Finland: PhD Doctoral Sword and Top Hat Graduation Outfit

Welcome to our exploration of one of the most unique traditions of academic achievement – Finland’s PhD Sword and Top Hat Graduation Outfit.

This distinctive Finnish tradition embodies a scholar’s quest for truth and knowledge, setting it apart from common academic ceremonies worldwide.

We dive into the deep significance of the doctoral sword and hat, the specific dress code, and other formalities involved in the graduation ceremony.

In this intriguing journey, we also shed light on how these practices reflect the Finnish dedication to higher education and academia, culminating in the doctoral hat, sword, and much more. Join us as we delve into the splendid world of Finnish PhD traditions.

Finland’s Doctoral Sword and Hat

Finland’s Doctoral Sword and Hat are unique symbols of academic achievement, representing a researcher’s dedication to the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

The sword, along with its scabbard, carried traditionally on the left side, becomes a precious possession, often engraved with the name and the date.

The sword, designed by Akseli Gallén-Kallela, is the only official civilian sword in Finland, reflecting a scientist’s fight for what they’ve discovered through rigorous research to be good, right, and true.

The doctor’s hat represents liberty, scholarship, and freedom of research, showcasing a clear and natural dedication to answering questions in their field.

With hat colors and emblems varying according to university and discipline, these powerful symbols mark one’s accomplishments and commitment to higher education at Finnish conferment ceremonies.

The Dress Code for a Finnish PhD

The dress code for a Finnish PhD conferment ceremony includes wearing a doctoral hat and sword, with the hat color representing the specific degree and its emblem denoting the university.

They are also often required to wear white gloves and other formal attire.

Other formal events within the festivities may require different attire, such as evening gowns and suits or cocktail dresses for men and women, but the distinctive doctoral hat and sword stand for the dress code at the core of a Finnish PhD ceremony.

Other formalities at Finish universities for a PhD graduation

It is not just about the PhD Sword and hat, there are other formalities that need to happen for the graduation. 

The events are shown below in the table:

Graduation GiftPhD graduates often receive a top hat and a sword. The sword symbolizes truth, righteousness, and goodness in research and academia.
Doctoral HatThe color of the hat differs based on the specific degree and faculty. For the Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, the color is green for medical and dentistry graduates and black for philosophy and psychology graduates.
Doctoral SwordThe sword is designed by the artist Akseli Gallén-Kallela and carries the emblem of the University of Helsinki and an engraving. The sword is the only official civilian sword in Finland.
Conferment CeremonyThis is a solemn occasion where promovendi, honorary doctors, jubilee doctors, and others participating wear formal evening attire. No fur, bold jewelry, or hats (except doctoral hats) are permitted. Swords are carried by the doctoral graduands, the Conferrer, the Master of Ceremonies, and the Head Marshal.
Sword-Whetting DinnerThis is a ceremonial dinner where evening attire (white tie with a white waistcoat for men and colored full-length evening dress for women) is worn. No doctoral hats or swords are carried at this dinner.
Conferment BanquetThis is a gala dinner and ball following the conferment ceremony and church service. White tie and tails for men and full-length evening gown/suit for women (color freely chosen but not white) are worn. Hats and swords should be left at home or in the cloakroom.
Traditional DancesTraditional academic dances are performed at the Conferment Banquet. It is recommended to attend a dance class in advance.
ExcursionThis is a fairly casual event concluding the conferment festivities, organized in honor of the Conferrer. Jeans and clothes bearing advertisements are considered inappropriate.

The Hat and the Emblem Colours

It’s very important to wear the right colours and hat for the degree into which you are graduating. 

Here is a list of hat colors and emblems for various degrees at the University of Oulu:

  1. Doctor of Philosophy: Black Hat
  2. Doctor of Education: Black Hat
  3. Doctor of Medicine: Green Hat
  4. Doctor of Dentistry: Green Hat
  5. Doctor of Health Sciences: Black Hat
  6. Doctor of Science in Technology (D.Sc. (Tech.)): Specific Hat for D.Sc. (Tech.)
  7. Doctor of Science in Economics and Business Administration: Black Hat

Note that the exact appearance of each hat and emblem may vary depending on the university and discipline. 

Interesting side note: The Transportation of the PhD Sword in an Airplane

Because this is the ONLY cilivilian (non military) sword allowed in finland there are some special precautions you need to take if you are flying to another city. 

To transport a PhD sword on an airplane, follow these actionable steps:

  1. Pack the sword properly in its own transport box or package, ensuring it is secure and well-protected.
  2. Arrive at the airport with enough time to complete the necessary check-in procedures.
  3. Inform the airline staff at the check-in counter about the sword, as it must be registered and documented.
  4. The sword will be transported as registered luggage in the cargo hold, so make sure it adheres to the airline’s weight and size limitations.
  5. In the case of Finnair flights, there is no surcharge for sword transportation unless it exceeds the weight limit.
  6. For further information on sword transportation, consult the check-in counter at Helsinki-Vantaa airport or the representative of promovendi at your faculty if necessary.

Remember that sharp-edged items like swords must always be placed in checked luggage and are not allowed in the cabin.

Wrapping up – Finlands PhD sword and Hat

We’ve journeyed through Finland’s exceptional doctoral graduation customs, exploring the profound symbolism of the doctoral sword and hat, the stringent dress code, and the multitude of other traditions involved in the ceremony.

The doctoral sword, Finland’s only officially certified civilian sword, is an enduring symbol of a scientist’s relentless fight for truth and goodness, born of rigorous research. The doctoral hat, varying in color and emblem according to university and faculty, signifies liberty, scholarship, and the freedom of research.

These customs, unique to Finland, have their roots in the country’s commitment to academia and higher education, manifesting most prominently in conferment ceremonies at universities like Helsinki and Oulu.

Graduation becomes a transformative process, involving meticulous preparation, from ensuring the correct emblem on your hat to the safe transportation of your sword.

All these intricate customs and traditions symbolise the doctoral journey’s depth, contributing to an unforgettable ceremony, a testament to the rigorous research and determination of Finland’s academic fraternity. Through this journey, we hope you’ve gained a unique insight into the world of Finnish PhD graduations, their customs, and the profound symbolism they carry.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.