The USN annual doctoral award ceremony is an academic tradition that marks the conferment or promotion of new doctors with the handing over of the doctoral diploma as tangible proof of the achievement. In 2022, 36 new PhDs were successfully defended at USN.

Dear new doctors! 

Congratulations on your big day! I know very well that there were no shortcuts to your achievement. It has all been about ambition, dedication and hard work. It has been about having a solid academic grounding. And it has been about having a firm eye on the goal ahead and never letting it out of sight.
I am sure that you have all been involved in exciting and rewarding collegiate research cooperation across institutional, national and international communities. However, at the same time, I am equally sure that it has been a matter of powering through long working hours and overcoming adversity. And sometimes it has most likely also been a matter of making sacrifices. Your ability to tolerate loneliness has certainly been put to the test as you have prioritized scholarly pursuits over social and familial activities.

As a result, a celebration of this major achievement of yours is definitely called for! This is an important milestone in the life of every one of the most important days at USN. The dissertations you have written and defended are a testament to the academic breadth and depth of this university. We are both proud and humbled to share this moment with you.

An old academic tradition

This ceremony follows in the footsteps of an old academic tradition with roots going back to the ceremonies held in European universities in the Middle Ages. In the Nordic countries, the first known doctoral conferment ceremony was held at Uppsala University in Sweden, on 22 January in the year 1600. In Norway, the rituals and ceremonies relating to doctoral dissertations were established in the early 19th century. At the time, the ceremony was quite pompous and elitist, and everything was done in Latin.

The Latin eventually disappeared and with it some of the pomposity, but in the 1920s and 1930s, the ceremonies became more formal again in Norway, with a sprinkling of the old elitism and somewhat lofty use of symbols. That was certainly the mindset of my generation, the ‘68-ers, who discontinued the practice of holding doctoral conferment ceremonies. The ceremony at the University of Oslo in 1969 was the last one for many years. When you finished your public defence, you had to be content to receive your diploma in the mail. Being an academic was not supposed to promote elitism in society.

Gudmund Hernes, who served as the minister of education, research and church affairs in the early 1990s, had the following to say about the situation:

“Anthropologists can tell us that no primitive society is as primitive as our universities are today. Here is a society that has allowed its culture to decay, leaving hardly any enchantment behind. Here, there are barely any symbolic expressions of the substance we should stand for and which is worth striving for on its own. I refer to the celebrations that show the standards we aim for and that we can enjoy when achieved by others.”

However, throughout the 1990s, the old rituals were brought back again, partly because of globalisation and the strong influence from British and American universities, who held such commencements or conferment ceremonies.

Standards we aim for 

This revival could perhaps also be a sign of longing for something that was missing—a search for historical roots and a need to emphasise that what we academics are doing is important after all. Indeed, many would argue that in our time, it is more pressing than ever to be respectful of knowledge and a knowledge-based public debate and to strengthen the awareness of the importance of research. And above all, it is important to honour our colleagues who succeed in performing outstanding academic work.

With this doctoral conferment ceremony, we wish to honour and celebrate you who during the last year have completed not only the highest degree at the university but also the highest level of formal education in our country. And despite the robes the rector and deans are wearing, the elitism and pomposity that characterised medieval ceremonies are alien to us today. However, we wish to honour and celebrate you with a dignified ceremony which we have shaped in our own way as a modern university—a ceremony that underlines the standards we aim for and, above all, demonstrates that we are proud of you and share in your joy.

Knowledge for today and the future

The Norwegian phrase for doctoral conferment—doktorkreering, literally ‘doctor creation’—might seem a bit of an oddity in this day and age. Kreere means to create something, to be the first to devise something. In our present context, it also refers to a solemn appointment to an academic rank. We also call the doctoral degree awards ceremony doktorpromosjon. Promosjon, or promotion, comes from promovere, meaning to move something forwards. Even though the doctoral degree represents the pinnacle of the qualification pyramid, I would like to encourage you not to stop here. Please continue to seek out new heights of knowledge, as there are always new heights to seek.

