Thesis Colloquium

The thesis colloquium marks the formal beginning of the dissertation process. Emerita Professor Susan Cole gives the following advice about planning the colloquium.

Before you begin to draw up your handouts and type up your bibliography, stop and think – planning your colloquium is a trial balloon for planning the whole dissertation.  If you do not have a coherent argument now, chances are you won’t have a coherent argument later.

There are at least four parts to the serious presentation of your project.

  1. Describe the problem.  If there is no problem, you probably do not have the right topic.  How did you find it?  How do you define it now?  Why is it interesting?  Why should any one bother to spend months thinking about it?  (Remember, the topic you choose for your dissertation may be with you for years to come, especially if you find a job and need a book for tenure).
  2. Talk about the evidence for solving the problem.  What kinds?  How do they fit together? Were there any false leads?  What are the limits?  Can you define these limits?  (If you can’t define the limits, you will never finish writing).
  3. Suggest a testable hypothesis that might account for the synergy between no. 1 and no. 2.  (If there is no connection, reschedule your colloquium.  You don’t have a thesis topic yet).
  4. Give a carefully chosen example that illustrates the way you work or the way your argument will be carried forth by the evidence you have isolated.  Be careful to choose an interesting example.  Your audience will need a jolt at this point in order to understand what you are up to.  A good example should present some challenges, be readily understandable, and represent the kind of work you intend to carry out.

Further advice for the colloquium:

Remember, a thesis is an argument, but most narratives are not.  Keep descriptions short.

The thesis colloquium is not a contest for paper consumption.  The best handouts are short.  You do not need to present your entire bibliography.  Make sure that the items on any handout are integrated into your talk.

If you show slides, restrict their number.  Choose them carefully and practice your presentation before the day of your talk.

Present your talk to a living being well before the scheduled day.  Get used to the sound of your own voice.  Time the talk.  If it lasts more than 45 minutes, cut out a few pages.  Keep it short, think about the issues, and ask yourself the kinds of questions you would ask if someone else were giving your talk. You know more about your topic than anyone in the department. Take charge, watch the time, keep alert, and draw the discussion to a close before it dwindles to dullness.