A couple of hours after my PhD Defense, I was famous.
My PhD dissertation could now be found on academic bookshelves everywhere (Swedish university libraries are found).
Going to my PhD party felt like I had made it through a marriage ceremony, and now got to finally enjoy myself; except for the fact that I’m too exhausted to fully enjoy myself.
Booze are needed. Lots and lots of booze.
It doesn’t hurt to add in loads of friends, colleagues, supervisors, and family to cheer you on.
Speeches start with the big hitters–the supervisors….and my partner.
Food is ever important for lifting your spirits.
And if that doesn’t work, then you should start singing.
Flowers (and gifts) aren’t bad either; they always brighten your day!
To really wake everyone up, my colleagues put on quite a show, highlighting my journey of learning and blending in with Swedish culture and Swedish research.
Once their speech was complete, I received their gifts.
Which was promptly followed up by the comical conspirators The Wellanders! Led by Linus and Fredrik, they proceeded to barrage and embarrass me with typical high school hijinks that I of course didn’t get to participate in when I was 18, and therefore, I get to now relive those moments, in order to feel truly like a graduating Swede….complete with embarrassing baby photos.
I know some truly gifted, loving, and inspiration people!
Sweden is a lot different than the USA when you have to defend your PhD dissertation (PhD avhandling). For example, there is a lot more pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.
You get your PhD Dissertation book in the mail weeks in advance (after all, you need to mail them to your PhD committee and opponent [more on them in a minute]).
Your defense is publically announced weeks before your actual defense and anyone may attend your defense (either as friend or foe).
It always helps to go to your defense room, pre-defense, to practice your speech, be challenged by your supervisors (and other colleagues).
Sarah flew over to
provide some great advice!
And make sure all of the equipment (lights, shades, microphone, powerpoint, etc) all work and that you know how to work them.
When the day of my defense finally happened, I had to decorate it with my research posters.
After everyone arrives, the opponent, committee members, supervisors, and the PhD student are announced via a chairperson.
After the announcements are made, and your dissertation book is passed out, you now make a 30 minute speech about your research; telling a story of where the field is, why your research is needed, the strengths and limitations to your research, how your research contributes to the field, and future needed research.
Another difference from the USA: you have an opponent. An opponent is a professional within your field who is not connected to you or anyone that you’ve worked with (e.g. your supervisors) within the past five years. They are there to critically challenge your dissertation.
While professors in public health have a reputation for seeing how your work fits in a larger framework, psychologists have reputations for picking apart the methodology and statistics you use. My opponent met that stereotype.
Beyond the opponent, you also have to face a battering ram of committee members. This consists of three professors who also have not worked with you or your advisors for the past five years. The PhD student typically meets these committee members at their half-time: when they are half-way completed with their PhD and need to defend their progress thus far, while also receiving support and advice on how to strengthen their dissertation and future research projects.
Hours later–After you’ve faced down your opponent and the three committee members, then anyone from the audience is allowed to challenge your work. This is most tedious, because you’re exhausted from defending, and it’s much harder to prepare for audience members, since they could bring up pretty much any topic.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any audience questions.
At this point, everyone came up to congratulate me on my “job well done” while they committee, opponent, and my supervisors (Anna and Dr. Raziye Salari) went into a private room to discuss the defense. After 10-20 minutes, my supervisors are dismissed and the committee decides your fate.
A pre-party starts, with champagne and snacks while we await the verdict.
I’m often asked by fellow PhD students–what should I have on the cover of my dissertation (avhandling) book?
To me, the answer was very clear–I wanted the overall message, the theme, of my dissertation to be front and center on the cover.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I should shorten my dissertation 😉
I had a childhood friend, Kirb Brimstone (also found on Facebook here), do the artwork. I advised him what I wanted and he drew it.
Here’s the significance of my cover art:
Since my dissertation is about how fathers are not provided with an equal chance to parent, both through the Swedish family policies and through the institutions, like the child health field, I had this represented on the cover.
There’s an illustration of Sweden in the background, with a father, presumably from Uppsala University, holding his daughter’s hand as he walks towards a nurse and a preschool teacher.
The nurse and preschool teacher are both women, signifying the gender difference men/fathers face at the outset of garnering parenting advice from these individuals.
However, he is stopped at a fence, with a lock, signifying the gatekeeping that is happening as those who have knowledge about young children’s health hold the keys (and therefore the power) to inform or not inform others about young children’s health.
In this case, fathers feel like the gate is closed, and that they have several barriers to break down before they can be fully accepted into the child health world.
Mainly people in Sweden and around the world believe that Sweden is a very gender equal country. And to its credit, it most certainly is, especially relative to other countries. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a vast amount of work still needed before achieving gender equality. While many people work with the struggle for equal rights for women, few pose the argument on ways men/fathers are discriminated against, not the least of which is through the Swedish child health field.
With that in mind, the sign on the gatekeeping fence has a sign saying “Nullius in Verba” which is Latin for “take nobody’s word for it”. In other words, just because people believe Sweden is a gender equal country, and that men/fathers hold all of the power–do not take societies word for it.
Seek out the truth…..by reading my dissertation.
You can find a copy of my dissertation by clicking here.
