The day of the PhD defence

The PhD defence session
The PhD candidate waits in the waitingroom until he or she is collected by the beadle to meet the committee. After the last instructions are given by the rector magnificus, the beadle followed by the committee, the PhD candidate and the paranymphs enter the ceremony room (generally, the 'Aula'). The chairperson opens the ceremony and invites the PhD candidate to give an introductory speech. In this speech the PhD candidate is given the opportunity to speak for a maximum of 10 minutes about what has been researched, why the research was carried out and what the results of the research are. The purpose of the introductory speech, also known as the 'lay speech', is to explain to the audience what the thesis is about. The PhD-candidate is permitted to use audiovisual aids during this speech. After finishing the lay speech, the PhD candidate state that he/she is ready to defend his/her thesis.

Subsequently, the PhD candidate is required to answer questions put forward by the committee. This takes 45 to 55 minutes. In general, the order of persons asking questions is: external committee members, internal committee members, supervisors and co-supervisors. When defending the thesis it is customary to use the following terms of address when answering the questions:

  • 'Rector, ladies and gentlemen' (when announcing the introductory speech to the chairperson and the audience)
  • 'Very learned opponent' (NL vertaling: hooggeleerde opponent) (when answering a question by a (foreign) professor)
  • 'Learned opponent' (NL vertaling: geleerde opponent) (when answering a question by a (foreign) committee member who is not a professor) 

When time is up the beadle enters the room and proclaims 'Hora Est'. This signifies that the person speaking at that moment has to stop. The chairperson adjourns the ceremony and the committee retires for consultation, taking the PhD candidate and paranymphs with them. After the committee has finished it's consultation, the PhD candidate and it's paranymphs are invited into the private meeting for some formalities. After the committee, the PhD student and paranymphs return, the ceremony is re-opened and the PhD candidate receives his or her degree certificate, followed by a 'laudatio' (commendation), after which the ceremony is closed.

The doctor who has just earned his or her PhD - followed by a partner if applicable - are first to leave the room accompanied by the beadle. Subsequently the committee and the paranymphs will follow them to the reception area. The PhD defence committee is the first to congratulate them.

Dress code
The dress code for PhD ceremonies prescribes evening dress (white tie) for male candidates and clothing in keeping with the occasion for female candidates. In special cases, candidates may submit a written request to the Rector for permission to wear a dark suit instead of a dress suit. PhD candidates from abroad may be allowed to wear the traditional clothing of their native country during the ceremony. In that case, the candidate must obtain permission from their supervisor and the Chair of the Doctorate Board before requesting permission for this from the Rector. (Source: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam doctorate regulations ).

There is also a strict dress code for those taking part in the procession:

Professors:
Women
- A toga with dark clothing and/or a white blouse underneath.
- A dark dress/skirt/trousers (black, dark blue or dark grey).
- Matching dark shoes.

Men
- A toga with a white shirt and a dark (preferably black) tie underneath.
- Dark trousers (black, dark blue or dark grey).
- Black shoes with dark socks.

Other committee members, not professors:
Women
- Dark clothes suited to the occasion (black, dark blue or dark grey).
- Matching dark shoes.

Men
- A dark suit (black, dark blue or dark grey) with a white shirt and dark (preferably black) tie.
- Black shoes with dark socks.

In case of doubt, please contact the beadle's office of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Please also bring these requirements to the attention of supervisors from outside VU University Medical Center.

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