Towards the Defense

With the defense of my PhD dissertation on August 31, a period of eight years at Tilburg University came to an end.  Although it sounds like a long time, I consider it as a very enjoyable period in my life, especially the last years as a PhD researcher. But what is a PhD? How do you get it and why would you get it? I would like to shed some light on these questions and, more importantly, their answers.
Text by: Bas Dietzenbacher

PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ and is the highest academic degree one can achieve. Since I am neither a doctor in the sense of a medical expert, nor a philosopher, you could be wondering whether I have been manipulating the evaluating committee. However, you should realize that ‘doctor’ is a Latin word for ‘teacher’, and ‘philosophy’ can be translated from Greek into ‘love for wisdom’. Hence, I am qualified as a teacher who loves wisdom, could have been worse.

Like any other academic degree, you can achieve it by following a corresponding program, writing a thesis, and defending it. However, contrary to most degrees, you do not follow a PhD program as a student, but as an employee. Some people like to say “een baan krijg ik nie, want ik doe PhD”, which is in fact a contradictio in terminis, since doing a PhD is already a job! This also means that you have all rights and duties of an employee, like having a boss and getting a salary.

What does the university want back for this money? Well, in general you are supposed to spend eighty percent of your time on research, and twenty percent on education. This roughly means that you spend one day a week on teaching tutorials, instruction lectures, and computer labs to students of our faculty, and the remaining time on research projects under supervision of one or more professors of our department. This research results in scientific papers which you try to publish in international journals.

Doing research can only be pleasant if you have a strong interest in a specific, often theoretical, research area. For example, there can be a course which you liked very much, or an exciting topic on which you wrote your bachelor’s or master’s thesis. If you would like to acquire more knowledge, even contribute a bit to knowledge, and like to share knowledge, then you should definitely take a PhD program into consideration. Moreover, you need a nice professor who shares your interest and is willing to cooperate with you for several years.

Note that a doctorate degree is necessary for an academic career, but it is also valuable for a business career. If you want to become a professor at a university, a PhD is a basic requirement. Besides, several business employers appreciate job applicants with a PhD, since it is a sign of strong analytical skills and the ability to conduct research independently.

You cannot freely start a PhD program. First, you need to finish the three-years bachelor’s program and a two-years research master’s program. In some cases, it is allowed to continue in the second year of the research master when you have finished a regular one-year master program. During the research master, you can apply for a three-years PhD position.

All these years you work towards the defense of you PhD dissertation, an official one-hour ceremony in the auditorium of the university. After a laymen speech, the committee members- professors from our and other universities who are wearing togas- consecutively ask questions which you need to answer in front of the audience. It concludes with the words of the beadle “Hora est!”.