Drafting My First Paper, Ordering Stuff For the Lab, and Education (, Education, Education)

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

For the last two months, I’ve had a good balance of things across my life. Work, research, teaching have all come along nicely. But the main things have been finally writing my first paper, taking more control over my project by doing some of the ordering of lab materials, and developing multiple education projects.

ย Drafting My First Paper

I’ve done it. I’ve finally reached that point in my career where I was ready to write my first paper. I’ve designed the experiment, collected the data, analysed the data, and now have an idea of what is going on. So I put this paper together…and I felt a little blank. I’ve written blog posts and essays and guided many students with writing reports. But my own paper seemed different. I over-thought the process a bit. But I followed my own advice and got there in the end. The process was actually quite fun as it was me talking about my stuff for once. I paper went to my supervisor at the end of January and I’m hoping to get some feedback by the start of April; perhaps I’l submit it by the end of June ๐Ÿ™‚

Ordering Stuff For the Lab

The other thing I’ve levelled up with is managing a budget and supplies for my research. My supervisor and I obtained a grant last year to cover my last stint of lab work and I have been getting to work on this since January. I’ve been looking through protocols, liasing with outside companies, and ordering stock to make sure I have everything I need for when my samples are needed. Feels good but it’s been a lot of responsibility. I’ve also made a few calculation errors which made me panic about being waaaaay over-budget. Thankfully, my supervisor is great and caught the errors. Overall, it’s been nice to get some experience with the stock and financial management of a project (even in a very minor capacity).

Education, Education, Education

I really can’t say no HAHAHA. I’ve been taking on my fair share of educational projects this Spring. Firstly, my regular biology teaching. I work on a first year module whereby I get the same 12 students for the whole semester. I support their practical, analytical, and confidence skills across a wide variety of biological topics. By the end of the semester, you really get to know each student and their particular strengths and weaknesses. I am also still a study skills tutoring, taking on usually 2-6 hours of one-to-one sessions a week. I have also continued to organise and co-run skills workshops in psychology covering topics such as writing, statistics, and resilience. We have had 2 so far and 1 more this semester. I had my first experience as a lead demonstrator/marker when I took on marking a piece of course work, coordinated and moderated the feedback, then delivered a Q&A feedback session for the students. Lastly, I am working on a curriculum for a summer school. The one i’ve worked for the past two years has closed so I’m hoping to transfer to their New York branch this summer. I’ll be switching from Molecular Biology to Psychology which is really exciting.

So that’s me for the last two months. The next two will be spent continuing my last stint of lab work, revising my paper, and giving my first talk at a conference!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

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Saying “no”: Making Good Choices for Your Health

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

My first posts each year tend to focus more on big picture stuff such as things I’m proud of and my feelings on a PhD so far. One of the lessons I’ve really taken from doing this is to know when to say “no” and take a step back and this is what I’m going to discuss in my opening to 2019.

ย  ย  Those who know me know fully well that I’m trigger happy when it comes to doing things. Outreach, teaching, discussions etc. I want to pick up hobbies, try new things, I outline research ideas I’ll never get to. It leaves me sometimes attempting a lot and achieving little. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, growth comes from challenge. It’s also good to enrich your life with other interests, hobbies, and activities, as it is very unhealthy to bury down into one thing and make that all which matters to you. I know, for example, that I could have finished my doctorate sooner than I am currently on track to. However, my well-being would have been far poorer were I to not engage with the amount of teaching that I do. Teaching for me is intrinsically rewarding; that is to say that I would do it for free (though am very happy for it to add to my savings). The other small activities I do as well such as outreach and beginning to start writing a novel also help me relax, test my skills in other areas, and be more rested for when I focus on the research.

ย  ย  But a balance is needed and sometimes you just have to say “no” to be able to stay healthy as well as commit to the things which are important to you. There’s no point trying everything if you get nowhere with anything and mostly importantly: you are the centre of your world, you matter. I expressed this sentiment on Twitter in what turned out to be my most liked, retweeted, and responded to tweet:

My supervisor, rightfully, called me out for my phrasing here as it comes across that I’m suggesting that mentors and the like should be ACTIVELY involved in structuring a student’s life balance. This isn’t what I intended. I more meant that, because academia has such an issue with work-life balance and, in particular, PhD students committing themselves to more work at the expense of their health, a shift in attitudes and increased transparency of expectations needs to be seen at all career stages. This includes increasing awareness of detrimental schedules but also mentors taking the lead with how they make their balance work and, ultimately, when to say “no”.

