I’ve been preoccupied with work and haven’t had a blogging groove this week, but The Colonel’s last post about students giving gifts has led to a thread about students bringing smorgasbordly food-spreads to their thesis and dissertation defenses. If Scatterplot contributes to reducing this practice, I would feel like this blog had made a worthy contribution to academickind. (Bringing cookies is fine but not obliged; donuts instead of cookies, even better.)
But: regarding thesis or dissertation defenses, what about the practice of delivering a presentation about your thesis or dissertation at the beginning of the defense? I’ve seen these range from 3-5 minutes to a student who went over a half hour, largely reading selections from a paper I had just read, with the advisor looking on as if this was not a thoroughgoing waste of everyone’s time. I’m not sure if this custom exists to give cover to those faculty who show up to the defense without having read the student’s work, so they can formulate some questions based on the presentation. In economics, perhaps this is the case, as I’m not sure what the norm is there for how much attention committee members other than the chair are expected to give to a student’s work.* Me, I read the thesis or dissertation beforehand, and so I sit there wonder what the point is of hearing a presentation on something I’ve already read. I suppose it may help the student feel more comfortable by giving them the opportunity to speak first, although then it seems at least the presentation should be kept quite brief.
* As an assistant professor, I was asked last minute to be on a dissertation committee in economics. I still read the thesis, especially because I wanted to have a couple of informed questions and not contribute to the view that quantitative sociology is just the unfortunate moron cousin of economics. The student does his presentation, and then the ordering of questioners is going to be: economist, economist, me, and economist/chair. The first economist says, “I pass.” My thought: You can pass?! Then the second economist also says, “I pass, too.” I sure as hell was not going to pass, myself, but I did just ask one of my two questions. I have no idea if having committee members “pass” is normal or unusual in economics.
Special bonus addendum for those who followed the jump: In reaction to abarian’s comment on the previous post, maybe we should have a regular feature on Scatterplot where we take something that a graduate student has heard about academia or professionalization or etiquette or whatever, and we consider whether we think it’s true or an academic urban legend.