Hey all 🙂
The last two months have pretty much plowed on like the last two: testing, testing, testing, and more testing. I’m going to talk here a bit about reaching a point of fatigue in it all as well as a recent uber lab get together and my own academic journey.
Testing, testing, testing,…
Testing continues and I’m learning that it is a trying process in itself. You can’t predict exactly how long things will take and I’ve started to lose my enthusiasm at times. It’s a lot of work for little reward. Granted they come in the results and telling a (hopefully) interesting story at the end but for now it’s a lot of repetition whilst trying to not feel defeated when things aren’t progressing. I’m not going to lie: sometimes I’m really not fussed. I do the work but I don’t always feel the eagerness which drives science. The whole experience is challenging both personally and scientifically. I’m having to push myself become more persistent and resilient. Keeping the end goal in mind helps but sometimes that’s more difficult to do. Now I’m not saying that I do not want to do what I’m doing. I’m not about to drop out mid-experiment or anything like that. But I’m starting to really feel the struggles of learning to be a good researcher. I will stick to it though and I’m sure that when it’s done and after a spot of rest my enthusiasm will come back and I’ll be stronger for the next stage of my career.
A two lab lunch
Networking is a big part of most jobs and academia is no different. My supervisor has a colleague at another university whose group does very similar things to ours so we thought it’d be great to chat! So recently we had a visit from their group where we each gave a small talk on what we’re doing and had lunch in a relaxed environment. It was really good to meet people from another group with similar interests and to get their perspectives on things. One of the biggest things I’ve found is that everyone has different questions and suggestions for research and it seems largely to do with their background. Whereas a psychologist may question the processes of learning an ecologist may be more interested in the costs and benefits of it instead. Having a wide range of questions to your work challenges you to consider it from different angles and ultimately makes you more well rounded in your approach (that’s what I’m hoping anyway!).
My academic journey so far
I was listening to Spit’n’Twitches a podcast run by Dave Brodbeck, a professor of psychology at Algoma University, who studies cognition in animals when something struck me. He talks to researchers interested in animal behaviour about their work as well as their academic journey and a lot of the guests have led quite a focused path towards what they’re doing. They may have done undergraduate psychology or animal behaviour, gained research experience studying animal learning and done a PhD in the area etc. It made me think about my own route and how it’s a little different. I’ve jumped between interests and experiences quite a lot, nothing as drastic as from law to physics but still i’ve sampled a few areas of biology before settling where I am.
I studied human biology at the University of Birmingham. I started there with a broad interest but really enjoyed genetics, gained minor research experience in molecular modelling, and tried to biochemistry. (Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t as I wouldn’t have been able to study evolution and animal behaviour.) I then started delving seriously towards biophysics. I was interested in how we can study how molecules interact at the atomic level as well as how electrons move through proteins. I was excited,read ahead, and even visited a couple of researchers in my second year to ask about doing a PhD. At this point I should add that I also maintained modules in animal behaviour and physiology alongside the more structural end of things. Going into third year I maintained the split in my interests by studying integrated behavioural biology (genes, hormones, neurobiology, evolution) as well as structural biochemistry. I gained research experience in protein crystallography where I was almost able crystallise two proteins. By the end of this experience, however, my interest was fading. I still found the topic fascinating but not the actual hands-on aspect of crystallography. I was becoming more interested in what animals do and looked to that for my masters project. Unfortunately within my academic school the options were limited so I contacted supervisors from elsewhere. I started with to write a project with a behavioural neuroscientist in psychology looking at memory in rats. However this fell through when they ran out of space in the lab. I eventually landed a project in medicine studying a cell culture model of memory. It was exciting and full of new techniques but I decided it wasn’t the area for me.
Since 2013 I’ve been doing my research in the Mechanisms of Behaviour lab at the University of St Andrews. Here we study factors which effect an individual’s behaviour and learning using a range of models. What got me here as a specific topic I’m not 100% sure. In fact…is anybody certain as to why they chose their particular subject? I was inspired by the approach of studying behaviour by including genes and physiology by Roland Brandstaetter‘s teaching so I guess that must be part of it. Overall, it’s just utterly fascinating to see what animals do and having the opportunity to study just a tiny part of that is a real privilege.
The next two months will involve a department presentation, a very welcomed holiday, and hopefully applying to present at a couple of conferences!
Thanks for reading,