Avainsana-arkisto: prepare

From MSc to PhD – how the process goes at UEF! Part 1.

Every university and institution has its own requirements and procedures for the PhD thesis, defense and everything related to it, beginning from the process of applying for a PhD student position. From time to time we hear experiences from our neighboring countries through colleagues and co-workers. There are many differences between the processes, but also, many similarities. One thing in common is the thesis. Every PhD student must write a thesis, and have a public examination upon the thesis.

We have already written many posts about the daily life of a PhD student, so we will not go into details in this post. You can read more for example here, here and here. From now on we will concentrate on what happens, once the thesis is about to be ready.

Checking the layout practices from the previously printed PhD theses.

The process of thesis making

In natural sciences at UEF, a PhD thesis consists of 3-5 scientific articles, of which at least two must have been peer-reviewed and published (or at least accepted for publication) before public examination. The PhD thesis includes a thorough summary, where the most important findings of the articles have been summed up, to make a readable context that makes sense. At UEF, all PhD students are in a Doctoral School, consisting of 15 different doctoral programmes. Most of the biology students, Kaisa and Kristiina included, have made their thesis and studies at the doctoral programme of environmental physics, health and biology. The doctoral school and  programmes offer courses, and in some cases also grants for PhD students.

It is hard work to get data for you PhD thesis! Sampling campaign in Lake Junttiselkä.

Preparing for the pre-evaluation and public examination

When the thesis is ready, the main supervisor (in co-operation with the faculty officers) proposes two pre-examiners for the thesis manuscript. Not just anyone can act as a pre-examiner, because there are many requirements for one: Must be an experienced scientist, preferably a professor or at least an adjunct professor (we call it ”dosentti” here in Finland). Also, the pre-examiner is not supposed to have any co-operation with the PhD candidate, not reside at the same department or even the same university. Preferably, at least one of the pre-examiners should from a foreign country.  The pre-examiners are given two months for examining the thesis before they need to give a statement for accepting it or not. In some cases, the pre-examiners provide useful tips for improving the quality of thesis, which should be taken into consideration before sending the thesis to press. Since at least two of the articles of the PhD thesis have already been peer-reviewed and accepted, and also the supervisors have proofread and accepted the thesis for pre-examination, the statement is positive in most of the cases. But the process in still important for maintaining the quality of the theses.

The dean gives a permission for defense (väitöslupa) only after two positive statements from the pre-examiners. Then, the thesis goes to language revision and finally to press (Grano at UEF). This process might take up to two weeks, or even longer, if the first draft does not come out in a perfect shape. The printed books get delivered to the candidate before defense, and one copy must be delivered to the library at least 10 days before the defense. Also, a publishing agreement must be written with the UEF library. The library officers offer the key words and classification number for the thesis. This must all be done before sending the thesis to press. A press release must be prepared too, following the instructions of the communications and media relations department.

Also, a proposal for opponent and custos must be made in advance for the faculty. However, this cannot be done before the permission of defense has been obtained.

Remember also:

  • Do not forget to send invitations!
  • Official photo must be taken at a local photographer in advance!
  • Agreement on the dresscode together with custos and opponent.
  • Check the availability and reserve the auditorium in advance, otherwise you will not have options!

What to expect for your defence day? Stay tuned for part 2!

Text: Kaisa Figueiredo

Photos: Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen








Two new Phd dissertations from our research group!

Our PhD students Kaisa and Krista have been working extra hard within the past few months. There were many exciting moments with writing the dissertations and planning for the public examinations. In Finland, the dissertation is first sent to two pre-examiners. They shall give recommendations (is the thesis ready for publication or not) and comments for the final improvements. Then, it is time for final polishing and language editing. Finally, we get the book printed and get ready for the public examination and the evening party, Karonkka.

It was a great moment to finally get the book in your hands. Krista’s can be found in here (Adverse effects of metal mining on boreal lakes:metal bioavailability and ecological risk assessment) and Kaisa’s in here (Bioaccumulation and trophic transfer of polychlorinated biphenyls in boreal lake ecosystems:
predicting concentrations with models and passive samplers).

Krista’s final version of the PhD dissertation.

The most exciting moment was just before entering to the lecture hall, Kaisa is here with her opponent Dr. Kari Lehtonen and Custos Dr. Jarkko Akkanen

Kaisa is on her way to her public examination.

The public examination lasts usually from two to three hours and it is a  combination of interesting discussions and tough questions.

Exciting moments at Kaisa’s public examination.

Finally, everything is over and it is time to celebrate. Krista served some sparkling wine and snacks after the examination to celebrate the occasion.

Krista enjoying the sparkling wine after the examination (see the wide smile!), together with her opponent, Dr. Kari-Matti Vuori and Custos, Dr. Jarkko Akkanen

Congratulations to Kaisa, who already obtained her doctoral diploma! Krista’s diploma is still on the way, in the wheels of bureaucracy.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures from various sources (published with the kind permission of the photographers).


How to make a (better) poster?

