Thursday, February 11, 2010

So here's what happened

I had lunch and a walk in the freezing cold with my love and got increasingly nervous but nowhere near panic, thankfully. Didn't have to wait long in coffee room before internal showed up and invited me into office. There was the awkward shaking of hands and then the external went through what the viva was about (check work is my own, see if I can put my research in wider context, go through any concerns they have) and then proceeded to start with the hardest question ever: what part was I most proud of?

That was my first but far from last moment of sitting in silence wondering what the hell to say before they moved on and framed it another way by asking if it was the published work (from our paper) I was most proud of (which I half-agreed with) and then went on to talk about what I felt was the most significant or hardest parts of the work. I started to relax and despite a few more bumps the time started to fly by as I discussed my disappointment with not finishing one of the calculations and why that was so interesting, as well as clearing up some notation confusion and doing some simple calculations on the board, mostly because they were fun. (Although I did utterly fail to explain why taking the trace of a projector gives the dimension of the subspace it projects on to - "it just does" was about all I could manage.)

I wasn't utterly convincing when it came to suggesting what impact the ultimate goal (which we didn't reach but took steps towards, hopefully) might have on theoretical physics but I was saved in part by the examiners disagreeing with each other on whether it had any bearing on physics at all but agreeing that at least it stood by itself as a piece of pure maths.

And then we moved on to the corrections and clarifications stage which is when my heart really began to sink. This is the part where you realise why it's called a thesis defence as it really does feel like your work is being attacked and ripped to shreds. As I predicted my introduction took most of the flak as it was riddled with missed out explanations, glossed over technicalities and occasional abrupt jumps of topic. There was also a point when the external launched into an explanation of an alternative approach and I wondered whether all my work of the last few years had been barking up the wrong tree, which while it had no bearing on the worth of my thesis for PhD still undermined my confidence somewhat. One small glimmer of hope was when the external said "If we decide you have to delve back into the \LaTeX..." which at the time I took to mean most of his quibbles were small but I suppose, on reflection, it could have meant the exact opposite! Overall the tone was positive though, and once past the first two chapters the pace picked up and my biggest fear - that the unfinished work would be deemed insufficient - didn't come up at all.

The first two hours had flown by and so I'd refused a break, which meant we finished just before five o'clock. They asked me to step out for a bit while they discussed and I went to the coffee room just opposite to get some water. My supervisor immediately appeared in the doorway wanting to know what was happening, looking about as nervous as I felt. I hadn't thought before then what it must have been like for him in the office next door to the one the viva was held in....He went back to his computer but came out into the corridor to watch as soon as my examiners emerged from the office. They shook my hand, offered congratulations and the external confirmed there were corrections to be done. I'm not sure at what point I started smiling but I suddenly noticed I was shaking more then than I was before the start! They went off to deal with paperwork and my supervisor came up an gave me a hug.

I was still full of nervous energy so paced round the coffee room as I wrote a text to send to just about everyone I knew. At least the first one got sent before I ran out of credit....cursing myself for not topping up beforehand and failing to manage to do so there and then, I rushed to a computer to try and catch my partner online but by then she'd already left work to see if I was finished yet. My supervisor bumped into her before I did and blurted out the news and only when she came and gave me a big hug did I finally start to relax. We then proceeded to tell everyone by text, email and Facebook and I did the somewhat nerd-ish thing of changing my Twitter picture to one of Matt Smith.

Then we went to the pub, picking up a couple of friends on the way.

It was a good night - couple more friends met us at the pub and then we went to Bella Italia for a meal. Couple of pubs afterwards - possibly having two doubles of whisky on the go at once wasn't such a good plan as I couldn't finish either, but despite being somewhat legless by the time we got home, I wasn't too ill. After enough water, anyway. With boy at Nana's for the night we got to have a lie-in this morning too, although the house was somewhat strangely quiet.

Today - it still doesn't quite seem real. Possibly it never will. But I feel quite happy and mostly relaxed right now and so am determined to enjoy it while I can. Corrections can wait until next week.

I'm a doctor(ish)! Go me!

1 comment:

Adele said...

On rereading it, I guess I didn't emphasise enough how nice my examiners were. They both seemed interested in the work and the criticisms were all constructive and fair, I felt. While I am glad it's over, it wasn't completely unenjoyable. And the internal, at least, said he thought I did well.