The promotion

Back to Groningen, where drs. A.C. de Groot, in the run-up to the defense of his thesis Adverse reactions to cosmetics, made a crushing impression on Wednesday afternoon 21 December 1988 by climbing the stairs of the academy building with one bleeding and one screaming child. Of course I had been nervous during the entire journey from 's-Hertogenbosch to Groningen, just over 2 hours, and it didn't get any better like this. It was not really necessary, being nervous, because, the PhD title can only be refused if you say nothing during the defense.

And I really mean: not a single word. If you would shout in panic 'Help', or 'I forgot', the loot is already in. It was rumored that only one unfortunate doctoral student failed to obtain his doctorate: he was so nervous that he passed out before he could speak one (1) word. Anyway, of course I was also nervous and a little afraid that the defense of my thesis and the accompanying postulates would not go well and that I would look like a fool. Completely unnecessary of course, because who knew as much about the subject as I did? Moreover, I had no enemies among the opponents who would be happy to make me look stupid.

When the draft of the thesis took shape, Johan Nater was not a professor and could therefore not act as my supervisor ('promotor'). But in 1986, 2 years after the departure of Prof. Klokke, he became head of department and the formal appointment as full professor followed in 1987. So that worked out perfectly, now Johan could be my promotor, much to his and my pleasure. The co-promotor was Prof. dr. Erik Bleumink, who started out as a biochemist in the dermatology department and later became Rector Magnificus of the State University Groningen (RUG). Dr. Pieter-Jan Coenraads, who had completed his training as a dermatologist in Groningen at the same time as me and was now a staff member, was the sponsor ('referent') The evaluation committee of the thesis consisted of Prof. dr. M.N.G. Dukes (the longtime editor of the books in the Meyler's side effects of drugs series, in which Johan and I had written extensively, which I would continue to do so until 2000), Prof. dr. H. Wesseling (professor of pharmacology, RUG) and Prof. dr. E. Young (professor of dermatallergology in Utrecht).

How did it go?

What can I write about the course of the promotion? Well, everything went smoothly in the auditorium of the university building, I was able to answer all questions correctly. After parrying the first critical question, my nervousness subsided. Only one of the opponents, Prof. A.J.C. Huffstadt of the plastic surgery department made it a bit difficult for me by being condescending about the complaints patients could have from cosmetics. Was it really that important, he wondered, a pimple here, a spot there, a little itching, burning or dry skin? I don't remember what I answered, but it apparently annoyed me enough to remember it now. I will undoubtedly have pointed out that 30% of the 'patients' considered their complaints serious enough to consult the GP. But of course he had a point, there are worse things in life. Incidentally, I had made it clear in my dissertation that the vast majority of side effects of cosmetic products are (very) mild. And I always started my oral presentations on the subject with saying 'Related to their widespread use, serious adverse reactions from cosmetics are rare', just to put it into perspective and to show that I'm not hostile to cosmetics and their use. On the contrary, cosmetics do considerably more good than harm!

Below I will show you a number of photos taken during the promotion with accompanying texts. One has to make some effort for such a PhD title, but then you are rid of the eternal drs. (doctoral student) for the rest of your life.


Before the defense of the dissertation, waiting in one of the faculty rooms, for the beadle to come for us, biting the nerves. My paranymphs were mr. Pieter G. Bartstra (primus, right in the photo) and dr. Jan Willem Weijland (secundus). Peter has been my best friend since high school. Willem worked at the cosmetics department of the Keuringsdienst van Waren in Enschede, participated in many projects and was co-author of many articles and of the third edition of our book Unwanted effects of cosmetics and drugs used in dermatology

The chairman (Prof. J. Minderhoud), the members of the Doctorate Committee and other professors enter the auditorium

….. followed by primus, the doctorandus ('he who must become a doctor') and secundus

According to protocol, the doctoral candidate and the two paranymphs, once entered, first bow to the left and then to the right. It seems that both paranymphs were very curious about the promotion committee


From: Protocol for the graduation ceremony

1.3 The PhD student takes a seat behind the small table. The documents brought by one of the paranymphs for the    benefit of the doctoral candidate are deposited on the table by him. The paranymphs take their seats in the seats reserved for them, first on the left and first on the right of the central aisle.
1.4 The defense then takes place, ……………………….


Waiting for the verdict. The most interesting thing about this photo is that in the 1980s, tall men were apparently not considered intelligent enough to receive a PhD. I've searched city and country and made dozens of phone calls trying to rent a well-fitting dress suit, but I didn't succeed anywhere. It's painfully obvious that this costume was way too small for me.

From: Protocol for the graduation ceremony

17. After the deliberation, which should last as short as possible, the beadle leads the Board back to the auditorium. When everyone is seated, the beadle also introduces the doctoral candidate and the paranymphs. They go in front of the tables of the Doctorate Board and position themselves in a V-shape (PhD student slightly in front of the paranymphs).

18. As soon as they are positioned correctly, the Rector Magnificus puts on his beret and says, standing up: ''Mr. PhD candidate, the Doctorate Board of this university, represented by us, after having taken note of your thesis with attached postulates and having heard you defend it, has decided to grant you the doctorate coveted by you at the University of Groningen.'

From left to right Prof. dr. J.P. Nater, Prof. dr. E. Bleumink, Prof. dr. E. Young and Dr. P.-J. Coenraads. Johan is addressing me here, probably in formal function because he still has his beret on and the other members are standing

Drs. A.C. de Groot receives the Bulla promotionis from Prof. dr. J Minderhoud and has finally lost the 's' in his title! In the front row my wife Janny and my parents

Passed! The relief can be seen on the faces of the young doctor and his paranymphs

The reception afterwards was well attended by relatives, friends, colleagues and directors and board members of the Willem-Alexander and Carolus Hospital, other employees from the hospitals, staff members, dermatologists in training and staff members of the clinic in Groningen, dermatologists with whom I had trained at the time, my assistant and secretary, a representative of the Dutch Cosmetics Association, of course the promotion committee and many other interested parties.

The equally well-attended and very pleasant and lively promotion party was held two days later, on December 23, 1988, in Hotel 'Boer Goossens', a well-known party room in the village where we lived at the time. We had rented all the rooms in the hotel for guests who came from far. I had received a congratulatory gift from the medical staff and the management of Willem-Alexander Hospital, a bass guitar and amplifier (which I still have). At one point, the master of ceremonies, my friend Remco Verwer, took the microphone of the band (a modest and not noisy trio) and spoke the immortal words: 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the buffet is open. The bad news is that De Groot will now play his bass guitar'. Late that night, after everybody had gone home or to his hotelroom, we were offered what was left of the buffet, but, after some hesitation, once at home we threw it away.

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