PhD defence postponed due to Corona: ‘Doing research also means learning how to deal with adversity’

Lege Senaatszaal

Rolf Beerthuis was scheduled to defend his dissertation, 'Carbon-Supported Copper for Gas-Phase Hydrogenation Catalysis', on 30 March. Last Monday he was told that his defence had been postponed due to the coronavirus. No new date has been scheduled. How do you deal with the disappointment and uncertainty after years of working towards earning your PhD?

“I kind of saw it coming, as the rules became stricter and stricter. Last week they announced that only immediate family members were allowed to attend. But after the new measures implemented last weekend, I began to suspect that it would probably be cancelled completely. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I am relieved that we know what to expect now. I’d rather hear it’s cancelled today than the day before the defence.

“It feels strange to have spent years working towards your PhD, and then to suddenly have to let go of the date. It also takes a lot of time to prepare for the defence itself: you have to brush up on your knowledge, read through everything again, and plan a party. On the one hand, it’s discouraging that I have to do it all again sometime in the next six months, but it’s also understandable; everyone has to do their part to level out the curve in this pandemic, and prevent more casualties.

It feels strange to have spent years working towards your PhD, and then to suddenly have to let go of the date.

Rolf Beerthuis

“Part of earning your PhD involves learning how to deal with changes. You spend years conducting experiments, and some of them don’t succeed, so you have to think up something else. That forces you to learn how to be flexible and how to deal with disappointment. This feels a bit like the final test for me and all of the other PhD students in the same situation. We’ve definitely earned our degrees after this.

“Now it’s mainly a question of waiting. The Beadle is keeping us informed of the situation, but so far there are no concrete plans. No one can predict what the situation will look like a month from now, as you can tell from the measures being implemented around the country. The university has already promised that the university will schedule more dates for PhD defences in the future, in order to deal with the backlog. That means I may defend my dissertation in the evening or on a Saturday. And when everybody is safe, we can have a real celebration!”