Confessions of a researchaholic

August 5, 2013

Thesis and oral defense

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:44 pm
Tags: ,

Schedule

My PhD adviser once told me that the most difficult part for graduation is scheduling the oral defense.

I thought he was joking, but realized he really meant it after doing it myself. It is basically a NP-hard, if not non-computable, problem.

I consider this as part of the ritual for graduation, so I will let the candidate schedule his/her own oral defense. People who cannot even get this done do not deserve to graduate.

Format

I never understand the rationale for hundreds-page thesis or hours-long oral defenses (PhD or other research degrees); it is probably residue from some ancient practices. But I think it is a big waste of time to write or read (or print, for heaven’s sake).

Here is my proposed thesis format:
Part 1: a concise summary of what the thesis is about, and why people should care about it.
Part 2: simply staple (via Latex, not physical papers) the relevant publications together to explain how it is done.

And here is the corresponding format for oral defense:
Part 1: a (sub) 5 minute elevator pitch telling people what the thesis is about and why they should care about it. There is a short break after this stage. The candidate fails if (s)he cannot convince the audience why they should continue to listen.
Part 2: a (sub) 25 minute presentation of more details, which can simply be a re-compilation of past conference talks. What follows is a usual break for committee discussion.

If the candidate does not have solid publications, (s)he should not be able to graduate.
If (s)he does, it should probably take at most a day to prepare the thesis and oral defense, on top of the existing materials.
The committee members can just spend as much time reading the published conference/journal papers instead of bloated mumbo jumbo in hundreds of pages.

If the candidate knows what (s)he has been doing, (s)he should be able to articulate a clear elevator pitch.
Otherwise, (s)he does not, and probably should come back to think and work more.
The committee members can quick see the quality of the research work instead of having to sit through hours-long slug about some technical details.

I plan to implement these for my internal students. And please, just send me the pdf file of your thesis. Spare the trees.

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