February 19, 2014

I'm back!!!!!!!

Well, how time flies! The six weeks of my placement are finally over and I'm back at Uni trying to get back into PhD work mode!

The placement itself turned out to be good fun and I enjoyed the change of scenery, people, places and activties. It was nice to work on a new project and start to see the results of my hard work! I also enjoyed the independence and responsibility I was given. It was all a bit nerve-racking and stressful to start with, as I was going on farm visits alone which I have never done before, in places I have never been, doing work I have never done before! But now that it's done, I'm glad I did it - it has given me more confidence in working alone and in approaching new challenges.

Speaking of new challenges.....I have now rewarded myself with a new puppy. This has meant sleep has been at a premium while Dolly the puppy settles in and learns her daily routine and starts to understand that we all sleep at night and not play with teddies!

So, between making the last push to get lab work completed for the PhD and planning my thesis writing and training Dolly, I have my hands full! Wish me luck!

January 23, 2014

It's strange to have a change…....

Hi everyone,

I thought I would do a little update with how things are going with my placement now that I'm nearly halfway through the 6 week journey.

I think so far my feelings about it all have been 50/50. On the one hand, I'm excited to be doing something different, in a new environment with new people and learning new skills. It's also a compliment to have been given responsibility for working on a project and being heavily involved in all aspects - the paperwork, recruiting people, gathering equipment, doing visits and data recording. The other half is slightly nervous about all the responsibility, apprehensive about how different things are and how much I have to learn and about the point where I am left to conduct visits on my own!

All in all, I have been enjoying my time here though. It's nice to do something different aside from my PhD project and to be given the opportunity to learn new things in a new environment. Hopefully, with a few more visits for the study I can start to feel more comfortable about doing them, making going it alone easier!

So now it's just a case of getting on with things, hoping for the best and waiting to see the results of the project I'm working on!

January 10, 2014

Stepping into the unknown…....

Hi everyone,

Happy New Year! Since my last blog in November, things have been a bit hectic! I spent the few weeks running up to Christmas frantically trying to get some lab work done and attending and presenting at a conference all whilst trying to organise work experience with my PhD industrial partner.

Finally, it was time for a break and I loaded my car up and went to visit my family in Ireland for Christmas week. The time there flew by and before I knew it, I was back home and on the countdown to starting my work experience. Now, with one week nearly done and five more to go, I'm starting to settle in at my placement, get to know who everyone is, what they do and how everything works on a daily basis. I'm also trying to get to grips with a new project and working with a new boss!

All in all, the new year so far has already had a lot of new experiences and challenges in it for me and though I'm still apprehensive and nervous about the project I have to work on, I'm excited to be doing something different and also proud of the independence I have developed, as I think this placement would've been far more stressful and difficult for me to cope with at the start of the PhD.

So, as I finish my first week, I encourage you all to take a chance. If you don't have a go at doing something, you won't know if you like it! Plus, the best way to learn how to become independent is to put yourself in a situation where you have to be!

All the best for 2014 guys!

November 14, 2013

PhD work–life balance

Hi everyone,

It already seems like ages since I last posted, time seems to be flying by in the run-up to Christmas argh! I think I have set myself some targets of things I want to get done by then, so it feels like a never ending rush to do more in time for a nice holiday!

At the moment, I'm trying to re-process a few samples I worked with previously now that I have done some analysis on the information I have and have found out about them. I am also trying to prepare samples for sequencing after developing my own home-made protocol and at the same time I am trying to get things up and running on testing some modifications to a method I previously used.

All of this is between meetings, seminars, cake and the rest of my life! This leads me on to talking about the PhD work life balance. This is something I am always working on. When I do have a break, I can feel slightly guilty and worry about being behind on things, but I usually get to the point where I think 'I DO need a break!' and can relax a bit more. Recently I have been doing a bit of work in the evenings - usually something not recommended! As I have been busy in the lab all day, the evening is a chance to catch-up on e-mails, update my lab book and diary and plan for the next day. I know all of this sould really be incorporated into my working day, but the time seems to fly be and so while I'm at uni, my focus is on getting the lab work done that I obviously can't do at home and then using some time at home to reflect on results.

