Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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how Liv got her PhD

I don't usually write blow-by-blow accounts of what I've been doing, but I want to record the details of yesterday for my own future reference as much as anything. Feel free to skip if this is boring; I know hatam_soferet wanted to hear all the gory details, but I can see it might not be that fascinating to most people.

It's been a long time since I experienced that peculiar emotional state of waking up on the morning of an exam. It's a mixture of anticipation with nervousness, but on the whole a good feeling. So I had a nice bath and brushed my hair (I miss the soothingness of brushing very long hair; the strokes still feel too short at the moment). Then I decided my non-iron blouse was too trashy so I ironed a proper blouse instead. Power-dressed in my summer suit (pale lilac, fairly tight knee-length skirt, short-sleeved jacket, and a yellow blouse). My hair wouldn't quite behave the way I wanted, but I did something that was at least neat.

I checked I had my presentation saved to my flash drive, picked up the half-dozen papers I was most likely to want to reread immediately before the exam, made lunch. Spoke to my dad briefly; he wished me 'good skill', which is a phrase of Screwy's for use where 'good luck' isn't apt. Settled down with a cup of tea and LJ for half an hour or so.

I headed into work for about 10 o'clock, and went to the seminar room to save my presentation to the computer and check all the technology was working ok. (The seminar room is really excessively high-tech, which to my mind just means more to go wrong.) I found I needed to steal a laser pointer from the departmental meeting room, as there wasn't one in the main seminar room.

Back in the department I got laughed at for being so uncharacteristically smart (my default is very much scruffy academic), and people wished me luck and generally it's good to be among friends. Boss S noticed a mark on my jacket so I cleaned that off. So by about 11 o'clock I had everything in order and it was just a matter of waiting. I think I got the timing right; I had enough margin I wasn't panicked, but wasn't sitting around for ages making myself nervous. I skimmed a couple of papers and then decided I was better off distracting myself with blogs, confirming arrangements for going out this evening, and a novel.

I wasn't delighted by the presentation; it went ok, but I sounded nervous. It wasn't as resounding a success as when I gave the same presentation in the department. Also, I got some surprisingly awkward questions; generally people try to ask supportive questions at a PhD viva. Anyway I wasn't stumped by them, so it was no big deal. But it certainly wasn't terrible, and I timed it exactly right. They timetable in a half hour break for lunch, during which Boss S and Überboss D went to be polite and charming to the examiners, while I grabbed a sandwich and thought myself into a state of calm preparedness.

When the examiners called me in I was quite looking forward to the viva. But then they decided they needed 5 more minutes for final preparatory discussion. They sent me out of the room, which kind of broke my nerve a little; I'd been all psyched up to start the exam so further waiting wasn't pleasant at that point. I started trying to work out how I would write an LJ entry to announce bad news.

That was by far the worst part of the whole exercise; as soon as the examiners called me back, they started out by saying they had no serious problems with my thesis and I should just enjoy the viva. Which I took as a pretty broad hint they were intending to pass me. Generally they were very friendly and obviously on my side.

After such a good start, the discussion was really enjoyable. The external, X, is very familiar with my work, at least partly because my project was largely an extension of work she started in our lab a few years ago when she was a post-doc here. So she was able to make quite detailed and specific criticisms, and did so without being mean or petty about it. The internal, J, is not really in the p53 field at all, so he talked about more general issues about the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings. He was also quite humble, very aware of the fact that he was working outside his field. Talking to him felt a lot more like a really productive discussion with a colleague than being examined. Not that X was in any way nasty or intimidating either, mind you.

There were some potential criticisms that I handled easily by drawing together data from different parts of the thesis or just giving a justification for my choices. There were others where I conceded that my experiments could have been better designed. I only made one serious boob, which was to do with confusing mouse with human antibodies, so I felt foolish, but hey. I was generally aware of relevant literature; there was only one paper mentioned that I hadn't read, and one where I misremembered the conclusion. But mostly I was looking pretty competent.

They were very generous in letting me get into fairly unfounded speculation about possible models for p53 regulation. I talked about a lot of compilerbitch's ideas, which I hadn't really been able to put in the thesis because I don't have solid data to back them up. X was immediately impressed, J took a bit more convincing as he said that my description sounded too mystical and airy-fairy, but I gave some more concrete examples of what I meant and I think he's really taken it on board. His intellectual approach to biology is in many ways more like mine than Überboss D's, so I think I've planted the germ of an idea that he may play around with. Yay compilerbitch!

Most of the corrections I have are minor typos and altering figures to make them more readable. The only slightly more tricky ones are that X wanted me to draw a graph of the relative frequency of p53 mutation in different kinds of cancer, which information I don't actually know in quantitative detail, but I know where to look. And she also wanted me to include more data on the work that I referred to but didn't really go into detail. The reason I didn't include the data is that I was scooped on publication while I was halfway through, so I abandoned that particular line of inquiry. But both those are extremely doable.

The viva lasted only slightly over 3 hours, so on the short side. They sent me out for the ritual ordeal of waiting five minutes to hear the verdict, but by that point I was pretty confident; the viva had gone so well I didn't really have any reason to be scared.

Then there was cava and lots of congratulations from the lab. I drank too much bubbly too fast and that combined with the extreme relief to make me rather light-headed. They gave me a really nice card, a bunch of flowers and a pile of books; I really like having a reputation as a bookworm. I think the choice of present was mostly Boss S's doing. I wore my grandmother's Dr badge, which I'd saved specially for the occasion (as she had the same name as me). Lots of people hugged me, which is not something that goes on as a general rule.

We went more or less straight on to The Italian. A few people dropped out at the last minute, so we were 12 rather than the expected 15, but that was fine. I really like The Italian, it's just about the only decent restaurant in Dundee. The food was, as ever, delicious and the portions enormous. We had the most elaborately decorated plates ever for dessert, a little tiny dessert in one corner, accompanied by an orange slice covered with whipped cream and a pineapple segment with coulis. fruit in And the atmosphere was really lovely; I'm slightly biased because I was ridiculously happy, but I think everybody had a good time. Kind of on the expensive side but it was worth it for a special treat. A couple of people from shul showed up too, PS with his boy TS (my former bar mitzvah pupil), and Prof S.

Got home at around 10.30, tired and extremely happy.

Just to repeat a bit from the cut since this should be immediately visible: many thanks to compilerbitch for your perspective on my work; it came in very useful in the viva!

Today is the 16th day, making two complete weeks and 2 days of the Omer
Tags: diary

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