Tag Archives: Workshops

Preparing to Defend

 

Preparing to defend my thesis was the most mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically, challenging part of graduate school. After my final field season, I thought it was going to be easy. All I have to do is write. I’ve written a ton. Piece of cake.

I was so wrong.

Yes, as graduate students we write a lot. During my time in graduate school, I wrote scientific papers, grant proposals, popular science articles, blog posts, etc. But I had never written about the same subject so continuously. I started to get sick of my study system (honey bees), which made me sad, because I love honey bees!

When I finally handed my thesis in to my committee, I had to prepare for the actual defense. This was also a challenge. What papers should I read? What is my committee going to ask me? What if they hate my thesis?

In the end, it all worked out. I successfully defended my thesis and the defense was enjoyable! I didn’t need to stress as much as I did.

Preparing to defend your thesis is going to be challenging, but here are some things I realized that may keep you from psyching yourself out too much.

Use a citation manager!

First, a specific piece of advice: start using a citation manager when you get to grad school, keep it updated, and use it consistently! This will make the references section of your thesis much easier to deal with. I didn’t start using a citation manager until year three, and when it came time to write the thesis in year five, I was not happy with past Rachael. I use EndNote but there are many other options and the library hosts workshops on almost all of them.

Keep your committee in the loop.

Throughout your time in graduate school, talk to your committee. Update them on data at committee meetings, discuss methods, ask for suggestions on writing when relevant. If you do this throughout graduate school, your committee won’t be surprised at defense time, and neither will you. If you take the time to get to know your committee members, you may be able to anticipate their questions.

I realize this doesn’t work for that external committee member you may be required to have. When choosing your external committee member, choose someone who knows your field, and read his/her relevant papers. I did this for my external committee member, and I was able to successfully anticipate some of her questions. Also, when it comes to your external member, don’t be afraid to ask around. Ask past graduate students from your lab who they chose and why; ask about their experience in the closed defense.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Remember, the written thesis you hand in to your committee is technically a draft. As a perfectionist, this was difficult for me. I was working so hardto make every chapter, every figure, every page, so that it could be publication ready. But with a document that long, it may not be possible in the time you have. And that’s ok. Part of your committee’s job is to suggest edits, which you can then use when/if you publish.

It’s a conversation.

On defense day, I was most worried about the closed defense. What if they hate my research? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?

Part of these nerves will be alleviated by fostering a relationship with your committee. Also, think of the closed defense as a conversation rather than a “grilling” session. Your committee asks you questions, you answer the questions as best you can. Some questions lead to other questions. It’s just a discussion– a discussion about something you’ve been studying for 4 – 6 years and you know really well.

My closed defense was a fun, productive experience. Sure, I couldn’t answer some of the bigger, theoretical questions, but it was fun to brainstorm and discuss ideas.

Take care of yourself.

Even if you follow all my advice, preparing to defend is going to be difficult. Graduate school is supposed to be hard. Throughout this process (and all of graduate school), remember to take care of yourself.

Countless hours of sitting at a computer takes a toll on your body (this is the physical challenge). Take breaks to stretch or go for a walk. Give your eyes a break from the screen. Drink water. Eat food. (Both sound simple but trust me, you might forget.)

Stay active, whatever that means to you. Do yoga, go for a run, kickbox, get outside, play a board game, grab coffee with friends. And don’t feel guilty about taking time away from school to stay active! Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important.

 Remember, you are not alone.

Writing a thesis is an inherently isolating process. Don’t let it get to the point where you feel like you’re alone, because you’re not. Talk to past graduate students from your lab (this was my greatest therapy while writing/preparing to defend), attend the graduate writing exchange, visit family, grab coffee with friends (yes, I’m saying it again).

Graduate school takes a village and you have a support system in your mentor, your committee, your friends, your family. Use that support system.

 And finally, celebrate!

Following your defense, take time to celebrate your accomplishment! Getting a higher degree takes dedication, ambition, and a lot of hard work. You deserve to be proud of yourself!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

Making the most of your time at Tufts – Workshops

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As I’m nearing the end of my degree things have been getting busy! I’m trying to publish results from my first two experiments, writing grants for a summer project, working with undergraduates on two ongoing research projects and teaching a biostatistics class. I’m also starting to think about what I want to do when I finish. It’s all very exciting, but I decided it’d be helpful to find out some tips for managing my various grad school commitments and more information about life after grad school.

Luckily for me, Tufts coordinates professional development workshops. These workshops cover sooooo many topics: grant writing, time management, conflict resolution, presentation skills…. the list goes on!

The most recent workshop I went to was actually coordinated by the Tufts Postdoc Association. It was about preparing a resume for jobs outside academia. It is great to have this kind of info available since many professors can’t help much with this career path. Well, at least in my field most professors don’t have much experience outside academia.

The workshop was great. It’s been so long since I’ve had to have a proper two page resume. Mine was in terrible form (which I knew before the workshop). It was run by White Consulting and they gave us a bunch of tips about how to focus on output and achievements rather than just on skills and experience. Also, what information should be included and what information should be forefront on the resume (hint: not education!). Really useful stuff!

I also recently went to a workshop called “Taming Your Grad School Schedule”, about time management and organization.  Sounds like basic information that you should already know by the time you’re in grad school, but I found it really useful and it kicked me into gear.

They gave us several tips on how to organize your time, and schedule in work. Several ideas were things I’d heard of before but had forgotten about (or been too lazy to do). But it was nice to be reminded of them and hear how other grad students manage their time and writing projects (I always find starting to write is the hardest part!). After the workshop I made much better progress on my writing and on meeting deadlines.

The next workshop I plan on attending is about interviewing skills. I’m hoping this gives me that extra boost to land a job when I’m finished at Tufts. I’m also planning on attending the next Editing for Style workshop when it runs again. Could always use to tips to polish off my writing!