composition.al

My thesis defense talk

A few weeks ago, I defended my dissertation!

I’ve posted the slides from my thesis defense talk; they’re illustrated with drawings by the talented Jason Reed. (These illustrations, and more like them, are also going to appear in the dissertation document itself!1)

Here’s a secret about how I prepare for talks: I write my talks, word for word. I often go off script when I’m actually giving the talk, but I do try to write down the complete text of a talk I could give, and I always have it in front of me during the talk, using the presenter-notes feature of my presentation software. I only make exceptions for the parts that I’ve gone over so many times that I would bore myself trying to write down what I plan to say.

This approach has disadvantages — in fact, I think it’s often advised against — and it probably doesn’t work for everyone. For me, though, I find that it’s worked well so far. (I graduated, anyway.) One pleasant side effect of it is that I end up with documents that are more or less transcripts of the talks I’ve given.2

I usually don’t edit these so-called “transcripts”, but for my defense talk, I did, both to fix typos in the notes and to make them more accurately reflect the actual talk that I remember giving. I’ve posted the edited notes, divided into sections by slide, and the section numbers match the slide numbers, so you should even be able to see more or less what I said on each slide.

Thanks to the IU PL Wonks — not to mention my parents, who drove 500 miles to attend my thesis defense — for being a fantastic audience for this talk!

  1. I’m not quite done with the dissertation itself yet; I still have some work to do, as evidenced by all the places where “TODO” still appears in it. But I’m pretty close! I’ve been busy with starting my new job, but my plan is to finish up and turn in the dissertation sometime in the next couple of months.

  2. These pseudo-transcripts can come in surprisingly handy. Once, I was giving a talk where someone in the audience had volunteered to live-caption the talk for a deaf audience member. Not being a stenographer, though, the volunteer wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my speaking. So I just gave him my notes on a USB stick before the talk, and all he had to do was page through them and perhaps edit them a little, rather than type furiously the whole time. It was actually a little embarrassing to have to give my notes to the volunteer captioner, because it meant owning up to the fact that I write my talks – but it was for a worthy cause!

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