What is the procedure during a PhD defense?

Gepubliceerd op 19 april 2024 om 12:00

Right from the start of your PhD project, you already know that the public defense of your dissertation will be the end point you are working towards. It is probably already clear to you that you will be answering questions about your research, but what does the rest of the ceremony actually entail?

Sweating room

You start the day in what we call the ‘sweating room’. This is a room near the auditorium where you can wait until it is time for the public defense. If necessary, you can change your clothes here as well. Your paranymphs are with you, but it is up to you whether you want more people with you. Most people are quite nervous and therefore prefer to only have the paranymphs around them right before the defense, also in order to stay well-focused.

Following the beadle (in Dutch: pedel)

When it is time for the defense, the beadle first brings in the professors and doctors of the corona, your opponents. Once they are seated, the beadle picks you and your paranymphs up from the sweat room and leads you inside the auditorium. When the beadle stops, the three of you first bow to the people of the corona. Then you take your seat on the defense chair and one of your paranymphs brings you your dissertation.

Opening by the Rector Magnificus

The Rector Magnificus opens the meeting. What happens next may vary per university. One university may require a ‘laymen’s' talk prior to the defense. At another university the Rector Mafnificus asks if there is anyone else in the room who would like to exchange thoughts with the doctoral candidate. This last one is just a formality. If anyone outside the corona wants to ask a question, this must be formally requested in advance. As a doctoral candidate, you will then also be informed of this. So, no surprises!

The actual defense

Next, your opponents will take turns asking their questions. The Rector Magnificus keeps an eye on the time, so that everyone gets their turn. All you have to do is answer the questions. As a general rule, the opponent with the longest travel time gets to start, under the guise of guests first.

Completing the defense

After exactly 45 minutes the beadle enters, hits the floor with the scepter and says “Hora Est" or "Hora Finita" (i.e. it is time), depending on which university you are getting your PhD from. The beadle escorts you and the paranymphs back to the sweating room and the opponents to their own chamber, where they discuss your defense. Meanwhile, the audience in the auditorium waits calmly for your return.

Awarding the doctorate

Once the opponents have finished deliberating, the beadle escorts everyone back inside. This time you stand in front of the opponents. The Rector Magnificus begins with the formal announcement that the committee has decided to award you the doctorate. Your primary supervisor then speaks some personal words to you. Finally, you are presented with your doctoral degree and with that you have officially completed your PhD. After that, it is time for a well-deserved celebration!

Reassuring disclaimer

In case you have spontaneously forgotten all this on the day of your PhD defense, rest assured. As soon as you are in the sweating room, the beadle will stop by and walk you through the entire process.


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