Goodbye, Edinburgh!..

…by Chiara / from Austria / PhD Neuroscience 2016-2019

I just realised my last post is over a year ago, so I decided to make this new post to give you all an update of what has been happening. At the same time, this will actually be my last post as I am due to leave Edinburgh soon – but more on that later. I will keep the blog up for another few months, or maybe keep it as an archive, I haven’t quite decided yet 🙂

The last year has been a whirlwind. I have never been as busy as in the third and final year of my PhD and it wasn’t always easy, but I also learned a lot in terms of time management and resilience to stress, and looking back at it it all paid off.

During the last year, my PhD stipend had run out, so I did some various small jobs to keep myself financially afloat such as demonstrating at the Biomedical Teaching Organisation (which was really fun and I definitely recommend it if you get the opportunity), and freelance editing for scientific manuscripts.

In the last months of 2018, and early months of 2019, I put together my PhD thesis and handed in the first version for examination in February. Although thesis writing is painstaking for most students, I actually quite enjoyed it, particularly writing the introduction and looking at the wider field. These are the key things I learned from writing my PhD thesis:

  • don’t force yourself to write on days where it just doesn’t want to come out: usually I looked back at what I had written on these days and had to completely revise it because it didn’t flow well.
  • instead, use this time to read. Having a good understanding of the field is critical to a good thesis. For me, it worked best to dedicate certain days completely to reading, taking notes along the way, and then sitting down with my notes and finding a nice ‘story’ of how I can present this in a way that flows well. This approach works much better than reading papers and writing at the same time, trying to add in bits along the way.

At the same time as writing my thesis, I was also finalising my paper which contained most of the work described in my PhD thesis. Working on the paper certainly helped me put together my thesis as it meant I already had lots of figures that I just needed to modify slightly. We had to go through several rounds of revision for nearly 9 months, which was painful at the time but made my work stronger and resulted in a much better paper. The afternoon before the day of my viva (the oral examination at the end of your PhD) we received an email that our paper had finally been accepted (you can read it here)! This was fantastic news and a great confidence boost before my viva.

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The viva voce examination itself was surprisingly a very enjoyable experience. Although several of my friends told me before it would fun to discuss my work with examiners (who are genuinely interested in it), it is kind of nerve-wracking in advance. However, during the examination I barely noticed time passing, and three hours of inspired and friendly discussion later I had successfully passed my viva. I was extremely pleased, and on top of having passed, I only had minor editorial corrections which took roughly 30 minutes to do.

On the 28th of June, I graduated in McEwan Hall with a PhD in Neuroscience. It is only slowly and steadily sinking in that I can call myself a doctor now, but all the hard work has really paid off.

So, that’s goodbye to Edinburgh from me – thanks for the beautiful time and all the memories and friendships I made along the way.


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