Yesterday morning, I looked at the calendar and I was shocked. It’s July! I have no idea how spring disappeared so fast. On the other hand, I could easily reverse-engineer how I have spent my time over the last few months by looking at the dates on all my writing drafts. There has been copious amounts of writing going on, and the reason for that is that I have a date for my dissertation defense.
This post is really to announce that I have finished my dissertation, but I’ll side-track for a bit to explain about the dissertation defense.
The defense is the last step to earning your PhD. After writing your dissertation, you have to defend it in front of a committee of established scholars who are experts in the fields relevant to your work. Sometimes the public is invited, too.
Your committee asks questions about the work in the dissertation, about the arguments you’re making, the way you went about answering your research questions, and the conclusions you draw. And you have to defend your decisions to show that you are qualified to be admitted into their scholarly ranks. If you are successful, you earn your degree. If not, then not. Luckily, not passing your defense is relatively rare. Leaving aside the fact that you are producing knowledge that didn’t exist before, the dissertation is basically a take-home exam that lasts for years and you get to ask your committee for help and feedback in the process. So most candidates pass.
At my institution, the defense itself is, despite being the crowning achievement on years of hard work, rather unceremonious. After the committee finishes grilling you, they deliberate behind closed doors. That means that you, and the audience if there is one, have wait outside the room. So there you stand, awkwardly in the hallway, for an indeterminate amount of time. Sometimes this is short, and sometimes it is 30+ minutes. The time the deliberation takes does not necessarily say anything about how well you did. Sometimes the committee’s discussion turns into small-talk (after all, the committee members are busy people who don’t often see each other, they have some catching up to do) and they forget about you for a bit. But then comes the big moment, when the door opens and the candidate (you!) is called back in. And then shortly thereafter, the audience, too. And then everyone stands around not quite knowing what to do for a bit. Maybe someone starts opening a bottle of champagne, but there’s no announcement, and no one wants to yell ‘”congratulations” until it’s clear that it’s good news. This lasts until someone, usually another grad student, or, in my case, Paulus, cracks and asks “Well, did she pass”? And the committee chair looks confused like they weren’t expecting the question (despite the fact that this occurs every. single. time) before affirming that yes, she did. And then everybody toasts to the newly minted Doctor.
So that is why the defense is important. For a PhD candidate, the defense looms large for a long time before it actually occurs. And you don’t get to set the date for this event to take place until your advisor deems you and your work to be ready. So having a date means that the end is in sight.
Because having a date is so important, the very language used to talk about it takes on a very specified meaning for graduate students and recent PhDs. When I set my date, my friend, herself a recent PhD, shared this big milestone with her husband, who got his PhD several years back. “Anne Therese has a date!” she told him. Knowing that I am married, he understandably responded with some confusion until she clarified “a date for her defense”.
So anyway, I have a date for my defense. As a consequence, I’ve been working hard to finish my dissertation so that there would, in fact, be something to defend. Paulus has been doing double-duty, watching Storm every weekend so I could write.
And I am happy to announce that IT IS DONE! I’ve submitted my dissertation to my committee, with index and acknowledgements and all. In a little over a month, I will defend it and hopefully become Dr. Frederiksen.
While the done dissertation and the defense date are good news in and of themselves, it’s even better news that I have an academic job lined up for afterwards. In September, I will be starting a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. It’s a really big deal, and I’m very excited about it.
This postdoc will be a somewhat new direction for me, and there will be many new skills to learn, but I am looking forward to it. I’m going to be working in a lab with a great professor and some really capable graduate students. Not to mention that being a postdoc is kind of like being a PhD student, except with more status and no teaching. All you have to do is your research (*all*, haha).
So the family is moving to Irvine. I’ll be honest and say that I was ready to get out of Southern California. And whatever can be said about Irvine, it is very distinctly NOT outside Southern California. In fact, Irvine might be as Southern California as it gets. But I am feeling good about it, nonetheless. Hopefully, we’ll get to live where I can bike to work, and where we can walk to get our groceries, where there’s some room to grow a little garden, and where there is outside space for Storm to roam free. At least that’s what we’re aiming for.
And with May and June behind us, I’m hoping that the grey and gloomy overcast days are past us, too. With my dissertation done, there will be some weekends available to enjoy the sun, do some barbecuing, go to the beach, and enjoy our last couple of months of San Diego.
This is not half bad. And, as they say, a good dissertation is a done dissertation. Consequently, my dissertation is now, per definition, good.