Work in the time of the coronavirus: ‘I miss the processions'
How are you doing in these strange and unprecedented times? This is the question we are asking our colleagues in this series of articles. This time we asked Erick van Zuylen, the University beadle. 'This year, I haven't been leading the PhD committee into and out of the chamber, wielding my beadle's staff.'
‘I've actually worked through the whole of the coronavirus crisis. There was a brief period in March and April when all events were cancelled, including the academic ceremonies. But the PhD defences had to carry on, of course: people can't wait months to complete their PhD research. Not only that, if you postpone PhD ceremonies for months on end, you have to fit all those people in at a later date, along with all the new PhDs that are coming along. You're just storing up more of a problem.'
Defending your dissertation via a livestream
‘So we carried on with the defences, but in a very slimmed down style. At first there was only the Rector and me, as beadle, in the Telders auditorium, and everyone else followed the ceremony via a livestream - including the PhD candidate! As the summer approached, we were able to broaden that slightly: at first, the candidate and assistants were able to be in the chamber, and later some members of the opposition committee and even a few guests. But now (at the end of December, Ed.), the lockdown means that we've had to go back to how it was in the early days.'
Erick van Zuylen
- Erick van Zuylen is beadle at Leiden University, and head of the Office of the Beadle. He organises and leads the University's academic ceremonies, such as PhD defences and inaugural lectures.
- He lives with his partner Carlos, and their dogs Bongo and Pongo, at 'Leiden's most beautiful quayside', the Jan van Houtkade.
- Apart from a brief period in March-April, his work has simply carried on. The PhD ceremonies had to continue - although the format of the ceremonies is very different.
- Must have: a microphone. At first, the beadle could rely on the volume of his own voice for the 'Hora Est', but now that a large proportion of the opposition committee and the public follow the ceremony via a livestream, van Zuylen needs a microphone to make sure he can be heard.
No beadle's staff and no procession
‘At the moment, the PhD defences almost all take place in the Telders auditorium, where we have a professional set-up with cameras and microphones. It's good to see that the PhD candidates and supervisors are happy that the defences can carry on, even though they're different from the norm. I feel the same, although I do miss the processions. These days, the committee is already in the chamber when the candidate comes in, and, after the defence, the candidate leaves the room and the committee members remain there. That means I no longer lead the committee members into and out of the room, bearing my beadle's staff, which is the signal for the public to stand. It's a bit less ceremonial and festive.'
Enjoying the city and nature
‘I had coronavirus myself in March and I was very ill for a couple of weeks. I'm feeling much better now, but it did take its toll physically. I do a lot of walking now or go out on my scooter to build up my strength. I enjoy being out in our beautiful city and in nature. It's a good way of clearing my head, so it's something I'll definitely carry on doing.'
The whole world can be present
‘One thing I find interesting about the corona crisis is that it's made the world a lot smaller. Because the ceremonies can now be followed via a livestream, people from all over the world can take part. Recently, we had a Medicine defence that was watched by over 400 people from 32 different countries. And this year's annual Cleveringa lecture was followed by more than 1,300 people from 43 different countries. That's amazing! And for the PhD candidates, it's fantastic that professors from abroad can be members of opposition committees much more easily. Before, they would have to take several days out of their busy diaries to fly to Leiden, but now it takes them just an hour to take part in a ceremony. It's so much easier for leading experts from Russia or Australia to play a part now; that's such a pleasure to see.'
Text: Marieke Epping
Photography: Lotte van Uitert