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Student Dissertation Sticks to Schedule Despite Hurricane Sandy

By Steven R. Watros, Contributing Writer

Although Hurricane Sandy interrupted all but core Harvard University operations Monday, the so-called superstorm was no match for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph. D candidate Mollie A. Woodworth. As Hurricane Sandy brewed outside, Woodworth defended her dissertation to her examination committee inside Bauer Labs.

“Thesis defense is sort of like a wedding. You plan for a really, really, really long time, but then you kind of can’t control what happens on the actual day,” said Woodworth, who became Dr. Woodworth after the approval of her dissertation on Monday.

Yesterday’s date was agreed upon by Woodworth and her dissertation committee in the early summer. This committee consisted of three Harvard faculty members—Molecular and Cellular Biology professor Joshua R. Sanes, Harvard Medical School professor Connie Cepko, and HMS Professor Gabriel Corfas—and University of Washington neurobiology surgery professor Robert Hevner. The committee reviewed Woodworth’s dissertation on the two genes that control the development of the cerebral cortex.

Upon boarding his Boston-bound flight in Seattle on Sunday, Hevner was informed that the plane might not be able to make it all the way to Boston and, even if it did, he would likely be unable to return home on time.

He decided to take the risk.

Soon after, he found out in an email that his flight home, scheduled for Monday afternoon, had been cancelled and is grounded until Wednesday night.

For Hevner's dedication to getting to Boston, Woodworth called him“the hero” of the day.

Hevner and Woodworth both pointed out the difficulty of getting the busy faculty examiners all in the same room on the same date.

“My committee was wonderful. They never suggested that we should reschedule,” said Woodworth.

While her family from Ohio made it to the defense, some of Woodworth’s friends and colleagues were unable to attend due to the violent weather. But the hurricane freed some of her lab members from their responsibilities, allowing them to attend.

Christopher A. Devine ’13, who works in the same lab as Woodworth, originally could not be present because of a medical school interview, but it was cancelled because of the hurricane.

“Mollie was one of the grad students who was the friendliest welcoming me into the lab freshman year,” said Devine.

“She was really calm,” he said of her performance during the defense.

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