I’m always a little surprised by how many people are not sure what a PhD is. On the other hand, when I was at high school and an undergrad, I didn’t really know what it was either. I know many of you know very well what a PhD is, but if you don’t here’s an easy break down based on my experience/knowledge through the NZ Uni system in sciences.
You go to university. You do a 3 or 4 year undergrad degree (depends on your uni/course/country if it is 3 or 4 years). A typical path after this, if you want to study further, is a Masters degree. This is usually a 2 year degree, involving once again sitting in classes, albeit small classes, with intense amounts of work to do, and at the same coming up with an idea for a project, collecting the data for the project, analysing the data, and writing up a dissertation/thesis i.e., a long report about what you did, how you did it, what you found and what it means. A PhD comes after the Masters. It can range from 3 – 5 years of study, again depending on uni/course/country. It usually doesn’t involve sitting in classes any more (although I’ve heard in the US you still have to take some classes at this level, and I know in Sweden you have to take short courses, up to a certain number of points). You come up with an idea of something you’d like to study – or you come up with an idea in conjunction with your supervisor – collect the data, analyse it, write it up, and try and publish peer-reviewed articles from it. You are essentially working as a “scientist” without being paid (unless you’re in Sweden where they pay you to do your PhD). At the end, the work, put together in a book called a thesis, is read by about 2 or 3 poor suckers who have to wade through 3 – 5 years of your work/writing, and you get some feedback, things to tidy up etc… In Sweden (and in many countries in fact, although I managed to skip this part) you do an oral defence, that is, you present your work, and then get asked loads of questions by a panel of usually 3 examiners (the same suckers who had to read your work). It varies somewhat from uni to uni and especially from country to country. Basically it is a few years of really intense work, where you start to be treated like someone who can think for themselves.
So when you finish it, it feels pretty good.
As I’ve mentioned before, M and I went to Sweden so he could do his PhD there. The Swedish system typically has a 5 year PhD, but as M had done extra courses during his Masters, he was ok to do his PhD in 4.5 years. He worked a lot. He worked late nights. He worked weekends. He went away to conferences (a lot!). Sometimes I’d wonder when I would get a chance to see him. Anyway, then he finished. He had to do the aforementioned oral defence. I missed this as I had my own exam on at the same time (I did one paper in the year for interest and the exam time clashed with his defence – seriously!). So I have nothing to write about that, except, apparently, he did very well, and he passed. 😀
In Sweden it is pretty standard to hold a party directly after the defence – directly as in the same day at least. I can understand people want to celebrate the achievement, but I don’t think many people realise the extra stress added at a critical time of finishing up in trying to organise something like this. As it turned out, M’s party worked out just beautifully. A typical party is quite formal, with speeches etc… M hates that sort of thing so he deliberately chose a venue that was casual and laid back – Cafe Sjöstugan on Brunnsviken (highly recommend by the way – click the name to see more about it).
M guessed about 40 – 50 people would attend, and arranged for dinner for everyone, or rather, discussed with the cafe owner what she could do for dinner. The cafe specialises in organic/ecologically grown produce, right down to the wine coming from a local producer. Everything is “home-made” i.e., cooked there, so it has a real home-touch to it. The setting on the side of Brunnsviken is amazing, surrounded by trees, out of hearing range from the road. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere to it, and on sunny days you can sit outside. The table settings were wild flowers picked that day. Now rather than write so much more I will let pictures tell the story, with a little bit of text in between.
Congratulations Dr. D!