Getting a PhD, PhD Milestones, Study Abroad, Travel

Differences between US and UK graduation ceremonies, and highlights of Canterbury

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lack of posts recently, but last week I was in the UK to officially graduate and get my PhD degree! After going through two ceremonies in the US for my Bachelors and Masters degrees, I found it so interesting to participate in a UK ceremony. If you’re studying abroad in the UK or just fascinated by all things British (I’m guilty of both!), here are some observations I made throughout the day of my graduation.

England London Union Jack Flags
Not Canterbury! This is London, where my family & I were staying. We took the bus to Canterbury in the morning and returned in the evening.

Limited (and costly) tickets

Since the ceremony takes place indoors and usually includes at least two different schools from the university, tickets are required for all those attending the ceremony. Students are allotted two tickets, which we have to pay for (£20 each), and then a few weeks after we confirm that we’re graduating, we are all notified that we can purchase up to two more tickets at a certain day and time. So…what if you have more than four guests who want to watch you walk up the stage and see you receive your degree? Surely they can at least watch a live stream of you elsewhere! Well….that brings me to my second observation:

England Canterbury Graduation Invitation

No external video live streaming for guests who don’t have tickets to the ceremony

Yup, unlike in the US where most universities set up screens for people to watch a live stream of the ceremony, at my graduation you are out of luck if you didn’t get a ticket to watch the ceremony in person. As many of the students travel from other countries with their families, it’s unfortunate that this isn’t common practice. Maybe it’s seen as something unrefined or tacky that devalues the actual ceremony, but since there ARE screens inside the cathedral that students and guests can watch if they are seated far away or have restricted views, it should be simple enough to extend it outdoors or in a nearby venue.

England Canterbury Cathedral

Gown (robes) pick-up only on the day of graduation

In my previous graduations, which I’m sure is similar to other US schools, we picked up our gowns in the days before the actual ceremony. This staggered pick up times so there wasn’t a deluge of students all waiting to try on caps and gowns at the same time. This process also gave students the option of getting professional pictures taken in their caps and gowns.

However, picking up caps and gowns ON the day of graduation, like I did in the UK, made for a very stressful start of the day. I luckily printed out the requirements for the PhD gown and double checked what they gave me; it turned out they initially gave me the wrong hood color! The university did offer professional photography that day, but the line was never-ending. There were three ceremonies scheduled that day, so the line was always filled with graduating students.

Unflattering caps (tams) for PhD graduates

This one isn’t so bad, but the poufy cap is much less flattering that the regal caps that undergrads and Masters students get to wear. I guess it serves as a reminder to stay humble 😉

England Canterbury Graduation Gown
PhD Tam

Classier graduation gowns (robes)

Although the cap wasn’t my favorite, I LOVED the gowns we wore! Unlike the graduation gowns in the US, the UK robes did not have a zipper in the front. The UK robes were more like a long cape; therefore, the fancy dress or suit students wore could be seen underneath the robes. I thought this was great since it showed how each student was unique, even though we basically all wore the same robes.

Also, and most importantly, wearing the robes and graduating in a historic UK cathedral kind of made me feel like I was at Hogwarts.

England Canterbury Graduation Gown
I’m ready to graduate after passing my O.W.L. exams! 😉

Graduating in a cathedral!

Many of the graduation ceremonies in the US take place in sports stadiums, auditoriums, or outdoors on campus. I’m not sure where the most beautiful graduation ceremony location is in the US (and I’d love to know where!), but I don’t think it can compare to graduating at Canterbury Cathedral, a World Heritage Site. I’ve visited the cathedral many times, but I still almost cried as I walked into the beautiful cathedral with all the other graduates as the music played. It’s a memory I will never forget.

England Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral

Inside Canterbury Cathedral where the graduation ceremony is held. All the chairs are ready for students and guests!

England Canterbury Cathedral
This photo was not taken during the graduation ceremony…

Portrait-layout of the degree certificate

As we graduated, we were handed our degrees. They were printed with a portrait orientation (8 x 11) instead of landscape orientation like the US degrees usually are. I just found this interesting! Also, the university doesn’t sell special frames for the degrees that have the university’s name engraved on the matting. Disappointing, but I guess that’s not part of the culture.

Overall, I’m just so happy I chose (and was accepted by!) a university in the UK. It was a long journey and a lot of hard work, but graduating made it all worth it. Pursuing a PhD in a lovely and serene environment was such a blessing, and it really made many days seem like a holiday when I could escape the stress by taking the double decker bus to the city centre and wander around Canterbury.

Just look how beautiful Canterbury is!

England Canterbury River Old Weavers Restaurant
Stour River and The Old Weavers Restaurant, located in a building from the 1500s.

Canterbury’s library/museum/visitor center, the Beaney, where I used to spend tons of hours reading papers for my literature review and editing my thesis! Not a bad place to work in 🙂

England Canterbury Beaney

A sign celebrating graduates in the city centre:

Paris in Boston England Canterbury

Canterbury, it’s been a pleasure calling you my home for the past 4.5 years!! I will always consider you my second home, and I can’t wait to visit you again!!

Have you attended any UK graduations or visited Canterbury? What did you think? Thanks for reading!