Friday, November 10, 2006

PhD Defenses in Finland

I had an opportunity to see a PhD defense last Friday. The candidate was Mia Pohjola, who had studied observations and modeling of particulates in urban areas. A PhD dissertation in Finland is a collection of 5 or 6 papers that the student has coauthored on a common theme. The dissertation is then bound together with about 40 pages of new introductory material explaining the relationships between the papers. She did this work while working at FMI.

When we entered the lecture hall, there were bound copies of the thesis (as FMI technical reports) for the audience to have. The student, her advisor, and the "opponent" entered the room and we all stood. The student's parents were seated in the audience in front of me. They proceeded to the front of the lecture hall where three chairs and two desks were placed. Both the advisor and opponent were carrying black top hats with frills that they placed down on the top of the desks, displaying them toward the audience. The student sat on stage left, the opponent on stage right, and the advisor on stage center. The student made some introductory remarks, the opponent made some comments about the research. Then the defense really began. The student made a brief (15-minute presentation) on very general aspects of the problem she was studying. Then the opponent, who had prepared responses to her thesis started asking her questions. This lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes. Then, the opponent made a speech about the importance of this work to the overall scientific community. There was some applause as she was congratulated on passing her defense. Then, the three people left, and the audience followed. There was cake and coffee for dessert, and a meet-and-greet line to congratulate the new PhD.

I should say that this all occurred in Finnish, although most defenses occur in English because the opponent may be a foreign scientist. In this case, the opponent was from a different univeristy in Finland, so the proceedings were held in Finnish. Mia's thesis (and published papers) were written in English.

I was impressed at the pomp associated with the defense and look forward to being able to participate in one of these in the future.


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