In Praise of the Public Thesis Defence


The ICCUB is quite large, which means that there are quite a few talks to go to, including seminars and colloquia but also thesis defences, such as one I attended this morning. The format for these events is a talk by the candidate in the presence of a panel of experts, who ask questions at the end, but the whole thing is open to the general public. After the panel questions there is an opportunity for questions from the audience, but only from those who have a doctorate. I was tempted, but didn’t put my hand up.

Anyway, this morning’s talk was well attended and of very high quality and, as usual, the whole event lasted getting on for two hours. It’s a very different experience from the form of viva voce examinations used for PhDs in the UK and Ireland.

I like to attend these public thesis defences because they’re a very good way of finding out about the research going on in areas away from my own specialism. In physics the people who are really working at the coal face are the PhD students so one often learns more about the details from such talks than from colloquia from senior folk, which are usually cover a wider area but at a more superficial level.

Another nice thing is that there is a little gathering afterwards (on the right) with a selection of food and drink available to celebrate the candidate’s success. In fact it was a double celebration as the candidate was offered a postdoctoral research position just two days ago. I abstained from the champagne as alcohol at lunchtime usually sends me to sleep in the afternoon, and I have a lot to do in the rest of today.

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