Educational Culture Shock

In some past posts, I have mentioned that I was asked to be on the doctoral committee for the very first candidate to graduate from our American Studies doctoral program.

Yesterday was her dissertation defense, which I had to attend being one of her readers. After 8 years in the university system, I thought my days of educational culture shock were behind me. Being naive enough to think I had seen it all, they still surprise me. This is how it played out.

Setting: two extra-large rooms, the outer set up for a celebratory reception (what would have happened if this did not go well?), the inner room had fifty chairs for the observers. At the very front was a table with 5 places for the officiating committee, including a secretary who had to take notes. In front of this table on one side, sitting behind a smaller table was the doctoral candidate Julia. She was placed so that her left side faced the committee and her right side was toward the audience. Directly across from her at room’s length were her two ‘opponents’ another professor from Szeged and myself.

This was only in English: The committee chair started by greeting everyone and then asked the secretary to read the introductions. This introduction was the candidate’s biography giving date and place of birth, elementary school through university schools, awards, accomplishments, followed by her marriage and the names and dates of the birth of her children. I had to maintain my composure because scenes from the very old television show This Is Your Life continually streamed through my mind. I was waiting for the voice to come from nowhere with some cute antidote of Julia’s past and have her 3rd grade teacher appear from nowhere. 


Once everyone knew the intimate details of her life sparing how many hours she spent in labor with each child, we moved on to the opponents text. Thankfully, they provided me with the dissertation report I had written as I was expected to read the entire 6 pages out loud to all. This was followed by my fellow opponent doing the same. The defender then responded to all questions and concerns presented like a champion. She is supplied with all of them prior to the defense. Granted, she did not take this portion lightly, so we spend another thirty minutes listening to her responses. 


The committee chair then opened it up to anyone to ask questions of the defending candidate. Fortunately no one from the peanut gallery asked anything, but the committee members felt obligated to comment or ask questions. This added to the validation of the defense, so I was pleased that Julia could answer anything thrown at her.


At this point, everyone but the committee members were asked to leave and we had a secret ballot vote on her final defense grade. She received six 5’s (equal to an A) and one 4 (equal to a B), so she received a 5. They don’t do plus or minus grades, which is a shame. The secretary at this point has to fill in a comprehensive form detailing the entire defense, which we all have input on and then sign it. 


Everyone is then called back into the room. The secretary reads the entire document that was just labored over, but in Hungarian only. Clap, clap, clap! Then the candidate gives a speech again in Hungarian, but I did recognize a dozen thank yous. She immediately switched to English when thanking the other professor and myself. This portion almost took as much time as her biography. 


Everyone adjourned to the outer room for a toast and reception. I have to admit I am so very proud to part of the first doctoral defense of the Eötvös Loránd University American Studies Department.

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