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My year in review: 2017

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!


Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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!

Stepping up the game

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! 

Post conference ramblings in San Francisco

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. 

Science for all! 

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! 

Nothing like a good cup of tea

I have been fortunate enough to travel to quite a few countries around the world. I’ve tasted a range of different cuisines, cold drinks, alcohol, cocktails and hot drinks. But there is nothing quite like a good cup of English breakfast tea after a nice break in the sun. 

You can keep your ‘cherry orgasm’, ‘sex on the beach’, and other special cocktails by the pool. Give me a good cup of strong tea (and yes the pool bit would be nice too!) and I’ll be happy.

We’ve had such an amazing time in Greece, and were pretty well looked after, but now the time has come to make the 10 hour journey home (that is 2 hours on the coach to the airport, 4hr flight to Liverpool and then the dreaded 3.5hr drive home..). At least the roads will be quiet eh?! 

The journey so far had been fairly painless, the coach journey was as good as it could be in 30 degree heat, and although our flight was delayed for about 45 mins, this cup of tea has made up for it. Not a huge fan of my company but hey that’s life.. Make the best of what you get right?! 6 hr travelling left to go as I write this, and time to grab a few minutes of shuteye. Night! 

All work and no play

Makes Daniel a rubbish and (admittedly not very) miserable scientist haha. Having not taken a break during the summer when it seemed like every researcher and his dog had a holiday, we get invited to a wedding at short notice and decide to go, why not! 

So time indeed for a break and a relax. Somewhere hot. Like Greece. Next to the pool. With a drink…Done! 

If you think you can do it

If you don’t think you can do it, you’re probably right, but if you do think you can do it, you’re probably right, you probably can

One of the most memorable phrases that I have ever heard was given to me during secondary school. I was never ‘top of the class’, but I was part of the year group that was selected for this ‘aiming higher’ course. Basically, those that were above average achievers with potential, but not ‘top of the class’ were chosen to attend a series of classes about how to achieve more. These were held in the school or at University of South Wales, Caerleon campus, and the purpose was to motivate us to try harder, achieve more etc, by teaching us how to revise more efficiently, how to use different tools to reach our potential and so on.

Some would think this is really boring and useless, but I found it particularly useful. At the time (2004), there were 15 members of the EU, and I can still tell you who they were in alphabetical order forwards and backwards, and count to ten in Japanese. These were taught to us using techniques like visual association and memory accession. These techniques I still use today, to member lists of things or particularly complex things, and sure it isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. Mind maps, for example, I find of no use to me, but others swear by them .Each to their own, right!?

Anyway, back at school, one Mr Alan Bootle, gave us a lesson on how to revise. I hadn’t really had an awful lot of face to face teaching by him, but knew who he was and what he did, an I assume he didn’t know anything about me either!. In this lesson, Mr Bootle told us that he didn’t do particularly well in secondary school, but then discovered how to learn and retain information, and how he ended up getting a first class degree at university. He went through a range of techniques and gave us hints and tips, which were very useful indeed, and not only that, the motivation and passion he showed us really rubbed off on me, and from that point I held him in really high regard, and with a great deal of respect (more so than I had before).

One of the things he talked to us about was believing in yourself. Having confidence in your own ability and belief that you are better than you think you are. He said to us, if you think you can do it, you’re probably right, and it is this positivity that has really stuck with me since then., and is a motto that I live by for everything. It translates really well in every aspect of life – for me, doing this PhD is a hard slog, and sure, not everything works, but maintaining positivity, no matter how hard it gets sometimes, is really important. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and you will get there, because ‘if you think you can do it, you probably can 🙂


It is with pride that I post this, that I am now a champion of the Microbiology Society 😀

The role involves promoting the society and organising events to encourage further education, microbiology as a career and the field in general.. Membership is for everyone, from those involved day to day in clinical microbiology, researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students and even just those who have an interest in microbiology!

First step, workshop planning underway…more to follow!

And they gave me a badge! 😀

Resistance is futile

I wouldn’t say that I am an anxious person, or overly scared by things. But antimicrobial resistance is terrifying. The concept that we, as technically and medically advanced as we are, can even get to the stage whereby we don’t have any lines of defence against pathogenic organisms, genuinely frightens me.

I am fairly lucky. I have only ever had one course of antibiotics (which of course I completed!), but that doesn’t mean much. I may not be contributing to the overall issue of resistance directly, but as I type this, all over the world there are thousands of livestock being administered antibiotics to keep them healthy and infection free, there are people demanding antibiotics for their cold, there are people being prescribed antibiotics, but only taking half and feeling better then not bothering with the rest. These are the scenarios that scare me more than most. Now consider those that genuinely need antibiotics; those that have a severe infection (or not even severe, but an infection that they are struggling to fight), which, without a course of treatment, would mean substantial consequences.

I know it is all over the news, and the media have a tendency to hype things, but this is real. This is a very real situation with very real and dire consequences if we don’t do something about it. Luckily we have monitoring by the WHO and other international bodies, and masses of research going into discovering new antimicrobials, but this can be a slow and very expensive process. Resistance is happening now, and spreading.

It is somewhat reassuring however, that Horizon 2020 is here, part of which is a drive for the discovery and development of novel antimicrobial compounds or treatments. Eighty billion euros (that’s right,  €80Bn – so we need to remain in the EU!) worth of funding, to tackle a range of current questions. Hopefully this push will succeed and give us more time…because inevitable we will be in the same position one day..

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