What to Wear to Your Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Caitlin Kirby strode into this great battle of her academic career wearing a skirt made of rejection letters for scholarships, publications, and academic conferences. To earn her doctorate in earth and environmental sciences at Michigan State University, Kirby had to press on through these defeats. To symbolize her determination, she sewed the rejections into a skirt. The Lansing State Journal reports:

“The whole process of revisiting those old letters and making that skirt sort of reminded me that you have to apply to a lot of things to succeed,” she said. “A natural part of the process is to get rejected along the way.” 

Those rejections and what she learned from them weighed heavy on her mind when the day of her dissertation defense came. Kirby wore the skirt to continue the work that she, her adviser and colleagues did to normalize rejection.

This very mature and striving attitude reminds me of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Press on past defeat and onto victory.

-via Nag on the Lake | Photo: Caitlin Kirby