After at least four years of research, the PhD ceremony will conclude your PhD project and award the doctor’s degree. The promotion ceremony is a fixed ritual with many traditions and is mainly dedicated to defending the dissertation. The doctoral candidate is challenged by the Doctorate Committee about his or her work. This committee consists of the personal supervisor of the PhD student and other professors who understand the field of work in which the PhD student has studied. The precise program of the ceremony differs per university. Whether you are going to graduate yourself or visit a promotional ceremony of someone else: in this article you can read what you can expect.

Etiquette, clothing and entry

The PhD student will wear representative clothing during the doctoral ceremony. Promotion means at most universities that the doctoral candidate is wearing a suit, but that is not mandatory at every university. No explicit etiquette applies to invited guests. Promotion is festive but formal for family and friends. They usually wear decent, representative clothes.

The doctoral candidate will be assisted during the ceremony by two paranymphs. These are two (former) fellow students – but sometimes also friends or family – who can be consulted by the PhD student during the defense of the dissertation. Nowadays this happens rarely. The paranymphs have been given a ceremonial role.

The doctoral candidate, paranymphs and promotion committee enter the promotion room after each other. They are preceded by the university’s beadle wearing a traditional garment. The order in which everyone enters differs per university.

The professors in the doctoral committee wear a gown and hat that are customary at their university. The Doctorate Committee usually consists not only of professors from the university who receive a doctorate.

Defense dissertation

The defense of the dissertation is usually opened by the personal supervisor of the PhD student, but that also differs per university. The doctoral committee came up with a number of questions for the ceremony that they ask during the session. Seldom simple, short answers are given to this. Because the ceremony lasts exactly 45 or 60 minutes, it is the art to elaborate on the subject, related themes and the work of the professors in the committee during the answer. The committee itself is doing the same. This underlines that a PhD session actually has a ceremonial function: the assessment is usually already established.

The family and friends who visit the promotion ceremony often understand very little of the defense. Therefore it is customary for some universities to hand out a promotional booklet, where the PhD topic is explained in understandable terms. Mandatory or not, it is always a gesture that your guests can appreciate.

After 45 or 60 minutes the beadle comes in again, stomps with his scepter on the floor and calls “Hora Est!” (Latin for “It’s time”), with which the session is closed.

Assessment and conclusion

The committee withdraws to determine the assessment. Usually it is already fixed, but it can be rounded up or down if the PhD student has answered the questions particularly well or badly.

The committee returns and makes the rating known. The supervisor of the doctoral candidate will give a personal speech and will award the doctoral degree. After the speech, the committee leaves the room. The PhD student and guests will usually have a reception afterwards, where it is customary for the doctoral candidate to provide the drinks. You can deduct the costs of your PhD reception from the tax as study costs (more information).

Propositions: promotion old style

In the past, people did not graduate on a thesis. Instead of this proposals were drawn up and discussed in detail with the Doctorate Committee. Particulary in medical sciene they saw the advantages of this PhD ceremony, other scientific disciplines followed. Nowadays, theses are added to the thesis at some universities, but these are mainly ceremonial in nature.

It is sometimes a tradition to add essays to your thesis in addition to normal statements. Jokes are playful statements with which the PhD student often gives to make people smile. For example:

“The best racks are made of wood”

– Robertus Adrianus Eek, mechanical engineer, TU Delft.

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