I finally defended my thesis at Clay Shards Central and it went fairly well.
My supervisor showed up in jeans, as predicted, didn’t get to take a single picture throughout the event and of course they managed to write the title of my thesis wrong on the preliminary Ph.D. diploma (I’ll only get the real one after making it over to academic Printville). That’s what you get if your Dean’s secretary is definitely NOT from the field of Assyrian Pottery. Then again, who is, apart from the small community of nerds that came together this past Friday?
There were guests and family from out of town. There were students of mine, also of past semesters and of semesters far in the past and institute colleagues (even a few working for supervisors that live in a feud with mine).
The event in itself was formal and stiff, as required, but I wasn’t really nervous because I was basically too tired to be nervous (slept horribly the night before). I never even got to appreciate the marvel of four professors in the same room without any hierarchy quibbles.
First of all, I had to answer, like in church and court, the question whether I felt apt to do the defense (I was expecting someone to bring my a Bible to swear upon at any moment), then the head of the committee read all the wrong and unglamorous parts from my CV and then we had to make it through twenty minutes of supervisors-reading-out-their-expertises. Mind you, they say some very nice things about my work, but they’re not exactly storytelling material.
Afterwards, they handed the glassy-eyed audience over to me me for half an hour. I managed to wake everyone up and make them laugh, which is the thing I’m probably the most proud of. Even the committee (“I’m only here for the buffet afterwards!”) looked interested.
Then came the painstaking part where the committee leaves the room to decide on whether I passed the defense or not, staying outside for long minutes while the candidate sits in their chair isolated in a corner, with the audience staring and chatting among each other. It takes long minutes, officially because the committee needs time to brood over the decision (unofficially because three out of four wanted to have a smoke in the supervisor’s office – the last little Gaulish village defying the complete smoke prohibition in the entire building).
Finally, they marched back in and told me I had passed the defense. And that I’m not allowed to carry the title (despite others being allowed to address me as “Dr. Anik”) until handing in the required print copies. The presiding professor shook my hand and called me “Dr.”, then I managed not to cry while giving the acknowledgments and then I got my laurel wreath and someone pressed a glass of champagne into my hand and I think half the institute hugged me, so there was no chance to sneak away and hide under the buffet table even if I had wanted to.
As always within our discipline, there was more appreciation for the plates underneath the food than for the food… almost. Since we’re Humanities and poor, the candidate has to pay for the champagne and we have a deal among our group that the Ph.D. colleagues home cook the buffet.
It was a beautiful afternoon that passed in a whirl, though I remember one bittersweet moment, cornered by three professors from the committee – “excellent buffet, and we haven’t heard such a good speech in a long time, it shows you’re a very good teacher,we’ve seen the list of classes you taught in the past years, you’re very good at your job.”
And there it was again, that glass wall between us – I may be good at “my job”, but I officially don’t have a job there, no matter how nice the words of praise are that they find for me. They are the professors with a tenure, a pension fund and benefits, while my contract this semester amounts to barely $500, runs from May to August, and there are no retirement points or benefits attached to it. Once the contract ends, there will be the familiar monthly income of $0 again, and having to pay for publicity on congresses and trying to find the next teaching contract on which to scrape by for a few months, hoping to the able to pay the rent for my tiny one-room apartment.
It was a strange afternoon – the culmination of six years of hard work, and at the same point, the exit point towards a very uncertain future.
Over the weekend, I tried to recover – not really from a hangover (I couldn’t afford that much champagne for all), but from all the implications. Also, I spent the past two days at the institute cleaning and doing the dishes, hence the late post.
But the Ph.D. show is continuing already: later tonight, I have a date with the Assistant Supervisor to discuss changes she wants me to make for the print version (I better brush up on my Parselmouth before entering her office!), this morning I applied to a Humanities Fund for printing cost aid and contacted the editor in chief of the publishing company where my supervisor gets special conditions for his candidates.
Onto the next chapter in this never-ending story…