A PhD student in our institute is undergoing her viva right now – she’s been cloistered in the conference room with her Committee for several hours now.

There are neat rows of champagne flutes lined up in the Common Room, and bottles chilling on ice. But the whole building is on edge.

It’s always like this. We are waiting for word. Her mentor is palpably anxious. The postdocs work in silence, like me, probably remembering their own rites of passage. The younger students seem excited and wistful, wondering how it will feel when it is their turn.

When the student is discharged and has passed, the Head’s PA will walk through the corridors on all three floors, ringing the big brass bell. It’s a lovely tradition, and we are all subconsciously waiting to hear its tones break the expectant silence that has fallen over all of us.