Guest Post – The Big, Bad, Terrible Dissertation Defense

Guest Contributor: Ashley Rivera, PhD, RN
See “About the Author” below

“The best thesis defense is a good thesis defense.” Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/1403/.
Comic available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

In my head, I built the entire day up to be a terror of being questioned for every decision I made throughout my study. All the prep-work from making draft revisions and polishing off the speech to accompany my slides did not prepare me for joy. My joy is not about the strength of my study or the loving support that my graduate school, Florida Atlantic University, bestowed upon me during my entire program. It’s about who showed up at my defense.

One of the first to arrive was an entry-level BSN student who had responded to the mass-dispersed open defense email sent out by the College of Nursing. When I was a student, I would probably have just dumped that email in the trash bin. The student who showed up truly felt that in nursing she could achieve anything, which was a refreshing sight to my battle-wounded soul from the years of micro-managing and counterintuitive policies that are experienced on the job. The memory of her being there is a reminder for me that there is a need to shine a light on the quiet strength that comes from being a nurse. This quiet strength is what guides nursing through the bad days, like when four call lights are going off and they all have to be answered in less than 3 minutes, or the code that just won’t end because nobody wants to tell mom her baby won’t be back. I didn’t see her leave, but I remember her clap and the light in her eyes at the end of the defense.

I didn’t think much of it when the crowd of fresh PhD students wandered in, after all, they were in school to do the very same thing. However, the feedback I received from them truly reinforced my passion for teaching. The best part was that the comments didn’t come from them directly, it came from the professor of Qualitative Research. As part of my defense, I explained my choice to use Charmaz’s constructive grounded theory by contrasting it with classic grounded theory and Straussian grounded theory. The professor was thrilled by the explanation I gave. She also stated that the PhD students indicated that my explanation was so clear that they now truly understood the differences between all three approaches to grounded theory. To me, that was the icing on the cake of such a momentous day. Their feedback is the start of my living my dream to inspire passion and clarity for research and theory in classes that so many students describe as the bane of their existence.

Defenses are an opportunity to inspire those who watch and fuel the passion of those who defend. This should be the goal at the end of a very long road in the PhD journey. I wouldn’t take a single step back, but the dissertation defense isn’t so big, bad, or terrible—in fact, it’s probably the most inspiring part of the whole PhD.

The newly minted,
Dr. Ashley Rivera

Left to right: Dr. Marlaine Smith, myself, Dr. Patricia Leihr, and Dr. Yash Bhagwanji

About Dr. Rivera

Ashley Rivera

Not known for being a wall-flower, I believe in the power of a positive attitude and a smile. I keep centered through my loving husband, my three rambunctious children and being outdoors in my organic garden. My practice experience includes Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Liver Transplant, Medical Surgical, High Risk Pregnancy, Diabetic Education, Telemetry, and Epilepsy Monitoring. I started my health care journey as an EMT, but came to love nursing for the continuation of care aspects. I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient at different stages of my nursing journey. I also have experience as adjunct faculty and as a research assistant. I entered the PhD program at Florida Atlantic University in August of 2015 and received a Jonas Scholarship in 2016. In my immediate future, I plan to continue working on getting my dissertation, “The Social Process of Caregiving in Fathers” published, and growing the resulting mid-range theory, “Caregiving in Fathers”. I will be presenting my recruitment methodology at the upcoming K.I.N.G Collaborative Research Conference in D.C. and, eventually, I hope to teach  and accept a full-time position teaching.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post – The Big, Bad, Terrible Dissertation Defense

  1. Dear Dr Rivera,
    I address you this way with honor! Your post brought me back in time – six years ago I presented my defense. I was so moved to see the many who attended, aside from the dissertation committee, to whom I will be forever thankful. These included my fellow students who listened with interest and took notes, a faculty from another FAU program who supported my study, the Dean, Asst. Dean and a good friend. I was honored and flattered by their presence, a term often reflected in FAU’s caring science curriculum. My education at FAU taught me that presence is indeed a most powerful act, never to be underestimated.

    My best to you,
    Mary
    Mary Brigid Martin PhD, CNE, APRN
    FAU Class of 2013 PhD Nursing

    Like

  2. Congratulations Dr. Rivera! Please consider publishing how you chose Charmaz’s constructive grounded theory over classic grounded theory and Straussian grounded theory. That would be a paper I woud like to read! Good luck and I will look for you at the KING conference.
    Best,
    Jane

    Like

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