Proceedings in the public examination and lectio praecursoria

These guidelines are based on a text written by Professor Päivi Korvajärvi(University of Tampere). Her text was transformed into these guidelines by Professor Suvi Ronkainen (University of Lapland).

Proceedings in the public examination

The custos opens the public examination by saying “As the custos appointed by the Faculty of X, I hereby declare this public examination open”. Thereafter, it is the doctoral candidate’s turn to deliver her/his lectio praecursoria, not exceeding 20 minutes. The lectio praecursoria must begin with addressing the custos first, then the opponent, and finally the audience. Here is an example: “Mr./Mrs./Ms. Custos , Mr./Mrs./Ms. Opponent, Ladies and Gentlemen.”

After the lectio praecursoria, the doctoral candidate recites, still standing: “May I ask you, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Professor, as the opponent appointed by the Faculty of X, to present the notions and comments on my doctoral dissertation that you deem appropriate.” Thereafter the opponent gives her/his statement in a summarising manner. The doctoral candidate remains standing while listening to the opponent’s statement. The doctoral candidate and the opponent sit down after the opponent’s statement.

The opponent usually poses questions about the methodology and other general issues before moving on to more detailed questions. At the end of the public examination, after thanking the opponent, the doctoral candidate faces the audience and recites “Ladies and gentlemen, if anyone present wishes to comment on my doctoral dissertation, please ask the custos for the floor.” At the end of the public examination, the custos thanks the opponent on behalf of the University and concludes the public examination by saying “The public examination is now finished.”

Lectio praecursoria

Your lectio praecursoria gets considerable interest and attention; therefore it is worthwhile to prepare it carefully. Ideally, your lectio praecursoria takes the audience to the core of your research work – without watering down the actual public examination. Your lectio praecursoria should explain the research in a way that is easily grasped by laymen – and it is not to exceed 20 minutes. During that time,the doctoral candidate should take the floor as an expert and present the research work comprehensibly to the audience.

It is not advisable to present detailed information about the methods or theoretical concepts, since the opponent will undoubtedly ask about them. You should focus on presenting what is most important and interesting in your research; this can reflect your own opinion. The opponent will listen to the speech very carefully. The speech should focus on crystallising some themes of your research work, making them ready for discussion, or presenting the research work in a more general way.

Practical notions

  • Prepare for your lectio praecursoria well in advance. Finalise the speech and rehearse it at least two days prior to the public examination. You will most likely be very busy giving interviews and doing other preparations after that.
  • Check the amount of symbols in your lectio praecursoria (10,000–13,000 symbols). Rehearse the speech beforehand by speaking to a critical listener who does not know much about your research work. This way you can test whether your speech is comprehensible and adjust your speaking pace if necessary. It is advisable to do this at least three days before the public examination to enable you to shorten the speech if necessary. Please note that the duration of your speech is determined by your speaking pace. The speech is not to exceed 20 minutes but it can be shorter than that. Do rehearse it beforehand!
  • It is a positive contribution to your speech if you can make your audience laugh. Try to do it early on in your speech; you will become more relaxed.
  • Write down the formal addresses – the phrases you need to say before and after the lectio praecursoria – in your speech paper as well. There is a specific phrase you need to say at the end of your speech (please see Proceedings in the public examination). You can write it down on a separate card.
  • When finalising your speech on paper, write or even draw something that puts a smile on your face and makes your speech even better. You can also write a reminder for yourself about looking at the audience and keeping a relaxed speaking pace.

About the structure and content

The structure and content of your lectio praecursoria must be carefully planned, as the time limit is 20 minutes. The following paragraphs describe two different speeches given by doctoral candidates in their public examinations.
Description of Päivi Korvajärvi’s lectio praecursoria

In her doctoral dissertation, Päivi Korvajärvi’s research topic was gendered practices in working life.

I tried to explain my research in a way that laymen will grasp it. I did not mention any theories, other researchers or texts written by others. I did not place my research in the currents of social psychology, sociology of work, or gender studies.

  • the topic was introduced by giving general information that connects it with the current situation or discussion in the society
  • the introduction was followed by some concretisation – an example from working life or a quote from an interview was given
  • the research work was presented through its research questions and their justifications (circa 2/5 of the time used )
  • the most important results were explained to conclude, the connection between working life and the research work, and what it enables, were presented

Päivi’s research topic was empirical and easily comprehensible. In social psychology, it is traditional in a lectio praecursoria to justify why the research work belongs to the discipline. Päivi did not do that, however.
Description of Suvi Ronkainen’s lectio praecursoria

Suvi Ronkainen’s doctoral dissertation topic is epistemology of empirical social research and the human agency of the knowing subject. This is her description of her lectio praecursoria.

I introduced the topic by telling a story about how I became interested in my research questions. The story contained a metaphor about Lilith, who was chased out of paradise, and Eve, who was created from a rib to help the human, and about Adam and the tree of knowledge. Using a metaphor, I stated that my aim in thinking about knowledge is to have a Lilith-like approach, that is, to ask familiar questions about knowledge in an unfamiliar way. At this point I had used 1/6 of the time.

Staying in the story format, I explained the central concepts of my research work: human agency, survey and speech communities, corporal subjectivity and knowledge. This took quite a long time, as I presented a fictitious example to make the concepts more easily comprehensible. By now, I had used circa 4/6 of the time.

I concluded the speech by discussing my research through the same metaphorical story. I asked what actually was the sin Lilith was guilty of, causing her expulsion from Paradise. The answer was corporality. This way, I was able to again discuss the central idea about the subject of knowledge and corporality. I juxtaposed this with a central metaphor in my research work, the wolf. The wolf in mythology is often compared with order-defying impurity and obscurity. The tame equivalent is the dog. Finally, I posed a provocative question; I asked whether scientific knowledge allows only pure and tame answers. I continued claiming that if this is the case, it is no wonder that scientific institutions tolerate Eves as knowing subjects, since she was created to help the human. My speech was concluded with the question: What happens to all the Liliths? At this point, I had used 6/6 of the time available.

Suvi Ronkainen’s lectio praecursoria focused on the central concepts of the research and discussion about knowledge. The themes were underpinned by the actual performance – the metaphorical story and references to it.

Some details worth considering

  • Visit the lecture hall beforehand and imagine the situation.
  • Do not leave anything that is absolutely necessary to be done two days before the public examination. It is unlikely that you have time for it.
  • Prepare your speech for the post-doctoral party (in Finnish: karonkka) well in advance as well. Do not leave it to the last minute.
  • Have a hearty meal before your public examination. You might not feel hungry because of nervousness, but it is advisable to eat to avoid fatigue.
  • If you think you might enjoy having a bit of chocolate to get some energy during the breaks, bring some with you.
  • If you are going to wear a skirt in your public examination, keep a spare pair of tights somewhere handy just in case.