Final countdown

It’s here! Finally, after much toil, tears, contaminated cultures and countless hours on the cryostat, my thesis seminar date is set. Should I be excited? Yes. Proud of the work that I’ve done to date? Yes. Terrified beyond reason? Absolutely.

The thesis seminar is the final step the be undertaken before the thesis proper is written; it is a milestone in a grad student’s career, the opportunity for a candidate to present his or her work to a committee of investigators and an audience of peers, to put it into a larger scientific context, to give it relevance beyond the lab. In the neuroscience program at McGill, the Master’s seminar, a two-odd hour event (spectacle?) begins with a presentation, about 45 minutes, by the candidate, followed by a series of questions from the committee and the audience. These questions can range from data-related queries to the rationale behind the scientific method, general questions about the biological system to speculation about the work and how it fits into a broader scientific model. After the question period, the audience and the candidate are asked to leave and the committee deliberates – after about 10 minutes, the candidate can return and are granted (or in the rare, unfortunate case) denied permission to write their thesis. This, of course, is formal permission – the candidate can begin to write even before their seminar, but the seminar itself is a symbolic “end” to full-time, night-and-day lab work.

For me personally, the most unnerving thing about the thesis seminar is the questions period – not surprising, as this is the component for which you cannot fully prepare. Defending my findings, my methods, my conclusions, is something that I both look forward to and dread –strangely enough, I have become quite attached to my data and do not want to see it assaulted. That said, a successful seminar makes for a successful graduate student, as the ability to rationalize your data, recognize its flaws, identify future directions and give it global relevance is a skill that can be translated to almost any career, irrespective of the field.

So, in this prelude to the a mad pre-seminar 3 weeks to come, I am going to sit on my sofa in the morning sun, drink some excellent coffee, read People magazine and mentally prepare myself for the final push of my graduate career. This is the calm before the storm, but clear skies are ahead.

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