Due to the corona crisis, all PhD defence ceremonies at the UvA took place online in the period from March to July. Candidates had to defend their theses online, and not in the Aula or the Agnietenkapel as is usual. ‘A very different kind of experience than usual, when the candidate is surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. When we were forced to switch to online PhD defences, it was immediately clear to us that we wanted to organise festive ceremonies as soon as the situation permitted us to do so,’ says Rector Magnificus Karen Maex. ‘The PhD defence ceremony is a unique moment. It marks the end of an intensive period in which a PhD candidate has delivered a remarkable achievement. That should not go unnoticed.’
The graduates and their guests entered the Aula or the Agnietenkapel via a ‘red carpet’, where they were welcomed by the beadle. After a word of welcome by the dean of their faculty or director of their department, present in a gown, the PhD graduates were shown a video specially made for them. They were then addressed by their supervisor(s) and the PhD certificate was awarded. After the official ceremony there was a (seated) reception.
‘It was quite a thing to organise,’ says Annelies Dijkstra, head of the Rector's Office. ‘Some 100 PhD graduates accepted the invitation. In close collaboration with the Conferences & Events department and the faculties, we decided on a series of five Saturdays, during which we could organise the ceremonies at two locations in several time blocks. After the first two Saturdays, we faced a deterioration in the corona situation and stricter guidelines were introduced nationally. We had set everything up on a very small scale anyway and by adjusting the programme we were able to continue the ceremonies in a responsible manner. Two or three PhD graduates participated per meeting, each with a limited number of guests. In this way we could, among other things, easily meet the 1.5m guideline and give the PhD graduates a festive diploma ceremony.’
Consequences partial lockdown
A few days after the last ceremony took place, the Dutch government announced the partial lockdown. Teaching-related activities such as defence ceremonies may continue, with a maximum of 30 people in attendance. A reception after the award ceremony is currently out of the question. In order to restrict travel as much as possible, considering any alternatives first, such as online options, is recommended. PhD candidates who cannot come to Amsterdam to defend their thesis in the Aula or the Agnietenkapel can continue to make use of the online PhD Defence ceremonies via Zoom. UvA defence ceremonies will continue to be livestreamed through the university’s web lecture service.