S3E10 - The Thesis & Talk With Amy O'Callaghan (PhD)
Timestamps, References & Transcript
Buzzsprout Affiliate Link
- 00:00 - Introduction
- 03:18 - Segment 1: The Thesis (Communication Topic)
- 34:14 - Segment 2: Talk With Amy O'Callaghan (Guest Interview)
- Connect with Amy O'Callaghan via Twitter: @amyaishling
- Metaphorigins Instagram Page - https://www.instagram.com/metaphorigins/
- Richard St. John - Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtn31hh6kU4
- Science Magazine - https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/04/how-write-your-phd-thesis
- Umberto Eco - How To Write A Thesis - http://uni-koeln.de/~aberge13/PDF/Eco~How-Write-Thesis.pdf
- New Yorker - https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-guide-to-thesis-writing-that-is-a-guide-to-life
- University of Minnesota - https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/11-1-the-purpose-of-research-writing/
- Cambridge Dictionary - https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/thesis
- Lexico - https://www.lexico.com/definition/thesis
- Hegelianism - Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegelianism
- Dialectics - Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic
- Thesis - Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesis
- Aristotle - Topica - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/topics.1.i.html
- Dr. James Arvanitakis - Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvK_18kL4nM
- Toby Hendy - Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3Heip-2jYQ
- McGill University - https://www.mcgill.ca/gradsupervision/supervisors/interacting-supervisees/student-supervisor
- Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research - https://www.mps.mpg.de/phd/tac
- Dr. Inger Mewburn - https://thesiswhisperer.com
- Columbia University - https://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~martins/sen_sem/thesis_org.html
- Aristotelian Tryptch - Inc - https://www.inc.com/john-baldoni/deliver-a-great-speech-aristotle-three-tips.html
- Trinity College Dublin - https://www.tcd.ie/graduatestudies/assets/pdf/PhD-Viva-Guide-Digital.pdf
- Science Magazine - https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2020/09/pandemic-erodes-grad-student-mental-health-academics-sound-alarm
- Scientific American - https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-emotional-toll-of-graduate-school/
- Nature - https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02584-7
- NewScientist - https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14819995-600-on-the-origin-of-theses/
- Flying High by jantrax | https://soundcloud.com/jantr4x
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- Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License | https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en_US
To my sensational family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 30th episode and the Season 3 Finale of the Metaphorigins Podcast.
First, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. As we come to the end of this season, and if you liked this new format, do give it a rating on the podcast service you are using, as it takes about 5 seconds and is certainly helpful in supporting the show. Also, if you have more than 5 seconds, maybe 30 seconds, or a minute, leave a mini review. I read all reviews and DMs to the show, and your feedback will be used to strengthen future seasons.
As listeners of this podcast know, there are some special episodes with swag giveaways. And TODAY is one of those episodes! I will be giving out my last custom, butterfly-printed Metaphorigins shirt to one of you lucky listeners, right now! I have done the draw using the follower list on the Metaphorigins Instagram page, and the winner is… Sangavi Sivananthan!!! Yahoo! Congratulations! I’ll shoot you a message following this episode.
Ladies and gentleman, there are no words to fully express how thankful I am that you are listening to this right now. How crazy is that? You, wherever you are, whether you are in Ireland, or Canada, whether we’ve actually met in person or whether we’ve connected on social media, are interested in learning more about communication, about language and its origins, about scientific discoveries and how to best share these wonderful findings. This season was, a test, on how a format like this could be received from two tribes I relate to, one of the creative writer mind and one for the academic researcher mind. And I myself have grown a lot on not just how to run a project such as this devising, interviewing, editing, and marketing an audio show, but even as a person, learning how to have fun with words, how to thoroughly investigate cultural phenomena, and how to actively listen to another person. I actually enjoyed the late nights, the feedback, and the engagement with the audience and will continue all that in future seasons. I am announcing that I will again take a brief break to focus on my academic responsibilities starting this new PhD program and other creative endeavours on my writing side. Note that there will be more outrageous stories, informative audio essays and discussions with extremely talented people in all sorts of disciplines where techniques of communication are necessary to succeed. Season 4 will premier sometime in September 2021. Remember, that if you’re passionate about something and work hard in doing what brings you that passion, I would love to collaborate with you and discuss those topics. With that said, I have more ideas to grow this platform, so stayed tuned, and thank you again for your invaluable attention.
