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Just keep on smiling - Joya Nahon

My last opponent finishes his question and looks at me expectantly. I smile relieved (I know this answer) and begin to speak: “I think that is a very relevant... Shit! I mean, uh zeergeleerde opponens...Sorry!” My face turns a bright pink colour and my nerves make me start to giggle aloud. How long can 45 minutes take?

After months of writing, deadlines and finishing my last experiment, my very last experiment and my very very last experiment, I was finally done. The moment I received the e-mail that the reading committee approved my thesis, I felt so liberated I could cry. Just one more task on my never-ending to-do list: the defence.

Almost there

The weeks before my defence I had been living like a hermit. I was reading countless scientific articles, messaging my co-promotor Menno (at least 4 times a day) with burning scientific questions and trying to make as many cheat sheets as I could. My colleagues even set-up a mock defence in order to help me prepare.

In the Netherlands, the PhD defence mainly has a ceremonial function. It is supposed to be a happy and special day for the candidate and their family. Since my sister was finishing up her PhD at the LUMC at the same time, we decided to make it an extra special day by defending our thesis the same day.

It rarely happens that a candidate fails their defence. However, more than just passing, I wanted to look good. Especially next to my very smart, calm and collected big sister who without a doubt would make it look so easy.

D-day

Defence day, or D-day as we liked to call it, had such a tight schedule that I barely had time to think. Which I believe was a good thing. I was very grateful to share this once in a lifetime experience with my older and wiser sister. First I would have my ‘lekenpraatje’, followed by my defence. Thereafter it would be my sister presenting her work and defending it. A big party with live music would finish the day.

Presenting my work in an understandable fashion to my family and friends during my ‘lekenpraatje’ was a nice way to get into topic. The more I spoke about my research, the more confident I became. Everybody seemed so impressed with my knowledge already. Even if the defence would go horribly wrong, they’d know that I was not completely clueless about my research.

The defence

Standing in the big room, waiting for the committee to start their verbal attacks on my precious scientific papers, I was nervous. All I could think was: ‘Just keep on smiling’. However seeing all of my family and friends, made me relax a little. And although I made a tiny mistake (following formal and traditional protocols never really is my thing), I am happy with the way I defended my thesis. I never thought I would say this but I actually enjoyed the defence at some point. In the end, 45 minutes felt like it was over in a heartbeat.

Joya Nahon

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