Thesis and maturity test in Master's and Licentiate's Programmes

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.

An academic degree always includes a written thesis. As a student at the University, you are a full member of the academic community and an expert in your own field. In your thesis, you will examine a research question or questions of interest to you and generate new scientific knowledge in your field for the benefit of the academic community. Typically, the thesis is written independently, but, depending on the situation, the related research may be conducted as part of a project or research group or in collaboration with a company or an organisation.

You can see the possible additional instructions for your own degree programme by selecting your degree programme in the menu above. You can clear the selection of the degree programme by clicking on Clear the selection in the menu.

Thesis in Master's and Licentiate's Programmes

As part of their advanced studies, Master’s level students write a thesis of 30 credits in scope. The thesis written by students of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine, however, is 20 credits in scope.

In the thesis, you must demonstrate your familiarity with the thesis topic, mastery of the necessary research methods, the ability to think scientifically and proficiency in academic writing. The thesis workload, including the collection and processing of the research material as well as the writing process, corresponds approximately to one term of full-time study.

The thesis is assessed on a scale of 0–5.

Before embarking on the thesis project, or at its initial stages at the latest, you must draft a thesis plan, which will be discussed and approved in the manner specified in the degree programme curriculum. The plan must also indicate the supervisor(s) of the thesis.

You can complete the thesis independently or in a group or a wider research project, provided that your independent input can be clearly demonstrated and easily assessed. You can also complete the thesis as a commission. However, write your thesis independently. You can write the thesis as pair work with a fellow student only if your degree programme has separately decided to allow this. In such cases, the independent contribution of both students must be clearly demonstrable.

The thesis must contain an abstract. You can use the University's abstract document (a word document). Fill in the needed information on each line and write your abstract at the end. The length of the abstract is usually 1 page. The degree programmes and/or faculties can give more detailed instructions in the matter, please see also the degree programme-specific instructions. Attached is also a model document as a pdf. If needed, you can write the abstract also in other word processing programmes with the help of the model document.

If you give permission to publish your thesis in the University's open publication repository, please make sure the document is in an accessible format. See instructions on how to create accessible documents.

If you are dissatisfied with your grading, you can lodge an appeal with the University’s Academic Appeals Board. Read more on the page Legal protection of students.

Maturity test in Master's and Licentiate's Programmes

The maturity test has the status of an independent study attainment, but does not, however, yield credits. The maturity test must demonstrate your command of the topic of your thesis. The maturity test can be, for example, a section of the thesis or its abstract or another written assignment.

The thesis supervisor approves the maturity test, unless otherwise specified below. The maturity test is assessed on a scale of pass/fail and will be registered in the Student Register only after the thesis has been approved.

Thesis Instructions in Your Degree Programme

Master's Programme in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Master's Programme in Genetics and Molecular Biosciences
Master's Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences
Master's Programme in Neuroscience
Master's Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability
Master's Programme in Food Economy and Consumption
Master's Programme in Food Sciences
Master's Programme in Human Nutrition and Food Behaviour
Master's Programme in Agricultural, Environmental and Resource Economics
Master's Programme in Agricultural Sciences
Master's Programme in Forest Sciences
Master's Programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology

Master’s thesis

The requirements for a master’s degree include a written master’s thesis, usually consisting of an empirical section and its critical examination using literature related to the research topic. The thesis may also be based solely on literature or other scientific source material. The overall scope of a master’s thesis is 30 credits, which means that it can be completed in one term when working full-time (approximately four to five months of work, some 20 to 40 pages and 40 to 50 sources). The thesis must be analytical and focused on the topic, primarily following the style requirements for academic articles. Furthermore, the thesis must observe a consistent system of referencing, on which degree programmes will provide detailed instructions. Even if a master’s thesis is part of a larger research project, students must ensure when devising the master’s thesis plan (pdf-format, download to fill in) that it will be possible to complete the thesis in accordance with the scope described in these instructions.

