iCog14 and generally get on with things.


Hello all πŸ™‚

The last two months have been pretty uneventful. I’ve had to postpone my next experiment until the new year for a number of reasons which has given me more time to focus on writing my first year report and to get involved with teaching (I will write a post on my experiences of this at the start of the new year). For now the only major thing which has happened was iCog.



iCog (http://icog.group.shef.ac.uk/) was a network set up a few years ago aimed at postgraduate and early-career researchers who are addressing questions in cognition. In doing so it aims to unite, create collaborations, and generally facilitate discussion between very diverse researchers. Cognition is studied from numerous and far-reaching perspectives including psychology, neuroscience, biology, philosophy, and computer science and in light of this the idea was a brilliant one.


I recently attended their second annual conference (iCog14: perspectives on learning; University of Edinburgh; http://icog.group.shef.ac.uk/conferences-and-workshops/2014-conference/) and it was both fascinating and challenging. Being so diverse meant that nearly everything was unfamiliar in its approach so I had a lot to learn. We first had Alex Doumas (http://www.doumaslab.com/Home.html) discussing the results of a new computational model of learning followed by Richard Stockle-Schobel (https://lmu-munich.academia.edu/RichardSt%C3%B6ckleSchobel) introducing some philosophical limitations on how much we can infer mechanisms from observations. Then Jean-Mar Dewaele (http://www.bbk.ac.uk/linguistics/our-staff/jean-marc-dewaele) talked about how we process emotions in first versus second languages with a section focussed on swear to much amusement. The first day ended with a couple of talks on language acquisition in typically versus atypically developing children as well as topics in education psychology. Day two included Andrew Philippides (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/23611) talking about navigation in ants; Vicente Raja Galian (http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Vicente_Raja_Galian) on learning in technologicaly-assisted environments; and Andrew Manches (http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/education/about-us/people/academic-staff?person_id=466&cw_xml=profile.php) on using gestures to understand how children learn about numbers. The conference was rounded off with Szu-Han Wang (http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/integrative-physiology/staff-profiles/1.31746) talking about mechanisms of learning at the cellular level; Jessica Diaz talking about perceptual learning; Anjuli Manrique (http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/anjuli-manrique/47/3ab/582 ) discussing how fields of anthropology need to be reorganised to include field psychology and behavioural neuroscience into the study of literacy; and Rosie Flewitt (http://www.ioe.ac.uk/staff/EYPE/85713.html) on multimodal ethnography and its role in learning.


I realise that was a very listy/linky bit of writing but I felt that those who are interested in following these researchers would appreciate it.


So that’s it really. Nothing much else to report. The next two months will be spent continuing to process some samples from my pilot experiment and completing a draft of my first year report for my supervisor (hoping it doesn’t come back covered in TOO much red ink hehe) .

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚


Settling in, Reading, and Job Hunting


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

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 β€œMcClaurens” 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚


Graduation, Bursary Application, and Job Hunting


Hello there. I haven’t posted for a while for a few reasons. Firstly, the awkward limbo period that is the gap between results and starting a PhD is a tad…uneventful. Secondly, this limbo has been punctuated with packing to move (which is by nature boring to chat about). Thirdly, I’ve been just a bit lazy! Through it all there have been three things happening which are significant to the main narrative of this blog: Graduation, a bursary application, and continued job hunting.


The process of graduation started a while back with confirmation my attendance. On results day in mid-june I then submitted measurements and paid for my gown hire. The day itself was exciting and tiring at the same time. Starting with arranging for family to converge at a useful time and then sorting out the best places for them all to be for the day; students are guaranteed two guest tickets thus additional family members need seats out of the ceremony! It was all a tad pretentious but good fun and it was amusing to see my lecturers in their robes! It was remarked numerous times how chilled and nonchalant I was when shaking the hands of the chancellor which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing! Perhaps everyone else thought it was a situation to be worried about…ah well. Afterwards there was a nice wine reception with lecturers which I got to early by skipping the cohort picture as to avoid the crowds. My mother decided pictures with lecturers were required (mothers hey?). The whole event was good fun. I spent the evening with my family having cocktails and great food at Frankie and Benny’s before a well earned sleep!

Bursary Application

In a previous post I mentioned that I did not secure a fully funded studentship for my PhD thus am in search of income to both support me and pay tuition fees (yes they exist at post-grad level too!). TARGETcourses have started running yearly bursary competitions in which 5 winners a year win Β£2k towards tuition for any PG study (they provide a list of example winners to demonstrate the diversity of recipients!). To win this, I answered three questions on my post-grad study in the most engaging way possible: How will postgraduate study contribute to your career goals? How will your postgraduate experience and qualification benefit the community, the economy or indeed any other person or group? Apart from academic knowledge, what else do you expect to learn from postgraduate study? Neither I nor the University have heard anything so I can safely assume I didn’t receive the bursary. Either way, it was a good exercise in writing about my interests, research topic, and life goals πŸ™‚

Job Hunting

I am continuing to search for a part-time job on a weekly basis and two have come up lately. The first was an administrative job in the lab of a researcher at St Andrews which would have been perfect. The hours and wage was good and the research interests of the lab were interesting. Unfortunately I didn’t make the interview list for that though. Ah well. No point feeling glum about what you can’t change hey? I’ve more recently learned of a retail position associated with the University which would be excellent! I’m starting my application as I type this (well…not precisely as I type this). I’ll let you all know how that goes πŸ™‚

In the near future I will be continuing my job hunt, settling in to St Andrews, and getting on with some reading for my PhD!

