Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Defense, Part II

Hein Röhrig successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Amsterdam yesterday. The Dutch thesis defense reminds me most of a traditional American wedding. The defense takes place in a chapel. The players include the defender (Röhrig), two paranimf (the groomsmen role), the promotor (advisor, in Röhrig's case two promoters: Harry Buhrman and Paul Vitányi), a Pedel (an official position in the university now held by a woman; she plays a master of ceremonies role) and eight opponents (including myself). The defender and paranimf are in full tux and tails, the Pedel and full professors in academic gowns and the other opponents in suits. In the audience are the defender's friends and family.

The ceremony starts by the defender giving a short description of this thesis to the audience from a Podium in front of the chapel. Led by the Pedel, the promotors and opponents enter the chapel from the back and march to sit in the choir seats. For forty-five minutes the opponents, one at a time, ask hard questions to the defender about his thesis. At the end the Pedel reenters the chapel marches to the front, hits her staff on the ground and says "Hora Est" (Time has expired). The opponents and promotors march out of the chapel to a discussion room where we vote on the defense and sign the thesis. We march back in, present the diploma where the promoters read some traditional text and give a short speech.

The ceremony is followed by a receiving line and reception with dinner later on.

Call me a romantic but I truly enjoy the pomp and circumstances that accompany the Dutch defense sorely lacking in the American counterpart.

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