Master’s theses are academic papers primarily intended to familiarise students with research work within a reasonable timeframe. For this reason, a thesis with results that prove inadequate for reasons unrelated to the writer can nevertheless be approved if the empirical section is completed as planned, the use of material is appropriate, and the scientific approach used in the reporting is acceptable. Master’s theses must be planned and written in observance of the principles of research ethics, which should be ensured already at the planning stage. Here can you find further information on the research ethics principles of the University of Helsinki.

The master’s thesis can be written independently or by participating in groupwork or a broader research project. The work must include independent input by the student that can be clearly demonstrated and assessed, and the thesis itself must be independently written. If a degree programme has made a separate decision on the matter, the master’s thesis can be written as pairwork with a fellow student. Further information on this is available in the degree programme instructions ( The thesis must be written in a language specified in the language guidelines of the University of Helsinki (Rector’s Decision 45/2016, 27 April 2016). As a rule, students whose native language is Finnish or Swedish write their master’s thesis in their native language, but they can also write it in English. Those completing an English-language master’s degree must, without exception, write their master’s thesis in English. The language of the thesis will be recorded in the master’s thesis plan, to be approved as part of the plan.

Students can begin writing their thesis and gain approval for their master’s thesis plan only after being admitted to a master’s programme. At least one supervisor must be appointed to the thesis. Detailed requirements concerning the selection of thesis topics and supervisors are provided by the degree programmes.
The degree programmes have one or more members of their teaching and research staff serving as responsible persons for master’s theses and their assessment. Details on the responsible persons, as well as instructions on thesis layout, drafting a research plan and the system of referencing are provided in programme-specific instructions. These specific instructions are available in the instructions for students under the student’s personal degree programme (below).

Master’s thesis plan

Before starting to write their master’s thesis, students must always draft a separate written thesis plan (pdf-format, download to fill in). The plan will be signed by the thesis responsible person of degree programme, the student and the supervisor(s). The plan will be processed and archived in a manner separately determined by the degree programme. Details recorded in the plan include the objectives and implementation of the thesis, the supervisors and progress of work under supervision, the role of the supervisor(s), a detailed schedule for the thesis, the language of the thesis and the duration of the supervisory relationship. 

By signing the plan, the responsible person appointed by the degree programme approves the thesis topic and confirms that the research equipment and work facilities needed for the work will be at the student’s disposal. Furthermore, the coordinator approves the thesis supervisor(s). Supervisors must hold at least a doctoral degree or equivalent qualifications.

The validity of the master’s thesis plan will also be determined in the plan. If the plan expires before the student has submitted his/her thesis for examination, the plan must be submitted again for approval by the supervisors and the responsible person appointed by the programme. Short extensions to the deadline may be agreed upon with the responsible person for the purposes of, for example, adding final touches to the writing. The validity must be determined in such a manner that the student has a reasonable time to acquire material for the thesis, conduct the necessary analyses and write the actual thesis.

If the topic or supervisor of the master’s thesis changes, or the student’s/supervisor’s personal situation changes so that the thesis cannot be completed in accordance with the original master’s thesis plan, the student must update the plan. If the recorded term of the plan expires and no new plan has been approved, the supervisor is no longer obligated to carry on with his/her supervisory responsibilities. An agreement on the access rights to material collected by the student will be recorded in the master’s thesis plan. Approved master’s thesis plans are archived by the degree programmes. (changed 10.11.2020: the plan can be signed electronically by e-mail, if necessery as confidential e-mail).

Master’s thesis abstract

Master’s theses must be accompanied by a separate abstract. The abstract must be written in the language of the thesis, in addition to which it is recommended to write an English-language version of the abstract. Students whose native language is Finnish or Swedish and who write their thesis in English or another language must also write an abstract in their native language, and translate the title of the thesis into their native language. The abstract must include keywords describing the content of the thesis. The abstract must be written on the University’s abstract form (word-document, please read more above beneath heading Thesis in Master´s and Licentiate´s Programmes).

When writing the abstract, the author must assume that the readers have a general understanding of the topic. However, the abstract must be understandable to readers when read independently of the thesis.

The abstract must also be written in full sentences, not as a list of subheadings. The abstract should not include references, quotations, information or claims not included in the thesis itself.

