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So You’re Defending Your Dissertation Tomorrow!

April 29, 2012

Gina Barreca in Brainstorm:

Dearest ATS,

Congratulations: It’s a BOOK!

Your 273-page volume–the weighty, serious, mighty tome–is sitting in the center of my cluttered desk. Since it’s bigger than everything else around it (how small and slight those 20-page student papers look in comparison!), I can’t miss it. It’ll be there tomorrow when we all meet to perform the one-to-two-hour ritual during which you “defend” your work to your advisers, your committee members, and your colleagues.

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, photocopied and given away to friends and students so often over the years I no longer have a version, was of a woman reaching across a seminar table and socking a guy in the eye in front of six well-dressed adults, with one of them commenting to the group “Excellent defense. Let’s give her the doctorate!”

It won’t be like that tomorrow, I promise. You’ve already won this race; now there’s nothing to do but enjoy the scenery as you cross the finish line. As your adviser, you know I would have counseled you to postpone if I thought you weren’t ready. But you’re ready. In fact, because you are almost comically ready, the following five pieces of advice are the only ones I can offer:

1. Wear comfortable clothes. We’ll be sitting in fairly uncomfortable chairs for at least an hour and a half and you don’t want to be pulling, tugging, worrying, or adjusting. The last thing you want to think about as you’re answering an intriguing question about the theoretical implications of revising your work for a wider audience is whether your Spanx is crawling up above your waistline and will, when moving towards your mid-section, be in danger of actually cutting off your oxygen-supply. [More]

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