West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A doctor in the house

After five and a half years of work, I am finally a doctor of philosophy. It feels good. On Thursday I gave my defense talk— a 45-minute lecture on the highlights of what I've done in all this time— and I somehow managed to make it all cohere into a solid, logical outline. Ever since I started graduate school I've wondered why everyone else's projects, as laid out in defense talks, made so much more sense and worked so much better than mine. I discovered the secret: a defense talk isn't anywhere near a recap of all that you've done as a graduate student. It's a greatest hits compilation, focusing on the projects that actually turned out to have cool results (in my experience, less than 30% of what I actually did). I had also wondered how people could remain so calm and collected while presenting the culminating talk of a 5-6 year research career. Well, I still don't quite know the answer to that one, but it worked for me, too. The whole time I was up there, I kept expecting the adrenaline wall to hit me and make me lose my stride, but it never came. I just focused on what I wanted to communicate, and the words flowed, and I found myself really enjoying the opportunity to share my work with so many people. Hopefully the rest of my scientific career will continue to flow this way. I know it will not always be easy, or even enjoyable, but now I know that moments like this are possible.