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conference

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. 

Hard at work, or hardly working? 

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!

Top tips for attending a conference for the first time

As a PhD student, it is inevitable that you’ll have opportunities to attend academic conferences. I’m in science (biomedical research specifically), and while the content may differ, all conferences are the same thing really – a chance for people to present current, novel work to people in their field, to network with peers/experts/friends, to make new contacts and discuss potential collaborations, and of course to drink and be merry. It’s a bit like Christmas really…you get to see people you haven’t seen all year and have a good time, and learn about science at the same time!

For some, the prospect of being thrown in front of many people (Daniel in the lions den so to speak (rich coming from an atheist)), whether it be to present a poster, short talk, or longer talk, or just to attend the conference, can be quite a daunting thought. I’m fortunate enough to have been to many conferences in my time as a PhD student, and I thoroughly enjoy going to them!

I’ve put together a list of what I consider top tips for attending your first conference (or any subsequent conference if you aren’t a big fan of them or people!).

    1. Enjoy it. Enjoying the experience is by far one of the most important factors of attending a conference. You are there, of course, primarily to gain knowledge from presentations by experts and peers in your field of research, but having a good time while you’re there is a must. There is no easier way to learn so much, in such a short space of time, than attending a conference, but with that said, it is not necessarily the be all and end all of the event. There are endless opportunities to network, to engage, and to really get to know the people that you may very well hold in high regard (and they will probably turn out to be (quite) human after all!). Of course, conferences can feel very formal, particularly, for example, gala dinner events where the heading ‘black tie’ can be very off putting, but most are friendly, relatively low key and really supportive environments. If you are presenting, I know it can be a nerve-wracking experience, but once the presentation is over you will feel so much more relaxed…so just go and enjoy yourself!
    2. Talk to people. Ok, for some people, this is easier said than done, but for me it is one of the most important things (apart from enjoying the whole thing of course, hence why it’s number 2). Conferences are a prime opportunity to get yourself known by face. It is all well and good knowing people by name, but there is nothing like being able to stand face to face and have even a small chat with them. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of making yourself known to people, as this will come back on you positively for sure. If you’re a bit nervous, and you’re attending the conference with your supervisor, or colleague, then taking them with you is not a bad move, but don’t just let the opportunity slip to introduce yourself. Make sure to shake hands (even if they don’t offer to first!), and get some contact details if you think they could be useful for the future. Business cards are a great opportunity to make another mark for yourself here – why not design your own, and give them to people while you’re there. It isn’t something commonly done by PhD students, but makes you stand out and gives them a reason to remember you.
    3. Go to the talks/posters and engage. The main advantage of going to a conference is to broaden your academic knowledge base of current work in your field, without having to trawl through hundreds of papers. You can just visit the poster/talk and see whats going on. If it is of interest, follow it up with them directly, or in the literature. If it isn’t, then nothing lost! Talking to the poster presenters is a great way to quickly get some inside info on the project/area, and you’d be surprised at how open people and projects really are (unless there are IP issues of course). The main thing here is not to come across as the arrogant, over confident, uninterested person, there only to be super critical of their work. Don’t forget that most poster presenters are students, and/or early career researchers, and could probably do without being excessively grilled (they’re there to try and enjoy the conference too!). The good thing with poster sessions is that you can read the title/abstract and then get a gist of whats going on, and if it isn’t of much interest, move on to the next (but be polite and compliment (where appropriate) the presenter on their efforts!). If attending an oral session, engagement is somewhat more formal, and takes the form of a q&a section after the talk. It can be daunting enough asking a question, but if you’re brave enough (and don’t forget, theres no such thing as a stupid question!), ask away and other people may benefit form their answer too! Otherwise, find them after the session and have a chat (see no. 2 above).
    4. Dress for the occasion. It might seem quite a trivial thing, and it is something that I struggle with if I’m honest…even now; more than 3 years into my PhD. I never know whether to wear jeans and a t-shirt, shirt and trousers, suit….and it can be easy to over- or under-dress depending on the conference. For a small meeting, I would suggest smart casual. For a larger conference, or on the day you are presenting irrespective of conference size, I would say dress up a bit. Maybe not necessarily suit and tie, but certainly consider suit without tie, or shirt and tie with no jacket etc. For females, I think it’s somewhat easier – a smart-ish dress, trousers and smart-ish top.. you can’t really go wrong for smart casual! Just be wary not to over or under do it.

