Prospectus Defense

I think I might have found a day and time for my dissertation prospectus defense that works for everyone: 28 January at 3:00. Actually, it's not exactly a defense, more like a chance for everyone on my committee to get together and discuss my project. My understanding is that most of the feedback given during these meetings is intended to help narrow the scope of the project to something the student can actually do in ~1.5 years, or two years if you want to count last semester, during which I took a writing practicum in the Women's Studies department and workshopped draft after draft of my prospectus.

Does anyone have any advice for me? Committee members have already told me I'll need to do a ten-minute presentation at the beginning and talk through the prospectus, and my wonderful professor from the writing practicum suggested doing an intellectual genealogy of the project, prefacing the talk by explaining why I'm interested in doing a feminist rhetorical analysis of political discourse on weblogs, my personal interest in the project. I think, too, that right after the meeting I'll run to my office and type up their spoken comments while they're fresh in my mind. And I'm going to bring snacks. And try not to get discouraged by the criticism. Anything else? It would help a lot.


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Some ideas

My temptation when facing what might seem like an onslaught of criticism/feedback is to take copious notes. But I think it can be a mistake to rely on trying to listen, think and write all at once. Sometimes it can be good to bring a recorder, and then just sit there and listen, really listen to what they're saying, and make one-word-type notes only. It's amazing what you can miss. You could be digesting something really interesting, and totally miss the great follow-up remark by someone else.

I think it's a great idea to write down your thoughts immediately afterwards. Then, once that's done, listen to the recording -- all the way through, without stopping. Then do it again, because if you're like me, the first time hearing it you'll be smacking yourself in the forehead over things you said.

One of the greatest things to enter my life has been internet-basesd communication -- email, BBS, blogs -- not so much because of their reach and cost-effectiveness, but rather because of their asynchronous nature. I learned a lot about myself when I realized I was preferring emails to voice messages. My childhood and early adulthood had neither. Once I had email, suddenly I seemed to be more on top of things.

Asynchronous communication allows you to digest material when you're ready. And it's there for review, if needed. This kind of thing always has been there in books and, to an extent, journals. But not until the last 20 years have we had ways of communicating asychronously (outside of letters, which are rather slow for exchanging information and ideas in this day and age).

I guess this is a long way of saying that, by recording the session, you will gain a valuable resource to which you may find yourself going back again and again.

Good luck! (Break a leg!)


This was the easiest part amd one of the more pleasant memories of my whole grad school experience, thanks to a supportive advisor, which it sounds like you have. I second the idea of having a recorder (who is also a friend) there to take notes--good ideas will fly around the room which you won't be able to remember entirely. It is, to a large extent, a brainstorming activity if you have good people involved.

All of this is university - s

All of this is university - specific, of course, but your prospectus is your map. The more solid it is, the better you will be when you sit down to write. So I don't think it's a good idea to start with a general idea. What's the reason for your project/the context/the disciplinary issues at stake/the broader interest, application/etc. It's time to narrow your ideas down on your own.

What will each chapter focus on?

The presentation of a prospectus - different at each school. At UF (with my director, at least), it came during the oral exams, at the end of the oral exam. You then shifted to a narrative of the project, and the prospectus outlined how you would proceed chapt by chapt.

A 20 minute narrative - how I came to this, why I am doing this, where I will go now - is very helpful b/c the 20 minute presentation is something you have to internalize (it's the conference talk, the job talk, the interview talk, etc).

It sounds like you're waiting for the committee to tell you what to do. Is that UM specific?


Narrow to narrower

I think the point of the meeting is for the committee to intervene collectively in the project early on, in a face-to-face setting. It's brainstorming, as the anonymous commenter said. I have summaries of the chapters, etc. and a focus that I think is already narrow, but I get the sense that most people come out of their prospectus defense having narrowed the topic further.

It seems to be the norm in my department to have a prospectus that's about 20-30 pages long, with a preliminary literature review, explanation of theoretical framework, methods section, timeline, summary of chapters, bibliography, and "sample analysis," which is like a demo of what the student will do. For example, here's a blog post and here's how I plan to analyze it (what I'll be looking for, how it connects to the theory and my argument, etc.).

Snacks are not allowed.

Snacks are not allowed.

more on defense

Sorry, Clancy, that was me (cindy--redbird) being anonymous. I forgot to login, and then forgot my password and was too lazy to look it up ;-)

Snacks would have definitely been allowed at mine, but my advisor was very cool. In fact, when we all walked into the faculty lounge where it was scheduled and I said, "I hate this room," he said, "Me, too." We all ended up in his office. He let me have a friend there. It was totally laidback, and truly a "let's throw ideas around" thing.

Maybe this really is advisor-specific more than institution-specific.

28th didn't work

Sigh. I'm trying for 4 February now.

4th didn't work either

I'm just sick about this. Very upset and feeling physically ill. The soonest I can defend now is 23 February, which could very well render me ineligible for a fellowship I wanted to apply for. Ineligible, because I couldn't get five people in the same room at the same time. I put the offer on the table to cancel my classes one day if necessary so that we can do the defense sooner.

I'm in this awful limbo state. How many times am I going to cry today?

So sorry to hear it Clancy.

So sorry to hear it Clancy. I'm getting ready to defend my diss proposal as well (3 of 4 committee members, including my chair, have said yes, move it forward), and I'm dreading the process of trying to get all the principles in line. Sorry to hear you're having as much of a trial as I've heard it can be. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you!

Thanks for the sympathy.

I'm feeling a lot better about it now; the 23rd works for everyone, and each committee member is going to sign my form pre-prospectus defense so that my fellowship app eligibility isn't in jeopardy. The Graduate School doesn't require a prospectus defense, only the department, so getting the signatures beforehand isn't a problem.

So glad to hear it -- excitin

So glad to hear it -- exciting!! Go Clancy!!

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