September is always an exciting month. Birthdays for me and my wife, start of the new school year for my children, and this time around, the end of my time at Cardiff University. This month has seen the personal and professional highs and lows of coming to the end of an academic research contract, and new new beginnings at the University of Bristol.Continue reading
I m excited to announce that I am the recipient of the 2019 Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER) Young Investigator Award. This is a fantastic award to recognise high quality research, reviewed by an inter-disciplinary team, and I am very proud to have received this award. I am eternally grateful for the academic support I received throughout my PhD, and the opportunities that I was given, that each led to achieving the successes that I have.
As part of the award, I am invited to present as keynote speaker at the annual CITER conference in September 2019, where I will receive the award. More information here.
It is with great pleasure that I announce I have been successful in my application for the Wellcome Trust ISSF Consolidator grant! This is a fantastic outcome, and will allow me to join the School of Biosciences under the mentorship of Prof Julian Marchesi, and begin the postdoctoral research associate position as a step toward my independent research career!
The project is to build upon my PhD work, to evaluate in vitro interactions in biofilms between Candida and a range of oral bacteria, begin to unravel and understand the mechanisms of virulence modulation, and look at probiotics and their effect toward virulence!
The Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair (CITER) hosted it’s first ever biofilms workshop this year, at the Haydn Ellis building of the Cardiff University School of Biosciences. The aim was to bring together established experts, researchers and students alike, with a common goal of furthering biofilm research within the UK. There were a number of excellent talks, and a couple of networking periods that stimulated many discussions about potential collaborative opportunities. Continue reading
The year 2017 was always going to be a pretty stressful year. It symbolised the culmination of four years hard work; long days, nights, weekends; continous mental angst with the whole imposter syndrome, and “why me to do a PhD”, hours and hours of data anslysis, interpretation, and much more. It was the year that this all came to an end. So let’s have a look at the highlights of what actually happened this year.
IADR, San Francisco. In March, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel again to the west coast of the USA to attend the biggest oral and dental research conference in California. The trip was incredible; the conference was great, and Josh and I both had posters to present in the same session, with quite a bit of interest and great discussion of my work with the many that made the effort to come and have a look and a read! We spent extra time out in California, and visited many of the tourist attractions; Golden Gate Bridge, had an opn-top bus tour of SF, and visited Yosemite National Park for a few days with incredible scenery like nothing you can imagine.
Visit to my PhD sponsor; GSK. I have been very well supported by my sponsors throughout the PhD. My industrial supervisor Dr David Bradshaw has always been such a brilliant figure with a wealth of knowledge in microbiology, but also years of experience in the oral care industry. I too have a number of years of industrial experience behind me, prior to the PhD, and although in a microbiology field, it is very different to where I am now. The skills I developed during my time in industry set me up really well for this project. It gave me a great base of project management, data management, design and completion of work within a timely manner. Importantly, I feel coming from industry provides a work ethic that many students coming from an undergraduate or master degree simply don’t have. I very much ‘hit the ground running’ and was very lucky to have continued that through with a slight adjustment to adacemic working life (which is actually very different). I visisted GSK in May, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I spent time with many different people in different departments, learning how the company works, and a bit about the many different roles on offer in this industry. It certainly rekindled my passion for industry, so watch this space in the future!
September. The true culmination of all the work leading to this very month. The final month of my PhD, my final conference as a PhD student at BSODR, and my entry for the Senior Colgate Prize – the most prestigious prize in oral and dental research.
My presentation was an overview of the findings of my PhD project, in a single presentation, with a nice rounded story. I was competing against an array of excellent students, many of which were at a similar stage to me, one of which was a good friend and colleague at Cardiff; Elen Everett. Elen is an amazing person, super intelligent, friendly and generally a great friend. It was unfortuante that we were in the same session for the Senior Colgate Prize, and I truly felt she presented better than I did in that session. However, I was selected to go forward to the final and presented a second time the next morning. Later that day we attended a gala dinner held at the marine barracks – a very special occasion; great food ,entertainment and the announcement of the prize winners. The entry from Plymouth Uni who presented after me in the final, and who I genuinely thought was a prize winner, was runner up, and then the winner was announced where my name was called! I can’t describe the feeling, but I was very proud indeed, excited, grateful and to know that I had followed in my primary supervisor’s footsteps (Prof. David Williams, who won it 20 years previous) was a fantastic end to not only the conference, but my PhD too.
