Traditional Post-doctoral Party

​Text: Professor Matti Sillanpää

Turku has upheld academic traditions from the times of the Royal Academy of Turku. As one of the oldest faculties, especially the Faculty of Medicine has strived to uphold traditions, even when the changes of society and customs have shaken also our academic world..

As I have participated in post-doctoral celebrations for the past 40 years, I have been able to mark, on the one hand, a serious attempt to preserve the old customs and, on the other hand, to follow the times and modify the post-doctoral party accordingly.

Discussions with colleagues have proven that the knowledge of how to organise a post-doctoral party is, in many cases, woefully lacking or has developed into something quite different from the original traditions.. Many small changes have taken root and given the impression that they belong among the traditions.

The purpose of this page is to guide those who wish to uphold old academic traditions during the public defence of their doctoral dissertation and during the post-doctoral party that celebrates this wonderful achievement after the official proceedings.

Public Defence of a Doctoral Dissertation

At the public defence, the University hands out the official written instructions concerning the public defence to the people participating because of their position and therefore it is not necessary to present them here. However, I would like to take this chance to remind everyone of the old beautiful custom of giving flowers to the female spouse of the Opponent to reward her for the sacrifices she has had to make while her husband was preparing for and attending the public defence.

Purpose of the Post-doctoral Party

The post-doctoral party is organised to honour the Opponent, who is the guest of honour at the party and arrives last. The rules of politeness towards the Opponent demand that everyone else is already present to receive the Opponent as he or she arrives to the party. Thus, the post-doctoral party is not a family celebration where outsiders are invited to participate in a more or less awkward manner. A separate family celebration should be held at a different time. The post-doctoral party is not an official academic event as such, but a half-academic event with strong ties to the official public defence of a doctoral dissertation.

Invitation to the Post-doctoral Party

Originally, the invitations to the post-doctoral party were given only after the Opponent announced at the end of the public defence of a doctoral dissertation that he or she will propose that the faculty approves the dissertation as a thesis for the doctoral degree. Since there is no uncertainty about the approval of the dissertation nowadays and since the preparations for the post-doctoral party include a wider array of matters than before, the preparations can be started in good time before the public defence. It is good manners for the Doctoral Candidate to ask the Opponent before the public defence of the doctoral dissertation whether the preparations for the post-doctoral party can be started. The recipients of an invitation to the post-doctoral party can find out for themselves at the public defence whether the Opponent will propose for the approval of the dissertation and whether the invitation is then valid or not!

All those who have been directly involved in the making and completion of the dissertation should be invited to the post-doctoral party. The Doctoral Candidate decides who to invite. Automatic invites go only to the Custos and the Opponent. In the past, also the Dean and the Vice Dean of the Faculty, as well as the professors under whose speciality the topic of the dissertation fell were always invited to the post-doctoral party, but this custom has been abolished long ago.

According to an old custom, at the public defence, the Doctoral Candidate invites to the post-doctoral party the members of the public who at the urging of the Doctoral Candidate made questions or comments, but they must always decline the invitation.

The Doctoral Candidate can also invite his or her spouse or, according to today’s customs, his or her common-law spouse, as well as a few close relatives to the post-doctoral party.

The invitation must include, in addition to the time and place, the preferred dress code (see below).  Before, the custom was to choose between “black tie” and “white tie”. This custom is still in use and very practical, especially to avoid confusion when inviting foreign people to the post-doctoral party.

Dress Code

At the public defence of a doctoral dissertation, the dress code for a male Doctoral Candidate (and the Custos) is white tie, consisting of a tailcoat, a black waistcoat and black shoes that cannot be made of patent leather. White pocket square should not be worn with the black waistcoat during the public defence. The dress code for a female Doctoral Candidate is a black cocktail dress that does not have an open neckline or is not otherwise revealing. If an invited guest has a doctoral degree, he or she also wears the doctoral hat. The dress code originates from earlier times when the professors wore a uniform as a symbol of their position.

At the post-doctoral party, the dress code is always, unless mentioned otherwise, white tie, which means for men, a tailcoat and a dark waistcoat if there are no ladies at the party. To avoid confusion and just in case, since there usually is at least one woman present, and definitely if the Doctoral Candidate is a woman, men must wear a white waistcoat and a white pocket square. Shoes can be regular dress shoes or patent leather court shoes. A female Doctoral Candidate and the date of a man following the white tie dress code wear a full-length, black or dark dress.

