Status update

I’m parroting this week’s episode of This American Life in my post’s title because it applies so aptly right now. My “About Me” section begins with this disclaimer:

“Warning! I am NOT an expert (yet)!”

I initially wrote it to point out that I was still a student, still learning my way around the desert, how to do research, and a lot of other things, frankly. Over the past six and a half years, I have learned a lot. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my research questions and how to answer them. I have some answers and some estimates of how confident I am in them. I am a little bit of an expert on some of these questions and organisms by now.

Next week I face a milestone marking how much I have learned. On Thursday, I am scheduled to defend my dissertation in a public presentation, followed by a closed-door oral exam by my committee:

The official College of Science flyer for my public talk.
The official College of Science flyer for my public talk.

This is the final major ritual in earning a Ph.D. for most programs (besides making revisions to your dissertation suggested by the committee and filing the paperwork) to confer a status of “Doctor.” Preparing for it is a lot of work, but has been a great opportunity to look up from the details of the analyses to reconnect with the big questions I am trying to answer.

A brief guide to the dissertation defense: Instead of an “oral exam,” this requirement is commonly referred to as just a “defense,” leading some friends to ask me what crime I have been charged with. The defense is one of the few features of a doctoral program common across fields and universities, leading to parodies (I hope) like this FAQ On the Snake Fight Portion and to comics like this one:

After marking this milestone, I may feel compelled to admit to being a bit of an expert, at least on predator avoidance behavior, dancing mice, and invasive buffel grass. But this blog will continue to be a place for me to post un-reviewed, anecdotal stories. And one thing is certain: regardless of any status update, I plan to  keep on learning.

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