Nerve-wracked, I follow PhD candidate Lysanne. I take a deep breath. The registrar taps the ground with her stick. What do I have to do now? I look at the other paranymph and copy her. Finally we are allowed to sit down. I breathe in and out. Soon it will all be over and this agony will end.
Here I am, sitting in a penguin suit with a bow tie, with everyone looking at us. ‘Keep calm, Stijn,’ I say to myself. Everything went well just now so if I have to read out a proposition, that should go OK too. As long as it’s not proposition number seven, which contains a word I can’t pronounce. But what is the chance of them choosing precisely that proposition?
The first opponent starts his interrogation. No propositions, luckily. Opponent number two starts. ‘Could you ask your paranymph to read out...’ I start to feel giddy. He really did say it, proposition seven. I clear my throat and start reading. Relieved, I take a breath. It didn’t sound too bad, I reckon.
But wait a minute, the audience are murmuring. Lysanne looks surprised too. She grins and whispers: ‘Um, I think it was proposition five.’ In a kind of reflex, I quickly recite what I can remember of proposition five. Pretty much all the words are different (I hear later) but the meaning is roughly the same and the debate kicks off.
While I try and avoid eye contact with the room, what has happened gradually dawns on me. These penguin suits are quite hot actually. The registrar enters. ‘Hora est,’ she says. I know. Everyone heard my mistake. I breathe in and out. Soon it will all be over. Then the agony will really begin.
Stijn van Gils (29) is doing doctoral research on ecosystem services in agriculture. Every month he describes his struggles with the scientific system.