Friday, January 13, 2006

Public disputation

Today is graduation day for Svante Fischer -- Dr Fischer to y'all!

To complete a PhD in Sweden, the final practical hurdle to pass is that your supervisor and the head of department must give the thesis manuscript their thumbs up. Then you're effectively done.

In Britain, the viva is an actual exam where examiners may tell you that in order to pass, you must write another chapter on this and strike out a lot of stuff about that. They may even flunk you.

The Swedish equivalent of a viva is called a disputation, and it serves no practical purpose. The thesis is printed before the event. If your supervisor and head of department have told you to send it to the printers, then you're OK. The examiners can't flunk you, because it would mean flunking your supervisor and head of department. Occasionally, this leads to extremely crappy work passing.

So, what sets a Swedish disputation apart from a British viva is most importantly that it's a mere ritual, but another difference is that it's public. All your friends are there, mom & dad, many of the department's undergrads, dozens of active and retired academics in your field. Ostensibly, the opponent's task is to convince everyone that your work sucks, and you have to defend it. (In actual practice, most opponents are very nice and constructive about it.)

To many people, the thought of arguing for two hours in front of a large audience is an absolute nightmare. To others, it's just fun. Dr Fischer most probably belongs to the second group. I mean, I’m a pretty loud person. But in Svante Fischer's company, I feel like a soft-spoken, balanced, low-key guy. Svante is brilliant, confrontative and apparently oblivious to whether people understand half of what he's talking about. And today he's up against professor Klavs Randsborg of Copenhagen, who is about as huge as Scandinavian archaeologists get.

It's gonna be the match of the decade. Watch this space for highlights and commentary.

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Anonymous Paul Valö said...

Nja, jag känner till fall i mitt ämne statsvetenskap, där betygsgruppen och opponenten vägrat ge tummen upp till en avhandling. Har hört om ett fall i sociologi också, så det händer väl. I stort har du väl rätt (hoppas jag) men jag kommer inte koppla av förrän jag stegar ut från avhandlignsseminariumet. Lycka till med disputationen!

13 January, 2006 11:20  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, I've heard of cases where the examiners have said in advance that they're gonna flunk the thesis, and then there hasn't been a disputation at all. On the other hand, I know of people who have demanded a disputation against their supervisors' wishes, and who have made it just fine. In the latter case, the usual three examiners, two of them local, is exchanged for a five-member committee, two members local.

I made it in 2003, and Svante Fischer made it just fine today. More in tomorrow's blog post.

And good luck, Paul!

13 January, 2006 18:43  
Blogger Morelli said...

Looking forward to hearing about the party afterwards- what did your wife finally wear for example...

14 January, 2006 09:26  

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