In a society based on knowledge, doctors are among the most important policymakers and agents for moving society forwards based on knowledge and insight. Global, national and local changes and challenges require that we constantly gain new knowledge that enables us to understand current developments and to push these developments in a suitable direction.

The ceremony also makes the university's activities and achievements visible to our community and external partners and helps to raise the profile of USN in the public sphere. Our vision and ambition are to further develop an internationally recognised, regionally based and innovative university with a high level of quality and a strong working partnership with our community and collaborative partners.  

Through profession-oriented and society- and working-life-oriented research and education, the university is developing and disseminating knowledge and expertise that is addressing the world’s climate, environmental and energy challenges, combating poverty and injustice, ensuring the sustainability of the welfare state, and strengthening interpersonal relationships. This is not just empty rhetoric. It serves as a guiding framework for USN’s activities: Knowledge for today and the future.

Dr Denis Mukwege - the university's first honorary doctor

This year, the board of USN has appointed the university's first honorary doctor—doctor honoris causa. An honorary doctorate is an honorary title awarded by a university without the person being appointed having previously defended a dissertation in a public defence at the university. Honorary doctorates can be awarded in recognition of outstanding life achievements even if it is not in the form of a doctoral dissertation.

The system of honorary doctors has a long tradition in the university sector. In Europe, the first honorary doctorate was awarded by Oxford University in 1478, and the University of Oslo awarded its first honorary doctorate in 1902. USN's guidelines state that a person may be awarded an honorary doctorate based on significant scientific or artistic merits as well as for outstanding work for the benefit of science and its application.

Our board of directors has decided to confer Denis Mukwege with the university's first honorary doctorate. Dr Mukwege holds a doctorate in medicine from the Université libre de Bruxelles. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. In his daily life, he practices as a medical doctor at Panzi Hospital in Bakavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where he works with women who are victims of violence and treat injuries that are a result of abuse. Dr Mukwege has waged a tireless fight against sexual violence against women and children. His scientific work also encompasses several global health issues. He is foremost among academics who have dedicated their lives to promoting and applying knowledge for the benefit of humanity—both from a local and a global perspective.

The appointment follows a joint nomination from the deans of the Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime Sciences and the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences.

Dr Mukwege has long been engaged in academic collaborations with the university. He is currently working with researchers at the Department of Microsystems to develop diagnostic technology and diagnostic tests for various diseases. The research collaboration also includes issues related to women’s reproductive health involving the midwifery research group at the Department of Nursing and Health Sciences

Dr Mukwege has expressed his humble gratitude and acceptance of the award. He considers it a symbol of support for those who have survived sexual violence and for those who work for peace. He also sees the appointment as a recognition of his work at Panzi Hospital.

We congratulate Dr Mukwege on his award and thank him for accepting an honorary doctorate from our university. It is our hope that the award will inspire further work and cooperation with relevant academic communities at USN. Unfortunately, the tense situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prevents Dr Mukwege from attending this year’s doctoral degree conferment ceremony. In a letter to the rector, he writes that he hopes that the situation in his home country will allow him to attend next year’s event.

Manage knowledge and authority wisely 

To our new doctors: The knowledge that you have generated and acquired not only has intrinsic value but can also make a difference in our way of reasoning and how we develop and manage tangible and intangible assets. Knowledge always makes a difference. For individuals, for communities—for the world.

Your doctoral degree will give authority and gravitas to the views you convey. I expect you to manage this knowledge and authority wisely for the common good. Our democracy is strengthened by an enlightened debate. Knowledge can inspire and challenge. It can change attitudes, ways of thinking, the working life and society.

For each of you, your doctoral degree also marks the end of your education journey at USN. However, this does not mean that your ties with USN are severed. Quite the contrary! We consider you our ambassadors and a key part of our national and international network. I hope you will maintain contact with the university, and that in the future, you will both want to and have an academic interest in engaging in various ways with our academic environments.

I wish you good luck and all the very best for the future! Wherever the road goes from here, continue to create knowledge that meets the current challenges and shapes the future for the better.

Petter Aasen, rector