'PhD candidates in tears, you don't take that lightly'

| Rense Kuipers

Beadle Wim Koehorst mainly tried to 'make the best of it' for the PhD students, who had to defend their dissertations the past months. Whether this was via a screen, or at one and a half metres. 'But you can't escape the fact that a lot of things fall by the wayside.'

Photo by: Arjan Reef

The last PhD defense before the summer break is scheduled for 9 July. It is not yet clear whether the next ceremony will take place with 'all the bells and whistles'. For Wim Koehorst, who has been the beadle for the ceremonies for thirteen years, things can go back to the way they were. A PhD defense is just like a marriage. You only do it once - at least, that is the intention. Such a special moment deserves all the trimmings: a dignified ceremony and a festive reception.'

Koehorst was there when the first fully digital promotion took place in March 2020. Slowly but surely, more became possible. After the summer holidays, the first 'one-and-a-half metre defense' took place. Looking back on the past fifteen months, the beadle calls it a 'very peculiar, but also very special time'. 'As a team from the Twente Graduate School we managed to get a lot done. Of course you try to maintain all protocols and ceremonies - whatever form they take. But you can't escape the fact that a lot of things fall by the wayside. For example, there was no catering, so instead of a reception we could treat attendees to just a soft drink and some sweets.'

The beadle expresses his admiration for the creativity that PhD students showed. 'That was really wonderful! I have seen someone with a digital PhD use the cover of his thesis as a background, others were surrounded by flowers or had made something ceremonial out of it and were defending their thesis in full regalia. The pleasant moments were mainly afterwards. I take photos during the ceremonies, which I then send via WhatsApp. I have received very nice and grateful reactions, from Barbados and Canada among others, from people who unfortunately could not defend on the spot.'

While some PhD candidates made the best of it despite the circumstances, there were others who had more difficulty. 'There were PhD candidates in tears. Believe me, that's not something you take up lightly. Yes, I had quite a bit of trouble with that, having to deliver bad news. I felt really bad for them. The sad thing is: you can't do more than what it is, within the rules that apply. The only thing left to do is to make the best of it - or to ease the pain as much as possible.'

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