Doctoral defence party
Arranging the defence party
It is tradition that the doctoral candidate arranges a party to honour the opponent(s) on the evening of the thesis defence day. The party usually starts between 6 and 8 pm, depending on the schedule of the doctoral candidate and opponent(s). The venue is usually a restaurant, but arranging the party at home, or elsewhere, is also possible.
Arrangements need to be made for the party: invitations, the venue, catering and possibly some entertainment. Depending on the venue and the programme, decorations, lighting, a sound system, a band or orchestra, etc. may also be needed. The speeches to be given at the party (such as a thank you speech to the opponent) should be prepared in advance.
If the venue is a restaurant, the personnel will assist in the selection of the menu. You should ask for offers from several different venues to make sure that the quality of the catering and the price will not be a surprise. The menu usually consists of an appetiser, a main course, a dessert and coffee/tea. The party usually starts with a toast of welcome, which may be sparkling wine, regular wine or a cocktail, for example. Wine and iced water are usually served during the meal. A non-alcoholic option should always be available. Special diets should also be taken into account. Do not forget table placement cards (and maps), if they are needed.
The doctoral candidate traditionally pays for the thesis defence party. However, the doctoral candidate may also pay only for the dinner of the opponent and custos, in which case the other guests will pay for their meals, in whole or in part, in the form of an admission card. Usually other people will join the party after the official programme, or the party continues at another venue. The guests are usually expected to pay for their own drinks at the after-party.
Official speeches are usually given during the dinner. The most common time for speeches is after the main course and before the dessert; alternatively, the speeches can be given after the dessert before the coffee and tea.
- The first speech will be given by the doctoral candidate who will start by thanking the opponent for examining the doctoral thesis and for the valuable observations offered during the public defence of the thesis.
- The doctoral candidate will then address the custos of the doctoral thesis defence. The doctoral candidate is free to use the rest of the speech to address any people of their choice, such as the supervisors, co-authors, other people who influenced the creation of the doctoral thesis, their spouse, their parents, etc. The spouse is often addressed at the end of the speech.
- The next speech will be given by the opponent, who will only address the doctoral candidate.
- The third speech will be given by the custos, who will address the doctoral candidate, focusing on their shared experiences, the candidate’s studies, and the significance of their achievements. Finally, the people addressed by the doctoral candidate usually give their speeches in the order in which they were mentioned by the doctoral candidate.
An agreement with the custos and opponent on taking doctoral hats to the party should be made. The academic tradition is that there is a separate table at the party which is reserved for doctoral hats. The guests should also be notified about the need to take their doctoral hats with them to the party. Taking the doctoral hats to the party is not mandatory, however.
Thank you cards
Thank you cards should be sent to all the people who offered the doctoral candidate flowers or other gifts on the thesis defence day. It is not expected to thank everybody who simply offered their congratulations. Those who contributed most to the doctoral thesis should be given something more substantial than a thank you card; an autographed copy of the doctoral thesis is traditionally considered to be a good token of gratitude. Traditionally, the doctoral candidate’s spouse receives flowers on the morning of the defence day, or on the day after, to thank them for sacrificing their valuable family time to the thesis. Although still practiced, this custom is no longer as frequent as it used to be. The custos will know the current traditions and practices of the field.