How I spent a whole academic year
The year 2017 was always going to be a pretty stressful year. It symbolised the culmination of four years of hard work; long days, nights, weekends; continuous mental angst with the whole imposter syndrome, and “why me?” to do a PhD, hours and hours of data analysis, interpretation, and much more. It was the year that this all came to an end. So let’s have a look at the highlights of what actually happened this year.
IADR, San Francisco. In March, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel again to the west coast of the USA to attend the biggest oral and dental research conference in California. The trip was incredible; the conference was great, and Josh and I both had posters to present in the same session, with quite a bit of interest and great discussion of my work with the many that made the effort to come and have a look and a read! We spent extra time out in California and visited many of the tourist attractions; Golden Gate Bridge, had an open-top bus tour of SF, and we visited Yosemite National Park for a few days with incredible scenery like nothing you can imagine.
Visit to my PhD sponsor, GSK. I have been very well supported by my sponsors throughout the PhD. My industrial supervisor, Dr. David Bradshaw, has always been such a brilliant figure with a wealth of knowledge in microbiology, but also years of experience in the oral care industry. I too have a number of years of industrial experience behind me, prior to the PhD, and although in a microbiology field, it is very different to where I am now. The skills I developed during my time in industry set me up really well for this project. It gave me a great base of project management, data management, design, and completion of work within a timely manner. Importantly, I feel that coming from industry provides a work ethic that many students coming from an undergraduate or Master’s degree simply don’t have. I very much ‘hit the ground running’ and was very lucky to have continued that throughout with a slight adjustment to academic working life (which is actually very different). I visited GSK in May and thoroughly enjoyed it. I spent time with many different people in different departments, learning how the company works, and a bit about the many different roles on offer in this industry. It certainly rekindled my passion for industry, so watch this space in the future!
September. The true culmination of all the work led to this very month – the final month of my PhD, my final conference as a PhD student at BSODR, and my entry for the Senior Colgate Prize – the most prestigious prize in oral and dental research.
My presentation was an overview of the findings of my PhD project, in a single presentation, with a nice rounded story. I was competing against an array of excellent students, many of whom were at a similar stage to me, one of which was a good friend and colleague at Cardiff; Elen Everett. Elen is an amazing person, super intelligent, friendly, and generally a great friend. It was unfortunate that we were in the same session for the Senior Colgate Prize, and I truly felt she presented better than I did in that session. However, I was selected to go forward to the final and presented a second time the next morning. Later that day, we attended a gala dinner held at the marine barracks – a very special occasion; great food, entertainment, and the announcement of the prize winners. The entrant from Plymouth Uni, who presented after me in the final, and who I genuinely thought was the prize winner, was the runner up, and then the winner was announced… where my name was called! I can’t describe the feeling, but I was very proud indeed, excited, grateful, and knew that I had followed in my primary supervisor’s footsteps (Prof. David Williams, who won it 20 years previous),which was a fantastic end to not only the conference, but my PhD too.
The summer was manic with finishing bits in the lab and getting my thesis chapters drafted. This was an incredibly hard task – and at the time I felt it was the most difficult thing I’d ever undertaken. Long story short, I did finally get it to the point where I could print, bind, and submit, merely days before the final deadline. The final submission was a bit of an anti-climax if I’m honest, but once again, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of achievement. Then, after quite some organisation by Suzy, our PGR support superwoman, the viva date was set for the 18th of December at 10.30.
The limbo period between thesis submission and viva voce is a very strange period indeed. I didn’t really know whether I was coming or going! I was exhausted after the thesis writing and submission, but very pleased to be able to get back into the lab and do some real science again – this time, developing a more robust biofilm model for future projects and grant applications. As I had a bit more time on my hands, I decided it would be a good opportunity to resubmit my previously rejected manuscript. I made the changes recommended by the previous reviewers and resubmitted to the Journal of Medical Microbiology. After a first round of peer review, it came back with a request for minor revisions! This was a great feeling, as the changes were minimal, with the reviewers’ comments being very positive indeed, ultimately recommending publication. This will be my first publication as first author, and is an incredible time in any scientist’s career.
In addition to this and the lab work, my viva date was looming. The day quickly approached, and again, long story short, I passed with minor corrections. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I can say I well and truly earned it! The actual viva was 4 hours long and exhausting in itself. I’ll follow up with another blog post about this sometime soon to elaborate a bit anyway.
I feel so fortunate to have completed the PhD journey. To have had the supervision, guidance, and advice that I have received over these four years, and the opportunity to meet, network with, and present to the very names that are at the top of the game in my field of microbiology. I’m looking forward to what the next years bring!
Dr. Daniel Morse (@danieljmorse) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Cardiff University. This story was published on December 31, 2017, on Dr. Morse’s blog, I’m A Scientist (available here), and has been republished here with his permission.
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