The Defense (One Grad’s Greatest Day 7)

It’s done, and it was neither anti-climactic nor climactic, but somewhere in between.  It feels good to be done, over that hurdle, I’ve passed my oral defense for my PhD, with minor revisions.  It was nervewracking waiting those final few days, trying to convince myself I’m ready (I was), that I wasn’t nervous (I was) and that everyone would show up (they did).  But we started an hour late, because the morning of my defense was also the day we, in Montreal, had our first big snow fall of the season.

Luckily a good friend and a couple of friendly grad students had shown up, and we chatted while waiting for my last committee member to extricate himself from a bridge clogged with traffic and snow.  I got intermittent updates on ‘the situation’ from my supervisor while we waited.  I heard the rest of them (committee members, pro-dean, internal-external, etc) chatting in the grad lounge down the hall.

I learned a lot from this process, but I wish I’d known some of it a couple of months ago.  It not an easy feat, getting all the necessary personnel together in the same room at the same time for the purposes of examining and questioning a (my!) dissertation.   I forged bonds and, hopefully, friendships, that might last my whole career.  The internal-external member of the examining committee turned out to be great ally during the exam.  I’ve read all his books and many of his papers, and it was a real honour to have him there.  I don’t like to name names but if you are interested, he’s currently the chair of the department of anthropology here at McGill.

Afterwords, I celebrated as best I could, given that I was absolutely drained.  In all, twenty questions were asked of me (5 examiners with two questions in each of two rounds of questioning).  I was prepared, and had studied for, the majority (if not all) of the questions, so there were no surprises.  Do yourself a favour if you are approaching your defense date.  Make a list of ten possible questions, then answer them.  Get some friends to come up with a few as well.  Practice your presentation, and don’t make it too long.

I had to mark an exam right after, and exam marking continued into today.  I’m glad that is done.  It is going to take a while before I feel ready to really celebrate.  I’m taking the month of January ‘off’ to do just that.

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