Tuesday, January 28, 2020

PhD Defenses around the World: a Defense in Argentina

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Maria Belen Sathicq to tell us about PhD defenses in Argentina. Maria Belen is an Argentinean biologist, living and working in Italy. She got a B.Sc. degree in Biology, from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Buenos Aires, Argentina), and a PhD from the same University, specialized in water quality assessment. Herthesis was about the use of different populations of phytoplankton to assess changes in the water quality of a coastal system under high anthropogenic pressure. Currently she holds an AXA postdoctoral fellowship and works at the IRSA (Istituto di Ricerca sulle Acque, sede Verbania). Her project ENEAS aims to understand the role of microplastics in the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
She is starting in the Citizen Science world, but already considers herself a fan,and is a feminist
.

A PhD defense in Argentina is, as in most countries, a big event. To reach to this stage, first you have to enroll in a PhD program and carry it on for almost five years. Fortunately, thanks to educational policies, in my country doing a PhD in a public University is free of charge, that gives the opportunity to those who cannot afford a tutoring fee. My PhD was about water quality in the big Estuary of Rio de la Plata, using phytoplankton as an indicator tool, so it required a lot of field work (extensive and intensive) and microscope time, and of course, after that, a management of large quantities of data.

Once you carry on your investigation and have your results, it is time to write it down, a manuscript that ends up being as big as a book. This book goes to three specialist in your field (not necessarily from your own University, or even your own Country), and they act as reviewers of your work. Once you have all these three feedbacks (usually this takes a couple of months), you are ready for the oral and public defense of your thesis.

The thesis defense is in an auditorium, usually full with your family, friends and coworkers. I remember mine was a very hot day and I was (of course) super nervous. The director of the PhD of my University lead me to the auditorium, still empty, and left me there for a few minutes to organize my presentation. The same specialists that reviewed the thesis work, this day also act like the reviewing panel. With them and all the public present I started my dissertation. The two or three first slides I felt like I was speaking with squeaky robot voice, but then I remembered that this work had been my routine for the last 4 years, and I had really enjoyed it, so I relaxed a little and continued for 40 minutes presenting my thesis.

At the end of the presentation, the panel asks you questions, sometimes about what they already mentioned on the previous review stage, or something that has caught their attention, or even about your future scientific plans; and when they finish, they leave to a separate office to discuss your final score. After a few (endless) minutes they come back with the final certificate and they read it for all the audience. My final score was 10/10 so I was absolutely happy, and for the next moment, when I had to make the public acknowledgements, I was already crying of joy. These acknowledgements are usually also written in the first pages of the thesis, and they are for all the people who supported you throughout the process, not only academic but also personally.

The most common thing is that your tutor gives you a bouquet of flowers, independently if you are a boy or a girl, and my tutor (Dr. Nora Gomez) gave me a beautiful and very big one! For the celebration, the University building has a Hall with a very big table and your family and friends bring some things to eat and some champagne to make a congratulation toast, so you can share a very good moment with all of them and mark it as the end of your path as a PhD student.

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