Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More on Ph.D. defenses

This Friday I got to attend my third Ph.D. defense. Sami Niemela was presenting his thesis work on parameterization schemes in numerical models, including some of his work on verifying these parameterizations and improving them. Here you can download his thesis. This time I had a role in the defense. Not in the defense itself, but in the grading that will take place this week (after the defense). Apparently, you need at least two faculty members in attendance (the thesis advisor and someone else), and the person who was supposed to be there couldn't attend, so I am filling in. (More about what this might entail after I go through the process later. Watch this blog for updates.)

We arrived at the auditorium at noon sharp. This was 15 minutes before the defense started. So, we chatted and sat for 15 minutes. This, apparently, is standard, and is proper form.

At 12:15, the opponent, thesis advisor, and Sami all came into the room wearing tuxes with long tails and white bow ties. This is the first time I've seen this. Sami gave his presentation in Finnish (an overview of how computer forecast models work and why parameterization schemes are needed). After about 20 minutes, the opponent (a professor from Oslo) and addressed the audience in English with his introduction to the significance of Sami's work, which involved much of the same arguments as Sami just made.

By now about 45 minutes had gone by, and the defense started. The opponent went through Sami's thesis and asked pointed questions about his published papers. The questions were usually specific to the paper and was quite boring for the audience. If I am ever asked to be an opponent, this process should be much more interesting and educational for the audience. By the time this questioning ended, the audience had been sitting (or sleeping for over two hours).

Then, the opponent said that Sami had satisfactorially addressed his comments and was recommended to the University for his degree. Just like the classic wedding scene, the question was asked of the audience whether they had any questions. After a brief silence, the thesis advisor declared a successful defense and it ended. No applause, just a few handshakes up front. There was coffee and cake afterward in the lobby.

This last step (asking the audience if they had any questions) is apparently pretty important. Although no one spoke (I thought because we were sick of sitting for 2 hours and 20 minutes), it is in bad form to even ask a simple question at this point. To do so apparently is a slur on the university. There are legendary stories of people who ask questions and threaten the candidate/university with not graduating because of some incomplete aspect of their thesis work. Like unsuccessful defenses in the U.S., this is rare, fortunately.


At 11:00 PM, Blogger Bogdan Antonescu said...

You need to attend a Romanian Ph.D defense, is very short, with few questions. But the party after is very long, with a lot of food, and the drinks are the main ingredient.


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