I had the honor and privilege to be a thesis opponent for the Ph.D. defense of Martin Heyden at Lund University’s Department of Automatic Control in Sweden. The picture on the right is with Anders Rantzer, Martin Heyden, and Richard Pates (Anders and Richard were Martin’s co-advisors). During my visit to Lund, I also gave a seminar on the topic of robust control and optimization algorithms. Lund University is one of the few places in the world to have a department dedicated solely to controls! Most other universities have controls experts spread across various departments (electrical, mechanical, industrial, aerospace, etc.).
Thesis defenses in Sweden work differently than in other parts of the world. During the last year of their Ph.D., the candidate and their advisor invite an external expert to be the thesis opponent. The opponent is charged with reading the thesis carefully, and preparing questions for the candidate. On the day of the defense, it is the opponent that presents the candidate’s research! After the presentation, there is a discussion session led by the opponent, and the rest proceeds as in a typical defense: the committee asks their questions, then meets behind closed doors to deliberate. Having attended several such defenses as an audience member during my postdoc, I came to appreciate and respect this way of conducting defenses. Having an outside expert present your research is the ultimate test, because they are in a unique position to comment on the context, relevance, and impact of the work without bias or prejudice.
Lund University holds a special place in my heart because I did a postdoc there for one year (2011-2012) and have very fond memories of the city, the school, and the many great people I met there. I had a wonderful time in Lund, and it was so nice to see former friends and colleagues in person. I am especially grateful to Richard Pates and Anders Rantzer for the invitation to be Martin’s thesis opponent and for their hospitality during my visit.