Friday, December 7, 2007

The best defense: a good offense?

I defended my dissertation last month, so am now officially Dr. New Postdoc.

I've heard many stories of dissertation defenses involving renegade faculty members taking out their frustrations on their rival's student. My department doesn't have any such rivalries that I'm aware of, but having had challenging encounters with faculty members at my past research seminars, I was slightly nervous and at the same time relishing the prospect of such an encounter. We have smart people, but I've never had the sense that anyone thinks they're smarter than I am, so the challenging exchanges can be pretty fun.

The few weeks before my defense, I was preparing to travel and then traveling, so didn't get the chance to forward the email invitation to ask people personally if they would come to my defense, in either the literal or figurative sense. I'd just forwarded it to a few friends because the announcement looked so official, even just by email. The department distributes the announcement to everyone attached to the department, including people I'd considered mentors. The day before my defense, my older and wiser friend asked me who I'd invited. Uh oh! I didn't realize I was supposed to invite anyone. I figured those who would consider themselves connected to me would see it, and decide to come. Realistically, on a Friday afternoon in the peak busy season of the semester, I knew it was unlikely many people would come, but somehow I thought someone might.

Instead, not even all my committee members came and one left 45 minutes early. My defense was me and all but one of my committee members and a phone in the middle of the table through which the disembodied voice of the famous committee member spoke. I was asked to limit my talk to 20-30 minutes, and was told 10 minutes before the defense that one of the committee members would have to leave 45 minutes early, so my defense would in total be 1 1/4 hours instead of the 2 hours planned. Compared with every other committee meeting I've had, it was a total cakewalk. They suggested one new small change, deliberated for five minutes, and then everyone left with friendly wishes of good luck. My advisor's farewell was, "I will keep my eye out for your papers; I look forward to seeing them."

After six years, it was suddenly all over. Everyone left the room, and I was left alone with my career, 45 minutes earlier than planned.

1 comment:

Chicago Man said...

Congrats! Now go out and conquer the world! Be sure to send thank you notes to your committee for all of their hard work.