Friday, January 13, 2006

What's Done is Done

I woke up after two hours of restless sleep, took a shower, printed out my notes, got dressed, quickly drove to campus. Last night for a moment I actually was able too think through the congestion caused by my cold...I even thought I might give a really nice presentation. Well, that's not how it went at all.

First, they made me leave the room for a good twenty minutes while the professors discussed amongst themselves. The defense was in our department lounge, which is in the extremely stuffy and hot basement of an old building (a bunch of pipes line the WAS like I had descended to hell!) I had put on a double dose of antiperspirant, worried that the sweat would soak through my silk blouse. It was so hot and I was so nervous that I broke through the barrier in less than 30 seconds. Still, I was afraid to step out of the building for some fresh air in case they called me back in. Each minute went on and on and on. What were they discussing for so long??? Was this a bad sign? I had thought this discussing would happen after the defense, not before. Why don't they walk you through it a bit in advance?

Finally the called me in. One professor was on speaker phone--never good. They asked me to start. I got off to an OK start, but then I blabbed away for too long saying the same thing over and over...I lost my train of thought. I didn't talk about all the relevant examples and wonderful things I had thought I would talk about. They cut me off because I was going on for too long. I am extremely sensitive to mood shifts around me. I could feel restlessness and something else, like boredom, or..."yeah yeah get on with it." But do I imagine these things or are they real? Then they took turns to comment and ask questions, but we only ever got to the first two professors because we ran out of time. They were supposed to schedule three hours but only scheduled two because one of the professors had to be at a meeting.

The two professors hadn't a single good thing to say about my dissertation. It was all criticism. I agreed with some of the critique by Prof. #1. Then I disagreed with his view of X philosopher a bit. Prof. #2 agreed more with Prof. #1 than with me. They spoke as if they were right and I was just getting it wrong. But I could have debated with specific passages and everything to support my view (I did a little, but they were just convinced I was getting it wrong so they didn't really engage my arguments). Prof. #2, I thought, might have liked what I had to say, but he didn't seem to like it at all. Nothing! But when I asked him to be more specific in his critique, he couldn't be. He'd say things like you weren't specific enough, or what you say is off the mark, but not tell me how. Then on three points he said what his perspective was and I thought it was exactly what I had thought I said...I agreed with him, but he didn't agree with me. Maybe I just wasn't using the right words (and different words are right for different people--I had to deal with crossing disciplines as well). He asked if I was familiar with X essay. I said no. He told me the gist of the essay, thought I would find it useful, because instead of talking about Y in terms of A, maybe I should look at it as B. But there is a section of a chapter where I specifically talk about Y in terms of B!! I responded to that question by saying, "you know when I talk about Y in terms of B in this chapter? I thank you for your suggestion, because that article sounds like it gives some background to my arguments." I just got the sense overall of not being understood by #1 and #2. Then we had to end. They made me leave the room again. I thought there might be a chance they would pass me because I knew the other two professors had a better understanding of my work (they'd read previous drafts) and were on my side. If I just had one of the other professors vote in my favor I would make it. But I felt like crying, I felt like it went horribly.

I ran to the bathroom, held back my tears, went back to the hall and paced. Then my advisor stepped into the hall and asked me back in with a "congratulations!" I passed!

But feels like a defeat, not a victory. Some people tell me it is because I always see the worst side, I always think I did bad and then it turns out I did good. But I distinctly felt antipathy to my work from #1 and #2. I really cared about what #2 thought, too. Bummer. I thought we might be on the same page. At the very end, before he left, he said he HAD liked the conclusion of my dissertation, where I brought up N, Q, and L [didn't want to discriminate against those letters that fall in the middle of the alphabet!], and that he agreed with me about that...he just didn't think I'd gone in the direction my intro suggested I would go. But at that point I already felt awful.

Afterwards, I had a talk with the head of my committee (one of the profs who didn't get to ask much). She said it went fantastically. !!!! ??? !!!!

Let me repeat. ??????

OK...she's prone to that sort of thing. I said, "really??? I thought it was awful." She said that I talked for the longest anyone she knows has talked at their defense before being cut off. I hardly think that's a measure of it having gone well, but I appreciated her support. She brought up publishing again. And then she mentioned that one of the things they talked about before I started, in their private discussion, was publishing the dissertation. She had said to them that she thought it was practically ready for publication, with hardly any revisions. I think that might explain to some extent why they were so hard on me. They probably disagreed with her (I know I do), and so they brought up more objections than support or encouragement because they thought they needed to counterbalance her enthusiasm. I actually had thought yesterday to ask her to play bad cop so that they wouldn't be so hard on me. Of course, maybe they would have just joined in on the pummeling, you never know. it wasn't as bad as I've heard some defenses go. But it wasn't great in any way. It kind of sucked. But considering I wrote my whole dissertation in about 3 months, and only prepared for the defense yesterday and had a bad cold all week...what could I expect? I just have this insane need for approval and understanding. And academia has never been the place for me. It's like I can see them but they can't see me. I think my ideas are OK, and relevant, but with certain people...maybe I'm not using the right words...I don't know. Or I guess maybe it just wasn't their cup of tea. Plus it certainly needs some work, at least for it to be acceptable by my own standards.