The invitation to the post-doctoral party must include the dress code, as mentioned before. Generally, the dress code is “black or white tie”. The mention of a dress code usually also includes the possibility to wear a military uniform or a priest uniform. Black tie is generally an alternative to white tie, whereas a tuxedo is not. The dress code for the female date is decided by the dress code of the man. The national dress is also an option for women, although it is not often seen at post-doctoral parties.

The issue of wearing medals at post-doctoral parties was raised after some faculties adopted this practice. I see no reason not to wear them as, for example, according to the medal regulations of the Order of the White Rose and the Order of the Lion of Finland, the medals can be worn in official and private events with the dress code black or white tie and with an equivalent dress for women. The invitation should then include, for clarity, a mention “Black or white tie and medals” to avoid unnecessary confusion. Otherwise, the regulations on the wearing and the order of the medals must be followed at the post-doctoral party, as well.

Seating Order

The seating order follows the traditional forms depending on the number of participants. The table can be either long and straight with the Doctoral Candidate at the head of the table or in the middle, or shaped like the letter T or E, or an open square.

The Opponent sits on the place of honour, on the right side of the Doctoral Candidate. The Custos sits on the left side of the Doctoral Candidate. If there are only men present, the seating order of the rest is determined by the Doctoral Candidate utilising the criteria of age, position, and other factors.

If the Doctoral Candidate is a man and his wife is present at the post-doctoral party, the order is the same as above, but the wife sits next to the Opponent as his date. If the Doctoral Candidate is a woman and her husband is present, the husband does not fulfil the position of the host of the party, but is seated relatively far away from the Doctoral Candidate.

Speeches

The Doctoral Candidate opens the speeches “after the roast” by thanking first the Opponent and then the Custos. After that, the Candidate thanks, in the order of importance, all the people who have directly helped in the making of the dissertation.  It must be remembered that the closer the personal relationship with the thanked person is, the further he or she is moved in the order of thanking, which follows that the spouse is thanked last. If the Doctoral Candidate wants to be traditional, other relatives are not thanked at the post-doctoral party. When the Doctoral Candidate raises his or her glass at the end of each speech to thank each person or as the thanked person raises his or her glass to congratulate the Doctoral Candidate, the others do not participate in the toast.

The Opponent’s speech begins immediately as the Doctoral Candidate concludes his or hers. After the Opponent, the Custos gives a speech with the purpose of congratulating the Doctoral Candidate and thanking him or her for the culinary delights of the evening. Lastly, after these speeches, the other participants give speeches in the order that they were thanked in the Doctoral Candidate’s speech. The other participants should also target their speeches at the Doctoral Candidate. Since there could be a large amount of people present at the post-doctoral party, it is a good idea to agree on one person in each group to thank the Doctoral Candidate on behalf of the whole group. This arrangement saves time and helps avoid unnecessary repetition.

It should be remembered that the spouse does not give a speech, according to tradition, much less any other relative. Their time is later, during the family celebration.

It is not customary to applaud after speeches, not including spontaneous applauds for jokes or other special reasons. If the Doctoral Candidate is given presents for their dissertation, he or she thanks for the presents with a few words but does not deliver another speech, since he or she has already given sufficient thanks to everyone. He should neither thank for the response speeches, but sit still as the host of the party just listening dignifiedly. After the end of the round of speeches, the atmosphere can relax a little with free conversation, music, and other programme.

Afterparty

During the last few years, it has become a custom to arrange a larger afterparty immediately after the post-doctoral party that includes, in addition to the participants of the official post-doctoral party, also the Doctoral Candidate’s friends and family. The atmosphere is relaxed and the party can include light-hearted conversation, light food, music, and dance. This arrangement is considered to be a real success. It does not disturb the traditional post-doctoral party, but gives the Doctoral Candidate a chance to celebrate with a larger crowd, in a more relaxed atmosphere, and without the strict dress codes and formalities of a traditional post-doctoral party.

In Conclusion

Everything mentioned above is a guideline, not a strict regulation. Exceptions can be made to the guidelines, if they are done in a dignified manner that meets the requirements of the solemnity of the event.  Appropriate dress code and dignified behaviour give the much-deserved respect to the efforts of the Doctoral Candidate, both for the public defence of his or her doctoral dissertation and for the post-doctoral party.

 

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