after the dissertation defense

Cassandra Smith clsmith at DARWIN.BU.EDU
Mon Mar 3 16:56:25 EST 1997


   I have no problem with preparing for my dissertation defense.  I'll have met
   with my committee members so many times before hand that there should be no
   surprises from them. And I'll have given portions of the seminar at other
   forums.  It's just a matter of pasting it all together and answering some
   questions which are probably predictable.

   But, I have two related questions:

   1.)  How does one prepare for general exams?  I'm much more nervous about
   this situation, because the committee members can ask me, theoretically,
   about anything.  I realize that I can beg them ahead of time for sample
   questions, but they could still come up with just about anything.  Any
   suggestions on what to do?  Other than trying to read whole books and
   journals and memorize lots of facts?

I am somewhat confused by your question because one usually takes
their general qualifying exam before the defense..anyway...perhaps
you are saying that they can ask you any general question on your defense..

On a good defense the committee will push you until you cannot answer
any more questions. The purpose is to understand the depth of your
knowledge. Obviously, you cannot know everything in the world but you
know some things in depth and that will depend mostly on your research
but also what you have learned in class. This means it is okay to say
you do not know something...it is not okay to fake-anyway it is not
likely you will succeed. You should be thoughtful before answering, speed
does not count. 

Surely, if you mean a qualifying exam, you should be informed, in
general of what will be covered and ask for some guidance (subjects,
reading material) from your committee members. 


   2.)  How does one prepare for the outside world of reviewers after your
   dissertation defense?  It's possible that committee members are less
   critical of your science than reviewers in the outside world.  These
   reviewers could be encountered during manuscript reviews or job interviews,
   such that their criticisms could invalidate your science when everything
   seemed fine with the old committee members.  Any suggestions on how to
   prepare for these situations?  Other than to hope that you have really good
   critical committee members who look for the worst in your science?

Take your ego out of the situation (I assume the reviewer is doing
likewise) - any comments should be taken seriously - there may be
valid points you have not considered and should have. Certainly, that
is the purpose of the review process. Even after you have published
someone may offer an outlook on your work that you have not considered
and brings important insight. If someone criticism is not valid, you should
consider why they did not understand (since it is very likely others will
misunderstand), or how you have ruled some possible interpretation. 

Winston Churchill great quote "Success is going from failure to failure with
                undiminished enthusiasm."  -----

The most important thing is to develop a way of learning from your mistakes.

Sometimes I tell people to put their egos in a jar and close the lid.

Good luck!

Cassandra








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