Doctoral education

Being a supervising professor or thesis advisor at Aalto University

Sufficient and high-quality supervision based on a relationship between the supervising professor and the doctoral student is a key quality factor for doctoral education and research. We have approximately 3150 doctoral students at Aalto University. For them, supervision means everything.

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Good supervision allows the doctoral students to complete their studies and the associated research within the time specified in the doctoral personal study plan. Defining a shared set of university-level principles for the supervision of doctoral students furthers the equal treatment of all students.

The doctoral programme committees monitor and develop the school-level practices of supervising doctoral students in line with the university policy. The supervision principles are defined in a manner that does not regulate supervision in too much detail but allows individual needs to be considered in each guidance case.

Doctoral education

Supervisory roles and duties

Supervising professor

Aalto University professor who holds overall responsibility for the degree of the doctoral student and the related supervision arrangements. This includes the courses chosen for the doctoral personal study plan. The supervising professor may also be appointed to act as a thesis advisor.

Who can act as supervising professor?
A supervising professor must represent the research field (BIZ: major) of the doctoral student and is appointed by the Doctoral Programme Committee of the School. A supervising professor must be a tenure-track professor of the school, though for special reasons, the dean of the School can decide that a non-tenure track professor with a doctor's degree may act as a supervising professor. A retired professor (e.g. Emeritus or Senior Advisor) cannot be appointed as supervising professor.

Co-supervising professor

For special reasons, such as multidisciplinarity of the doctoral thesis or cotutelle agreement with a foreign university, an Aalto University professor, or a professor of some other Finnish or foreign university can be appointed by the Doctoral Programme Committee to share, together with the supervising professor, overall responsibility for the degree of the doctoral student and for the related supervision arrangements. The co-supervising professor may also be appointed act as a thesis advisor.

Thesis advisor

The doctoral student is appointed one or more thesis advisors, who have expertise in the subject area of the doctoral thesis. The duties of the thesis advisor are defined in the supervision plan of the doctoral student prepared jointly by the supervising professor, thesis advisor(s) and the doctoral student.

Who can act as thesis advisor?
A thesis advisor must hold a doctoral degree. However, in the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, it is possible to appoint a second thesis advisor, who does not hold a doctor’s degree, based on artistic merit or competence in the area of research.

Degree regulations on doctoral education (DRDE), item 3, obliges schools to nominate supervising professors to every student who is pursuing her/his studies.

The duties and rights of the supervising professors, thesis advisors and doctoral students have been agreed on in the Academic Affairs Committee on 20 December 2011. 

Resources for challenging situations

Well-functioning relationships between supervising professor, thesis advisor and the doctoral student are of utmost importance during the doctoral studies. Doctoral students and their thesis advisors and supervising professors may face challenges stemming from the different national, cultural and organisational backgrounds of all participants. You can always turn to the Aalto University Code of Conduct for the ‘fair play rules’ of our university community.

Often doctoral students encounter some kind of challenging situations during their studies, and we hope to be able to support them through those situations. Please see the links below for information on what kind of support is available for you and doctoral students at Aalto.

You can also consult the Recommendations for doctoral thesis supervision by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK) and Universities Finland UNIFI (external link).

Support for challenges during your doctoral studies

Doctoral students can encounter different kind of challenging situations during their studies. This page presents the support network of doctoral students and instructions for how to proceed if doctoral students experience any type of harrasment, bullying or misconduct, or have issues with supervision.


Doctoral student well-being

Aalto University offers varied support services accessible to all doctoral students. There is a lot of help available for you at Aalto. Check also the community health care services. The health, safety and wellbeing of our student community is essential and is indeed one of our strategic initiatives.

Students studying together

Code of Conduct - Values into practice

The Aalto University Code of Conduct is one way of putting our values and way of working — the foundation of our community culture — into practice

Kaksi henkilöä kampuksella.

Accepting new doctoral students & inviting visitors

Doctoral personal study plan (DPSP)

The doctoral personal study plan (DPSP) is a tool for discussing the plans and schedule related to the activities and resourses of your doctoral students in order to complete their studies and reseach, and to guide them towards a career. It is also a tool for agreeing about the supervision and advising that they need.

DPSP consists of the following documents

  1. Sisu credit plan (a plan concerning the content, scope and duration of studies with credits, prepared in Sisu)
  2. Research plan (according to School's instructions)
  3. Supervision plan (Aalto template)
  4. Financing plan (free format, separate instructions)
  5. Career plan (free format, separate instructions)

+ Supervising professor's confirmation form (the form is replaced by confirmation in the Student Success Hub during the autumn 2022)

Doctoral students must update their DPSP when necessary. We recommend supervising professors to discuss with their doctoral students their DPSPs at least once a year.

Students need an official confirmation for their DSPS at least twice during their studies: at the beginning and before pre-examination. In between, they should confirm the DPSP e.g. if:

  • Supervising professor, advisor(s), research topic or research field changes
  • Funding situation changes significantly
  • They are taking courses in other universities

From the autumn 2022 onwards, the DPSP will be collected and stored in the Student Success Hub (interface for faculty) / MyStudies (interface for students).

Student Success Hub for Aalto faculty is used online at

Student Success Hub instructions for faculty DPSP instructions for doctoral students
Aalto University General Regulations on Teaching and Studying (hereafter referred to as OOS) item 17 obliges every doctoral student to make a doctoral personal study plan (DPSP). OOS section 17 obliges our schools to provide guidance to prepare and update the doctoral personal study plan.

