berntivarolsen

A blog from a North-norwegian human-centered technologist


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Finally (2) – publicly defending a PhD dissertation

This Monday I defended my PhD dissertation publicly at University of Tromsø at the Faculty of Science and Technology. First, I held a trial lecture about Visual Analytics (“State of the Art and Challenges”). The thesis’ final title is “Display Scale in a ‘Document’ Perspective: Size Matters”. After a 45 minutes presentation of the highlights of my work the two main opponents asked critical questions about my work and the whole defence lasted about 3 hours.

Publicly defending a dissertation in this manner is an exhausting affair. I have never been so mentally tired – depleted – in my life. Even though I was well rested and quite “fresh” in the morning it was a very intense experience. I guess this is also related to the process leading up to the defence. About three weeks before, I was presented with a report of the committees work where they scrutinise the weaknesses of your work as well as describing strengths and significant contributions in their view. Then, two weeks before the defence is planned I got the topic for the trial lecture to be held an hour before the defence commences. This topic of the lecture is not to be on or about central topics in the thesis (but rather something that you have read about and digest current research about) and is to last for 45 minutes.

First having to present something that is somewhat unfamiliar to you two weeks before – and then – after the committee decides whether or not this was a satisfactory performance – having to present (also for a public audience) and defend your work is, I guess, also from an objective standpoint – quite an undertaking. I can confirm that it was for me – a huge task.

Even though it was a strenuous experience it was actually great! It was an honour to be able to present something that I have worked with so long and hard for that many people (many whom I know very well, friends and family, but also others) – for such a long time (almost 3 hours) without anyone leaving the room or falling asleep. It seemed like it was engaging and to some extent interesting for most of them (thank you, by the way, who were in the room – for giving me that impression!) Something that I will remember from this day, in particular, was the construction work in progress next to the Science building. Several times during my presentations the engineers detonated explosives. The timing of the detonations even sounded well-planned (like when the leader of the defence, professor Smalås, presented the main advisor for this work: Gunnar Hartvigsen <BOOOM!>)

All in all it was a perfect day. It was exactly as exhausting as it is supposed to. I felt the presentations went well, and were well-received by both the public and the opponents and the defence was as critical (but fair) as it should be and that my replies and the discussion that followed were quite all right. It is an indescribable  relief to be able to finish such a long process in what I feel is a decent – or actually (if I may say so myself) a quite good manner. Again, I thank all the people who contributed to this end, both in creating the work reported in the thesis/defence and those who were present on Monday and the committee in particular.

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Finally!

Ok – so now I have submittet my thesis (this Thursday, as a matter of fact). Almost 8 calendar years of work – and little over 4 years of actual work (!). A very long process has come to an end. The work summarized in the thesis has been a significant part of my life for longer than what most PhDs take to complete. Since my better half has been a student I have been able to (and required to-) stay at home with both of our current children for the first year of their life.

We have lived for one year in California (2007-2008), in Davis, CA and I have visited UC Davis as a researcher with the Department of Health Informatics. Our oldest son was 2.5 years when we arrived and switched mother tongue while in Preschool (Montesorri Country Day). A lot of wonderful memories and lessons learned.

Eight great years have come to an end. The last two I have worked at the IT Dept. at University of Tromsø, though – and have not been able to work with the PhD other than nights and a couple of weeks now and then. I am, of course, thrilled to be done with the work, but – still – it is almost as if I am a little sad that it is over. Since I was little kid I have wanted to “become a researcher”. These eight years have certainly taught me how to do research but it has also been a fascinating journey. -Although not an easy ride – it has provided a fair share of disappointments and challenges as well – in the end I am very greatful to the people and “circumstances” that has allowed me to fulfill my dream: to one day become a researcher!