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Posthumous PhD
May 20, 2014 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of anyone who received a posthumous PhD? How was the graduation ceremony handled? Who accepted the degree on their behalf? And, where were they in terms of their dissertation -- already filed, soon to file with a few revisions, etc.?

This is a work question. We lost a PhD student last night who was set to walk two weeks from now. I'm working things out with the university, but want to be armed with information from other sources as well.

I'm particularly interested in who has accepted awards on behalf of the recipient, because we need to offer some options to her family. Her parents are living, and she has two daughters. (The older one is graduating from high school like, next week.) What is traditionally done, if there is such a tradition? Most of the info I can find is about bachelor's degrees.

This student was also in the final stages of revising her dissertation but had not yet filed it. I don't really expect any grief from the university on that end, because I think her committee will sign off, but again would like to have some anecdata if any is available.

Thanks for your help.
posted by mudpuppie to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When an ABD grad student/instructor in my program passed away, they awarded his doctorate posthumously and his son accepted it. They did it as a small-but-official ceremony separate from any major "commencement" stuff.
posted by Rallon at 1:40 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]

I don't have personal experience with this, but the University of Virginia as an example has a policy on posthumous degrees that includes how the family is notified and who accepts.
posted by tempestuoso at 1:40 PM on May 20

This article is about a posthumous PhD awarded at Penn State -- "Accompanied by members of his family, Brian will attend the Graduate Commencement ceremony to receive the diploma on his father’s behalf."

Also, from this UC Riverside page, "A formal request may be initiated by any of the following: a family member, a faculty member, a dean, or a fellow student. If the request is not made by a family member, the family member should be contacted and found to be receptive to the possible award." And regarding eligibility, "to be eligible for a posthumous Ph.D. degree, the deceased student must have completed a draft of the dissertation and had it approved by the dissertation committee."

Also this: "On hand for the official awarding of Counts' degree were his wife, Connie, daughter, Dr. Melissa Reid Counts Toth, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and son, Zachary Francis Counts, a captain in the U.S. Air Force ... ."
posted by tempestuoso at 1:51 PM on May 20

At my university, a PhD was posthumously awarded to a student who "nearly" completed the requirements of her program upon death. A relative - who lacked a commencement robe as means to connote familial loss - accepted the degree on her behalf at the regular commencement ceremony during its PhD component. The speaker referred to the deceased by name, specified her near completion, and identified the relative's relation to the deceased.
posted by kiki_s at 1:53 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]

Here's another example from UCSD:
Ben passed the summer before entering the job market and his dissertation defense. Thanks to the effort put forth by his advisor, friends and colleagues, Ben’s dissertation research was submitted and he has been awarded a posthumous doctorate in Economics from UC San Diego.
posted by purpleclover at 2:00 PM on May 20

In the case I know of, a small ceremony was held a little over a year after the student's death to present her mother and (adult) sister (her entire immediate family for all intents and purposes, I think) with her degree certificate and a printed copy of her thesis. The ceremony date didn't coincide with commencement for that semester and I see that the degree date was the official graduation date for the semester in which she passed away. She was nearly finished when she passed unexpectedly--I'm not sure exactly how close but I feel confident it was supposed to be within a year and there was a pretty solid exit strategy due to her specific training grant. She had a few papers submitted, too. I'll MeMail you some specifics.
posted by zizania at 2:14 PM on May 20

This is a little different, but we had a DPT student drown about a month prior to graduation last year. A few things happened:
- The entire class (about 30 students) wore a pin in his memory at graduation events. They also did some fundraising and established a small endowed scholarship in his honor.
- At the hooding ceremony, his family (represented by his wife, his minor children, and his mom) were given his diploma, his hood and associated regalia, and the dean spoke very warmly about him. This happened after the rest of the class was hooded, and my understanding is that they chose to do it there vs. graduation because it was much more intimate.
- Because there was no thesis involved, it is my understanding that this particular student technically received an honorary degree from the University, but this was not ever explicitly stated.
- There was a lovely feature article about him in the 'class notes' section of the alumni magazine.

I can't stress enough how important the community aspect was to his family. In our case, though, we had a lot more time. Still, his wife attended the spring scholarship recipients dinner this year, to meet the student who received the scholarship that was established in his name, and she said again and again how much it had helped to know how valued he was by this community.
posted by anastasiav at 4:34 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]

This happened at the department I got my PhD from: Moez Alimohamed. It was before my time so I don't know the details but I believe he had done much of the work on his dissertation but not much of the writing at the time of his death. There was a collection of books kept in the math department common room in his memory (I don't believe they were his, but rather that they were donated in his memory) and an award for graduate student teaching. I seem to recall the latter came with a small cash prize, presumably from some endowment.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:30 PM on May 20

Thanks, all. This gives us a good foundation.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:52 PM on May 20

When I was a PhD student a few years back, a PhD student was shot and killed after defending his thesis but before receiving his degree. He was awarded his degree posthumously, but I'm not sure who (if anyone) accepted the degree on his behalf.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:42 PM on May 20

We lost a Master's student a couple of years ago.

He emailed his thesis revisions in, then went on a tourist plane around Everest a couple of days later, and his plane crashed in Nepal. (Horrible irony: His research was on making planes safer, and he had a job lined up at Boeing.)

My biggest tip: Get the graduate studies administrators on board asap. We had to shepherd the graduation documents through the system manually because it was so last-minute, and you need someone who can override the system.

His fellow graduands distributed black ribbons at the gowning table. Turns out that we have a rule that only one person can cross the stage to accept the diploma, so his family had to choose one family member, which turned out to be his father.

His family also established an award in his name for students in his program.
posted by wenat at 8:55 PM on May 20

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