On Tuesday, I defended my dissertation project. In the course of writing and editing and re-editing my project, I have heard many platitudes about the dissertation experience, and I have to admit that I was pretty tired of the rhetoric. I actually started a blog post entitled “Why ‘the best dissertation is a done dissertation’ is tired rhetoric.”
I knew “my committee would never let me get this far unless they thought I was ready.” I also knew that “this was not meant to be my magnum opus.” I was pretty certain that “it didn’t have to be perfect–just finished,” and I was well aware that “the defense should be a conversation between you and your committee about your project.” My father could not stop reminding me that “they don’t just give away PhDs–you have to work hard for them.” I suffered through all of these platitudes–sometimes several a day and sometimes several times in one encounter.
And I am disappointed to tell you that they are all true.
I have no horror story to tell about my dissertation defense because it was a very satisfying and proud moment in my professional life. The project is close to two years in the making. I “proposed” a project when I was seven months pregnant in 2011 that my committee deemed too ambitious. In the time after my little daughter was born, I reformulated the project and defended a proposal in the spring of 2012. Then I buckled down for one solid year and conducted the analysis and wrote wrote wrote my project. My advisor was with me every step of the way and she put me through the paces. She pushed me to think critically again and again about my writing, about the analysis, and about where my work would fit in to the broader scholarship.
And when we finally agreed that the project was ready for the committee, and while I waited patiently for the committee to commit to a defense date, I worried and wondered and over thought every possible outcome for the defense day. As a graduate student, you are supposed to act authoritative and commanding but after many oral defense experiences over the last few years, I have left feeling serious imposter syndrome.
But dissertation defense day was really different for me. I drafted a presentation, refined my talk, and practiced my behind off. I stayed slightly doubtful of myself until about 24 hours before the actual event when I decided there was nothing else I could do. An encouraging email from my advisor the night before the defense put my mind at ease. The defense train was leaving the station and I had to be on it.
And I was. Miraculously, I made a presentation where I felt confident and self-assured. I was prepared for potential questions with close to thirty appendix slides and I never had to tap into any of them. Afterwards, my committee agreed that the project was a solid dissertation and my advisor was really happy with my performance. My family members were beaming.
But most of all, I was really proud of myself.
[I plan to write a “get prepped for defense day” post next week but wanted to share my good news first.]