The summer was manic with finishing bits in the lab and getting my thesis chapters drafted. This was an incredibly hard task – and at the time I felt it was the most difficult thing I’d ever undertaken. Long story short, I did finally get it to the point I could print, bind, and submit, merely days before the final deadline. The final submission was a bit of an anti-climax if I’m honest, but once again, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of achievement. Then, after quite some organisation by Suzy, our PGR support superwoman, the viva date was set for the 18th December at 10.30.
The limbo period between thesis submission and viva voce is a very strange period indeed. I didn’t really know whether I was coming or going! I was exhausted after the thesis writing and submission, but very pleased to be able to get back into the lab and do some real science again! This time, developing a more robust biofilm model for future projects and grant applications. As I had a bit more time on my hands, I decided it would be a good opportunity to resubmit my previously rejected manuscript. I made the changes recommended by the previous reviewers, and resubmitted to the Journal of Medical Microbiology. After a first round of peer review, it came back with a request for minor revisions! This was a great feeling, as the changes were minimal, with the reivewers’ comments being very positive indeed, ultimately recommending for publication. This will be my fist publication as first author, and an incredible time in any scientists career.
In addition to this, and the lab work, my viva date was looming. The day quickly approached, and again, long story short, I passed with minor corrections. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I can say I well and truly earned it! The actual viva was 4 hours long, and exhasuting in itself. I’ll follow up with another blog post about this sometime soon to elaborate a bit anyway :).
I feel so fortunate to have completed the PhD journey. To have had the supervision, guidance and advice I have received over these four years, and the opportunity to meet, network and present to the very names that are at the top of the game in my field of microbiology. I’m looking forward to what the next years bring!
It seems as though my last blog post was way back in April of this year, about 7 months ago!
A lot can, and has happened in those 7 months, so I’ll do a recap over the next few posts coming in the next few days. I’ll try and do them in chronological order, so we can appreciate the happenings as they occurred.
I’ll be writing a few motivational posts to promote positivity and wellbeing for those also going through academia, pre- or post-PhD (and everyone else studing for that matter!), and it’d be great to try and give a realistic overview of the journey, but try and highlight the positives where I can so as not to scare others consideing doing the same thing!
Nice to be back!
Despite having started writing my thesis some time ago, it is steadily becoming the sole priority.
There’s still practical/lab work to complete, but the process of populating the content foe the final thesis, the ratio of time spent on each of these at least is beginning to skew toward the thesis. Sure, you can’t get a PhD without the thesis.. So it has to be done in good time for edits, reviews, changed etc.. But you can’t write a thesis without having the data to go in there. This has been the dilemma. When is enough, enough? How much of a story does it have to tell, and how complete should it be?
Difficult decisions to make, for sure, and particularly for someone like me who really genuinely likes being in the lab and doing the practical things. I do also really enjoy writing, but hands on is just better. But having had a number of discussions about my future direction, it is ever clear that the thesis and the PhD is the most basic requirement for everything. You can have all the teaching experience in the world, all the ‘knowledge’, but if you don’t have those three little letters, it’s a dead end right there for my preferred path.
It’s hard enough doing a PhD, but self management is one of the most important aspects of doing the PhD, and one of the biggest challenges of participating in this journey. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing network of support, and outlets. And am grateful for that. I won’t let you down!
So with the conference done and dusted, good sessions, good poster presentation, good discussions and great to catch up with people (and some future potential there for sure!), it would be silly to travel half way across the world, to spend it working and then go home, right?
We didn’t. Josh, Elen and I decided (ahead of our travels of course) to stay out for some more. Time to see the sights and do some things! And what a great decision that was. First up while the others were still around was Alcatraz (and Angel Island for this of us who didn’t manage to book in time, but ended up with a better day anyway!). The boat trip to Angel Island was pretty smooth, and the island tour was pretty cool. The views from the top of the bridge and the wildlife were very impressive to say the least. And of course, what’s a view like without some group pictures eh?
To see the Golden Gate Bridge from here was awesome, but a shame that the others didn’t come with us too. Alcatraz itself was a great experience too! The audio tour really immersed you into what happened all those years ago.
