Yesterday was a different kind of D-Day. David was defending his PhD thesis in the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. The European system is quite different from the UK one, where you sit in a small room with one or two examiners and discuss the finer points of your work before they say yes or no and usually advise changes to be made before you have passed. Some months later there follows a grand graduation ceremony with robes and processions and speeches… Here in the Netherlands you get it all over in one day – actually in about one and a half hours!
The procedure went something like this: at 9.45am precisely, David (wearing the regulation tuxedo) processed into the auditorium behind the beadle (a university official carrying a mace); the ‘rector magnificus’ (who chaired the ceremony); five ‘opponents’; his two ‘promoters’ (supervisors) and two ceremonial assistants (oddly referred to as ‘paranymphs’). In David’s case Sarah and Catherine acted as paranymphs: the theory is that if the candidate collapses or cannot for any reason complete the defence, the paranymphs will take over on his behalf! First off, David was invited to give a 10-minute introduction to his work and then each opponent had 10 minutes to question him on any aspect of the thesis. After exactly one hour, the beadle re-entered the hall and announced: ‘Hora Est’, whereupon the proceedings ended (this happens even if someone is speaking at the time). The platform party then trooped out to have a private consultation to decide if he should be awarded the PhD. Since the thesis has already been passed by a majority of five readers prior to D-Day, some say the Defence is really a piece of theatre. However, it’s not all over until the procession re-enters the hall and the official announcement has been made, the certificate handed over and the congratulatory ‘laudation’ delivered. David’s laudation was delivered by his supervisor and dear friend Parush Parushev.
Unknown to David, his thesis had been sent out to three extra readers who agreed with the other five that it was an exceptional piece of work and so he was awarded PhD cum Laude – a rare honour and the first for an IBTSC Amsterdam student.
After the ceremony we all went off to a nearby restaurant for lunch with family and friends and it was all over. No robes, no garden party, no Vice Chancellor’s speech… suits David’s taste down to the ground! There is the wonderful satisfaction of having finished the job and the icing on the cake was being awarded a cum Laude. We all had a wonderful day. Well done, Dr David!