The abstract should indicate, among other things, the purpose and objectives of the thesis, the research method and materials used, central research results and related conclusions, as well as the potential need for further research. The thesis supervisor(s) must also be stated in the abstract form.
Master’s theses are public documents. The actual thesis to be assessed must include no information intended to remain confidential under the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (621/1999) (e.g., business or professional secrets). Such information, if any, must be included only in the background material of the thesis. The examiners of the thesis are bound by confidentiality if they choose to access this information. Assessment of the thesis, however, is based on its public content.

Duties and obligations of the supervisor and the student

Responsibility for the progress of the work rests primarily with the student, who is expected to stay in regular contact with the supervisor. The supervisor must read the various versions of the thesis manuscript, provide feedback, offer advice on academic writing and correct factual errors. The supervisor is also responsible for providing help in the planning stage, as well as steering the experimental stage, the acquisition of material and the use of methods. The duties of the supervisor do not, however, include carrying out analyses or determinations on behalf of the student. After the student’s plan has been approved, he/she has committed to cooperating with the supervisor according to the agreed schedule. The student must discuss and agree on the stages of the work and responsibilities related to the process with the supervisor(s). These will be recorded in the master’s thesis plan.

Submitting the master’s thesis for assessment

Master’s theses are assessed electronically in e-thesis-system. This means that student submits her/his thesis in PDF format for examination through the e-thesis system. No changes can be made to the thesis after this. Before submitting their thesis for examination through E-thesis, students must agree on this with the degree programme coordinator. Student make a PDF version of her/his thesis as explained in the conversion instructions. Read the instructions before you begin converting your thesis. After converting your thesis into PDF format as instructed, you can save it in E-thesis .

The thesis moves through the process from examination to grading and is finally published online, if approved by the author. After the thesis has been graded, the student may choose to make it public on Helda so that it can be read online. If not, the thesis will be publicly available only at the Library.

Process of plagiarism recognition system for theses

Master’s theses written at the University of Helsinki will be checked with the Ouriginal plagiarism recognition system. Thesis submitted for examination will be forwarded to Ouriginal. As the copyright holders, student have the right to decide whether her/his documents can be used for comparisons in Ouriginal.

Examination of the master’s thesis

Students must submit their completed master’s thesis for examination by storing the thesis in a digital system in accordance with instructions provided by the Faculty. Students must have a valid right to pursue a master’s degree in the relevant degree programme. In addition, students must be registered as attending students at the University for the term during which the thesis is to be approved and graded.

The degree programme coordinator will appoint two examiners for the thesis. The minimum requirement for thesis examiners is a doctoral degree or equivalent qualifications. In addition, the disqualification of examiners is governed by sections 27 and 28 of the Administrative Procedure Act (434/2003). In order to consistently apply the grading scale, among other reasons, it is recommended that at least one of the examiners is from the student’s Faculty or degree programme. Examiners must complete the thesis assessment through a digital system.

Examiners base their assessment on the sections included in the assessment matrix.The assessment statement may be written in Finnish, Swedish or English. For those students whose native language is not Finnish or Swedish, the examiners must write their assessment in English. When writing their assessment, the examiners should ensure that its contents correspond with the proposed grade. Assessments must be stored in the digital system within a month after the examiners have received the thesis for assessment.

Examination of master’s theses in the University’s plagiarism recognition system

All master’s theses submitted for examination will be examined by the plagiarism recognition system at the time of submission. The coordinator appointed by the degree programme must review the report from the plagiarism recognition system and, when necessary, discuss it with the student. The student must be provided with an opportunity to review the report no later than when a grade proposal is submitted.

After the master’s thesis has been examined, the related report from the plagiarism recognition system becomes public. If the student requests the suspension of the assessment process of his/her master’s thesis, the related report will not yet be made public. All suspicions of cheating related to master’s theses will be investigated in accordance with the University’s internal procedure. Unexamined theses and related plagiarism reports will become public after a decision has been made on the matter.

