Doctoral thesis

Jesse was a bright and ambitious student in a Biochemistry Doctoral thesis program.

She was always ready to learn new techniques, and she diversified her skill set by working in the animal facility, cell culture room, and also in a mass spectrometry lab. Her supervisor picked up on Jesse’s talents, and he frequently assigned younger students to shadow her, and he also volunteered her to work with collaborators on joint projects. As the years went on, Jesse was spread thin between her own PhD thesis project, mentoring, and collaborations. Jesse tried to reduce her load by asking her advisor to take her off collaborations.

However, several projects were in advanced stages already and Jesse’s expertise was indispensable to the completion of the projects. Jesse spent a good portion of her days mentoring younger students and walking across campus to her collaborators’ labs, and her PhD thesis writing was not coming together. Over the course of 7 years Jesse had collected a lot of data, but most of the projects were dead-end or too small for a publication. As a 7th year student, Jesse had only one publication, and she was doctoral thesis 2nd author on it. Nevertheless, Jesse scheduled what she hoped to be her final committee meeting. The projects were related, but there wasn’t a cohesive story that pulled all her data together. After 7 years of working 60-80 hour weeks, mentoring younger students, and being a key person on collaborations, Jesse’s committee denied her proposal for a PhD thesis defense.


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Fortunately, Jesse’s story has a happy ending, but she had to take a different approach than what she had been used to. Given her diverse skill set, companies started to approach her with employment opportunities but she could not start interviewing until she had a defense date scheduled. Motivated by the companies that were trying to hire her, Jesse became laser-focused on how to write a PhD thesis. She had several heated meetings with her supervisor to get off collaborations that were not supporting her thesis, and she also asked for clarification on what she had to do in order to be allowed to defend. Over the next few months, Jesse collected enough data to complete and defend her PhD thesis, which allowed her to interview for jobs and get an offer. What is the lesson from Jesse’s story?

PhD thesis, until she started doing things differently. PhD thesis that a committee would NOT approve. Perhaps you will recognize some of these patterns in your own workflow. 1 reason for unpleasant surprises at committee meetings. Many students think they know what they need to do to graduate. They put a lot of work into collecting and analyzing data without communicating frequently enough with their supervisor to see whether they are on the right track. Fear is a major reasons that students don’t approach their PhD supervisors frequently enough.

What if my supervisor thinks less of me because I made mistakes, or I don’t know what I should do next? Conflict can be scary, and some students will go out of their way to avoid confrontations with their supervisors. This was Jesse’s strategy for 7 years, but once companies started reaching out to her, she became more assertive in setting boundaries for her role in collaborations and the requirements for her graduation. Always know what your supervisor’s and committee’s expectations are for you to write a PhD thesis. In some cases, getting clarification will involve disagreements and heated discussions. As research evolves, expectations will change over time, but you always need to know what you are supposed to be working on now.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
A never-married woman would have a broad variety of job options to choose from because of their lack of household responsibilities.

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