Each doctoral candidate in DSHealth has a thesis committee (TC) that evaluates the candidate's progress and offers the candidate support throughout the doctoral studies. The thesis committee meetings and progress reports are compulsory to all doctoral candidates. The doctoral candidate arranges the first meeting within 6-12 months after being accepted to the doctoral programme, after which the subsequent meetings must take place annually.
The thesis committee’s tasks and responsibilities are outlined above. In addition to the general tasks appointed to the thesis committee, the committee members can also try to help solve possible disagreements between the supervisor(s) and the doctoral candidate. The rights and responsibilities of the doctoral candidate and the thesis supervisor as well as the process for dealing with problems in PhD supervision are further described in the UH Instructions for students.
Assembling the thesis committee
Thesis committee members
The thesis committee consists of at least two experts who are able to assess the progress of the dissertation. The TC members must hold a doctoral degree and substantial knowledge in the field of the project. TC members should be sufficiently independent (see the Administrative Procedure Act, section 27 for a general overview of grounds for disqualification) of the supervisor to be able to provide critical comments on the project and progress and to support the doctoral candidate in the event of conflicts. The external members may, but are not required to, be from the University of Helsinki. TC members may be affiliated with domestic or international universities, independent and/or sector research institutes, clinics, etc. A TC member may also represent a local research program. If both TC members are local, then one must be from a different department, clinic or institute than the doctoral candidate and the thesis supervisor.
The sufficiency of independence of a TC member can be assessed by the following:
- The external members should not be currently involved in the thesis project.
- The external members should not be close collaborators of the supervisor(s) or the doctoral candidate. Joint research projects or shared grants, as well as joint publications typically indicate a close collaboration.
- The external members should not have supervised or been supervised by the doctoral candidate or his/her supervisors.
- The external members should not be relatives, close colleagues or friends of the doctoral candidate or supervisors.
- It should also be taken into account when assembling the committee that members of the thesis committee cannot later be appointed as preliminary examiners or opponents for the doctoral dissertation in question
Nominating the thesis committee members
The external members of the thesis committee (TC) are suggested by the doctoral candidate and accepted by the doctoral programme. The doctoral candidate discusses potential TC members with the supervisor(s) and invites them to the thesis committee. Membership in a TC is a position of trust, with an aim to guide and mentor the doctoral candidate throughout the doctoral training.
Most doctoral programmes in DSHealth require that the TC members are nominated when applying for the right to pursue a doctoral degree. The doctoral programmes Brain&Mind and Integrative Life Sciences allow nominating members within 6 months from receiving the right to pursue a doctoral degree.
Meetings and reporting
The thesis committee (TC) meeting is held once a year until the thesis defense. The meeting can be organized at any time during the year. The doctoral candidate can organize meetings more frequently if deemed feasible or necessary by the TC members and the supervisor(s).
In the meetings the doctoral candidate introduces the research plan and the personal study plan. The TC follows doctoral candidate´s progress of the studies and research project(s), and discuss with the doctoral candidate his/her preliminary future career plans.
In the final meeting, the TC members ensure that the student has achieved the research results required of a doctoral dissertation, and that she/he has acquired adequate knowledge and skills in the research field of the PhD project. Where applicable, the TC members write a statement to the faculty in support of the pre-examination of the thesis. TC members may also mentor the student in her/his future career plans.
Guidelines for the preparation of documents for the annual TC meeting:
- Update the publications and activities to TUHAT (how to edit your TUHAT profile). Include a link to TUHAT in the progress report.
- Update the research plan: work done, current status and future plans.
- Update the study plan: list performed and planned studies and education.
- Include other merits not included in TUHAT database.
- Arrange the meeting: Agree on the date and time of the meeting with your supervisor(s) and the members of your thesis committee. Reserve a meeting room (e.g. in your Outlook Calendar or Optime Portal); ensure availability of technical apparatus (including potential IT communication equipment) and possible catering (not covered by the doctoral programmes). Meetings could be arranged also online (e.g. Zoom, Teams).
Arranging the meeting
Doctoral candidates who have enrolled in 2018 or later use the Thessa for the planning, supervision and monitoring of doctoral studies. Instructions on how to start using Thessa are available in the UH Instructions for students. The supervisor(s), TC members, and the doctoral programme all have access to the Thessa follow-up system and the annual report.
PhD candidates who have received the right to pursue the doctoral degree in 2017 or earlier may either start using Thessa (obligatory to all from August 2020 onwards) or use the doctoral programme’s forms. These forms must be sent to the supervisor(s) and thesis committee members well in advance of the TC meeting. After the meeting, the report must be revised and re-submitted to the TC members, supervisor(s), and the doctoral programme.
TC members are expected to familiarize themselves with the report in advance. The doctoral candidate, supervisor(s), and the committee members must all participate in the meeting. Participation can be organized e.g. over Skype to reduce the need for travelling.
During the meeting
- The doctoral candidate presents the status and future plans of the PhD project, including the publication plan. The thesis committee ensures that the project is scientifically valid and the research plan clear, feasible and suitable for a PhD project.
- TC members evaluate and give constructive feedback on the progress of the doctoral project and make suggestions on studies supporting the research.
- The members of the TC check the courses completed by the doctoral candidate and give advice on future studies to guarantee adequate knowledge of and expertise in the field.
- All interactions within the TC are confidential. Part of the meeting must be held in the absence of the supervisor to allow possible confidential matters to be discussed between the thesis committee members and the doctoral candidate.
- Based on the feedback at the meeting, the doctoral candidate revises the report and submits the revised report to the doctoral programme using the relevant online form.
After the meeting
Based on the feedback at the meeting, the doctoral candidate revises the progress report.
Submitting the reports
A report with only a short description of the status of the thesis project is required if the doctoral candidate has concentrated on clinical specialist training or is on e.g. maternity leave.
TC committee and follow-up reporting in a nutshell for PhD candidates who have enrolled in 2018 or later
- The doctoral candidate invites the thesis committee members in to sign in to Thessa during the first semester of doctoral studies
- The members receive an email from thessa-admin-at-helsinki.fi to join the thesis committee
- Once the thesis committee is set up, the annual progress report can be generated and submitted
- The thesis committee members can view and comment the progress report in Thessa before the meeting
- The thesis committee meeting approves the annual progress report
- At the end of the meeting, the doctoral candidate submits the Conclusions & Recommendations as agreed
- One year later, Thessa reminds the doctoral candidate to organize the next thesis committee meeting
As the THESSA-system is still in a beta stage, it is currently only available in English. The Finnish and Swedish versions will follow later. Filling the fields is, of course, possible in any chosen language.
All discussions with the thesis committee are confidential. Supervisors can participate in the meetings, but in each thesis committee meeting, sometime should be set aside to allow the doctoral student to talk to the members of the thesis committee without the presence of the supervisor(s).