The Defense

Dear Doctoral Students, today I would like to speak a little about the future.

I guess that most of you in this room want to defend a doctoral thesis someday. That is why you are here at Åbo Akademi University taking part in our Research Day. Certainly, I do not know what dreams you might have, or how you look forward to a life as a doctor, but I guess that these thoughts and dreams are quite central to you and that they are surrounded by pink lights, white clouds, and jingle bells.

However, somebody may also combine this dream with a little fear, partly fear about how the defence will succeed, partly fear also about what you are going to do afterwards. Great changes often cause fear, for you cannot know what they will bring.

In Finland the defence is hardly ever really difficult. You have to write your dissertation yourself, and unless you sleep when so doing, you will, in detail, be aware of the text. If you have been working for many years, and moreover, if you are working with a dissertation consisting of articles it may be more difficult exactly to remember details and reasons for hardships. When you sit there, at your desk, waiting for the D-day, you should read your text again and again, and certainly, you will see your mistakes, but don’t be afraid when you find all weaknesses. Weaknesses will always be there. I felt relieved when, in the corresponding situation, one of my friends told me that there is no such thing as a perfect book. It is a good thing if you get aware of the mistakes, for then you can do something about them, at least you can try and find a good reason for them, or another way out of the situation.

Try to remember the process when you made up your mind concerning your subject. Why did you pick that very field of research, why did you formulate yourself in a specific way when you wrote about the object of your work? Why did you pick these very theories? And what methods were available, when you chose the ones you see in your dissertation. And why? Why did you build up the dissertation with this structure? And then, what are your results? Which of them is most important, do you think? And why do you think it is important? Try and figure out why you have worked as you have worked. Then, when thinking about the defence, remember that you are the greatest expert on your own text! However, when it comes to the real defence, you have to be humble, for this is the day and the show of the opponent. Then you must find polite and convincing words. Your terminology must fit the one you have used in the book and it must be consistent and consequent.

When you read your text, you should be aware of all small mistakes that you misspelt, or the problems you met with when you tried to order your indices alphabetically, for indeed an opponent can tease you and ask why you have written a word in a wrong way or why you put P before O in the list of references. In these cases, it is better to surrender and admit your mistakes than to try to explain.

The defence is an end-point of a long process during which you lived in quite a different way than others do. You had a great freedom to come and go as you wanted, you might work in the nights provided you labs and libraries were reachable. You will never ever have that freedom again. But this freedom was also a test of your responsibility. You have seen that nobody else would finish your work. If you really wanted to reach a result, you had to work on your own. This feeling of responsibility should grow when you work, and you should keep it awake and active for the rest of your life. However, it is your own preferences that decide on how you want to use this rest. There will probably not be anybody looking after you, or putting you to bed on time for tomorrow’s tribulations. You will have to realize and accept it.

After a defence, some of you will probably stay in academia. You will see that what you now think is a free life for professors and teachers, working when they want to, coming to the office when they are needed for some hours, reading what they like to read and so forth, is nothing but an illusion. Their work is certainly the best work in the world, but it is also regulated chaos. Hundreds of things meet university people every day. We arrive in our office thinking to achieve several small results here and there, but every ten minutes we are interrupted and can start our real work first after our colleagues have left their offices in the afternoon. Anyhow, I would never have changed my position, there are so many advantages connected to academic work.

Saying this, I also have to state that not everybody can find his or her place at a university. A doctoral degree is good, it is a good starting point for any kind of higher positions in society.  You will find that the subject of your research was not the most important outcome of the long work, but the main outcome was the fringe of how to find information, how to decide on this and that, how to write clearly, how to argue in a logical way, and how to convince people that your idea is the best idea, and how to be working with anybody even with a head ache or after your baby cried all night. Fidelity and persistence are the most important values within research and within working life as a whole.

Research Day 9.12.2019

 

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