Perhaps you have already experienced a PhD thesis defence. You may have noticed that, in addition to the PhD student, there are some more people in formal attire. In some situations the persons in question also have the task to read some statements or passages from the thesis. Who are these people and why are they present at the PhD defence?
These persons have a special task during the defence of the doctoral candidate. In this blog article we will discuss the paranymphs and their tasks. We provide more information on the following subjects:
- What is a paranymph?
- Dutch tradition
- Who will be your paranymphs?
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What is a paranymph?
Every PhD candidate has two or sometimes even more paranymphs. Traditionally, the word paranymph means “bridesmaid”. The word paranymph comes from the Greek words para and numfios, literally: for the groom. In the past, obtaining a PhD was seen as a marriage to the university. This may also be the explanation to include paranymphs in the promotion.
There are wild stories about the history of the paranymph. There are people who claim that they were ever set up to protect the doctoral candidate should a scuffle arise. Others claim that they could be deployed in the event that the doctoral candidate could not answer a question from the Doctorate Committee due to spontaneous amnesia. Evil tongues even claim that they used to be hired by the wealthy to souffle them if they had not written the PhD thesis themselves.
Using paranymphs during your PhD defence is a typical Dutch tradition. Paranymphs today mainly have a ceremonial function. A paranymph is often a fellow student but it can also be a family member, friend or colleague. Contrary to popular belief, a paranymph does not necessarily have knowledge of the subject of the PhD dissertation. It might come in handy but just like a witness at a wedding, it is an honor to be a paranymph.
Besides the PhD student, a paranymph should also be dressed formally. During the doctoral defence ceremony, a paranymph may be asked to read one of the propositions or a passage from the dissertation. There is no strict requirement that paranymphs must speak English or Dutch.
Paranymphs in other countries
Why are paranymphs only used in the Netherlands? In France, the paranymphs disappeared after the French Revolution, and in Germany the entire promotion ceremony was abolished in the nineteenth century. Only the exam remains. A paranymph becomes redundant without an official ceremony. The Netherlands uses an exam and ceremony in one. As a result, paranymphs are only present at a defence in the Netherlands.
Who will be your paranymphs?
A paranymph is someone who knows you well, but also someone you can fall back on if necessary. Someone you trust. Think of a family member, a good friend or a fellow student. The latter is most obvious because he or she often has daily contact with you and therefore sees more of what you are doing. But you ultimately decide who you choose. It is literally your day, your party!