Dissertations, Defenses, and Doctorate Degrees… Oh my!

Hello blog!

What a summer! As of August 21st, I am officially a Doctor of Philosophy! Woohoo!

A reception full of sushi, champagne, and of course a nematode cake!

My dissertation was full of sushi, champagne, and of course a nematode cake!

Graduate school was definitely a roller coaster ride and I can’t wait to write a few blogs about the dissertation process and all of the emotions that go along with it. Until then, I wanted to share with you a little insight into my dissertation defense, and even give you a chance to watch it!

In my 5 years at the University of Washington, I have attended a LOT of dissertation defenses. Dozens. And they are always wonderful, celebratory events that leave me inspired and with tears in my eyes. However, to be completely honest, they are also often really hard to understand. PhD research is extremely specialized, and often talks are aimed at the fellow experts in the audience, including committee members and lab members.

For me, I instead wanted to share my dissertation celebration with everyone who supported me along the way. I not only invited scientific colleagues and classmates, but many family and friends who normally operate outside the ivory tower of academia. Therefore, when I started to prepare my dissertation defense, I had one large goal in mind: I wanted every single person in the room to walk away with an understanding of what I did in graduate school, how I did it, and why I did it.

An audience of scientists, soccer fans, and family

The first wave of attendees included scientists, soccer fans, and family

To tackle this goal, I first decided that pictures were better than graphs. If I could draw an animated schematic or take a quick picture, I chose to do that over trying to navigate complicated figures displaying raw data. Second, I subjected my lab to two separate practice talks. At practice talk one, I asked my lab to focus on content: was I sharing too much information for a 45 minute talk? Too little? Were there any topics that I was presenting that would be inaccessible to a general audience? Thankfully, my lab includes several experienced teachers and speakers who reminded me that terms like “epigenetics” and “chromatin” either need explained or replaced with more accessible terminology.

Practice talk two was aimed at presentation style: was I talking too fast? Too slow? Were some slides more helpful than others? How could I improve those weaker slides? I found that setting unique goals for each talk not only prevented me from being overwhelmed with suggestions, but also allowed my listeners to approach each talk with a fresh perspective.

Now, it would be a lot to say that I fully succeeded at my goal. Did every single person understand every sentence of my talk? Certainly not. Were there portions of my talk that could have been improved? Certainly. However, many audience members were able to paraphrase my findings later over beer, and I even had some non-science friends participating in the question portion of my defense! And that, my friends, meant my defense was a big old victory in my book!

My sisters definitely enjoyed themselves!

My sisters definitely enjoyed themselves!

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend my defense. What an incredible and surreal day. For those of you that couldn’t attend, you’re in luck! I have included a video of my dissertation in this blog post. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear some critiques/discussion in the comments section! Was I able to accomplish my goals in my dissertation defense? After watching, would you be able to paraphrase the important take home messages? What do you think could have improved my presentation?

Thanks for reading/watching/commenting!