- I finished my thesis! FINALLY!
- My oral defense went really well because I got a lot of GREAT criticism and comments from people before I gave my final talk!
- I’m finally an actual PhD with LDs! WOO!
- I visited Cape Town to see my future lab and FELL IN LOVE with the idea of working there!
It has been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog. I’ve been really busy writing my thesis and trying to finish up all the nonsense silliness associated with graduating and getting a new job. What will follow is a very brief summary of the last few months:
I finished writing my thesis (here is the official link: http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/11156/) in early February. The title is, “SIV increases susceptibility to tuberculosis by manipulating M. tuberculosis-specific immunological responses.” It ended up being about 209 pages (this includes the index, reference section, appendix, etc). This took me multiple months to write despite the fact that 3 of the chapters were made up of papers I already wrote throughout my graduate school career. Writing my thesis basically consisted of this: (Write a little, take a short internet break) x 1000(ish) times; then I’d send an individual chapter to my boss, she would go over it and make a MILLION(ish) corrections and send it back to me, I’d make those corrections and move on the next chapter) x dozens of times. During this time it included me freaking out a few times about how I didn’t think I could do it and all those gremlins that try to prevent me from being me. However, I was able to prevail.
A few things that helped me write my thesis were as follows:
1. Outline EVERYTHING- this includes chapters, sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters and figures I wanted to use. Outlining helps my mind make sense of things. The jumbled up thoughts in my brain finally come together in an outline!
2. Make mini goals- The mini goals were the ones I would set every day, these goals are small and bite sized that can be accomplished in a short period of time. This includes anything from writing a page before dinner to designing a single figure before the next cup of coffee to looking up 5 sources that help explain X, Y or Z. Goals = accomplishments = happy me!
3. Make big goals- Big goals are hard because they’re big. They require a lot of work and the culmination of dozens of mini goals. Big goals for me were: finish the Introduction section in December, write all of chapter X by this date and finish the whole thing at least 3 weeks before I turn it in so I can make last-minute corrections.
4. Balance (a little bit)- What I mean here is that I needed to take some brakes regularly to prevent me from sinking into a depressive state of terrible. I’m horrible at balance, so this is the one issue I’m not very good at. It helps that my wife was able to get me out of the house a couple of times. It really helps not talking about the interaction of T cells and macrophages all the time. Although I took only a few of these longer breaks they really allowed my mind to rest which helped out the next day!
5. Get pumped- This means I always had a little voice in my head saying, “you can do it” even when other thoughts in my head were saying the exact opposite. Hang on to that little voice, as long as that’s there, there will always be hope.
My thesis defense was on February 16th. At Pitt a thesis defense is broken up into two parts. The first is a 1 hour PowerPoint presentation of your work that is open to the public and the second is an hour-long private defense with your committee members. My parents, brother and sister, brother- and sister-in-laws, niece, grandparents and my wife came to my defense! It was wonderful that they were finally able to see me in my element: talking science about a topic I love to people that also love science. I was incredibly happy with my defense so I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it turned out.
Some tips I learned about this part of thesis defenses:
1. Prepare your talk early- I started working on my talk 2 weeks before my defense. That’s about a year in academic research presentation prep time! This allowed me to go through probably 20 versions of my talk before I got everything right.
2. Develop some thick skin and give your talk to people that CARE!- I gave the first version of my talk to my boss a day before I was supposed to give it at lab meeting. She basically kept saying, “I don’t like this” and “This needs to be changed” and “TOO MANY WORDS!” This meant that I needed to change about 80% of my talk a DAY before I was going to give it to my lab members. So I stayed up until 4 in the morning making these changes so I could give a GREAT (so I thought) presentation for my lab members. When I gave my presentation to my lab members the 45 min talk became an 1.5 hour CRITIQUE EVERY SLIDE without MERCY session. Ugh… It was really hard dealing with all of this criticism but it was the BEST thing that could have happened. I got so many ideas from their comments I was able to adjust every single slide so it made more sense. After this lab talk I had about 1.5 weeks to work on finalizing my it.
3. Practice, practice, practice- I practiced my talk between 1 and 3 times everyday for about 2 weeks. I memorized all the animations, slide positions, data presented and background info and the time it took on average for each slide. I even practiced drunk a few times just to see if i could do it! I could (kind of). Ha.
Cape Town, South Africa
I’m moving to Cape Town for my post doctoral research this May. I’ll be there for 2 years doing HIV/TB clinical immunology-based research. It’s been my dream to do HIV research in Africa since I have been in undergrad, so it’s pretty amazing that this dream is actually coming true! Because I was so nervous about moving to Cape Town (with never visiting) my boss decided to fly me out there so I could visit the lab I’m joining and see the city. Well, Cape Town is magnificent and my future colleagues seem wonderful. This means a lot of the nerves have been replaced with excitement! How could I not love a place that has mountains and beaches?!
In the interim
Right now I am planning on finishing up a few experiments in my current lab to complete a paper I’m working on. I will be working in this lab until April (assuming my paper gets accepted without experimental revisions). I’m also in the process of getting a South African VISA, health insurance and finalizing all my arrangements for Cape Town. In May my wife and I will move to Cape Town so we can start our life out in the opposite hemisphere!