These last few weeks have been slightly nuts, to say the least. I gave my thesis defense on Monday, and it went well! Since then I’ve been perpetually in need of a weekend, and my wish is going to arrive a day early. Mike and I are heading up to Harvey Mudd tomorrow morning for alumni weekend – something we’ve been looking forward to for a while now.
I must say, the whole “thesis defense” thing was a weird experience. I worked my tail off for the last several weeks, frantically throwing together numbers and data and figures and powerpoint slides, and at the eleventh hour I had (a) a “final draft” paper, or more specifically a substantially revised version of a paper I submitted to The Astrophysical Journal back in late January, and (b) a 37-slide powerpoint presentation detailing said paper intended for an audience of mostly astronomers. The paper still needs a bit more work before we can resubmit it for publication, but as far as the university is concerned, once I pass this semester’s classes and get a couple forms signed I am squared away. I am actually doing the “plan B research paper” option rather than a formal thesis, where the result is a published paper rather than an arbitrarily formatted novella.
The day was Monday, the time was 1:45pm. I hurriedly scarfed a quesadilla Mike had been kind enough to make for me as he drove me to school in time for my 2 o’clock class. The professor of said class had agreed to bump the start time to 1:55 on this particular day so that we could be let out at 3:10 rather than 3:15 and I might have an extra five minutes to prepare for my thesis defense at 3:30. I made it to class at exactly 1:55, diligently took notes, and anxiously watched the seconds creep by. I checked my email on my iPhone. My thesis adviser had emailed me two short movies to add to my presentation. At 3:10 sharp, we were dismissed from class as promised, and I darted to my office to change into a nicer outfit. I grabbed my laptop and went straight to the classroom where I would give my talk. My adviser was already there, arranging a spread of packaged powdered donuts and twinkies. No matter, I wasn’t planning to eat the snacks anyway. I connected my computer to the projector relatively seamlessly and proceeded to download the emailed movies and stick them in two “bonus” slides at the end of my presentation. It was about 3:27, and a few people were beginning to file in. I made sure my slides would advance, and inquired about a wireless slide clicky thingy. (Nobody had one on hand.) I adjusted the curtains and fluorescent lights as I saw fit. Within five minutes, the room was almost completely full, somewhat to my surprise, and around 3:35 my adviser introduced me and my talk began.
Somehow, around 50 minutes passed, and I fielded a few interruption-style questions. Everybody learned a lot about neutron stars and X-ray binaries and the magical ELC (eclipsing light curve) code, or at least had a nice nap.
There were a few questions at the end, but nothing too terrible. I honestly don’t remember the specifics. My adviser requested that everybody but he and my two other committee members (other professors) leave the room. Three first years didn’t get the memo and chatted with one committee member over twinkies for a good five minutes. I sat down and drank some water. Finally they disappeared, the doors were closed, and I braced myself for something along the lines of an interrogation.
Instead, the three committee members talked among themselves, discussing many interesting and equally open-ended questions that were tangentially related to my presentation. A few questions were aimed directly at me, but mostly just for fun; nothing seemed to hinge on whether I had the exact answer they were looking for. (I suppose there is something to be said for the sheer number of unanswered questions in astronomy, especially those pertaining to neutron star formation!) After about 15 minutes of this and a few awkward silences, the topic turned to who needed to sign which forms in order for me to graduate. This was nominally settled, handshakes were exchanged, and That Was It.
In the few days since, I’ve mostly been doing homework and other menial things that were left unattended. Such as laundry.
It’s pretty wild that in the space of two weeks I went from having no idea if I would get into a PhD program and being quite far from a revised paper and successful thesis defense to knowing I’m headed to NMSU and having my Master’s thesis defense behind me. But, that’s life for you – l’chaim!