My PhD Dissertation Journey

My PhD Dissertation Journey


A couple of weeks ago, I finished my PhD. Okay, well good morning everyone, it’s my
real pleasure to welcome you to the thesis defense of Alie Caldwell, one of the founding
members of my lab. I first met Alie a few years ago when she
was interviewing for graduate school, and I distinctly remember her from the interviews
and kind of thinking afterwards “I really hope she’s interested in astrocytes and wants
to join my lab.” It took six years of reading, thinking, researching,
and experimenting to get here, along with lots of sweat, tears, and sometimes literal
blood. It was a lot of hard work, but it was absolutely
worth it. So I’m not gonna tell you about Alie’s project,
because she’s going to tell you about that herself. I just want to point out to you something
that she won’t tell you is how much work this was. We’ve often joked and talked how all of her
findings are enough for multiple PhDs. She’s worked out a new cell culture system,
she’s worked out what astrocytes normally do for neurons, and she’s also worked out
how things are changing in different neurodevelopmental disorders – not just one change but multiple
changes. For the longest time, I couldn’t share my
data with anyone. But on August 21st, 2019, I had my dissertation
defense, where I finally got to present my findings to my mentors, peers, friends, family,
and, most importantly, my committee. Today, she’s gonna tell you all about her
work; moving forward, she’s not really going very far. She’s staying here at UCSD to do a science
communication fellowship, which really fits perfectly with her deep understanding of science
and also commitment to educating the public and getting the message out there. So with that, I’m just gonna hand it over
to Alie and she can tell you about her work. Thank you Nicola for that wonderful introduction,
I really appreciate it, and thank you to all of you for being here today. My talk today is titled Astrocytes: A New
Hope; Identifying astrocyte secreted protein factors linked to altered neuronal development
in neurodevelopmental disorders. If the champagne popping isn’t obvious enough…I
passed! So that’s /Doctor/ Astrocyte to you! But I didn’t start here. Oh no. Once all the research was done and the results
were in, I still had to write the dang dissertation. This is that journey. Let’s go check in. Hello. Hi. How’s the writing going? Good. First day of really writing. How far are you? How far am I? Not very. I’ve written seven pages. How long will it be when it’s done? Um, my labmate’s was about a hundred and fifty
pages. A hundred fifty? That’s a lot of pages. So do you think you’ll hit a hundred fifty
pages? I mean, at the rate I’m going, yeah. I’m still finishing up a couple of experiments
so I’m gonna be doing that for the next couple weeks while I start writing and then probably
beginning at the beginning of July, which is about a week and a half from now, I’ll
be writing basically full time, so. So you’re still doing some of these experiments
that are gonna end up in your dissertation in the end? Yeah…there’s actually so much to talk about,
like SO much that I could include and discuss, so I think the harder part will be like, how
do I make sure my focus is narrow and how do I get done what I need to get done? So how many days do you have to finish this? That’s a good question. My goal is to have a draft done by August
second, so one, two…so forty days. Forty days. Like Jesus. Yeah, hahaha. I’m not like Jesus. The Jesus of dissertations. Nooo. Well, better get working. I will. I’ll leave you alone. Thanks. All right so why are we toasting today? Because today, I finished analyzing my last
experiment. This was like the last…adding the last pair
of samples to an analysis I’ve been doing for the last few months and they supported
the results that I wanted so that’s exciting. Yeah, so, having a beer, celebrating a little
bit, and then tonight I’m gonna work on finishing a draft of the introduction for my dissertation. So you’re feeling good. Getting there – yeah, it’s weird, I mean this
week is probably gonna be my last week in the lab full time, so it’ll definitely be
an adjustment, I mean both that I’ll be working at home alone a lot of the time for the next
month and a half, um, but also that it’ll be the first time in my entire adult life
that I will not be doing science as my job anymore. That’ll be very weird. Are you excited about that? I am, to some degree. I mean, like, my dream job would be if I could
do like 20 hours a week of science and 20 hours a week of like science writing and media
producing, but they don’t really make jobs like that. Well congrats on finishing your experiments
for your dissertation. Thanks! Cheers! How’s the dissertating going? Going. How long is your introduction? Fifteen pages. Wow, that’s pretty long. That’s just the introduction to the whole
dissertation, doesn’t include introductions to the individual chapters, each chapter will
have its own introduction. Oh yikes. Most of the background work I did was focused
on astrocytes and synapse formation because that’s most of what my lab does, but actually
