Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Dissertation Prospectus Defense

I'll get the suspense out of the way, it was accepted by the committee.
I didn't really know going in what to expect. I'd met with my director, and we'd gone through several versions of my presentation, but I had never been to a prospectus defense, so I didn't really know what the genre was or what to expect. And I couldn't find any blogs, notes, musings to explain it to me, so this is a mostly informative piece and next steps.
Caveat: this is how my uni does it, no idea if this is standard.

I presented on my prospectus which was version three, as other versions didn't take into account my audience had read my prospectus. I used this cheat sheet of notes to guide me so I wasn't reading the presentation.
The time is a blur, but I think I spoke for fifteen minutes or so.
After the presentation, it was a round robin style questioning as members of my committee asked me to clarify sections of my prospectus, or expand or clarify approach or methodology. I took notes on the questions to consider or address.
Then I (and my cheering section of friends who had attended) were asked to leave while the committee discussed. They took a while which made me nervous, but once they asked me back in they told me that they had accepted it, although each had notes that I will get in the next week. Once I make those revisions, I'll send the prospectus as a PDF to our department, and they'll file it on the server.

I made sure to shake everyone's hand, and wrote thank you emails afterwards.
I guess I looked weird after because my director asked if I was okay. I have no idea what my face looked like, apparently it appeared disappointed. I was fine, just tired, felt a little wrung out.

And here's how I explained it yesterday, these hurdles loom so large as you approach them, but once you pass them, it's like you whizzed past them at 80 mph. They're just gone.
One of the concerns brought up yesterday was how ambitious my timeline was. That I would not be able to achieve it. That the work/project would be sacrificed to meet an arbitrary deadline. I assured them that wasn't the case, that the project came first. But maybe this was what caused my face. While I was told the committee unanimously, and even enthusiastically, accepted my prospectus, and my work ethic was mentioned, this read as a lack of belief in me.
I've never been the smartest person in the room. I didn't go to Ivy League schools. I don't have pedigree or credentials. I went to a state university, then a CUNY school while teaching full time, then earned my M.A in English during the summers. But I have a work ethic that I'll place up against anyone's pedigree. I will work harder, be scrappier, and get stuff done because I have to make up for all those other things. And I've proved this.
This is my fourth semester in my PhD program. I finished my coursework last semester, in three semesters, and I did it by taking 12 and 13 credits per semester. While teaching. And acting as core writing coordinator. And publishing an article, writing two chapters for edited collections, and submitting three articles to journals. I comped in February. I defended my prospectus three weeks after passing comps. Two out of my five dissertation chapters are in draft form. Two more are in conference presentation form and just have to be expanded with scholarship. Next semester I have an independent study to finish my Old English language requirement, and teaching, but that's it. And so I feel good.

I think that my track record proves that I am capable of sticking to my timeline. But I didn't feel like that. I met with a professor later yesterday and when I shared that ennui feeling he said that part of it was probably the fact that lots of people set ambitious timelines but aren't capable or willing to stick to them, so it was caution. And that made me feel better.
As did him asking me to come teach one of his classes in the fall since I was "the expert" on the devil. That was flattering, and meant a lot, as it's a professor I admire.

Some of the other grad student responses (outside of my cheering section) have been less enthusiastic. One person said to me that "other students must hate you." And wow, I hope that's not true. But part of me doesn't care. Although, why does it have to be like that? Why can't we just celebrate each other?

Anyway. So now, I have this semester to finish those chapters that are in draft/conference form and get them to the committee. I am still aiming to have those back this summer so I can spend the summer revising, so a complete draft of the dissertation to my director in August for other notes/revisions, so I can turn around those in the fall. I want my committee members to be able to say in their letters for the job market in September/October that they feel confident I will defend in early Spring 2016.
For now, I'm going to keep checking things off my list and moving forward.

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