Yesterday was my friend Mikko’s turn to sweat, although he handled everything quite elegantly (I think that is the right word).

Whereas in the U.S. we have 5 committee members that approve our initial dissertation proposal and then they are also the same ones in our defense to ask us the tough questions, it is done differently here in Finland.

There is a knowledgeable “Opponent” who must come from a different university, and frequently from a different country. Mikko’s distinguished Opponent was Prof. Seugnet Blignaut from the University of the North West, South Africa.

Mikko's dissertation defense audience

The formalities are taken care of (welcoming the Opponent, the audience, and the Custos – or custodian of the event) and then Mikko introduces his research to the audience, which was nearly 100 people (including even a former Finnish ambassador to Tanzania, and the Provost of the school in Iringa, Tanzania, where he did his research) – all who have access to a copy of his dissertation before they come.

The Opponent then stands and begins by introductions. But the niceties only last so long. Soon questions were revealed about everything from the research design to the validity of the results to the intended future actions. I thought the Opponent actually did a great job at simply highlighting what good research is and pointing to some of the weaknesses in this particular study, giving Mikko a fair chance to address them.Mikko's dissertation defense

After the question and answer exchange (which I think seemed to last about an hour in this case), the Opponent decides if the answers suffice, and then immediately stood to the pulpit again and makes a recommendation (in this case) to pass the defendant. (In the U.S. the defendant has to leave while the 5 committee members confer with each other what their action will be.)

Then the Custos opens it up so anyone in the audience can ask questions. In this case, quite a few did ask questions, including me. I was told that it is Finnish tradition to invite anyone who asks questions to the formal evening party (called the karoukka), and that it is also custom for the person to decline the initiation out of politeness.

Mikko Defense party

Well, I accepted the invitation anyway. 🙂 But I figured since he had already given me a written invitation and a map to the location, it was probably OK. Seeing that I had my name assigned to a place to sit, I felt more confident that I did not make a mistake in attending 🙂 The karoukka is supposedly in honor of the opponent, but in reality most of the speeches are about the soon-to-be-doctor (who is not “Dr.” until after the next faculty meeting). The food was great, the speeches were interesting, and the whole event was as enjoyable as it was enlightening. There is no graduation ceremony for him, but in four years he will have a “promotion” ceremony where he can receive his hat and his sword (should he want to purchase them for himself).

I have a lot more that I could say about his research (which dealt with the contextualizing of basic ICT curriculum for Tanzania), and about a conversation I had with his Opponent following the event, but since this entry is already so long, I will refrain.

Congratulations Mikko! (Now maybe you have time to go running with me again.)

For anyone that might know more than me about this, did I miss describing anything important in the formalities of the proceedings?