So part of the reason for the silence is that I had to start prepping for my PhD oral defence in a hurry. I submitted my thesis at the end of the August last year and hoped I’d be done with the exam by the end of the year. Our department is notoriously slow about arranging the exam – which involves getting together a committee of two external examiners, two internals, one chair from the faculty and much coordination with the graduate school. To speed things up my supervisor and I identified the externals and got their agreement on being part of the committee before I even submitted. And yet, it was months before the committee was officially even formed.
At some point I gave up. I realised that I was too busy with teaching anyway to focus on an exam, and it would be better to have the exam around February, once I had settled into my new job. But when I checked in February, the admin guy told me it didn’t look like it could happen in March. So I was like whatevs, la la la while my parents and in-laws seemed more anxious about when I would finish than me.
Then suddenly I got an email from the admin guy informing me that my exam had been scheduled. It threw me into a panic. The first thing I had to do was get leave on the day. I had two weeks to prepare, which was not too bad but work turned out to be fairly busy and I had stuff lined up for the kids on the weekends leading up to the exam, so it wasn’t ideal.
I found myself thrown from the developments on the Korean peninsula and Trump’s threat of trade war into my own thoughts on single women and chick lit in India. I felt somewhat detached from the whole thing and was struggling to care.
However, I know from watching other people’s defences that this is a subjective process that can go badly wrong if one says something that ticks off a particular examiner and that the only defence is to prep thoroughly. I had had feedback from the two external examiners and there were a couple of sticky things that I did not relish the need to deal with.
I warned V that I was going to be missing in action the weekend before the exam, and cancelled a girls night out on the Friday with some regret. I barricaded myself in my room and plugged away at my presentation. I had to somehow whittle down three years’ work into 15 minutes. And I had to anticipate questions on and around the 80,000 word behemoth.
I allowed myself one social gathering – a party for Nene’s kindergarten friend – that weekend, at which I stupidly drank a glass of wine. I was fine until I got home and then had the worst headache, that prevented me from rereading my thesis as carefully as I would have liked, with the added irritation of V shaking his head and going “I told you not to drink.” (I mean, ONE glass). Finally, I turned in early, only to wake up at 2 am with the runs. So I guess I was nervous.
In the end, it went off rather well. The chair of my committee was someone I was comfortable with, the technology worked so that the external Skyping in could hear me and I her and the admin guy stuck around to switch between my slides and the examiner (something I had been worried about), and the external who I thought might be tough, was measured and polite. I had slides anticipating some of their questions, and by and large it was a good discussion, although I didn’t agree with all the feedback.
The result – passed with minor revisions.
So yeah, I’m basically there. I have to submit revisions and I should be working on that instead of typing this blog, but I’m hoping to get clearer idea of what I must do from the committee report. Then, it gets approved by my supervisor and the chair and goes to the senate for stamping.
The exam is the hardest part and I have to say that passing is a major relief. Although I had been teaching just a few months ago, I felt out of practice when it came to presenting. I hadn’t been in touch with my own thesis either for ages. But I survived, relatively unscathed.
I must have done something right because after the exam, the examiner I had been worried about alerted me to a job at her ink and pretty much told me I’d be perfect for it. You’d think as a newly minted almost-doctor I’d jump all over being on the inside track to a full time position. But I thought about it, discussed it with V (who was more into the idea than I thought he’d be considering what a mess I’d been during my teaching stint) and decided nah, I’d rather be a sub at this present moment. Being a highly paid minion suits me, and I’ll just have to find some other way to share my ideas than the prestige of academia. Not closing that door, but just sticking with what I’m enjoying right now.