The real reason we are here in Sweden is for Mark to examine a PhD. That process is so different here, not least in the amount of camaraderie and collegial support because things are done as cohorts and everyone finishes about the same time. I was just a little jealous.
We all came together in a large round lecture theatre, it is a public defense here — I was not at all jealous about that. In front of the door there is a table with a stack of theses upon it, free to take away. They print them in the form of a nice little book, a lovely cover, something you’d be proud to have on your shelf. I was hell of jealous about that. In the audience sit: the supervisor(s), the three examiners with an additional internal examiner in wait in case of emergency, partners of examiners, the parents and siblings, a host of friends. There were maybe 30 of us? The candidate can open with a few words, and she did. Then the interrogator comes in — today’s was flown in from Michigan. He gives a summation of the thesis in about 20 minutes. He asks formally if she finds it an acceptable summation, to which she can say yes, or can challenge or add commentary. Then begins the interrogation, lasting over an hour. It was run more like a discussion, but many a tough question lurked near the end.
We convene again, each of the examiners (two from the UK, an internal examiner who was of course based at Linkoping) asks questions for about ten minutes. They each have different specialisms, but each related to the candidate’s subject. Philosophy, Derrida, Monsters. Then it is over, there is applause. Examiners and interrogator retire to discuss their verdict. Everyone else retires for snacks. Champagne is ready.
Finally the examiners too are ready with the verdict. Apparent from chatter in the corridors is that if someone gets to this stage they are expected to pass. But of course, you can still fail.
The examiners return. There is a tense moment. Then passing, speeches, happiness, champagne.
I thought that actually, it is rather nice for everyone to sit and listen to the content of their friend’s life and work over the past years. To hear her talk about it. To then be able to make jokes about the present absence.
Everyone retires. A few of us convene again for dinner, theatrics and dancing. I think that is what impressed me the most, because it was so damn lovely.
First I love vaults and restaurants to be found downstairs — I am quite gothic in that respect, and gothic is what the party was. Masquerade masks met us on the tables, candles, dark corners, bricks and stone.
Delicious food, wine, speeches and the best advice from advisor to student having problems I have ever heard — did you drink wine with your friends and talk about it? The best story about a tiny cat. Presents that were impossibly thoughtful, several involving a celebration of the new Doctor through Doctor Who. Some goth makeovers of friends and supervisor.
Then an homage to the candidate from her cohort, a little theatre piece based on the awesome Night Vale podcasts. Not only was it clever and creative, it also showed whoever wrote it was all too familiar with the theoretical arguments as well as the content. It was quite wonderful and I was entirely and wholly jealous, as was everyone at my table who had varying stories of our own PhD examinations that were all of varying levels of anti-climacticism.
Then we danced to songs I had never heard before. Someone mentioned Depeche Mode. There were some other things I had heard before, but I have forgotten what they were.
We wandered back to our hotel — Fawlty Towers. An entirely hilarious Swedish interpretation of this British classic with surprisingly fine friendly service.
In Swedish, Pangi Bygget. Awesome.