Alright. Phew, a bit of a heavy intro. We have a special episode today as we pause on the metaphorical aspect and focus on an important, yet often neglected, concept in academia. An idea so large that when completed, not only advances our collective knowledge but also shatter windows if thrown hard against them, and sometimes even shatter dreams. And that topic, is the thesis.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Kevin, Kev, my man, why do this? Why end a novel season with a topic as mundane as the thesis? It’s not so much a topic either, more of a format really. I will continue listening, but how dare you!”. And that’s valid. In fact, one of the reasons why I wanted to do an entire episode on the thesis is due to its minute amount of content, a challenge for my creativity. By thinking about it, and with a little bit of research on the subject, its intricacies regarding the various ideas it’s connected to, I hope to convince you that the thesis is one of the most important structures of knowledge a person will ever create in their entire life.
To the majority of you, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, perhaps even undergraduates or later stage academics, you very likely had to write a thesis yourself. Hell, maybe you’re writing one right now but decided to procrastinate with a podcast episode about the thesis. And if you haven’t, well, after working on this episode, I’m not so sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing anymore. To my other category of listeners, probably friends and family outside of the academic sphere, you could think of the thesis in its simplest form: an argument for something backed by research. With over hundreds of pages of double-spaced text, figures and tables, the goal of this heavy stack of paper is to convince you of an original idea, put forth by the author. And this concept is independent of what field of study the author finds themself.
Ideas are what fundamentally change the world we live in. In one Ted Talk by success researcher Richard St. John, he lays out four simple methods that lead to great ideas, which I will paraphrase: 1) Find a problem: What issues do we face, or what gaps in knowledge are there in your field; 2) Listen to people: What do others think about this problem, or what have previous experts demonstrated in your field; 3) Look at your surroundings: Where would solutions be, or what can you do to solve this problem; and 4) Write down the idea: How does one communicate the solution to the problem. You might notice the methods that lead to a great idea, provide the foundation for a thesis. Principally, the thesis is an idea in its purest form, looked at from multiple angles with all its wonders and flaws. Like the biology of a virulent killer responsible for a global pandemic, it’s horrendously beautiful.
The content of a thesis is something to behold. Even if the topic doesn’t necessarily interest you at first, a thesis contains three, four, or sometimes even more, years of someone’s life. And that’s cumulative, surpassing well outside normal work hours and into their personal lives as well. Like maybe in their second chapter, while they were researching the function of a novel protein they discovered, they were also buying their first car, or saying goodbye to a relative who had passed away, or saying hello to a newborn child. Or maybe it doesn’t have to be that profound, maybe in their fifth chapter, while writing about the significance of their overall findings to the world, they made their 8th cup of coffee that day, or are looking out their window at a blue cloudless sky, connecting thoughts but also lost in thought. This is something we often forget. The thesis, whether producing the results for a thesis, the experience of writing a thesis, or the indirect background occurrences since the inception of a thesis, all spanning a significant portion of someone’s life, encapsulates one piece of work.
And yet, one thing is for sure, anyone who has written a thesis will say that it was difficult, probably one of the hardest things one ever had to do in their life, essential to completing most graduate and some undergraduate programs, at least within STEM-based fields. Writing a thesis leads to restless nights, an absurd amount of screen time, joints that hurt so much that it actually pains more to correct back posture or wrist positioning on the keyboard (at least people don’t have to handwrite everything anymore). It results in bad moods, as well as indulging in negative impulses like poor dietary regimens and disregarding social relationships. It involves people literally devising systematic behaviours to organize the monstrous amount of information in one’s mind and write efficiently. But it will never be up to one’s expectations. In a 2018 article written in Science Magazine in which recent graduates and current students reflect on their experiences writing a thesis, one mentions, “Beware of perfectionism”, as this will likely cause delays in its completion. It’s like publishing an incomplete novel.
