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Probably about a decade or more ago now, I remember John Farnham went on a tour called ‘The Last Time’. I have never been a huge fan of his music, but I feel a strange, nostalgic, brotherly kind of bond with him now, because I’m up to my last chapter.

It’s a long, boring, theory chapter and needs a lot of work. It’s due at 5:30pm this Friday. I got off to a good start yesterday, but I have a lot of work to do on it if I want to get it done on time. I don’t fancy still being stuck with this next weekend. I’m running out of time and I need to get started on my editing as soon as I possibly can.

So, this is going to be a week of hell. It doesn’t help that tomorrow afternoon is going to be ‘wasted’ (at least for me) teaching undergrads, plus there’s the added nuisance of everyday life chores, like eating and sleeping and showering. I feel like I’m in a race against time and winning is against all odds.

I’m probably going to be at home with my nose in a book, but I’m hoping RT will stream it live.

He’s given assorted interviews over the past 6 months, plus his new book Cypherpunks has recently come out, but rumor has it tonight’s address is going to contain a few surprises. Oh, the anticipation! What will we hear next? More details about the plan to join the Aussie senate? Launching the new WikiLeaks political party?

For all the festivities and fun of the season, it’s a shame we still live in a world where Assange is holed up in an embassy he can’t leave, still hasn’t been charged with any crime, and is probably worse for wear in terms of his physical health. It’s sad that we live in a world where people – peace heroes like Manning – who dare to show the public the war crimes committed by governments are preyed on by liberty-forsaking powers and hidden away in classified locations for weeks, months, years on end.

Whatever Assange says tonight, I hope we will soon see both him and Manning, and all people struggling against political persecution in their quest to show us an alternative view of the world, free to speak their minds and free to do what they believe is right.

 

 

 

Years ago, I think some time in the mid-1990s, there used to be a TV commercial in Australia for Pantene shampoo. Mandatorily for a shampoo commercial, it contained a woman (in this case Rachel Hunter) with long, squeeky-clean hair, smiling and twirling about and flicking her hair over her shoulder, which soared gracefully in slow motion through the air, catching the light and shining its dazzling shine before settling softly on her back. Then the voiceover would say, “Pantene. For hair so healthy, it shines.” Then the camera would cut back to Rachel, who, gently caressing her hair, would say: It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

If you don’t remember it or haven’t seen it, you can watch it at the link below. It’s hilarious. And it has obviously had a large enough impact to be available on Youtube today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EweM_ILVt4

Anyway, after finding out the external examiner I wanted for my viva wouldn’t be coming, I got to thinking about this commercial’s tagline and to what extent, if any, it might apply to PhD students’ motivation. If you haven’t started thinking about your thesis examiners yet, trust me, it’s nerve-wracking. Usually it all goes well at the end, but until you come to a point in your viva where the examiners have both agreed to examine you, you’ve waited out the 6 to 8 weeks that you have to wait out for them to read the thesis, they’ve made it to the viva without catching on fire, being kidnapped, or succumbing to bubonic plague, and the ice has been broken between them and yourself, it is nerve-wracking. In the months leading up to the viva, which I’m in the middle of waiting out right now, it feels like the frustration caused by knock-backs and hiccups in the planning will go on forever and I will never make any progress, and all the rejections from countless examiners will eventually lead to me going mad and being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, never to see the light of day again.

Sometimes it really feels like it’s never going to happen. ‘It’ being whatever short- or long-term goal I’m trying to achieve at any given time, particularly ones for which I must rely partly or wholly on other people. I hate commitment because ‘other people’ often includes people who are unreliable, unknowledgeable, careless, and disinterested, however well-meaning they might be. There are so many things out of my control that could go wrong. My examiners – even if we eventually find them and get them to actually agree to examine me – might catch on fire, be kidnapped, or succumb to bubonic plague on exactly the day of my viva. Worse than this, I might catch on fire, be kidnapped, or succumb to bubonic plague on exactly the day of my viva.

