Sunday, June 7, 2009

And now we play the waiting game...

As some of you know, I've been away from blogging for a while (actually I've done a little blogging, highlighting some sites and collections, but little to none reviewing of primary literature) as a result of writing my PhD Thesis project: in my school, early on your 2nd year you have to submit a thesis project which you will have to present and defend in your "Qualifying Exam". This project (a ~15-20 pages document) summarizes what you will do during your PhD, providing (of course) the background and stating the hypothesis, objectives and the means by which you plan to address them.

After working for over a year in my previous lab (in plant molecular biology), I decided to switch fields (for reasons I may share later) and enter the fascinating world of circadian rhythms, using fungi as model organisms. As I was already in my 2nd year, I knew that making such a decision will require a lot of work, as I would need to read a lot (and from scratch) to come up with an original (and "PI-satisfying") research project in little over a month.

Shortly after I downloaded all the articles necessary to get me into context, I realized the impact of the field: a LOT of CNS, G&D and PNAS articles flooded my folder, a view I longed since my days working in mRNA splicing in yeast in the US.
So I started reading and soon came up with an idea I felt was interesting and, more importantly, one that motivated me. So I ran it by my PI and he was totally on board with it. In fact, his words were "fascinating idea. In fact, I was kinda thinking the same thing". After deciding on a research topic, I had to read a lot more, now getting deeper on this subject and write something called a "pre-project", which is a 4-5 pages summary of your proposed project. The purpose of this pre-project is for the school to select your thesis committee accordingly. After turning that document in, they gave me ~1 month to write the final project, which had to be very detailed, particularly in the background info and the methods.

Needless to say, this resulted not only in the downloading of more and more papers, but also in the daily email from my PI stating something like "you should DEFINITELY include this paper" which is usually a 2 seconds-old (and 15 pages long) article.
In the end, and on the verge of losing it, I rationalized the reading, focused on the writing, and on my final week managed to have a draft 3 days before deadline, in my PI's inbox. After some corrections and a little fighting with Endnote, I managed to turn it in, 20 minutes before deadline, last Friday. I think it's a nice project, timely (which is a very good feature of any research project) and well-conceived (if I may praise myself a little).

As we ping-ponged the different versions of the manuscript with my PI, I realized I made a good decision not only in terms of changing labs, but in choosing my new PI: he was critical, yet supportive, never criticizing an approach or expression without providing an alternative or explaining (in some cases with extreme detail) why he thought I should think about the particular item from a different perspective or in a different way. Also, he's been in the US for this whole period (quick reminder: I'm attending grad school in Chile), but we talked and discussed ideas daily, not only through email, but also Skype!. I felt completely supported throughout this entire experience, which was great.

So, what's next? As the post title states, I now have to wait; wait for the committee to set a date for my exam. In the meantime, I keep studying and giving practice talks to my fellow lab members. Also (although I may do this less now) I've been invited to sit through (and comment on) the practice talks of some friends who are also at this stage.

I'll keep you posted!

(Image credit: Crashhanna, see here)

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