Master’s thesis assessment and grading criteria

In their statements, the master’s thesis examiners will assess areas 1 to 6, while the supervisor will assess area 7. When examining master’s theses, the following aspects are considered:


  1. Research topic and purpose: Justified significance of the thesis topic, insightful selection and framing of the topic, clarity of the research task and objective, research question or theme, consideration of research ethics
  2. Knowledge of the research field and related theories as well as use of literature: Familiarity with research and literature related to the topic, relevance of the research perspective and concepts to the problem discussed, versatile use of source literature, source criticism, as well as use of original scientific sources, analytical examination of perspectives found in the literature and creation of syntheses
  3. Material, acquisition of material and analyses: Methods suitable to the research task, comprehensive description of the methods (strategy, data acquisition and analysis), adequacy of research material and its relevance to the research task and analysis methods, description of material, critical and evaluative use of methods, consideration of research ethics
  4. Research results and reporting: The results answer the research questions/hypotheses, logical nature and clarity of result reporting, illustration of results: the relation of images, diagrams and tables to the text
  5. Examination of results (discussion) and conclusions: Setting the research results in context with prior research, presentation of new research problems, consideration of application opportunities, assessment of reliability in accordance with the research approach, consideration of research ethics, critical and thorough assessment of the research process and results, thoroughness, reliability and insightfulness of conclusions, conclusions based on the research results
  6. Structure, clarity and polishing of the thesis: Clear structure appropriate for the research approach, command of academic prose style (varies according to the research approach), clear and smooth separation and integration of interpretations made by the author and the data presented in source material, clear and grammatically correct language, appropriate and consistent use of referencing, clarity and accuracy of the bibliography, correct layout
  7. Conduct of work during the thesis process: Open-mindedness and independence, internalisation of methods and creativity in solving problems, writing the thesis within the agreed schedule

Master’s theses are graded on a scale of 0 to 5. Grading criteria are described in a separate assessment matrix. The examiners must draft their statements so that they consider all the main points of the thesis and include sufficient justification for the proposed grade.

Pedagogical master’s theses

Students who are completing studies required to qualify as a subject teacher may write a pedagogical master’s thesis focused on themes such as research concerned with pupils, students, teachers or subject teacher students, or the production and testing of teaching material/methods in school or university studies. Pedagogical master’s theses must observe the Faculty’s general guidelines on master’s theses. The coordinator must ensure that students writing a pedagogical thesis will also be provided pedagogical supervision. It is advisable to include at least one examiner with experience in pedagogical master’s theses or training in pedagogy in the thesis assessment process. Here you can find further information on pedagogical master’s theses.

Master’s thesis processing

Decisions on approving master’s theses and their grading are made by the Faculty Council. If expert examiners have differing views on the grade, the coordinator will make a reasoned grade proposal. The student will be notified of the grade proposal approximately a week before the Faculty Council meeting where the decision on approving the thesis and the grade will be made.

The student may submit a written request for the suspension of the grading process before the Faculty Council decides on the grade. This will cancel grading procedures. Relaunching of the grading process requires that the thesis be submitted as a new work to be assessed by expert examiners.
A student dissatisfied with the Faculty Council’s grading decision may appeal to the Academic Appeals Board in accordance with section 56 of the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights.

Maturity test
The requirements for a master’s degree include a written maturity test, which is intended to demonstrate familiarity with the topic and content of the master’s thesis. 

All theses are deposited in HELDA - Digital Repository of the University of Helsinki

The language of the maturity test

The language of the maturity test is determined by the language studies of your previously completed first-cycle degree, your degree programme and the language of your secondary education.

  • If the language of your secondary education was Finnish or Swedish and you have completed your first-cycle degree in Finland and have accordingly demonstrated your language proficiency by passing a maturity test, as specified in the Government Decree on University Degrees, you need not demonstrate your language proficiency again. You may write the maturity test in Finnish, Swedish, English or in the language in which you wrote the thesis.
  • If the language of your secondary education was Finnish or Swedish but you have not demonstrated your language proficiency by passing a maturity test for your first-cycle degree, as specified in the Government Decree on University Degrees (because, for example, you completed your degree at a university abroad), you must demonstrate your language proficiency by writing the maturity test in the language of your secondary education.
    This also applies to students pursuing their degrees in English in English-language and multilingual Master’s programmes. See the other language requirements for your degree.
  • If the language of your secondary education was other than Finnish or Swedish and you are studying in a Master’s programme offered in Finnish and Swedish or completing studies in Finnish and Swedish in a multilingual Master’s programme, you may write the maturity test in Finnish, Swedish, English or in the language in which you wrote the thesis.
  • If the language of your secondary education was other than Finnish or Swedish and you are completing studies in English in an English-language or multilingual Master’s programme, you must write your maturity test in English.

