Leaving the defensiveness out of the comps defense

I feel blessed that my comps defense had only the slightest flavor of inquisition.
Photo found here.

When debriefing with Mr. T about the experience of defending my comprehensive exams this week, he asked if we met in a really big room. Specifically, did I have to traverse the length of this long room to get to my committee. I laughed. My brain conjured up images of ginormous lecture halls of old–cold, dark places where my heels would click on the stone floor as I walked the hundreds of paces down–or worse, Colosseum-style amphitheaters where I’d be expected to fight to the death defending my honor, er, knowledge.

Well no, we met in a small, familiar conference room. In fact, we sat quite intimately as one of my committee members Skyped in from Spain, and we had to gather around the laptop so he could see all of us. Decidedly informal and lacking in drama, really, the most uncomfortable part was having four people staring at me, although I suppose that is par for the course when you are the “guest of honor.”

Reflecting on the experience, I feel as if my “defense” was less Me v. The Committee, and more a really cool, albeit intense at times, conversation about ideas. My ideas as it were. And I have a particular professor to thank. I happened to chat briefly with Kory Floyd, the assistant director of our department and a professor of mine from last spring. I asked if he had any advice and he suggested basically, to take the “defensiveness” out of the defense… to treat the time as an opportunity to learn, ask questions, develop ideas and brainstorm with committee members. Visualizing the defense as an occasion to discuss my project plans versus preparing to justify myself to the hilt certainly changed* the way I approached the meeting.

Now that said, I was still nervous, of course. The meeting started with me getting kicked out while they discussed (I believe) whether or not I would pass based upon my written answers. Happily, I had a pretty good idea of how I did based upon feedback before the defense, but it still seemed strange to get kicked out of the room. Then I was invited back in and they grilled me, for a little while anyway! I got to explain why organizational behavior scholars should care about a post-structural perspective to research, what different levels of identity exist in organizational studies (individual-level identity, organizational identity, organizational identification, for instance), and how one might “see” sensemaking in an organization. Mercifully, this questioning didn’t last too long, and we spent the bulk of time discussing my mini-dissertation proposal. I am THRILLED that they like my ideas so far and they helped push my thinking on scope, angles and methods. Miraculously, the project got a tidbit smaller although it’s still going to be a doozy of a year ahead. More on that later.

After we discussed everything, I headed out once more to let them confer and they invited me back in with hearty congratulations. I passed! I jumped, I smiled, I did a fist pump or two. Then, I made them sign my cape. (See what I mean by clicking here.) Good times all around!

So there, everything you need to know about defending your comprehensive exams. Now, back to basking in the glory of another something crossed off my 30-before-30 list!


* Nerd Alert: This process of cognitively reframing a potentially emotional situation is a hallmark of emotion regulation (Gross, 2002), and it helps to lessen the experience of negative emotion!

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