The Dissertation Proposal Defense

microCT scan
By Cassandra Turcotte
June 16, 2015

The third year of the PhD program at CASHP is a whirlwind for anyone who experiences it.  It is both the culmination of one's classwork and teaching responsibilities as well as the platform for future research endeavors.  The year goes by like a strike of lightning in one of DC's infamous summer storms. And the prize at the end of it all?   The much-anticipated Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Defense.

Sure, the proposal defense represents just another step on the road to completing your dissertation, but it's an important step – the rubicon CASHP students must pass to attain the next-level status of all but dissertation.  The dissertation proposal is no small endeavor, either.  It requires the student to have all of their research ducks in a row, to demonstrate to the department that s/he is prepared to undertake the dissertation.

For some students, like me, this may not be the most straightforward of tasks.  While I've had my research topic in mind since I got here, I've also had some trouble hammering out the details.  It seems like I spent the first half of this year testing out new methods, particularly attempting to get microCT images of bone at a high enough resolution to do preliminary histological work.  My first issue was simply getting skeletal elements of interest into the machine.  Because I was looking at muscle-attachment sites, this sometimes meant placing the bone into the chamber at odd angles.  More often than not, it just wouldn't fit.

To solve that issue, I took bone plugs from areas of interest and scanned those, but the images turned out too noisy to use.  I had to revert to traditional histological methods, but this change of plans helped me refine my questions and forced me to assess the best and most realistic ways to address them.  This process is a constant cycle of testing, reflection and revision.  My project is better for those 'speed-bumps'. 

Now that I have my methodological concerns sorted (at least for now), I've moved on to writing and preparing for the big presentation.  With much of my pilot data gathered, my written proposal under revision, and the summer coming to its apex, my Proposal Defense is drawing very near.  My talk will undoubtedly undergo some changes before the day comes but those reviews can only refine and improve it.  This third year has gone by quickly,  filled with ups and downs, setbacks and breakthroughs.  Now I'm ready to stand before my colleagues and show them what I came to DC to work on, and to look forward to repeating the whole process again for the Dissertation Defense.