Thursday, 29 October 2015

A trip to Maastricht

Lorenzo Desideri being congratulated by Mark Hawley

I am writing this blog post on the train returning from Maastricht to Schippol airport en route to Manchester and home. I was in Maastricht to act as an external examiner for a PhD. 

The Dutch PhD ‘defence’ is very different from the British viva voce. It is a public event, which anyone can attend, and there are a number of examiners (or ‘opponents’) – on this occasion, for Lorenzo Desideri’s defence, there were six. It is a strangely formal affair, involving the examiners dressing up in gowns and hats (what a colleague called ‘academic fancy dress’ – see picture) and processing to the examination room (the aula). The presentation by the candidate and the questioning by the examiners then lasts exactly an hour – at which point an official enters the aula and bangs a staff on the ground, pronouncing “Hora Est” (time’s up). The committee then retire to deliberate. On this occasion, the defence was deemed successful and we processed back into the aula to present Lorenzo with his PhD certificate. Unlike the UK, there is no waiting for the next degree ceremony.

Lorenzo’s thesis (‘Assistive Technology Service Delivery for Children with Multiple Disabilities’) was an excellent piece of work, describing research with the aim of improving Assistive Technology services for children with multiple disabilities. Five of the chapters have already been published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals. His supervisors were Luc de Witte and Uta Roentgen from Zuyd University and University of Maastricht. Gert-Jan Gelderbloom was also a supervisor at the start of the research, but sadly died before he could see Lorenzo receive his degree. Lorenzo works at AIAS Bologna, now the largest Assistive Technology provision centre in Italy, and has combined carrying out his PhD with his clinical work.

The day continued with a seminar describing the research being carried out in Maastricht and Zuyd into the use of robots with children with disabilities. During the evening’s discussions, I also learnt about other work taking place at Zuyd University. I was very impressed with the breadth and quality of the research and I’m pleased to say that Luc and I agreed to form a collaborative link between his research centre at Zuyd and CATCH.

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