Category Archives: Norway

The Norwegian Defense

No this post isn’t about some kind of military tacit or even a chess strategy. It’s about what PhD defenses are like in Norway, which I thought was interesting since they’re so different than in the U.S.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend a PhD defense. It’s spread out over two days; on the first day the defendant presents their work to the committee of 5. The committee is composed of the defendant’s adviser plus 4 other professors chosen by the dean of the school as appropriate readers of the dissertation. This is in rather stark contrast to committees in the U.S. where the defendant is expected to choose their own committee.

On the 2nd day, the work is presented in a 45 minute summary while the defendant stands stage left. But this time it’s presented by the “first opponent” of the committee. The first opponent then asks the defendant if it was a fair treatment of the work before going into a set of questions – the real defense. The first opponent and defendant go back and forth for about 45 minutes and if the opponent is satisfied they say so and it’s over.

But it’s not over. After a lunch break, everyone comes back for the 2nd opponent. The 2nd opponent has a much easier job in that they get to just ask questions – in much the same way that the 1st opponent does, except for a shorter amount of time.¬† Once the 2nd opponent is satisfied with how the defendant has answered questions it’s basically over. Not only were there not questions from the other committee members but there was no explicit call for questions from the audience. Afterwards I was told it’s not typical for the audience to ask questions in these things and that it would have to be a major big deal if you want to say something.

All in all it was a lot more formal than the defenses I’ve been to in the U.S. Perhaps that’s a good thing though…