In August 2011 Josh defended his doctoral dissertation. I came out to see the defense and to spend some time with him. I planned my trip so that I would get to State College a few days before his defense and then stayed for about a week. I thought that having the bulk of my visit be after the defense would be less stressful, but it turned out that I was wrong! Josh had to move out of his apartment and into his friends condo the weekend before his defense and he really could have used my help.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with graduate school, the last test you take to become a doctor is the dissertation. First, you write a document (the actual dissertation) that encompasses all of the research you have done over your graduate career. This process is grueling and usually takes 3-6 months. Once the document has been written, you have to give a 45 minute talk that sums up all of the major findings of your research. The dissertation defense is about equally important to most PhD candidates as the actual graduation ceremony and it is common for parents and loved ones to attend (even if they usually don’t understand one lick of it!) After the 45 minute talk there is a closed meeting between the candidate and their committee. The committee consists of the student’s advisor and usually 4 additional faculty members both from their department and from outside department. During this meeting any problems are addressed and questions are asked. The meeting can be as short as 30 minutes or several hours long. Once the committee decides you have passed and signs a paper declaring such, you are actually a doctor. You don’t have to go to graduation or anything.
Josh was extremely nervous but I didn’t really realize just how bad it was until the next day. If I had realized he was so anxious I would have made him give his presentation for me in the hotel room. That’s right, we were staying in a hotel room. That was because Josh had no furniture and was sleeping on an air mattress. Somehow, neither of us thought that sleeping on an air mattress the night before the dissertation was a terrific idea. Josh’s talk went great and his meeting was fairly short. While we were waiting for his meeting to let out his parents, lab mates and I prepared the break room for his congratulation party.
It is traditional to have a champagne toast at these kinds of parties.
Josh drank his champagne like a shot of tequila. I looked over and his glad had been emptied in one big gulp. Later, he had a terrible stomach ache and it was unclear if it was the nerves or his downing a glass of champagne in one gulp!
Josh loved this cake. He loves pork products and we all thought it was clever of Chelsea to label all the different parts of the pig. I think the cake was strawberry flavored and it was delicious.
Josh’s parents and brother came out for the defense. Afterwards we went out to dinner at the Penn Stater. We had a great buffet meal but Josh was still having stomach trouble so he barely ate anything. I thought I had more pictures with all of us, but they must have been taken on his parents’ camera.
Here are a couple of random pictures of Josh’s lab mates at the party.
Josh ended up not going to his actual graduation ceremony so I was glad I went to his defense. After dinner with his parents we went to sleep only to get up early to head out to Hershey. I can’t say it was fun (certainly not for Josh) but it was momentous and I was glad to be there for him.