Dissertation disappointment…

I received my dissertation grade and my final overall grade, including my graduation decision last week. I can’t say I achieved my goal – I missed the grade I needed on my dissertation to graduate with first class honours, and with an A average something I never accomplished as a full-time student, by just a few points. I will graduate with upper-second class honours (a 2:1 as they call it), with “merit” – an accomplishment in its own right, but not the one I hoped for.

You can click here if you want to jump down to the link for my dissertation, which I had to keep under wraps until the grades were final.

Ultimately, it isn’t the final ranking that bothers me – it was coming so close and just missing. If you share my guilty pleasure of watching American Ninja Warrior, it is like those competitors who get the tips of their fingers on the top of the warped wall but can’t quite get enough grip to pull themselves up. Or the ones who see the clock tick down just before they can hit the buzzer. It’s the coming close but not quite being able to finish strongly that frustrates me.

Looking at grade conversion tables, I arguably have something between a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA by US standards — basically a B+ or A- average. And that is certainly higher than I have ever had as a student. I was always one of those kids who could pull Bs with little effort, so that’s what I did. Even college and law school were low B/B- averages despite spending more time doing things other than studying. I also realized, and a doctor confirmed, that ADHD likely played a huge role in that. (The doctor I met with was surprised that I made it through law school and have had a successful career as a lawyer.).

My dissertation topic was a tough one – deepfakes and the threats they pose to individuals, to society, and to democracy itself. I spent a few months in the weeds of this topic and why the law currently is not adequate to address it nor will the law alone be able to address it.

My dissertation is linked below, for those who want to read it. The paper is based on UK law but a lot of the underlying research draws upon US resources. And, I should note – I still haven’t edited or updated the paper so it does have some typos and mistakes typical of student papers.

While I am disappointed in the ultimate outcome, I can’t deny that there already have been a number of significant positive applications of and outcomes from my research. A couple months ago, I was able to put my newly gained knowledge to use in a meeting with legislators. I recently spoke on a panel about deepfakes here in LA and will be traveling to New York to speak on another panel that includes some deepfake related content. Earlier this month, I spoke on a panel at SAG-AFTRA’s biennial convention about a few topics, including an update on deepfakes. And last week, I did a 2-hour MCLE presentation based on my dissertation that I will probably present to other audiences in the future. I am told that there were as many as 100 people attending by webinar, in addition to the folks who attended in person.

And speaking of that MCLE presentation, I am proud of the internal MCLE program that I helped to develop and run as part of our broader internal education program. We have put on at least 7 programs in slightly over a year, each providing anywhere from 1 to 2 hours of credit to attorneys on our staff and providing generally useful education to attorneys and non-attorneys alike.

So there’s that…

Dissertation: Deepfakes As an Emerging Threat to Freedom and Democracy

The beginning of the end…

No, I am not referring to Avengers: Endgame, although I did get my opening night ticket already. I am referring to my LLM program. I had my first meeting with my dissertation supervisor yesterday, and so begins the final leg of this journey.

As I’ve posted about previously, the last several months have posed challenges, particularly on the health front. Things seem to be settling down in that area, although there remains uncertainty with some of the health issues. Despite that, my grade last semester was consistent with prior semesters and the health issues ultimately were not a factor in my final grade. My GPA currently sits just 1 point below the level that would meet my goal of graduating with (the equivalent of) honors – something I was never able to achieve in the past (a recent ADHD diagnosis helped give me better understanding of my past under-achievement, which really may have been over-achievement, all things considered). I’m within the discretionary window, I believe, but I want to earn that distinction on my own merit.

My dissertation is worth 1/3 of my total credit units, so it will ultimately determine whether I am able to achieve my stated goal. That is a lot of pressure to have hanging over me these next few months. It also comes at a time when I am trying not to succumb to burn-out. After nearly 3 years of dealing with a full-time job plus school part time, and teaching a law school class during the summer when I wasn’t in school, I’m a bit drained. The illness – and particularly the various frustrations ancillary to it (I haven’t been able to play hockey for over 6 months now and I spent months dealing with the red tape to begin really treating the underlying issue) – had also taken a toll. Add to that the recent launch of my side business (more on that in a future post) and it’s a wonder I’m coherent.

The positive (but also a negative) is that I’m writing on a topic that is cutting edge, that is timely (as I have formulated it), and that hasn’t been covered much in legal scholarship yet. That does have a drawback in that it will be harder to find resources I’ll need to do my research. But it also means that it has the potential to attract attention and maybe play a role in future policy debates (particularly if I can get it published somewhere). My dissertation supervisor expressed that he is intrigued by and excited about the topic, which made me feel better about it. And, unlike my general coursework and the last paper I will have to write for this semester’s course, I do feel some excitement about the opportunity to write on something that personally interests me and that actually relates back to my “day job.”

And as school winds down, I can start shifting more of my focus toward my side business, which is a creative an endeavor and therefore a nice change from the law. I also have two trips on the horizon – a conference in Edinburgh (which will also allow me to do some on-campus research and meet my dissertation supervisor in person) and a 16ish day trip over the summer that will include 4 to 6 (5 – 7 if you count an airport layover) different European countries and at least 2 places on my long travel bucket list (Dubrovnik, Croatia aka Kings Landing and Bled, Slovenia). And, since I’m not playing hockey on the weekends, I’m trying to get out a little more and be more social, to meet new people (as well as reconnect with existing friends).

So, while I’m burned out, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a couple of rest stops along the way if I can just keep moving forward…