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A PhD defense at TU Delft

Yesterday, I attended a PhD defense for the very first time in Delft. One of my colleagues graduated, and so I was able to see how this goes and works in the Netherlands.

The defense started at 2:30pm with a presentation. That presentation was held for the audience, in a rather light style and directed to the friends and family of the PhD candidate. At that time, the committee was not in the room yet. The presentation itself lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, after which the PhD candidate took aside the laptop and presenting material.

At 3:00 pm sharp, the beadle walked in, followed by the committee. The beadle also asked everyone to stand up before the committee walked in. Professors of the committee were dressed with their cap and gown. After the committee was seated, the beadle tapped the floor with her ceremonial stick, and left the room.
The (replacer of the) rector magnificus then opened the defense by ticking with a hammer. She then asked the PhD candidate and her two paranymphs to come up to the front. After this, the first member of the committee is allowed to ask questions. Even though the defense is held in English, the official ways of addressing the PhD candidate (“waarde promovenda”) and the member of the committee are kept in Dutch. When questioning, the committee member wears his cap.
Depending on the distance the committee member has traveled, he gets a certain amount of time alloted for asking questions regarding the PhD thesis, the propositions and the background of all this. At yesterday’s defense, the first professor questioning was coming from Germany, and therefore he was allowed to question for 12 minutes. This time was strictly watched by the replacer of the rector magnificus.
The last two persons to question the PhD candidate were the copromotor and promotor.

After exactly one hour, at 4:00 pm sharp. The beadle walked in again, and marked the hour with the ceremonial stick and the words “hora est”. After this, the beadle led away the committee, while the audience was asked again to all stand up.

At 4:15pm, the committee members came back, holding a diploma. The replacer of the rector magnificus and the promotor then read out the ceremonial text in which the PhD candidate is given the title of Doctor, with all the rights associated to this title. Right after this, the promotor read out the Laudatio, a speech he prepared to give at the end of the ceremony.

After the official part, a reception at the university was given. During this reception, everyone had the chance to shake hands with the new Doctor (and her husband). The committee was the first to shake hands (and no one is allowed to go and shake hands before them). At 6:00 pm, the entire group of 60 people moved to a restaurant, where a dinner was arranged.

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This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. Wow, that is incredibly formal. Did you ever attend a defense while you were at Georgia Tech? I'm thankful ours are much more casual after reading this!

  2. I had heard it would be formal – I just didn't expect it to be medieval…Unfortunately, I never went to a defense at Georgia Tech. I plan om coming over for Andres' defense though.

  3. It's not just Delft doing it in this style. Utrecht University – my former work place – does as well, and I'm sure most other Dutch uni's make a spectacle of things like this. Tradition, I suppose?

  4. Thanks, Eva for posting what a defense of a dissertation looks like in Europe. It was interesting to read. As an American, I admit to being ignorant about what other doctoral programs are doing around the world. I also need to read peer-review journals from your part of the world as well. As always, I appreciate the gems you post.

  5. It's even different between all the dutch universities and sometimes even between faculties, as far as I've witnessed defenses. At the University of Twente you get 12 minutes max. for the so called \”lekenpraatje\” or as I'd say in english \”a presention for the laymen\”, after which the candidate and his (optional) paranymphs take a seat with the audience. The same procedure with the beadle and the committee then takes places.The actual defense then lasts 45 minutes (which is long enough I guess!), and it's not at all common that the promotor or co-promotor (if there is one) get time to ask questions. There's neither a strict amount of time for visitors to ask their questions. The language can be either english or dutch, but if you use english, it's also \”Highly learned opponent….\” When the beadle returns, he doesn't use \”Hora est\” in Twente. Which I think is a shame.

  6. It was a nice read Eva. I have a question though;what if the committee member is not satisfied with the discussion in such short time? How can one \”defend\” in just one hour: isn't it too short? Or is the actual defense already finished and what you described is only a formal conclusion?

  7. It is indeed more the conclusion of a longer process. By the time you defend your dissertation in the Netherlands, you will already have your dissertation finished, approved by your committee and published. The hard part is thus more in the writing up.

  8. That was certainly a different scene from what the traditional PhD thesis defense that you see and hear from other people. And it quite amazing to hear how they did it. Well, I think the most amazing time then was that when the promoter and the replacer of the rector magnificus read out the ceremonial text to the candidate.

  9. Thanks for this post. It helps very much in terms of explaining to my family abroad what my defense will be like here.

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