…by Chiara / from Austria / PhD Neuroscience 2016-2019
Sorry it took me so long to write another post – but I wanted to wait until my 10 week report and my first Thesis Committee Meeting was over so I could provide you with some first-hand information what these introductory parts of a PhD at the University of Edinburgh are like.
Your Thesis Committee usually consists of 4 people, although in some cases, it can be more – for example if your project is at the intersection of two disciplines. These four people are usually your primary supervisor, a co-supervisor, a Thesis Committee Chair (your go-to person for problems with the committee, supervisor, etc.), and an “external” scientist (meaning outside your field of research). In most cases, your primary and co-supervisor, sometimes also the chair, will work in similar research areas, so it is helpful (and also mandatory) to have a person outside of that exact field of research. I am very happy with the members of my committee, as all of them are excellent scientists.
The 10 week report is a short, 2-page description of your project and your experimental plans for the first year. It is due about 10 weeks into your project (as the name suggests), but I was granted a bit more time because Christmas kind of sneaked into those 10 weeks. About 3 weeks after the hand-in of your written report, you will have an official meeting with your thesis committee. This gives your committee the time to have a look at the report and get an idea what your project is about. In this meeting, you will give a 15-20 minute presentation which is followed by questions. After this, you will speak about your supervisor – to avoid any awkwardness, your supervisor leaves the room for a few minutes. This gives you the chance to comment on any concerns you have with your supervisor, possible miscommunications or generally anything that comes to your mind. This part of the meeting was very short in my Thesis Committee meeting, because I did not have anything negative to say. The same thing is then repeated, but vice versa – you leave the room and your supervisor gets a chance to complain about you (hopefully there will be no need for that, though). I think this is a really good format and ensures that everyone is happy and can address possible concerns that exist now or might become a problem in the future. Furthermore, the suggestions from your committee will help to shape the project in areas where it might not be perfect yet, and ensure your project will be of highest standard as it is expected at the University of Edinburgh.
As it turns out, there was a mix-up and my committee did not receive the written 10 week report, but obviously I still had the presentation to make up for it. There was quite a bit of criticism in some parts of my experimental work, but all of the mentioned flaws can be addressed and will help me make my project worthy of a really good publication (hopefully). I also received some helpful suggestions as to which people could help me with some aspects of my experiments, or which microscopes / facilities I could use.
Directly before my first Thesis Committee Meeting, I attended a talk by Ben Goldacre. I had not heard of him before (shame on me), but he is an excellent and very funny speaker and addresses the problems we have with people in science and healthcare tweaking statistics to produce results in their favour. That same evening, I ordered one of his books which is now my evening read.
I also attended good talk by Frédéric Saudou within the Neuroscience Seminar Series. His research was really interesting and his group was able to show that motile vesicles as transported by motor proteins produce their own energy, and they carry almost all the enzymes required for glycolysis. This is quite fascinating and groundbreaking, so I’m definitely excited to hear what his lab will publish next!
So, I feel I have brabbled on long enough for today – I’ll end this blog post with some pictures I took in Austria when I was home for Christmas 🙂