Dr. Patty Day… a dissertation defense memory…

A year ago today, I became a licensed philosopher..

Every Ph.D. I know has vivid memories of their defense… for those of you who don’t know, becoming a Ph.D. requires first the research and writing of a book – that makes an original contribution to the field — and then a dissertation defense.

The equivalent of urban-legend nightmare tales of the defense are legendary.  Usually they involve long-standing and field specific departmental conflicts that have little to do with the work under consideration.  The worst of these situations combine the petty nature of academic department politics with very smart people lacking interpersonal communication skills — and if it’s really bad egos that would make a Senator look humble.

My experience was nothing like this — I have to say, my committee was fantastic!  They seemed to have read and understood a dissertation that was on the edges of their fields.  They asked thoughtful questions and accepted “I’m going to have to think about that more” as an answer.  They didn’t fuss or fight — and they didn’t require any significant revisions before I submitted it.

The process started with me giving a short talk introducing the dissertation — but that turned into a good, intense discussion about the ethics of warfare and the problem of saying that killing people intentionally can ever be good.  I was kind of nervous at the beginning, but I really enjoyed it by the end.

After our talk, I went into the hall while they discussed it… that was a long, long, long few minutes — but when my advisor came out smiling I knew I’d become Dr. Patty.

Afterward was kind of anti-climatic — I got a haircut, picked up some good Omaha take-out and went back to where I was staying and collapsed.

Before my defense, I got some great advice from the wise women on the internet and facebook….  I’ll share what I remember —

1) bring a bottle of water — this was great because I could use taking a sip of water as a reason to pause to collect my thoughts and frame an answer.

2) Bring a pen and paper  to take notes and jot down questions…

3) Wear comfortable clothes — and clothes that make you feel good.

4) Relax — it’s unlikely that they’d schedule a defense and fail you.  It’s your work and you know it best.

So — to those of you who have passed this gauntlet — you know exactly how good it feels to not have to think about it anymore… and to those of you who are facing it — just write the dammed dissertation and get it over with!


One Response

  1. Congratulations on becoming Dr Patty! Yes, I remember my defence vividly. The part afterwards is anticlimatic. The advice that you were given – the same advice that I was given. Once again, Congratulations!!!!

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