Thursday, September 10, 2009

first you submit, then you defend.

i submitted my completed thesis to my doctoral review committee a week ago, and in just over two weeks have my formal defense.

academia really is a pretty curious beast. although we may be familiar enough with them that they seem quite natural, academic practices, rituals and language are easily as odd as the tibetan buddhist rituals that are often branded as bizarre, or more generously perhaps, exotic. one clear example of this is the very process of completing the phd requirements. in the humanities at least, one usually thinks of a phd as consisting of some years of formal study, a year or so spent researching something or other, followed by a final period - a year or two usually - spent writing up the actual dissertation thesis. but this overlooks the very last, and very combative, portion of the process: submission and defense. the odd thing, certainly odd in military terms at least, is that first you submit and then you defend. this is not merely a question of odd use of language. like two animals positioning themselves to determine which will be alpha, there is a carving out of territory, a series of challenges, displays of [here, intellectual] power, and throughout, a process of submitting to a known genre of authority marking and making. in the end, the grad student leaves their dissertation thesis in the ring and withdraws, to allow the committee their time to see what they make of the offering. meanwhile, the process of defending the doctoral theses is the culmination of years of study and research, and, for many graduate students, months or years of nail-biting and teeth-gnashing during the write-up stage. yet given how tightly defined most thesis topics are, and given the strong preference for students to undertake research on topics or questions no one else has explored before, or in the same way, by the time phd candidate have completed the writing of the thesis, in many cases literally no one else in academia knows as much as the phd candidate on their topic.

yet first you submit. and if my doctoral defense is anything like my masters defense, i fully expect that the next entry i post here will be a report of my survival of the encounter, and perhaps even a display of the wounds i sustained in attaining the right to print three tiny letters after my name - a right in all likelihood i will not exercise.


Damchoe Wongmo said...

Best of luck on your defense!

lhundup damchö said...

thanks, damchoe-la. best of luck on your studies. maybe next january we can manage to meet in bodhgaya?