Organisation - March 31, 2020

Golden sleeve thanks to corona

Roelof Kleis

Mark Roosjen was the 7500th PhD candidate to successfully defend his thesis yesterday. He was rewarded with a degree in a golden sleeve.

© Mark Roosjen

It was a surprise. Even supervisor Dolf Weijers was not informed until that morning that his candidate was Wageningen University’s 7500th PhD student to obtain his degree. It was also the first defence in times of corona to be live-streamed. Last week, live streaming was not yet possible.

Short notice
Roosjen was informed the previous evening that live streaming was available. This allowed him to hold his layman’s speech, a short explanation of the research for the general public, which had been cancelled the week before. Technical limitations had made live streaming impossible, thus also preventing public viewing. ‘But I declined,’ says Roosjen. ‘It was too short notice.’

I just wanted it over and done with. Otherwise, it keeps you occupied
Mark Roosjen

The fact that the 7500th defence took place yesterday is the result of the corona crisis. Previous cancellations prevented this milestone from being reached last week. Roosjen’s defence took place as scheduled. I just wanted it over and done with,’ he states. ‘Otherwise, it keeps you occupied. Now I can focus fully on my job at the chair group, where I work as a technical analyst.’


WUR’s PhD factory is in full swing. Annually, approximately 300 PhD candidates defend their theses. The 5000th defence took place less than a decade ago in 2011, the 6000th defence was in 2015, and the 7000th in the centennial year of 2018, but was not celebrated. The doctoral degree board did not want the 7500th defence to go unnoticed.  


Healthy excitement
Roosjen defended his thesis from a meeting room in Helix. ‘We were granted permission to use this location.’ In the presence of just one assistant (the other had called in sick with health issues), he held his defence. And this was fine. ‘I don’t much like being in the spotlight. There was some healthy tension, but that would have been far more if I had been facing an audience.’

After his defence, laudation chair (and Dean of Science) Wouter Hendriks spoke to underline the special occasion. He handed Roosjen a virtual golden sleeve with his degree, to be collected at a later date. The 7500th defence took place a full century after the very first PhD defence in November 1920, two years after the Agricultural College was founded.