This isn't always the case, I usually fit things into the working day when I'm not doing lab work, as I then have the uninterrupted time to get on with other things. Despite this, I do wish sometimes I could switch off more. I have in the last two years tried to avoid PhD work on the weekends and try and catch up with family unless I have a deadline or some lab work that needs finishing off. Even so the weekends seem to fly by and before I know it Monday looms. Working in the evenings also seems to rob you of some leisure time to relax which annoys me, but I still like the feeling of been organised and up to date on everything.

Thinking about it, I work better if I know I have to leave by a certain time. This gives me the motivation to stop flapping about and just get things done.

Overall, I suppose it's a bit of a catch-22 situation. You need rest and relxation, but you want to get things done.

How'd you manage your time effectively? Any tips or advice would be welcome right about now!

November 07, 2013

PhD progress

Hello fellow bloggers,

It's been a while, so I thought I would add an update on what is going on in my little world at the moment.

I have recently been busy attending courses, helping new PhD students find their way around the lab as well as superivsing a work experience student. All this has meant I haven't had much time to stop and reflect! Now that I have managed to run out of reagents, I have some time to catch up on everything else whilst I wait for them to arrive.

Lab work is going well, but frustratingly slowly. I know what I need to do, it's just getting it done that seems to be the problem! Something doesn't go quite right and so I need to repeat it, someone needs a little help so I run out of time, I need a bit of advice so I have to find the right person argh! I guess I am just so focused on the main tasks I need to get done that I want them all to be done faster!

I have also found that trying to push to get things done in the lab means other things outside the lab become neglected. Really, having to wait for reagents as enabled me to try and catch up on what was becoming a ridicously long 'to-do' list! Now that I am slowly catching up on things I wanted to get done, I'm starting to feel more relaxed and organised.

To also try and panic less about time passing by and what I need to do, I have just been focusing on what tasks I need to do and by when and trying to break them down into smaller pieces so that I don't feel overwhelmed. I think often you can feel like there are so many things you need to do and when you actually list what you need to do, you have the time to do it, you've just managed to work these tasks up to be massive things in your head!

Now for a hot chocolate and a deep breath before continuing to work!

October 17, 2013

General rantings of a PhD student

Sitting here looking back at my last blog, I have absolutely no idea how it has been more than a week since I wrote it- where does the time go?! And why does everything take longer than you expect?!

These last two questions are probably the ones I repeat most often, sometimes to myself and sometimes to the poor souls who share an office with me. One of the major frustrations of a PhD is clock-watching. By this, I mean watching time pass by as you try and get things up and running, understand what the hell you are doing and why and then hit several brick walls in the process. I know when I finish my PhD I will berate myself for times when I worried about my progress and compared myself to others, but this doesn't mean I can't help myself from still doing it.

However, by this stage in my PhD, by stage I mean the last year (ooooh god!), I have started to accept that this is just part of doing a PhD. All I can do is try my best, keep plugging away, trying to make things happen and then write all about them when I run out of time. This is most definitely my current attitude after being delayed in my lab plans by a week rectifying something that worked before and then randomly decided not to. I bet being a post-doc is the same argh!

October 09, 2013

Presenting your work

Hello fellow bloggers!

Yesterday I presented some of my research at a lab meeting and got a bit of a grilling (in my opinion anyway!) so I thought it was worth having a bit of a discussion about.

I always find it a bit tricky answering unexpected questions on the spot, you want to answer quickly and comprehensively, but I find this difficult when an audience is watching. Over time, I have become more comfortable with my research in the sense that I understand more about what I am doing and why. I think my ability and confidence in thinking on the spot has therefore improved. However, I still can't help sometimes feeling a little down after having a meeting where multiple questions have been fired at me and I'm not sure if I answered them as best as I could have.

