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

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Hey all 🙂

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.

 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 🙂

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 🙂

BCT

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Balancing Research, Summer Conference, and Summer School

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Hey all 🙂

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!  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 blog which has a few awful pics of me so have a look through for a regular update 🙂

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 🙂

BCT

Kinloch Science Festival, Oxbridge Summer Schools, Swiss Workshop, and ‘Behaviour 2017’

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Hey all 🙂

I’ve had an all-round positive four months involving some outreach, intensive teaching, a workshop, and presenting at my first conference!

Kinloch Science Festival

You may recall from a previous post that I had visited a wonderful primary school in Kinloch Rannoch for a smidgen of outreach. Well we were invited back for a mini-science festival and they brought another 3 local primary schools with them! It was absolutely fabulous. The teachers were so enthusiastic and well prepared (we had banners for our stations!) and the kids were a delight (if at times tiring!). We had activities including extracting DNA from strawberries, the bones of the body, animal sounds and others. Overall, it was a delight to bring some science-related activities to such a friendly and remote community and I learned very quickly how exhausting it can be looking after 8 primary school kids for 12 minutes (never mind the full classes all day!). I eagerly look forward to returning and more outreach in general!

Oxbridge Summer School

Oxbridge Academic Programs is a series of live-in, international educational programs aiming to provide high school kids with some university and life-enriching experiences. I was recruited to be this year’s molecular biology tutor at the St Andrews branch and took to this eagerly (I in fact couldn’t sleep until i’d outlined my curriculum on the day I was interviewed). The program gave some great flexibility in what I thought was the best content and how to present it and I had great support in terms of budget and human resources. I ended up planning a nice few weeks and then proceeding to throw 2/3s of the plan out of the window as I worked with my class to build something more tailored to what they wanted. Overall, we went through fundamental molecular biology, biotech, molecular models, evolution, mermaids, bioethics and many more. We had trips to museums and the aquarium. Students gave presentations on things they found interesting and everybody gave feedback and we had lab visits to both active research labs as well as teaching ones to give the students something hands-on to do. The total experience was fantastic and it was an utter privilege to be able to work with such freedom and with some very enthusiastic young scientists.

Swiss Workshop

I also attended a wonderful workshop in Arolla, Switzerland. It formed part of a doctoral training programme’s yearly training series which was opened up to other researchers around the world. This year’s theme was combining theory with experiment to develop new ideas about the future of the research field. I spent three nights in the alps including two whole days of talks and student-focused, hands-on activities. I met a great bunch of people and played some pingpong! The aims of the workshop were well satisfied as I was introduced to some theoretical approaches and results which I wasn’t even aware of. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn of different perspectives and ways of thinking. COmbining approaches, be it theory with experiment or simply different research tools and tpics in general, can be very valuable to the development of knowledge. My lab, for example, contains neuroscience/psychology majors, zoologists, chemists, molecular biologists, and behavioural ecologists and we all come together to understand similar questions. We each bring a different perspective to group meetings which is challenging but also very useful. Overall, a wonderful opportunity for which I am incredibly thankful to be able to indulge in.

Behaviour 2017

I got to present my results for the first time in four years! Woo! *mini mexican-wave in celebration of me* (it’s a Chandler Bing reference). I went to the lovely Estoril in Portugal for Behaviour ’17, an international get-together of people interested in animal behaviour from a myriad of viewpoints (including nearly all of those from the workshop!). At first, the conference was quite overwhelming due to the vast quantity of people (~1000) but after getting some sleep at hitting the ground running on the following days I got into my groove. Overall, I read ~400 posters, attended 57 talks, and met some really interesting and enthusiastic people (some of whom I was previously aware of and others which I wasn’t). When it came to my research, I gathered more interest than I expected. I think I had 8-10 detailed conversations about the findings which gave me a decent boost in my morale. Overall, a great experience and I’m eager to get out there again and give a talk next time!

Other than the above, I’ve been getting really into writing reviews and have put out a few more on the Wonky Spanner (Kong, Defenders, Wonder Woman, EdiCon, Power Rangers, Iron Fist, and Logan were mine!). My next two (yes two, I WON’T let it go four this time) months will be spent continuing to analyse my data, planning the next experiment, undergrad lab teaching, and finishing my costume for Glasgow ComicCon!

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

Meeting of the Scottish Neuroscience Group, Tutoring Job, and Some Thoughts About Science

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Hi All 🙂

It’s been another slow, but this time positive, couple of months with little to report. As such I thought I’d weigh in my two cents regarding a few things about the world of science after talking about the two main things which have occurred lately: a conference and a potential tutoring job!

