Early in my graduate career, I was warned that the dissertation defense, a.k.a. “THE” culminating event to every graduate student’s career…is actually relatively anti-climactic. Defending my Ph.D. thesis…shouldn’t this feel incredible? Shouldn’t this be one of my most wonderful memories?
Anti-climactic? Not a chance. No, in my version of the post-defense, I envisioned the moment being characterized by a deafeningly-pure sort of cathartic bliss!! Or for those familiar with the song, “So Long, Lonesome” by Explosions in the Sky, I imagined the post-defense feeling like 2:30 to 3:20.
I admit it, though I am generally a non-dramatic person, my expectation of the defense was unabashedly over the top. And why shouldn’t it be? I loved my experience in grad school. I grew so much here, both professionally and personally!
And now, I have reached the end.
While the dissertation was not exactly the overly dramatic “The End” I imagined, I am happy to report that the defense experience was FAR from anti-climactic.
My Ph.D. advisor put it best. The defense is a celebration. It is a celebration of my achievements but more importantly, what I did not completely anticipate was that the defense would serve as my opportunity to celebrate the people that helped me get to this point.
Without a doubt, acquiring this degree is a truly collaborative effort. So, the defense became a celebration of my incredible P.I’s commitment to training well-prepared, broad-thinking and civically engaged scientists.
It became a celebration of my committee member’s efforts in shaping the direction of my research.
It became a celebration for my amazing friends who kept me sane throughout this entire process.
And lastly, it became a celebration for my parents.
My backstory: I am first-born, first-generation Chinese-Vietnamese. My parents gave up everything so that I would have the opportunity to pursue my dreams. As teenagers, they escaped from a war-torn country with next to no personal possessions. They risked everything by leaving–their safety included. They left behind their possessions, family members, and every comfort they knew…only to start completely over in a completely foreign country.
They took this risk simply so that my sisters and I would have the opportunity to pursue our dreams. So, I am here today with this incredible opportunity to pursue my passion in science because my parents were brave enough to risk it all to pursue their passion…The American dream.
So to bring it full circle, my dissertation defense was far from anti-climactic. This singular event brought together so many different people that I care deeply about and in doing so, I finally had the opportunity to give something back to all those who gave so much to me.
So, without a doubt, the dissertation defense– truly a celebration.