Monday, April 19, 2010

Practicing Compassionate Criticism

After being retired for about 14 years today I had the opportunity to participate in a final oral Ph.D. exam for a student that is completing his research thesis. I have been a minor committee member for his studies for the last several years for his minor in Biological and Environmental Engineering. One of the privileges of Emeritus Professors is to continue to serve as an academic advisor if the subject of the thesis is appropriate to ones expertise. This is a stimulating volunteer activity that utilizes the accumulated wisdom of senior faculty.

A thesis defense is truly a challenging experience for the student. Especially if the examining committee takes an aggressive stance with the questioning and critique. I trust that the graduate committee I served on today was thorough in evaluating the success of the research and at the same time provided for civil discourse as we explored the strengths of the work as well as the areas needing improvement. Our work today also took advantage of the latest technology to engage a colleague in Denmark in our discussions. He had originally planned to be physically present at the exam, but the eruption of the Icelandic volcano caused a cancellation of his flights to the United States.

To the relief of the student, he was passed. However, as is often the case, the final thesis will be improved from the suggestions and directions developed during the examination. Both additions and corrections will take place before the final submission of the thesis for the degree. We all wish him well as he continues in his career. Relatively newly married and also a father he causes me to recall my raw early days of my academic career. It is such a relief to pass the Ph.D. hurdle. However, it is only a beginning and there will be many hours and days and years of effort to continue to be successful. Best wishes for the next 50 years young man.

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