May 09, 2015

New projects, old projects and finding my feet post PhD

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Again time has flown and I find myself looking back on my last blog post from 2 months ago feeling like it was only last week!

I have now come to the end of my research technician position. I have enjoyed this post as it has enabled me to help on different projects and in doing so, find out more about them and the people doing them. I am still working on the analysis of my PhD data, which has recently been slow in progress, but I now feel like I am reaching a point where things can move forward.

I was offered the senior technician position on a new project in my PhD research group since my last blog post. I was also offered an interview for the knowledge transfer position. I opted to accept the senior technician position as when it came down to it, I found my gut feeling was that I didn't want to move away from academia. I enjoy my research, my workplace and enjoy working with everyone in my research group, so it made sense to me to stay for a little while longer! I'm going to give 100% to this new position and hope that it will produce some useful results and interesting publications. I don't know what the future holds, but the position is for 2.5 years, so I'll keep looking at potential jobs both within and outside of academia and see how I feel in time. Being a research scientist means that I am constantly challenged, always problem-solving and learning new things and for me right now, I can't see another role that can offer me this in the same way.

I'm continuing my mentoring work with the fabulous IGGY and my mentoring work in my department as well as participating in mentoring and outreach projects when they arise. I really enjoying working with younger students, sharing experiences and providing advice based on what I have learnt. I particularly love my role with IGGY as it not only allows me to mentor younger students but also spend time thinking creatively about how to communicate science and make it more accessible which is a passion of mine.

Besides all that, I have a 16 month old Shih Tzu called Dolly with whom I go on adventures through the park everyday and have recently taken up running. I have taken things slowly with the running so as to not injure myself and to make sure I am motivated to keep going. At the moment I am training in the gym and am up to 4.5 miles in distance by running in 10 minutes intervals with walking breaks between - seeing as though a minute was a challenge to start with I am very pleased with my progress. Already I can see that my fitness has improved as I can use other gym apparatus with ease that I previously found difficult, so now I just need to keep it up! I am looking into entering a few 5k races in the next few months to encourage me to continue.

I think that covers everything I am up to right now!

March 08, 2015

Post–PhD multi–tasking!


Over a month has passed since my last entry - where is the time going?!

I am still working as a research technician and enjoying the variety in my role. I am able to work on data from my PhD project in preparation for publication. This is challenging as everything is new and I am anxious about my target of delivering a draft manuscript in 3 months time. It has taken a while to get to this point where I know how to prepare and obtain the data I want to analyse from what I started with, so the analysis is only just starting, but I am hoping that once things get underway progress will be swifter!

I am also doing some lab work on another project looking at micorbiomes in dairy cattle - I always enjoyed the practical side of my PhD, so I find some time in the lab a welcome distraction and an opportunity to learn more and increase my lab competence.

Another animal welfare project in my research group requires some data entry, which admittedly isn't the most exciting, but is really valuble in terms of getting the project completed on time so I am happy to help.

I am have two meetings to present my PhD data for help and advice and to get more analysis underway which I am currently preparing for.

I am also a writing mentor for MSc students, so I meet with them from time to time to discuss their writing and how to make improvements. I always try to provide as much advice as possible from my own experience in a constructive and positive way!

At the same time I work as a mentor for a fantastic company called IGGY which runs an online social network with learning resources. This means I travel around England visiting young people at schools and introducing them to the service. I also produce content for the website, take part in live web chats, blog on different topics and debate with the young people in lots of interesting discussions. I love working for IGGY and at the same time it improves my skills in communication, presenting, outreach work, builds a network of contacts and helps me get creative with communicating complicated subjects!

Now I've written it all down, I now realize why time feels like it is rapidly disappearing! I do like being busy though and sometimes find it difficult to relax!

On the post-PhD job hunt, I am waiting to hear back on a grant where I am the named research fellow which is very exciting, but I am working on the assumption that this may not be successful so that I have other options. I've had no luck with the knowledge transfer role I applied for, but I do have an interview for a senior technician position. Ideally my goal is to get a research fellow position, but this technician role offers me the opportunity to expand my lab capabilities, get involved in some different research from my PhD and provide even more material for publication, all of which will strengthen grant and research fellow job applications.

So it's all go go go! I wouldn't have it any other way!

February 02, 2015

Life after a PhD and the job hunt

Hi all,

Thought I would have a ramble about my progress since my last post! Well I am still working as a technician and on the look out for new positions. I am both pleased and grateful that this position has given me some time to work a bit more on data from my PhD that I didn't get to fully analyse and my aim is to have the analysis finished so the work is ready to publish by the summer - yay! In my position now, I have meetings with more senior members of my research group who check-in on my progress and make suggestions to help me with data analysis and the other aspects of my role which keeps me motivated and on target to achieve what I want to in this position.

After submitting my PhD thesis and coming back from holiday, it took a good 10 days to get back into a routine and to start thinking about things with a post-PhD brain. Progress on my data analysis was initially slow which was frustrating, but I realise now that what I am working on has limited guidelines so it involves a lot of trial and error. I think the key is to talk! I talk about the data I have to my research group, supervisors, other research groups, individuals that have different data but use relevant programs - this helps troubleshoot and come up with ideas to make progress.

