Not by carrier pigeon

I got the question yesterday: How long until you are done with your dissertation. I gave a detailed answer about the number of chapters drafted (2) versus the number of chapters planned (6) and a time slot during which 1 or 2 more chapters might get done. At this point the person gave up asking more.  What is funny to me is that this is just the part of the process I can control; I can control how long it takes me to draft my dissertation. The part I cannot control is how long it takes my dissertation committee to approve my dissertation.

Every university has a "doctoral defense" system, where a PhD candidate has to answer questions posed directly to them by a panel of experts in their field. In most schools, this is done in an oral setting (sometimes public) and usually lasts a couple of hours.

At UC Berkeley, I submit a written copy of my dissertation to my three or four dissertation committee members. They they proceed to make notes and comments and suggestions and questions about everything and anything they want to make notes or comments or suggestions or questions about. This process has no time limit on it; it is not a matter of me submitting it once for approval. Rather, it is an ungoing process, with drafts and submissions and resubmissions, until every person on my committee is satisfied that my dissertation is acceptable.

Anyhow, I like to explain to people that it is not like I just tie it to a pigeon and send it off into the world. It gets a lot more hands on engagement than that.


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