Defending my PhD Dissertation: Swedish Style

Sweden is a lot different than the USA when you have to defend your PhD dissertation (PhD avhandling). For example, there is a lot more pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.

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Announcements letting people know where my defense will commence.

You get your PhD Dissertation book in the mail weeks in advance (after all, you need to mail them to your PhD committee and opponent [more on them in a minute]).

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My defense is on parental gender issues, so                                                       how could I not where blue and pink?

Your defense is publically announced weeks before your actual defense and anyone may attend your defense (either as friend or foe).

It always helps to go to your defense room, pre-defense, to practice your speech, be challenged by your supervisors (and other colleagues).

And make sure all of the equipment (lights, shades, microphone, powerpoint, etc) all work and that you know how to work them.

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Main University Building, Uppsala University. The sign reads “To think free is big, but to think right is bigger.”

When the day of my defense finally happened, I had to decorate it with my research posters.

After everyone arrives, the opponent, committee members, supervisors, and the PhD student are announced via a chairperson.

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Dr. Jan Gustafsson, former Head of Women’s and Children’s Health was the Chairmaster of my defense.

After the announcements are made, and your dissertation book is passed out, you now make a 30 minute speech about your research; telling a story of where the field is, why your research is needed, the strengths and limitations to your research, how your research contributes to the field, and future needed research.

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The title slide of my Defense (click the picture to see the full presentation [complete with all of the additional slides I included at the end just in case the committee had questions on those topics]).
Another difference from the USA: you have an opponent. An opponent is a professional within your field who is not connected to you or anyone that you’ve worked with (e.g. your supervisors) within the past five years. They are there to critically challenge your dissertation.

For me, this meant facing Professor Anders Broberg, a psychologist from Göteborg Universitet (Gothenburg University).

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Me (on the left) vs. my opponent (Dr. Broberg)

While professors in public health have a reputation for seeing how your work fits in a larger framework, psychologists have reputations for picking apart the methodology and statistics you use. My opponent met that stereotype.

Beyond the opponent, you also have to face a battering ram of committee members. This consists of three professors who also have not worked with you or your advisors for the past five years. The PhD student typically meets these committee members at their half-time: when they are half-way completed with their PhD and need to defend their progress thus far, while also receiving support and advice on how to strengthen their dissertation and future research projects.

I had three committee members for my half-time: Dr. Sven Bremberg, Dr. Pia Enebrink, and Dr. Birgitta Essen. However, by the time of my defense, only Birgitta would be on my PhD committee, as various other research projects began to take hold between my supervisor, Dr. Anna Sarkadi and Sven and Pia, respectively. So two new replacements were needed: Dr. Anneli Ivarsson and Dr. Lars Plantin.

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The three in the front row are my committee members; all of whom are feverishly taking notes.

Hours later–After you’ve faced down your opponent and the three committee members, then anyone from the audience is allowed to challenge your work. This is most tedious, because you’re exhausted from defending, and it’s much harder to prepare for audience members, since they could bring up pretty much any topic.

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Some members of the audience (mostly friends and colleagues)

Thankfully, I didn’t have any audience questions.

At this point, everyone came up to congratulate me on my “job well done” while they committee, opponent, and my supervisors (Anna and Dr. Raziye Salari) went into a private room to discuss the defense. After 10-20 minutes, my supervisors are dismissed and the committee decides your fate.

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A pre-party starts, with champagne and snacks while we await the verdict.

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Promoting my dissertation…a picture speaks 1000 words                             (too bad I didn’t have more pictures 😉

I graduated!

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Colleagues and friends toasting my graduation!

Now time for the party!

 

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