Monday, August 24, 2015

Celebrating a successful Ph.D. defence

The French guy in our lab was defending his Ph.D. thesis recently. The presentation went well, and he answered the questions from the committee members well, or at least I think so. There were some questions where I did not understand what the question actually was. Everything was done in English, which made some of the committee members hard to understand...

The process here at our university is very different from the process at Swedish universities. When I got my Ph.D. back in Sweden, there was about an hour or so of presenting the contents of my thesis. Then there was about an our or so of questions to me, asking why I had done things in this way and not in that etc. Then the committee that decides if you pass or not asked me questions for another 30 minutes or so, and then anyone who was there (the Ph.D. defense is open to the public) could ask questions. In Japan, my friend only had 20 minutes or so to present his thesis, and then there were something like 10 minutes for questions. The whole affair was very short.

In Sweden, the committee members are usually from other universities, and are at least not from your own department or research group. Here in Japan, all the committee members are professors of our department, more specifically they are the most closely related professors. Perhaps not the best way to get an unbiased view of whether the research is good enough.

In Sweden, you also have to print your thesis three weeks in advance of the defense, and send it to various libraries and universities. The public needs to have at least three weeks to read the thesis so they have the chance to come to your defense and say that they do not think your research is good enough or to come and ask you to explain some points they are unclear on. In Japan, no one outside the committee ever sees the thesis, as far as I can understand.

After the defense, the committee deliberated for a while and I waited around outside together with my quite nervous friend. A professor came out and said that the committee was finished and that my friend could go in and collect his stuff now (his bag and laptop). He also mentioned that he thought the presentation was good. When my friend went in to get his stuff, all the other professors were still there, but no one said anything at all to him, which was a bit weird to me. In Sweden, everyone would say "Congratulations!" to you when this was finished.

In Sweden, you then celebrate and everyone keeps congratulating you during the day. Here, our professor rode the elevator together with us and he did not say "congratulations" or anything like that. He instead kept mentioning how bad the answer to some question had been, how he had found a spelling mistake on page 25 of the thesis, how the section numbering in the thesis and on the slides in the presentation were out of sync in one of the chapters, etc.

I thought this was a bit sad for my friend, so I mentioned that my thesis had the first spelling error (that I am aware of) on page 3, so if he made it to page 25 before he had any errors that was very impressive. We also went out to celebrate in the evening at a Chinese place my friend likes (I like it too).

All in all, I prefer the Swedish system, that seems to give a pretty fair review of the work (plenty of time, hopefully unbiased committee members) and ends with happy doctors (people congratulating you and celebrating), haha.

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