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I'm an undergraduate student at a research one university. My former instructor and current research mentor is defending their dissertation soon. I asked if I could attend and they said they would be fine with it.

My primary interest in doing so is to see how the defense process works for when I attend graduate school. I am also just genuinely interested in supporting them since we both research the same material and they've been incredibly encouraging and helpful to me.

I know defenses are open to the public, but, in your opinion, would a student attending your defense add more stress or disrupt the process? I just want to make sure I'm not making anything more difficult for them or overstepping a boundary, even though they say they are totally okay with me attending.

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    A country tag might be appropriate. Some countries do not have public thesis defenses, for example, and in some places the defense happens in several parts with different assumptions about attendance. – Tommi Brander Apr 3 at 7:19
  • Discussions about the definition of professor as well as answers in comments have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Apr 5 at 10:11
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    Go! Four of my friends flew nearly 700 miles to attend my defense. I was really happy to see friendly faces in the room, and they took me out to a memorable dinner afterwards. (You don't need to do the dinner, though.) – Bob Brown Apr 5 at 23:34
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It's fine. As you say, these are open to the public, and it's common for family members, department members, and friends to attend. Since you perhaps are not "firmly" in any of these categories, asking whether it's okay to attend is probably a good idea -- but you've already done this and been given the green light. Enjoy.

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    I would actually have been more offended if the student I was tutoring did not attend the defense. – Bernhard Apr 3 at 6:00
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    This answer really sums it up, the only thing I would add to it is that the OP even asked if it's ok to attend. At this point it would be almost inexcusable to not show up. – posdef Apr 3 at 7:32
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I think @cag51's answer ("it's fine") is actually a bit too mild. Please go if you can!

Attitudes towards thesis defenses seem to vary a bit from program to program. My PhD program had a pretty strong (but informal) expectation that people would attend defenses, especially if they a) worked together b) worked in the same sub-field, or c) were friendly. That expectation is weaker in my current department: students do go, but it's acceptable to skip defenses due to non-specific 'busyness' too. In both places, it would certainly not be seen as odd or inappropriate to attend, especially if you have some relationship with the presenter or a professional interest in the topic.

On a more personal note, the final stages of grad school are often lonely and miserable, or at least it was for me. It was therefore incredibly touching to have people turn up for the defense: the room was packed with friends, family, collaborators, and even a few new people who were inexplicably interested in my work. To the extent that your presence triggers an emotion, I think it's much more likely to be gratitude and pride ("Awww, she came!") than stress or confusion ("What's she doing here?!").

Plus, there might be some free food afterward!

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    Re: loneliness and stress.. What you say is on point, although how people react to that varies, to say the least. My gf didn't want me to attend her thesis, specifically saying that my presence there would stress her even more.. Re: free food - for us there is usually a reception with bubbles, food and beer... so that's always a plus :P – posdef Apr 3 at 7:31
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    Re: free food afterwards. It is quite common at my university to have a small snack and a drink right after the defense with your commitee and all the guests, and often you have even more snacks and drinks with your guests, after the commitee left. Essentially, after the defense is over you have a party of sorts. – Dohn Joe Apr 3 at 8:59
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    +1, and agree that it varies...perhaps I was too mild because we never ever had more than ~10 people show up to a defense, and for my defense, there was only the committee and one student (even I didn't show up! [was on the phone from thousands of miles away]). I can imagine such a situation being uncomfortable for an undergrad – cag51 Apr 4 at 1:16
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    +1 for free food! – Jakub Konieczny Apr 4 at 9:01
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    Echoing praise for paragraph 3. That's how I felt about it. It helped quite a bit. – Randall Apr 5 at 1:16
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In the similar situations I know (habilitation kind of dissertations) it will be seen bizarre if you are not there, both on scientific as well as human relationship point of views.

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This is a normal thing to do. I was in a similar position and will be attending my mentor's dissertation in May. It's nice to give back to someone who has helped you out a lot by supporting them during a very challenging experience. Just make sure he's okay with it. He will probably be very encouraged!

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It's fine, I have walked into stressful defence-type lectures which one of my teachers was teaching. I don't mean to put the person off, but it's standard and you have to get used to it. When I first started teaching even though I was nervous I invited my friend to sit in on one of my lectures as it's something you have to get used to. Anyone can walk in there, you could be giving a stressful lecture one day and a family member you haven't seen for ages will randomly walk in and sit down to watch.

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    It's not about teaching – user104070 Apr 3 at 20:49
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    @GeorgeM : No, but it is a similar situation – MPW Apr 3 at 20:55
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    Not at all, but whatever.. – user104070 Apr 3 at 20:56

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