Archive for Congregation for the Conferment of Degrees

Thirty Years as a Doctor!

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2019 by telescoper

A chance discovery while rummaging around in my filing cabinet reminded me that today is the anniversary of a momentous event. What I found was this:

It’s the programme of the summer Graduation Ceremony in 1989 at which I formally received my DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy). As you will see that was precisely thirty years ago today!

I actually submitted my thesis the previous summer (either at the end of August or start of September 1988) but had to wait a few months for the examination, which I think was in December.  By the time I had done my corrections (mainly typographical errors) the next available date for the degree to be formally conferred was in July 1989 so that’s when I officially got doctored. I was actually still in Brighton at the time, as had started work as a postdoctoral researcher soon after I had submitted my thesis.

Here’s my thesis:

In those days they actually printed the thesis title in the programme, alongside the graduand’s name in the case of DPhil degrees.

It’s normal practice for people to assume the title of Doctor as soon as they have passed the viva voce examination but although I’ve never objected to that,  I’ve always been a bit unsure of the legality. Probably one doesn’t actually have a doctorate until it is conferred (either at a ceremony or in absentia).

Anyway, here is a picture of me (aged 26!)  emerging from the Brighton Centre wearing the old-style Sussex doctoral gown just after I received my DPhil:


Unfortunately the University of Sussex decided a while ago to change the style of its academic dress recently to something a bit more conventional and as far as I know it’s not possible to obtain the old-style gowns any more. They also changed the title DPhil to PhD because it confused potential students, especially those not from the UK.

My first degree came from Cambridge so I had to participate in an even more archaic ceremony for that institution. The whole thing is done in Latin there (or was when I graduated) and involves each graduand holding a finger held out by their College’s Praelector and then kneeling down in front of the presiding dignitary, who is either the Vice-Chancellor ot the Chancellor. I can’t remember which. It’s also worth mentioning that although I did Natural Sciences (specialising in Theoretical Physics), the degree I got was Bachelor of Arts. Other than that, and the fact that the graduands had to walk to the Senate House from their College through the streets of Cambridge,  I don’t remember much about the actual ceremony.

I was very nervous for that first graduation. The reason was that my parents had divorced some years before and my Mum had re-married. My Dad wouldn’t speak to her or her second husband. Immediately after the ceremony there was a garden party at my college, Magdalene, at which the two parts of my family occupied positions at opposite corners of the lawn and I scuttled between them trying to keep everyone happy. It was like that for the rest of the day and I have to say it was very stressful. A few years later I got my doctorate from the University of Sussex, at the Brighton Centre on the seafront. It was pretty much the same deal again with the warring family factions, but I enjoyed the whole day a lot more that time. And I got to wear the funny gown.