Meeting of the Scottish Neuroscience Group

The Scottish Neuroscience Group are a collective of researchers across institutions in Scotland who meet yearly to network and discuss the broad range of fascinating work done. This year’s meeting was held here in St Andrews and it was a no-brainer for myself to go. The program is given here. Overall the entire day was great, the usual refreshments aplenty plus some surprising pulled pork baguettes! Oh, and the talks too! Talks spanned control of movement in fly embryos through to gene signalling cascades and to measuring firing resonses in the brain when we notice something novel in our environment. There was also an extensive poster session with around 40 different presenters which provided ample chance to meet more people and learn new things. I was particularly happy at the presence of 3 people who research circadian rhythms as this is a topic i thoroughly enjoy, but is unfortunately not represented here. The final talk of the day was given by Dr Nelson Spruston of the Janelia Research Campus, a massive and very well funded research institute in America specializing in neuroscience. The message he was trying to get across in his talk was that we need to rethink the way the brain works. Models of how neurons talk to each other have for years relied upon the idea that you add up all the positive and negative inputs to a neuron, and if this breaches a certain level the cell fires. He listed quite a few examples of phenomena which cannot be explained with this simple model but unfortunately I did not take a notepad, so cannot garnish this section with examples. The take home message was that the range of neuron types varies hugely depending on how you define them (shape, location, gene expression, connections) and that there isn’t always a simple relationship between what you measure (such as shape) and function. It was very eye-opening and thought-inspiring. After his talk we spoke over wine about whether our experiences are merely the activation of the connections in the brain (and if that would be a satisfying answer). Treading neuroscience, psychology, evolution, and philosophy it was a great discussion which really captured the open enthusiasm and thought process of academia. Overall, a great day and I look forward to hopefully presenting next year!

Tutoring Job

Those of you who have followed my posts for a while will know that I self-fund my PhD via working 3-4 nights a week. Whilst I appreciate my job being there for me and permitting my studies it does leave me incredibly lethargic and out of whack sometimes as I’m not very suited to late nights. Enter a tutoring opportunity. A few weeks ago the careers centre here announced the need for a tutor on a flexible, low-hours contract to help students of all ages and levels with all the generic skills one needs in academia (and wider areas): organisation, planning, reading for comprehension, referencing, essay writing, and I would assume anything else that comes up which isn’t subject specific. For me as an aspiring teacher this is a fantastic opportunity because not only will I be able to supplement my income doing something I thoroughly enjoy but I would be able to cut back a shift at work which will allow me to get into a healthier sleeping pattern. I put together my best looking CV and supporting statement and promptly applied. A few days later and I was informed I made the interview! It’s next Thursday so I’ll be spending a significant amount of time until then getting prepared with my thoughts about teaching and experiences which I’d bring to the role!

Some Thoughts About Science

This last section is going to be a bit of my thoughts trickling straight from brain to fingertips as I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about what science and research should be like and I feel I should put some to my blog (I’m sure others will come up later). We can discuss every aspect of academia and be here for ages but for now I want to focus on three things I feel passionately about, I will no doubt return to them in the future: respect for teaching, (artificial) boundaries between disciplines, and defining yourself.

The first of these is one I feel very strongly about: teaching. To me teaching is near enough one of the greatest and most important things we do as a species. Without teaching we don’t continue. We don’t have scientists, doctors, writers, musicians or possibly any significant roles. A great teacher has the ability to completely change someone’s view of not only a subject but also themselves and their own ability whilst a poor one can do the complete opposite. Teaching puts you in a position of great power and you have the ability to change someone’s life with it. Unfortunately through my, albeit short, academic career it’s becoming more and more apparent that teaching at this level really gathers little respect or priority. There is an air of “must we” or “doing this because I have to, not because I want to” about it at an institutional level. By this I don’t mean specific departments but the actual institution of academia. Research first, then teach if you have to pay some bills. This seems like a remarkable fallacy to me as I can’t imagine where the researchers would come from without their teachers before them? Granted, you do need some semblance of research or at least theories about the world to teach but really without teaching you would only have the handful of remarkable individuals who just know things and can piece things together without prior knowledge or instruction. How we’ve landed at this point I do not know, and neither do I know how true this is across the world but all I do know is that I find the undertone of derision for teaching to be awful as well as its reflection in phrases such as “bought out of teaching”. Teaching isn’t a bill-payer, it is part of an entangled role academics have: push boundaries, tell people and help them to do so as well. Two sides, same coin. Now I’m not saying that teaching-driven academics do not exist. Far from it. I have met, been taught by, and taught with some truly inspiring, enthusiastic, and intelligent teachers who are beloved by their students and manage to make even the driest of subjects exciting and manageable. It’s just that the system is set up such that a love of teaching is just that: a love of it. There doesn’t appear to be any acknowledgement or reward for doing so other than personal enjoyment. Atop of this when individuals are forced to teach begrudging it is very obvious and detrimental to students (I can attest to this personally from my not so long ago undergraduate lectures). Overall: I hold teaching in high regard and cannot imagine how we have an educational system which doesn’t agree.

