Between the theses that she directed and the juries of which she was a member, Tiphaine Samoyault, professor of general literature and currently director of studies at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), believes that she took part in ” about 150 thesis jars”. Enough to have a good overview of the subject and draw up a first observation: the beginning is immutable. “After the proclamation of the results, the photos, she relates, the young doctor, blushing, takes the floor to invite everyone to their drink. This moment could be likened to a simple time of conviviality. The reality turns out to be more complex: “It’s an intermediate space between the time before and the time after,” analyzes the teacher. It represents a space of liberation – the defense is over – but also a very constrained space. Because all the constraints are in one place: teachers and family…”

The family… Difficult to imagine this moment without her. And for good reason: in most cases, she supported the doctoral student during this long-term work. “I had received a lot of support from those around me, recalls Romain Delgrange, doctor of cognitive sciences since July 2020. Everyone knew what it meant to me. I wanted us to celebrate this together. Author of two theses defended respectively in 1996, in French literature, and in 2013, in history of religions and religious anthropology, Marguerite Champeaux-Rousselot has, each time, celebrated them with dignity with her five children. For the second, dedicated to the fountain of Castalia, in Delphi, she even invited childhood friends with whom she had visited, as a teenager, in this Greek site which had deeply marked her, to the point, decades later. later, to devote several years of research to it.

But the prospect of seeing the family sphere and the professional sphere meet sometimes requires some precautions. Author of How the university crushes young researchers (Autrement, 336 pages, 19.90 euros), doctor of neurobiology since 2017, Adèle B. Combes remembers giving instructions to her parents: “I didn’t want them to go see my thesis director in “So how are things with Adele?” , as if I was still a high school student. If we want the recognition of the doctorate as a professional status, we cannot let our parents consider us as children. “Graduating in November 2021 in literature, Lucie Nizard had, for her part, warned her mother. “The higher the stakes, the more fanciful she can be. And since she loves to crack jokes, she would have been able to talk to my thesis supervisor with an English accent, for example…”

Like a wedding ceremony

Julie Crabot, who defended her thesis in community ecology in 2019, saw, delighted, her father and her brother talking with one of the members of her jury. Sometimes, however, the atmosphere is a little electric. This is the case when family situations are complicated. Tiphaine Samoyault thus remembers parents divorced for years who saw each other for the first time on the occasion of their child’s thesis pot. It is no coincidence that several of the interviewees were able to compare this moment to a wedding ceremony. As Lucie Nizard points out, “it’s a big party that symbolizes a passage with oneself at the center and people who sometimes come from afar”.

And, like a wedding, we eat and drink. Champagne – or crémant – is de rigueur. The young doctor nevertheless goes there pianissimo on the cuts. First, because it would be unwise to be tipsy in front of prominent members of the university. Then, because fatigue prevails and the landing is not quite initiated. “Was I present at this pot?, wonders even Cyrielle Lévêque, more than three years after her defense in arts. There had been such pressure before…”

On the feast side, drawing on her experience, Tiphaine Samoyault has listed categories of buffets. There is the “picnic pot”, in the form of a rustic buffet and rather reserved for defenses in the morning. The “catering pot” paid for by parents with waiters and petit fours. Of course, the “Picard pot”, made with the precious help of the frozen food chain and its very useful surprise breads. “As many theses are defended in December, it happens that we find ourselves several times in a row with the famous ‘Christmas platter’,” says Tiphaine Samoyault with a smile. Enough to become an expert on the defrosting time of stainless steel foie gras on gingerbread.

Finally, the “homemade pot” made by the applicant and/or his relatives. The opportunity to highlight the specialties of your region. “It’s a way of giving a part of what we are and that we never had the opportunity to share with our colleagues”, analyzes Adèle B. Combes. “Besides, cooking is about social bonding!” Coming from the Montpellier region, she asked her parents to bring mussels with pepper. As for Tiphaine Samoyault, she retains the fond memory of a pot at the University of Corte bringing together all the Corsican specialties, from which she left… with a Tupperware.

Video frustrations

Often, the official pot is doubled by another, more informal and less formal. History of celebrating the event, “but no longer under the gaze of the institution”, as summarized by Cyrielle Lévêque. And while the mandarins go home, the young doctor and his friends continue the party. Lucie Nizard swapped her “very strict black dress” for a bright green jumpsuit to go dancing in a bar with her loved ones. Adèle B. Combes, for her part, made the rounds of cafes until two o’clock in the morning with the “resistants”.

For two years, the pandemic has given the thesis pots a different color. At the height of the health crisis, due to the closure of universities and public places, they simply did not take place. A painful moment for young doctors between theses defended by videoconference and the impossibility of celebrating a crucial moment. “We defend our thesis, we turn off our computer and then it’s over,” summarizes Adèle B. Combes. Difficult, in these conditions, to understand that we have the diploma. To overcome this frustration, Tiphaine Samoyault proposed to some of the students whose work she had supervised to meet at her house, “with two friends to at least debrief a little around a bottle of champagne”.

Romain Delgrange also had to defend his thesis remotely but did not want to give up the pot. It took place at his parents’ house in the Lille suburbs. “Until the last moment, there was too much uncertainty about whether or not the bars were open. The opportunity was too important to waste. The festivities therefore took place without his colleagues from the university but with his relatives. After the defense, in the car that brought him back to the family home, he listened to his favorite song, Gypsy, by Fleetwood Mac. Once home, he had to sacrifice to the ritual of speech. His father took him in his arms, crying with emotion. The buffet, prepared by her parents and her partner, was full of mini sandwiches, cheeses and, of course, champagne. Later, he danced with his brother to Prince’s music. It was necessary that to crown the king of the day…