The long, slow end (or, I finished my PhD today!)

I submitted my PhD today! Two and a half years and three days after I began, I carried four copies of my dissertation – all 96,866 words of it – to the University of Otago graduate school and walked away with a chocolate-covered marshmallow fish and a smile. I owe my very sincerest thanks to everyone who’s so generously helped me along the way, including folks in the Washington State and New Zealand wine industries and readers here who’ve poked and prodded and asked good questions. 

My thesis is titled “Through the grapevine: In search of a rhetoric of industry-oriented science communication.” It’s gist is, briefly, that people study scholarly science writing amongst scientists, and popular science writing for general audiences, but pay a lot less attention to science writing for professional audiences (like winemakers and growers) who might use scientific information in some way and who also know a lot about the subjects of scientific research. Industry-oriented science communication should make industry knowledge a real part of the conversation and communicate science as local knowledge in context – one kind of knowledge, alongside industry knowledge as another kind. By writing about science in context, acknowledging industry knowledge as real and valid knowledge, and making connections between science and industry locations, I’m arguing that the way we write about scientific research can invite better research-industry collaborations and help make research more relevant to practice.

You can find more detailed explanations of parts of the project under the publications tab on this website. If you’d like to know more, send me an email. I’ll be happy to have a conversation, send you all or part of the thesis, or try to point you in the direction of other resources.

Don’t call me Dr. Szymanski yet. In the United States, PhD studies finish with an oral defense with your committee. Assuming that you pass, that defense ends with your advisor shaking your hand and congratulating Dr. Szymanski, and there you go, plus a regalia-clad graduation sometime thereafter. The New Zealand process is different, so today was only the beginning of the end. The graduate school will send soft-bound copies of my thesis off to three anonymous examiners chosen by my advisor. Those scholars will read my work, make comments about things they want me to change, and recommend a grade: pass with minor revisions, pass with major revisions, revise and resubmit (i.e. we fail you, but we think you can pass on a second try), or fail (i.e. we don’t think you can save this ship). Those comments get sent back to me and I have a month or three to make whatever changes those examiners have requested. I send it back. At least one of the examiners takes a look at my changes and, if everyone’s satisfied, the graduate school confers my degree, and I’m finally – after about six months – Dr. Szymanski. I can then do the regalia-clad graduation thing some months thereafter, but I won’t, because I’ll be in Scotland by then.

I’ll be in Scotland by then! As of the beginning of May, I take up a post-doctoral research position at the University of Edinburgh. I’ll be joining the Engineering Life team to study sociopolitical/cultural sides of the Synthetic Yeast project, a massive effort to create the first working, laboratory-created eurkaryotic genome — of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, naturally. (I wrote about the project in some detail a few months ago). The project has obvious implications for the wine industry, is fascinating in terms of the trajectory of human-yeast coevolution, and plays into changes in how we see the relationships between life and engineering. The team I’ll be joining at the University of Edinburgh is outstanding. I’m looking forward to being in the center of the science and technology studies world, on an island with some of the best wine availability in the world, and within weekend skipping distance of many of Europe’s great wine regions.

Again, I owe my very sincerest thanks to everyone who has contributed their time, knowledge, and good will to my doctoral studies. And I look forward to getting to know the UK wine scene. If you’re in or near Edinburgh, send me a note! 

8 thoughts on “The long, slow end (or, I finished my PhD today!)

  1. Congratulations Erika
    I’m a PhD Wine Microbiologist working for a global wine company who doesnt have the time or inclination these days to read all of the research literature that I should. I have found The Wineoscope to be an informative and reliable source of all sorts of useful technical information, and, made enjoyable to read by your lovely use of language.
    I wish you all the best with your new position!

  2. Best of luck with the examiners, and so glad to hear you’re officially goin to Edinburgh, lovely choice if I do so say so myself! Congrats!!

  3. Well done! Thesis submission can feel underwhelming but it really is an enormous achievement. I’m very interested in your thesis area and I’d love a copy of your theirs. Am I allowed to ask that?! All the best wiith the best with the review process.

  4. Congratulations! Academic work is a difficult pursuit, but more people would do it if they knew about the chocolate-marshmallow fish.

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