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phd

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! 

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.

I can see clearly now

The leading statement ‘I can see clearly now’ has dual purpose. Firstly, I have new glasses 😀 20161019_165146

I haven’t had glasses since I was really young – probably 20 years ago now (man that makes me feel old..). I should have continued wearing them through my childhood and maybe I wouldn’t have needed them now!! Oh well. Ruben has glasses, and if he can pull them off as well as he does, I’ll give them a go. So I went to have my eyes tested, and sure enough I still need them (believe it or not). Heres the technical part – my eyesight is 20/20 apparently…but my prescription is longsighted; a 1.75 in both eyes but they gave me a 1.25 (to make it easier on my eyes first time round), theres also a 2 point astigmatism, and very slight turn in for my right eye. No, I have no idea what it means either, but I need glasses for concentration work. So I chose these – nice eh?

Anyway, I digress.

I have had a ton of NGS data back form the sequencing company, and the lovely Ann has done a load of analysis for me on it. The data is really good quality apparently (which is always nice to hear of course!), and the analysis has started. Trying to make head or tail of the hundreds of thousands of cells of numbers, OTUs, proportional data, phylogenetic stuff and diversity/abundance…its all very new, very daunting but very very interesting.

Ann has done such a great job of answering the questions I have for my project so far, with a few more to come, and the data was presented at the recent GSK symposium, and after a supervisory meeting this afternoon, is beginning to make much more sense. It turns out, its actually a pretty good result overall! #LetsGetThisPublished

More to follow when I can! But lots more to do for now, so bye!

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 😀

It all happens when you’re thirty…. 

So turning thirty happened the other day. Happy birthday to me! 

My twenties were a great decade. I achieved quite a lot: finished my degree and got a science job, got married, bought two houses, became a landlord, had two beautiful children, started my PhD and travelled a lot presenting my work! 

That’s quite a lot to live up to for the next decade, despite how ambitious I am! 

However, my thirties have started pretty much how the twenties left off.. I have spent the past few days with my wonderful family (and it was wifes birthday yesterday too!) and had some wonderful gifts. A beautiful watch, money, rc helicopter (thanks Mike!), wine, vouchers and mugs! Amazing if I do say so haha.. Not only that, to celebrate,  we went Bowling, then to see The Overtones, then the next day paintballing and had a party for friends and family.

Now,the paintballing was such a great day in most aspects. Even though it was absolutely torrential rain and miserable, which is where the bad news comes in. My good friend Amr, unfortunately took a tumble during game 2 and managed to hurt his ankle. Two of us carried him back to the main area only so far before he couldn’t go any further, so the marshal (who handles it all very well indeed) went and reached a wheelbarrow. Now this was easier for us, but not so pleasant for Amr. Anyway we managed to get him back and transported to A&E where he found he had dislocated his ankle and broken his fibia and tibia. He had since successfully had surgery to insert pins and is in the mend. Get better soon Amr!

In addition to all this, my you gest had his first settling in day at nursery which went very well, and his second today. He starts this Friday coming and km sure he’s really excited about it.. I am! He’s growing up too quickly though, a proper little man now, walking and babbling..! 

Ruben started school yesterday too! Now that is a scary thought. He had his first afternoon session (settling in week 1), and seemed to be absolutely fine with it all like he’s done it a million times before! I’m so proud of them both 🙂 

So it has been an eventful but very fun birthday celebration and time to head back to work tomorrow. Time to crack on and finish this PhD! 

DM

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 🙂

I love what I do

I really do love what I do. I get to do the most fun things, researching microbiology, tissue engineering and then bringing them together to look at microbiological infections of cells.

Doing a PhD is amazing. It is hard work, long hours, and you never really switch off – forever thinking, planning, analysing, dreaming of the project, which yes is exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

It’s not for everyone, of course, and you get out of it what you want to, so for me, I grabbed it by the horns and have made the most of my (nearly) three years in academia. I’ve networked with hundreds of people, found out things that nobody ever knew before, presented my work all around the world. I’m so proud of what I have achieved so far within this project, and I just wanted to say that I am so lucky to have not only the academic support of my supervisory team (which is the best that exists anywhere as far as I’m concerned), but also day to day support from my family, friends, colleagues, and even people that I have never met before, but interact with frequently through the wonders of the internet. The roller coaster of a ride during the PhD is real, with super high highs, and low lows.. but perseverance, so they say will help you win!

I’m getting all delusional, and beyond tired, writing papers at midnight..so thats all for now! (still wouldn’t change a thing!)

Summertime!

And so the summer is here, kids are off school for summer, people going on summer holidays, the sun is out (or was for a few days at least), and people are generally in a happier mood :). And for those budding microbiologists of you out there, you know the time where you can grow your bugs on the bench instead of the incubator 😉 Come on, you’ve all done it….

Win win, right?

Unfortunately, science doesn’t know what summer is, and doesn’t know what a holiday is. But it’s not all bad! Currently I’m at all systems go! My NGS data first stage analysis has come back from the lovely Ann in BioSci (woo!) and it is pretty good actually. Some great looking data which just needs more analysis, questions being asked of it and answers hopefully coming out of the other end of the pipeline..with plenty of graphs and pretty pictures to explain them! This is the hard bit!! Staring at a spreadsheet of numbers, making slight adjustments to species names based on BLAST info..and making general sense of the just of what is going on. *sigh* PhD..keep thinking, it is for a PhD! There is soon much to learn about this bit of work, and too much to do in the other bits that I haven’t finished yet! And it I want to be out of the lab in October time, I need to move relatively quickly..

So, with that in mind, I have tissue models growing, biofilms growing, RNA ready for extraction, qPCRs ready to run, cells growing, bugs growing, hundreds of PMMA coupons made and soaking..the next few weeks are going to be busy, but all in the good name of science. The light in this tunnel is nearly closing in…! I am looking forward to spending some time with Lauren and the boys for sure!

Champion! 

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! 😀

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