One last thing–I gave a tip of my hat to the father-figures in my life: my father (JSW), my two grandfathers (KFE & CRW), and my best childhood friends dad (SP) by having their initials “carved” into the fence on the right-hand side. This was also intended as a symbolic gesture, suggesting that these fathers had reached the gate, but were stopped and couldn’t be as involved in all aspects of childrearing as they might have liked due to the various levels of gatekeeping that they encountered.
On March 30th, 2014 I completed my half-time (halvtid) seminar at Uppsala University in Sweden. The title of my half-time was called Parenting Support for Fathers in Sweden: The Role of Child Health Centers and Parent Support Programs for Young Children.
The half-time is important: It stresses that you’re half-way completed with your Ph.D. Since you should have four publications to earn your Ph.D. in Medicine at Uppsala University, two articles should be completed (or mostly completed) before hosting your half-time.
Wells, M.B., Engman, J., & Sarkadi, A. Gender equality in Swedish child health centres: An analysis of their physical environments and parental behaviours. Accepted for publication in Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies.
Wells, M.B., Varga, G., Kerstis, B., & Sarkadi, A. (2013). Swedish child health nurses’ views of early father involvement: A qualitative study. Acta Paediatrica, 102(7), 755-761.
Salari, R., Wells, M.B., & Sarkadi, A. Child behaviour problems, parenting behaviours and parental adjustment in mothers and fathers in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. (Revise and Resubmit).
Along with that, you should have taken two compulsory courses:
Introduction to Doctoral Studies (1.5 credits)
Introduction to Scientific Research (9.0 credits).
These are the only two mandatory courses a student has to take if they are in the Faculty (Department) of Medicine.
Thankfully I not only had taken those two courses, but I had also sat through several other lectures, including a week long lesson in York, England called Foundations of Economic Evaluation in Health Care (through the York Expert Workshops found here).
Only one other requirement is needed (and to be fair, it’s only needed before graduating): the Ph.D. student should also attend conferences, presenting at least two posters and one oral presentation. Thankfully I had completed this requirement, and therefore don’t need to worry about that before graduating (although I will still go to many more, as I love presenting my research and spreading the word about gender equality in Sweden).
Months before your half-time, your supervisor should select three committee members. This is because people are quite busy and trying to book them last minute can be quite tedious and even cause delays. These three committee members may or may not be at your Ph.D. defense, but they will provide valuable insight into your research by challenging your research, as well as providing guidance as you move forward with your final studies and framing the four manuscripts into a logical story (e.g. the red thread).
To see the official list (in Swedish) of the guidelines for half-time, click here (these may be specific to Women’s and Children’s Health, but provide good overall advice as well).
A Basic Breakdown of the Guidelines:
Three weeks before your half-time, you should email your kappa (aka jacka–as a jacka is jacket, while a kappa [your actual Ph.D. defense book] refers to a long overcoat; hence jacka is used as a funny term to describe being half-way completed) to your three committee members. Your jacka/kappa contains two things:
The Jacka: This is a manuscript telling the story of your research, including your published studies, and a discussion and future research section. When writing the jacka/kappa, the Introduction should frame your studies into the larger picture of where your studies fit. Your studies, especially the Methods and Results sections are then added into the jacka, but severely trimmed down: so that they don’t exactly repeat what the articles say, but still can stand on their own, possessing all of the really important information from your studies. The Discussion section should be next, followed by a Future Research section, which typically highlights your other papers that will comprise your Ph.D. defense. These are added in so that the half-time committee can understand how all of the studies tie together, as well as provide advice on the additional papers. A basic abstract is warranted on each manuscript in the Future Research section.
Attach the full-length studies your half-time is based on (whether actually published or in manuscript form). This is done so that the half-time committee may read more specifically what you have done. All three committee members may or may not fully read your actual articles, which is why the jacka is so important.
About a week before the half-time defense, your half-time is made public (i.e. university emails are sent out reminding everyone of your seminar and when and where it’s located). People may or may not show up.
Preparing for your half-time is extremely important; after all, you’re representing your supervisors, your research team, and of course yourself. Plus, making good impressions on your committee may help lead to further job prospects. Dr Raziye Salari helped me tremendously in preparing for my half-time, especially in understanding my statistics on a deeper level (specific statistics questions may or may not be asked, but confidence levels sure rise if a greater level of understanding is achieved [aka learn as much as you can]). But to see a list of the Top 10 most frequently asked questions, click here. Knowing the answers to these questions will greatly help when preparing for your half-time or a Ph.D. defense!
The total half-time defense lasts for about three hours. The day of the half-time consists of several things:
Make sure lunch and fika (snacks) are ordered as appropriate
Give a 20 (to 30) minute presentation to the general public and your 3 committee members
Defend your thesis and participate in a constructive research dialogue with your 3 committee members in front of the general public for about an hour and 45 minutes
Committee members meet privately with your supervisor and co-supervisors to discuss your progress
Committee members meet privately to decide if you’ve passed your half-time
Your supervisor is notified by the committee members, who then informs you of the decision
Pay raise is given 🙂
Attached here are my powerpoint slides, as well as my half-time jacka (even with the various editing errors that I realized after I had sent it out).
After the committee deliberation, I found out that I had passed my half-time!
Education, Health, Mental Health, and Public Policy