Yesterday, I took the train back to Montreal to participate in a dissertation defense of my pentultimate PhD student (actually, I have two more defenses to attend--my last supervisee and a student upon whose committee I serve). I am very proud of Aisha Ahmad who aced the defense. It went long not because she was under attack, but because we were all so engaged in her work and in her discussion of it. Her dissertation, which compares the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic Courts in Somalia, seeks to understand the relationships between Islamic politics and states un-failing. How does order emerge out anarchy? She did some tremendous fieldwork in Kenya, Somaliland and Pakistan plus some innovative survey work to convince the committee (and soon the world) that her economic explanation is quite persuasive.
I am not promoting her here to get her a job, as Aisha already has her dream job at U of Toronto. She is from Toronto, and actually likes it there, so no need to help her find another job. I am sure she will succeed there. She won a teaching award at McGill as my TA, and she is the personification of diligence. Moreover, Aisha is heavily involved in humanitarian work to help the people of the countries she studies. Her work also speaks beyond the academy. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a meeting with several members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Canada's State Dept), and they were talking about their new speaker series. They would talking about a particular speaker who knocked their socks off--turns out to have been Aisha.
So, I am mighty proud. Of all that I have done in my career and at McGill, that all but one of my PhD students went on to tenure track positions is a great point of pride. Of course, the reality is that I am proud of the accomplishments earned by others. These students did (and are doing) all of the work, learning new skills, exhaustively building datasets, and going to dangerous and less dangerous places to interview warlords, smugglers, members of militias, experts and so on. All I did was repeatedly say: "Not everything you learn belongs in the dissertation." Still, I will take credit for their work because that is how narcissists operate.
Seriously though, yesterday was a great day just for Aisha but also for me, for the rest of the folks on the committee, and for McGill. I am most reluctant to use "Doctor" for folks with PhDs because Professor works so much better, but Aisha was a professor before yesterday. Now she is Doctor Professor Aisha Ahmad, Ph.D. Woo-hoo!