Ph.D. Madness: Defense Maneuvers

You thought that by filing, you’d mastered the most difficult hurdle of your Ph.D.?

Wait until you have to summon a committee for your defense date!

Well, at least the Ph.D. process remains interesting until the last moment.

Within a scant few months, the head supervisor and I (lacking Julie Andrews and some quality to qualify as a sequel to “The King and I”) have managed to organize a second faculty professor who will participate in my rigorosum.

A rigorosum is a 2-hour event where the candidate is locked up with two professors who take out their own anomosities among each other by grilling said candidate. My lucky barbecue day is in mid-May.

While the candidate usually agrees loosely on a topic with the grillmasters professors, they are free to ask pretty much anything, which makes preparation a little difficult. Know everything, and cater to both snake heads at the same time.

Can you tell that I am so not looking forward to this event?

Then there is the Defense, sometime after the rigorosum, but it’s best to plan ahead, since this is the actual trouble. Nothing about this event is about your thesis, it’s merely about getting three faculty-employed professors to be in the same room at the same tome for an hour.

Usually, two of these professors are the supervisors who write the expertises (these are actually about your thesis) and then you need one extra from the faculty, who is usually on his way out to the golf course, misspells your name, stutters off your CV from a piece of paper and then asks the most idiotic question of the entire event. One extra can usually be organized.

Since I have one expertise from a professor from another university, things are more complicated. Despite being a respected professor and despite being willing to travel over here to participate in the Defense, this professor doesn’t count within the committee (I think someone paranoid in our faculty made up this rule so that nobody from the outside could influence internal preferences). Which means I don’t need just ONE extra from the faculty, but TWO.

Three need to be present, logically – it’s like the three witches in Macbeth. Only that nobody will declare me Thane of Cawdor during this event.

Now the professor from out of town is only available on Fridays, hence the defense needs to be on a Friday. All eligible professors from my own institute, except for my own supervisor, are out of town on Fridays, since their lives center around other cities and they live the Tue-Wed-Thu week over here.

This means we need to find two professors not from my institute, but from within the faculty. Nobody likes to do defenses in foreign faculties. You don’t know the customs, you misspell the names and you can only ask idiotic questions since the thesis does not focus on your are of interest and/or research. On Friday, it’s even less liked. You’re on your way out of town, onto the golf course or otherwise into the weekend.

So in my own version of “Super Ph.D. Brothers: Defense Edition”, I need to catch two of those professors before they can leave town for the weekend and lock them up with the vases in my institute’s main hall for an hour, during which they will have to listen to me giving a 45-minute speech. And afterwards, they have to grade me.

I really hope I can axe this level of the game before summer break. Because then there’s the Next level: “World of Editing Warcraft”, in which I need to come up with a printable version that my supervisors, a publishing company and my bank account agree with.

For now, I’m chasing professors. If anyone has a butterfly net to help me out, please send it over.

14 thoughts on “Ph.D. Madness: Defense Maneuvers”

  1. Anik, wishing you the best. There is life on the other side of this circus. And may that life come soon for you!



  2. Hallo Anik. I would suggest leaving some superglue on the profs’ office chair and only letting ’em back out on condition of agreeing to be available… but then that might backfire against you during the rigorosom. 😛 Perhaps just making sure you have a good supply of your famous lemon waffles with you when you approach the profs would do the trick? I’d perhaps miss an opera for these if they come a la mode. 😉

    On a more serious note, in bocca al lupo, my friend! 😀


  3. L’impresaria! This makes the first scene of Ariadne look placid; may your second scene be as transcendent a triumph.


    1. …the idea for the Ph.D. only happened somewhere around Chapter 12 of “Campus”, it didn’t occur to me before and I am beginning to see why. 😉

      It’s been a long time indeed!


  4. Anik, I send you all good wishes for luck and the intervention of deities and good witches to aid in this professor-wrangling. I would never have any insight into this process if not for your blog. I will look differently now on at folks with PhD after their names.


  5. mid-may, 2 wks away! much much luck to you Anik! i remember the scheduling for defense turning out quite crazy for me as well, on top of it the room was only available during some random hours during certain days… may the ws force be with you!


  6. okay, so now I’ll raid a room, to be free at all hours, then I’ll take terry’s butterfly nets, Smorg’s super glue and I hope Rain can borrow me some shark protection, and then I hope I can come up with two professors sometime before July!

    Thank you for your kind words.


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