On January 23 I will defend my dissertation. In the Netherlands, this is mainly a ceremonial thing. The 8 committee members review your thesis beforehand and you are allowed to print it before the defense. As Dutch tradition has it, you will not only be defending your dissertation, but also a number of propositions. Some of them may concern the topic of your thesis, but at least 6 of them should be about a totally different topic and at most 2 can be of a ‘funny nature’.
The source of this tradition goes back to the Middle Ages, where it was called disputatio, which were “basically duels between two opponents according to strict dialectical rules, in which one tries to get the other to contradict a statement which he initially accepted, and thus to win the debate.” (From Hora Est) In more modern times, participants in the defense got a more clear role: there was a defendant (or in some case multiple ones) and there were opponents, whose “responsibility … was to counter the respondent(s) by using appropriate arguments.” (also from Hora Est) More or less as we have it today. If you want to know more: Hora Est presents a really cool background of Dutch (more specifically Leiden) defenses since the Middle Ages. Or read this book, which contains many cool and funny propositions that have been defended in the Netherlands over the past few years.
Although some of the traditions around the defense changed over the years, the idea that a PhD candidate should be able to defend their opinion in a clear and fair way, remained one of the key abilities that were tested, also in modern times. I believe however, that today, scientists should also be able to express themselves on the internet, where quick and short arguments are used, rather than hour long discussions as we have them in Delft. This is why I will be experimenting before my defense with project #tweetprop. In the 5 weeks leading up to my defense, I will post one proposition each Monday and Thursday, accompanied by a short blog post that explains my standing. Discussion is warmly welcomed, this will be the perfect preparation for my actual defense.
So stay tuned for my propositions, I will post my first one tomorrow. In order for you to prepare a bit, I will reveal that they will concern: spreadsheets, publication practices, empirical research and knowledge utilization, but also justice and gender equality.