After yesterdays meeting, I was trying to get on with the rest of my day, but ended up thinking a lot about the questions I had been asked and whether I could have answered them better. This made me feel a little fed up, but I decided to combat this feeling by writing down all the questions I could remember. If I build up a list of questions that people ask me when I present, I can start to not only improve my presentations to make certain points clearer, but also start to recognise the common questions and develop comprehensive answers to them.

This way, I hope I can present with confidence and not develop a fear of impending post-presentation questions! I have tried to put a positive action with what I thought was a negative experience- I don't think I'll ever get such an in-depth grilling outside of my lab meetings and the fact that I get so many questions means I will be better prepared when presenting my research to a wider audience!

So, don't fear the questions! They only allow you to think about your research and its message more carefully!

October 03, 2013

Another day, another to–do list…....

The past week or so has been a very busy one for me, so it seems like a lifetime since my last blog, despite it being only 9 days ago! Hence, I feel it only appropriate to ramble on about what I have been up to!

Last Wednesday was a manic day in the lab, trying to finish testing my sequencing protocol before I spent the rest of my week attending a conference! The tasks I had planned seemed time-consuming but simple enough, although my patience and sanity were tested when I managed to prepare all my samples and then run them all on the wrong program so I had to do them all again argh!

Last Thursday and Friday were spent at Warwick Medical School's Division of Microbiology and Infection Inaugral symposium. It was great to learn more about the research of the newly established group and the lunch wasn't too bad either! The symposium is storified, so you can have a look for yourself at what went on at:


I then whizzed off to Ireland for the weekend to celebrate my nephews christening with my family (where a hair disaster was averted after all the curls decided to fall out of my new hairdo and had to be re-curled at the last minute!)

Monday was a bang back down to Earth, with a catch-up on e-mails and an update of the now every growing to-to list!

This was followed by helping groups of undergraduates take water samples from the River Dene near Wellsbourne on Tuesday. I never knew that standing in a shallow river in a pair of wellies could be such fun!

Wednesday was filled with a writing course at Stoneleigh Park. This reminded me of the importance of communicating science and the key things to think about when doing so- mainly who you are writing for and what they want to know!

So now it's Thursday, and I am finally back in the office catching up. I have lab work to plan, meetings to make notes for, questions to ask, chemicals to order and more helping undergraduates! Better get a move on then.........

September 24, 2013

PhD meetings

Meetings.......I find them helpful but also slightly stressful!

On the one hand, they give me the information I need to make progress in my research (so they are a necessary evil!).

On the other hand, I have to spend time preparing for them, checking I know the information I need to know, deciding what to bring to the meeting, what topics I need to discuss and what outcomes I want.

Then there is the after meeting feeling.......for me this is a mixture of:

- a mind buzzing with everything we discussed that I now need to write down while it is fresh in my mind and start planning work based on it.

- relief that the meeting is done and I can get back to my work.

- a sense of wondering why I was nervous about the meeting as it all went fine.

-tiredness after preparing for and having the meeting, after which there are a few minutes thinking about all the work that still needs to be done!

I can't moan though, meetings where you don't contribute anything you usually don't gain anything from attending, so having a meeting today has reminded me why it's important to have them and prepare for them to make the most out of them!

How do meetings feel for you?

September 18, 2013

The struggle continues…....

Rather than keeping you hanging, I thought I'd let you know how those results were.....

Hmmm.....well they were.....interesting? I wasn't sure what was going on, so had another go with some tweaks and still got an unexpected result. So me and my supervisor sat down and went through everything to look for the answer, and after 30 minutes of pulling faces and head scratching we found 1 error and 1 way to improve what I was doing anyway, so I am now awaiting the arrival of the items we have had to correctly re-order to continue my quest.

So, I think this proves a point I mention quite often to others- in a PhD, especially a research one, things don't always go to plan! I was actually happier to find that we had made a mistake and be able to see not only how to rectifiy that but also how to improve things as a success! It is worse when you think you have everything right and still things aren't working!

The key here is not feel upset or angry - it doesn't help and just wastes your time and energy. Instead I am happy to plod along in the knowledge that we'll get there in the end! So, the quest continues!

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