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science

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! 

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!

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