This post is a part of our weekly International Voices column, writing by UT students, for UT students. Enjoy!
It’s been two weeks since I successfully defended my PhD dissertation, and I can still feel the numerous emotions associated with its completion. In the weeks prior to the actual day of defense, I found my life to be a hectic whirlwind of last minute preparations: scheduling the final examination, drafting my presentation, and most important of all, finishing up writing the dissertation itself! Managing these various steps towards my degree fulfillment proved to be quite stress inducing indeed, and it might be no surprise that one of the greatest challenges was the preparation for the defense preparation. So today I’d like to share a little bit about what it was like to defend my PhD dissertation.
I was asked to prepare a 25-30 minute power point presentation covering the 5.5 years of my research. As I’m sure many of you are well aware, presenting the hypotheses, designed tasks, and key findings for multiple projects in such a short amount of time was alone a very challenging task. I had to laugh wondering how it could be expected that such a long period of time could be completely and properly represented in a mere 30 minute window. PhD studies are frequently compared with running a marathon, however if we’re going to use that analogy, to me the defense preparation seemed like a bizarre attempt to convey the endurance, training, and perseverance of the marathon through a 100m sprint. At some point, I realized that it would be impossible to do justice to all of my projects in such a short period of time, so I instead chose to focus on my last project.
I wish that the word “nervous” could convey the feelings I went through at the beginning of the presentation. My hands sweat and I felt as though my examiners could actually see me shaking. I was more nervous than the time I was asked to give an impromptu speech in front of 200 people on stage at my high school. Thankfully however, by the time I reached the fourth slide of the presentation, I regained command of myself and was able to take control of every word I said. This short presentation was only the public part of the defense. All of my lab mates were present and were asked to leave the room after for a more technical, closed-door session with the PhD committee members. I was temporarily reminded of my nightmares: what if someone from the committee was to tell me that my 5 years of PhD research wasn’t actually worth the degree title? Brushing these thoughts from my mind, I happily watched as my work spoke for itself and the closed-door session seemed to slip by with casual ease. The session lasted for an hour or so. After that, I was asked to walk out while the committee members deliberated my fate.
I sat outside the door counting the seconds. Time seemed to crawl and at one point I actually imagined seeing the clock hands stand at a standstill. Thousands of thoughts ran through my mind and my heart raced. After an eternity of two minutes, the chair of the committee walked out to congratulate me for passing the oral defense. Though it wasn’t unexpected, at that exact moment I don’t recall really feeling much of anything. I shook his hand, thanked him, and that was it. Looking back, it probably took me some time to actually absorb the news. When my brain finally caught up with reality, I found myself beaming with elation and most importantly, feeling a sense of relief as though a thousand pound weight had been lifted from my very being. If I had to characterize the actual moment of my completion, however, it would be perhaps best described as empty and at the very core, surprisingly anticlimactic.