Friends and Family, Life in Germany, Science
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Defending (my) Science

So I’m sure I’ve told everyone by now. A couple of weeks ago, April 21st at 3 pm to be precise, I successfully defended my thesis.

Getting a doctoral degree in experimental science in Germany is a bit different than doing the whole thing in Australia. Sure, you spend 3-4 years doing some lab work, half a year writing up, half a year waiting for review. But after it’s all been handed in and been approved by a bunch of professors, there’s another big step.


Half an hour of talking about your topic in a prepared seminar.

Half an hour or questions from a panel of 4-5 professors.

Half an hour or so more of questions from them and anyone else who wants to attend the show.

It’s a little bit daunting.

The topic of my research throughout my Phd was ‘investigating the development of functional thylakoid membranes’.

Thylakoid membranes are structures inside the chloroplasts of plants that act as a kind of scaffold to hold up all of the proteins and pigments and other elements that are needed for the plant to take light from the sun, and make it into energy. A.K.A photosynthesise.

So if you breathe or eat or wear clothes or appreciate a bit of shelter, you’ve pretty much got to give a big thank-you to plants. Because you ultimately depend on photosynthesis. And therefore, you depend on functional thylakoid membranes.

One of my projects looked at the development of thylakoid membranes (just like all things, they have to be ‘born’ or develop). Another project looked specifically at a single protein element known to be involved in the development.

Anyway, part of the whole challenge is getting four years work into a 30 minute talk. You end up pulling lots of silly faces…

… and maybe even pulling in some explanatory hand gestures.

And then after the talk, it’s question time. Which I really don’t think helped me in the whole ‘pulling silly faces and gestures’ department.

See Exhibit A: My boss asks me a question that I apparently don’t really approve of.

Or Exhibit B: I think I am the ORLY owl.

The truth is, I kinda like question time. The cynical side of me says its because it’s really nice to have someone show interest in your topic after four years of mostly indifference from the world.

In reality, it’s probably just because I’m a little attention-monger.

Fun moments included:

  1. My family laughing at the use if ‘retarded’ to describe my plants in the talk (this is actually an official scientific term guys- who brought these idiots anyway.. oh wait, it was me)
  2. Professor #1 asking an enigmatic ‘do you know what I’m going to ask next’ question, twice. The first time I didn’t, but got in a ‘can I ask the audience’ call-out. The second time I could guess his obscure reference and answer the question. I’m pretty much a mind reader. I’m fairly certain victory hand gestures were involved.
  3. My use of ‘blah blah blah’ at the end of a fairly detailed description of (admittedly boring) signalling cascades. Subsequent rolling of eyes from Boss. Urge to pause talk and say ‘oh, he didn’t like that’ in response to eye roll.
  4. Mediating Professor saying that questions would end a bit earlier than usual pretty much because I speak too fast.

Anyway, after the talk, and the questions, everyone has to leave the hall so that the mediators can deliberate on your grade.

Then you come back in again, they make the announcement, and everyone has to hug you.

It’s pretty friggin’ great.

(By the way, did I mention that my beloved cousin and her husband were there, as were my parents, as were two of our Aussie friends from Perth? I’m pretty much the luckiest!)

The penultimate step is that you get a hat. It’s made of cardboard, and is decorated in photos and trinkets celebrating your life (both your work and social life) during the Phd.

I was very, very taken by my hat.

It seems to me to be a kind of reflection of how awesome your friends and colleagues are. Turns out that mine are just supertastically awesome.

Here are a couple of close-ups of the beauty itself.

Featuring: an Aussie flag, Koala and native flowers. Plus my experimental design of looking at greening leaves and me taking a photo of my plants whit an interactive mini camera.

From the other side, cats, some sewing, a beautiful hand-drawn tiger, apfelschorle, chocolate raspberry cake, sleeping tobacco, my website and, (not visible), a DNA code that spells out ‘T-E-G-A-N-W-I-N-S’ in single letter code.

I mentioned that the hat-getting is only the penultimate step, because, of course, the final step is relaxing and partying.

And here I have to give a huge shout-out to Pau, my maid-of-honour (guys, still not married!), who coordinated all the party stuff, Ginie who defended on the same day as me, and all of my very very awesome friends who helped organise, spent the night putting pizzas in ovens and you know, are generally awesome.

Some highlights of the evening. You know, apart from the general loveliness of everyone being there (did I mention the whole ‘people came from Australia’ thing?!!) and celebrating and making the whole things super special:

1. I got this awesome fish in honour of ‘fish-with-whiskey’. It doesn’t have whisky in it, but rather a delicious chocolate chili concoction.

2. Cakes. And pies. And Mercedes’ world-famous tortilla. And all of the things.

3. A phone call from the lovely Iman!

4. Visit from my-second-favourite Israeli- Gal, who dropped in on the way home from a work trip to Paris.

5. Beautiful and thoughtful gifts from my friends. Including some vouchers to buy ALL OF THE creative things! Also a plant! And a lovely, lovely tea-drinking set for my genmaicha (which absolutely fueled my entire write-up). Did I mention that my friends are awesome and know me and are brilliant?

6. Pau getting a marriage proposal (or two?)

And finally, an extra special mention has to go to the ‘Tegan Wins’ neon from Andy. It’s possible at this point that I might have to rethink my level of obnoxious.

But when being obnoxious gets you such amazing gifts, it’s hard to see justification in making it stop.

Thanks a lot guys!

(PS: All photos are by A. Marriott and A. Wyatt. Thanks for letting me steal them. Thanks for being there!!)


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