(t-60 days) Submit the 11+1 draft to supervisor.
(t-57 days) Submit a copy (of the (11+1+1)th draft) to each of the committee members at UVic. The West Coast sentiments and the sheer heft of the thesis means that only one committee member wanted a physical print. This is a picture of the beast: 350 sheets plus a CD containing the remaining 600 pages of appendix.
This marks the beginning of the whole process: the committee have two weeks to determine whether the dissertation is examinable.
(t-43 days) The dissertation was determined to be examinable. The committee, together with the external examiner, will now have 6 weeks to read the manuscript. (This is when the infamous fiasco with the Faculty of Grad Studies occurred; that shall be the subject for another day.)
(fast forward… t-12 days) Woke up in cold sweat. Dreamt that I’ve already slept in.
(fast forward… t-12 hours) 9pm the night before. No jitters yet. Decided to add a last slide to the presentation. Starting to have serious concern about sleeping in. Moved computer (alarm clock) to absolutely un-snoozable location.
(t-12 minutes) The room was full when I arrived. I think I’m supposed to be here much earlier. Setup computer for projection, and connected via video-conferencing with Geneva, where my external examiner Stefan Matile is. The chair of the meeting isn’t here yet.
(t-0) Hmm. Where is the chair?
(t = 5 min) Awkward penguins. The chair is still nowhere to be found; phone call to office is unanswered. I think there’s instructions for the chair when members of the committee is missing, but none for when the chair goes MIA. I started sketching the room in my sketch-book.
(t = 10 min) We decided to get started without the chair. Our defenses begins with a 15-20 min talk by the candidate. Knowing that there are non-specialists and audience that haven’t read the thesis, it was a pretty high level description. The talk is broadcasted over to Geneva, simultaneously with an inset of me at the corner of the slides. From our side we get to see a picture of him and the slide on two different monitors. Sweet.
(t = 15 min) There’s a really loud echo… my voice travels to Geneva and comes back after a second. I am sure there’s an experiment showing that people can’t talk properly when their own voice is played back with a delay. True or not, I was tripping over my words much more than I do in my practice runs.
(t = 28 min) The chair sneaked into the room just as I finished.
If you have really astute eyes, you’d see the Singing Robot Birds in the last picture… that’s the summary slide I added last night. It illustrates the analogy between the invention of the activity grid and the invention of musical notation. The bonus is that I got to say, “I made robot birds” in my defense.
(t = 30 min) The first round of question begins! The sequence of questioning was Matile -> Outside Member (from biochem) -> department member -> department member -> supervisor -> audience. Everyone began with a statement about the dissertation as being beautifully written and illustrated… and looong.
Since there’s synthetic o-chemistry, phys chemistry, fractals, electrophysiology, programming, a new notation, exhaustive review of an entire field, and some very bold claims, the content of the questions were all over the map. The questions varied between very high level discussion of what the work means (and where it goes from here), to some probing of basic foundational knowledge. I got to the white-board early and often; I wish there’s a full-size chalkboard.
The questioning period was intense and exhilarating. This is the kind of things I read, write, and think about all the time, and for the first time — other than with Tom — I found my match. Time flew by. Second round of questions came and gone, and there were some very interesting ideas being floated out there. This went on for 2 hours. For what it’s worth, I had in my mind’s eye wizards casting spells, counter-spells, and counter-to-counter-spells. It’s flippin’ awesome.
(t = 150 min) The audience and candidate left the room as the committee convenes an in camera meeting. We hang out in the corridor, surmising that they’re talking about the weather. What actually happens in there is that the chair lays out the formality such as what the possible outcomes of the defense are, and each member states their remarks and then have an organized discussion before making a recommendation. Then Tom comes out with…
(t = 160 min) The Golden Handshake that turns Mister into Doctor. The Golden Handshake that was heartachingly long in the making.
(Let’s just leave it at that.)
(t = 161 min) Re-enter the room, more handshakes and congratulations, signature on paper, waves at camera. Stefan asked for a printed copy of the (too long) dissertation; I am flattered by the request.
(t = 180 min) Champagne time!