Probably the most exciting portions of my dissertation defense–at least to me–happened outside of the actual committee gathering. For a while there back in January, it looked like my defense would need to be delayed, perhaps substantially, due to a technicality. It turned out that the outside reader–the rare department faculty member at my grad school who was both outside my department and a specialist in my national field of study– wasn’t technically eligible to fulfill the required check-and-balance role, being not quite yet tenured. Two years after I had assembled my full committee and less than two weeks before the scheduled defense, I was scrambling to find a whole new faculty member willing to take on my 300 pager.
I think the demonstration of academic-bureaucratic kung foo it took to keep that defense on schedule actually helped a bit when it came to the “snake fight” portion of my defense. After eight years in the program, with five of them spent writing the diss, I had already pretty much done what I was capable of doing to ensure that my snake would be a small one.
It was also pretty crucial, I think, in terms of my ability to mount a full-strength defense. Pushing back the date by even a couple of weeks would have moved me deep into first trimester territory, a terrain that, for me, consists of exhaustion down to my very marrow. And far more head-on-the-pillow dreaming than clear thinking.
Because, have I mentioned? This happened in late January, eleven whole days before my defense.