An Aalto University professor whom an Aalto school has appointed to hold overall responsibility for the degree of the doctoral student and the related supervision arrangements as well as for preparing the supervision plan with the doctoral student is called a supervising professor (DRDE item 1). The supervising professor may also act as the thesis advisor. The implementation of the doctoral personal study plan including all this is followed up yearly by the supervising professor (DRDE item 4). The supervising professor is also responsible for the supervision arrangements of the doctoral student. (DRDE item 5). The supervision arrangements must be agreed upon at the start of the doctoral studies. The supervising professor, thesis advisor(s) and the doctoral student make a written supervision plan (agreement) (as part of the DPSP) where they agree on the responsibilities, rights and obligations of each party involved in the doctoral education process. The supervision plan shall be updated as necessary.

AAC has decided (20 December 2011) that the supervision of a doctoral student means that a supervising professor meets and discusses with the doctoral student regularly and ensures that the DPSP is updated when needed.

FinDocNet online courses (external link)

Finnish Doctoral Training Network offers Moodle-based online courses for doctoral students in Finnish universities.

The text "Finnish Doctoral Training Network" on a website

JobTeaser replaced Aalto CareerWeb

Aalto JobTeaser is now the channel to promote jobs, internships, career events and advices for Aalto students.

Degree structure and curriculum

The doctoral degree at Aalto University consists of 3 modules:

  1. General research studies
  2. Research field studies
  3. Doctoral thesis

The study modules 'General research studies' and 'Research field studies' comprise altogether 40 or 60 ECTS (40 ECTS in the fields of art and design & technology, 60 ECTS in the field of business). The scope and content of each of the study modules are described in the curriculum of the doctoral programme. Credit points are not awarded for the doctoral thesis. 

Please check curriculum requirements of your doctoral programme before confirming any DPSPs.

You can advise your doctoral student to find courses from

1.Compulsory courses of the doctoral programme

2.Other courses offered by the programme / School for doctoral students

3.Language and communication courses for doctoral students & Finnish/Swedish courses by Aalto Language Centre

4.Courses on transferable skills and competences offered at Aalto

5.Courses from other Finnish universities, or from our networks like N5T, Cluster, Unite! etc.

6.Aalto University Pedagogical training

Doctoral thesis, pre-examination and defence

Proposing pre-examiners and opponents

The supervising professor is responsible for proposing two independent preliminary examiners (pre-examiners) for the pre-examination and at a later stage one or two opponents for the defence.

The qualifications and suitability should be shown by presenting the pre-examiners’ and opponents’ CVs and lists of publications or an equivalent clarification (e.g. web links to the examiners’ home pages).

In addition to the CVs and publication lists, the supervising professor may use the Grounds for proposed pre-examiners available at the page Doctoral student forms.


The pre-examiners and opponents:

  • have to possess sufficient scientific competence and authority in the thesis’ research field or fields and have a sufficient amount of scientific publications. Pre-examiners should actively publish in the field of the thesis.
  • have to hold a doctor’s degree.
  • should be among the best experts within the field from Finland or abroad. They need to be independent experts in the field, external to the School. The recommendation is to use international experts external to Aalto University.

Guidelines for the process

  • The doctoral student cannot take part in making the proposal for the pre-examiners and opponent(s), but if they disagree (e.g. in case of bias), they can submit a written notice for the Doctoral programme committee before the pre-examiners / opponet(s) are appointed.
  • The supervising professor makes the proposal but may ask the thesis advisor(s) for suggestions for pre-examiners and opponent(s)
  • Before making the proposal to the Doctoral Programme Committee, the supervising professor must contact the examiners and check that they are willing to examine the thesis within the given time.
  • A pre-examiner may serve as an opponent. CHEM & ELEC: In this case, also a second opponent must also be appointed.
  • ELEC & SCI: Only for very special reasons (written motivation why nobody outside Aalto can be appointed) the pre-examiners and opponent(s) can be appointed from Aalto University, but not from the doctoral student’s own school, the school of the supervising professor, the co-supervisor or the thesis advisor or the research group in which the doctoral thesis is done.
  • Field of arts and design: It is possible to appoint a third pre-examiner on the basis of artistic merit only (without a doctor’s degree).

Objectivity and impartiality in choosing examiners

The pre-examiners are to present their own, independent, expert and impartial evaluation of the doctoral thesis and thus they cannot:

  • be a close relative of the student
  • be the student's immediate superior
  • have a too close relation to the author of the thesis, its supervising professor or thesis advisor

Please also see Aalto University's general guidance on objectivity and impartiality (

School-specific guidelines regarding collaborations and more detailed requirements

Best practices from schools

This selection of supervision practices at Aalto University is meant to serve as a tool for peer-learning, providing practical tips and illustrating experiences on doctoral supervision from the ground.

Doctoral education services

Doctoral education services team is part of Learning Services.

See contact information

Related pages

Doctoral education

Doctoral student, supervising professor and thesis advisor: this is your hub for doctoral education. The information sources collected on this hub related to doctoral theses, doctoral programmes, public defences and management of doctoral edudation, to name a few, are also useful for our applicants and stakeholders.

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