6,000th PhD defense at the UT: 'No two are the same'

| Rense Kuipers

The six thousandth PhD defence at the UT is scheduled for Friday. Despite the over two hundred PhDs that beadles Wim Koehorst and Raymond Linderhof oversee every year, it is anything but a grind for them. 'This remains the most rewarding thing there is.'

Beadles Wim Koehorst and Raymond Linderhof.

PhD candidate Gerlinde van der Maten of BMS department of Health Technology & Services Research has the honour of defending the six thousandth UT PhD thesis on Friday. For several years now, the ceremonies have been accompanied by beadles Wim Koehorst and Raymond Linderhof.

After all the preparatory and supervisory work from the Twente Graduate School (TGS), as beadle they bow over what they call 'the last piece' of someone's PhD trajectory. 'And that continues to be the best part,' says Koehorst, who led his first PhD defense in 2006 and formally took over the ceremonial staff from his predecessor Gerrit Keizer in 2015.

Breaking the ice

Koehorst has already witnessed thousands of PhD candidates go through the final stages of their PhD trajectories. Linderhof, beadle since 2021, saw hundreds of them up close. 'Some are nervous as hell, others tell a story almost off the cuff. In any case, we try to sense what each candidate is like during an intake interview. Then we can anticipate that,' says Linderhof.

Since many a candidate is nervous, it is important for the beadles to 'break the ice', says Koehorst. 'We try to take away some nerves from a PhD candidate. Upon arrival, photos are always taken. During such moments, we try to create a relaxed atmosphere. I don't rule out that a limbo dance once took place under the beadle staff. All joking aside, this is how someone appears before a committee in a different, more relaxed, way.'


Because in the end, such a PhD defense is a ceremonial affair, with all the accompanying courtesies. The beadles oversee that as well. 'We are not the strictest, but certain rules apply,' says Linderhof. 'Take for instance the dress code: professors wear a toga, PhD candidates a dress suit and paranymphs a suit or dress.'

'But it sometimes happens that people have not understood that message; we have occasionally had to exchange professors' and paranymphs' trainers for other, more formal footwear,' Koehorst adds. 'Fortunately, we have loaner togas and loaner shoes. And we both have years of catering experience (Linderhof and Koehorst worked together for many years as waiters in at the Faculty Club's, since 2004, ed.). The hospitality industry is all about service, so I have sometimes polished someone's shoes last-minute.'

Sad people

Over the years, the beadles added up their experiences. Especially the corona crisis hit them hard. 'An intense and occasionally terrifying time,' says Koehorst. 'We suddenly had to reinvent the wheel, with promotion ceremonies taking place digitally, or with people one and a half metres away from each other. How many sad people we saw passing by, because they had to complete their PhD in this way, or if it was cancelled at the last minute because of tightened measures. That affected all of us at TGS.'

Despite the crisis, protocols remained in place, Linderhof continues. 'Even if a professor was sitting at home behind the screen, the toga had to be on. After the crisis, it did become more common for people to attend a defense remotely. It has all become a bit more... efficient, although that may not be the right word. It's still the best when everyone can just be physically present at such a special moment.'

A broken staff and broken English

With all these promotions under their belt, the beadles have enough anecdotes that surface. 'My beadle staff broke once, in three pieces,' Linderhof says. 'Recently by the way, it is currently being repaired in Carré.' 'I can still remember a Chinese PhD candidate who had an translator with him because of his limited English,' Koehorst adds. 'So you are the translator?', I asked, to which the translator looked at me questioningly. That turned into an unusual defense.'

'We also once had a chairman who stumbled so often over the word prerogative that he stuck to 'what a rubbish word' and continued the ceremony,' says Koehorst. Followed by Linderhof: 'Oh and I had a couple some time ago who were defending their PhD thesis an hour apart. Coincidentally both from Oldenzaal, so I knew them.'

If it is up to Koehorst and Linderhof, they will also be there during the seven thousandth PhD defense. 'It never gets boring, this remains the most rewarding thing there is,' says Koehorst. 'There is always something fun or special about every promotion. No two are the same.'

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