So I was left this coming Spring intending on doing a multitude of things to do with my research, my job, and my creatives hobbies. But also I planned on doing two things which I’ve decided not to do for the sake of balance across my weeks in order to give myself the time and energy to focus on the more immediately important tasks of finishing my lab work, writing papers, and maintaining my job. The two things were Masters level education modules as well as (potentially) drafting a research grant idea. I will get round to these thoughts but for now they are less important and I will get to them later. Take home from this: explore and do all the things you love but know when to say “no”. That point is when something takes over your life, infringing upon your health, or when something new would give you less time for what is currently important.

So that’s me for the last two months. The next two will be spent starting my last stint of lab work, writing a paper, and continuing to try new things.

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

Summer School, Conference, and Taking a Break Before Getting Back on Research

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

The last few months have been really good in some ways so let’s dive right in.

Summer School

Summer school was great again! I felt much more confident than the previous year because I had a better idea of what to expect. I built my class around experiences rather than content. I really wanted my students to get hands on practically or mentally and to gain insight into doing science not just what it finds. We ended up with 8 content sessions, 3 research lab visits, 2 hands on labs, 3 creative collaborations, and 2 student-led days where they presented their own interests and ideas. Overall, I feel it went well and I’m eager to get the feedback to see what was good and what could be better for next time. It has spurred on my want to be in education and, whilst i won’t end up in such a wonderful and privileged situation with a class of four, there is much i will take from my experience into my future.

Conference

I spent 3 nights in Liverpool at ECBBย which was an absolutely wonderful experience for a number of reasons. Firstly, the conference itself. Many interesting talks and posters to engage with and the students from the host university did a wonderful job organising thing for the guests who were new to the area. Including, for example, a behavioural biology themed pub quiz to promote networking and fun in general. Speaking of which: secondly, networking. I met SO many great people there. A couple whom i’d connected with previously on twitter, some entirely new to me but with whom I spent most of my social time with, and somebody i’d met at a previous conference. The latter of which gave me a wonderful tour of their lab and we talked science for a long time. I’m hoping they may be my next boss and the ideas we have developed look promising for that to happen. Not putting all my eggs in one lab’s basket, of course, but it’s been super exciting to start making these connections which i will need to give me a chance of staying in research. Lastly, Liverpool itself was delightful. it’s such a vibrant and lively city. So much is close together which is wonderful. I can totally see myself spending some of my life there which is a bonus regarding the job point. Overall, a wonderful and exciting time.

Taking a Break

If there’s one major thing I’ve learned from 5 years of doing this PhD thing it’s that breaks are super important. After the conference I took some me time. This involved three different adventures. Firstly, went to London for 5 days to visit my dad. I had a nice and low-key time catching up with him and generally relaxing. I also got to see two friends as well as my aunt and cousin whom I haven’t seen in a while which was great. Secondly, a friend’s wedding in the midlands. Great to see him after four or so years. We got take out the night before and the whole wedding occasion was really good (except for my head the following morning). Lastly, I spent a week in New York visiting a friend. What a great an new experience. Everything there is just turned up to 11. Met new people, saw great things (Central Park, Natural History Museum, The Met!), and tried all sorts of new food including sushi! I can use chopsticks now!

So that’s me for the last two months. The next two will be spent finishing some of my analysis, starting my last stint of lab work, and continuing to try new things.

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

Balancing Research, Summer Conference, and Summer School

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

The last few months have been a good busy. I’ve progressed on my research, been accepted to present at a conference, and commenced teaching on a summer school!

Research

Lately, my research has swung from full throttle to nothing and back again several times. I’ve been finding it very difficult balancing it with summer school, work, and finding ‘me’ time and at times the research has had to take a back burner. I’ve specifically been working on song recordings. I’m looking through numerous sound files for bouts of bird song, copying them into a catalogue, and then analysing them for various things which we think are important. None of this is difficult but it is repetitive so sometimes I’m on a roll and really into it and others it’s just tiring thinking about it. It’ll get done though. I’m 25% through 340 or so bouts. I just needs to get back on the wagon, even if means doing 10 or so a day in my breaks. Thankfully, the data I’m hoping to present at a conference later this year is all prepared so the current work slowing down is ok. Speaking of conferences…

Conference!

