Last Thursday, I successfully defended my dissertation. In preparation, I had spoken to my advisor and colleagues about what to expect. My advisor prepared me for the format of the defense and what I needed to prepare for my own presentation. My colleagues repeatedly told me that my defense would be much more casual than I anticipated. I struggled to understand how that could be. In my mind, my dissertation defense had been built up as the ultimate demonstration of my expertise. It’s natural for graduate students to feel that way. We often spend years working on our degrees and a year or more on the dissertation itself.
In advance, I prepared my presentation. In public speaking classes, I teach students not to speak from a manuscript. Speaking from a manuscript can leave you stilted and unable to interact with the audience. In the end, because of my nervousness, I broke this rule. I wrote out a manuscript and read from it. My advisor told me a slow down a few minutes into my presentation. I confessed that I was nervous, so I had typed out the presentation. After that point, I continued to read from it, but felt a bit more relaxed.
At the conclusion of my presentation, I feared the worst. I had labored over the 200 single-spaced pages of my dissertation (excluding my bibliography). Although criticism is an important part of developing academic writing, I was afraid of what this criticism would entail. Yet, the conversation was relaxed. It felt like a conversation between equals. I was at ease finally getting to talk about the topic that I had worked months on. I now know what improvements I can make on my project, but I am proud of the work I have done.
Near the end of my defense, my advisor told me “Congratulations, Doctor.” Although I still have to deposit my dissertation, I am nearly done. All weekend people have asked me how I feel. It feels a bit surreal. I worked for years toward this degree, and, in a matter of 2 hours, I was done. It feels a bit anticlimactic.