Our first student defends her PhD thesis!

I met Claire Morandin in 2011 at the BGI-hosted Social Insect Genomics Research Conference, when she was just starting her dissertation. She had great ambitions for her Ph.D. thesis, and I suggested that we collaborate. In the course of four visits to Okinawa, for which Claire got her own funding, the third chapter of her thesis was born, and I became her official co-supervisor. Since that time, Claire has never ceased to amaze me with her intelligence, hard work, and ambition. These were recognized not just by me, but also by her home school, as she received a major departmental prize for her work last year.

Attending a Finnish Ph.D. defense was a completely unforseen consequence of the BGI meeting. These are ritualized affairs, featuring an external examiner and moderated by a kustos (above and below, center), who makes sure procedure is followed and no fights break out (or so I am told). Claire’s opponent Dr. Seirian Sumner managed to balance a friendly conversational style with over two hours of challenging questions. The result was more of a conversation between two scientists, but no stone was left unturned. To quote Seirian, the thesis was a “perfectly formed structure”. We all knew Claire would do splendidly. Congratulations!