Sunday, October 4, 2009


There is an ancient form of hazing practiced among a peculiar tribe of creatures from the land of Academia (if the name sounds like a nut, all the better) that we have come to call a “thesis defense.” The ritual involves the victim being forced to endure sundry humiliations for approximately one hour. Some examples are as follows:

Questions about a central point of ones thesis: The victim will assume the interrogator has found a hole in the main argument, some key issue that was not explained well enough in the carefully crafted thesis, and will fumble to formulate a new answer on the spot as if it were possible to say in one minute what he had not said in one year of meticulous research and writing. The interrogators will watch him sweat through his fumbling answer for a while, no doubt inwardly grinning, and then end the torture by saying, “I think you actually answered this question quite nicely on page 12. Let me read your words.”

Questions about complex issues in the broader scope of the cosmos that the thesis innocently provoked: The victim will stare blankly at the interrogator for a few panicked moments, hoping there was some mistake and the interrogator will realize he had meant to say “Thomas More” (who was the subject of the thesis) rather than “Ben Jonson” (who wrote a century later). When it is clear that no such relief will come, if the victim has the presence of mind to refrain from asking “Do you want me to answer that?” (which he may not always have), he will fumble through an elementary sort of answer before finishing with the only definitively true thing he can say: “…but I haven’t yet done the research necessary to speak confidently on the subject.” The interrogator will nod and interject pointedly, “Well, you’re going to need to look into that,” a message that seems to have been the purpose of the question in the first place.

Questions of the softball variety: These questions often come from the kind, outside-the-area interrogator, and are essentially to the effect of “Can you define that word you keep using?” The victim will feel the sudden ecstasy of being given an easy question, ecstasy which is quickly subsumed in panic when he realizes that the other two scholarly giants in the room had defined that very word countless times in his sophomoric youth, nuancing it ad nauseam in rich ways they would no doubt want to hear replicated by their academic progeny. The victim may indeed catch the softball, but do such a sloppy job of it that he may as well have dropped it. No doubt the interrogators feel that their years of teaching the victim have been wasted.

And the purpose of the ritual? That though the victim may walk away initiated into the tribe of Academia with the new title of “Master of Arts,” he will know that he ain’t mastered nothin’ yet.

But ya know, I’ll take the title anyway. You may all call me Master Em now.


NC Sue said...


Kate said...

Wonderful news! Congratulations, Master Em!

NC Sue said...

Em - thanks for your visit to my site. Couldn't find a way to contact you except through comments. You can email me @ ncsue0514 at msn dot com.

Thanks - look forward to "chatting", evidently you're a neighbor!

Nikki said...

Congrats, Master Em! Three cheers!

Marie said...