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Doctor of Philosophy

Last Friday, shortly after 3 PM, I have been awarded the degree of Doctor of Sciences: Astronomy and Astrophysics (PhD). This means that from then on, I can write my name as Dr. Péter I. Pápics. Well, of course it means a bit more. With the public defence of my Thesis, I arrived to the very last step of obtaining a PhD; a long and exciting journey I have been on during the past three and a half years. Let me tell you a bit more about this last step.

After I have finally managed to get my Thesis printed in 110 copies (which was not as easy as it might sound, since I can be very annoyed by small imperfections, and this caused a bit of delay thanks to the cover of the books: it was designed well by me, but not reproduced well by the designer of the printing company, which then resulted in 4 iteration rounds on the layout before I gave the production green light), I had nothing else left to do, but preparing a 45 minute talk to my public defence. Since the real “examination” already happened during my internal defence more than a month earlier, I now had to prepare a talk more to the general public, something anyone outside astronomy (or, e.g., my parents) can also understand. Google is your friend, when it is time time to find nice figures for a public talk. At least now I really had to think through how can I talk about this work for the public. I am sure the slides I made for the introductory part of my presentation will be very useful later on too. Although I was ready more than a day before the “big event”, I still woke up at 7 AM to read through my slides a few times. Then we went to the College De Valk (where my defence was about to take place, and what – unluckily – was still hidden behind a layer of scaffolding…) with Clio, carrying a few copies of my Thesis and the presents for my supervisors. While I set up the audio-visual system and figured out how to make it perfectly dark in the auditorium, Clio put up the signs which I had printed out in advance to help the guests find their way through the building. Soon everyone arrived (I had around 35 people in the audience), and at 2 PM my jury walked in wearing the gowns of the Faculty of Science, which meant the beginning of the end.

I have seen many defences during the past years, but this time it was me standing down there with the jury, and it felt great. I was not nervous anymore about my presentation, I could really just enjoy the moment, the celebration of my PhD. After a few nice and only slightly official words from Christoffel – the chairman of my jury -, I closed the shades, and as the darkness fell, started my presentation.


It went much better than expected, it was one of the rare occasions when I actually enjoyed it. (I usually prefer the creation part better, and I am not so interested about the presentation part afterwards… I know, I have to work on that.) I was still relieved when it was over. Immediately afterwards I got congratulations and questions from the jury members one-by-one. These questions were not questions of examination anymore, more like polite discussions with a scientific edge. And I guess it is not a real secret, but if we won the lottery, I will not spend the money on spending a spectroscope to space… But I promise, the second time we win the lottery, I will spend the money on research. After the questions, my jury left for a short discussion, and while they were gone, I finally got to put my time-lapse movie on the big screen. These were the first five minutes I also got to spend seated, which provided a perfect opportunity to think about what these years meant for me. Then I still got a few minutes to greet my parents and a few guests, before the jury came back to continue with the remaining ceremonial steps.


First Hans, the secretary of the jury gave me the official documents (although my real diploma will only be ready a few months later…), then my supervisors, Maryline and Conny gave their speech. I was extremely happy, they spoke very nice of me, and even though I know these kind of speeches are always very nice, I was really moved by them. Conny even spoke a few words in Hungarian, which – Clio can tell – is not at all easy, especially only after a 15 minute crash course on Hungarian pronunciation (thanks to one of my jury members with a Hungarian partner).


The defence was followed by a small reception, where I got a present from the Institute (after already exchanging some gifts with my supervisors just after their speeches): besides a box of very delicious pralines (which is unluckily already gone…), a coupon for a praline-making workshop! I am sure I will write about that on this blog when it happens! At the end, around half past five we moved to the centre, where Jonas took a few extra pictures of my family and me (thanks for the pictures displayed throughout this blog post again, Jonas). After this, my parents went back to their hotel to change, while my brother came home with us only to be beaten in FIFA13 (several times) before we all went out for a nice dinner.


The next day we went to Antwerp with my family, which was nice, despite the fact that the weather forecast was completely wrong, and instead of the promised 16°C and sunshine we had 10°C and ice cold wind… I am happy they came for my defence, and I am very sorry I did not manage to arrange a bit nicer weather. Again…

On Sunday morning I was already back to my normal rhythm: getting up at 7 AM to go on a 100 km group ride with my local cycling team. It seems that I am really the cycling astronomer. Now with a PhD :)

Halfway around the globe on the racing bike

Yesterday somewhere along the channel between Mechelen and Leuven, I passed the 20000 km mark on my racing bike. This is the distance I have ridden since I started cycling (as a sport/training – I do not keep track of the kilometres during commuting anyway) on the 20th of February in 2010. By the time I arrived home and finished the day’s ride, I was (virtually) over halfway around the circumference of our home planet. To commemorate this event, here are some statistics from the past years.

Between 20 February 2010 and 15 May 2013 (1180 days, or almost 39 months) I have the following statistics:

  • 457 rides (including very short ones up to and down from the Mercator telescope)
  • 20042 km (half the Earth’s circumference)
  • 711h 17m 06s on the bike (almost 30 days)
  • 126933 m of elevation gained (more than 14 times the height of Mt Everest)
  • 28.1 km/h average speed (674.4 km/day)
  • 159 BPM average heart rate (that is still in Zone 2 for me, so moderate intensity)
  • 88 RPM average cadence
  • 546431 Calories (or kcal) burned (almost 220 Guideline Daily Amounts for men)

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Internal PhD defence: done!

Yesterday I have successfully passed my internal doctoral defence, which basically means that I will inevitably become a doctor (Dr.) on the 31st of May, at the end of my public defence. The internal (or private) defence was more like an extra discussion round of my thesis than an exam, and everything went very smoothly. At the end, the members of my jury provided me with a very small list of minor changes which I still need to implement in the final version of the text (mostly spelling mistakes, a couple of extra references, and a few additional sentences here and there), before I send it to the printing company, to turn it into a nice book. Just after the defence (and some extra private discussions with some of my jury members) I went for a quick training ride (the most windy ride I ever had), then we had a very pleasant dinner on the evening in the Faculty Club.