all of my experiments have been on astrocyte influence on neuronal outgrowth, not synapse
formation, so I’m just brushing up on the background there. Making sure that my dissertation makes it
clear that this is a good reason to ask this question. It’s actually really really important to contextualize
the questions I’m asking. It’s really important to justify why my approach
and the methods I’ve developed are not only like, valid for the experiments but also actually
better models for the experiments I’m conducting versus other protocols that are out there. So on a scale from one to ten where one is
the worst and ten is the best, how are you feeling about your dissertation right now? A ten is the best? Yeah. Probably like an…eight and a half. Like I feel pretty good about it but I also
know that there’s a lot of work to be done, so we’ll see…check in in a week and see
how I feel. I have a month. A month to figure out how it goes. Okay, cool. Bye. So, how’s it going? Um, pretty good. How far along are you now? Uh, I have written drafts of everything. My dissertation is a total of four data chapters,
an introduction, a conclusion, and a methods chapter. So seven chapters. So the last couple days I did edits on the
first through fourth chapters and I”m trying to finish the fifth chapter today. Tomorrow morning I will do the sixth chapter
which is the conclusions, which is the easy one, cause that’s the one where I…postulate,
bloviate for awhile on all the cool things that could be done with this work. And how many pages have you written? Two hundred and thirty seven. Whoaaa. That’s a lot of pages. That’s a whole book. A lot of those pages are references. So like I’ve written like 200 pages. That’s still a lot. I’m guessing this is the longest paper you’ve
ever written in school? Yeah. So how are you feeling about where you’re
at? Pretty good. I mean it’s a lot to be doing all at once
because in addition to doing this we’re also getting ready to move next week. The walls are so bare. It’ll be nice to have it done and to not be
worrying about it anymore. I also have to start putting together my presentation
for my defense, that’s a pretty big part of this whole thing. So that’s like a Powerpoint right? Yeah, it’s a slide deck. So it’s basically gonna be like, all the data
that’s in here but built into slides and then I’ll publicly present it. Yeah, and then packing! Well good work so far. Keep it up. All right, so, today is August 9th, and I’m
getting ready to send my dissertation to my committee. I’ve felt really good about the process, I’ve
felt really good about my writing. I think that it actually makes me feel better
about my work to have written everything up just because it made me realize how much I’ve
done. I’m just really excited to get to share it
with everybody and to present for my committee and my family in just a couple weeks. But I’m just gonna get this sent this morning,
and then um, gonna go to lab, do some work, and then tomorrow we move! So I’ll show you what I have and then I’ll
get it sent. I’ve been using Dropbox to store all my dissertation
files, just to make sure that nothing would ever be lost if anything were to happen to
my computer either here or in lab. It also has let me work on stuff in lab and
at home. Here’s my folder of what I am sending to my
committee today. So I have my full dissertation text, my preliminary
pages, title and copyright, as well as supplemental tables of my data. And the full dissertation…is pretty long. So, uh, here we go. There’s a lot of pages here, a lot of figures. Two hundred and twenty four was the final
number. Send one, send two, send three, and send four. And there we go. All sent to my committee, so. Guess we will see how they feel about it,
but now I’m gonna do some packing and go to lab and do some labwork. Guess we’ll see what they say. But unfortunately, my time here is done, I’ve
been here for six years and I need to go, so that will be someone else’s dissertation
project. And now I would just like to thank all of
you for being here and taking the time today. I need to thank my lab, particularly Nicola
for helping me develop a project that I have really loved working on. I also want to thank my biological family
as well as my husband’s wonderful family for their support during this time and before,
you have always supported all of my aspirations and really helped me get here today. I especially want to thank my grandfather,
who no longer with us but who is the reason I became a scientist. And I’d like to thank my husband, for being
an amazing person and an amazing partner, for always going on adventures with me, and
not batting an eye when I told him I wanted to move to San Diego two weeks after our wedding. And with that, I will take any questions. So there you have it. I made it through. I’m proud of my dissertation and graduate
school experience, and I loved the research I’ve worked on these last five years. I’m thankful to my friends and family for
supporting me and I’m thankful to all of you for being along for the journey as I grew
as a scientist, as a communicator, and most importantly, as a person. Cheers!

