Defense against the Dark Art

This is part two in my series that comprises the last 1.5 years of my candidature in linguistics at NTU. The first part, #dissertating, can be found here. This installment will take us from the emotional depths of the abyss I found myself in ca. October 2019 to the top of the world, when I passed my PhD defense and graduated about a week later. Get ready for an emotional rollercoaster. Or just scroll through to the defense if that is your fancy.

The title of this blog comes from one of my favorite Tara Brabazon lectures, entitled “How to fail a PhD in 60 seconds”, where it is argued that PhD examination is a Dark Art. And as we know from Harry Potter, we need to defend ourselves against the Dark Arts. In the context of a PhD that means writing a good dissertation and presenting it well enough to pass.


Around October last year I found myself kind of lost after the loss of my grandfather and with CJ in the States. I was making progress with my work, but I felt quite isolated. Here is a picture for illustration of my spirit animal back then. Put this song on in the background as you let linger here for a while.

Sad dog

Luckily I had moments of light in my life, like friends hitting me up to hang out, or friends from overseas that came to visit me. So here are some pictures in which I felt happy.

Guille y Tomas

Andrew and Thomas

TJ, the brother of CJ

Dr. Thompson

Lucio and me

mask for mask

me and Powei

Karen Kerin and Kyran

ChiaHo! I just want to say thank you for providing light in the dark.

Once upon a December

I couldn’t wait until December rolled around, when CJ would come back and we would go to Hong Kong for one of his best friends' wedding. It was simply amazing. Congratulations Ka and Mona!

CJ is back

Ka and Mona

Thomas and CJ in HK


Baetjes in HK

Back in Taiwan the biggest event was the 25th anniversary of our Graduate Institute of Linguistics. I did feel excited and proud to be part of it. In hindsight I look back with good memories to my time here. Even though I also felt the end coming nearer.

Happy bday GIL

Happy bday GIL

The writing winds of winter

Unfortunately UCSB called CJ back (okay okay, he is pursuing a degree there) on New Year’s Day, so life turned bleak again. It was at this time also that we started hearing first signs of a virus in Wuhan. As the days progressed, Taiwan started closing the borders with the mainland, but kept other places still open. The timing was not too bad: winter holiday was upon us.

I used these stretches of time to finalize chapter 7 in my dissertation, and was happily surprised when Arthur and David came to visit me. We did about a week of writing bootcamp while they were here and that accountability really pushed me forward, so much so that by February I felt finished “for now”. Thanks for the staycation guys.

writing group

#dissertating, part 3

As the world slowly began to feel the effects of COVID19 (and Taiwan was spared), I was still distancing socially, locking myself in one of the rooms at my department. It was once again a period in which I mostly felt down because of reasons I can only explain face to face. But here is another picture that captures the emotion perfectly.

Life is bleak and without color.

However, a flame was kindled in myself, and I just wanted to see it through. This involved going over my work again and again, trying to spot every typo or weird logic. I am thankful to my mom and CJ for helping me in this process and also other people who will discover their names in the acknowledgments (I mean I have to build some suspense right?).

the real #dissertating

Slowly life began to have color again as the dissertation reached the threshold of sendable.

black and white



This was not in small part due to the coronavirus. One of the negative effects was that it seemed impossible for my parents to come to Taiwan during my defense. But it was nice that CJ also fled the unsafe States (like seriously, what is going on there) to safe Taiwan.

CJ terug 2

May the beginning of the end

I was leaving my building one day and realized it would soon be over. So I had to take a picture of the building while I still could.


And luckily after what felt like an eternity of bleakness, dread and sorrow, I finally got to arrange my final committee, who were able to accommodate my defense within a short amount of time. So I am forever grateful for that.

In any case, I became a father of my intellectual brainchild.

Father of my dissertation

I sent off my dissertation and about three weeks later I did my defense. And now I’ve finally taken the time to turn the main presentation in a youtube video, because our defenses are all public – which I think is a good thing. Maybe open science should start by opening up all the defense presentations. So today I finally finished the subtitles, because the video is noisy at times. Here it is, for you to enjoy.

My presentation lasted about 30 minutes but this was followed by some 90 minutes of defending and Q&A. I also have those files on camera, but I have not yet felt the need to make those public. Contact me if you think it would significantly (I’m talking p < 0.05 significant) improve your life to see those files.

I am glad to say that I passed it with A+ – still not sure what that entails, but I’m sure that’s a good thing. And here I am looking thrilled with my committee.

PhD defense

While my Proposal defense had felt like a bit of a letdown, this really felt good. I enjoyed talking about my research (even though I sound super nervous in the video in the beginning) and trying to answer the questions to the best of my abilities. And later I got to celebrate and live maybe a bit too deliciously for one evening.


Maybe one of the most extraordinary things of being in Taiwan in times of COVID19 is that in the end, I got to have an in-the-flesh defense as well as an in-the-flesh graduation ceremony. Once again, so sorry that my parents couldn’t be here, but luckily this was also recorded and could be watched online. I enter the picture from about minute 54.

Here are even more pictures of me wearing the gown (what we call ‘toga’ in Dutch).



me, PhD and Chiarung, PhD


me and 椰林大道

looking back

So yes, everything turned out well. I don’t care how long you’ve been on this journey with me, thank you all for being there for me, from my parents to my partner, to my family, to my friends I made along the way, old friends, friends that came to visit me, friends that wished they visit me, my committee, my professors, my friends at school and outside of it, colleagues that have inspired me, people I had the honor of meeting at conferences, and not in the least to my advisor for advising me. I have enjoyed being here in Taiwan and am hoping that once I leave it won’t be the last time I see everybody.

The next installment in this series is planned for the end of August, after I “leave school” (離校), i.e., turn in my dissertation. But I probably will make some more posts in between. Of course, I am keeping the Abralin lectures updated, so check that out if you haven’t thus far.

Thomas out.

Postdoctoral assistant (Linguistics)

My research interests include ideophones, (Premodern) Chinese, historical linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics, and lexical semantics.

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