While over on Twitter I’ve made the announcement, I realize that this blog has not been updated on the exciting news: On Wednesday September 19th, I successfully defended my dissertation and I am now a doctor! Hurrah!
Leading up to the defence, I was quite nervous – although not so much for the question period. Instead, I was nervous about my presentation. At Waterloo, the defence goes something like this: You are given 30 minutes to present on your dissertation, and then that is followed by 2 rounds of questions. When I told a friend that I was most worried about the presentation part – because I wanted to make sure I could deliver a not-dull presentation that was both accessible to the general audience who hadn’t read my diss and nuanced enough for those who had read it – my friend said that I was the first person who expressed concern about a good presentation. “Usually, it’s the other way around: people are concerned about the question period.”
And leading up to the defence and talking to other people, I found similar sentiments: looks of puzzlement and confusion as I explained why I thought the presentation was so important. Even one person said, “I didn’t care about my presentation. I just used 10 minutes and went right into the question period.” I also heard a story where someone refused to present – and they still passed.
The word that went around was that no matter how bad the presentation, you were “graded” on how well you answered the questions. And, I guess, that could be true. But still: the presentation was important to me.
Looking back on my defence, I was quite proud of my presentation because it did a lot: by focusing on the presentation, I felt more engaged with my entire dissertation and it kept me thinking about my dissertation leading up to the defence (the strong and the weak parts); it helped me anticipate questions that I may receive or address questions I was anticipating; it helped frame the discussions that were happening in the question periods; it demonstrated my critical media projects, ensuring that those projects were highlighted and could be brought into the questions (or referred to in the questions); it warmed me up and made me feel ready for the questions. There are probably other factors the presentation played into but these are the one I want to highlight.
And although there were times when I felt like I was rambling in the question period, apparently I was not. I was surprised to find out from the report my supervisor shared with me that I am really good at vocally articulating my research and complex ideas. This floored me because I have had a long history of struggling with anxiety during presentations, tripping up on words, physically shaking, etc. I still struggle with it today. As one student commented 2 years ago, “I noticed you are shaking while talking in class. Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.” (I’m paraphrasing, but they did point out I was shaking and did comment I was doing a good job, I swear!). And I know that this still happens today. So, when finding out that I’m really good at speaking and answering questions, I was blown away and so happy.
So if you were just keeping tabs on me with this blog, rest assured – the silence was not the result of a bad defence. It was a great one! And since then I’ve been busy with writing job applications and teaching two courses, while also trying to continue some research!
That being said, I am going to make a conscious effort to return to regularly blogging here. I want this blog to be a space for thinking through teaching moments and research ideas. I’ll be starting that next week, so stay tuned!
Dr. Philip Miletic 🙂