Monday, March 28, 2016

what is a dissertation defense?

As my big day approaches (April 1st! No joke!), friends are asking, "What does it mean to defend your dissertation? You're done, right? Aren't you graduating in May?"

Yes and no and maybe.

In short, I'll find out on Friday afternoon if I'm graduating this year. It depends on how my defense goes.

Every school handles this a bit differently. Here's how it works at Wheaton:

First we think up an idea that needs further research. It has to be a project that hasn't been done yet. We write up a 20-page proposal for the project, plus another 10 pages of bibliography for sources we plan to read to get us started. When our day comes, we have a "proposal defense" or "proposal hearing," in which all the PhD faculty and students gather. They will have read our proposals beforehand. After a brief introduction, members of the faculty ask questions and make suggestions for how to improve our research agenda. Usually this involves narrowing the project considerably so that we're not biting off more than we can chew. At Wheaton this happens during the spring of our first year in the program, while we're in the middle of taking classes. If we pass, we're cleared to begin work on it. I passed my proposal defense on April 11, 2012.

We spend YEARS researching and writing a dissertation (in my case, four years). In the end, the body of the project needs to be under 100,000 words long (roughly 300 pages), plus bibliography. (Yes, I know. That's long enough to be a book. It is a book, and most of them get published.) While we're researching and writing, we work closely with our doctoral adviser and our "second reader," another member of Wheaton's faculty who agrees to read and respond to our work. When the project is complete and both readers are satisfied that it's ready to "defend," we turn in a "defense draft." I submitted mine last month.

While that's a major milestone, it is not the end of the process.

Copies of the defense draft are sent to all the committee members: the doctoral advisor, the committee chair, the second reader, and an "external reader" from outside the Wheaton community who agrees to travel to Wheaton for the defense. Another copy of the defense draft is placed in the PhD seminar room for students and faculty to read (in all their spare time). Forty-five days later, all the PhD students and faculty gather on campus for the defense (no visitors allowed, including family). Except for the doctoral advisor, who must remain silent, the student's committee members are seated in the front of the room with the student, facing each other. They are given 90 minutes to ask questions and offer critique of the student's dissertation. The student "defends" his or her work by offering explanation, clarification, push back, etc, or in some cases, agrees that something needs to be changed. After 90 minutes, the students are all dismissed to wait outside while the faculty deliberate and decide if the student's work is rigorous enough to earn a doctoral degree.

Most students who make it this far in the process pass, but many are required to do more revisions before they turn in a final copy. So even if my defense on Friday is successful, it won't be the end of the process. I'll need to take the feedback I receive and incorporate it into my project until the committee members are satisfied. Then I'll need to send it on to a "technical reader" who carefully checks for compliance with the style guide and identifies typos. All that back-and-forth can take months, after which I'll finally receive my diploma.

If I pass on Friday, I can walk in the May graduation even if I have more revisions to do, but I won't get a real diploma until the revisions are completely finished and I've submitted a final copy.

Who are my readers?

Daniel Block - my doctoral advisor (or doktorvater)
Karen Jobes - my (former) second reader, now retired, but still planning to attend the defense
Sandra Richter - my (new) second reader
Richard Averbeck - my external reader
Marc Cortez - my committee chair

Why is it such a long and complicated process?

If a PhD were easy to get, it wouldn't be worth much. Extreme pressure yields more learning, and it helps to ensure that anyone who has those three letters behind their name has truly earned the right to teach adult students. If I could turn back the clock and someone offered me the credentials without having to go through a program like this first I would say "NO WAY." This has been a really important (long) season of growth and learning. I've come to know and love the scholarly community that I am joining, and I'm so grateful for the journey!

So how do I feel about the defense?

Really grateful to be so close to the end. I feel like I'm pregnant and just days away from my due date. I fully expect the next part of the process will be painful (defenses usually are, at some level), but in a matter of days, I'll have my baby and I can be done with this pregnancy and leave the pain behind. Let's do this!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

the gift and cost of social media

Perhaps you've noticed. (More likely not.)
I haven't blogged much lately.

At first, it was because I finally joined Facebook. That took up much of my discretionary time. Finding and "friending" friends from all the places we've lived was quite an undertaking. Looking at their family photos and reading their walls and checking my newsfeed filled more hours. Within a week I had 300 friends. Within a month 500. Now two months have passed and I have over 600 friends, though I haven't been actively looking for more and have yet to scour my contacts for those I've missed. It all happened too fast to properly "catch up" on each one's journey. I told myself it was a "training" period, and that life would get back to normal. That I would find a new and sustainable rhythm. That I would get back to blogging. But weeks passed.

