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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 🙂

You can take the brit out of Britain

But now I’m sat here in a beautiful Portuguese city, Porto, having just watched a beautiful orchestral performance literally outside my hotel, now sat in my hotel room with a cup of tea and a bag of twiglets. It’s a different kind of beautiful!

Had a really great flight over, although slightly delayed. And having spent half my budget on the taxi ride to the hotel (ok that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s expensive!), I am now exhausted and think it’s time for some sleep!

From what I’ve seen this far however, Porto is a beautiful city. I hope I have some chance to get out and take a look in and around this conference! Its a busy schedule, and I am not extending my trip past Tuesday (which is when the conference ends), so will just be a busy few days no doubt!!
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It is nearly time, but there is never enough time!

This week has been a hectic one to say the least, and we’re only half way through!!

The week started with poster printing for the Biofilms7 conference this weekend (25-28 June) in Porto, Portugal. All sorted and poster collected, I then had another run of host cell responses to microorganisms underway. Seeded the cells ready to go..we’ll see how that goes in the next couple of days..

Tuesday came and went really quickly, Get into work and then straight on with challenging my cells with various conditions for the responses expt. Had a course booked, but with everything that was going on in the lab, I couldn’t go..but it was a presentation skills one (and having won awards for presentations already, I’m not too disappointed!). Antibodies have arrived to do some tissue section staining int he coming weeks/months too…so exciting times ahead, watch this space!

Wed was another super busy one. Dropped Roo off at nursery and rush into work to get everything done that I needed to. Check insurance/MOT docs for travel, sort passport details for flights, check in online and sort boarding passes, start the ELISA for cell responses and collect 24h samples for it! All while trying to give some guidance to PhD friends, and somehow fit in a coffee…! Preparations are well underway for my trip to Porto this weekend..and lots of fun to be had I’m sure. However, thinking closer to home, things may well be very different in the future if I wanted to travel to Portugal if the UK make any mistakes during the referendum tomorrow….

All this rushing has got me thinking. Imagine working in a country that didn’t adhere to the EU working directive, of no more than 48 hr/wk. Now, this is a real possibility if we are not governed by the EU. As in, if we left the EU. What a stupid mistake that would be, not only for the working directive, but for financial, economic, collaborative (particularly scientific), and security implications. We as a country need to REMAIN as part of the European Union, and give the finger to those that are on the side of selfishness, and in my opinion, bordering racist. Those who claim that immigration is the biggest issue with our relationship with the EU. Those that make worst of factual evidence that simply doe not stand on it’s own. It is such a shame that these idiots are in a powerful position of scaremongering the public (particularly those who are led by the media), and poisoning the minds of those that are unsure, or less well informed of the real facts.

Sure, our relationship with the EU is not perfect. No relationship ever is. But we cannot, and should not want to, walk away from this relationship as a result of these poisoned ‘facts’ that are being thrown around. We have one more sleep(less) night ahead before the biggest decision the UK will make in a generation, which will affect the next generation, and even the generation after that. Dint make a stupid decision, Vote Remain

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..

Do the hokey cokey

“You put your left leg in, your left leg out. In, out, in, out, and shake it all about.”

Being a father to two young children, and married to a wife that does baby and toddler music and movement classes, this song is very familiar indeed.

“You do the hokey cokey and you turn around…thats what it’s all about!”

Now, if there are things I’ve learnt in my 29 years of living, it is not to debate/argue over religion, or politics. So i won’t. However, this impending EU referendum is beginning to get on my nerves a bit. The scaremongering by both sides using the same facts is pathetic. The facts and figures given by each campaign with a complete and blatant disregard to the actual factual content is not really acceptable in a situation where it could mean huge consequences after a decision. I don’t know who to trust more..the politicians leading these campaigns, or the children putting their left leg in, their left leg out and shaking it all about!

