The Meeting

The period between submitting the literature review and the meeting that wouldd decide my academic fate was a long and stress-inducing two weeks. When the meeting was finally arranged it transpired that it would be with the Head of Department, the Graduate Advisor and my two supervisors. A crowded little office tête-à-tête with me being the meat in the academic sandwiche.The meeting was a hour in length and started well. I was asked to summarise the literature review, which I did very ably (years of speech training as well as a fairly small source material pool meant that I was able to give what sounded like a practiced speech off the top of my head). Once that was over I was asked far more direct questions; how does this project fit into Naturalised Epistemology, does belief in Conspiracy Theories resemble the higher-ordered framing principles we see see in traditional theistic belief and how does the project escape being that more suitable to a Psychology Department?The last question was the most vexing. It is very easy to start talking in psychological terms when dealing with Conspiracy Theories. Most of the existing non-philosophical literature exists in that field and most of the best examples make use of psychological considerations as to why people believe conspiratorial claims. Halfway through the meeting I realised that there was a problem; I was talking about Pyschology and not Philosophy half the time (rule of thumb; Pyschology deals with why people come to certain beliefs; Philosophy is concerned with how we justify those beliefs).I was also mindful that many of the questions I was being asked I wasn’t expecting, in part because to give a proper answer would require that parts of the thesis were already written. I was, for example, asked to describe what my last chapter would look like. Not having read it I really didn’t have any idea and thus I talked about how I would try to show that the kind of solipicism that people claim belief in Conspiracy Theories entails is escapable and how that this could lead to some interesting considerations for Conspiracy Theory-like beliefs. The Graduate Advisor seemed, well, unimpressed with my answer.I left the meeting thinking that in the best case scenario I would be asked to revise and resubmit my proposal and that it was probable that I would be rejected out of hand for not being philosophical enough in my intent. I sat around outside waiting for my potential supervisors, hoping that they might be able to give me a hint as to what was being mooted in re me (it could be, I reasoned, a while before I got a formal response). When one of my supervisors walked past me with the HOD in tow I got nothing (then again, he is blind and thus didn’t see me).Later that afternoon my HOD sought me out and bade me to see him privately. My HOD can be described as a jolly man and I’ve seen him deliver criticism and I’ve seen him deliver praise all with the same manner. Somewhat apprehensively, I followed him to a tutorial room and awaited my fate.Which was all rather positive, really. I was told I had given a thoughtful performance in the meeting and that the Graduate Committee was very excited about the project. I was to get the go ahead formally but my HOD wanted to be the first to tell me the good news.To say I was elated would be an understatement, although I felt more relieved than anything else. That I then had to go and work a late night rather destroyed any notion of having a wild celebration, and my success with the Graduate Committee was only the first step in formal enrolment as I still had to put in a formal request to the Senate to be able to start the PhD, and write the Abstract. I’ll put that up sometime later.The meeting was gruelling; I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncertain about something I’ve studied before. One of my supervisors remarked that it reminded him of the Princeton Continuance Meetings. At Princeton you start your PhD doing papers and halfway through the degree they bring you before the board and quizz you to see whether you should be allowed to continue on to write your dissertation. People fail those meetings and they are generally thought to be as tough as your final (oral) examination once the PhD is written. At the time I hated the process, but in retrospect it was probably the best thing for me. I developed a far better idea of where my project is going from undergoing the process of proposal, literature review and meeting. When it comes to the crunch in a few years I will be better prepared than some.Then again, what do I know of the crunch?