Comments

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    J's Crochet

    Congratulations!!! I stumbled upon this channel just when I needed it most. I'm a PhD student too, but in criminal law. I'm in my second year and it hasn't been easy. This is so inspiring. Thank you! Wishing you more success

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    Melody Liu

    Congratulations 🎉🎉it’s always so inspiring to see women scholars <3 I just started my Master’s program last week and really hoping to get a PhD so thank you for this video

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    Aline Pacheco

    Hey Alie, I just found your youtube channel and I love it!! Im PhD studing immunology in Brazil, and I study astrocytes and microglia, too!!! First of all, congratulations on your defense , thats a really big and important accomplishment! Second, I loooooove your dress hahaha is that your own image of astrocyte personally made for you? Third… I was wondering how oppen are UCSD and Salk labs to accept students to do a sandwich period… and last of all (but not less important) congratulations on your youtube channel! I know that is hard to concialite the time of working and the time to divulge science but is very important to us scientists to explain to society the importance of our study and how they can relate and be affected by our work (Specially at these days of growing anti-science and stuff …)! Keep going!! 😀

    Regard from Brazil! =)

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    Sally Olivia

    Congratulations! 🎉 This video was a joy to watch but also an inspiration to me. I have recently finished my masters degree and starting my Cancer research PhD in 3 weeks!! I’m absolutely petrified, moving to a new city, first of the family to do postgraduate – but seeing you so chill writing your thesis and presenting gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, I could be like that too. I could actually enjoy the next hard few years.

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    Vigneshwaran T

    Congratulations for successful defense. Wow you just started writing 60 days before defense, that's fast. I am a PhD student in France, I started writing 4 months ago, I have to submit tomorrow, which is 8 weeks before my defense.

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    A. A

    Congrats! I'm having my defense soon and watching your journey has given me more positive vibes! Thank you and I'm very happy for you.

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    Calvin Wiseman

    Congratulations…this was a cool video…I do have a question regarding the research could it possibly help with CTE? I'm a former football player and after educating myself on CTE I quit watching football and have taken the opportunity to educate anyone that asks me why. I'm still working on my BS in MIS and considering going for my MS and then my PHD…just starting to research the possibility…so I hope you don't mind me asking but how hard was it? And was it worth it?

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    Esra

    Ok this video made me alittle worried i'm not gonna lie. Should start my PhD in Pharmacology in Feb and have two kids, so hope i can make this commitment the way you did. Congratulations ♥

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    Alex

    Congrats! I'm just starting gradschool, and seeing this helped me calm down after a major breakdown about how careers in research work in my country, so thank you! Super inspiring <3 (Is it normal to just do all of the writing at once at the end? I always imagined you'd write the chapters concerning the data you have so far as you go along?)

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    locomike1219

    Yeah, holy crap do I feel ya. I had the horror story of having to push back the start date of my current job because I simply couldn't finish the work and the writing, and I had far more than a month…. luckily it worked out. We had different formats for the chapters than you, each chapter for us was an individual project, not necessarily a results or methods chapter.

    You wrote your dissertation hella fast tho…props.

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    Pratiksha Bhansali

    Amazing Dr. Alie….you are an example of how love for your work calmness n being diligent can make u achieve what u want…n most importantly give u happiness from your work

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    Sligh Collins

    I am proud of you. Even though I understand little about your field of study, I can appreciate your commitment to it. Enjoy your success as you write the next chapters of life.

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    Barbara Rattner

    My mom has a PhD too, she didn’t need to make a whole video about.( congrats tho ) I still think that this was not needed.

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    Vasilisa

    Amazing work! Congratulations!
    You wrote your thesis so fast! I am really shocked and inspired, cause mine takes ages to write… I do Brain-Computer Interfaces research 🙂 Hopefully, will finish my thesis in 3 months as well, experiments done.
    Good luck on your post-doc and professorship journey!

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    Ali Balbee

    I just started my PhD in industrial organizational psychology.. been in program for 4 weeks and it’s been a rough 4 weeks. I’ve lost sleep experienced a little anxiety but I’m hopeful.

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    Nate Bernstein

    Awesome! Awesome! You go, Girl. Big Hugs & Kisses to you, your husband and both families for a job well done. Congratulations, Dr. Alison Coldwell!

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    Steve Fowler

    Congratulations for keeping your eye on the ball. If I could share a brief anecdote. I earned my Ph.D. in 1990 (I was 33) when phone books were still a thing and one of my Engineering Profs was pulling the chain of the Grad students in his class and said "I don't know why some of you are so intent on getting your Ph.D. All it does it get "Dr." in front of your name in the phone book"…it was about as comedic a line as I had ever heard in an Engineering course and it always makes me chuckle when I recall the moment (a Ph.D. Engineer who works for a large American defense contractor.

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    This isC4RL

    Im 25% into getting my degree and then my masters so one day I hope to emulate your workings and thoughts n feelings and the celebration

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    Sharmella Krishnasamy

    I am still contemplating whether to do 3 to 5 yrs PHD or Certified Professional Trainer course?? The intention of doing these courses is to grow myself professionally and generate a 5 figure income per month.

