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 3000 doctoral students at Aalto University. For them, supervision means everything.

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Aalto University's Doctoral education services have also created a similar resource for the doctoral students (Being a doctoral student at Aalto) which also contains useful information for supervisors.

Good supervision allows the doctoral student to complete his/her 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.

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 choses 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

A well-functioning relationship between supervisor and the doctoral student  is 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).

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.

Doctoral student well-being and welfare

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

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.


Accepting new doctoral students & inviting visitors

Doctoral personal study plan

Since 1st August 2021, Aalto University General Regulations on Teaching and Studying (hereafter referred to as OOS) item 17 obliges every doctoral student to make a new doctoral personal study plan (DPSP), including the following documents:

  1. a plan concerning the content, scope and duration of studies with credits (i.e. Sisu credit plan, done 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)

OOS section 17 obliges our schools to provide guidance to prepare and update the doctoral personal study plan. 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 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 agreement shall be updated as necessary.

AAC has decided (20 December 2011) that the supervision of a doctoral student means that a supervising professor meets with the doctoral student more often, discusses regularly with the doctoral student 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.

Doctoral thesis, pre-examination and defence

School-specific guidelines on doctoral supervision

In addition to the university-level guidelines, schools have complementary information on doctoral supervision. Please see each doctoral programme's Into webpapges in the table below.

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
Aalto Conferment 2018, Photo: Matti Rajala

Related webpages

PhD Pathfinder (external link)

Guiding you on your PhD journey - Whether you need support to survive and thrive on your PhD journey or you want to improve your self-leadership skills as a scientist, the PhD Pathfinder is the right place for you.

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Being a doctoral student at Aalto

All you need to know about your doctoral research journey at Aalto University

Students at Aalto University
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