phd comics jorge cham

Jorge Cham's Ph.D. Comics have been a hit with graduate students and people from around the world, so much so that a movie was created based upon his work.  His comics capture moments that are familiar to nearly all Ph.D. students.

Sometimes maybe even a little too familiar.

Have you ever wondered what happens at the heart of a dissertation defense?  This is the final oral test that a doctoral student must pass before officially receiving the Ph.D.  Certainly it strikes fear in the hearts of many graduate students.

But have any graduate students ever put their heart to the test?

It turns out that my colleague Greg Park actually did.  Before starting his defense, he wired himself with a Garmin Forerunner 305 to monitor his heart rate during the event.  You can find the entire post on his blog here which I highly recommend.

Like any respectable scientist, Greg published his results:

greg park heart rate garmin dissertation defense

It turns out his heart rate was lowest when the projector broke before the defense began, and highest just as his committee began testing him with questions.  Perhaps some of the minor peaks in the middle of the graph were difficult questions.

So it turns out that the Garmin isn't just for running, it can also be used to see how anxious you are when you publicly speak.  I don't know about you, but I have the feeling that if I wore a Garmin when I was at my dissertation defense, my heart rate graph would have a lot more curvature.

What do you think yours would look like?

© 2013 by Jonathan Wai

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About the Author

Jonathan Wai, Ph.D.

Jonathan Wai, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, and research scientist at Duke University.

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