In the early morning fog on what was a beautiful Fall day I quietly celebrated getting another thesis chapter done...well almost...I am waiting for comments back from my committee members before I submit it for publication! For those of you who may not be familiar with graduate school and how it works I will give you a quick overview.
Once you have been accepted into a Doctoral program and you have a project you have to select a committee of 2-3 people other than your supervisor who will be there to help guide you and evaluate your work throughout your program. You want to choose people with a range of expertise that you can draw on but that can offer you insightful comments on aspects that you are learning and that your supervisor may not be an expert in. Once you have selected your committee you have to defend your proposed project. After about a year of classes and literature review, you write up a 5-10 page document outlining your project, its goals, how you will do it and why it is important. Then you have an oral exam (Admission to Candidacy Exam or ATC) starting with a presentation of your proposal then you answer 2-3 rounds of questions from your committee and can take up to 3 hours. This is a pass/fail type of exam and if you pass you move on to actually being a PhD candidate and doing your research. If you fail, you start again with another proposal but if you do not pass the second time you are kicked out. You typically meet with your committee once a year to keep them updated on your progress but are able to see them anytime for particular issues or one on one discussions. One year before you finish your thesis you have a Preliminary Exam. This is an oral exam that prepares you for your thesis defense (another ~ 3 hr exam). This exam is based on one of your thesis chapters. This exam is designed to be on the broader topic of your thesis not some particular data you collected, it is supposed to put your work into the broader context of the field and it meant to evaluate your ability to see the bigger picture and synthesize your work. Again, it is an oral presentation with 2-3 rounds of questions from your committee and an new examiner from within the University but external to your committee. Another pass/fail event and if you fail twice you are out. The last hoop is the biggest, the thesis defense. This is your last (~3 hr) exam and the one with the most riding on it! You are there to defend the work you have done for the last 4 -8 years (average at Dalhousie is 5-6, they kick you out with or without a degree after 9). For this event you have another external examiner but this time they are an expert in the field from outside the University, for example Diego's is coming from France! After the thesis defense then you have a BIG party! :)
You are not required to publish your chapters as you go but it does make it easier in the end. Most students who don't publish as they go have a hard time doing so once they have completed and moved on to the next thing. It is also nice to have all those publications on your CV right away, you are more competitive for the positions that do come up.
Now that I have 2 down...just 2 more to go! On to chapter 3!