I just wish I felt a little better about the whole thing now. I don't feel relief yet. I haven't extricated myself from the Stockholm syndrome. I know this feeling will fade and I'll regain my sense of self-worth, but right now I'm just going over and over in my mind what I SHOULD have talked about, and all my insecurities about grad school have surfaced again.

But it's over, right? It's over. Bang or whimper, I get the same degree.
And that's what matters. I'm the first person in my family on either side to have a doctorate. And I am finally free of this thing that was hanging over my head (aside from a few details like a second format check): my deep deep hatred of graduate school from the very first year of it through now (with peaks and dips of hatred, of course, but never like or love). Thirteen and a half years of dragging my feet through something I never wanted to do anyway! WTF was I thinking???

The moral? Do it or don't do it, but don't just stand there suffering! Use me as a negative example! You write one page at a only ever have to write one word. And before you know it you're at the end. I know I will feel extremely happy to have completed this as soon as I'm able to process it all.


Blogger The PhD Explosion said...

Congratualations Dr Porkorama!!!

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know how you feel, but I'm at the beginning of the race. I'm searching for topics. I have had 3 topics in less than 2 weeks. I'm in a specialist program in elem. ed. at a HBCU. I have found interesting literature, but only online so far. I have not started to check out books or journals from libraries. I'm scared. I'm a very good speaker, but I have tendencies to start and stop, get frustrated, and contemplate plaguerism. For some reason, I think if you look confident, sound confident, and can sell your idea, its a done deal. But I also think the committees job is to make you sweat and kiss their a--. any suggestions on how to make this work for me because I need it.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you passed, and from that we know it went well. the rest is moot.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Porkorama,
What college do you attend? Just interested in knowing how someone could complete their dissertation in three months? How many revisions did you complete, how many times did your profs review and feedback info on your work-in-progress and what classes did you have to take before embarking on the work? Just curious...
Dr. D

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

darlin, just go party. You are taking these nitwits much too seriously. The defense is just a blur. Wait till you get to the other side. Tenure and promotion is the real bitch. so you'd better start having fun now, cause if you get a tenure track job , you won't be able to stand the pressure that's coming up...if you don't relax right now.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I know just how you feel--I DID cry after my defense. I had one professor who just hated everything about my dissertation, it seems. He said it was not up to the standards of the department, for one thing (My advisor rolled his eyes when I showed him that, so I dont' know if that's a typical comment or what). Also, called me pedantic. But the thing is--he signed off on it!!??

And then a week later, when I sent him my revisions, he said something about doing an excellent job. Again, ????

The point is, that feeling sucks, I know, even if you do pass. But, 2 years later, I'm in the job I wanted since beginning grad school, and it's all water under the bridge.

Now I just fret about tenure. Yee-haw.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your defense sounds just like mine (though the room was nicer)! The prof on speaker phone, who was in my corner, got into a methodological argument with a prof in the room. But you know what? I've published one article from the diss in a second-tier journal and another is coming out in a first-tier journal, and it was accepted on the first reading (something the editor told me happens with less than 2 percent of the manuscripts that go out to reviewers).

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those beginning now... "Profession 2005" has a great article, "Entering the Conversation: Graduate Thesis Proposals as Genre" by Irene L. Clark. It discusses how mentors should show their students other peoples' successful proposals, etc. I think that should hold through the process: read successful dissertations, talk to others who have been through the defense with the same committee members. Anyway, congratulations, and best wishes!

5:35 PM  
Blogger L said...

Oh! FanTAStic! So many congratulations. Bloody MARVELLOUS!

Defending a thesis is seldom easy, but it's the last hoop through which you have to jump - and you did!

Friend of mine had no "defending" to do at all, and she remains to this day disappointed that she wasn't given a bit of a struggle - so there you go...

Now go enjoy...

12:21 PM  
Blogger Porkorama said...

Thank you!

1:36 PM  
Blogger Charles Montgomery said...



Good lord.. if this is how you take a victory they'd better hide sharp objects if you ever take a loss. ;-)

Academia is full of blowhards (congratulations, you may just have become one!) and all you're going to get is argument and blather at that level. The concepts are abstruse and focused/specific which means everyone is fighting over the same corner of the sandbox and will find the(ir) world in one grain of sand.

Whoa.. someone should write that world in a grain of sand thing down!

Anyway, you win, or pass, or something. ;-)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad to hear in detail about your defense. Mine happened much the same way and I ended up feeling the same way at the end - defeated. Glad it's over but that's about all.
But we can and should still celebrate - we survived the academic exercise that is the dissertation.


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I really feel the same way as you did. I passed with revisions but it still feels like a failure. Seems like some of the committee members still want me to fail. It's horrible :( :(

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