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4:00pm on Friday, 3rd February, 2017:



I was on a panel of five people today judging the defence of a PhD in Germany. I participated over Skype, which could have been awkward as initially my voice was being echoed at the other end as if I were Mickey Mouse — not exactly in accordance with the solemnity of the occasion. The age-old trick of switching everything off and switching it back on again worked, however, and I was able to ask questions without sounding as if I were a five-year-old speaking falsetto.

In the UK, you either pass or fail your PhD. Normally, what happens is you are told you've passed but it's conditional on your making a bunch of changes that reflect the various bees in the examiners' bonnets. 19 out of 20 people will pass; the figure is high because most of the people who aren't going to pass drop out beforehand.

It's not like this in Germany. German PhDs are also pass or fail, but instead of being told to go away and write a few more pages connecting your work to that of one of the examiner's friends, you receive a grade. There's one grade for the thesis and another for the oral defence, and they're combined using some kind of numerical magic to obtain the final grade.

The way it was explained to me, the best mark is a 1.0, then it goes down (I don't know in what increments) to 1.7. After that it's 2.0 to 2.7, then 3.0 to 3.7. The lowest pass mark is 4.0, but I got the impression that if your grade were that low you would not be getting any job for which having a PhD mattered.

I won't explain what happened on the panel because that's confidential. We didn't fight, though. Neither am I going to say the exact result, as I'm not sure if it's a matter of public record or not, but I think it's probably OK to say it began with a 1.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that Carlos Mauricio Díaz, crocheter of the Spunky Princess we had on our Christmas tree this year, is now Dr Carlos Mauricio Díaz.

This is the first time I've been an international supervisor for anyone, so I'm rather pleased I didn't break anything.

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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).