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    Jeremiah Fox

    Congratulations! Thank you for sharing, this is really inspiring video, I am glad I came across your channel! Enjoy your postdoc, my cousin recently finished his postdoc in neuroscience or neurobiology, it is a nero-something lol. I am not altogether sure, it is way out of my field of study. I start my PhD in sociology of education next week, I do not expect to write my disso/thesis as fast as yours, the disso presentation, methods and approach to research you used, of course, are very different to the ones we use in the social sciences. Well done! All the best!

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    Luv Life

    1st of congratulations. I have my doctor degree as well I thought you were going to talk about your research that would have been interesting. Anyway. Congratulations.

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    elainee t

    THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING OMG CONGRATS and thank you for sharing your story. I am in my first semester of my neuroscience masters and it's easy to lose motivation sometimes – like what am i doing with my life.. but this gives me hope and inspiration! People talk crap about the youtube algorithm but I'm glad that it lead me here. Funny, I actually found your channel from watching Micah psyc's videos on training Bill and Loki (i've also been training my two kittens haha) Anyways, I'm excited for future videos and I will definitely be watching all the past ones too!

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    Francky48

    Damn! 150 pages!!! I hated write a 10 page research paper when I was in college lol… I'm definitely not a PhD material!!

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    xue 717

    Congratulations! I always knew you could do it and now you have proven you can! I hope you had supportive people around you, who believed in you every step of the way. I also intend on making my third attempt at getting into PhD program, despite all discouragements that I still hear. I made a decision today not to go for EdD, but a PhD. It was a tough decision, but the right one. I hope you went to celebrate for at least a week after you were told your defense was over. I am really proud of you!

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    Silvia Logan

    I congratulate you for receiving your PhD. It was years of hard work, but you did it and you should be very proud of yourself. What are you planning to do? Are you intending to teach at the university?

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    fatimah Khan

    People like you must work to provide facilities to underdeveloped countries and work for international research standards. I have approval of supervisors from german and UK universities for doctoral research but masters degree from Pakistan create a difference. Maybe I wont get chance to pursue my dream job but I want people around the world to appreciate researchers worldwide and set universal standards for everyone. So, people from all fertanities can work for the betterment of this planet. As research needs an investigative mind with passion to explore that we have all around the world. Just we need to set good education standards to remove differences

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    Alyssa Gonzalez

    Congratulations! Such an incredible achievement! I’m in a PhD program, and I am proposing my dissertation in two days. I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited to run my analyses and write up my findings!

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    Jason Leung

    Congratulations! Did your school throw a party and all that champagne for your completion?!
    Btw, is your supervisor an Aussie?

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    Emily Olifant

    1 year 2 months on my PhD. I am only drafting my first publication. I am planning to start my literature review soon. I think I am too hard on my self sometimes, this video made me realize that I need to relax and take it one day at a time. Thank you.

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    Scubidu

    How did you send your thesis from the folder? I mean it looks like difference, and how can I do that with big folders

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    Towhid Iqram Mahmood

    Congratulations!!! On a different note, what day planner do you use??? I can see one around 3:49. Looks cool.

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    Lucy Belcher

    Here I am just a stay at home mom and completely sucked into this channel. I can't stop cheering on everyone I see in the comments that are talking about where they are on their journey! 💚 Best of Luck to Everyone!

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    Chore With Me

    Way to go! What amazing determination you have:)

    You seem so incredibly calm during the whole process. When I was working on and presenting my Thesis project I was so incredibly nervous during the entire process!

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    Shivesh Shrestha

    Did nobody here get anxiety watching the video ? lol. Doing my PhD in transportation Engineering. Loved your video btw.

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    Ahmad Farooqi

    Congratulations, Yes I can understand this journey now, Just completed my Ph.D.
    this September 2019. What a great feeling to be a Dr.

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    Regan Parenton

    “So our medieval ancestors were happy because they found meaning to life in collective delusions about the afterlife? Yes. As long as nobody punctured their fantasies, why shouldn't they? As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet Earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion. The other-worldly meaning medieval people found in their lives were no more deluded than the modern humanist, nationalist, or capitalist meanings modern people find. The scientist who says her life is meaningful because she increases the store of human knowlede, the soldier who declares that his life is meaningful because he fights to defend his homeland, and the entrepreneur who finds meaning in building a new company are no less delusional than their medieval counterparts who found meaning in reading scriptures, going on a crusade or building a new cathedral.”

    — Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari

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