Friday, October 17, 2008

Dissertation Angst

It's true: Finishing your project and writing the dissertation are not as hard as getting your jury together. At least in France.

Now, I know there are millions of graduate students out there who are just beginning to work themselves into tornados of outrage - how can anything be more difficult than writing this **%$£!!! dissertation. Go attack a trailer park in Kansas, dears, the French jury is the supreme test. (Let's just say that Kansas is spared today only because this blog is not widely read among graduate students. They are not supposed to have the time.)

Let's take the UCLA School of Medicine as our standard American University. Over there, you need four or five people, with a minimum of two from outside your department and at least two who are full professors. Ucla is a big place. Swarming with professors. Swarming with departments, too. You or your boss call up a few friends, and there you are. The calender might make you hunt around a little, but not much. You go over to the Registrar. Hi, howya doing. Is that acid-free paper you have there? Yeah, ok, you can go. Just fill out this form and pay that fee.

Here, the jury itself is the test. Forget all those long days in the lab, that was just to soften you up for the real test of perserverance in the face of adversity.

You need a certain number of grosse pointures (big shoe sizes). And you need a certain number of people from outside. But Outside not just your department: outside your university, and around here that means Way Outta Town.

So fine. I start looking around, and there's a Breast Cancer Guy in Lyon and a Circadian Rhythm Guy in Paris, both of whom have big feet. With me and my boss and a local Microarray Guy, two of whom have big feet, that sounds perfect.

Now for the calender. Marie-Laure is about finished writing, and before the end of the semester is looking good. It looks real good because that means she doesn't have to register for an extra semester just to defend her dissertation. Bad news: Lyon Guy can't make it. Good news: the person he suggested as a replacement is available - Lyon Girl is in. She has regular-sized feet, but that's ok because we're still above the 50% grosse pointure line. Bad news: Paris Guy can't make it before February. Good news: he has an interested colleague. Bad news: the colleague can't make it either. More Bad news: this particular juror needs to be an expert in something that is not at all my field, so I don't know anybody at all to call next. Good news: I run into a different colleague and he knows some people. Bad news: those guys don't feel right outside their own domains (is truth not universal?? Who cares if flies don't get breast cancer??). Good news: they know still other people. Bad news: the other people don't have big enough feet.
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All this messing around trying to fill the jury for a December defence, and file-two-months-in-advance rule just swooped down on us. Forget December after the 15th (the last day my boss is available); that makes the day before yesterday the last day to file. Graduate School guy is cool, though, I'm sure he'll give us until Monday.

Yeah, like we're going to luck into a warm body with expertise in circadian rhythms and how they can hide all your interesting results because you never guessed that your favorite gene had anything to do with that so you didn't collect all your samples between 9:44 and 10:06 am on the seventh day of the menstrual cycle, all that and an HDR and nothing better to do on the 15th of December (or perhaps the 11th) than travel to Nowhereville France for a day of sitting around.

Perhaps Monday morning I'll have a miracle email waiting for me.
Otherwise it's back to the drawing board for a date in February.

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