That’s just preparing and writing a thesis. Even after these phases, one’s cosmic link to this work has not yet been disentangled. If all goes well and the thesis is at least coherent, one now needs to defend the thesis in front of experts on the topic. This involves converting hundreds of pages into a reasonable amount of PowerPoint slides, which will then be delivered with confidence in person (at least pre-COVID times, who knows what the standard template will gravitate towards). Perhaps this is the most stressful part, as everything the author has done up until this point had the benefit of gradually accumulating over time. Defending the thesis occurs on one specific day, usually lasting several hours, where experts assess the knowledge of the thesis author and criticize the idea put forth. Yes, it is possible to fail here, no matter how revolutionary your idea is. Have a way of capturing CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere reducing global emissions and solving the climate crisis? Noice. Discovered a cure for all cancers by an mRNA vaccine that specifically targets tumour cells given in the form of a chocolate bar? Grand. Really, I mean it’s all explained in this written thesis. But could you verbally tell me the background information leading up to your thesis, how your idea works, and its overall significance in simple terms, AND with graphics? And why is this idea better than the previous idea? Did you think about this other idea? More on the thesis defence in a little bit.
My interest with the thesis is how uninteresting it is to people, especially those who have been through the process in its entirety, despite all I’ve said. For those outside of academia, perhaps this lack of a second thought is due to its seemingly minimal impact on your life. And for those in or recently in the academic space, perhaps this subject somehow brings contrasting feelings of anxiety and boredom, two mental states one does not actively pursue further. And here we come to the purpose of this episode, as my goal is to change that notion. By diving into the origins of the thesis, the process of preparing, writing and defending a thesis, and the aftermath of fully completing a thesis, all of which are impacting the author’s professional and personal life, mental health and equally impacting those of its readers, reflecting on the thesis is not just a fascinating thought experiment, but a necessary one. I hope to provide that novel perspective on what doing a thesis really means, with a focus on STEM fields. Towards the end, I have invited a special guest who literally went through the entire thesis process as recent as last month, where together we share our own experiences and humanize this abstract concept even further.
The thesis is much more than just a template for pedantic erudition. On the contrary, Italian novelist and author of the 1977 book “How to Write Your Thesis” Umberto Eco describes, “Your thesis is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget.” With the rewarding highs, and the many many lows, Eco argues that the thesis is an epic struggle, a task demonstrably difficult and seemingly impossible that almost all memorable heroes from any interesting story undertake. This is best summed up by writer Hua Hsa in his 2015 New Yorker article about Eco’s book, titled “A guide to thesis writing that is a guide to life” where he states, “We might even think of the thesis, as Eco envisions it, as a formal version of the open-mindedness, care, rigor, and gusto with which we should greet every new day. It’s about committing oneself to a task that seems big and impossible. In the end, you won’t remember much beyond those final all-nighters, the gauche inside joke that sullies an acknowledgments page that only four human beings will ever read, the awkward photograph with your advisor at graduation. All that remains might be the sensation of handing your thesis to someone in the departmental office and then walking into a possibility-rich, almost-summer afternoon.”
Let’s walk through it all together.
Most of this information was obtained from many articles and videos discussing various aspects of the thesis process. All sources will be mentioned in the description.
