Universiteit Leiden

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Hardly an audience and a remote committee: receiving a PhD in times of corona

Almost all PhD defences at Leiden University have been postponed due to the corona virus, but statistician Sanne Willems is going through with hers. In a different form than usual that is. Hardly any audience, the committee dialing in from a distance and the celebration to be held at a later moment. But there's still going to be champagne.

'We're in the Small Auditorium, that's a larger venue than normal, so the audience can sit farther apart. There's 25 people allowed in, but I've invited fewer. I'm mostly happy everything can just take place.'

Committee over Skype

Only hours before her promotion on 19 March, statistician Sanne Willems explains the plan for her defence over the phone. Due to the corona virus, many PhD defences have been postponed, but Willems chose to have a dressed down ceremony instead. She will defend her thesis Advances in Survival Analysis and Optimal Scaling Methods according to the normal regulations, including answering critical questions from the committee. 'They will be seated on two long tables, also spread out a bit more than usual. One of my supervisors and two committee members will be dialing in through Skype. We hope it'll work out.' 

Willems, who is now holding a position of assistant professor at the Leiden Mathematical Institute, confirms it's all a bit different than normal. 'But if I were to postpone, I don't know when I could receive my PhD. So when I heard most of the committee would be able to attend, I decided to go through with it. I'm sad one of my supervisors won't be able to be here in person, though.'

Drinks for later

In the auditorium, Willems' boyfriend, father, and brother wil attend, along with two colleagues and the paranymphs. Other intereseted parties can watch the ceremony through a live stream. 'They'll have to wait for the usual drinks', Willems explains. 'Tonight we'll have dinner at home with my father and brother. We'll hold a party when the corona crisis is over. I do have a bottle of champagne at the ready, though. We can't drink it at the Academy Building, but it's definitely getting uncorked afterwards.'

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