I reached my last major 'unofficial' milestone on Friday: I completed my grad music colloquium. Every year, a raft of upper year PhD students sweat about presenting their research to a group of their peers (if anyone shows up). What's more many, but not everyone, tries to make their research agenda seem interesting. This happens with varying degrees of effect. I just had my turn up at bat.
Though my dissertation is about mashups, I've always maintained an interest in Glenn Gould's radio documentaries. The connection is not as tenuous as one might think: it was Gould's concept of counterpoint using electronic media that originally have me the idea for mashups as a contrapuntal phenomenon. Though I'm still interested in my primary research agenda, the Gould thing has gotten bigger and has, on a number of occasions, threatened to eclipse my dissertation. Frankly, I'd rather be known as a Gould scholar than "the mashup guy," which I think would be a professional dead end.
Over the last several months I've had a lot of time for ideas to ferment and congealed before I could properly articulate them. I was reminded last week that I was to resent on January 28, which was much closer than I thought. Its not that I forgot about my presentation, I just lost track of time. I wrote my paper rather hastily, but with what I considered to be a logical order. I edited, revised, rehearsed and spent a delightful evening putting together my Keynote presentation (I've discovered that it is far more preferable to PowerPoint). Between the presentation and my polished paper, I felt pretty good.
I'm normally quite nervous on the day of presentations whether for conferences or in class. On Friday I was eerily calm, my shirt was spared the usual cold sweat, and my throat and mouth didn't suddenly go dry. Perhaps the calm was because both Nancy and Sid (my supervisor and second reader) couldn't be there to ask the tough questions. In any case, the presentation seemed to go well apart from most of my jokes falling flat. I thought the dry humour would be better appreciated as I got older.
The questions when it was all over were quite enthusiastic. The was an air of fascination, or it could have been shell shock. Most conspicuous by absence were the pessimistic comments doubting the validity of the subject matter or my methodology. These questions are extremely common in the Q&A portion of the afternoon. After the lambasting I received in my area exam in June, I had my reservation about pursuing this topic. Perhaps the sweetest moment of the afternoon was a comment from a prof whose course I took in my first year. My final paper for her class was a mess in retrospect and my grade reflected that. Her comments were extremely cutting, however deservedly. She went out of her way on Friday to compliment the paper and note how impressive it was to see how my writing and presentation styles had progressed in three years. Of course, that kind of progress is expected otherwise what's the point of being in this programme.
I don't mean for this post to be so self-congratulatory but I finally feel like someone finally understands what I've been doing here for so long. The great feedback has not only been extremely validating, but has given me some hope for a successful career as a researcher and academic.