I had my Master's thesis defense today. I woke up about an hour before my alarm went off. Then I spent maybe 20 minutes in bed just relaxing without falling asleep again. I decided to get up — I would have to do the defense no matter what, staying in bed didn't change that. So I got up, had breakfast and got ready.
I made myself a smoothie, picked up a banana from the canteen and headed for the room that was booked for the exam. I had about an hour before my presentation. I spent some time connecting to the projectors and setting things up. I made a couple of changes to my slide show and at some point, my supervisor popped in with the two students who had to their defense after me. They told me I looked super relaxed with my cup of coffee (it was my smoothie in a reusable to-go cup, but whatever). I did not feel relaxed at all.
My supervisor said all three of us had made lovely theses but didn't comment further because that's not allowed. She mentioned power poses and that she was sure we'd all do great.
I decided to go make a cup of tea (I had brought some mint and chamomile tea from home to calm my stomach and nerves), but on the way I ran into my parents and sister. I showed them the room and they stayed there as I made my tea and refilled my water bottle.
So my parents and sister were there to witness my defense along with a classmate, a couple of 1st-year students and a "3rd-year student" (she's a research assistant). The external examinator arrived a few minutes before I was scheduled to begin. She seemed very nice.
We were waiting for my supervisor, but at 10:34 (4 minutes after I should have started) she still hadn't shown up. I asked my classmate to go look for her in her office. There had been a small miscommunication between her and the external examinator, but when she arrived she apologized and noted that we were starting 6 minutes later than scheduled.
Then I had 27 minutes of pure pain and a struggle to find words (I went 2 minutes over time, but since my supervisor looked at an analog clock it didn't matter). Several times during the presentation I took a sip of my tea mid-sentence because my mouth felt too dry to continue. I mixed up words and had to skip over a couple of things because I had spent too much time on the first half of my presentation. I was sweating profusely.
After I had finished my presentation came the questions - 25 minutes in total. It felt even worse than the presentation. I wanted it to be over, but I could see the timer I had on my laptop and I still had lots of time left. Luckily my supervisor was good a filing the time with her own reflections. I didn't really feel I had great answers to their questions, but I managed to say something coherent in most cases.
Then finally the time was up! Everyone left the room, except for my supervisor and the external examinator. My family and a few classmates waited with me outside the room. It felt like an eternity, but I felt relieved. They both seemed very positive about my work and I knew I wouldn't fail. At that point I didn't really care about the grade. It was done! I had made it through. I survived!!
I was called back into the room and my supervisor said they'd like to give me some comments before the grade. They told me I had to own my work much more. Instead of minimizing what I had done and apologizing for it, I should let them judge it*. They said what I had made was great and that they would both recommend that I write it up for publication. Wow. Then they gave me 12 — the highest grade possible — which I wrote down on my notepad (it's something I've had to do during these things because I sometimes begin to doubt what I actually heard afterward). It was a slightly crooked 12 inside a circle.
I really hadn't expected that! I knew my work had something to it, but I would have been so happy with a 7 (a solid middle grade). I got a fucking 12. For my Master's thesis! I still don't believe it.
On her way back to her office my supervisor told my parents they should be proud of me. This made my mother cry and she was crying as they came into the room to hear my grade. My sister and I almost started crying as well.
My family had brought flowers, cake, chocolate, and champagne and we found a small table where we could enjoy all of this.
They told me I had done really well and they those small tea breaks made it seem like I was super cool and relaxed. I guess my energy was very different from what I was feeling.
I've spent the rest of the day chilling. First with my family for lunch and then a bit alone. I still don't really believe that I've done it! Maybe I'll realize in a couple of days.
As I sat down to write tonight I thought about this post from a while back: I shame my own work