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The UvA’s first ever online PhD defence ceremony took place on Thursday, 26 March, and went well. Zina Lekniūtė successfully defended her thesis on the consequences of underfunding of American pension funds.

Zina Lekniūtė during her PhD defense
Zina Lekniūtė during her PhD defense

Lekniūtė had mixed feelings about having to do her defence online. 'On the one hand, I am happy that my defence could continue and I now have my doctorate, but on the other hand, it was a very strange experience because of the difficult situation we are in now and the fact that I had to do it without family, friends and colleagues around me. I missed that support.’

Supervisor Roel Beetsma was satisfied with how it went: ‘Of course it was different than normal, but it went well. With defences, we always follow a strict scenario. That scenario, with questions from the members of the Doctorate Committee and answers by the doctoral candidate, can be applied just the same online. Naturally it does not allow for the festive experience that a PhD student normally has and I would have liked for Zina to have had that. Nevertheless, I am happy that the possibility to do it online exists, so that PhD students can complete their studies and get the title for which they have worked so hard.’

In gowns

Roel Beetsma in gown behind his computer
Roel Beetsma in gown behind his computer

Both Beetsma and fellow supervisor Eduard Ponds (Tilburg University) delivered laudations (a personal word to Lekniūtė). In his, Beetsma said that Lekniūtė had done wonderful work and had written an incredibly good dissertation that is extremely relevant to policy in her area of expertise. Ponds was also very enthusiastic. He praised Lekniūtė's talent and said it was an honour to have worked with her. Lekniūtė did her PhD part-time, alongside her job as an asset-liability management strategist at APG.

Han van Dissel, dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business, acted as chairman of the PhD committee. After awarding the doctorate and offering his congratulations to Lekniūtė, he expressed the hope that they would be able to raise a glass together in person when the situation allows for it in the future.

It is different, but still a really special moment. Zina Lekniūtė


Lekniūtė had planned a festive dinner with family and friends to celebrate her defence. That will now have to take place at a later date. ‘Instead, I got a lot of phone calls and video calls yesterday from family and friends offering congratulations.’ To all the PhD candidates who will also be doing their defences online in the coming period, she says: ‘It is different, but still a really special moment. You've worked hard for it, so make it beautiful.’