If I succeed in keeping my foot out of my mouth, by this time tomorrow I will be ABD (All But Dissertation). After countless revisions--I estimate about 10 rounds, eight based on faculty feedback and two resulting from my own attempts at "tightening" the argument--my committee finalized the prospectus on Monday morning and gave me the thumbs-up to defend. In my department, the defense is a formality. No doubt it is a useful exercise, giving you a chance to explain your research and practice answering questions. No one in institutional memory has failed the defense, though, and I doubt I will be the first. I'm anxious about saying something stupid, but I think my committee has decided that I'm ready to move on to the dissertation.
For those who have never attended the defense of a dissertation prospectus, it's a pretty standard format across humanities and social science doctoral programs. The student presents their project, and then your committee takes turns asking tough, penetrating questions. Sometimes these questions address shortcomings in the proposal, other times they attempt to ascertain the feasibility of the research (for example: how will you find records that convey the thoughts of the actors/subjects you will research?). After the committee is satisfied, they allow the grad students in the audience to ask questions. Finally, the committee dismisses the student and the audience and confers. If they agree that you successfully defended, they sign a form stating that you have been advanced to candidacy for the degree of Ph.D. and are now ABD!
Wish me luck!