When I look back on my PhD thesis, the time is memorable. What holds no memories however, is actually crossing the finish line. When I completed the draft of my thesis, I left for my post-doctoral position. There was no ceremony, no fanfare, nothing to mark the day.
That is why I was so delighted when I attended the recent thesis talk for PhD candidate Leeanne, a young women I met through the mentoring program at Women in Bio. Her “thesis day” was marked by celebration, memories, acknowledgements and lessons learned.
Two aspects most impressed me. The first was the intro to the event. Leeanne’s thesis advisor introduced Leeanne by reflecting on her growth, not only as a PhD candidate, but as a resilient and determined woman. It was personal and warm. Given that PhD candidates spend many years in a lab (some as short as 4-5 years, others much more), one would think there would be quite the relationship developed between supervising professor and graduate student. But even if such a connection exists, it is rarely expressed in public.
The second aspect that struck me was Leeanne’s approach to the presentation. The audience was comprised of colleagues, friends and family. Leeanne made a point of getting us all on the “same page” before delving into the details of her thesis regarding the role of Xist in X-chromosome inactivation. This included a commentary on what one learns as a PhD and how the blip it adds to the outer scope of knowledge becomes a PhD candidate’s whole world (at least for a time).
There were also fun facts. In the intro I learned about the coloring of calico cats and why they are almost always female (fur color is on the X chromosome and one X is randomly inactivated in each cell).
Then, once orientated, we immersed together as an audience into the details of Leeanne’s thesis. The science also was a wow for me because the techniques available for molecular biology as well as bioinformatics weren’t available in the time frame I did my PhD thesis (yes, back in the day . . .no automated sequencing, no single cell analysis . . . the dark ages).
The talk ended with extended acknowledgements to family and friends and then the donning of the hood (which is more like a long scarf) to signify the finish line that Leeanne had crossed. This achievement was further marked when we adjourned to the party that followed the research talk. It included a champagne toast and the lab’s tradition – Leeanne’s signing of the ding made in the ceiling by the cork with her name and PhD date.
Leeanne’s thesis event reminded me that there is great merit in celebrating the achievements of colleagues and friends. Milestones are a big deal. Some are bigger, like finishing a PhD thesis or acquiring a key funding round for your start up. Some may be smaller or just seem so, like passing an anniversary for your business or achieving proof of concept for one of your hypotheses. Regardless – share in the joy and satisfaction of achievement – yours and more importantly, those around you.