Maturity test instructions in your degree programme

Master's Programme in Neuroscience
Master's Programme in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Master's Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences
Master's Programme in Genetics and Molecular Biosciences

You can take the Maturity test after you have submitted your master's thesis in the e-thesis system.

You can take the test (preferably) in one of the faculty's general examination days (registration in WebOodi needed), or arrange another date for the test with the teacher responsible of master's theses in your master's degree programme.

Thesis instructions in the Master's Programme in Neuroscience

Master's Programme in Neuroscience

Master’s Thesis (30 credits), Program-specific guidelines, Master’s Programme in Neuroscience

All students undertake a Master’s thesis (30 credits). You will learn how a research project proceeds, from planning the work and choosing appropriate methods to performing the experiments and analysing the results. The Master’s thesis is typically based on an experimental research project carried out in one of the University’s research groups under the supervision of an experienced researcher. Your thesis may also consist of a theoretical literature study. 

You will hear older students and other people talk about “Pro Gradu” when they mean a Master’s thesis.  The term “Pro Gradu” in no longer in use in the new degree programs that were launched in 2017. The old term refers to the 40 credit theses that were part of the old degrees. In Finnish the new 30 cr thesis is called “maisterintutkielma”. However, the English term “Master’s thesis” is used when referring to either old or new theses.

General instructions

Before reading these program-specific guidelines, read carefully the General Instructions (upper node on this page).

Study track-specific codes 

  • NEU-110 Master's Thesis in Neuroscience, 30 cr
  • NEU-210 Master's Thesis in Physiology, 30 cr
  • NEU-310 Master’s thesis in the study track of biology teacher, 30 cr

Note that in the Master’s Programme in Neuroscience you may change your study track to NEU-210 or to NEU-110 until your thesis is accepted. Your study track is nailed down when your thesis is accepted using one of the above three codes.  (The study track of biology teacher is available only to those student who have been accepted to the teacher study track before entering the Master’s program.)

How to find a thesis project?

Master’s thesis projects are rarely advertised publicly. Instead, finding a project is based on your own activity. You are supposed to contact research groups that work on topics that you find interesting, and you ask if they could offer you a Master’s thesis project. The primary supervisor (often the PI of the group) must hold a PhD or equivalent. A PhD is not required for additional supervisors. Note that it may take time to find a project and supervisor(s).  

If you are studying for biology teacher qualification, your Master’s thesis can deal with pedagogical or didactic issues in biology teaching. This applies only to Finnish or Swedish speaking students. If you are interested about this option, it is recommended that you discuss at an early stage of planning with the teacher who is responsible for theses under the code NEU-310.


Master’s thesis plan

See General Instructions (upper node on this page).

Direct link to the master’s thesis plan.


Master’s seminar

During the Master's Seminar in Neuroscience, you will get support for all stages of the thesis process and beyond, including data acquisition, communication skills, peer interaction and support, networking and career opportunities. There are study track specific Master’s seminars NEU-106 Master’s Seminar in Neuroscience, 5 cr, and NEU-206 Master’s seminar in physiology, 5 cr. Students on the study track of biology teacher choose either one of the seminars.

Note: The Master’s seminar is an obligatory course. If you plan to graduate by the end of a year or by the end of an academic year (end of July), make sure you can complete the seminar course in time.


The written thesis

You will write your Thesis as if it were a scientific publication, critically describing, contemplating and discussing your results in the light of previous scientific literature on the topic. In your written thesis you will be expected to demonstrate that you are capable of scientific thinking, that you have mastered the relevant research methods and that you are profoundly familiar with your research topic. Completing your Master’s thesis demonstrates that you have acquired the relevant skills in project management and written scientific communication.