Think of the last argument you had with someone. What was it about? Maybe something minuscule with a friend about whether you were on Team Bill or Team Melinda Gates ; or with a flat mate about who keeps leaving dirty dishes in the sink because it obviously wasn’t you. Or maybe something with more weight, like a conversation with a family member about their destructive addictions; or with a colleague about the team’s productivity on the quarterly project. Or maybe something completely sagacious, like an argument with yourself about your mental health. Most of these conversations aren’t easy, as they have many side stories that lead to some outcome. Cause and effect, but there’s like 50 causes leading to one effect. Getting really deep into conversations like these normally end in chaos, with unfinished thoughts and countless tangents. If only there was some way to organize those thoughts…
The best arguments, whether they were spontaneous or thought over for years, kind of have the structure of a thesis, don’t they? You see, anyone anywhere is attempting the thesis process. Put so eloquently by Umberto Eco yet again, he mentions in How to Write a Thesis that its allure is, “the knowledge that anyone can teach us something.” That’s because literally anyone can perform research and share that knowledge with the world. Stated on the University of Minnosota’s website, “Whether you are a scientist, an artist, a paralegal, or a parent, you probably perform research in your everyday life. When your boss, your instructor, or a family member asks you a question that you do not know the answer to, you locate relevant information, analyze your findings, and share your results.” Now how do you even define what the thesis is? Cambridge dictionary has two definitions, the first being “a long piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one that is done for a higher college or university degree”, and the second being, “the main idea, opinion, or theory of a person, group, piece of writing, or speech”. These definitions are probably what we’re most familiar with, the long piece of writing with a main statement putting forth an idea, and we think about these when someone utters the word, along with the visual of pizza box stacks and the scent of unlimited instant coffee.
A more detailed definition can be found on Lexico.com in regards to Hegelian philosophy, where thesis means, “a proposition forming the first stage in the process of dialectical reasoning”. Hegelianism, attributed to German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, is the notion that reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories, and is part of the more broader philosophy of absolute idealism. Dialectical reasoning, or simply dialectics, as described on its Wikipedia page, “is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned methods of argumentation.” Without getting too lost in advanced philosophy, one can realize that the thesis in this sense aims to argue with itself towards the truth.
Let’s briefly stay within philosophy, now that I’ve brought you here anyway. One could not talk about the thesis without bringing up one of the GOATs of philosophy, Aristotle. A man given the title “father of” to various notable branches of knowledge like biology, the scientific method, and even logic itself, Aristotle was the first to define the thesis. Coming from Greek meaning “something to put forth”, he states in Topica, “A 'thesis' is a supposition of some eminent philosopher that conflicts with the general opinion...for to take notice when any ordinary person expresses views contrary to men's usual opinions would be silly”. And therefore, the thesis would be “a supposition that is stated in contradiction with general opinion or express disagreement with other philosophers”. It is this understanding of communicating brash ideas that paved the way for the thesis today.
The ambition to bring new knowledge to light should be celebrated. Yet, it isn’t until it’s forced upon students in an academic institution that it suddenly becomes this eldritch horror, something to run away from and never look back. And it doesn’t help that Google’s autofill prediction when you type, “why do a” is completed with PhD at number one, or Masters at number four. Why should one pursue an advanced degree, likely involving the synthesis of the dreaded thesis? In a video by Dr. James Arvanitakis (Are-Van-Nih-Tahk-Is), Dean of Graduate Studies at Western Sydney University, he explains four reasons why you should do a PhD if interested: 1) have a passion for uncovering new knowledge, 2) to learn a new set of high-end skills, 3) if you want to make a difference, and 4) if you want to be an academic and enjoy working in an academic environment. Like myself, you probably thought that these reasons, despite being potentially easier to achieve in a graduate level program, do not need a graduate level program to fulfill. In fact, in a viral video by science communicator Toby Hendy, she describes her experience withdrawing from her PhD program to over one million viewers (uploaded in 2019, she has since been successful through her YouTube channel and aspires to start a business regarding learning and education). What’s important here is that you have reflected on why you may want to undertake higher education in a world where there are many options available at all stages of a person’s life.