After we waved goodbye to our colleagues on the Saturday evening, we prepared and set off for the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park early Sunday morning. The train and bus journey felt like a lifetime, but we eventually arrived in an area of such natural beauty, I had never seen anything comparable.
The tent was funny. Small, very basic, ridiculously cold (hovering around zero degrees every night), but luckily we’d upgraded to a heated tent, which turned out to be a lifesaver! We did a few walks, saw some rocks, scenery and wildlife which actually was pretty good fun. Very tiring, but good fun still.
A great experience of course, but for a city person, I was itching to get back to the bustle of the city (despite the infamously evident socioeconomic crisis that exists in SF with the extent of homelessness). It had been great in Yosemite, but there’s only so long I can spend walking and enjoy it before it becomes a bit boring (personally!).
We returned to the city and checked into the hotel, before heading out for some Mexican food. After walking for miles (again) we settled on the next closest restaurant we stumbled across, which happened to be a brilliant Mexican one! The food was amazing the desserts not so, but we were very pleased :D.
We had planned for our last full day to go to the Science museum in the golden gate park area, that we had seen on out previous bus tour. Not too pricy an entry fee, but worth every penny. The rainforest zone with the plant life, butterflies, birds and other insects/reptiles/fish, the aquarium and the diving demonstration (!), then the planetarium with virtual fly-throughs of. Earth and space. All very entertaining and worthwhile.
We then spent an hour at the Japanese tea garden before heading for some proper American pizza for dinner. Josh had a deep pan (more like a pie than a pizza!) , I had a thin and Elen had a pita bread filled pizza. They were delicious, but we were very full and tired, so headed back for our final night at the hotel. Morning came and we had a nice sleep in, then packed our stuff, checked out and went foe a bit if last minute shopping. The shops are plentiful, but somewhat expensive. Then an uber ride to the airport where we no await our boarding doe the flight home.
A great trip, lots of memories and experiences, and hundreds of photos, but now time to go home. There’s no place like it.
That has always made me chuckle. And for those who are concerned, hard at work, all the time ;). But the past two weeks have been particularly super busy! Mainly in the lab. That’s a good thing I guess, in some ways at least. It means you can’t get distracted, but by working in the lab you are by definition distracted from writing.
This week, Josh and I had some tissue models come in for infections, so we grew biofilms as we do for a few days, and then infected the tissue models. All 72 of them!!
Luckily we can do the analysis in stages, so we did LDH, and then the RNA extraction, and Josh has since done his RT, which I’m yet to do. We also had some. Time in pathology, embedding the models in wax, with some help and training from the lovely lovely path guys!
So, that doesn’t sound like much but it’s taken a week to do that! And ne t up we have the sectioning and staining, microscopy, qPCR and analysis of the data then from the stained sections, more sections and use of fluorescent probes and more microscopy! Much fun to be had.
And in the background, I’ve been writing the thesis. It’s been difficult, and I wasn’t able to get as much done foe my first section (which was the lot review, and was incredibly difficult to do!) but i did get to hand in a draft of another section of a chapter, and I’m ahead of schedule (a day early of my weekly targets!) for this next one! These may only be materials and methods, but are still important and a necessary part of each chapter.
I’ve made some changes to my IADR poster and sent that for printing (paying £50 for the privilege! £30 of which was the rushed delivery haha!). Looking forward to receiving it and taking a look, fingers crossed for no typos haha. Onwards!
I’m a keen public engagement (PE) enthusiast. I’ve volunteered for CITER on a number of occasions through the PhD, and attended events at Techniquest where we received training, advice and support to develop our own public engagement activity. I see the importance of public engagement for science, and as its now one of the key factors in securing funding, now is a good a time as any to get involved.
I’ve known about the various PE groups for some time, and one of the biggest is STEMnet. Science Technology Engineering and Maths network is a fantastic network of volunteers to inspire the youth of today, and encourage STEM learning through school and post school life. There is a huge drop in interest from the start of secondary school to GCSE to A level choices, with as much as a 60% reduction in interest of stem subjects. Is this because they don’t think they’re good enough to do it? Is it because there is a stigma around studying certain subjects, particularly for girls? Is it because careers advice is still not up the standard it should be? All of the above I think.
Well, I’m now part of STEM ambassadors, and will hopefully help inspire those that think they’re not good enough, because they are, encourage STEM learning, because it’s fun and useful in the real world! I love science and think that others can too!