Monday, April 30, 2012

I defended

I passed my defense at a little after 11:30 AM on Friday, April 27 (it began at 9). Here's the story.

I didn't sleep well for several nights, and woke up Friday at about 4. By 5 or 5:30 I was out of bed and feeling very anxious. Even though that other meeting, the preliminary one, is said to be the tougher one, I found that my chest was tight (actually, my whole body was tight) and my stomach was upside down. While I am required to drink coffee due to the sickening withdrawl I suffer if I don't, I certainly did not need it that morning. I was wired!!

Anyway, I exercised, showered, got ready, and was out the door around 8. Here's a picture my husband snapped of me on my way out.


After I left the house, I went to a bakery and picked up the 2 dozen pastries I'd ordered earlier that week. I had no idea how many people might attend, so I figured more was better. (7 people attended, including me. Husband brought most of the pastries back to his office after the defense.)

I arrived at the campus a little before 8:30. I snapped this picture for Instagram. The first step toward my defense from my car. Or, the last step of what have been many, many, many steps taken to get to this point. Either way, I loved my shoes.


My advisor was already there, so we got the electronics set up. A little back-story here: one of my committee members had a family emergency on Tuesday that caused them to have to be out of town during my defense. Thankfully, the university will let a committee member attend remotely if they have a good reason, and if the rest of the committee says it's OK. So we set up the web conferencing system and this person was able to log in and participate online. Whew. Finding all this out was very stressful for me earlier last week! Mainly because my advisor was out of the country all week, only arriving back very late Thursday night, and his signature was required to allow this remote attendance. All I can say is thank goodness for text messaging, email, and understanding office staff. We managed to get it approved using these three saving graces.

At about 9, we started. My advisor introduced me and I was given the floor. In attendance (in person) were my committee, my husband, our friend, and a doctoral student who was interested in seeing the process. In attendance (online) was my other committee member, plus a few special guests. Doing it online with a web conference meant that my parents and grandparents could also watch. How cool is that? They all got logged in and watched it, along with my aunt.

A big "blow" to me was that because of the screen sharing for the web conference, I could not see my powerpoint notes. I was going to have to do it off the top of my head, and I am NOT a person who reads off her slides, so I got pretty choked up at first, trying to remember what I was going to say on the first couple of slides. (One person later told me they thought I might throw up!!) But then I remembered what my husband, my dad, and many others have told me: "you know this stuff now. you don't need those notes." Once I stopped expending brain power trying to remember what my notes said, I was able to let the information just come out, and it got a lot easier. My presentation lasted about 40 minutes, after which there was some public questioning.

The public questioning is when the committee and anyone else can ask you questions about your research, and you answer ("defend"). The way I interpret it is that the committee uses this time to ask you 'easier' questions they know you can answer, and that allow you to elaborate on parts of your research for the purpose of the public attendees understanding more about it. I have little sense of how long this public questioning session lasted, but I'd guess about a half hour. It seemed like the entire experience lasted about 10 minutes, when it really was over 2.5 hours.

Then, everyone was asked to leave/log out except for my committee members. Husband and our friend waited in the hall for me. Again, it felt like a few minutes, but husband said I was in there with my committee for over 45 minutes, closing in on an hour. Here, they asked me the harder questions. They didn't grill me or make me recite anything, it wasn't like that. It was more that they were trying to engage me in a deep conversation about research--mine, and in general. They asked me about publishing, about implications of my work, and several other aspects of it. They also asked me about my experience in qualitative research. I was SO GLAD that it had occurred to me to review my methodology chapter prior to the defense--I had forgotten a lot of the qualitative terms and because of my review, I was able to remember exactly what I had done and why.

Eventually I was asked to leave the room, so I went out in the hallway and sat with my husband and friend. I think we sat there for about 10 minutes or so, before my advisor came out and asked me back in. I went back in, shut the door, sat down, and he told me they had decided to grant me my degree. "Congratulations, Dr. ___________".


My husband and friend came back in to the room then, they signed all the papers that needed signing, and that. Was. That. No revisions either. Just done.