Other factors interfered.

Mere days after I joined Facebook, George Fox asked me to teach a class for them immediately. I scrambled to put together a syllabus, fill out all the paperwork, and get ready for classes to start. With less than 2 weeks' notice to prepare, this left little time for blogging.

Then there was Danny's 10-day trip to Thailand and my looming dissertation deadline (now past), the girls' theatre performance (see Facebook for details :)), my parents' visit from out of town, a series of meetings at church, etc, etc.

Life has been busy enough that my virtual disappearance from this blog is justifiable. But what's been nagging at me is that time itself cannot explain my silence. On many a quiet evening I could have been blogging, but I didn't. Why not?

My swirling thoughts have coalesced around two reasons. The first is personal, but the second may point to issues more universal.

First, I am teaching. I find that having a regular "outlet" -- real people with whom I can speak about deeper issues -- brings enough satisfaction that I feel less compelled to write. I found this to be true last spring as well, while teaching at Multnomah. I am still speaking, thinking, teaching, but the venue has shifted from blog to classroom. ("Carmen, you mean to say that you blog because you need to write, not because we need to read?" "Um, yes. If you benefit, too, that's a bonus.")

The second issue is deeply ironic. A big reason that I joined Facebook was to have a naturally wider network with which to share my blog posts. I had noticed that whenever a friend re-posted one of my blog posts on Facebook I had a LOT more readers. I figured if I was going to take the time to write, all my real-life friends should know about it, not just the few who think to check my blog. However, Facebook has not only swallowed up time that I could be blogging, but it's sapped the reflective impulse as well. These days, if I have a share-able thought I can release it to the world in a matter of moments -- a few sentences and I'm done. This preempts the deeper reflection and harder work of developing a blog post worth reading. This one, for example, has already taken me more than 30 minutes took me over an hour. I could have made the same point on Facebook in a matter of seconds:

"I joined Facebook so that I could share my blog with all of you. But now I have no time to blog, so all you get is a picture of what I ate for dinner."

Facebook can also leave me feeling scattered. Between birthday parties and memes and videos mocking Donald Trump and articles about ADHD and funny pet stories, I lack the singularity of focus that writing a blog post requires.

It's not all bad. I've done a lot more "listening" over the past 2 months. Facebook has become a virtual reunion, as I've reconnected with friends from all the places where I've lived -- Colorado, Oregon, the Philippines, North Carolina, Illinois -- who are themselves scattered the world over. That is such a gift.

What I didn't expect was deeper connections with people right here in my own community. After all, I was mostly joining Facebook for the far away folks that I won't see in church on Sunday. But pretty quickly I found "friends" from church as well, and we're still new enough here that it's helping me keep names and faces straight and enhancing conversations at fellowship time between services. ("Congrats on your new . . . "; "I was sorry to see that . . . "; "How was your big meeting this week?")

Another fun surprise has been the professional networking. Instead of seeing colleagues once a year an academic conference, I am glimpsing the rhythm of their life and work the whole year through, and I'm seeing them more holistically -- as real people with families and birthdays and ministry involvement and vacations. In the long run, I think this is a win-win.

In the meantime, I still need to find a sustainable rhythm for Facebook and Blogger that will help me stay connected without disrupting deeper reflection. If anyone out there has ideas, message me or leave a comment below. I'm going to post this post on Facebook and call it a day...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pacific Northwest Regional ETS Meeting

Calling all evangelical pastors, theologians, and biblical scholars in Oregon and Washington! 

The NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society will be held 

at Multnomah University
8435 NE Glisan Street
Portland, OR 

Dr. Karen Jobes, Professor Emerita, Wheaton College
Non-members are welcome to attend this stimulating day of paper presentations, including a plenary address by Dr. Karen Jobes, professor emerita of Wheaton College. Her talk is entitled, “It Is Written: The Septuagint and Our Doctrine of Scripture.” Dr. Jobes is known for her work on the Septuagint, her commentaries on 1 Peter and the Johannine epistles, her participation on the NIV translation committee, and a lengthy list of other professional accomplishments. Last year her commentary on the Johannine epistles earned the Christian Book Award for "Best in Bible Reference"!

Until her retirement last year, Dr. Jobes was a member of my dissertation committee and I had the honor of working as her research assistant during my last semester on campus. I assisted her in the writing and editing of a guided reader on the Septuagint, due out this month from Kregel Academic. 

I'm thrilled to welcome Dr. Jobes to the Pacific Northwest. You are warmly invited to join us! The cost is only $10. More information is available here.