Unraveling the Complexities of Competence

Earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to attend an eye-opening event on the “complexities of competence”, namely, Marja-Leena Niitemaa’s doctoral defense on Complexities of Competence: A Study on Finnish Upper-secondary Lexical Development and Use of L2 English. I had no idea what to expect, other than it was a formal event, and, I imagined, a very nerve-racking one, at least for the doctoral candidate.

The viva voce is the ultimate climax of years of hard work, i.e., blood, sweat and tears for many. Finally, the day has arrived when you can present to the public the cornucopia of knowledge you have acquired along your PhD journey. The grace and dignity of the event was humbling.

Marja-Leena’s viva began with an introduction by the Custos, Professor Pekka Lintunen. Senior Lecturer Katja Mäntylä of the University of Jyväskylä was Marja-Leena’s Opponent (thesis examiner). Marja-Leena’s lucid lectio praecursoria captured the audience’s interest from the start because the topic of her dissertation is perhaps something many people can relate to, i.e., acquiring and applying foreign language skills through digital means. The complexities Marja-Leena spoke of refer to the multifarious and interweaving ways in which young people acquire English today. Learning English is no longer limited to the classroom only; rather, students draw upon the resources their environment offers, e.g., internet and television. 

Marja-Leena Niitemaa together with Custos Professor Pekka Lintunen and Opponent Senior Lecturer Katja Mäntylä

The event was indeed a learning experience, having struggled with my own complexities along my PhD journey. For example, how do you navigate around unexpected results, results that controvert decades of previous research? This can really multiply your symptoms of imposter syndrome! How do you get your head around statistics when your brain has not been wired for such things—let alone interpreting them! How do you balance work and tend to your PhD brainchild? How can you tell procrastination to go pound sand? The answers to these questions are, of course, different for everyone. Perseverance and determination certainly help, keeping your eye on your target and thinking back to why you began your PhD journey in the first place also help.

For me, experiencing Marja-Leena’s viva helped me to garner the much-needed faith I needed to invest in myself. I was able to witness first-hand the culmination of hard work, determination and learning processes that go into writing a dissertation. This, if anything, gave me a nudge to keep working towards the goal I set so many years ago. So, if you are contemplating about getting a PhD or struggling to finish one, go to a viva—you’ll get all the inspiration you need!

Text: Judi Rose

Photo: Pauliina Peltonen

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