Jury Service in Barcelona

Posted in: News and Updates

In Barcelona last week sitting on a PhD jury – one of these public defences that are literally and metaphorically foreign to the UK.  The thesis was in Catalan with a presentation to an audience of about 35 in that language, with Spanish and English interludes.  I had read a 50 page English summary of the thesis, and was familiar with the research over a 6 year involvement between Bath and the Catalan university.  When the candidate had finished his 50 minute presentation, and his supervisors had had a say (a novel twist, I thought), we three jurists had ours.  I spoke about the international context of the research and its potential contribution.  The last to speak (in Catalan) was the president of the jury, and I had a translator whispering in my ear.  I thought the learned and venerable professor was making some quite critical points to do with neglected literature, omitted data, and un-nuanced argument, etc, and so I kept asking my interpreter: "Is that a critical point?"   "Yes", she'd always respond, "but not a negative one."   Oh, I thought, and where do you draw that line?

In the end, we graded it "Excellent cum laude", everyone was happy, and cava was splashed about.  Later, I asked another venerable and learned professor, this time someone whom I had known for a while, what was all the critical but not negative stuff from the president of the jury: "Just showing off" they said; "illustrating how clever they are and how little the candidate really knows."   Experience suggests that this a tendency also found here, but in Barcelona, on that occasion at least, it wasn't allowed to get in the way of the outcome.

Posted in: News and Updates


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  • So Bill, some things are the same the world over!... do you think that there is anything for our system to learn from this?