Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Defending" a Thesis or Dissertation

I always thought it was funny that they call it "defending" a dissertation or a thesis. The term conjures up some totally wrong, but immensely entertaining, images.

I picture a young-looking scholar with a prominent jawbone, enhanced by the clenched muscles in his jaw, clad in Oxford-style robes over a herringbone tweed suit, with a sheathed sword hanging under his belt, and time-worn but lovingly polished deep black English riding boots. The young man, carrying a handwritten, leather-bound tome, strides along stone-covered corridors, finally stopping at a tall wooden door, made of oak darkened by the centuries.

From the inside, the door opens with a low groan, the groan of all those centuries, and he is admitted into a chamber. The granite walls, also darkened by the centuries, are pierced along one side by a series of tall, narrow windows, through which brilliant white sunlight pours at an extreme angle, illuminating the backs of several old men and leaving their faces in shadow. The men are old men, some with grey hair and some with no hair, some with shaggy beards, some with neatly trimmed beards, and at least one with no beard, but a huge moustache instead.

The young man sets the volume on an an old wooden lectern like a music stand, about ten feet from the panel of distinguished gentlemen, and opens it so the pages are facing the panel. The pages are all parchment, slightly yellow in color, written in black ink with a quill pen, with meticulous penmanship. Then the young man draws his sword and stands in front of the book, facing the panel. The members of the panel rise from their chairs, reach under their robes, and pull out very ripe tomatoes.

And thus his defense begins.

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