Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - Do the Rite Thing

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit - Do the Rite Thing

Article excerpt

I have just chaired my first doctoral defence in Sweden. About 50 people were in attendance - nearly filling the high-tiered old lecture hall where the defence was held - including the candidate's relatives and family friends, members of our department, two external examiners, one internal examiner and an "opponent" who was flown in from Australia for the occasion.

I opened the ceremony with a brief speech. For about an hour and a half the opponent then spoke, explaining and critiquing the dissertation, praising it here, blaming it there, and questioning the candidate over details and fundamental issues. Then the examiners asked questions of the candidate. I closed the session with a brief speech. Audience members were invited, on their way out, to pick up a copy of the dissertation, of which about 50 had been professionally printed, and to join the candidate for refreshments at our department's common room.

Meanwhile, I took the examiners to a private conference room to discuss the situation.

The discussion was intense, serious and probing, but it was also redundant. A "mock defence" had been held the previous year, with another opponent flown in, and at that time serious objections had been raised. Those objections had been accommodated, the dissertation rewritten and approval granted by the candidate's two supervisors. So now we debated, in earnest, a fait accompli. The candidate would pass and without comment. None was allowed. So we talked about the dissertation and then agreed to do what it had already been agreed that we would do. We filled out and signed a brief one-page form. The committee joined the candidate's guests, I made the announcement that everyone was expecting and the champagne flowed.

Then about 30 of us reconvened for a formal reception where we sat at long, elegantly laid tables in a large function room at a university college and ate and drank. …

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