Evolution of PhD degree at Helsinki Medical Faculty

Evolution of PhD degree at The Medical Faculty of the University of Helsinki, Finland

Seppo Meri

Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki


The thesis work at the Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki can be completed if you are Licentiate in Medicine or Dentistry, or a Master of Sciences. Often the work, however, isis initiated before these degrees. To start the work you need to become registered at the Faculty and present a study and research plan. The work usually involves 4-6 years of full-time active research, although the tendency now is to reduce the time needed for the PhD work. In particular, the graduate schools, while providing salary usually for 4 years, have had an influence to this direction.

The theoretical studies include 40 credits (European Credit Transfer System or ECTS credits, 1 ECTS = 25-30 hours of work; 1 year = 60 ECTS) for MDs and 80 credits for M. Sc. students. Of these 10 credits are related togeneral subjects like scientific methods, animal experimentation, ethics, epidemiology, statistics, bioinformatics, scientific writing and publishing. 30 credits are obtained from courses, congresses and studies more directly related to the thesis work. Finally, the thesis defense occurs in public against an opponent.

The PhD thesis in Helsinki has traditionally had both qualitative and quantitative requirements:

1) 3-5 scientific publications in international peer-reviewed journals

2) Uniform theme + a joint summary that reviews the literature, sums up the results and critically discusses the conclusions and limitations of the studies

3) Monographs possible in Public Health, Insurance Medicine or Psychiatry

4) Cannot include more than 50% of papers that have been (or will be) used in somebody else’s thesis

5) First authorship usually required in > 50% of papers (own independent contribution needs to be documented)

Examples of Finnish PhD theses are available at

Potential problems that have arisen in our system

1) How to guarantee quality and not to emphasize quantity?

To solve this the Faculty has decided to abandon specific strict quantitative requirements. With exceptionally high quality publications less published papers are now required. To improve the research quality during the process itself it is now recommended that each PhD student should have a follow-up team composed of two knowledgeable, and preferably independent, scientists that meet at least once a year with the student.

2) How to preserve academic freedom and encourage innovativeness? The training should not be too much ìschool-likeî. A challenge is to preserve liberty in academic work, scholarly attitudes and love to science itself.