A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

An age old ritual

Having been around now for 400 odd years, Leiden University, as showcased in Emma’s blog post last month is no stranger to ritualistic traditions and ceremonies. Fortunately I was able to experience one of it’s finest traditions, otherwise known as a PhD thesis defence. Fortunate enough to be part of vibrant research group, I was invited to attend the defence of a fellow colleagues PhD thesis which took place in the academiegebouw on the Rapenbug (yeah you may recall that famous canal from another post I made earlier this semester.)

The drinking traditions begin early with fortified wine in the morning!

The defence took place in to say the least, an awe inspiring room. Seventy-five seats were laid out for an audience of guests facing a long table, where the PhD candidate was placed opposing the rector and his associates of academics. The academics hailed from the Leiden chemistry department, along with a few overseas professors. One of which, to my great surprise happened to be from Imperial College.

Guests are slightly taken aback by the distinguished setting

At 3pm the doors shut, and from then onwards, no one was allowed to leave nor enter. For the next hour the Professors duelled with the PhD student over the contents of his thesis, and his experimental procedures thus neatly detailed in the compact manuscript. Most of it was conducted in Dutch (except of course the questioning by the foreign academics), while the onlookers, consisting mainly of the students family sat in silence, admiring, but most likely not understanding a word the complex chemistry being discussed.

Portraits of Leiden Professors tile every inch of the surrounding four walls

After an hour a short, burly man draped in robes with some sort of Leidenesque insignia burst into the room to call to a halt the proceedings. The academics proceeded to exit the room and discuss amongst themselves whether the candidate was worthy of the title of Doctor. They shortly re-entered and of course gave the PhD student his just reward, handing him some sort of degree cased in a blue canister (the best I can describe it I’m afraid). With the ceremony over we all rushed to the reception which in Dutch tradition is paid for by the PhD student.

Drinking at 4pm. The Dutch show no reserve!

An open bar across the road at Keizertj’es awaited all of the guests, with no excuse holding us back from getting drunk on the fine chilly afternoon Leiden had decided to gift us. After a few rounds of beers, the gathering dispersed so that everyone could grab dinner before proceedings resumed at Babbels later in the evening. More Dutch traditions gift giving and story telling round off an evening of beer and bitterballen as the party goes late into the night and no one plans to turn up on time to university the next day. One thing that I forgot to mention of course is the song we had all prepared for the PhD student which we had practised the day before!

One comment on “An age old ritual

  1. mandala56
    April 4, 2012

    Walked by that building a thousand times, yet I’ve never been inside. Nice description! My father was a guest professor there in the late 60’s… we lived on the Witte Singel for a year. I remember him having to learn Gaudeamus Igitur for some occasion or other… we knew several professors and their families. I was stupid not to have gone to school there myself.

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2012 by in Culture, Saleem.

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