I really thought I would cry at that moment, but I was actually too numb to feel much of everything. In fact, I went home afterward, changed out of my suit, and just kind of wandered around the house thinking "what should I do now?" I considered going back to work. I'd taken the whole day off figuring I would be too excited/distracted to work, but I couldn't think of anything to do! I also hadn't eaten anything that day, but couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat, either. Eventually I did errands. Grocery store, FedEx, DMV. I am a very exciting person.

My husband did leave work early though, and we had a late lunch of a dessert called a chocolate chimi. Basically a fried dough dessert stuffed with fudge and caramel and served with ice cream. Yum. Then later, we went out to dinner with our friend and after that, my advisor came over so we could all drink a toast. We ended the night with a movie at home, with our friend. Saturday, husband and I went out for lunch and totally pigged out. Then ice cream.

So I basically celebrated by eating... a LOT. Haha. I like food, what can I say?!

On sunday, I finished formatting my dissertation document within the standards required by our university. Then I turned it in (electronically).

And that truly is that.

Graduation is in 2 weeks.

I still don't feel how I thought I would feel. I think I'm too much of a realist, or you could say a pessimist. (A pessimistic realist?) I want the degree in my hand before I'll be allowed to feel truly happy. There are too many factors at play still (in my worst-case-scenario mind).

But really I think I truly can NOT believe it. 4 years that simultaneously felt like a decade and no time at all... and here I am.

In the next two weeks I have some big plans. They include a hair cut, a lot of prep for family visiting (my folks haven't seen our house in 2.5 years; other relatives have never seen it), and planning of a graduation reception. And, I'm looking forward to getting the graduation gift from my husband(I had to be involved, so I already know what it is)... which I will surely post about hereat least a little. Note that my plans do not include any more dissertation work because wow I'm done (This summer, I will deal with the printing, binding, and all that jazz.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

getting real over here

Notable today is that 4 years ago on this very day, April 25, 2008, I received a letter of acceptance to this doctoral program. That's around the time I started this blog.

So it's fitting today, that I got this.


(Defense is coming right up! I'll update again on that soon. It's been a dramatic (isn't it always), but also very manageable and very final couple of weeks.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

the approval details

As I announced last Tuesday, I received the preliminary approval. Here's how that went.

At the meeting, I was expected to prepare a 20 minute presentation of my dissertation. A summary of it, basically. I did this using powerpoint (and memorized what to say so I wouldn't have to read from the slides), and it turns out, this was largely unnecessary because I did not make it through the whole thing. The purpose of the presentation (at least in my case) was to jog the memories of the committee members. (So by the time I got to my third slide, they were ready to start asking me questions as something I said would trigger one of their comments.) My 20 minute presentation took 2 hours, and I only actually spoke about maybe a third of the slides. (We looked at some of the others as a group though.) It was pretty cool.

There were a lot of, I will say, minor issues. The types of things where more sources might be requested, or I had something worded in such a way that it didn't come across properly. These are/were mostly able to be addressed by changing a word, a sentence, or a paragraph. (Yay!) There was one more data analysis they wanted me to run to clarify something (it took a few hours). The one major issue two of them noticed was that I got a wee bit too creative toward the end. Especially in Chapter 5 (discussion), I got ahead of myself. I will try to explain:

My surveys measured really basic things, so chapter 5 should have discussed how these basic things could relate to the next (less basic) level. Instead, I took it all the way to the 'top' level. In other words, my survey measured the most basic things, and my discussion/conclusion was all about the most advanced things. Jumping to conclusions I could not draw from my own data, if you will. So the biggest revision is that I needed to change THAT, which amounted to some changes in the abstract, chapter 1 (intro), and chapter 4 (results), and a partial rewrite of chapter 5. That's due (printed) to the committee members by the 20th (which gives them a week to review it before my defense). Totally doable. Most of it is already done, at this point.

At the meeting, they signed the preliminary approval form. At the same time, I had printed the notice of defense form. My advisor signed that, then we tracked down the department chair (he was in his office, not exactly hard to track down) and he signed what he needed to sign. Then, my advisor and I walked over to the administration building, turned in the forms, and had lunch. Then I went back to work.

