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What to expect...

by Paul Baffes (1995)

Due to popular demand, I thought I'd write down a few thoughts about what happened with my defense to help out anyone who's interested (and going to defend relatively soon; probably all this will be changed in another year or so. Bureaucracy never rests!).

I've divided this into “What to expect when…” sections, placed in no particular order. Any duplications or obvious mis-orderings can be blamed directly on the temporary brain damage sustained by having to deal with volumes of administrivia.


Everyone has their own style, so there's not much to say here except that it will take longer than you might think. It's not the writing so much as all the darn cross references, spell checking, bibliography entries, figure captions, margins, etc. I think I spent the last two weeks just making formatting changes.

Here are a couple of things that helped me a lot:

  1. First, it's not a “thesis” it's a “dissertation” :-). When you go over to the main building (rm 133) and ask for the handout on guidelines for the document format, if you ask for “thesis” you get master's thesis stuff which is useless. Plus, they give you a lecture on how it's really called a “dissertation”. Proper terminology = proper form which, as we all know, is everything ;-).
  2. I took a sample over to the “thesis witch” early (her name is Lynn Renegar and she's in Main 133. And, by the way, I found her to be *very* helpful–not a “witch” at all. Remember, she's got the university breathing down her neck about standards which she has to enforce). My “sample” included things like my signature page, my title page, my vita page, an example table of contents, and some text (like the first 10 pages of my intro). She whipped out the ruler and told me all my mistakes. It saved me LOTS of time on the final check.
  3. I wrote a little summary (1-3 paragraphs) at the end of each chapter. These were great for writing my conclusion (mostly, I just cut-and-pasted them together for the conclusion) and for picking out the best stuff for the abstract.


The main thing to remember is that somebody will be a pain in the you-know-what. Everyone I know who's gone through it tells me that there was somebody who held up the show. Of course, there's no way to predict who or what, but just plan on the final signature taking some time to get because of something last-minute. If you can, leave yourself plenty of time before the university deadline for turning in your final version. Think of it as your deadline insurance.

My impression is that the committee really wants to see two things. They want you to stand up for yourself, but they also want you to admit where your work is weak. I also got the feeling that they all wanted to put their own spin on the final document. This makes sense, of course. They all have good things to say; in my case, I felt like I got a lot out of their suggestions for changes to my dissertation.


For me, we talked about 3 points where I needed to make changes in my dissertation. All three were good comments, and like I say, I was glad for the feedback. I guess I expected them to suggest changes, and I approached the closed-door session with an attitude of compromise. Again, I tried to hold firm on what I felt were my main points and gave way where my claims were weaker. I don't think they let anybody through without some criticism. A fair amount of modesty along with a firm (but fair) commitment to some bottom line is probably your best bet.

Of course, they went through the “step outside and sweat while we decide your fate” bit, and who knows what they talk about then. After about 15-20 minutes they gave me the smiles-and-handshake reception.

Oh yeah, then they teach you the secret Ph.D. handshake. Of course, I can't tell you what that is :-).


What nobody tells you is that Kinko's, *all* Kinko's in town, suck. There are some places that actually call the university and know what the requirements are, and they are the places to go. Kinko's is not one of those places. Unfortunately, the university can't say who they are for legal reasons (they'd probably get sued for favoritism).

But I can attest to the fact that Ginny's is a good place. Apparently they staff up and load up on the right kinds of supplies when the deadlines for turning things in approach, so they are probably a good bet. One specific note: you have to turn your dissertation in IN THE RIGHT KIND OF CARDBOARD BOX, which Ginny's (but not Kinko's) carries.


Lynn (thesis “witch”) will measure your margins. And check the paper quality, and do a host of other things that she has on her check list. She's very thorough (again, as she should be); I tried distracting her but she's done this a million times so it's down to a science. Here are some pointers:

  1. Make sure you have *generous* margins. Laser printers and copiers can shift the text around as much as a 16th of an inch. So give yourself what the university requires *and then some* in terms of margins (I added more on each margin just to be safe).
  2. Make sure it's on the right paper.
  3. Check all the pages and make sure they're in the right order. She'll ask you specifically about that.
  4. Make sure you get the right box. No kidding. Ginny's has them. The chief thing is to make sure the box is 2-inch or 2-1/4 inch in height (ie, just enough for your thesis–I mean dissertation–to fit snugly without lots of extra room).
  5. Make sure you get the right number of copies of everything. They want duplicates of the abstract, vita, and other things. Also, they have a checklist of what to turn in, BUT IT DOESN'T LIST EVERYTHING THAT SHOULD BE TURNED IN IN MULTIPLE COPIES. Just read everything (especially the small print on the forms) and take change with you when you go to turn it in. There's a copy machine on the floor above room 133 (the life sciences library) where you can make extra copies if you need to.


I spent a small fortune on making copies, but I had a grant to charge against. The largest costs were for making copies for the committee members and for the final copy on special paper. Here are some specifics:

  1. Probably the only thing you really need to go to a copy place for is the final copy on the special paper. That runs about \$50. Maybe you could just buy the paper and run it through the laser printer yourself to save some here.
  2. It cost me \$144 to actually turn my stuff in. There's a publication fee, a fee for graduating (I think it's a “degree candidate” fee or something), and a copyright registration fee. I had a \$25 fee for registration, and I think the copyright fee is optional, so you could get by with less. But it's around \$100.


I thought it was just me, but after talking with others (even those who already had jobs lined up) apparently I'm not crazy. I'm not sure what the right term is, maybe “postpartem depression” or the like, but there is definitely a feeling of disconnectedness when you're done. Not depression, not despair; just sort of an “alone” kind of feeling. I guess after years of being in a situation, such an abrupt change will obviously require an adjustment.

`Course, it could just be the temporary brain damage due to administrivia :-).

-Paul Baffes (oops, I mean “Paul Baffes, Ph.D.”)

defense_what_to_expect.txt · Last modified: 2017/01/23 19:23 by jthywiss