Friday, August 09, 2002

I am still digesting the last comments Espen gave me on the thesis. The thoughts of what I need to do with/to it surface at intervals in this mad rush to prepare for the start of the semester. A discussion which bordered on argument today brought with it a sudden clarity.

Academic evaluation, while we like to think that we measure the skill and knowledge of the student, is actually only a measurement of the student's ability to convince us of skill and knowledge. We don't really look into the student's head and measure knowledge and understanding. The students are performing for us, and we are convinced or not, depending on the skill of the performer. Yes, we can ask questions which will make it very difficult for the student to convince us that he or she is smart. We can demand that an essay, an oral assessment or a multiple choice test is part of the performance. But in the end, if the student can't master these genres convincingly, it's all moot.

To finish a Ph.D. is like practicing for a performance. It's not enough that I have understood something about my topic: I need to present it and I need to present it convincingly. That's the hard part. The good part is that even if I know there are flaws, weak points, areas which should have been explored more deeply or detours into territory where I should never have ventured - as long as I present all of this flawed, skewed, limping mass of assumptions, knowledge, understanding and questions in a way that convinces my assessors that the thesis contributes in a constructive and desirable manner to the accumulated knowledge of the world - I'll be fine.

I hope this realisation will be able to carry me past the final editing. I really need a boost of some kind.

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