Well, one step closer to Dr Haggis at least! As you may have surmised from the comments and Twitter feed, I did indeed pass the viva yesterday, and have just some minor corrections to complete before I can be officially awarded my title. I promise to use it responsibly!
As expected, the defence was quite enjoyable, and it felt more like an extended seminar than an exam. We got off to a late start because the ‘Non-Examining Chair of the Examination Board’ (thanks Laura!) didn’t show up. Since the internal examiner Mark had never examined a thesis before, we needed a third person to keep an eye on him; eventually a substitute was found, and it was Chris Smyth, who is actually my second supervisor. I really hope there isn’t some rule against this which makes the viva null and void!
So after that brief faff I began proceedings by giving a little presentation summarising the aims, importance and main results of the thesis. Although intended to be only 15-20 minutes long, it was easily 45 minutes with all the interruptions and questions by Brendan and Mark!
I thought it would be a bit pointless summarising results which they already knew, having read carefully through the thesis, but of all the chapters I think it was my main results chapter which they hadn’t read in detail. Disappointingly, they didn’t spot the mistake in one of my big proofs, which I had frantically spent the last week trying (and eventually succeeding) to correct! It does make me wonder how many incorrect results actually manage to pass through vivas and referees, and how many never get noticed. Is it any better in the other science disciplines?
Talking about my own results was the easiest part of the viva. The kinds of questions I failed at answering were the ‘elementary’ ones. Results that are written in so many textbooks that you take them for granted without making the effort to understand the proof. And there were even a couple of questions that none of us, even the examiners, could answer! Hopefully I will sort these out in the coming week.
At this point I’d like to say a big thank you to Mark and Brendan for being such great examiners and for helping me to feel relaxed about the whole thing. They caught lots of my mistakes but also gave me much-needed encouragement that my results were important and interesting.
The viva was over 4 hours in the end (fairly long for a maths defence) and poor Andrew (my supervisor) was pacing the corridors ‘like an expectant father’ (in his own words). There were many sighs of relief when the examiners finally delivered the verdict, and much drinking of alcohol afterwards! Thank you also to all those who emailed, texted, tweeted or otherwise conveyed messages of congratulations, especially little sister Suzanne who seemed very emotional about it!
I now have 8 days to complete all corrections, get the thesis printed, bound and signed and handed in, so that I can graduate at the ceremony in June. Of course, if I miss the deadline it’s not the end of the world, as I can graduate in November instead, but all of Julia’s family are coming up to Edinburgh in the hopes of seeing some be-robed students, so I had better make the effort. It’ll be a tight deadline, but since the corrections are all pretty minor I think I can do it if I work hard.
And then I shall be free! I pledge now to
- Do more exercise
- Do more blogging
- Do more mathematical knitting
- Do more exploring of interesting places
- Do more exciting public engagement things
- Do more keeping up with poor neglected friends
- Do more cooking of healthy things
- Do more enjoying of the beautiful Edinburgh summer weather
But for now, I shall simply be doing more sleeping! G’night all!
P.S. Congratulations are also due to my mathematical brother Mark Powell, who passed his viva on Monday, beating me by 2 days. Grr.