Wednesday, 8 December 2010


I am going to Norway tomorrow. This is not the best time of year to go to Norway, but I am not going for a vacation but for work. I am going for a doctoral defence. I am one of the examiners.

I've been involved in defences in various roles, in Sweden (including my own), Denmark and Finland, but never before in Norway. You would assume that countries as close as the Nordic ones would have somewhat similar rules for higher degrees, but this is not the case. The only thing in common is the public defence. In Sweden, your supervisor more or less decides when you can submit your thesis, and it has to be published, by a real publisher if you can persuade them, or by a university press. There is something radically wrong with publishing a book before you've had the chance to make the revisions suggested by the examiner, but this is how it's done. There is one opponent and three members of the examination committee, and it is exceptional to fail a thesis once it has gone to defence. In Finland, the student can submit the thesis against the supervisor's recommendation, which, however, is unusual. There is an examination committee that reads the thesis and produces a written report, occasionally with suggestions for revisions, before it goes to defence. And the thesis is graded! There is one opponent at the defence, and it's very ceremonial: traditionally men wear tails. I wore my Cambridge gown when I was the moderator. In Denmark, the committee members and the two opponents actually get together in advance, both to decide whether to pass the thesis and rehearse the defence. I remember a couple of nice trips to Copenhagen on such occasions.

In Norway, the candidate also gives a lecture. It's a cruel procedure. Three weeks prior to the defence, the committee can ask the candidate to lecture on anything within the subject. We had quite an argument about the topic, but eventually agreed. I am the first opponent so I go first after the lecture and will have to take it into consideration in case the candidate has covered the issues I have prepared to ask about. The second opponent is Danish. We will all have to speak Scandinavian to understand the nuances.We've been told that only the Dean who moderates the defence wears full academic dress.

The best thing about Nordic defences is the banquet. I mean: it is supposed to be a celebration of many years of hard work. The UK viva feels an anticlimax.

No comments: