No, not that Doctor. (Besides, I’m not sure any graduate student would care to regenerate and repeat the experience for all eternity!)
My first PhD candidate, Harry Horsley, recently had his viva. Here he is, about an hour before the event:
The waiting was drawn out as the examiners cloistered themselves and discussed their grilling strategy. But finally Harry was called into the room, whose door clicked shut with heavy finality.
I can honestly say that I wasn’t worried for one moment that Harry wouldn’t ace it. He’s one of the most talented young scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and of his three thesis chapters dealing with data, two are already published, and the third will be submitted in the next few weeks. But I was unaccountably nervous as the minutes ticked by: my colleagues joked that I looked paler than Harry had.
Just under two hours later, our new Doctor had emerged, victorious and with only a few battle scars, related with much laughter over champagne in the common room.
Yesterday, Harry gifted me with the first of what I hope will be an ever-expanding line of tomes to display with pride in the office bookshelf:
It’s been a rite of passage for me as well as Harry. My second student is finishing up his experiments this summer, while a third has just accepted an offer to join the lab (hooray!). My academic life has never been crazier: I taught my last class of the year yesterday, but now a month of full-on marking awaits. So it will be head down until June, trying to fit all of this in among my many other obligations: preparing for a clinical trial on our novel drug delivery system that the MHRA has just green-lighted in principle; working on the astonishing crop of five manuscripts that await polishing; discharging our ambitious Athena SWAN action plan; ticking off the never-ending list of small chores that accumulate like the drifts of petals and pollen swirling down and banking up on pavements all over London.
But that “school’s nearly out” feeling of my youth cannot be suppressed, evoked by the warmth of the air through an open window, the smell of freshly mown grass, the tenor of the birdsong. Some things are ending, but others are beginning.