The second point I have is about how administrative boundaries artificially break up disciplines. Nature is continuous (quantum physics aside for a moment); there is no point when physics becomes chemistry, chemistry becomes biology, biology becomes psychology. All of these phenomena are continuous and intertwined, and a good appreciation of any subject requires you to have at least some understanding of others surrounding it. Even within disciplines this is true: there’s little to be gained knowing about hormones without understanding the cells they affect and how they change the behaviour of the organism, it doesn’t help to know how a cell works without the context of its surrounding cells and organs, asking why an animal does something can’t be answered by just thinking about how the behaviour benefits it but also requires you to know what events went on inside to lead to that behaviour. These are quite narrow examples from my personal field of work (biology) but this is true across the sciences which aren’t linear, they’re a network. There are people in the same department as me with backgrounds in physics studying what could be biology, physics, or psychology. There are other people working between computer sciences and psychology, others who are through and through biologists. There are also across universities people who can do very much the same thing but be in departments of neuroscience, biology, or medicine. Same tools, same question, different departments. And that’s the problem: departments. Our slicing up of nature like this creates the illusion that these topics are distinct and unrelated which couldn’t be further from the truth. Now this isn’t a university thing. Universities actually do this better than the levels before but they still maintain some semblance of distinction, especially from an undergraduate’s perspective. The point I’m trying to make is that nature doesn’t fit into buckets where one thing stops before another starts and neither do our interests. Just because I studied biology as an undergraduate doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have taken modules from psychology or geology if given the chance. But I only knew about these things by going out of my way to learn about them. I set up a cross college talk series in my masters year for this very purpose: to open staff and student eyes to topics in other schools as well as those which transcend schools. Overall, I believe the experience of students as well as the development of research could only benefit by there being far, far fewer barriers between subjects. This lends me nicely to my third thought.

Defining yourself. I’ve had this thought for a while but a recent blog post from another wordpresser discussing her hesitation to describe herself as a psychologist gave me a kick to actually discuss it. Given everything I outlined in the previous paragraph about the continuity of nature and how department names don’t seem to greatly restrict what someone does I believe it would be constructive for us to describe ourselves by the questions we want to answer not by academic titles. That way by being question-defined you carry fewer misconceptions with you and you are simply answering those questions with the tools you see fit. Whether they are from physics, computer sciences, molecular biology, or psychology. I believe this will not only ameliorate the anxiety felt in that blog post but also add to breaking down boundaries between disciplines. I should put a huge caveat here: my experiences are with science and these examples work well with science. I will never assert that non-scientific disciplines should do similar as I don’t know how closely they can mingle. I do welcome all input on the thought though.

Well that’s all from me this time. The next two months are going to be diving in the deep end of my experiment (I’m already preparing myself for how tiring this is going to be), finding out about the tutoring job, and hopefully keeping a bit of time for myself too!

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

Studentship Application, Experimental Delays, and Demonstrating

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Hey all 🙂

It has been a slow but important two months.

Studentship Applications

With my supervisor I have recently applied for two studentships: a fully funded PhD and a package for a lab technique.

Firstly, the fully PhD studentship. The Society for Experimental Biology offer one 4 year package per year which rotates through their themes (Cells, Plants, and Animals; www.sebiology.org/membership/studentship.html). This studentship was particularly appealing for numerous reasons. Firstly it is for 4 years where most studentships are for 3; this would allow me to do over 3 years of experiments AND take anywhere up to a whole year to write up with funding (a luxury most students do not get). Secondly the stipend (a tax free ‘maintenance’ grant paid monthly or quarterly) is at £3k above the minimum required by the British research councils which is always a nice perk! Lastly, unlike most studentships, this comes with money to spend specifically on research (known as consumables). I wrote a draft application which my supervisor polished off before sending it through the processes in the department and then submitting it. I’m still awaiting response for this but since the interviews are held on the 26th March I’m assuming I will hear soon!