Let’s say you’ve put your foot on the gas and drove passed the entrance to Thesis Lane. Welcome! There’s free snacks and coffee in the seminar room. Now, do you eagerly start gathering data for that thesis submission in a few years time? Well, this might depend on your field, but this will certainly depend on your supervisor, a professor or scientist in the field that overlooks your project. One aspect about the preparation phase of the thesis is that student-supervisor relationship. Choosing a supervisor is probably just as important as choosing to undertake a thesis-based program at all, as the type of relationship that develops over the program is what often makes-or-breaks it for students. Mentioned on McGill University’s Graduate and Post-Doctoral page, the expression of mutual respect and openness is key, and guides to strengthen this support is relatively new. Through my own conversations with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, there seems to be two extremes: on one end you have the micromanager hindering your ability to think critically and learn from your mistakes in a constructive manner, and on the other end you have the ghost appearing only when deemed necessary (such as when the project is in utter disarray). The supervisor could be a legend in the field on their way to a Nobel Prize, however this means nothing in regards to your professional career if you can’t learn from their mastery.
Yet, you’ve chosen to carry on to start the thesis-based program, and found a fantastic supervisor that matches well to your preferences. Yes, now you can actually start conducting research and analyzing collected data. Students usually start by first building their foundational knowledge through literature review. The information gained at this stage often serves as the introduction section for the thesis (but I will go more into thesis structure in a little bit). Therefore, ensuring you are annotating your reference material (scientific papers, textbooks, etc.) to go back to it at a later date is paramount to the thesis process. Tools like Microsoft EndNote and Mendeley are great at keeping citations. Not only is it important to organize your reference library, but also research findings too, because years of data collection might be more than you can scribble on one of those sticky post-it note pads (I only say that because during my Masters I would often write sticky notes and leave them on my lab bench to be transcribed into a notebook at a later date, but this ended up with me having piles of sticky notes). Most students, at least in my field of life sciences, keep to the old school method of writing in actual notebooks, however there are many digital notebooks like Microsoft OneNote and Benchling that can be accessed and shared online. For analyzing quantitative data, easy applications like Microsoft Excel and GraphPad Prism allow students to quickly visualize their data via different graphical representations, while more sophisticated methods use coding languages for greater customization, like using R Suite, Python or LaTex. Side note, it does seem like Microsoft has established itself as an essential player in the academic world, as if Bill Gates has microchipped all aspects of the scientific method…
At this stage you will likely come across what is deemed the thesis advisory committee, or TAC for short. This is a group of two or three scientists (plus your supervisor) that, as mentioned by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, “approves the project, reviews the progress of the student and advises them on further studies and research. The TAC also approves a thesis as ready for submission. When it can be foreseen that a project will not be successfully finished, the TAC can recommend to discontinue the project”. It is the weeks leading up to these committee meetings that bring students a lot of stress, which is odd because despite the fact that TACs are meant to evaluate the student’s performance, its literal function is an advisory one, helping alleviate the projects major flaws and guide the student towards success. Through these meetings, the thesis grows and blossoms into the beautiful piece of writing it eventually becomes.
We move onto what the majority of resources about the thesis discuss, writing the thesis. People outside of academia often forget that theses are typically hundreds of pages that try to convince the reader of generally one idea. There are entire businesses centred around helping you write a thesis, such as Scribbr. There are even personalities like Dr. Inger Mewburn who calls herself, “the Thesis Whisperer, just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages”. Plenty of other resources dive into the structure of the thesis, but I found one blog post by students at Columbia University go into just enough detail and provide useful tips. To summarize, the thesis can be broken down into these sections: 1) title page, 2) abstract, 3) table of contents, 4) list of figures, 5) list of tables, 6) introduction, 7) methods, 8) results, 9) discussion, 10) conclusions, 11) acknowledgements, 12) references, and finally 13) appendices. Yeesh. Luckily they’re distinct and mostly self-explanatory. That’s alotta sections, yet each are extremely important to hammer home that great idea. And you might notice, particularly OG Metaphorigins listeners who’ve been with me since at least Episode 10, that these sections are quite similar to how a scientific publication is written. That’s because it’s exactly like how a scientific publication is written. In fact, a lot of thesis-based programs permit students not to write a full thesis but instead, append scientific papers the were able to publish during their program. Therefore, being scientifically literate and understanding the format of academic publications is one skill you should strive for before writing a thesis at all.
