PhD defenses – finding myself on the other side of the table

The traditions and ceremonies surrounding PhD thesis and defenses thereof differ per country. Now that I moved back to the Netherlands, my guess is that I will be participating in more Dutch PhD defenses, not as a candidate or paranymph, but on the other side of the table as a member of the “oppositie- / promotiecommittee”. The promotion committee is the committee that actually reads and judges your thesis whether you will be allowed to defend your thesis in public. That defense consist of a 45 minutes session where you need to debate your thesis with the opposition committee. As a side note, these committees overlap, but are in fact separate. There is also a difference in the duties – When you are in the “promotiecommissie” you are expected to read and evaluated the whole thesis in much detail, which naturally takes up quite some time. The members of the “oppositiecommissie” typically divide up the work, as you only get to discuss the thesis with the thesis for 5-10 minutes during that 45 minutes “viva”.

Anyway, in the last two months, I have been a member of two if those committees. Yes, that does take away some of your time for research, but it is not time lost. In pre-COVID times, these defenses were big happenings (I described the whole ceremony before). They were are a great way to catch up with old friends, and of course you learn a lot from the research presented by and discussed with the candidate. Interestingly, you meet a lot of new individuals as well – and with that a lot of new research ideas and collaborations just might develop. However, PhD defenses are now “COVID-19 proof” which is just a euphemism for “ZOOM” and a lot of that cool stuff that made PhD defenses worthwhile are now lost.

Although a disappointing state of affairs, I have decided to not let this ZOOM/COVID-19 spoil my opportunity to learn. And to track that, I have I will write a post every time I am a member of a PhD committee. These topics will be quite varied and there might be some critical notes here or there, but I will finish every time with what lesson I learned while reading the thesis.