Secondly, the ‘Primer Design’ package. Primer Design (www.primerdesign.co.uk/home) are a company specialising in real-time PCR. PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymerase_chain_reaction). It is a technique used to create numerous copies of a piece of DNA as to allow the sample to be analysed (this is particularly useful when samples contain very small amounts of DNA for example from small tissues samples from crime scenes or biological research). This process is known as “DNA amplification”. Real-time PCR, or qPCR for “quantitative”, improves upon this technique by visualising the process and allowing the number of copies to be counted. That was a bit of a technical tangent so I will return to the main narrative. Primer Design offer award packages involving specialised hands-on training for students with projects utilising qPCR as well as discounts on their products. My supervisor applied and we won a package! So now, once I get to that point in my first experiment, I will receive the training and with my supervisor be able to get some discounted kits! I can also put the specialised training on my CV so it’s a win-win (-win?) situation!

Overall I recommend that you apply for everything potentially useful to your post-graduate studies. Even if it seems unlikely it’s worth going for and you never know how useful it could be!

Experimental Delays

My topic is trying to understand the learning abilities of animals and if there is one thing I’ve learned so far it’s that animals are unpredictable and at times very stubborn! I am currently training them on a task involving food placed in a tray with 12 wells (think of an egg-carton) with lids covering the food. The idea is that they will learn that lids mean food so if they remove the lids they get the food! Most have been progressing slowly but with great inconsistencies including randomly not understanding what they should do! A few are brilliant and one is utterly useless so overall working with animals is less than straight-forward! I’m acquiring some great skills and insight though and the big picture is very interesting so I will continue J. I also have a great lab group who are always happy to discuss options and are help out so I’m in a great position; I will get there eventually!

Just a side note at this point: if you feel that as a student you’re not supported or that you’re basically a data-churner or that you have no control of your project then you need to deal with that problem as soon as it arises. It’s far too easy to get dug into a hole and lose yourself, your motivation, and ultimately not learn how to do what your studies are training you to. Speak to the people who can help. Chances are your supervisor doesn’t realise how you’re feeling but if they are the type to not train their students well/see them as extra pairs of hands then you must sort that out by speaking to others about it. There will always be someone who can help. Remember: it’s your project so your ideas and your learning are what are important.

Demonstrating

PhD students are (usually?) given the opportunity to get involved with teaching. This rarely involves giving lectures but instead involves assisting in practical sessions, giving tutorials, and marking. This is a very good opportunity to both increase your experience of teaching and get paid for doing so. I signed up a tad late this year and first years are often not encouraged to get involved but nevertheless I am a demonstrator on a second year course in the School of Psychology & Neuroscience. I have worked on two sessions so far. The first was a poster session from the cognitive part of the module which involved students reading a published paper and designed a poster to present it. This is a great exercise for second years as pposters are a lot harder to design than you’d expected: you have to balance text overload with getting the information across, making the flow easy to following, and make it catchy and informative. The session went well and I learned a lot about designing posters myself from giving guidance to the students.

The other session type was from statistics. The students had a computer session were they worked through example questions of how to run the statistics they have learned in that week’s lectures. This was a bit of an eye opener for me as someone who is computationally novice, utterly naïve with SPSS (a statistical program), and with very little knowledge of statistics! The session went smoothly and the lecturer’s notes were very good so overall the students (and I!) managed to do well.

Overall, it has been a really good experience and I’m hoping to pick up more next year across both Psychology & Neuroscience AND Biology. I highly recommend getting involved with undergraduate teaching when you have the chance to 🙂

Overall things are going well albeit slowly. Next steps are to continue training my animals, start writing a literature review of my topic (which I will then post a slightly less dry version on here!), and generally do some chilling out when possible.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Pilot experiment, Jobs, and the past year in general

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Happy new year! Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last two months and a summary of the year as a whole 🙂

Pilot experiment

The vast majority of my last two months has been planning, organising, and starting my pilot experiment. As a side note I WILL furnish you with details of my research topic, the techniques involved, and general scientific tidbits but I need to make certain of what I can and cannot say first (science can be so sensitive sometimes…). I’ve been learning a lot about acknowledging and checking the finer details as it is often those which can make us stumble the most! There have been a few set-backs as well such as finding the resources needed to just start the experiment! I’ve also spent quite a bit of time building things from card and plastic which is always fun. Overall it’s been a good few weeks getting my hands dirty (metaphorically and literally) and I’ve really enjoyed being back in a lab again!

