Attendees and their positions during a PhD defense

Gepubliceerd op 7 juli 2023 om 12:00

After approximately four years (or in some cases slightly longer, and even longer if you are having a parttime PhD position) of hard work, the moment has arrived: you are allowed to defend your thesis! A giant milestone, that can still be kind of nerve-racking. The defense of your thesis always follows strict ceremonies and protocols. These can differ between universities, but every PhD defense in the Netherlands has a couple of set positions.

Supervising PhD team

These are your own promotor(s) and copromotor(s). Most universities demand that you have anything between one and four PhD supervisors. You always have at least one promotor, a professor connected to a university. It is common to have a copromotor as well, who has provided you with the day-to-day supervision. It is possible to also have a second promotor and/or copromotor. During your defense, your entire supervising PhD team is present.

The corona (no, not the pandemic-one)

You will defend your thesis against an ensemble of professors and/or researchers with a PhD, who have expertise in your field. These are your opponents. Most times these are the professors from your reading committee (these are the three professors who have decided that your thesis is worthy of a doctorate, which means that you are allowed to defend it). The corona is made complete with other professors and experts with a PhD. It is customary (and sometimes even required) that at least half of the corona is made up with representatives of the university from which you are about to earn your PhD.


Rector Magnificus

The Rector Magnificus is chair(wo)man of the College voor Promoties (English: College for Doctorates). Thise is the dean of the university where you obtain your PhD. The Rector Magnificus also acts as the chair person of the corona during your PhD defense. He/she will give the floor to the various opponents in the corona and makes sure that all opponents have approximately the same amount of time to ask their questions. Furthermore, the Rector Magnificus always asks: ‘Does anyone from the audience wishes to exchange views with the candidate?'. Do not be alarmed: an audience member is not allowed to do this spontaneously, but must make a written request in advance. The PhD candidate is told if anyone wishes to use this opportunity.


Being paranymph is sort of an honorary job, similar to being man/maid of honor at a wedding. The role of a paranymph is mostly ceremonial, but sometimes the paranymph is asked to read one of the statements accompanying the thesis out loud. Although not every Dutch university has this tradition of statements accompanying your dissertation. Moreover, the official role of your paranymph is to stand-by to take over your PhD defense in case you are suddenly unable to do it yourself, for example due to an illness or injury. Rest assured, this hardly ever happens!

Beadle (in Dutch: pedel)

The beadle of the university retrieves you and your paranymphs from the so-called ‘zweetkamertje’ (in English: sweating room), the room where you are waiting until you PhD defense begins. The beadle escorts you and your paranymphs to the auditorium where your defense will take place. (S)he does the same for your supervising team and the corona. The beadle also indicates when the appointed time for your defense has passed, by pounding the scepter on the floor and calling out ‘Hora est!’ or ‘Hora finita!’.



Every promotion is open to the public and therefore anyone is welcome to come and admire you. Your co-authors, coworkers, colleagues from other institutions, as well as any participants in your research, friends and family, will be present on your big day. The audience has no other task than to sit down, listen and be proud of you.

And of course the most important one of all: the actual PhD candidate!

If we still have to explain this role, something has gone terribly wrong during the last four years of your PhD research… But rest assured: at some point we will certainly write a different blog about how you can prepare yourself for this big day!

Anecdotal evidence

Jojanneke received a question from a member of the audience during her PhD defense. She had of course been informed about this in advance. However, she had not thought about telling her parents that this was going to happen. So when a man suddenly rose from the audience to ask his question during her defense, it almost scared her father into having a heart attack! It took all he had not to stand up and tell the good man to be quiet and sit down again...


Rating: 4 sterren
1 stem

Reactie plaatsen


Er zijn geen reacties geplaatst.