Thanks for reading.


Public Engagement: Cheltenham Science Festival and Science Communication Workshop


I have recently had two great experiences of public engagement and communication in science: The Cheltenham Science Festival and a Science Communication Workshop. I will elaborate below πŸ™‚

University of Birmingham Biosciences organised a stand in the discover zone of the Cheltenham Science Festival this year and for two of the days I attended as a demonstrator. The aim of the stand was to tell people about animal anatomy and diversity. To assist we had a large range of anatomical models arranged over two tables accompanied by a small quiz to see if (mostly the children) could identify the animals from what they saw. We had a lot of interesting guesses including suggesting that a Gorilla skull was actually of a dinosaur and that a chimp skeleton was a dog! All guesses allowed us to talk about the animals and provide interesting little facts about them and the wider animal kingdom. It was a really fun and tiring two days and I met a lot of enthusiastic visitors ranging from hoards of school kids through small families to elderly couples, all of whom brought their own interests and questions to the day. Interestingly, a reporter for an Irish radio station was talking to the various demonstrators about their stalls and he spoke to me! He didn’t disclose the station but I’ll be out there in the digital world at some point! It was a great pair of days and I am very grateful to have been permitted to help πŸ™‚

For the past two (now three) years the Society of Biology, Society for Experimental Biology, and the Biochemical Society have jointly hosted a Science Communication Workshop (see #scicom2013 for this years chat!). This is aimed at early-career researchers with an interest in science communication activities be it to the public, between scientists, with schools, or anything beyond the lab bench! Those interested apply with some preliminary ideas and a certain number are accepted to attend for the day. Attendees are then grouped roughly into similar interests and ideas before being assigned two facilitators whose roles are to guide discussion of their ideas as well as provide constructive feedback where appropriate. This year, following on from my organising of LESIS More being featured in The Biochemist, I was invited to be one of those facilitators! I was quite nervous when I found out about those who were attending as I’m pretty sure I was the least experienced researcher there! It was a great day though and I felt I contributed well to the sessions.

The day started with a meet&greet session with refreshments where people networked and various demonstrations, leaflets, and magazines were available. We then had an introduction from Sarah Blackford of the Society for Experimental Biology before a lecture from Jenny Rohn (jennyrohn.com. @JennyRohn) on scientists in the 21st Century. She discussed how the role of scientists must continue to progress from merely bench-top research being published to including two-way interactions with government, the media, and most importantly the public. We were then assigned our groups and started with the first ideas discussion session. At this point, each of my group had ideas in various stages of development but all were strong and with potential to greatly benefit those at which they were aimed. I don’t feel I can be specific as they are not my ideas but these included ideas for increasing collaborations between labs, promoting interaction of those with related research and lay-skills, and bridging the gap between researchers and schools to allow scientists to play a better role with schools. The day continued with lunch before returning for a lecture from Oxford Brookes’ research and public engagement fellow Anne Osterreider (plantcellbiology.com, @AnneOsterrieder). Anne presented on the ways of communicating science with an emphasis on being creative. She talked of collaborations with literary researchers in building exercises where participants wrote short plays to communicate ideas, chance meetings leading to science music videos (youtube.com/user/plantendomembrane), and plant-related poetry! The day continued with our second discussion session before visitors filled out a larger and more extensive idea form. These was then attached all around the room for a ‘Silent Debate’. This involved everyone putting their feedback and comments on post-it notes and attaching them to the posters. Afterwards, visitors retrieved their ideas to read the feedback before voting for the best idea on their tables. Each table’s winner received a prize and they all had their photo taken. The day was wrapped up again by Sarah before a refreshments (including Peroni!) and networking session. Overall, such a great experience and I am very grateful for the invitation to facilitate!

Both of these activities provided a great experience for me and I strongly suggest anyone with even a remote interest in communicating science to the public and other audiences to seek out these opportunities πŸ™‚

Thanks for reading


Interview No.2 Feedback, Masters Thesis, and PhD funding.


