Wednesday, 3 December 2003

A little more on the Ph.D. defense

Now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I figure I’ll talk a little more about the defense. I had four professors on my committee, three from our department (my dissertation chair, Harvey Palmer; John Bruce; and Chuck Smith) and one from outside the department (John Bentley, of the Pharmacy Administration department; he’s their resident stats guy). During most of the defense, it was just the five of us, but another professor (Bob Albritton) ducked in toward the end.

Unlike David Hogberg’s defense, my committee didn’t huddle up at the beginning, and I’d been assured going in that I was over the “hump” so-to-speak—the defense wouldn’t have been scheduled if they thought I wasn’t going to pass.* I did have to make a brief (15-20 minute) presentation, in which I focused on fleshing out what I thought the meaning of “political sophistication” was, discussing the key contributions of the dissertation, and broaching some potential future avenues of research in the general area that would build on, and reinforce, the findings of the dissertation.

The question-and-answer session was actually less stressful than the presentation; even though there were plenty of hard questions, I felt like I could confidently answer them and take reasonably strong positions that were grounded in the literature. Toward the end, a bit of a scrap broke out between the “rat choice” and “psychology” camps in the room, which was fun (by the end, I was borderline giddy). Then I shuffled out of the room, talked with Dr. Albritton for a minute or two, and was waved back into the room. Of the three oral defenses I’ve faced (comps, prospectus, and dissertation) it was by far the least stressful.

There are a few more i’s to dot and t’s to cross—some paperwork apparently got lost, and I need to finish up some revisions and run off the final copy of the dissertation (and turn in the photocopies on the legendary 24# cotton bond paper), both of which I can probably accomplish today if I put my mind to it—but otherwise it’s a relief to be done. Now I get to worry about finding a job…

* I have never heard of anyone failing a dissertation defense. I’m sure it could—and does—happen, but it seems like it would be hard to get that far and still fail.