Next generation scientists

What a great visit. The past two days have been some of the most fun moments you can possibly have in science I’m sure.

It’s that time of year when GSK very kindly host their annual student science symposium. Once again the evening poster session and dinner was held in the beautiful Oatlands Park hotel in Weybridge, then the next day on to the GSK Oral Healthcare base. 

The evening poster session was once again full of great science from early stage PhD students (and Jonathan who despite being a third year, did a poster as well as his oral presentation!) 

The dinner was delicious, and the company was even better. Kelly, William, Chris, Jing, Jonny, Sharon and Ezra. Lovely students who are such great fun. Dinner was broken into sections with entertainment by the now infamous Jon and Dave, with their QI inspired quiz. Hilarious to say the least. 

Then came the socialising and drinks flowed freely. Such a great opportunity to really engage with people on a personal level, and make new friends. 

The oral  sessions were so inspiring. So much great research, and great presentations, from all sorts of disciplines: proteins, materials, Dentistry microbiology, tissue engineering. All of really great quality and solid science. 

I was fortunate enough to have given a talk on my next generation sequencing data (hot off the press this week!), which went down a storm. Great feedback and ideas bouncing off the results. And great contacts made which which be really useful in the future I’ve no doubt! Additionally, I had a few ideas of my own for possible collaborations and group work, so that is something I’m keen to pursue in the near future… Fingers crossed! 

Today also saw the (initial as I’m sure it will be extended,  as ever) deadline for the abstract submissions for IADR 2017 in San Francisco, California. Yep, I did get an abstract submitted so fingers crossed and watch this space for updates in the coming months of the outcome 😀

Biofilms7; Porto, Portugal

Doing something alone is not always necessarily a lonely scenario. I’ve never been to a conference on my own before (local let alone international), so it was obviously going to be quite a daunting experience to begin with, filled with apprehension. However, I’m not the type of person to stay to myself at these kinds of things..so after a great flight into Porto, and getting to my hotel, I ventured out and watched a great orchestral performance right outside my hotel room! After travelling I was tired, so then hit the sack and got things ready for the start of the conference on Sunday.