The accepted me to present at the conference in Liverpool! Quick reminder: it is the European Conference on Behavioural Biology which runs every 2 years. This year it is in Liverpool which is great in terms of time and money needed to go. I applied for a talk but unfortunately they were quite oversubscribed for them so I was given a poster slot. Still an opportunity to present my research though and have some great chats as well as meet some nice people! I have also, thankfully, been granted some travel funding to help pay for this trip too. It won’t cover all of it but the vast majority and any deficit is more than made up for by the summer school payment. Speaking of which…

Summer School

Summer school is off to a great start again this year!ย  I am teaching ‘molecular biology’ again and have 4 great students from a variety of backgrounds and countries. This year, I’ve learned from experience to make my program more hands-on and about doing things as opposed to content. To make that happen, i’ve drafted a balance of ‘lectures’, research lab visits, collaborations, hands-on lab experience, and student-directed sessions. Three classes in and I feel it is going well. Although, I have the continued anxiety of known that whether I think it’s going well is irrelevant as it is the enjoyment of the students which matters. It’s difficult to judge that but I’ve heard positive things from those running the program. The program has a blogย which has a few awful pics of me so have a look through for a regular update ๐Ÿ™‚

So that’s me for the last two months. The next two will involving finishing summer school, finishing the next step in my data analysis, and attending a conference!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

Lab Troubles, Conference Application, and Summer School (almost)

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

The last few months have been busy in a good way though there have been some low points. The big thing I’ve taken from it, however, is the emotional interaction I’ve had with my experiences and it is that which I am focusing on today.

Lab Troubles

Stuff goes wrong in science, it just does. The proverbial “shit happens” and we just have to deal with that. Recently, I had some issues in the lab which I had to troubleshoot and long story short it was a mix of shit happens and me doing less well than I could. This left me having lost the samples for one experiment and a lot of frustration and anxiety. So shit happens, right? Well yeah but it still doesn’t feel great. I’ve still lost a decent chunk of my potential data to add to my story. The probable ‘me’ bit in the problem is also troubling as I don’t really have an excuse for it. At least when things screw up beyond your control you can at least say as such and then discuss what you expected to find and how that would have related to your other findings. I can still do this, sure, but knowing I may have also screwed up takes some of that clarity away.

Anyway, I shan’t linger on the negative. What I’ve learned from this is to take challenges are something to work on to improve myself and to make the best of what I have available to me. The data is gone but I still have a lot left to process/measure. This is good. I have a lot of data across my experiments and the lost piece from one experiment is still there in the other. When I see the big picture of how it all fits together I will be able to make a better prediction of what the missing data would have shown. Lastly, this is all part of it, right? We give things a go, work out what could have been better, work to overcome the obstacle, and get better at what we do. This was an unfortunate mishap but the bigger picture moves forward and so do I.

Conference Application

I’ve applied to present at my second international conference! Whoop! Mini-mexican wave in celebration of me (kudos to those who get that reference). You may be wondering why I am celebrating myย second application. Well…last year, in Portugal, I did present my data but there are two caveats to that. Firstly, I’ve re-analysed the data (with my developing stats skills) and have now drawn alternative conclusions. Secondly, that presentation was a poster and this is a talk. Posters are good. They give you the chance to stand and have a decent conversation with people and really talk through your research. But a talk is when you get a focused audience, possibly there to specifically see people in your area of work. This is rather exciting because I’ll get my 15 mins to stand up and tell my story (and then be grilling by the, hopefully nice, audience). The other reason why I’m excited is that I’m finally at that stage in my PhD where I’m getting to grips with the process and having my own bit of story to tell. The whole picture isn’t there yet but I have threads of data which fit together nicely and that is what I am hoping to present come august. The conference is the European Conference on Behavioural Biology. A get together of people with interest in the biology of behaviour from a variety of perspectives. There are also a few people I hope to meet and make connections with there too which is a great opportunity to start getting on the trail for the next job!

Summer School

I have been invited back to teach the summer school program I worked on last year! I’m so excited. I’ve been planning the improvements to my program for a while and now am starting to get a solid grasp on what I’m going to do. Still a few tweaks, of course, but it is all coming together and will hopefully be much better than last year. I did a lot of learning as i went last year, in terms of what can be done in the time etc. This time I have a better idea of the timing and layout of the whole program, what went down well, and what was missing from last year so am able to be better prepared going into it. No doubt my students will still overturn this and I’ll be thinking on my feet again. Just hopefully less so than last year!

The emotional side of this comes in two flavours: anxious-excitement and…discomfort (i guess…). Firstly, the anxious-excitement. I find the whole idea of teaching a program exciting and as someone who aims to be in education in one capacity or another it is an amazing opportunity. With that comes the anxiety of be the person responsible for ensuring the enjoyment and fulfilment of a small clutch of enthusiastic students. What if I suck? What if the program sucks? What if they don’t care? The last thing I want is disappointment. My care for education drives an equal worry that it’ll go bad. I should point out here that this isย not in light of the fees paid on behalf of the students, but simply a purely educational perspective.

