Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD?

Uh, so I finished my PhD.


How in the world did that happen? You mean, my three years in Europe are over? I am…a Dr. now? Somehow it all feels…surreal.

The part about spending three years in Europe, that is. The Dr. part feels way too normal, in the sense that nothing at all has changed and life continues as before. Just because I have a special “title” now, doesn’t mean anything is different. At least that’s what it feels like. Maybe the moments of epiphany haven’t arrived yet. Maybe it’s still too fresh and the reality hasn’t sunk in. Maybe…

But yes, just a little update, I defended my PhD thesis on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 in Bordeaux, France. Special mention goes to my dad who arrived in Bordeaux from Toronto, three days earlier! I’ve been waiting for this day pretty much since day one of my arrival in Europe, and it has happened. Way too fast. Let’s try to rewind and see how the day went down. There are way too many pictures and I only chose the super representative ones (and that already makes 25 in this post!) Thanks to my dear friend and sister in Christ, Peiguang Wei, for being my dedicated photographer (and make-up artist as well as hairdresser) for the entire day! Click here for the full album.

Now, let’s roll. (Follow my “Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD?” journey by reading part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

The defense began with a 45-minute presentation of the work I’ve done within the past three years, on the thesis topic of “Biological Multi-Functionalization and Surface Nanopatterning of Biomaterials”. Don’t worry if it sounds like jibberish to you. Sometimes after three years I still don’t understand it and think it IS jibberish. The presentation is followed by a questioning period by a jury comittee that lasts typically an hour an a half. Oh boy. It was gonna be a tough battle, but a glorious one.

The defense “took place” simultaneously through videoconferencing in Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium (due to administrative requires) and Grenoble in France (due to last-minute absence of a jury member). It was quite interesting for me and my audience as no one has seen this being done before. I was really glad, though, because I got to see some of my colleagues in Belgium who came to support me, even though the visual quality wasn’t the best. I could hear them quite fine though, and what an encouragement it was to hear “inevitable struggles” (inside joke with LY)!

Members of the audience, including colleagues from the Oda lab and brothers and sisters from the Chinese fellowship, seemed to be very absorbed in the scientific discussion (i.e. looks of “I have no idea what she is talking about”). Props to Reiko, Guillaume, Alan, and Yutaka for providing the most amusing facial expressions of the day.

Of course we can’t forget about the FunMates. From left to right: Greg, An, Uyxing, and Marie. Camille and Alex were also there but not in his photo. I was extremely glad that the ladies were able to make it, especially since they had two other defenses to go to that day. I am honoured that they made mine part of their busy day as well!

There was a good turnout at the defense and most of the people I invited managed to show up, with a few surprises as well. There was Marianne from IDS, Christel from my previous lab, whom I met later, and my advisor’s previous advisor, so my…grand-advisor? With so many people there to support me, I was quite confident and frankly not nervous at all. Also, the fact that I actually really LIKE and enjoy doing oral presentations, whether during conferences or seminars, was a great plus. Anyway, the audience members began leaving gradually as we entered the questioning phase, which is normal for PhD defenses because that is the REAL boring part. Now…it’s Annie against the judges! Still, honourary kudos to a few brave souls, namely my dad (who had no choice), Peiguang, Alan, and some of the GCC guys for staying for the ENTIRE thing including questions and acknowledgements. *Annie takes a bow*

At the end of the questioning period, the jury kicked us out of the room while they deliberated over the result. After about 15 minutes, they let us back in to the room and the president of the jury, Eric Gaigneaux from Belgium, announced the result. The verdict was…I passed! Heh, if they let you do the defense, it’s highly unlikely that you’d fail, so I was ready with a big smile ^_^ Double PhD, wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Aside from Eric and the two jury members joining via videoconference, Catherine Picart and Karine Glinel, here are the other jury members: Véronique Migonney, Alain Jonas (my supervisor in Belgium), Marie-Christine Durrieu (my supervisor in France), Marie-Pierre Foulc, and Cédric Ayela. It felt like I won a fierce battle against all of the questions they threw at me, though to be honest, none of them were too harsh. The most difficult part was already taken care of (albeit badly) in October during the private defense.