We have all been there. You have done your research for a while, got your first results and want to go to a conference to present your work. What then? At least I and my colleagues wanted to start with having a poster presentation. I did not have enough data (or confidence) for an oral presentation, so poster it is! These are my opinions and experiences about making a poster, feel free to disagree :).

Think about your title

For larger conferences, you need to send your abstract months beforehand. It is really difficult to prepare it so early, since you may not even have all the data by that time. With an abstract, you need to come up with at title. I would advise to use a lot of effort in planning your title. It is the first step where audience decides, if they want to see your poster or not. Use keywords in your title and be precise enough. Think in advance, what kind of audience you would like to attract.

How to do it?

Conferences usually have guidelines for posters – check them! In Europe, posters are usually smaller than in North America, most often size A0. Also, European posters are typically as portrait, compared to American counterparts in landscape. It is really disappointing to prepare a poster just to find out that it doesn’t fit in the poster stand at all.

Typical poster types in Europe and North America.
Typical poster types in Europe and North America.

What would you like to tell in your poster? As a young scientist, it is tempting to present everything you have done. For my first poster, I was feeling a bit insecure and embarrassed to be such a newbie, so I wanted to show all my work in order to appear more professional. Stop right there, it’s the worst plan ever! Think about your most important/interesting result and focus on that. It is better to highlight an exciting point than tell a little bit of everything.

This leads to the next step – compress, compress and compress. A text overload is a common mistake and it makes the poster look dull and scare the audience away. Leave only the most important content to your poster. Use columns, figures and pictures to make it more readable. Use different colors and font sizes, play with layout to emphasize your main message.

If there was a poster like the one below, it would have to have an extremely interesting title for me to stay and read. And even in that case, I’d prefer to have a handout and read it back home. If I have hundreds of posters to see, the time spent on one poster is something between few seconds and couple of minutes.

Technical tips

Fonts Use large enough fonts. I would think twice before going below 30 pt (and I would use this small font only for footnotes, captions etc.). Things you want to highlight could be with a larger font, e.g. conclusions. Print a colored A4 copy of your poster and put it in front of you, arms straight. If you think your professor might have even slightest difficulties reading the text – make it larger! Another tip is to set screen to 100 % and look at your poster from 1.5-2 m away. For body text, serif fonts are easier to read. Titles are ok with sans-serifs.

Figures can help you a lot. You can use them to balance your layout and to convince your audience. But be careful with the figures, they have to be self-explanatory. You are not standing next to your poster for the whole day, people need to understand it without explanations. And they need to be understood without reading the whole poster. Show a figure to a friend or a colleague that doesn’t know your work that well. If he/she understands it in no time, you are fine to go. Also, it is not the best idea to use red and green to separate “good and bad” in your results, quite many people have problem with distinguishing red from green.

Colors As we noted in our earlier post (Here), it is advisable to use colors. A dull poster does not attract the attention. However, you don’t have to overdo it. I think I had a bit of that problem with my first poster shown below. Make few different color versions, ask opinions from other people. And remember that the colors in the final poster may not print exactly the same as in your printer.

Kristiina Väänänen's first and (over)colorful poster at SETAC Basel 2014.
Kristiina Väänänen’s first and (over)colorful poster at SETAC Basel 2014.

Software Use the software you are familiar with. If you have an opportunity to learn a new one (e.g. Adobe Illustration), go for it. But don’t do like me and waste too many hours struggling with too difficult software, finally giving up. With Power Point, you can actually go quite far.

The final touch

Finally, proof reading. Read your poster carefully for several times. Let other people read it as well. Print a copy and read that, sometimes you spot the mistakes better from a print. Note that in final printing, bits from the edges of your poster may be cut out (trimming edge). Therefore it’s good to have margins not to lose any of your important content. Make sure that you have your contact information on the poster (email and postal address). It is also a kind gesture to mention your sponsors somewhere on the poster.

Have enough time for printing and possible errors in the process. In our group, we have sometimes needed two re-dos for a poster and that may take a lot of time. Maybe you have made too many spelling errors or something has gone wrong in the printing company. When you finally get your poster from printing, check everything one more time. Hopefully, you don’t find any mistakes at this point. Additionally, print A4-sized handouts to give out in the conference.

For me, making posters is not an easy task. I don’t have a natural eye for making interesting and practical layout. My sense of color is non-existent and I get easily stuck with my initial (often bad) ideas. Time, practice and friends help though. I was actually a bit proud of my latest poster. But, a great way to get better is to follow the more talented colleagues. Our research group used to have a “Master of Great Posters” researcher Inna Nybom, who has won best poster prizes with several of her poster. I don’t know yet, how she always manages to create such delicate, beautiful and informative posters. But I continue to look her work closely, hoping to get to her level one day.

Inna Nybom's poster. Setting the bar high for the rest of us!
Inna Nybom’s poster. Setting the bar high for the rest of us!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen

Going to your first conference? Read these tips!

