We attended our first Finnish PhD defense a few weeks ago. When compared to PhD defenses held at NCSU it can be best described as very formal with three main participants: the Respondent (i.e., candidate), the Opponent, and the Custos (a faculty-appointed chair of the public examination). The Opponent is from a different university and debates with the doctoral candidate during the public examination. All of the participants are dressed formally (e.g., both the Custos and the Opponent wore tuxedos with tails and top hats that denoted their doctoral status). The defense begins with a procession – and it is traditional for everyone in attendance to stand as the three participants enter (and leave) the auditorium. The thesis was already bound and published by the university and all in attendance could have a copy.
The candidate provides a brief (10 to 15 minute) introductory lecture (lectio praecursoria) which is then followed by the Opponent asking questions of the candidate. Traditionally the public defenses last several hours and rarely exceeds six hours.
At the end of the formal questioning by the Opponent there is an opportunity for the Custos to solicit questions from the audience (they would be Additional Opponents). Traditionally this is uncommon. No applause or cheers are allowed during the examination. Once the examination has been completed the Opponent reads his written evaluation and recommendation that went to the UEF faculty for action. In this case, the Opponent’s recommendation was to accept the thesis with distinction. The Custos brought the event to a close and everyone was invited to a celebration. Later that day the candidate and a select group attend a post-doctoral party (“karonkka”) which formally honors the Opponent, Different universities and faculties have modifications to the process – but this approach has been used for several centuries here in Finland.