The general instructions (link given in the beginning of this document) apply to writing theses in the Master’s Programme in Neuroscience. However, the program encourages writing the thesis as if it would be a research paper in one of the following journals: 

Note that the above three Journals have very detailed instructions that ask to include pieces of information that will not be included in Master’s theses (such as information on author contributions, funding, possible competing interests etc.). Instead, the Journal Instructions should be applied so that the thesis text is written in accordance with the format (i.e., text sections; see below) of a research paper. A recommended length of a thesis is that of a typical research paper. The Introduction may be as focused and concise as in a research paper, but writing a somewhat more extensive literature review may in many cases be justified and advisable. 

A typical thesis is arranged in sections using subheadings as follows (asterisk * indicates sections / subheadings that are not used in the above Journals but are recommended to be used in Master’s theses):

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • * Table of contents
  • * List of Abbreviations 
  • Introduction
  • * Aims of the study
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Acknowledgements
  • References

You may use different levels of subheadings (sub-subheadings under subheadings, etc) to clarify how the text has been organized, but avoid excessive use of subheading levels. 

Note: If your thesis is based solely on literature or other scientific source material, or if it is a pedagogical study, the above instructions must not be taken literally but applied as a general guideline only. 

If your thesis is a systematic literature review or a meta-analysis of published studies, consult instructions on the PRISMA website or other similar sources.



In the layout of Master’s thesis, figures and tables should be placed within the Results section, like in the final layout of published research papers. 

Recommended fonts: Arial 11, or Times new roman 12, or Calibri 12. Recommended line spacing: 1.5.

Page setup A4 portrait. Use page numbers.


Abstract form

Write the abstract before you will submit your thesis for assessment. The abstract form will be generated by the E-Thesis system during submission. 


Thesis as pair work

The general instructions tell about Master’s Thesis as pair work as follows: “You can write the thesis as pair work with a fellow student only if your degree programme has separately decided to allow this. In such cases, the independent contribution of both students must be clearly demonstrable.”

Master’s thesis can be done as pair work in the Master’s Programme in Neuroscience. Note that the above quotation from the general instructions concerns all degree programs including e.g. humanities, and the word “write” refers in our program to collecting data (lab work). In a typical case, two students find a supervisor, and the three together agree about a project where the two students will learn methods and do experimental work and perhaps even data analysis together and based on the supervisor’s guidance, but each student will write his/her thesis independently. In typical cases or pair work the specific questions addressed by each student are different but related to the same context or topic, or the questions are the same but addressed using different methods or different preparations, etc. Each case must be discussed at an early stage of planning also with the teacher responsible of Master’s theses in the program in order to make sure that the plan is feasible.

In order to begin a thesis project as pair work, each of the two students must prepare his/her own Master’s thesis plan, and the two plans must be submitted simultaneously for acceptance. The plan should include a description of the planned pair work as well as each student’s individual role in the project.

Thesis as pair work can be a win-win for both the students and the supervisor. For instance, daily peer-support is an obvious benefit, and sharing materials in experimental work may be time saving. On the other hand, the supervisor benefits from two student’s work but can provide guidance to both at the same time.


Language of the written thesis

Your degree language is indicated in your personal information in WebOodi. If your degree language is English, you must write the thesis in English. If your degree language is Finnish or Swedish, you may write your thesis either in your degree language or in English. 

Note, changing the degree language is possible only during the first term of your studies. Instructions for changing the degree language are currently (August 2019) available only in Finnish, and can be found at the end of page.


Examination of the master’s thesis

Submission for examination and the whole evaluation process is described in the General instructions (upper node on this page).

Note that there is a significant delay from submission to acceptance of your thesis. After you have submitted your thesis file for examination, the teacher responsible of theses in the program has to find two assessors who are supposed to provide their assessment and grade proposal in a month. Thereafter, the formal acceptance and grading will be done in the next faculty council meeting. Assessments completed latest on the deadline date for submitting documents for the next meeting, arrive in time to be included on the agenda (for deadline dates, see end of page ). 

Note: the two assessors are not chosen by the student or the supervisor of the thesis; the teacher responsible of the theses in the program is responsible for choosing the assessors. However, you can speed up the evaluation by asking your supervisor to suggest a few potential assessors for your thesis.