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On the road to the defense, part I

Ladies and gentleman, this is the beginning of the end! I am scheduled to defend my PhD thesis on

June 14th 2013 at 12:30 pm
at the Senaatszaal in the TU Delft Aula.
During a defense at Delft University of Technology, the PhD Candidate gives a presentation for friends and family (and not the committee), after which the real defense starts and this lasts exactly for an hour. The Beadle (lady at the right in the photograph) marks the beginning and the end of this hour. Then, the committee retreats, and then the commencement ceremony starts. So, you could say that it’s a bit of an all-in-one experience.
Since a Dutch defense is super formal, it takes quite some steps before actually getting to the point of the defense. I’ll blog about this process (you could have seen that coming), and today I’m giving you an update of the steps I have gone through so far. 
My goal for writing these steps out is to give PhD candidates at Delft University of Technology a heads-up on what they can except at the end, and to explain the rest of the world why it takes so long from finishing the draft thesis to defending.
1. Finish draft thesis
I finished and delivered my first full draft on November 14th of 2012. This first draft was a compilation of all the chapters I had written previously. As my promotor and copromotor worked their way through the document, I started adding the list of notations, summary, acknowledgements and curriculum vitae – as well as try to make my drawings look a little better (still something I struggle with).
2. Improve draft thesis with promotor and copromotor
During the months of December and January, I went through 4 rounds of sitting with my promotor and copromotor. The first three rounds were all aimed at getting their feedback on my chapters, and the final round was for me to show them how I implemented their comments and how I extended my theoretical work.
3. Acceptance of draft by promotor (PROM3)
That was The Big Day. We call it “getting the signature”. It means that your promotor signs the form PROM3 – which actually clears your road to the defense. For me, this happened on January 29th – and I won’t forget that day easily. I had caught the flu, was roaming around with a high fever, sweat dripping down my back and abdomen, nervous as hell as I knew I’d get my Yes or No… and I felt such joy and relief when I had the form signed and well in my hands.
4. Compilation of committee
There are strict rules in the doctoral regulations with regard to the thesis committee. The committee consists of the rector magnificus, promotor, copromotor, 5 more people and a spare member. A given number of these need to be full professors, a given number should not have been involved in the research and a certain number needs to be from outside of Delft University of Technology. It’s a bit like counting little dolls – check if you have enough of each set in your collection.
5. Get a defense date from the Beadle
The minimal amount of time between getting the signature on the defense is 11 weeks. I rushed out right on the 30th of January to get a possible defense date, and the earliest option that suited the Beadle, my promotor, copromotor and myself was -gasp- June 14th at 12:30. That’s 4,5 months to prepare…
6. Ask the committee if the date suits them
Here’s the tricky part: you simply need a number of (full) professors that are available on your given defense date. As finding the date with the beadle is so much of a hassle, we ended up replacing one committee member and keeping the date.
7. Final committee and send drafts
When all that’s set and done, and the final committee is compiled, it is time to send out good old fashioned hard copies of the draft thesis. I sent my last copy on February 4th. The compilation of the committee is then finalized on documents PROM4 and PROM5. As my committee changed, I need a new signature from my promotor, who unfortunately will only be back on February 18th.
8. Pause
Sit back and relax? I’m still working on improving my draft. I keep finding typos, and sentences that don’t flow as I would like them to. And my figures still look as if they’ve been drawn by someone who only learned how to draw in Illustrator about a year ago…
To be continued…

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