Regarding tricks of the trade, a lot of resources state many different techniques on how one can write such a substantial amount of text. Let me summarize for you in two words what tens of articles, videos, businesses and thesis whisperers have concluded: Start early. In other words, don’t do what Dr. Eleonore Troja, an Associate Research Scientist in Astrophysics at the University of Maryland, said about her thesis writing, “The actual writing took 2 months—the time I had before the final submission deadline. I guess I managed to write it because I had to, the alternative being to fail the Ph.D.” This is common sense. But it obviously can’t be that easy, right? I mean, even reflecting on this podcast script, I should have started this well in advance to meet my own prescribed deadline. Yet here I am, writing well passed midnight on a random Thursday in May. But seriously, start early. Create your templates, jot down the topics you want to discuss that lead to that clear story flow, and be as concise as possible. Sure, you can strive to reach the typical hundreds of pages (or in the case of the university I attend, reach the 100,000 word limit), but if you could make your point in half the amount of text, this actually strengthens the argument you are trying to make. Forget daily word goals. Personally, by starting early, I wholeheartedly believe you will find what makes you passionate about the subject you are studying, and it is this passion that will drive you to complete the thesis.
You’re close to the finish line. Now that you’ve written that kickass thesis, and submitted it (which is a whole process on its own that is different depending on the institute. I won’t get into that, I refuse!), are you suddenly bestowed the honour of doctor or master now? Not quite. The final test of a thesis is defending it, also generally known as an oral examination, which to me always sounds like a trip to the dentist. Interestingly, in the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong its called a Viva Voce (which is latin for “by living voice”). Whatever you call it, this, one could argue, perhaps through a thesis itself, is the greatest format we have to assess the expertise of an academic, as not only does one need to write convincingly, but one also needs to verbally communicate the argument they are making as well, that this idea is worth someone’s attention.
Regarding tips, I will bring back Aristotle, the father of rhetoric, and suggest following the Aristotelian Tryptch. Described in an article by Inc.com, “tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told ‘em”. These examinations typically take multiple hours, as the student is asked to present their work to experts in the field (while sometimes also open to their colleagues and the interested public), followed by a Q&A period with the examiners where they review the entire work. As it is highly unlikely to perform every possible method that will test your idea, it is your responsibility as an expert in your field to argue why your methods are justified, and the overall significance of your grand idea. These examinations usually conclude with the following four outcomes, which is summarized by processes employed at my university, Trinity College Dublin: 1) the degree should be awarded, 2) the degree should be awarded, subject to minor corrections made to the thesis, 3) the thesis should be referred back for revision, and 4) the thesis should be failed. The fourth outcome rarely happens, and its important to note that if it does, it could be devastating for the student. Support via their peers, supervisor and their close social circle should follow to encourage positivity during such a time. I suppose that, the status of holding a doctorate in circumstances which bias has been reduced as much as possible, requires either a medical expert that can provide help to someone, or an academic expert that can teach someone to help themselves.
Branching off that is one final aspect of the thesis I vehemently want to cover, and that’s the mental health of you, the thesis undertaker. To no surprise, the negative trend one would unfortunately expect from those at the graduate level has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One 2020 study conducted by Science Magazine of 4000 US-based STEM PhD students found that, “40% reported symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder and 37% with major depressive disorder—jumps of 13 and 19 percentage points, respectively, compared with 2019.” But even before the pandemic, students pursuing an advanced degree were highly susceptible to mental health decline. One study discussed in a 2019 Scientific American article, “concluded that graduate students are over three times more likely than the average American to experience mental health disorders and depression. The study, which surveyed over 500 economics students from eight elite universities, also concluded that one in 10 students experienced suicidal thoughts over a two-week period, a result consistent with other recent reports.”
