Wednesday, May 19, 2010


It's graduation season, and the campus is filled with the happy faces of relieved undergraduates. There are also joyous faces who are a little bit older: the doctoral students who are "being hooded".

The PhD is the senior doctorate in US academe, the highest degree given. Other doctorates are considered "professional degrees": think MD, or JD. The recipients, while very accomplished, are more likely to pursue a profession at a high level of expertise. The Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree, with its traditional purpose academic. In my field of science, a PhD takes 5-8 years, rarely less, sometimes more.

Research students don't live on the academic clock, they live on the timing of the laboratory. One finishes when one finishes, which is seldom in graduation season. I did not "walk" the graduation ceremony when I finished my doctorate. In my 17 years as a professor, I have graduated a number of PhD's under my supervision, and none of them has walked either. Graduation seems more about the undergrads, the timing was bad, and our celebration has occurred at the thesis defense. But this year it was different.

As you know, academic regalia is mediaeval in origin, with a nod towards the ecclesiastical. It is a bit like wearing a sweltering tent, but it is impossible not to feel stately while wearing it.

In the US, Doctors' robes used to be basic black , but many universities now have the option of distinct colors. Regardless of the color of the robe, however, you can always identify the degree of the wearer by the length of the academic hood (4ft long for all doctors) , the width of the velvet around the neck (widest for doctors) and the colors. The velvet color around the neck specifies the degree: dark blue for PhD (regardless of field), dark green for MD, light blue for Ed. D (Education); pink for DMus (Doctor of Music), for example. Inset into the back are satin chevrons with colors of the university: blue and gold for the University of California, green and gold for the University of Oregon, and even plaid for Carnegie, etc. A few universities break with this system but most follow it.

In some universities, the transition of the young student to the community of scholars is achieved by having the advisor meet the student in a formal ceremony in full regalia. The student, wearing her doctoral robes, carries the doctoral hood over her arm and presents it to her dissertation advisor, who unfolds it and drapes it over her head: "hooding".

My current university takes this very seriously, and two of my students are nearly finished. This entitled them to walk in this year's PhD hooding ceremony, where each new PhD was met and hooded by their advisor. So I enveloped myself in The Tent that is my own regalia, choked by my long hood and with my tassselled tam set at a rakish angle, and processed into the auditorium with my fellow faculty, where we waited to walk up and meet our students in order. Although the University rules sternly advised PLEASE DO NOT HUG OR KISS YOUR STUDENT DURING THE CEREMONY, I couldn't resist giving them each a hug after I looped the heavy blue velvet around their necks.

And I will remind them that the title "Doctor" comes from the Latin docere, which means: to teach.

Gaudeamus igitur!

All done.


JCF said...

The Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree, with its traditional purpose academic. In my field of science, a PhD takes 5-8 years, rarely less, sometimes more.

12 years for my Ed.D, thank you very much!

[Yes, that's Yours Truly, in my femme-ier incarnation. Six years ago today (Sigh). Columbia University in the City of New York. Teachers College had its hooding ceremony at TEC's Cathedral of St John the Divine, and its portico is behind me.]

And I will remind them that the title "Doctor" comes from the Latin docere, which means: to teach.

...which is what my degree prepared me for, and that which I did. For 4 months. (Sigh.)

Back to preparing for my move... Congratulations to ALL graduates---I wish you better luck than me! ;-/


Hey, IT: thanks for that Latin reference---of course, I had to look it up on Wiki, like any other schmuck!

These were my favorite lyrics:

Vivant omnes virgines
Faciles, formosae.
Vivant et mulieres
Tenerae amabiles
Bonae laboriosae.

"Long live all girls
Easy and beautiful!
Long live mature women also,
Tender and lovable
Good [and] productive."

Ha! ;-D

Erp said...

I can remember one ceremony where the adviser was quite short and the new PhD quite tall. The hooding took a bit of work.

calugg said...

I've had the honor to chair 14 dissertations over the last 14 years. While not all of my students have attended graduation, I've loved hooding those who could. It's really quite a moment when the hood goes on.

And we have no ban on kissing or hugging. Since most of the students are smiling and/or crying for joy, what is the harm? At the reception after graduation, I LOVE meeting my students' families. It's SUCH a joyous occasion--it's one of the reasons I adore my job as a prof.

IT said...

JCF, your regalia somehow looks less tent-like than mine.

Erp, fortunately mine have been short.

calugg, as I said, very few have chosen to walk. So our celebrations have been at the defense. It IS such a joy!

Pierre R. Wheaton said...

I only earned an associate and a bachelor's but I earned them in my thirties as a non-traditional student over 7 and a half years. I insisted on walking at my ceremonies as I wanted to have as much of the traditional college experience as possible. I've always been fascinated by all the pomp and circumstance with the regalia. I guess that's also why I became an Episcopalian. I love a parade.

annski said...

In spite of the long drive and my disgust with my major professor, I'm glad I went through with my doctoral graduation. It helped that the useful professor on my committee was allowed to co-hood me and that a dear friend from another space in my life was also receiving her Ph.D.

As for the hugging part, my major professor offered but I politely declined, citing Lutheran heritage as a reason for not expressing affection in public. I would have rather preferred to slap the woman, but refrained.

That said, I can hardly wait until I have my own hood and tam and can shepherd by own students through the graduation ceremony.

JCF said...

And in addition to the updated pic, there's the following. Shout it from the Ivory Tower: IT's delurked!


[I have to give IT a hard time: 5 years ago, she was posting to my lay-it-ALL-out-there blog . . . but wouldn't tell me her name in return! ;-p]

Lisa Fox said...

Oh. My. GAWD! IT has delurked!?!

I find it intriguing and encouraging that a great many of us who began blogging anonymously or pseudonymously eventually get tired of that and just say "What the hell!" and adopt transparency.