Secondly, though, speaking of fees: discomfort, sort of…I recently received my new contract and was astonished by my salary for the program. I have never been paid a lot for doing anything. Tutoring in the university is paid well but you never see that as a big lump sum as it is sporadic. I find this difficult to process because, despite my separating financial worth from things, I don’t see what I offer as being worth that much. It is an odd sense of discomfort as I am somebody who believes that educators are quite possibly the most important roles in society. Under most systems, that would suggest they be the highest paid. This came at quite a serendipitous time as the following tweet sparked an almighty conversation online which I highly recommend you read:

I’d never really thought about this before as I have done my best to consider myself class-independent but reading through the numerous thoughts I found myself relating all too much. On paper, I’m from a pretty evenly split conservative-middle and labour-working class set of families but with a whole heap of complications in my upbringing to make things less typical. Part of that may play into my discomfort with being valued in money (never mind at the level I have been). It’s not a bad thing, of course, and the money is going to go towards savings, a trip away, and charity. It is just something I have to become comfortable with, which I will…hopefully haha.

So that’s me for the last two months. The next two will involving finishing some lab work, starting to write some papers, and teaching my summer school!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

Psycholoquia, Building the Bigger Picture, and Planning the End

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Hi all ๐Ÿ™‚

The last two months have felt strong and I’ve made some good progress regarding my physical health. PhD wise, I’ve given a presentation, started getting to grips with the bigger picture of my research, and taken steps to plan for the end of my PhD.

Psycholoquia

As an absolutely rarity, I’m actually writing this at the time it happened (as opposed to writing the whole post just before submission). In our department, we present 3 talks over our PhD and these are termed ‘Psycholoquia’. My first (2014) was fine but a bit of an overly long shambles, 2016’s was ok but essentially just ‘this is what i’m going’, 2018’s was different. I have data now and a good chunk of the story I’ll tell in my thesis. That’s quite exciting but got me much more nervous than usual. At the end of an intense 4 days of stats, talk prep, lab practice, teaching, and work I’ve now given my talk and from what I can tell it went down positively. I’ve received two bits of praise, one of which is embedded below. Overall, I felt it went well considering that it was unrehearsed. At times, I felt myself rushing and some of the organisation could have been better but I’m very glad that it’s done and happy with myself for doing it that well ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Building the Bigger Picture

One of the things I’ve been struggling with in the past few years is considering the bigger picture of my research. I’ve found that having a broad interest has made it difficult to hone in and provide some clarity on the direction and focus of my PhD. Theses, in general, will have a central narrative and I’ve found myself lacking the focus to come to recognise my own. Lately, and in no small part aided by the vast amount of statistics as well as the presentation I’ve done, I have finally started to get to grips with the bigger picture of my research. It’s not finished yet, of course, but I am more confident when discussing the research to present it in a way which supports some overarching questions as opposed to simply isolated interesting questions. I’ll keep going with this and it is going to help with the direction of my final experiment as well as my thesis. Speaking of which…

Planning the End

I have started to not only think about what I want to do next with my life but also how to put together my thesis in the first place. A thesis can be structured in a number of different ways, depending on your data and the way your questions flow together, and as I’m winding down to the writing phase I’m starting to think about this. I’m going to look at the bigger picture and how the experiments I’ve done fit in that to draft a chapter by chapter plan for my thesis. I’ll include what each chapter is aiming to do and its role in the thesis as well as a first go at a decent title. My supervisor will then no doubt beat the ideas into shape when I see them next.

Something I have to really start thinking about now is what I want to do next. I’ve always been interested in teaching so I’m certainly going to look for careers where I use my experience and knowledge to aid others but beyond that I’m still unsure. I’d happily be a teaching fellow at a university or a science teacher in a school or do something to do with outreach work at museums or charities. I also have not ruled out continuing the academic route and looking for my first full-time position working in somebody else’s lab. With that in mind, I’ve already started a few conversations with potential bosses and I’m going to continue this over the coming year as well as at a conference in the summer!

It’s been a good two months and I’m feeling stronger in myself. The next two will be spent finishing some analysis for this experiment, (hopefully) having written the next experiment’s ideas, and applying for a conference!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

Things I’m Proud of and Plans for the Future

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Hey all ๐Ÿ™‚

Another year has started and I’m once again reflecting on my progress. This time last year, I talk about how things have gone 3.5 years in. This year Iย  thought I would talk about the achievements which I’m proud of and my plans for the near future to continue striving to be a better me.

