Graduate student and astronomy writer

On the Road to a PhD: Houston, we have a defense date!

This blog post is part of a series I’m writing along the road to my dissertation. These posts represent my personal experiences centered around getting a PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics, and all views expressed within are my own. This is my story.


It’s official. The cats have been herded, the votes have been tallied, the gods (aka the Department Assistants) have spoken. I have officially scheduled the date and time for my dissertation defense.

Tuesday, May 9th at 10am EST.

Woah.

That’s…2 months, 4 days, 18 hours, 43 minutes and 58 seconds from now. 57 seconds. 56 seconds. Oi vey, the countdown has started!

What does that mean for me right now? Well, that means that I need to get my behind into gear and…

1) finish up the data analysis that has caused my research to lag for the past few weeks.

2) write up the last bit of the research that I’m currently working on. I would like to get this to a point that it can be submitted to a research journal before my defense, so that the text can also be incorporated into my dissertation.

3) write the paper on astronomy communication that I want to submit to a different journal. Luckily, this one doesn’t need to be submitted before my defense.

4) write all of the introductory and background  material for my dissertation. All of the extra stuff that connects my (currently) very disjointed chapters.

One of my committee members likes to measure dissertation progress based on the number of pages one need to write per day before the dissertation is submitted. At Penn State, the dissertation needs to be given to the committee two weeks before the defense, which for me is April 25th. So, in 51.73 days I need to write/edit approximately 300 total pages, which comes out to 5.8 pages per day.

Now, I’ve already written about 150 of those pages, so those really just need to be edited for spelling, grammar, and cohesion with the rest of the dissertation. So, let’s say that I still need to write 150 more pages and then edit all 300 later on. That is only 2.9 pages per day of writing original text.

That sounds like a lot, to be true. But truth be told, it’s not a lot in actual words. In the particular format that Penn State requires for its dissertations, a single page of text (no equations, tables, or figures) holds about 450 words. So, that’s 67,500 words to write before I submit my dissertation, or 1305 words per day.

But since this is scientific research, there will be equations, figures, and tables to incorporate, so in reality the number of words to write will be lower than that, and some of the pages will be taken up by figures or tables that have already been generated. Things are not quite as dire as they seem, to be sure.

Still…I best get to it! Only 2 months, 4 days, 18 hours, 22 minutes and 44 seconds to go!

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