Thesis nailing: Unique Swedish tradition of PhD celebration.

When I first entered Uppsala University’s engineering building, Ångströmlaboratoriet, I found one thing particularly interesting. Tens of books are nailed high up on the walls. Judging by the placement, I thought these books were obviously not for reading. Upon asking around, I learned that these books were printed doctorate theses that were nailed during the unique Swedish academic tradition called Spikning (or thesis nailing…literally!).

Several weeks before their thesis defense, the doctoral student announces the thesis nailing ritual and celebration. Usually, they will nail a physical copy of their thesis on the walls where their department resides. Of course, another copy will be nailed on an announcement board in the main hall of the building. A little ‘party’ comes after the nailing action, where the colleagues and supervisor can congratulate the doctoral student.

Figure 1. Nailed theses on a corridor of the applied materials science department.

It seems that this tradition has a long history. Inspiration for Spikning may have come from Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 theses on church doors in the 15th century [1]. Since various Christian denomination was already influential in Europe during that time, the idea does not seem too farfetched. If that is indeed true, then it just makes Spikning even more special. After all, I doubt we have many customs from the 15th century that is still a widespread practice now.

I find this unique Swedish academic tradition fascinating because it acts as both an announcement and a celebration. The journey to a doctoral degree is never easy. For many, I am sure it means years of commitment, effort, and perseverance. Thesis nailing offers doctoral students something extraordinary on their finish line: remembrance. The doctor may leave far from the university after the defense, but their thesis copy will stay long. In the corridor where my department resides, the thesis nailed on the walls dates as far back as the 1970s. Decades will pass, technologies will become obsolete, new knowledge will come, but something to remember the achievement will stay. I hope, by the end of BioTrib, I will be able to leave something that I can be proud of on a wall of Uppsala University.

Reference

[1]          “The (seeminlgy) strange custom of nailing PhD theses!,” Chalmeristbloggen, Mar. 09, 2015. https://chalmeristbloggen.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/the-seeminlgy-strange-custom-of-nailing-phd-theses/ (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).

 

This article was written by Vidhiaza Leviandhika as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

Dilesh is researching the Development of Development of 3D-printed gradient alloys for joint implant component at Uppsala University, Sweden.