Then the whole thing would be postponed until goodness knows when – if I struggle for 3 weeks to get just two of my supervisors to a meeting at the same time on the same day, I guess it could take months to co-ordinate two completely unacquainted professors, one of whom is based elsewhere in Europe.

Suddenly a hologram of Rachel Hunter pops up in my head. It won’t happen overnight, she says, but it will happen.

I burst into laughter.

Whatever happens folks, we’re getting there. We’re taking steps forward and getting it wrong, then changing direction, realising we’ve walked around in a circle, then moving forward again. We’re going to get there in the end.

It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

I appreciate that the systems that exist for examining PhD theses differ from place to place. In the US, candidates go through (what seems to me, at least) a very strange system of ‘quals’, research, defense, and thesis submission, and that’s only what I’ve learnt implicitly from reading PhD Comics. Then in Australia the examination is by reading only, meaning candidates never have a face-to-face oral examination (what you’d call a ‘viva’) and their thesis is read and graded on its own merits. This has both pros and cons, because although you never have the stress (and terror and anxiety and nervous breakdowns and jelly-like knees) that comes with experiencing an oral examination, you might have an equally uncomfortable time trying to perfect your thesis to the finest detail because you won’t get a chance to clarify or discuss anything in a meeting.

In the UK, PhD theses are examined by both reading and questioning. After thesis submission, usually in about 4 to 6 weeks, the examiners read and write independent preliminary reports on the thesis, and a date for a viva is then arranged. On the day of the viva, the candidate, the internal examiner and external examiner, and, depending on the regulations of the university, sometimes also the supervisor(s) and the Chair of examiners attend the meeting and both of the examiners question the candidate about different aspects of the thesis. Depending on how the examiners jointly evaluate both the thesis and the candidate’s performance at the viva, they then make a recommendation for the outcome of the examination (for example, for the candidate to pass, to pass with corrections, to be awarded an MPhil, or to fail). The university then approves the recommendation.

Because the examination panel most usually consists of one internal and one external examiner, this sets the candidate and supervisors the delightful task of locating, researching and successfully engaging an appropriate external examiner, given that the external examiner traditionally takes the ‘lead’ in the viva and has a bit more leverage in the final recommendation.

Establishing an external examiner isn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped. Thinking in a straightforward way, you would simply find the person whose qualifications and theoretical expertise mostly closely matched your thesis and have them examine you, and the viva would be a straightforward, standardised procedure of observing whether you can explain and justify the points made in the thesis.

But of course, in the real world, it just doesn’t work like that. Finding examiners in the real world is an absurd, bordering-on-clinically-insane process involving intense background research, personality checks, cyberstalking, gossiping with former students, and attempting to approach them anonymously at conferences and other professional meetings to get an idea of their character. Yes, apparently many academics who are perfectly sane and normal in everyday life become savage, rabid thesis-gobbling monsters when put into a room opposite a cowering PhD candidate.

Cute.

So now that I’ve got a few names on my list of externals, I’m in the process of doing intense background research for each of them, which is a professional way of saying I am cyberstalking them in every conceivable corner of the Internet to gain some picture of their likes and dislikes, and what strikes their fancy.

I am not insane. Postgraduate forums across the web report countless horror stories of candidates being eaten alive by overly harsh examiners, often because they and their supervisors just chose the wrong person.

Really, I am not mad.

So far, I have found out that my first choice for external likes Bob Dylan, cosmology, and intelligent science fiction. I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to do with this information, since my thesis has nothing to do with Bob Dylan, cosmology, or intelligent science fiction (unless the research itself could be classed as intelligent science fiction, though personally I don’t think it’s that intelligent). So, I’m just going to note it all down and tell my supervisors about it and see what we come up with.

And I won’t even get started on the absurdity of the internal examiner. They sound like someone you’d expect to see in a gynaecologist’s office.

Friend of WikiLeaks

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!