On the non-lab side of things I have been busy with writing. Firstly a poster. Every PhD student in the school present a yearly poster of their research (examples of scientific posters to come but if you’re really eager google finds many!) in a group setting. This involves designing a clear way of showing the background, questions, methods, and results in a concise way without too much text. The session involved the whole cohort together in a room where we could chat about our work with each other and members of staff (and drink a decent quantity of wine!). It was a great session and incredibly useful experience for the future as posters are one of the many ways of presenting work at conferences. On the topic of conferences, I will be applying to present a poster at two in the coming year, one in Manchester and the other in Prague, so already having one is useful as it can act as a template for the next ones! Beyond posters and thinking about conferences, I have been planning my literature review (a comprehensive discussion of the background to my topic setting up the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of my own work) which I will start writing in the new year. I’ve also been keeping an eye out for funding opportunities and a particularly wonderful one has come up so I am also drafting an application for that to go over with my supervisor.

Jobs (again…)

Just a short comment about jobs. My current position is very convenient but as it would never be enough to support me in the long run I have always kept my eye open for something new. I applied to work in Sainsbury’s, to no avail, and to the new Dominos Pizza, with success! Somewhat annoyingly my smart shoes tore just before so I had a quick panic for new ones! I start this coming weekend and I’m very excited about it; the people seem really nice and who doesn’t like pizza?!

The first 3 months (and past year) in general

Overall, I’ve had a great three months starting my PhD: nice people, great supervisor, feeling like I’m doing something I’m passionate about and have control over, and a really nice area. There’s always a sense of inferiority when you look around at your colleagues (the infamous ‘imposter syndrome’) but I tell myself that that is normal, that everyone experiences it, and to just deal with it. You can always ask questions and none are too small nor stupid as everyone has to learn the ropes at some point. It’s important for that reason to have an understanding supervisor with whom you get along.

All in all, 2013 has been a good year. I had a great time finishing my degree and having something to show for the last four years, my public engagement experiences were incredible, visiting family across the pond was fun, and then the whole experience of moving and settling in in St Andrews. I’m hoping that 2014 will bring ample interesting and exciting opportunities  🙂

In the next couple of months I will be continuing (and hopefully finishing) my pilot experiment, writing my literature review, and applying for funding.

Thanks for reading

BCT

Settling in, Reading, and Job Hunting

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Hey all! Lots has been happening in the last two months so I will try to not waffle on too much! 🙂

Settling in

Starting out at 5am (yes FIVE) we got on the road with our picnic and, sat like sardines in a tin, wedged into the trucks. At this point I should point out that my partner’s family provided the trucks and drivers for the move for which I am incredibly grateful. It was a smooth drive up followed by a manic unpacking at roadside as the flat has no off-road parking. The cluttered new home was rapidly vacated in favour of the local pub (which by the way is less than 60s away. Yes. I timed it) which we’ve nicknamed “McClaurens” due to its resemblance of the bar from How I Met Your Mother (dork alert). We met up with another new PhD student who wasn’t only new to the area but also to the country having come over from the states!

As with the typical chaos of any move it took a while for the internet and other necessities to be set up (first world problems). As such I lived in the library for their wifi for the first couple of weeks. Since then I’ve been exploring the area a lot and just familiarsing and settling in in general. St Andrews town is practically on the beach so I’ve ventured down a few times already (although it’s getting a tad cold already so perhaps no more ventures late in the day). I’ve also been attending the many induction events which the university puts on for new students. These have been fun and I’ve met lots of people, given lots of paperwork and free travel mugs etc! Lastly, the university organise a whole host of careers-related training courses and I’ve been making use of them! They cover everything including statistics, academic writing, planning your PhD, CV and interview workshops and many others. They have been useful and enjoyable so far!

Reading (reading and more reading)

The first portion of a PhD involves a lot of reading to really get to know your topic area and find the holes in the knowledge so you can start designing experiments to fill them! I’m really learning the art of narrowing down my reading because you really can just keep going without any real structure or significance! I have already drafted a pilot and extended experiment (I will post more about my research area once I have a nicely written background) and received some constructive criticism. I am currently in the process of improving and updating those and I should hopefully have my pilot study going soon! Overall, there has been a lot of reading and a lot of planning to make sure things will work. It’s all a work in progress and there’s a lot to learn about doing research other than the knowledge but I’ll get there 🙂 The one piece of advice I would give anyone at this point is to set yourself small goals: break down your near and far targets into chunks that you can tick off. There’s no point getting overwhelmed and by ticking things off you can see just how much you’ve done!

Job hunting

As soon as I got here I started handing out CVs with cover-letters and applications. I have made numerous applications so far in any area of work appropriate to my position. It has been laborious but not only is it something I must do to support myself during my PhD I’d have to do it if I wasn’t doing the PhD. One position became available and said yes and I’ve been working there for a few weeks. It’s hard work and won’t be enough to support me in the long run but it’s good for now.

In the near future I will be running my pilot experiment, looking ahead for the long-term jobs wise, continuing to search for PhD funding, and generally trying to not lose my mind 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT