Thesis Defense in Review

It’s been just over two and a half weeks since I defended my thesis, so sit down and let me tell you all about it.

I met with the director of the English Graduate Program on Thursday for coffee (I had hot chocolate) at a place near my office, so I could slip away in the middle of the workday for a quick break. My attorneys were all at an out-of-state conference, so I knew I had a bit of time and could just work through lunch instead. He was very excited about my defense, and laid out how it would go. Usually everyone sits at the table and the defender can either choose to stand at the podium or sit down at the table with the rest of the committee. After a quick ten-minute reading, the questions would come.

When Dr. B asked me some “sample questions,” as he called them, my mind went absolutely blank. Even with my notebook in front of me, I couldn’t recall even the simplest answers. It was awful. I stumbled my way around a few questions before he started talking me through how to answer things properly: reword their question back to them before responding, so it looks like you know what you’re doing. I did a bit better with that tip but still fumbled.

Then Monday came. I wore my 50s-inspired red dress and rocked some red lipstick for a boost of confidence, covering it with my Italian leather jacket I got in Florence. I spent the first half of the day working, because I knew if I’d taken the whole day off I would’ve just worked myself up into a tizzy and wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the defense itself. I got down to Montevallo a little early, which gave me time to sit on the quad and review my notes one last time. I ended up reading in the Palmer Commons (the defense room) about thirty minutes before the defense began.

Everyone trickled in right at 3:30, and by 3:35 I was standing at the podium to read a short excerpt for the first ten minutes. I chose the scene where Drake (the main character) takes Mira to a dress shop run by a sorceress, for her to experience magic (that’s not being used against her) for the first time. It was something that could stand alone, but it’s also clear that it’s part of a larger work. My adviser had mentioned it was very reminiscent of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and after that I tried to work in a few references.

After the reading, it was time for questions. And I do apologize, but I can’t remember the majority of them. My nerves were so bad, but I do remember that they were not nearly as scary as I thought they would be. I was able to answer all of them very easily, nothing tripping me up like Dr. B’s questions had just a few days earlier.

One question in particular stuck out to me: “Why does Drake join forces with the Duke? If peace comes to the land, won’t the Thieves be useless?” I thought about that for a minute, and I made something up on the spot, to be honest. Drake’s going into this knowing that the Thieves might have outlived their usefulness, but he still wants peace. (I had a really long and well-thought-out answer for this, I promise, but it’s written down in a notebook somewhere that I can’t currently put my hands on.)

I was also told that my story might work better from the third person. Everyone mentioned that it was clear Mira’s voice was the strongest in the story and that she was the obvious favorite, which I found surprising since I thought it was clear that Drake was the favorite, but I guess maybe I can’t write young adult males very well. It doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that, after about an hour and twenty minutes of questions, they had me step out into the hall. And there I sat and waited.

Dr. B passed by as I was sitting outside, sweating, and he congratulated me because he knew there was no way I wasn’t going to pass.

After the longest five minutes of my life, I was called back in, they shut the door, and they told me I passed. They didn’t even want any revisions. I almost cried. I did cry when I called Steven right after stepping outside. I cried nearly all the way back to my car. It was over and done with.

I’ve put my story away for now, because I’ve worked on it so much that I can’t currently stomach looking at it again. In about two months, though, I’ll probably pull it back out again and work on it. I’ve got a plan for shopping around for agents, and then at some point in the future, you’re going to be able to hold a book of mine in your hands, not a short story in a collection, but a book that is 100% mine. And y’all, I’m so excited.

It’s been a long 2.5 years to get to this point, but now I can tell you with 100% certainty that I am graduating on December 7th with my Masters in English. I am so incredibly excited for this opportunity and I thank you all for following me along. I’ll still be here, but now I can read whatever I want, when I want, without having to worry about deadlines.

Thank you, everyone.

And as always, keep reading.

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10 thoughts on “Thesis Defense in Review

    1. I’m so excited! I’ve ordered my graduation hood (with everyone at the bookstore saying “DO YOU HAVE THE MASTERS ROBES, THOUGH?!” and me explaining that yes, I do, because I bought them last spring thinking I was graduating but then I didn’t…) and I’m going to complete my grad hat over the Thanksgiving break! (It’s got Krennic from “Rogue One” on it saying “We stand here amidst my achievement, not yours!” and it makes me super happy lol)

      I’m so glad to be DONE! No more school for me!

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      1. The only reason I did grad school was because with my grades in undergrad in Montevallo, they auto-accepted me into the grad program there, so no taking any tests or applying, etc. I figured I might as well go ahead and do it, because if I waited I knew I would never go back. Took me an extra six months due to an illness, but I did it and I’m proud of myself. I even read freaking Ulysses all the way through and wrote a 20+ page research paper on it that now makes no sense to me.

        Congrats on finishing your bachelor’s! That’s an achievement, too!!

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  1. Congrats! I don’t remember anything from my thesis defense either, it’s all just one big blur. I got my MA in Museum Studies, and mine worked a bit differently, where I had a 30 minute presentation of my paper, then about 30-45 minutes of questions. My defense was open to to the public, so I had other students from my program and coworkers attend. After I was finished, my thesis committee (3 people) left the room to deliberate, BUT they got sidetracked and just started talking among themselves and left me in this room for over 20 minutes waiting to hear whether I passed or not, which was NERVE WRECKING. My thesis adviser finally came in and got me, and was like “sorry we forgot about you, we were talking to each other. Oh, and you passed.” Most stressful two hours of my life!

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    1. Mine was a little different from what most people would consider a “normal” defense, because I took the option of a creative thesis for mine and wrote the first 100 pages of a novel, so that’s why it was a 10-minute reading followed by questions about my stylistic choices and craft choices from the defense committee.

      Defenses used to be open at the public for our school, but when we got a new director a few years ago, he decided to close them and while you could request an open defense, most people chose to keep them private. I felt a lot more comfortable with it being private because then I didn’t have to worry about anybody else.

      It was over much faster than I anticipated, because I thought there was no way I would be able to talk for over an hour about my thing, and yet I ended up talking for nearly 1.5 hours (we only had to end early because one of my committee members had a class to teach at 5!). It was nerve-wracking.

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