Sunday, August 18, 2013

Guest Blogger: Dr. Nelly Cardinale's Dissertation Defense Story

Earlier this year, I attended a dissertation defense for a classmate in my doctoral program.  I was curious about what it would be like when I get to that stage.  Since I am not there yet, I am always excited for anyone in a doctoral program who has scheduled a defense because that means they are almost done!  I know that last step still has to be overcome and from a distance it seems scary, but then again, we sometimes fear what we don’t know much about.  The defense I attended was actually very interesting and definitely not scary.  I will make it my mission to attend a few dissertation defenses and ask some of my colleagues about their experiences to be as prepared as possible and actually look forward to it.  One new friend has graciously agreed to share her defense day story on my blog and I am so grateful to her.  I think the more we hear about these stories, the less scary they become and then they are just another step in the process to become Doctora. What struck me most about her story is the support that her fellow doctoral students gave her, proving how important peer support is for this doctoral journey.

I am proud of Dr. Nelly Cardinale who is also featured in the Galeria de Doctoras Latinas in case you want to learn more about her.  I hope you enjoy her wonderful story:

My Dissertation Defense Day by Dr. Nelly Cardinale

Nelly Cardinale at Northeaster University 
ready for her dissertation defense!
I woke up feeling very nervous on June 10th, 2013. I intended to fly to Boston that day because I was scheduled to defend my dissertation at Northeastern University the next day. A doctoral student friend who lives in the Boston area came to pick me up at the airport, took me out to dinner, shopping for new sunglasses and then drove me to my hotel. She then took me to the drug store when I noticed that I forgot to pack my makeup. Lucky for me, the drug store had the colors I needed. She wished me luck during the defense and left. She, along with many other people logged in to watch my defense live the next day as it was live-streamed.

Later that night at around 9:00pm, another doctoral student friend who had driven to Boston earlier from Vermont and was currently at the university library working on a doctoral class assignment texted me. As preplanned, she checked into the same hotel that I was in with the intention of spending the dissertation day with me and offering me moral support during the defense stage. She quickly came down to my room to meet me in person for the first time.
It was great meeting her since we had become online friends from the time I was waiting for an admission decision from Northeastern University. It turns out that we both started the doctoral program at the same time and in the same class. Since then, we have been good friends and classmates in a few other classes together. We talked for a while and agreed to meet the next morning.

The next day, we met at around 10:00am and had a quick breakfast. We returned to our hotel rooms to rest for a while. I wanted to change clothing and put on the new attire that I bought for the event. After, we drove to the university, walked around, took pictures in front of different buildings and looked for the building where the defense would take place. We also visited the college bookstore and bought some college gear. The defense was scheduled for 1:00pm. I was getting very nervous and did not want to eat lunch before the defense, as I felt that I would get an upset stomach.
Finally, we found out that the defense building was located off the main campus. Therefore, we left the main campus and headed for the defense location. Just before I was about to walk inside the building, a tourist asked us for directions. The man turned out to be a Methodist minister who was visiting from Washington DC. Coincidently, my friend just happened to also practice the same religion and quickly told him that I was about to become a doctor. Surprisingly, he stated that if this was the case, then I needed a blessing and gave me one right then and there. This raised my confidence level and eased my anxiety.

My friend and I walked into the defense room and met my advisor and second reader for the first time. I had seen them during summer residency sessions but never introduced myself before. I used my advisor's computer to project the PowerPoint defense presentation. The system used to live-stream the defense was the GOTOMEETING platform. This system allows many online people to participate in the meeting. The system also allowed the third member of my committee to attend my defense remotely from Pennsylvania. As preplanned, two other doctoral student friends who live in the Boston area arrived in person in order to provide additional moral support during the process. Many other doctoral students in the program, as well as my husband and sons, also logged in to watch my defense live.

I was allowed 20 minutes to present what my dissertation was about. Afterwards, the second and third readers took turns asking me questions about my study for the next 40 minutes. However, they ran out of questions before their allotted time and then my advisor asked the audience if they had questions. One of my friends inside the defense room did have a few questions for me. My advisor was not allowed to ask any questions during the defense. After the hour was up, my friends and I were asked to leave the room and all online viewers except for the third member of my committee were disconnected. The committee would meet in private for around 10 minutes to discuss my fate. The local Boston friends hugged me, wished me luck and left.

My friend from Vermont and I started to pace the hallway the way expectant fathers do. I was really feeling nervous and was not sure what would happen next. Finally, my advisor opened the door and called me back in. She stated that she had good news: I had passed my defense and was now a new doctor! I was so happy. I hugged my advisor and the second reader and asked if I can take pictures with them.

My friend and I went out to eat lunch, but again I was just so emotional that I decided to only have a drink to celebrate. She then walked me to the nearest metro station where we both rode a train to the airport. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

When I returned to Florida, my husband and sons had a surprise for me. It was a delicious chocolate cake that said, "Congratulations Dr. Mom".

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Courage to Restart and Recommit

Cindy and Winston's Wedding Day ~ July 2013

Recently, I had the privilege of attending my sister Cindy’s second wedding.  I watched the ceremony with deep admiration for my sister’s courage to restart and recommit to marriage.  I am also proud of her because she is about to begin a new educational journey in a Ph.D. program in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center. Committing to all of these new beginnings, she is very courageous indeed. 

These new milestones my sister is experiencing made me reflect on my stops and starts with many of my life happenings, especially my dissertation.  I remember having moments when I said to myself, “I quit!” and moved on with my life free of the thought of an unfinished Ph.D.  As David Madsen quips in his helpful book, Successful Dissertations and Theses, I would be joining the “Shubert Society,” a reference to the composer’s Symphony No. 8in B Minor, the “Unfinished.”

I actually thought quitting would be easy, but as it turned out, that was not the case. I had daily thoughts nagging away at me: Am I really going to walk away from this lifelong goal? What about all those classes I took, pages read, assignments completed and comprehensive exams passed? Did I really want to be another ABD?

I even went as far as to consider what being ABD would look like on my resume: Would it signal to potential employers that I am a quitter or that I don’t know how to finish what I started? Do I just leave it off altogether?

Last year I took a deep breath and I made a major decision.  I decided, no, I did not want to continue being ABD.  So what did I do?  I mustered up the courage, energy and determination to restart and recommit to working on the dissertation, the last step in the doctoral process. Since then, the revisions and updates have felt like ongoing restarts as I continue to get feedback and narrow my topic to a “doable” scope.  This is not an easy task, but what keeps me going is regularly meeting some amazing Doctoras Latinas who remind me it is DOABLE!

Today I celebrate my sister and her husband's union and I wish them a life of love and happiness as they blend their beautiful families.  I also celebrate myself and anyone else who is struggling with the doctoral process.  It is clear to me from the Facebook group of Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees ( that there are plenty of Latinas who are not only moving through the process, but have actually earned the degree.  This is inspiring for us all and I hope this network will continue to support each other.  I keep in my mind the words that my colleague and fellow Latina doctoral student, Omayra Arocho, signed off on a recent email, “Pa' Lante!”