Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Opening lines

My PhD thesis was submitted back in September. Then two months later, after almost forgetting everything I had done in the previous four years, I faced my viva. I felt a combination of a little bit of panic, a little bit of calm, a little bit of self-doubt and a little bit of over confidence. This mix left me feeling happy with what I had produced and only hoped that my examiners would be happy too.

Tom Branson ThesisIn the end, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable encounter, with compliments from the examiners on my titles and images at the start of each chapter. All those hours spent playing on ChemDraw and Pymol were not wasted after all. I like to go for grand sweeping statements and so my introduction was entitled,
"From the wilds of Nature to the confines of the lab".

The opening few paragraphs of my thesis introduction are shown below. It is pretty general to begin with as I wanted to write it so that anybody would be able to come along and pick up this volume and have a chance at understanding something before their brain started to hurt...

   "Taking a minute to think about the great variety of life on this planet can only leave you with a feeling of awe. The multitude of complex and beautiful forms that have covered our world seem to be innumerable in their differences. On the nanoscale these differences can become even more apparent. Even within a single species many different tissues are present and each may comprise many different types of cell.

   There is structure to everything. On every scale a new level of appreciation can be found, from the straight, solid trunks of huge redwood trees, to the flexible muscle tissue allowing our movement and to the delicate, helical DNA that encodes all existence. The huge variety of natural structures is easy to see around us and on the nanoscale bioarchitecture can be just as impressive.

   It took billions of years for the natural universe to be shaped around us, yet it is only in the last hundred years or so that humans have truly began to understand the fundamental principles that hold this world together. We are starting to better understand the complex mechanisms that govern how all these systems interact and scientists can now use this information to change and add to what nature has already created.

   A central goal of synthetic biology is to learn from nature and take inspiration. This knowledge can then be used to create bioinspired and novel artificial architectures and systems that meet our needs, demands and are limited only by our own imagination."

When checking over this, my supervisor wrote in the margin, "Camera pans out to reveal Tom standing on top of mountain. Roll credits..." Did anybody else try to go for something general or grand or just stick to the technical stuff for their thesis? I didn't hide anything funny in the text, like Labsolutely, but I managed to reference a YouTube video that I'm in and my very first reference was a tweet.


  1. Haha, nice. For myself, as I'm writing my masters thesis, I'm keeping it straight and serious. Communication isn't something to laugh about, anyway. I'm secretly looking forward to writing the epilogue though.

  2. Great, you should definitely put some interesting comments at the end. Maybe safer to put it in a separate section too!