My little sister defended her PhD in neuroscience on Thursday, August 13. She passed without conditions!
I am tremendously proud of her, despite the fact that I am now the only non-doctor of sciencey things in my immediate family. Monique blew through the University of Colorado Health Sciences PhD program in only 5 years. Yes, she’s one smart cookie, but she worked very hard to make it happen.
I flew into Denver Wednesday afternoon and met up with my family in time to see Monique practice her presentation, then helped her set up the conference room on Thursday before her official presentation at 2pm. “It’s only going to be my committee, people from my lab, my family, and maybe a couple friends,” she said.
Monique grossly underestimated the turnout for her presentation. About 50 people ended up packing into the small conference room and I think a couple even turned away because even the standing room only area was filled.
“You counted how many people were there?” Monique asked when I reported the results to her.
“Duh,” I said. “But I did it during the part of your presentation that I had no chance of understanding, even a second time.” That seemed to make her feel better.
Still, before other people started trickling in, I gave Monique the gift I’d planned on giving her for over a year: a silver necklace with a pendant in the shape of a seratonin molecule. Lucky for me, she was already wearing the perfect shirt for it and her other necklace wasn’t even showing, so she wore it during her presentation. And lots her nerdy science friends ooohed and aaaahed over it afterward. You can see it in the first photo above.
Regardless of the seratonin boost, Monique nailed her thesis presentation on “Translational Regulation of Amyloid Precursor Protein in Alzheimer’s Disease.” Damn impressive. I even understood a little, like the part in her PowerPoint where she incorporated a little cartoon image of Grim from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy next to an Alzheimer’s-stricken brain to convey brain cell death.
She was nervous, but it didn’t show as much as she thought it would. After her presentation, and after thunderous applause and some cookies, the crowd dispersed and Monique disappeared back into the conference room for a closed-door meeting with the committee that decides whether or not she’s done enough experiments and accumulated enough knowledge to deserve her PhD.
It was this actual defense that Monique was most nervous about. I waited with my parents in the lounge next door for an unspecified amount of time.
We waited. It seemed like forever. There wasn’t much light reading available, but the view was nice despite being a little cloudy.
After an hour and about 15 minutes, Monique emerged very stressed.
“Break number one,” she said. We tried to ask how it was going.
“I’m really tired don’t talk to me,” she said, and took a bathroom break.
She then hung out with us for a few minutes, not really saying much except that her committee was grilling her and it was HARD. Before we knew it, they were calling her back in.
And then, maybe 20 minutes after that, the door opened. My parents and I peeked around the corner, not quite sure what to expect… and someone said “She passed!” We went in to give her big hugs, and before we knew it, her advisor uncorked some bubbly and we were celebrating her successful defense!
The sun came out, Monique was all smiles, and everyone I talked to said wonderful things about her. As a scientist, as a person, and as a friend. All things I’ve heard before, and all things that I know I will hear again.
She’s currently editing and preparing her actual thesis to be printed and bound—a requirement that will result in her thesis being forever on file in the school’s library and accessible for future generations who want to wade through a couple hundred pages of sciency jibba jabber. I think that’s really cool.
And it’s extra cool to think about her research being used by others in the future to help develop pharmaceuticals for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
I give her an A+ for contribution to society in general.
Okay, so she’s still officially matriculating until the end of December, when she will receive her actual diploma and her thesis has a dewey decimal number attached to it, but she’s completed all of the other requirements. She’s not taking a break at this point, and is actually going to start her Next New Adventure this fall. As always, she’s accomplished one thing and is looking forward to move on to a new challenge.
My little sister, Dr. Monique. Even though I view her as more successful in life than me, I like to think that I’ve always been there to encourage her along the way.