There are many different reasons why this is the case, mentioned in the articles were the stigma behind expressing personal mental health concerns, low salaries or stipends, and lack of career support after graduation. And this is not accounting for other scenarios like raising a family, immigration issues for international students, or pre-existing health conditions that are not accommodated for. The solution to this problem still escapes myself and academic institutions. On one hand, we should be encouraging and outright supporting all those who desire to enter a thesis-based graduate program, while on the other hand, these programs are inherently difficult. How can we strengthen the programs that are already in place? There are some missions that aim to at least determine solutions. Published in a 2019 Nature news article, “The Council of Graduate Schools (or CGS) 22-month initiative […] focuses on the mental health of young adults. The initiative will explore current schemes and programmes centred on student wellness at CGS member universities in the United States and Canada, and provide recommendations for future approaches to promote mental and emotional well-being in students.” By reflecting on what institutes are currently doing, or not doing, will allow the academic community to identify the sources of mental health decline and aid students to complete the best thesis that they possibly can. It’s a win-win!
I bring us now to the end of this segment. This particular episode is extremely important to me as I reflect on what drove me down this pursuit of knowledge and undertake a thesis-based PhD abroad. Perhaps the answer lies in origins, and yes I am aware I always come back to my desire to understand how things came to be, whether that be English metaphors, or my own life. My PhD project is based on the idea that the human gut microbiome, or the microorganisms and genetic material found in our gut, impact patients suffering from disease. But who put forth the idea of the microbiome? Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg did in 2001. But who put forth the idea that microorganisms cause disease? This is attributed to work done all the way back in the 19th century by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur. But who put forth the idea that microorganisms even exist? The earliest microscopy experiments done by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discovered what he first termed “animalcules” in the 17th century. And we can keep going farther and farther into the past on what writer Peter Hall of NewScientist called your, “academic family tree”. Perhaps these ideas were not put forth via graduate theses. Yet, through this reflection, my gratitude for the brilliant minds that have advanced my field to the point it is at today, and how the academic community has come together to standardize a way for young professionals to contribute outstanding ideas, played a significant role in my decision. It is our duty, as participants in the academic space, and those generally interested in rational discussion, to advance the thesis process itself, to better support students attempting a project that is seemingly impossible, which will further advance all fields of research.
For today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing someone who has recently went through the thesis process, and made it out alive and well on the other side, someone whose experience, different from mine or yours, will nonetheless be indispensable for our own academic journeys.
She started her academic journey back in 2012 doing a Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences at Maynooth University. She then made the commute to Trinity College Dublin to do a Masters in Immunology, and continuing in the same lab to complete a PhD in Microbiology. A lover of podcasts, books, and the great outdoors, her post-PhD life involves being a Research Assistant at Trinity and is now consumed by being a plant parent to the Monsteria delicosia and Dracaena trifasciata species.
Please welcome the fantastically bright, Amy O’Callaghan.
And thank you for listening to this special Season 3 Finale of… Metaphorigins. What an end to one of the most exciting projects in my recent memory. For one final update, again, I will be taking a brief absence to focus on my academic responsibilities in my new PhD program here at Trinity College Dublin, as well as develop new skills through other SciComm projects. For example, I recently became part of the University Times student newspaper as a science writer, and entered into the Regional FameLab Science Communication Competition. Keep an eye out as well for a future scientific publication about my Masters work, and a fiction story publication regarding COVID-19 and cancel culture (the latter I will promote through my Scalene Writing Instagram account, which you should also check out!).
Otherwise, there will certainly be more Metaphorigins coming to you sometime in September of this year. Note that if you’ve got interesting stories to tell, I’m always open to collaborate on creative projects. Do remember to leave either a rating or mini review on whichever platform you choose to listen to this on, as it will help support the show with little effort on your part, and follow the Metaphorigins Instagram Page for exciting visual updates as we get closer to Season 4. I have some more ideas to further grow the platform, so stayed tuned, and hope you continue being inspired about communication and science! Until then, stay skeptical but curious.