The first online PhD ceremony concludes with a Zoom party
‘It’s weird’, says Danial Afsharzadeh. ‘I’ve been to various PhD ceremonies over the years, and they always involved all these people in the auditorium of the Academy building.’ But he found himself in an empty room, apart from the beadle and the UG rector. Everyone else attended the ceremony at home, in front of a computer screen. Even his girlfriend. ‘My family was supposed to come over from Canada as a surprise, but that didn’t happen.’
The ceremony itself, where he defended his research into potential treatment for liver damage, went fine, he says. ‘The sound was good, the connection was great, and every time someone said something, they were clearly visible on screen.’ He was in the usual spot PhD candidates are in, facing the screen. ‘There’s no need to worry about the official part’, he says when asked if he has any tips for others. ‘It’s all taken care of.’
Congratulations over livestream
But it’s not much of a party. While the PhD candidates are usually accompanied by their paranymphs when the committee retreats to the senate room to confer, Afsharzadeh had to leave the room on his own. He didn’t have any friends with him to help calm his nerves.
He did graduate. From a distance, his supervisor Klaas Nico Faber gave a speech about his days in Groningen. His friends, colleagues, and family congratulated him from their respective houses during the livestream. He posed for pictures on the stairs with the rector. ‘Don’t worry, we were five feet away from each other.’
‘It was a bit of a shock at the end’, he says. ‘Leaving the building with the degree under my arm, all alone.’ At home, his paranymphs and his supervisor had organised a Zoom party to celebrate. ‘I’ll definitely have a real party once the corona crisis is over.’
Right now, he needs to go visit the reason he couldn’t postpone his graduation: his prematurely born son Oscar, who will hopefully be able to leave the hospital soon. On the afternoon that his father defended his PhD, Oscar was taken off ventilation.