Grad School Milestones

There are many milestones in grad school, from the day you get your acceptance letter and you write your first scholarship application all the way up to the big one, writing your thesis and your eventual defense. Several bloggers have touched on their experiences on various evaluation milestones, such as Fannie’s take on comprehensive exams and Heather’s completion of her candidacy paper defense. And I’ve come to realize that each department really has its own set of evaluations or “hoops to jump through”.

I actually completed (successfully!) a milestone of my own last week, my “Senior Seminar” for the Department of Biochemistry. Now you may ask, what is a senior seminar? Which is a fair question because not every department has such a thing. Basically it’s a 45-minute talk (plus questions) you give in your last year of your PhD. Its purpose (as far as I can tell) is to share your PhD work with the students and professors of the department and acts a little like your “permission” to start writing your thesis.

It was stressful preparing for this, of course, but I think it is a useful exercise for the senior graduate students. It forces you to sit down and put all your research together. Furthermore you have to decide which experiments to include and which to exclude (and there is a lot that doesn’t make the cut). Plus you start to think how all of this will come together in your thesis. I have a better idea of how I’m going to write things up and I have some of the figures prepared now. Additionally, while I was studying for possible questions, I did a lot more reading than I normally do which sparked new questions and connections. It also made me more aware of the different topics I’ll have to cover in my introduction. It was also a chance to improve my presentation skills. Like many of you out there, I am NOT a fan of public speaking. But while my blood pressure was through the roof before and during, in the end it felt like such an accomplishment.

And so now the fun begins, the writing! I’ll be cutting down my hours in the lab to part-time while I stay at home and attempt to put pen to paper. While I feel a bit more confident and organized following this presentation, the scoop of the whole thing is a bit overwhelming. But like the stress I felt for the presentation, I think I just need to remind myself to take it one day, one section at a time. I understand now how Fannie may have felt when she was wondering “how to write a thesis?” I’ll let you know how it goes!

Banner Image by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @jkarim.malet // @gradlifemcgill

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