I was honoured to be appointed as an external examiner at the University of Salford in the UK in summer 2016. The doctoral thesis that was examined was Richard Bell’s thesis on Critical Evaluation of Information Sources Used in the Tourist Destination Decision Making Process.
My own experience in defending my doctoral thesis is from 2004, when my thesis in Cultural Studies in Tourism Research was examined at the University of Lapland. Based on these two experiences I can state that there are major cultural differences in the public examination of doctoral theses in social sciences between Finland and the UK.
In the UK, the participants in the examination include the doctoral candidate, the supervisor of the candidate’s research, a minimum of two experts from the faculty, an external chairperson and one or two nominated external examiners. At the beginning of the examination, the candidate has the floor for 30 minutes. The event proceeds as usual: the external examiners go through the thesis chapter by chapter, asking questions and requesting evidence. Finally, the audience has the opportunity to give short comments.
In Finland, the doctoral candidate can sigh with relief after the questions from the audience. Not so in the British system, though. After the others have left the event, the external examiners draft a report on whether the doctoral thesis should be approved. The external examiners record any suggested changes in the report that will be submitted to both the faculty and the candidate. The candidate has to wait for the decision for one to two hours.
I enjoyed this approach, which was strict yet more relaxed than in Finland. After the examination, the doctoral candidate can invite guests to an informal party at a restaurant, for example.
In Finland, the doctoral candidate can sigh with relief after the questions from the audience. Not so in the British system, though.”
Finnish post-doctoral parties are expensive to organise, hence it might be a good idea to learn from the British custom. On the other hand, I think it is a good tradition in Finland to have the general public present at the public examination. This promotes the ethical rule in science to share knowledge, and it also gives a certain celebratory flair to the event!
Doctor of Social Sciences
PHOTO: ANNA VÄTTÖ