Lazy morning on Sunday as the conference didn’t start until 13:20, so down for breakfast and wandered around for a bit, then a cab to the Faculty of Engineering for registration. I got my badge and welcome pack, and immediately made some friends who are studying in Southampton  – lovely bunch of guys and great to hear a familiar accent too! My poster defence was in the first poster session, so after the first set of lectures, it was coffee time (although I had lemonade because it was about 30 degC!) and poster defence. After some confusion with the timings I got to my poster somewhat late and thought I had ruined any chances of getting recommended for Flash presentation, so I just went about talking to anyone and everyone about my poster with the same enthusiasm as I always do. I love this part of the job – its great to talk to anyone that will listen about something I am so passionate about!
13524555_10100316019474107_4342173435053743565_nAfter the poster session were more lectures and then a welcome reception with Porto wine, nibbles and great company. I met Joey (from Canada) who has just started his PhD. Such a cool guy, down to earth and great to hang out with. After the reception I headed back to the hotel and decided to venture out to the centre and get a bite to eat and see whats about. Now, Porto is just the most beautiful place I think I’ve been to. The views are stunning, and the food amazing. I had spoken to a number of people before my trip and one thing that came up consistently was to try the Francesinha (and to make sure I was hungry before ordering!). I was really hungry at this point, so I ordered it, and in true British style, ordered fries too! This thing is incredible. It is basically a toasted sandwich, filled with steak, sausage, ham and covered with cheese and a sauce. Best. Food. Ever. It beat me, but worth every cent.
13502002_10100316019688677_1067539296787706762_nI managed to get in a bit of football watching too as their was a TV outside the restaurant..so good times! Then I did some more sight seeing wandering around Porto and taking in the views.
13501545_10100316019798457_2135892037308106000_nDay two of the conference, and I awake to an email from the organisers telling me I had been selected for flash oral presentation because of the ‘outstanding quality’ of my poster! What a message to wake up to, and a good job I had a presentation prepared!
Day two contained a number of really great lectures and two poster defence sessions – all of which were of really high scientific quality. It’s great to come to conferences where the science is the priority and is so good, and after a day of science was the conference dinner and wine cellar tour. So while waiting for the bus to take us to the wine cellars, I met some more amazing people; Špela and Dina. We got talking and immediately felt like I’d known them for years! While waiting in the queue we also made friends with Amanda who is just writing her thesis in the states. These people are amazing, and I’m so lucky to have met them all! We arrived at Taylor’s for the wine cellar tour and conference dinner, and were greeted with more wine and nibbles. where we also met Bradley – a post-doc from the states travelling around. our group was complete.
13529262_10100316022463117_3150024464509261121_nThe wine cellar tour was amazing, and the tour guide so knowledgeable even though she is only part time and studying for a dentistry qualification! The dinner was delicious, Gazpacho, followed by veal and veg, then a cinnamon and apple turnover/puff pastry thin with caramel ice cream and coffees! Then we decided to head out for a walk around and see whats about. Nice to get more sightseeing in and more selfies of course! (although, the guys were getting pretty fed up I’m sure by this point haha).
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13557920_10100316024898237_3813982322756002349_nSadly time is a constant, and despite how much fun we were having, it was getting late (or early actually by this point), so we all decided to head back to our hotels and get ready for the final day of the conference, which for me was Flash Oral presentation day!

I decided to suit up and go all out for this, which by the sounds of it worked quite well from feedback I had! haha!
It was pretty nerve-wracking waiting to give a presentation after already giving a poster presentation, and some of those before me were doing great but going over time, so I was worrying about that too.. but when my name was mentioned and introduced, all nerves turned to positive energy. Ok the presentation wasn’t the best I’ve ever given, but I got my point across and finished bang on time, and the questions showed that people understood the content which for me was goal achieved!
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13528670_10100316025571887_3306794289086558314_n-2We then broke for coffee break while the public scored the flash presentations, and went out to socialise before the last session and awards ceremony.

I didn’t win the best flash oral (which of course I was disappointed at), but I did win Best Poster :D. Not only that, but one of my new best friends Špela won honourable mention in her session too! So we got to share the stage as we were showered with congratulations (again, always nice to get haha!), and handed our prizes of a presentation box of porto wines and certificate.
13567133_10100316025931167_3157869220434207733_nSadly, it was then time to say goodbye to those that I felt I had only just met but known for a lifetime as my flight home was in a few hours time. Much sadness to say goodbye, but will forever keep in touch with these guys, and who knows what will happen in the future! And the good news is that so far, I’ve managed to keep in touch..one week down! 😀

Best. Conference. Ever 🙂

An early (or late) present-ation

Today I headed downstairs to the labs and bumped into Josh (friend of mine in my research group), and as we’d both submitted an abstract to OMIG for this year’s meeting, I suggested that we may hear sometime this week – as last time the response was about a week after the submission deadline.
Anyway, we had a chat and I said for him to keep an ear out toward the mid-and of the week for any news. Low and behold, literally two hours later, we received the notification email!

Both of us had received the same email stating we have accepted for oral presentation at the meeting, meaning our registration fee is to be waived! A great meeting, now made much more affordable for the group!!

The meeting is 9-11th March at Gregynog Hall, Newtown, and proves to be another great success. Looking forward to it!
DM 😀