Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Thesis Report! Thesis Report!

Today was the big day: I defended my thesis. 

It ended up being such a weird day (in part because of the timing of the thesis defense) that Phoebe completely skipped having a nap (she really did great all day but was quite ready for bed at bedtime). 

My defense went well. First my committee and I chatted about a few things—a terrible flight from Europe back to the States, having to pay $20,000 to have a number of trees removed from a backyard after this last series of storms that came through, things like that. None of that had anything to do with my thesis at all, but it's good to shoot the breeze for a bit. 

Then I was sent to a private room to twiddle my thumbs while they discussed whether I should pass the written portion, which I did. 

Then I had to give a presentation about my thesis and expand on other areas that I would have liked to write about (but didn't) and things like that. Then we discussed various parts of my thesis, my committee members asked questions, I tried to answer those questions, and then...I was sent away again while they deliberated about whether or not I passed the oral portion of my thesis...which I did.

Then we got back together to talk about future plans (which might just involve a little more school, but which for now just involve taking a deep breath). They also gave me advice about how to turn my thesis into either a series of articles or a book—ideas that could use further development, claims that could use more bravery behind them.

That was the biggest piece of advice: "If you’re going to publish, you’re going to need to make bolder claims. Make bold claims."

That's excellent advice for me because if anything I lack the confidence to do...a lot. I ended up changing one of my research questions because I didn't feel like my theoretical framework set me up to discuss it intelligently (and, to be fair, it did not), so I took a different angle and then changed my research question. I could have talked about those things, I said in my presentation, but I would have needed to bolster my framework and literature review in order to do so, because who am I to talk about such things?

(Such things being: genocide, civil war, world wars, feminism, etc.)

One of my committee members said, "Who are you? You're Nancy Heiss and you're an expert on this stuff. You've spent months learning and analyzing and you know what you're talking about. Don't be afraid to tell people what you know."

So, I need to make bolder claims. And that's hard for me because...I don't know why...because I truly feel like there is so much to know in the world and I...know so little of it. And also, perhaps, because I tend to take criticism to heart and have been told on multiple occasions that I come off as an insufferable know-it-all, which always felt like a strange criticism to me because I'm always about 99% sure I don't know things, but to compensate for the fact that I might be behaving like I know everything (which I don't), I undersell my ideas (or use too many direct quotations from others to bolster my ideas which end up drowning out my own thoughts, because heaven forbid I should think something on my own and assert that it could be an accurate claim).

Anyway, all in all the defense was a sweat-inducing affair (seriously, you should have seen my underarms when I was through) that really challenged me to put my imposter syndrome in a strangle hold for a couple of hours while I explained to a panel of my superiors why the work I had done was good.

In the end I passed, with no (as in zero) revisions requested. The only suggestions, as mentioned, were how to further the work beyond a master's thesis. 

So I'm very glad that I don't have any changes to make (though I know I have a few things that I need to touch up before I can submit it officially) and that I can start plotting life beyond this program. It's amazing to think that this was just a dream of mine for so many years, and then it was a long slog, and now I'm just...finished with it. And so full of gratitude for everyone who helped make it happen (but probably especially Andrew). 


  1. Congratulations! What is your goal? Do you want to teach or write books or publish articles? All of the above? I thought you were in some sort of children's literature program, but I can't remember for sure.

  2. Congratulations, Nancy! Your combination of scholarly prowess with recognition of limitations on knowledge is simply magnificent.