How do you feel about summer PhD defenses?
This spring, it seems I have been inundated with requests to be on mid-summer PhD defense committees, usually for students for whom I was already involved as part of the defense prospectus committee (our committees don’t have ongoing involvement with students, unless there’s an existing technical collaboration).
On the one hand, I really do want to help the students and try to say yes whenever I can: the student got a job, they want to move on, and we should help them to do that. On the other hand, getting a job and defending a PhD are not exactly unforeseen catastrophes: the student typically writes the dissertation and interviews for jobs (or at least should, as that’s what I request of my students) over several months preceding the defense. At least at this school, there’s no reason not to defend during the semester and then postpone the filing of the final form of the dissertation by a few months, if the student wants to keep the student status until they need to leave midsummer for a job. For international students, getting the F1-OPT paperwork requires several months of lead time anyway, so filing for F1-OPT is a good time to schedule your final defense. It used to be possible to defend and deposit a dissertation, then be as a short-term part-time postdoc until the job situation is finalized, but since the mandatory low-level pay for postdocs has now been raised to nearly $50k with no part-time options, these short-term postdocs as a courtesy to students are no longer financially feasible.
Just this morning, I had to decline another request for a summer defense. The student wanted to schedule it during a week when I don’t have childcare, and only three weeks into the future. I could scramble, but I said no. I have the right to not be perpetually available for during the summer, especially for non-research activities (remember: in the US, there is no summer pay by the university; any pay comes from research grants), plus this lack of planning by the student and advisor really ticked me off.
What say you, blogosphere? How do you feel about summer PhD defenses?