Going to a scientific conference for the first time is always exciting, and it is also great opportunity to learn, network and have fun. In this blog post we have gathered some practical tips and information, which you might not even consider before going to a scientific meeting for the first time. The internet (and also your boss and co-workers) are a good source of important advice about scientific meeting etiquette, in which we will not get into details now. We shall discuss about all the little details and practicalities that no-one else tells you.

It will probably be the first time that you are about to present your own work and results to a scientific public, and there are many ways that you can prepare yourself for that and make everything run smoothly in the event itself. Going to a scientific meeting also needs lots of preparation, and the more prepared you are, the easier things are likely to go. Scientific meetings may vary in size, atmosphere and procedure. In most cases you are expected to give a presentation in the conference, whether oral presentation or a poster presentation. Whether it is your financer or your boss/supervisor that requires that. They both are good ways to make your work visible to others, but there are also clear differences that you might want to consider.

Plan your presentation

Technical problems are likely to happen, so have the presentation file with you in at least two different places/storages and in a format that is most likely to be accepted worldwide in different computers or desktops. Practise your presentation in advance!! Also take printed handout of your notes, if you are likely to be nervous and forget what you were about to say. Do not fill the slides with too much information, and consider placing pictures and photos to visualize your presentation and making it more interesting.

Kristiina Väänänen giving her presentation at annual meeting of Finnish Society of Toxicology.
Kristiina Väänänen giving her presentation at annual meeting of Finnish Society of Toxicology.

Poster sessions, instead, are nice opportunities to discuss about your work face-to-face with time with those that are interested in the topic, or have something to contribute with or share new ideas. The negative thing about giving a poster presentation is that you have to make the poster, have it printed out well in advance, and carry it to the meeting and back. You might not want to have it with your hand luggage, because it is easy to forget in an airplane – or to be lost by airline, but putting your poster tube into the actual luggage might be even more risky. If you have colleagues traveling with you, consider sharing a poster tube together and carry in turns. Before leaving from office, print out A4 handouts to be given to those that are interested, and do not hesitate to hand cards with your contact details to people passing by your poster. You can also print a QR code (and put it in your poster) linking to a website where your contact details or your research group can be found.

In many poster sessions there are hundreds of posters and limited time to go through all of them – those that are interested and with limited time in the conference, might get back to you afterwards. Do not forget to take nails and pins for hanging your poster on the wall! Not all conferences provide those. Check the poster regulations in advance. If a European conference wants you to have a portrait poster in A0 size, it might look ridiculous in a North American meeting, there the larger is the better and poster walls are at least twice as big! Use colours in your poster and do not do what I did: grey poster on a grey poster wall was not a brilliant idea. I did not win the best poster’s prize. Remember that most people who come to see your poster, know nothing about it. Prepare a short “speech” or summary to highlight the main principles, methods and findings to be shared with the curious listeners.

Kaisa Figueiredo with her poster at SETAC in New Orleans. Grey was the color of the day!
Kaisa Figueiredo with her poster at SETAC in New Orleans. Grey was the color of the day!

Prepare well your source of nutrition and hydration

Some conferences include coffee breaks and free lunches for the participants, while the others do not. Make sure that you are taking some snacks and a water bottle with you – otherwise you might get hungry and suffer from low blood sugar, loss of liquids and get cranky and uncomfortable. The disadvantage of carrying too much stuff with you, is that your bag might get too heavy and give you painful neck and sore shoulders. Avoid laxative food and snacks, and make sure that your snacks are not wrapped in a paper that makes noise in the lecture room.


Especially if you are a woman, consider taking various pairs of good shoes with you. What is good for an evening get-together in a fancy restaurant or a cocktail party, might not be a good choice for standing by your poster for several hours, or walking long distances between the lecture halls (especially if the conference happens to be one of those with > 5000 participants and 8 sessions going on simultaneously).  Some hotels have spa, poor or Jacuzzi facilities for their guests. Do not forget your bathing suit at home! This is especially important, if you are travelling to a scientific meeting in Florida in November. It would also be a good idea to pack clothes that are comfortable to wear and do not get wrinkled in your suitcase during travel. An extra pair of pantyhose might not be a bad idea, since they break easily and you might not have time or opportunity to look for new ones in the middle of a conference day.

Have enough sleep

Although the social programme might be interesting and networking possibilities tempting, do not forget to have enough rest! When you have slept enough, you can handle the long days and flood of information that you are most likely to get. Especially if you have small children at home, take a scientific conference also as an opportunity to have good sleep and rest well. If you travel to a distant city/country where you have never been before, take advantage and travel 1 day before, or if possible, take some extra days after the conference to see around and get to know the new destination.

There should always be time to relax during your conference trip! Photos by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen.
There should always be time to relax during your conference trip! Pictures by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen.

Good luck! After the trip be prepared to share the experience with your co-workers, and why not, prepare a blog post about your journey, if you or your research group have an active blog. Use social media as a tool for networking and raising awareness about the event and yourself as a scientist! Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer good opportunities for that. See and be seen!

Network and share your ideas!
Network and share your ideas!


Text by Kaisa Figueiredo