I'm visiting Eindhoven in the Netherlands this week, as the outside examiner for Elena Mumford's thesis defense which happened today (that is, Monday, though I guess it's officially Tuesday by the time I'm posting this) and which she passed with flying colors. Today I also heard the good news that Elena's paper (with me), Self-Overlapping Curves Revisited, which formed one of the chapters of her thesis, was accepted to SODA. Double congratulations, Dr. Mumford!


None: Conflict of Interest?
I don't mean to offend, but is it not a conflict of interest being on both the defense committee and having a personal stake it its academic success? This is explicitly disallowed at my institution (in Europe), in a move that was somewhat controversial. As a PhD, I'm rather torn: the thesis committee should be an impartial judge of the works quality, yet they also often form some of the best colleagues with which to work. Comments?
11011110: Re: Conflict of Interest?
Taken to an extreme, that argument would imply that the student's advisor should be excluded from the thesis committee, something I've never seen. It's probably a good idea for some members of the committee to be unbiased, but I don't think they all need to be. In this case I was one of two faculty from other institutions but there were also two faculty members from within Eindhoven but outside the research group, who I think were sufficiently unbiased to fulfil that function. At my own institution the rules are a little odd, I think: we require the outside membership (someone from a different school within the same university) on the advancement to candidacy (often a year or so before the Ph.D.) rather than for the Ph.D. defense itself. The final defense has a smaller committee often only in the candidate's own research area. Though it seems backwards, maybe that's a better place to put the requirement, I'm not sure -- the final defense is usually primarily ceremonial, while it's less unusual to see someone actually fail the earlier exams, so it makes some sense to put more controls on the exam that acts as an actual hurdle.
None: Re: Conflict of Interest?
Your points on both the often ceremonial nature and diverse membership of the defense committee are well taken. My faculty is relatively young (<5 years), and we spend an inordinate amount of time rearguing the rules, both our own and others. Most of our attempts to write down the PhD regulations have fallen into the trap of either under- or over-specification, leaving no one happy, and with either too little or too much room for special cases. And it does seem like 50% of PhDs end up being a "special case." :-) Thanks for your reply.
None: Re: Conflict of Interest? 2008-09-30T09:49:42Z In Spain the committee does not include the advisor. However, the advisor is (typically) asked as to who to put in the committee.