I’m not afraid to say that we need to remain as part of the EU. And I will of course be voting that way myself, and it frustrates me to think that there are people who want to vote out (which is fine of course – opinions are to the individual, democracy and all that), but have based their decision on propaganda from the media. Immigration is obviously a big issue for some people. But what about those of UK origin currently living in other EU countries. What about those that come to the UK that do find a job, pay their taxes, establish themselves as part of the bigger community and contribute to society etc. As far as I can see, there is no justifiable reason for them not to be allowed to come here. Surely it is a good thing that they want to come to our incredible country in the first place. We live in a fantastic country, and yes we do get a lot of benefits of being here – we are a rich country, have a good economy, good housing, healthcare, security etc. Just because we have it, and others were born into a situation whereby they don’t have the same as us, who are we to say others can’t have it. It is not a right.

I don’t want to generalise too much, but those that do want to come here, want to in order to have a better life – get a job, more security etc. They want to work. Want to contribute, and this effort is far in excess of even some of our own, which is a real shame.

For me personally, I am a scientist, a very early career scientist, but will rely on getting funding from charities/funding bodies to support research in the wider world. This funding is very often as part of a collaboration – that can be intra-UK, or inter-country. A significant portion of funding that the UK research community gets is EU sourced. There is a very significant, and scary risk that this will stop, or at the very least become much much more difficult to obtain if we leave the EU. I have a family, house and commitments, and cannot afford for this to happen. That might be a selfish way of looking at things, but in all honesty, I can’t afford not to think of it this way. Another way of thinking about it (particularly for those not involved in research/science/academia etc) is research will suffer without funding. We will not be able to make the progress and findings without the money in order to support it. It’s a fundamental issue.

I’m not going to go on, because I don’t need to. Leaving the EU is a ridiculous prospect which as far as I’m concerned, should not even be on the table.
DM

No more hand-me-downs

NEW PIPETTES! Most often is the case that researchers join an already established group, where they inherit equipment, consumables, reagents etc, and included in this are pipettes. They may be old, uncalibrated, unchecked, but still used. In a scientists day to day life, here are few things quite as exciting as getting new pipettes! Not very often do you get an opportunity to browse, test and evaluate pipettes and then get a new set! Of course they belong to the group, and I won’t be the only one using them but they’re amazing and I’m so chuffed 🙂 I can’t wait to get my qPCR on and make use of them!
DM

Write, they said..

It’ll be fun, they said.

One necessary evil of doing a PhD is the thesis. Some see it as a celebration of the culmination of years of hard work, in a single volume of easy reading. It might well be, but it is still a very daunting task – 80,000 (give or take) words, flowing story, novel research communicated in a succinct, but scientific, and valid but not boring manner. Simple right!?

There is no best time to start – only “if you haven’t started yet, its already too late!”. That said, I have, if only for my own sanity, started writing, and while knowing my field somewhat better than I did two and a bit years ago, still struggle with the imposter syndrome that appears to rear its ugly head at the most inappropriate times. Do I really have the knowledge to write a thesis?! Am I going to have enough to make my three year journey seem worthwhile and sufficient for a doctoral degree?! Time will tell, and PIs of course..

DM

Aseptic technique..

This is a pretty important aspect of microbiology: necessary to avoid contamination, or cross contamination; good old observation of strict aseptic technique.

Now you don’t necessarily have to observe strict protocols or even adhere to ‘strict’ aseptic technique, but if you are advised to work around a bunsen, flame tweezers before use, flame lids and keep tip boxes closed between use, then you’ll probably avoid most contamination risks. Well if you don’t listen, this is what you end up with.. 

 I’m pretty laid back about working habits and don’t get contamination, but I’m also impressed that it’s even possible to get this much contamination.. Oh well, positivity..that’s what they say right?!

DM

Nearly there

So, had a great meeting with my PI on Friday. Discussed ethics information for submission to the uni, contacts and provided some signatures, so its all systems go!

Now I have my university login details, time to start reading, reviewing, noting and learning about my project area..which means obtaining and spending some important time reading journals, papers etc. You know what it’s like if you have ever completed a dissertation project, or any kind of research essay! Cumbersome, mentally exhausting but so important, its not worth not doing!

Back to it! I’ll let you know how it goes 😀 just four weeks to go ’til I ‘start’!

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