Time to sign my diplomas, and for some reason I felt like this was a signature ritual at a wedding ceremony. But you know the funny thing? Everything felt so normal. Way too normal. Nothing changes just because I am called Dr. from that moment on. It was as if I gave a talk at another conference and just spent another normal day doing sciency things. I guess that was the weirdest thing…that everything was just normal.

After all the jury members have said their congratulations and best wishes, it was my turn to give a “speech” I saw this coming but I didn’t really prepare for it and I just said whatever came to my mind, which was a jumbled mess of thanking my supervisors and the jury members for coming. Ohh, and the GCC prepared flowers for me, how thoughtful!

OK OK OK, I know everyone was waiting for this part…the party after the defense! We had to head back to IECB for the party, but thanks to my colleagues Xiaoqian, Xiang, Jiaji, and Jiang, whom I delegated beforehand, everything was already set up and ready to go. I prepared sushi and yakitori as the main “dishes”, accompanied by a variety of finger foods like cheese, chips, peanuts, chocolate, and the Bordelaise specialty, canéles. Of course we had champagne and red wine, and even a special bottle of Chinese wine (52%!) that I’ve been saving for this occasion. Alright then, let’s eat???

But oh, we couldn’t start without me opening the champagne first, oops. POP goes the cork and the party officially began. I was so hungry by the time I got to IECB that all I wanted to do was eat and drink, but I ended up chatting with my guests and being congratulated by them that I only ate…two sushis. No yakitori for me T_T Of course I had chips and peanuts and champagne but…I was hungry!!! Hah! It was worth it though, having friends and family share such special moments with me and being able to see them all at the same time for perhaps the only time in my life.


My friends mean the world to me and I am honoured to have shared so many unique memories and built up irreplaceable bonds with each of them. The addition of each new friend in my European adventure puts a new dash of colour in my life, and while memories may gradually fade, the experiences will be forever engraved in my heart. Inside jokes like “spring onion, ginger, and garlic”, “stewed meat”, “bon de livraison”, “invisible man”…they will never die.

And I really really really have to give a big thanks to my Chinese fellowship in Bordeaux for preparing a surprise for me. You probably can’t see clearly on the papers, but combined, they say in Chinese, “Annie, hang in there! Jesus loves you!” There’s a story behind the “hang in there” thing, as my Chinese name, pronounced in Mandarin, sounds like “hang in there” (“cheng zhe”) in a different tone. Since early this year, I’ve been known as “hang in there”, which conveniently matches my situation for the entire year where I really need to “hang on”. I love these guys and gals so much ❤

And there is the father. We’ve been planning his visit for a while now, mainly so that he would be able to attend the defense and travel a bit with me afterwards. I was so so so thankful that my dad was able to witness the moment I got my PhD because to be quite frank, half of the reason I decided to do a PhD in the first place was because of my family. My dad’s influence on my life is phenomenal and I would not have made it through some of the toughest times in the past years without his tolerance and encouragements. Now I can proudly look him in the eye and say, “I did it, lo dou, thanks!” (Note: “lo dou” is a Cantonese slang for dad, literally “old bean”.)

Yup, hang in there Annie! It’s the end of one battle, but life goes on and there’ll be many more occasions where I’ll need to “hang in there”. It’s written in my name, so I know that I can endure whatever lemons life throws at me. There used to be a saying in my nanotechnology engineering class during my undergrad: “If you can survive nano, you can survive anything.” And well, I survived this PhD program unscathed. Take that, life!

God has been too good to me. He has endured my every complaint, consoled my every heartbreak, and blessed my every breath. And He still loves me so much even after I’ve distanced myself from Him time and time again, pulling me back home with His gentle words of wisdom and love. Praise the Lord! I am nothing without God, and to God be the glory of this day!

In the end, I am so thankful for everyone’s love and support. I’ve read everyone’s comments on the card over and over and am still touched every single time. It might sound quite cliche but I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. No words can sufficiently express how much I enjoyed this 3-year adventure and as much as I am sad to finally say goodbye, I am ready to go home…for now (well, at the end of January). Who knows…maybe I will sneak back to Europe one day when nobody’s looking… 😉

3 responses to “Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD?

  1. Pingback: Sunday, end, thanks | Annie Bananie en Europe

  2. Pingback: Deux jours à Paris avec mon père | Annie Bananie en Europe

  3. Pingback: Wedding day | Annie Bananie en Europe

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