How to Prove a Dissertation Has Been Read

I shutter to even think about counting the number of Ph.D. dissertation defenses I have attended where I was the only faculty member who had actually read the dissertation. When I say read – don’t get me wrong here. If I was serving as a dean’s representative I would spend an hour or so looking through the dissertation before the defense so that I could ask some informed question and make some helpful suggestions.

When the questions begin at the defense – it becomes imminently clear that even though I only spent an hour reading through the dissertation, I know more about the research than any of the other committee members who are present – even the student’s chair. Oh my.

I would always wait until the end to ask my questions, hoping that at least one other faculty member had reviewed the dissertation. More often than not – I am the only one who has a clue.

Of course, faculty members always want their colleagues to think that they have put their time in for the student and provided assistance when asked. Sometimes of course this is clearly the case. Often it is not.

One of the funniest experiences involved the defense of a student defending an education dissertation. Before I began with my questions – I was the outside faculty member on the committee – I deferred to all of the committee members who were education faculty members. One of the students committee members explained that she had no questions to ask, but that she had marked the dissertation with copious notes for the student to consider later. She thought the dissertation was acceptable.

That is all well and good – though it is a courtesy to at least ask a few informed questions of the student out of respect for the time and effort they spent on writing their dissertation.

But when I examined the student’s copy of the dissertation that was placed on the table in front of this faculty – there was a paper clip inserted on every 5th page of the dissertation. So, she just happened to have a comment on every 5th page of the dissertation – or perhaps she had her secretary insert a paper clip on every fifth page? Hum I thought to myself. I believe I know the answer to that puzzle.

I have never said anything to anyone until now – but I must confess that every time I think about that faculty member, I laugh myself silly.

The student passed. It wasn’t a bad dissertation by any means, but I suspect the student would have appreciated a little more help from their committee along the way to completion.

Robert Rodgers, Ph.D.

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