I am currently looking out for job positions once my current contract runs out in the summer. I'm still debating the key question for PhD leavers - to stay in academia or not. I have tried to answer this question for myself by looking at both my practical priorities (location, family etc) with my career ambitions and what in reality is available in the job market at the moment. I have seen a role in academia that fits with both so I'm going to apply for that whilst looking at some other options based on knowledge transfer and widening participation that I have seen which fit in with some of the science outreach work I have done during my PhD time.

My advice to anyone in a similar position would be to use all those people you have met during the course of your PhD time to ask around about job positions. Use websites like and set up e-mails of job alerts on these types of sites. Make sure your CV and online profiles all look professional and are up to date. I would also always say to tailor your CV to a job. If you use the same one for every position, potential employers will see this and not be impressed. You need to think about what skills each position requires and how you can use your experiences to highlight this on your CV. Job hunting is stressful, I still find it difficult to read a job description and determine if it's me - I want to have a job where I can learn and be challenged, but also one that plays to my strengths so I can enjoy it. I would recommend that you think carefully about your goals and priorities and align job applications with these - to me there is no point in spending lots of time applying for a job that you don't actually want to do, but then again bills need to be paid and sometimes you have to start somewhere to gain experience to move forward and jump ship when the opportunity arises!

Good luck to my fellow PhdD'ers and post-PhD'ers!

November 17, 2014

PhD submission

Since my last post, the clocks have gone back and winter is in full swing.....and I submitted my PhD!

On reflection, it was a stressful time as my PhD took over everything. I spent most of my time either working on writing up, thinking about writing up or sleeping!This didn't make the end of my PhD that enjoyable as in the end it was annoying that even simple tasks like shopping weren't enjoyable as I was worrying about my PhD.

Unfortunately, I only got some key results a few weeks before submission, which made everything more like a rush which was what I was trying to avoid. However, I stayed focused and knew what I had to do to submit on time, setting regular goals to keep me on target. Once I had submitted, I think I was drained as simple tasks did physically exhaust me so I took some time off and went on holiday. It was strange not having to think or worry about my PhD, so I seemed to go from having no time to lots. I think I was relived to have submitted on time more than anything! Now I am doing some work on the last piece of data from my PhD as I didn't have the time to analyse all of the data in the way I wanted. Now I have been back working as a technician for my research group for a few weeks, I feel like I am back into the swing of things. Itw a shard at first to settle back and motivate myself without an impending deadline, but I feel more organised and productive now.

My advice for fellow PhD'ers coming towards the end of their PhD would be:

- start writing early, the more you do, the more you have to start with so the easier it is to get into it

- be clear on what you have time to include and what you don't

- set yourself small, regular and realistic goals and stick to them

Good luck to all those writing up!

July 11, 2014

Time flies…...

Well it's already been over a month since my last update. Again, it seems like only yesterday that I sat down at my computer and typed it out, where does the time go! Anyway, since then, I completed that post-PhD application I mentioned, went on my school visit which was good fun and a nice change of scenery and then ploughed through my lab work. I had intended on spending more time writing first, but my supervisors wanted me to have everything finished in the lab so I would have time for data analysis and catch up on the writing afterwards. So, I spent a pretty intensive three weeks in a little corner of the lab pipetting away furiously and now that work is completed - just waiting on some results!

In the meantime I have started to plan how to analyse the data I'm waiting on and trying to get back into writing. My supervisors have been very supportive, telling me just to get some words on paper and send it to them so we can get working on things and make progress more quickly. I'm pleased that things are coming together and I'll start to see the story of my PhD on paper, but I am nervous about the time pressure to get everything written up in a way that is concise, well presented and understandable! I do have moments have panic thinking about the time I now have left, but then I try and calm myself and think the best way to address the horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach is to do something about it! So, today I plan on getting stuck into some writing. I know once I get started I should be fine at creating drafts, I know parts of it in all honesty will be rubbish, but right now I just need some words on paper! Wish me luck!

Happy PhD'ing all!

June 05, 2014

Keep calm and keep typing!

Hi all,

I can't believe my last entry was in April! It only seems like last week, where is the time going! Well, I must admit the bank holidays were a nice opportunity to relax, spend some time with family and friends and catch up on a bit of work. I enjoy them but seeing as though the end of my PhD is rapidly approaching, I always feel like I'm playing catch-up and panic about taking time off! Despite this, I know a short break does do me good, you can't always be in work mode, so I try and maxmise my productivity when I am!

Well, what else can I report......well last week was interesting! Part of my PhD is with a knowledge transfer company based in Edinburgh, so I got to visit Scotland for three days of training, cake, tea and an early career researcher event. The company looks at collaborations with industry and technology transfer from academia to commercial products so the training is quite different from my PhD. The topics include intellectual property, benchmarking, patents, veterinary research and development and information on technology transfer. On the last day, I presented my PhD work at the researcher event and was horrendously nervous! Ironically, the panic I felt disappeared once I got up and started talking. To my surprise, I was given one of the best presentation awards and have won a day out at a Defra agency involved in food and environment policy regulation! Should be fun!