Things I’m Proud Of

For the first time in four years I have started to feel like I am getting a grip on this research thing. A research apprenticeship (aka a PhD) involves no practice trials, you learn to do research whilst actually doing it. This double learning curve is quite steep and as such it can sometimes feel like your struggling to stay afloat. Now that I’ve gone through the motions from ideas through execution to analysis to presentation I feel like I’ve taken a step up in my abilities. I feel far more confident in doing good work as well as keeping up with workloads. Now this isn’t complacency, I’m not sat here thinking the work is done. However, I am happy within myself for the progress I’ve made.

Related to the above, I’ve become more confident in communication having had three experiences which have shown me that I am competent in engaging others in ideas. First, outreach in schools. I spent a day at a science festival for primary school children where i taught them how to get DNA from strawberries. Working with such young kids was endlessly challenging but I managed to hold my own and they seemed to get something good from it! Second, summer school. I had my own class of 5 students for 4 weeks during which I introduced them to many areas of biology as well as hands-on experience they wouldn’t get in high school. The class was engaging and well received so I must have been doing something right! Lastly, conference presentation. I had my first opportunity to present my own research this year in Portugal. I gathered more interest than expected and held interesting discussions about my work with a large handful of people including two whom I’m going to keep in contact with in case of future job opportunities!

Across this year, I have pushed myself to try new things which at times has meant getting quite out of my depth. Being in a routine can be good but challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone can be also for a number of reasons. Firstly, you may just find something new which you enjoy. Secondly, it can keep you alert mentally and help to develop new skills. Lastly, taking small steps to leave your safety zone can help give you the confidence to take a leap of faith or simply be vulnerable in other aspects of your life. This year I’ve tried many things, including: film and TV reviews, cosplay, archery, mixed martial arts, and novel writing. Whilst not all of these have stuck, the experiences have been invaluable and I am very proud of myself for giving these things a go.

Plans For The Future

In the last two or so years of this PhD thing I need to start doing some serious thinking about what I want to do with my life. Since I was young, I have always wanted to teach. I’m not sure precisely why but engaging others and helping them to learn interesting things and develop skills always appealed to me. I went to university with this intention but during my second year it struck me that I could not only be the one telling people about the world but also the person learning about it in the first place. You never know if that career is for you, however, and whilst I did get experience during my undergraduate I didn’t have the chance to ‘live’ research. I decided that I would go into a PhD to get some full experience and use that to decide whether the academic route is for me or not. If it was I’d pursue research and lecturing, if not i’d be a school teacher. Now, 4.5 years later, I’m no better informed about myself. There was a time when I was ready to leave but after a bit of adjustment (in research and life in general) I’m feeling much enjoyment and competence in research now. So i’m still a bit stuck. All that I know is I want to work in an area where I can use my experiences to help others. Thus, across this year I’m going to do some serious thinking and learn about the opportunities out there.

I want to spend my year continuing to make new experiences as well as stick with some of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. Archery is going well and I’d really like to keep on top of that. I can only make 2/5 sessions a week but that’s enough for some catharsis and development. It’s such a supportive community there no matter what your experience and intentions. I’d like to continue this over 2018 and perhaps attend a competition or two if I’m ready! I’d also like to actually put a decent dent into novel writing. I had a story idea earlier in the year and have since written a summary draft as well as a detailed plan. I’d really like this to not be just a fruitless idea and actually put my creative muscles to work. I’m a musician too but have found myself stalled in terms of writing in recent years. Novel writing gives me the opportunity to express myself creatively in another way and also give myself some writing practice in general!

Lastly, I want to seriously focus on improving my physical health. I’ve always had weight issuesย  but even when I was considerably heavier I was fitter. My physical health (not just weight) has gone up and down over the years but I really nailed it in 2014 before taking a sharp fall backwards. Over the years, I’ve managed to get research right, life-balance right, and health right and 2018 is when I’m striving to get them all right together. As with a lot of things, I know the answers it’s just about making good habits. I feel I’m in a better place mentally now to make these habits and stick to them. This will include healthier and more controlled eating, less caffeine/alcohol, working on sleep habits, and more exercise. Small steps, I know, bu ultimately being healthier physically which snowball into more positivity in general.

So that’s it. Perhaps this time next year I’ll be telling the other side of this story with some good outcomes. My next two months are going to be spent starting a new experiment, working on my novel, and improving my health.

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT