“I (somehow) do” – Academias version of a wedding: a summary of my PhD defense

A week ago (already!?) I successfully defended my PhD thesis at Lund University, and I truly enjoyed it. I was nervous the days (maybe weeks?) before and in the morning, but as I started giving my 30-minute presentation, the “whatever, now it’s not up to me anymore” feeling began taking over and I eventually slowed down to a comfortable speed. After presenting my whole thesis in a (hopefully) comprehensive way to the opponent, committee and the audience (largely consisting of friends and family), the opponent started to summarize the most important contributions of the thesis. Hearing someone else describe my four years worth of work and highlighting the contributions was really a positive experience that I had not expected and it gave me a boost of “research confidence” that I had lacked for the past few months. Then came the questions that were posed in such a way that it felt more like a discussion with a really interested colleague, rather than me defending myself against various attacks on my work. I had (nervously) prepared myself for much tougher questions but felt that the questions I got were very relevant and easy to answer since I know my thesis (that feeling is the best!).

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The presentation (photo: Hakim Abdi)

So here follows some of the questions that I got (if I remember correctly):

– Why did you use Enhanced Vegetation Index (paper II)?

– What was the problem with Myer’s projections of future environmental migrants that you refer to in paper IV? And could there be any point in making such bold and coarse projections?

– Could excluding the temporary migration from the migration data affect my results/conclusions? Does not temporary migration affect the landscape? (paper I)?

Then there were several questions about the interesting migration patterns from paper I, and the urban-rural trends, but I don’t really remember the exact questions.

The discussion (Photo: Hakim Abdi)

The discussion with opponent Tobias Kümmerle (photo: Hakim Abdi)

From the examination committee I remember the following questions:

– How long time in the field? More information about field experiences would be interesting to include in the thesis (maybe I should write a blog post only about field work!)

– How was the survey designed?

– Was the sample size enough to draw conclusions about migration and different villages (paper II)? (this was probably the toughest question)

– What are the strengths of combining methods from different disciplines as a single researcher compared to working in a multidisciplinary team?

– How are you planning to get your research results out to the public?

And finally: What are the error margins of the area estimates for cropland in paper III? And will adding error margins affect the conclusions drawn from the classification?

So the questions were quite diverse, some on methodology, some on the interpretation of the results, some on the knowledge of others’ works and some on the bigger picture.

All in all it took a bit more than two hours, but I didn’t notice that at all. After the defense was done the committee, the opponent and the supervisors gathered for about 20 minutes to discuss if I would pass or fail. At that time I felt that it had gone quite well and even though nothing could be taken for granted I couldn’t come up with a reason for not passing. Apparently they could not either. So after being skeptical about the academic world for a while, wondering if I belong here, I now feel that I somehow do, even though I still recognize the many non-scientific challenges in academia.

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