Leiden and the Dutch

Leiden is beautiful -- the most beautiful place I've been in the low countries so far.

But what was more interesting was the defense. I guess the Dutch traditions run back for centuries. Only full professors wear gowns, but also in the Netherlands only full professors have PhD students, so since I have my own they decided to call me a professor and put me in my full gown. There must be one who is "neutral" from a foreign country. A woman from Slovenia was also there for the defense, she was just visiting the university but added to the prestige. The candidate sits at a table opposite from his examiners, with "seconds" sitting on either side of him (like a wedding or duel!) His supervisors are some of his opponents. There were his two real supervisors and then the full professor who is the official one. There have to be more professors than non, so there were some other invited professors from around the area to pad it out. One I knew, an agent guy from Utrecht.

So the Dutch do not let you graduate until your thesis has been published as a book. Which normally the candidate has to do for himself on a private press. After the ceremony, he also threw a party which is normally a formal dinner, but he chose to have a larger group and a buffet and drinks. Again, it's like a wedding -- he has to pay for everything, and his friends all brought him presents and some even made a video about him and showed it on their laptops.

It makes sense for a defense to be like a wedding. A lot fewer people get PhDs than married, and it takes a lot of years and effort to arrange, and it is in some sense a lifetime commitment to a field. But I didn't like not being able to debate with the candidate before I gave corrections -- in that, that the candidate is really defending his thesis, and if he fails to do so he has to change the dissertation, in that I prefer the US and British systems. But the ritual all around a single candidate is wonderful. It is all over, it is viva and graduation wrapped into one. He had to wear what the British call morning dress, which means white tie and tails, and in this he looked very handsome.

The room they gave me was in an ancient hotel along one of the canals. It was so funny it was kind of cool. I regretted not having brought a camera, but then remembered one was built into my laptop, so here are some pictures:

It was the Delft Blue Chamber (room #1!) Grandma Bryson would have loved it.

Here is the canal.

By now I am having fun -- here is a post-modern self-referential shot. Notice the "flash" is the computer screen going white!