Watch a dissertation defense...LIVE

feeding vole.jpg

Do you like prairie voles? Are you curious about the process of earning a Ph.D.? Possibly just a touch of both?

Then tune in today, starting at 10 central, for what Science magazine's Science Careers Blog is calling the first live-streamed dissertation defense (at least, that they've ever heard of).

The adventurous academic is Danielle Lee of the University of Missouri, St. Louis. The dissertation is entitled: An Investigation of Behavioral Syndromes and Individual Differences in Exploratory Behavior of Prairie Voles, Microtus ochrogaster. There was some talk of live Tweets as well. However, Lee says she won't be Tweeting, herself, during the defense (that would be just a little crazy multi-tasky, wouldn't it?), but she is up for answering your questions once everything has been successfully defended. Just Tweet them with the hashtag #LeeDefense. Good luck, Danielle!

Streaming video of Danielle Lee's dissertation defense

Pictured: The prairie vole, one of nature's most adorable research subjects. Originally found on the animal behavior Web site of Verna Case, Ph.D.


    1. I think this is actually really interesting. I’ve always wondered what happens during a dissertations and I’m excited to watch anybody get passionate about research they love. And I don’t even really care that much about voles. But, as per usual, YMMV.

  1. Slashdotted?

    I think it would be great to have an extensive video archive of dissertation defenses and public internet access to dissertations and health care for all the humans on earth. Just guessing, but I bet all those things are a generation or more off. The technical obstacles are small compared to over coming the entrenched interests in the status quo.

  2. …I’m not quite sure what’s the big mystery here – she’ll just be giving a 50-60 min talk about her research over the last five years or so, afterward thank her advisor and lab members, thank her family for their support, get teary eyed and nostalgic, answer a few polite questions from faculty members in the audience as well as other audience members and that’s it. She will probably be further questioned behind closed doors a little more by her thesis committee, usually in a convivial and faux serious manner, and then come out and have some champagne, cookies and cheese cubes. In any case, congrats Dr. Lee!

    1. I don’t claim to know the process but I know a couple of people who have had their Ph.D rejected and have had to try again. Maybe it’s different depending on your field?

      1. Usually, at least in the sciences, when you get to the point where you are presenting your PhD thesis defense, your thesis committee has basically agreed to grant you your PhD and the talk/questions is just a formality. If they didn’t think your stuff was up to snuff, they wouldn’t let you defend until it was (maybe your friends were at this stage?). I’ve never heard of any thesis being rejected outright at this stage.

      2. What she said. Once you’re presenting publicly, and not just to the thesis committee, it’s almost certainly going through.


        1. Well, that’s good to know.

          My wife will be getting started on her BA honours thesis, in preparation for getting started on her masters. She’ll be happy to hear that the dissertation is less of a pressure situation than she has been lead to believe.

          Always good to have one less thing to stress about. :D

  3. I think this is actually really interesting, it just sucks that I have a lecture to attend and the lecture hall does not have wireless. I would love to watch it though.

    Hopefully there will be a video I could watch afterward.

  4. I’m a PhD candidate and have attended several dissertations over the last few years. At my uni the dissertation is mostly a formality, but there is still always the possibility of not passing it. To give your dissertation and then have it rejected would be very, verrrry embarrassing for your primary adviser. Generally, if you’re adviser gives you the go-ahead to defend, then you’re going to be ok.

  5. Hey, neato. I’m defending my dissertation in two weeks! Typically, yes, if you get to this point, it’s basically just a formality, but you do have an outside reader for a reason. It’s always possible (just very rare) to fail a defense.

  6. For what it’s worth, Brian McNely, now a professor at Ball State, broadcast his dissertation defense at Texas-El Paso last June using Ustream. I don’t know whether it was the first, but, whatever the case, it is encouraging to see greater transparency in academic processes.

  7. Wow. Afterward, do we get to see a live stream of her working 80 hrs a week as an adjunct for $24,000 a year, while her administration increases class size and then eventually fires her? That would be interesting.

  8. I’m a PhD student, and all of the defenses I’ve been to for the last 4 years have been live streamed for a relation in a different part of the world. I think it is only novel in that Science picked it up.

  9. Meh. For those non-PhDs in the audience, the process looks like this:
    1) Write the dissertation. While you’re writing, your supervisor will critique chapters. This process takes as long as it takes until you and the supervisor agree that it’s relatively done.
    2) Send it to the rest of the committee (usually 2 other people). They return their critiques and you write your revisions. Repeat as necessary.
    3) Official Committee Meeting, at which all committee members and the candidate agree that Yes, By Gosh By Golly, We Have Thesis!
    4) The thesis is sent to an external examiner, from another university, who has had no prior involvement whatsoever with the candidate. S/he reads for a couple of months and writes an extensive report/review.
    5) The report is sent to all the committee members and the candidate. At this point, the candidate is forbidden from discussing the review with anyone, including their supervisor.
    5a) If the report is negative, the supervisor can call off the defense, find a new external, and loop back to step 4. Rare, but it happens (e.g., the thesis refutes the external’s life’s work).
    6) Defense Day: The committee, the external, and another professor who serves as chair convene, there is a formality where they candidate is asked to leave while the committee is polled on the report. The candidate returns, gives a short presentation on the thesis findings (in my faculty it’s a strict 20-minute time limit), and then is questioned by each committee member in turn, beginning with the external and ending with the supervisor. Each member has 10 minutes. There is a second round of 10-minute questions and responses (which a member may pass). The candidate is excused, and the committee meets in camera to decide the outcome.
    6a) Possible outcomes: Pass as-is – jump immediately to 7. Pass with minor changes – this means that there are minor, usually editorial changes that the supervisor can okay. Pass with major changes – this means a rewrite of a major section which needs a subcommittee of two members to okay. Fail – this means that the candidate has one year to submit a new thesis and stand for a new defense. A second fail means no degree. By the time of the defense, it is very rare to fail, since the committee should have passed it before sending to the external; hence 3 votes in favour, AND the external’s position should be known via the report.
    7) Celebrate. Note: no mention of “profit.” At this point, it’s no more funding, often unemployment (job market for academics is dismal right now), and interestingly, the social capital wrapped up in HAVING a PhD is less than that in DOING a PhD. Weird, I know…

    My own defense is coming up in a couple of months. I’m doing a public department defense in a couple of weeks, which is going to be Skype-cast for my remote research participants and friends.

  10. thanks for this post. It’s great. my labmate/tech support told me she saw a note in live feed chat about the BoingBoing mention. Great post and cutest pic of a vole. And the defense went well. I hope you were able to catch the defense and understand the presentation.

    DNLee, PhD

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