Friday, April 28, 2017

Defending Your Thesis

So you’re making your way through the thesis hours, and looming ahead of you is the defense, and then graduation.  Your thesis is pretty much done, or at least going into later drafts, and yet there’s so much more left in this semester.

Take a deep breath.  Now let it out.  This won’t be as hard as it looks.

The thesis defense sounds more dramatic and difficult than it actually is.  If your thesis committee didn’t genuinely believe you were ready for this, you wouldn’t have gotten this far.  This isn’t just because they’re fond of you – it doesn’t reflect particularly well on them if a student makes it to the thesis defense and then doesn’t get through that obstacle.  They’re confident enough in you to stake at least a small part of their reputation on your performance.  Conversely, don’t assume this is something you’ll just blow through with no difficulty whatsoever.  They’ll grill you on your thesis, especially whatever you talk about in your thesis essay and how it relates to the rest of the work.  Study your own thesis essay a bit the night before, and try to consider how you might to elaborate on your points.

Go to the thesis defense, and give yourself plenty of time to arrive (preferably a little early).  Make yourself presentable, but don’t worry too much about dressing up – this is liberal arts academia.  When they send you out while they deliberate in private about your thesis, do something to help keep your mind occupied while you wait.  Browse Facebook.  Put in your headphones and listen to an old favorite song.  You won’t gain much from being alone with your thoughts while your professors decide your future.  And for heaven’s sake, bring the special pen.  Maybe a couple.

Your greatest remaining stumbling block is the bureaucracy.  Find the list of what you have to do to graduate on the English website.  Figure out what you haven’t done yet.  Every few days, check the list again.  Make sure nothing’s sneaking up on you.  Check your email daily.  If it gets stressful, take that deep breath again.  This is no big deal.  You’ve already done all the hard work.  No transmittal memorandum or binding fee has any right to put a stop to you now.

Take some time to enjoy yourself and reflect on how far you’ve come.  Walk around campus like you own the place; don’t hesitate to perfect that alumnus swagger.  Remember that you’re paying FAU (in some form) for services rendered.  You’re here to gain something.  An education, but it’s still something you worked for and are now receiving.  Take one more deep breath.  Now let it out.  Graduation awaits.  

Justin is a fiction student in the MFA program. He is graduating this Spring 2017.

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