27 November 2010

Master of Research

Three days before we left for Portugal, to do fieldwork, we got ourselves an MRes student to accompany us. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical, as we would initially get another student; but that one kept changing her mind on what it actually was she wanted, and in the end she withdrew. So at the very last minute, when I had gotten somewhat fed up with students, we got this other one. So it started out on less than perfect ground, but how things would change!

Emily, for her it was, would do her master's project on the material we would gather there, in the sun-baked Iberian marsh. So after the fieldwork we would see her in the lab a lot, sweating away at a decidedly tough project. She performed practically any analysis on that material one possibly could: microfossil analysis; grain size analysis; organic and anorganic carbon content measurements; X-ray diffraction; lead-, caesium- and americium-dating; the works. And Wil, her supervisor (officially it was Roland but he was on sabbatical), had her do most of that at a resolution at least double what is commonly obtained.

That alone would have make weaker spirits quit. But not Emily! The sheer bulk of the work was the least of the challenges hurled at her. But she pulled through, and submitted a thick and elaborate master's thesis. She submitted exhausted, and knowing she would have liked to do more final polishing, but she submitted. And along the line, through all the hours in the lab, and the many coffees we drank, she became a valued friend. She even brought me dinner in the lab (or rather, in the coffee room near the lab) one night when I was working almost as hard as she was. And she even joined me caving one day! Unfortunately (for us), though, she moved to Oxford, so that'll stay a one-timer.

Here in England, submitting your thesis is not the end of it: you have to defend it against an external examiner. So when that day came I went to the room where I knew this event would take place, to wish her strength. To my surprise she asked "are you coming in?". I answered I assumed that was not allowed. But being the practical soul she is she just asked, and to my surprise I was kindly invited in. My chance to witness an English viva! It is quite a nice way of drawing a line under such a project. The examiner was a kind and very knowledgeable man, who was genuinely interested in the project, and that showed in his questions. And that Emily answered them well is hardly something I need to mention, I presume. So now the waiting is for her grade. But I think what's more important than that is that she proved she battles on, no matter what you throw at her! I wish her all the luck in her further, and undoubtedly glorious, career...

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