Friday, August 24, 2012

How the defense went down

I just went to a PhD defense that, in my opinion, went really well. He is a well-liked graduate student so there was a great turn-out, including his entire committee, which is itself rare.  His presentation was clear, well designed, and well rehearsed, with several jokes throughout that got hearty laughs from the audience. All around it was a good job.

I was so f*cking jealous.

When I was a grad student, I had a recurring fantasy about my dissertation defense. I imagined this elegant presentation with beautiful figures, clever but seemingly improvised jokes here and there, touching acknowledgments to everyone who helped me along the way. When I finished, I'd smile, take in the applause, and then throw a huge fucking party. I mean, I would really throw down and celebrate. After all, the kinds of feelings I imagined I'd feel were good ones: proud, ecstatic, relieved, maybe a little smug. The dissertation is the last big hurdle. The last five to seven-and-a-half years of my life led to that moment. Pass the tequila, right?

What actually happened didn't go as hoped. My research project and written dissertation were painfully drawn out and my oral presentation slides were thrown together two days before my defense. I barely practiced. The day of my defense, I had problems connecting my computer to the projector, which totally flustered me, and one of my committee members who was supposed to be there never showed. I deadpanned my way through my slides, no jokes. When it was finally over, the only emotion I felt was exhaustion. I didn't want to celebrate, I wanted to crawl under a rock. The worst part is I couldn't just congratulate myself for a job well done because all the bad feelings about taking too long to graduate and regrets about my research project still felt like fresh wounds.

Looking back, there was really no need to feel so shitty about probably the biggest accomplishment of my life. 

I don't know ANYONE who is perfectly happy with their PhD work. Sure, I'd given better presentations before. Sure, I could have finished a few months sooner, but I learned a lot and had a lot of really interesting experiences along the way. Besides, all that really mattered was my committee was satisfied with my presentation and were more than happy to sign my approval forms. The most important thing: it's DONE.  

I only recently came to the following realization, which is also really important:  My dissertation does not define me as a scientist or as a human being.

That's huge. 

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.