The making of my first Doctor

On June 1, I was one of the opponents in Anders Kofod-Petersen’s PhD defence at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU in Trondheim. This experience marks the current culmination point of my academic career as this was the first time that I was involved in the “making of a doctor” 🙂

I met Anders at my first workshop on Modelling and Retrieval of Context MRC 2004, which I initiated and co-organized together with Stefan Schulz. It was also there that I met Patrick Brézillon who became the other opponent. At that time I did not think about being involved in Anders‘ or anyone else’s PhD evaluation process. But I seemed to have made some lasting impression 😉

The evaluation process started about a year ago (June 19, 2006, to be precise) when Agnar Aamodt asked me if I would like to be an opponent in the PhD evaluation of Anders Kofod-Petersen, which I happily agreed to. As I learned, the evaluation process is somewhat different to the German system (especially wrt the procedure in Kaiserslautern).

In Norway, the PhD candidate needs to give a lecture on a topic selected by the evaluation committee, i.e., Patrick and me. The PhD candidate only has two weeks for preparing the lecture. Certainly something worth adding to the German evaluation process.

Another difference is that the opponents each have about 45 minutes stage time for interviewing the PhD candidate after his defence talk. Not only the PhD candidate is examined here, but also the opponent. At least this is how I feel about it 🙂 Historically, the first opponent focusses on the content of the thesis while the second opponent gives more emphasis on the structural and presentation-related matters. Being the second opponent I did exactly what I was supposed to do, commenting on structural and presentation-related matters. But there was also more than enough time for talking about content 😉

The last remarkable difference in the Norwegian and German systems is that the supervisor of the thesis, Agnar Aamodt, has no say in the evaluation at all. In Germany, your supervisor (“Doktorvater”) is also your first referee. I think the Norwegian way is a very good way of bringing in another view of some distinguished researcher and removing any possible bias of the supervisor. Of course, it makes the process harder for the PhD candidate, but also more scientific and transparent.

The defence went very well. Anders gave a trial lecture on “Effective Application of Social Theories to Agent Communication”, a title chosen by Patrick and me. Anders‘ summary of his thesis “A Case-Based Approach to Realising Ambient Intelligence among Agents” went as well as I expected 🙂 and he defended his work in the interviews with Patrick and me quite well. It was a pleasure to award him his title. Well done, Herr Doktor!

All in all, my visit in Trondheim was quite an experience (see also my photos on my flickr account), despite some heavy migraine. I had the opportunity to give a talk on “Explanation, Dialogue, and Communication” and to hear one by Patrick about his contextual graph building tool (only in French at the moment, but check it out!). There emerged quite some opportunities to work together with Agnar and Patrick.

Passing on my experience of doing a PhD and actually participating in the formal evaluation and finishing process of a PhD is very rewarding. I am looking forward to repeating this experience in the future. Hopefully many more times!

[composed and posted with ecto]

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