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A PhD defence in the time of corona: 'I had to ask friends not to come'

As of 17 March all PhD defences have been cancelled for the time being in response to measures to control the corona outbreak. Four PhD candidates, however, have since been able to hold their defence, albeit under very special conditions. One of them was Hoko Horii.

Her defence was able to take place on Wednesday 18 March 2020 in the Academy Building, but with a maximum of 25 people present and with no reception to celebrate afterwards. A very strange experience, Horii says in retrospect. ‘It was strangely serene. We were the only people at the Academy Building, and even out on the streets there were few people. Because there was no other noise whatsoever, inside the building we could actually hear the birds chirping outside.'

Horii, who defended her dissertation on child marriages, had expected around eighty guests to attend the ceremony. But as a result of the stricter measures, she was forced to disappoint many guests.  ‘As more than 80 guests had planned to come, I had to ask my friends and colleagues not to come to the defence ceremony which I found heartbreaking to do. But in the end, more than 100 people from 10 different countries were able to watch a live stream of the defence. Thanks to their presence (both virtual and physical), I felt supported throughout the entire process. And thanks to my colleagues and the university administration, I was able to adapt to the constant changes in plans and circumstances.’

Horii defended her dissertation successfully, but any further celebration unfortunately had to be cancelled. ‘The rest of the celebration has been postponed, and will be held once this crisis is behind us. It was, in many ways, a "deviant" defence ceremony and I will certainly remember it for a long time.’

One of those present face to face was Professor of Child Law and Vice-Dean Ton Liefaard. 'I have never experienced anything like it – a PhD defence in the time of corona’, he says.  'An official ceremony where we all had to keep at least one and a half metres’ distance from each other and where only a small number of observers were present, spread out over a large hall. So highly exceptional, all the more because the entire ceremony could be followed from a distance. Maybe this is something to do in the future; why should a public defence not be available online? Above all, I hope that Hoko can look back on a successful ceremony. It must have been quite surreal for her and she did very well. A truly unforgettable defence!’

Assistant Professor Stephanie Rap followed the defence via a alive stream:

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