Tuesday, 8 November 2011


I was at a gathering yesterday in the mist of other scientist and after exhausting conversation topics about backgrounds, interests, travel, the importance of networking etc… we got to the topic of university experience, qualifications and graduations. A young lady who had recently completed a PhD  including her viva from one of the Oxford University colleges  said, “I don’t graduate till 2013”. Suddenly! the room went quiet - I presume the others like myself took a second  to ponder over the statement wondering “did I hear you right?” and so the question followed; “did you say 2013?” and she answered in the affirmative. 
From this point on, the questions started pouring in all aiming at the same endpoint, WHY???
Ok, so it turns out she had completed her program of study in 2011 and will graduates in 2 years’  not because perhaps her thesis is questionable (after all she has successfully passed her viva) but simply because as per the Oxford University tradition graduation ceremonies take place according to colleges and not by your faculty / program of study.  So for this young lady her colleges’ turn was due in 2013.
Oxford University has 38 independent and self-governing colleges. If graduation ceremonies took place according to colleges and the university held a ceremony a month (I don’t know how the system works) I suppose it makes sense as every college would have to wait at least three years to have its turn.
After we all took turns debating what the rationale behind this system was one of the ladies at this gathering had everyone giggling with the simplest reason, “Time is money”. At such a prestigious institution as Oxford University with the elite and experts in their field of study making up the academic staff, international demand for collaborations, talks at conferences, paper publications, research etc. must be pretty high. As such, most of the delegates required to attend these ceremonies have to take it in turn and I guess be booked 3 years in advance because after all time is money.
This article is not to criticize this system by the way, I’m sure there must be a perfectly logical explanation for it (perhaps someone can shed more light). The conversation moved on to discuss what percentage of students would attend their graduation ceremonies 2 years later. Chances are they are all pretty booked up as well with their new found routines, international students would probably have returned home, other home students would have migrated and working abroad, some would have families with other commitments etc. so I ask myself would I miss my graduation if it was only a few months away, highly unlikely if I had the choice. If it was 2 years away however, then probably yes.  Saying that however, I know at least three people who never attended their graduation ceremonies. One at degree level, the other at masters’ level and a third at PhD level. Not because of anything beyond their control but just as a matter of choice.
But then what exactly is the point of graduation ceremonies – to celebrate achievements, network, have memoralia etc. two years later would that be something I would be looking forward to do, probably not. You could argue that there would be the greater networking advantage 2years later as most if not all graduates would be in positions one could benefit from. Either way as I said before I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation and the system does work.

Hanat Akordor. 8th November 2011

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