Defending the Doctoral Thesis

Advice and instructions for doctoral candidates on the public defence

Rules for organising a public defence at Hanken 

Please note that the doctoral researcher and the degree supervisor should contact the department's secretary to agree on the date of the defence.

The following rules are decided by Doctoral Studies council 17.1.2024 §4 

  1. the public defence of the PhD thesis is primarily organized physically at Hanken (in Helsinki or Vaasa) with streaming.
  2. If the opponent cannot attend in person or if there are other compelling reasons, the defence can be organized as a hybrid model.
  3. Online defences are not allowed.
  4. Hanken does not record the public defences of PhD theses or grant permissions to record these events.

1. Planning the public defence

When planning and organising a public defence, it is important to be in contact with your department's secretary well in advance. The department's secretary will take care of organising the defence and contacting the opponent. 
It is recommended that the respondent and the opponent do not meet before the defence, but some departments organise a lunch before the defence. In such cases, it is extremely important that the custos attends the lunch and that the thesis is not discussed during the lunch.


Hanken's academic colours are black and white. The respondent (doctoral reseacher) chooses how they want to be dressed and the referee follows suit. For men the options are between tails and dark suit. If a tail is chosen, the waistcoat should be black. For women, the basic rule is that the dress or suit should be black. White blouse and other white accessories are fine. 

The opponent(s) and the custos take their doctoral hat with them during the act. They hold the hat on their left arm with the emblem facing forwards at the entrance and place the hat on the table in front of them. Even then, the emblem should be directed towards the audience. 


The respondent's family, friends and colleagues are usually dressed up. The defence of the thesis is an open event and anyone who wishes to attend can do so, regardless of what they are wearing. 

The audience usually gathers at the venue at the same time. The respondent, the opponent and the custos enter at quarter past. When the respondent, the opponent and the custos enter, the audience rises. The custos gives permission to the audience to sit down after opening the defence. 

It is considered impolite to leave the defence in advance. 


The public defences are usually organised in the Futurum auditorium in Helsinki and in auditorium V142 in Vaasa. The defence will be streamed via Teams, so the audience can choose between participating on site or online.  

Entering the public defence

The respondent, the opponent and the custos enter at quarter past. When the respondent, the opponent and the custos enter, the audience rises. The custos gives the audience permission to sit down after opening the defence. 

The custos introduces the actors: "Today, N.N. is defending a thesis on subject X entitled Y. The opponent, appointed by the Doctoral studies council, is N.N from X University". After that, the custos gives the floor to the respondent. 

If the opponent participates online, it is recommended that the respondent also brings his/her own laptop to be able to see the opponent during the defence. Normally, it is not recommended that the respondent has their laptop with them during the defence. 


The public defence begins with a lectio, i.e. an opening speech by the respondent. The lectio lasts about 20 minutes, and the respondent stands at the lectio lectern. During lectio, the respondent can, for example, present the research area, the research work and methodology used for the thesis. 

The lectio begins with "Honourable custos, honourable opponent, honourable audience". When the lectio is over, the respondent turns to the opponent and asks them to express their views by saying "I ask you opponent to make the remarks that you find my thesis gives rise to". The respondent remains standing. 


The opponent stands up and makes a short (maximum 15 minutes) general statement, highlighting the topic of the thesis, its nature and importance for the field of research. After this, the opponent and the respondent sit down. 

After the opponent's general statement, the defence moves on to individual questions that the opponent asks the respondent. The respondent should answer the questions directly and not ask counter questions.

The custos acts as a supervisor during the examination. If the examination lasts longer than about two hours, it is recommended to have a break of about 20 minutes. If custos chooses to take a break after two hours, the custos, the opponent and the respondent will leave the auditorium for a break and return after 20 minutes. The custos is responsible for keeping the time schedule. The opponent may use a maximum of four hours for their examination. 

When the opponent has reached their final words, they stand up and the respondent does the same. The opponent concludes the examination by summarising their judgement of the thesis and telling whether the thesis can be approved or not. The respondent thanks the opponent and then addresses the audience with the words "I now invite the honourable listeners who have something to say against my thesis to request the floor of the custos". 

If no-one in the audience asks to speak, the custos declares the defence closed and the audience rises and the respondent, custos and opponent march out of the auditorium. Outside the auditorium, the respondent can receive congratulations from family, friends and colleagues.

The respondent and the opponent agree together before the defence whether they are going to pinch each other or call each other names. Regardless of the form of address, it is customary to call each other respondent or opponent. 

Doctoral dinner " Karonka" is an old academic tradition. Karonka is the closing party of the thesis defence process, organised by the doctoral researcher (the respondent) to thank the opponent, the supervisor and other people involved in the thesis. Nowadays, in addition to the academic audience, family and friends can also be invited to the karonka.

For a karonka - regardless of how it is organised - a written invitation is usually sent out.

At a karonka, people usually wear tails and a white waistcoat (black waistcoat for the defence) or an evening dress. The doctoral candidate wears a black evening dress. Black is the traditional academic party colour, but nowadays colourful clothing has become more common. The alternative to tails is a dark suit/short formal dress.