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{Share your Life} A doctoral defense from the eyes of a wife

On March 22nd at 1:30 pm, I sat in a little conference room with my husband, 6 committee members and 10 other friends, waiting for Mr. Smartypants to begin his defense of his phd.  5 years of classes, hard work, failed experiments, successful experiments, grant proposals, speaking engagements at conferences around the country, very late nights at the lab, writing writing writing writing and more writing <—I like to sum that all up in what I call the “phd widow” experience…those 5 years came down to this one day.  I was extremely nervous while my husband stood up there with a 60 slide presentation cool as a cucumber.


Mr. Smartypants has been teaching classes for the past few years at Texas Tech and now at West Texas A&M.  Public speaking is a piece of cake for this guy.

I stood beside Mr. Smartypants, and prayed with/for him.  And I started to cry during the prayer! Phd defenses are emotional, man!!!   He got a little misty eyed too.  I sat down and his defense  began about 1:35.  And it went a little something like this…

He is introduced by his advisor.  He begins his presentation with ease.  Generally, a phd defense for a mechanical engineer looks like this: graduate student presents presentation usually lasting about 45 minutes, audience is then allowed to ask questions, audience leaves, committee asks questions, grad student leaves, committee deliberates and then ask the grad student to come back in and reveals whether they have passed or not.  My husband’s defense was not your typical defense.  I’m pretty sure I had about 7 heart attacks and 3 panic attacks.

He introduces his work and all is going well.  About 20 minutes into his presentation, one of the committee members asks a question.  Ok, cool.  I thought we saved these til the end, but its all good.  It doesn’t throw Cory off.  He was prepared for questions.  I couldn’t tell you what the question was…something like “blah blah science science chemistry chemistry science?”  My husband’s work, no matter how hard I try to understand it, is so beyond my level of comprehension.  If you’ve seen Big Bang Theory, I compare Mr. Smartypant’s knowledge to Sheldon, and I am Penny.

Anyway, this question really gets the committee going.  And the presentation gets put on hold for ummm, a long time.  Question after question, comment after comment…and it begins to get heated.  I’m wondering if World War 3 is about to take place between these committee members.  I’m sitting here, wondering what the heck they are talking about, and why it’s causing so much passion in these academic professionals.  The discussion gets more heated, voices are raising, and I look back at Billy (Cory’s best buddy) with my eyes popping out of my head, and mouth to him “Is this normal?”.  Billy looks back at me with eyes popping out of his head and shakes his head and mouths “No.”  I instantly had 4 heart attacks back to back.  I’m surprised I still have any functioning cardiac muscle.


The heated discussion continues.  Most phd’s candidates would have hid in the corner and let the committee members duke it out.  Oh no, not my husband.  He’s loving it.  He’s getting into it.  He’s even talking OVER the committee members! Sass is flying about the room, and I have no idea what they are talking about.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Another heart attack and 2 panic attacks later, Cory says “now where was I?” and goes back to his presentation.

He finishes his defense.  It should have taken 45 minutes (he’d timed it the night before!) and it’s 2 hours later.  His advisor stands up and says “Any questions from the audience?”  Everyone stares in silence.  Nobody has any words for what just happen. Those that are in the room that are currently working on their phd are now having second thoughts on whether or not they truly want to pursue a phd. (way to go Cory! Scaring the other phd candidates!)  I’ll tell you I have been cured of ever wanting a phd…

The audience leaves.  I go outside and sit with our friend Charles and his wife Melissa.  Charles had defended that morning and passed!!!!  Charles then attempts to talk me off the ledge.  He explained to me what all the fuss was about in terms I could understand.  Apparently, they weren’t arguing over Cory’s work at all.  They were getting all worked up over a graph that he used as a reference as to why he chose the particles to experiment with that he did.  As far as I understand, it wasn’t even the chosen particles that bothered them.  It was just the graph and the work that that group did in that paper.  What????  Oh you academics! You are crazy!

With the amount of sass, raised voices, and all out academic chaos, I was convinced that something had gone terribly wrong. Charles spent about 5 minutes talking me off the ledge and my nerves started to calm down.  And then out comes Cory.  We wait for the committee to deliberate.  He need’s all 6 committee member’s signatures to be able to graduate.

They call him back in.  Again, we wait.  For 1 minute.  A minute that felt like eternity….and then he walked out with a big grin on his face.


All 6 signatures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

His committee members gave him glowing reviews.  They loved it.  One of his committee who has been teaching for a long time said that it was by far the best phd defense he had ever seen.  Another told him that he BELONGS in academics.  Another one told him that he sees Cory working for a top 50 college in his future.  I mean, WOW!


That evening, we went out for a celebration dinner at super fancy restaurant where eating there was a real event!  Over 4 hours, there were martini’s, wine, dessert wine, fancy appetizers, fancy dinners, fancy dessert! And lots of toasts!!!  Toasts to the new dr.s in the house and good friends!!!


Considering our new Dr.s research was on combustion, it was only appropriate to eat a dessert that was one fire!

dr dr mr

 All of us being big nerds that watch the Big Bang (and often live out those stories- such is the life of academia!), the whole “Dr., Dr….Mr.” thing kept happening.  If you don’t understand, watch this…

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I am sooooo proud of my husband.  He is no longer known as Mr. Smartypants around these parts.  It’s now officially DR. Smartypants!

All I can say after that defense experience is PHHHEWWWW.

And I now suffer from PTSD.


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