This week I have been catching up on smaller tasks that have been put to one side, so tying up some loose ends really. I have also been working on an application for a training program post-PhD, so I'm trying to consider options for when I finish as well as focusing on the goal of finishing! Tomorrow I am visiting a local school to run a microbiology based activity. I'm nervous, but looking forward to meeting the students and having a chat! So, this week has been full of variety in tasks. Next week I plan to focus on writing for my thesis so that the following week I can start the last piece of lab work I have left to do. I'm trying to balance writing up with lab work as doing both at the same time is impossible!

All I can do for now is to keep going and keep calm! I'll let you know how that goes!

April 23, 2014

Onwards and upwards!

Hello all,

Another update/opportunity for me to reflect/vent about how things are going with my PhD! Last week I was stuck on a piece of lab work that was taking up all of my time and energy. Thankfully, by the end of the week I had worked through what the problem was and now I'm waiting on a response from some technical support to move forward. I was relived that I now understood the problem and hopefully it should work out fine. However, by the end of last week I was struggling to motivate myself and concentrate in general, so with familiy visiting for Easter I had a five day break from work over the long Easter weekend. This has helped me to de-stress and relax a little and now I feel more focused and determined.

Overall, things aren't going that badly I think I just worry too much! But stopping doing this is far easier said than done so I'm focusing on moving forward with the things I am worrying about so they become less of a worry if that makes sense! I only have one pair of hands and one brain so I plan to set targets, work hard and have regular breaks to maintain my sanity! I don't have much else to report besides me trying to keep calm and battle onwards! I hope everyone had a good Easter - bring on the next bank holiday lol!

April 04, 2014

Continuing to try and keep calm and carry on….

Hi all,

Two weeks has passed since my last blog post and in all honesty I don't have much to report. I've reached a stage in my lab work where I have paused to focus on learning more about how to use the new program I mentioned in my last post. I reached a stage where this became a priority, but it has been very stressful! I don't know much about the program so I'm trying to work through tutorials but some of them are not that relevant to what I need to do which is frustrating as I understand them and not the processes I need for my data! It's difficult because you feel unproductive spending ages at the computer not getting very far and then being too distracted by it all to focus on something else.

Hence, today I've decided to shift focus onto other tasks as I start to become frustrated. I've also asked a colleague to step in and help me out, as my lack of experience in the area means I don't intuitively see what steps I need to take in what order with what software. I've also sent a few begging e-mails for help, so I'm hoping I can start to make more progress.

Wish me luck!

March 21, 2014

Keeping calm and carrying on

Hi all,

As the end of another working week approaches, I thought I'd take a minute to reflect! This week has been busy, but more stressful then anything! Laboratory work always takes longer than I expect and I'm increasingly aware of time passing by and the need to get down to writing!

I also have to learn how to use a new program for data analysis, so this has made me feel slightly apprehensive! I want to take time to learn how to use the program, but at the same time I just want to have a look at the data to find out what I need to do with my protocol so that I can get on with preparing samples while learning about the program.

A few times this week, I've felt that strange feeling of almost something stuck in your throat when you feel the stress rising! I've tried to remain calm and focused and tackle this by trying to get things done rather then worrying about how long they take or what time I have left.

So, my focus at the moment is to stay on task and keep calm! If anyone has any further suggestions on how to remain calm to stay productive - please provide them!

Hope you've all had a good and productive week!

March 06, 2014

Settling back in and thesis planing!

Well, I'm now halfway through my third week back after completing my placement with my industrial partner and I'm finally starting to feel like I know what I'm doing again!

After spending a bit of time in the office and in the lab focusing again on my PhD, my concentration and ability to plan and execute ideas has been improving! Admittedly the first week back wasn't as productive as I would've liked - between trying to get Dolly the puppy into a routine that involved sleeping at night and preparing a presentation for my lab meeting, I was a bit slow getting other tasks done!

Now, I'm feeling more focused and productive, hopefully this lasts! I'm acutely aware that I'm rapidly approaching the last six months of my PhD and so I have been focusing on what I need to get done in the lab and planning my thesis. The quicker I can start to get into a routine of writing, the better! It always takes me a little time to be able to write in the style I need to for my thesis. I need to spend time recapping what I have written and how this fits into my latest thesis plan to make a start. So, I'm now at the point of less talking more writing! I'm going to push myself to get a move on with it, but I'm also working hard on getting my lab work finished - no results = no thesis!

Overall though, I can't complain about how things are going! Another member of my lab has been using my protocol and cannot believe how I've managed to keep ploughing through it without having a breakdown so its reassuring that I've remained calm and determined throughout!

Even though I do enjoy the lab work, I'm looking forward to finishing it for my PhD so that after nearly four years I can start to pull together the story of my research. Dolly is sleeping through the night, so I'm able to concentrate during the day now so I've no excuse! I'm also about to start some discussion on potential future research post-PhD so all in all its an exciting and nerve-racking time!

All the best to my fellow PhD'ers and near end of PhD'ers!

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