On Wednesday morning, the university officially announced my defense time and date. It was surreal to see. I've seen so many other announcements of these, but this one with my name in it was fabulous to see!

On Wednesday during my lunch hour, I printed a copy of the dissertation and brought it over to the administration building for a 'format check'. I also had to fill out two forms regarding this, and I had to complete an online survey and show proof I had done so (the Survey of Earned Doctorates--it's national). The formatting person will go through the dissertation and see if the format meets the university's standards. She will provide a checklist of things that must be fixed before they receive the final version (due by May 3). I'm not sure when I'll receive that checklist.

On Wednesday after work, I sat down with the meeting recording (what a great idea, my advisor had me bring a handheld recorder!), the notes my advisor took (again, great), and the copies I'd received from the committee members (with their notes/questions written throughout). I went through all of these things (as well as my own memory) and made a table of:
--the change
--who suggested it
--what/where it was addressed in the paper

My advisor suggested this. I filled/am filling out the last column as things get done, and I will provide the table to the committee along with their revised copy later this week. That will make it easy for them to find the changes without having to do a complete re-read.

On Thursday after work, I received a form in the mail from the university. I had to fill it out with information about commencement, and it told me where to go, what to wear, and how they deal with the whole "hooding" thing. (You buy your hood, but it's delivered to the office and they deal with it. I won't actually receive my hood until the graduation day, even though I ordered it with my gown and cap.) I filled out the form and stuck it in Friday's mail.

There are probably about 5 more forms I have to keep track of and turn in at the proper times before all of this is over. There will be fees to pay, also. Every day it's something new, and I can honestly say I'm kind of enjoying the paperwork at this point because instead of tangible evidence of things that are holding me back, these forms are shooting me forward. Justlikethat, I went from 'possible candidate' to "you're graduating." And all I have to do is:

--fill out a lot of forms
--complete these revisions (and any more that they might give me at the defense)
--make a defense presentation and give it

I also got accepted to a poster presentation research fair thing, and that's this Friday, so I have to make a poster that represents my 300-page monster of a study. One poster.

It's also my birthday today.

Friday, April 13, 2012

the committee hearby approves

I received a lot of changes. They all made sense and will be fine to accomplish in the time I've been allotted (April 21). The defense is scheduled a week after that.

The meeting took 2.5 hours, most of which was discussion. I had prepared a 20-30 minute presentation of my work, and I did give most of it, but pieces because each slide raised questions and points of discussion for the committee.

I'll write a little more in a few days, perhaps, about what happens now. I'm at work and normally would not blog from work, but needed to get this good news up on the blog!

Monday, April 09, 2012

here we go

Tomorrow is the preliminary approval hearing. Here is what I understand will happen:

The committee and I will meet. I will give a 20 minute overview of my dissertation, with powerpoint slides to push it along. Then, we will discuss it. They will tell me their concerns with it, and discuss them amongst each other too. They will decide on what changes are necessary to be made before the defense. They will then decide if I they trust I can make those changes in the 2.5 weeks I would have between now and then.

Of course, with the rate at which I have had to make a lot of very major changes to this dissertation, I feel like I could do practically anything in 2.5 weeks. But it's up to them whether they believe that, or not. If they believe that (in other words, if they have the "good faith" that was absent in November), they will sign a preliminary approval form. This form indicates to me and to the university that the committee will not ask for any more major changes to the dissertation, and that it is overall good enough. It also indicates that they have faith in my ability to make it exactly what they're looking for in the time allotted. (It is designed to protect me, so that I don't get to my defense and have someone say something like "actually, I don't like what you did at all. Please redo all of your analyses" or anything like that.) Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that tomorrow, by midday, I will know (or be 99% sure*) that I am either graduating or not graduating.

I'm very nervous. Tomorrow could be a turning point of magnitude I have yet to experience during this degree, or it could be another crushing disappointment.

I'll let you know.

*In my program, it is highly unlikely that a person would fail at the final defense stage. The defense is seen more as a celebration/public exposition. This preliminary approval meeting is the 'bigger' one, in my understanding, wherein you either cut it or you bite it.