My defense is tomorrow afternoon. I’m still working on my talk, but I enjoy public speaking, and I’m not overly worried about the presentation part of the experience. It is a strange task to undertake, because on one hand, it’s one of the few opportunities for my family and friends to understand what I’ve been doing for the last six years. On the other hand, it’s my PhD dissertation defense, and my one chance to go in depth into the nitty-gritty details of the project I’ve chosen to talk about. Reconciling both of these tasks into one talk is difficult, and I have only been to a few defenses where the candidate managed to give a good but in-depth science talk that was understandable to a broad audience. That’s my goal. (I probably should have started crafting the presentation sooner.) The fact is, though, I’ve been to a lot of defenses, and nobody cares whether or not they were memorable talks. Almost nobody is there for the science. They are interested, but people attend to support their friends, and the presentation is mostly a formality in our department.
This post, though, is less about tomorrow and more about the dream I had last night. Last night I dreamt about my defense. (Sadly, I didn’t see what I was wearing, so I still have to figure that out.) In my dream, the talk part went great. I was dynamic and clear, and I felt like I did a great job. Then we got to the questions.
THERE WERE SO MANY QUESTIONS. People were talking on top of each other, so they couldn’t hear my answers. One of the faculty members from my department was there, and she had an idea that was very clearly the answer to the lingering questions about my project… but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I answered question after question but they didn’t let up. Finally, I said, “I’ll take one more question, and then if anyone wants to talk about it further we can do so at the party.” I called on a young woman I didn’t know, and she said, “So at the end, what exactly was the overall goal of your project?” This meant that I had failed to communicate the most basic things about my project, even though I thought I had been great.
Next, in my dream, it was time for my acknowledgements. I got ready to thank all the people who helped me get through grad school, when Jason showed up with a microphone and said (in a very showman-like voice), “And now we’re going to interview Abigail for our podcast! How does it feel to have defended your dissertation?” “Jason!” I hissed. “Not right now, in front of all these people who don’t care!” But he was adamant, and I had to rip off the microphone and ignore him.
The dream went on from there: I was an hour late to my own party because I had to re-do my thesis committee meeting for one of my committee members, I lost my husband and my in-laws, some guy named Schmidt was playing loud music and I couldn’t find him to get it turned down, and so on.
I told one my advisors the other day that I am still waiting for a feeling of relief. I didn’t really feel it even when I took my approved dissertation to get bound. Despite being nearly officially “done,” I still have a substantial to-do list that involves a few more experiments, getting out a draft of a manuscript, moving, and more. Maybe I’ll feel relieved after tomorrow, and I am taking a three day weekend to relax with my family. It seems likely, though, that every thing I cross off my list, “Defense” included, will lighten the burden slightly until I finally feel relieved in June, when I get my diploma. The thing is, there is always more to do. For the next few days, I’m going to try to enjoy the present. My subconscious is obviously a little stressed out!