructions. The main reason for this is that we want people seeking information to find their way to our content. Even though the use of the terms postgraduate studies and postgraduate student is no longer recommended, they continue to be commonly used search terms.

Doctoral thesis

  • Article-based thesis. Article-based theses typically consist of three to five peer-reviewed scholarly publications or manuscripts accepted for publication as well as a summarising report on them. In Finnish, article-based theses are sometimes also referred to as kokoomaväitöskirja or nippuväitöskirja, which both mean “thesis consisting of a compilation of articles”.
  • Monograph. A monograph thesis is a scholarly work on a single topic issued under the name of a single author and based on previously unpublished research results.
  • Open science. Open science is an umbrella term for activities aiming to promote open operating models in scientific research.
  • Open access publishing. Open access publishing can be divided into publishing in a fully open access journal, self-archiving in the University’s publication repository and the paying of a publication fee for a single article to provide open access to it in an otherwise subscription-based journal.
  • Self-archiving. Self-archiving is an easy form of open access publishing. When you publish an article, you can self-archive it in the University’s publication repository through the TUHAT Research Database.

Systems and services

  • Instructions for Students. The Instructions for Students service (which you currently have open) provides you with almost all the instructions related to the completion of a doctoral degree.
  • Thessa. Thessa is an electronic tool for the planning and monitoring of thesis writing and doctoral studies. Thessa is used for drawing up the supervision agreement, keeping score of the progress of your thesis work and drawing up an annual report before the next thesis committee meeting.
  • Sisu. Sisu is the University's online service where you will find the course catalogue of your doctoral programme.
  • Flamma. Flamma is the University’s intranet mostly meant to be used by University staff. Students also have access to Flamma but it does not contain instructions related to doctoral studies.
  • Research Portal. The University’s public Research Portal provides information on the University’s researchers and their activities. Each doctoral researcher also has a personal profile page in the Research Portal, and keeping it updated is your responsibility.
  • TUHAT Research Database. The TUHAT Research Database is a background system of the Research Portal through which you can update your information displayed in the portal.
  • Helpdesk. The University’s Helpdesk assists you with issues related to the University’s information systems. On the Helpdesk website you will find comprehensive instructions for using, for example, your email account or the software used at the University.


  • Doctoral school. Through their doctoral programme, all doctoral researchers belong to the University of Helsinki Doctoral School. The Doctoral school organises education in transferable skills and develop doctoral education together with the doctoral programmes and faculties.
  • Doctoral programme. All doctoral researchers belong to a doctoral programme. The University has 33 doctoral programmes, many of which are multidisciplinary. Among other things, doctoral programmes organise discipline-specific education and supervision. Your doctoral programme is also your degree programme, meaning that you follow its degree requirements.
  • Faculty. The University of Helsinki has 11 faculties. Faculties grant the right to pursue doctoral education, approve doctoral theses and award doctoral degrees. Each doctoral programme has one coordinating faculty, but one doctoral programme may have doctoral researchers from various faculties. The different faculties award different doctoral degrees, such as Doctor of Medical Science or Doctor of Social Sciences.


  • Doctoral degree. A doctoral degree is the highest degree completed at a university. A doctoral degree consists of a doctoral thesis and 40 credits of compulsory studies. The main focus of a doctoral degree is research. 
  • Licentiate degree. Before completing a doctoral degree, it is possible to complete a licentiate research degree as an interim degree. A licentiate degree consists of a licentiate thesis, which is more limited in scope than a doctoral thesis, and 40 credits of compulsory studies.

Public examination or defence

  • Preliminary examination. Before being granted the right to defend your thesis, two external experts will ensure that your thesis meets the minimum requirements set for doctoral theses.
  • Permission for public defence. Permission granted after the preliminary examination by the faculty council to print the thesis and defend it publicly.
  • Public defence. The culmination of the doctoral thesis process at which you will defend your doctoral thesis.
  • Opponent. During the public defence, the opponent presents their remarks (“opposes”) the doctoral thesis as well as assesses the thesis and your performance in defending it.
  • Custos. The chair and official supervisor of the public defence.
  • Grading committee. A committee appointed by the faculty council and consisting of the opponent, custos and faculty representative, which assesses the doctoral thesis and proposes a grade to the faculty.
  • Postdoctoral party. A party organised after the public defence, which the doctoral researcher organises as a form of thanks to the opponent, custos and other individuals who have contributed to the work.
  • Conferment ceremony. Conferment ceremonies are ceremonies organised by faculties approximately every four years and lasting several days, where master’s and doctoral graduates who have completed their studies after the previous conferment ceremony get to celebrate their degrees in accordance with a dignified protocol. By participating in a conferment ceremony, newly graduated doctors will be granted the right to use the insignia of their academic standing: the doctor’s hat and sword.