Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dissertation Developments

Ahem, I have an announcement...


In Gratitude

So after six years of graduate school (not counting three years of medical school), I finally have a piece of paper with my name on it. However, I must acknowledge that, without the grace of God, I could never have survived this rollercoaster they call research. Furthermore, although I have never shared the story on my blog, the main reason I came to Loma Linda University in the first place was because I felt that God called me here for a reason. Thus, this PhD is hereby dedicated to God with the hope that it will be a tool to reach out to others.

Of course, the support of family and friends has been a tremendous blessing as well. My parents and sister Deborah have patiently encouraged me throughout, and my fiancee Sunny has given unselfishly of her own time and energy over and over to help me especially through the latter stages of graduate work. Each of my friends from Advent HOPE and elsewhere have been amazing and faithful, praying for me, sending me notes of encouragement, riding the rollercoaster of life with me. I have been fortunate to have such a wonderful network of support. I thank God for each of you!

And finally, for those of you unfamiliar with the process, here is a brief synopsis of the life of a graduate school student:

Didactic Classwork:

First, you must complete a series of courses, both general and in your field of study. In my case, I took general classes in Biochemistry or Molecular Biology as well as specific classes such as Reproductive Physiology. I also attended various seminars where I listened to and presented scientific lectures.

Comprehensives Exams

Then you must pass comprehensive written and oral examinations. The written tests consist of eight (I think) essay-based tests covering any topic in the field of physiology. Each test can be from three to five essay questions. It usually takes three or more days to take all these tests.

You also must write a proposal for your research and orally defend it before a selected committee of professors. It takes weeks to write a proposal which is written in the National Institutes of Health grant format. Then you present it before your professors who tear it up, along with your ego, in minutes.

Laboratory Research

After you survive the comprehensives, you actually have to do the work that you proposed to do. This is the tricky part of research. Some parts of research are fast and easy, but the majority is trial-and-error with no guarantee that it will even work. I remember spending the better part of a year trying to finetune a Western blot protocol. I also spent over six months on a different project that never actually worked! However, much of the research, though laborious and intense, was successful and, thank God, publishable.


Once you have finished your benchwork and hopefully published your papers, you begin to write a dissertation. A dissertation is a scientific work that constitutes all the research you have done in written form. This manuscript usually is over a hundred pages and can take months to write. My dissertation was around 140 pages with a dozen figures and hundreds of references.

Of course, writing is one thing but you must also defend this dissertation before graduation. I scheduled my dissertation defense the day before graduation weekend began :) First, you give a powerpoint presentation of your work and answer questions. This is usually no more than an hour. Then everyone leaves except your graduate committee and they grill you for as long as they want about whatever they want. In my case, it was a little less than 1.5 hours. Then they send you out of the room while they deliberate whether you have passed or not. Finally, you are invited back into the room to learn your fate. In my case, they said, "Congratulations!" as opposed to "Better luck next time." What a relief!

The Conclusion of the Matter

Ultimately, an academic degree is just a formal acknowledgement that a person has gained a certain level of human education. It says nothing of character or integrity, it cannot measure wisdom or maturity, and it is not salvific in any way. Only through Jesus Christ can these eternal qualities be developed. When the judgment comes and we are weighed in the balances, letters behind our names will mean nothing. My goal is to seek for a higher attainment than any human institution can offer, to be like Jesus.

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

1 Cor. 1:27-31