Hey all! Since my last post things have become more certain on the PhD front. I attended the interview at Newcastle and had a great time. The city and local area was nice and the building was fantastic. Everyone was so friendly and the supervisor on the project asked his post-doc to show me the facilities. I had a great time looking around and seeing the birds. I also had a lot of time to ask him questions about the people and wider university. On the whole, a great experience. Coming to the interview itself I was nervous as you would expect. The panel were 4 people which in itself is quite scary. My nerves were settled quickly as the interview was far more akin to a semi-casual chat about my interests and thoughts on the project than anything. The interviewers were really nice and seemed to be genuinely interested in my opinions on the topic. Overall, a great experience and I would have been happy to have done my PhD there. A week later I received their decision and it was a no 😦 This made me sad at first but it has made things more straight forward as I now know for sure where I’m going next year (St Andrews!). I emailed the supervisor straight away to thank him for the opportunity to apply and visit and for some constructive criticism regarding my application. His feedback was wonderful and greatly settled my esteem which had been knocked after the past few applications. Overall, it seemed that they had 5 very good candidates and they just needed to find something to distinguish us. He emphasised that he believed I would go on to PhD and do well. All is good πŸ™‚

My masters project is continuing to progress which is nice! I’ve gathered some nice data showing that the labelling on the cells will work and will be soon testing the main hypothesis! It is a tad stressful as I’m balancing data collection with write up (which sometimes means taking images from the lab and putting them straight into the thesis) but it’s all part of the experience πŸ™‚ I be continuing the project past submission so even if the thesis is lacking in the final results I will still get to test them πŸ™‚ Nothing else to report on my project bar receiving written feedback on my oral presentation (β€œStudent Seminar” a few weeks ago. The three markers all provided strong and constructive feedback on my presentation which is going to help for the future! (I have two more presentations to give this year).

Now. St Andrews. I have been in search of funding for my PhD. The past week I have emailed a number of relevant societies to see if they offer funding and I have 4 good options so far πŸ™‚ in an idea situation I’d be granted full funding such that I could start full-time but I am also pursuing part-time options such as looking for P/T technician and research associate jobs as well as bar work. The former options would be preferred as I would be gaining relevant and valuable experience but an income is an income to some extent. Hopefully this goes well. I’m moving to the St Andrews area either way as my partner has a fully funded place for PhD in the same school :).

Things are generally positive at the moment and plans for now are to get this thesis submitted and continue looking for funding and housing in the St Andrews area πŸ™‚

Thank you for reading.


Interview feedback, interview invitation, and the general stress of this time of year!


Apologies for the large gap between my previous post and this one. Things have been…hectic lets just say that. The masters year is a very good one but at times a few things can creep up upon you at once (in particular if you’re also making post-graduate applications!) but this is what’s been happening.

I received a response from St Andrews regarding my recent Skype interview: I’ve been accepted to PhD! But without the studentship :(. This is fine as the competition was fierce and there are of course limited places. At least I and my project have been accepted πŸ™‚ I’ve been communicating with my supervisor-to-be about potential funding options and it seems I have a few realistic options. Firstly, large funding bodies nowadays tend to fund departments/schools and not individuals so the chances of obtaining funding from one of them are slim. I am currently looking for charities, foundations, and smaller funding bodies for those interested in funding behavioural physiology and cognitive psychology so if you have any ideas do not hesitate to send them my way! If I’m unsuccessful in obtaining funding then doing the PhD part-time is a realistic option. The head of postgrad admissions has already declared they’d be more than happy for me to do it that way and that many people often don’t take much longer part-time which is nice! This still leaves me with the issue of money to live! I’m currently looking for part-time and flexible jobs in the area which could support me during my time. I’m really hoping for a technician or research associate position as I would be gaining relevant experience whilst working but if it comes to it I will take anything! So St Andrews is good but stressful at the moment.

On another positive note, I received an invitation for interview at Newcastle! I’ve spent bits of the last week doing background reading to the project and generally preparing for the day (Thursday 28th). As this interview is in person, I really wanted to see the facilities and meet the people I would be working with. I contacted the PI on the project who has wonderfully arranged for a member of his lab to show me around on the day! It’s going to be a good, long (~6h of journeys) but good day!

My research project is still running slowly. A number of logistically and experimental issues keep popping up and though I continue to bat them down they send their friends back afterwards! I am determined to get a result so will continue! I had my project presentation last tuesday which I felt went well which was nice.

Plans from now are to continue with the project, a few pieces of in-course assessment, and this upcoming interview!

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚


PhD rejection number 2, PhD application number 3, grant proposals, and dying cells


Hello all. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks. I received a rejection from my application to Cardiff. The course was funded much like the one at Oxford thus it was very competitive. A bit disheartened after my second rejection but I knew it was a long shot. There are a lot of very good students out there so to get in to the top 2% is pretty difficult! I submitted my application to St Andrews this week! Which is a positive πŸ™‚ I had a bit of a last minute freak out as I repeatedly checked my documents to ensure I had everything ready. Then I double checked the email I had to send the documents to (I did NOT want to mess this up). I should hear back from them and, if accepted, be interviewed by the end of this month so I’m looking forward to hearing back! But I’m doing my best to not worry about it yet as there’s nothing I can do for now πŸ™‚

Enough of PhDs. During the MSci year we had a two day workshop on funding science. We were introduced to the overall process from building a research idea to obtaining funding, the various funding bodies and their priorities, how to break down a project both financially and temporally etc. It was a really good couple of days and very eye-opening as usually you would not be introduced to this until you are part of an active lab yourself! To extend the workshop into practice I have been put into a group of four and we, without guidance, have to take what we’ve learned and apply it to modern science. We have to highlight an important area in need of research and build an entire mock proposal as if we were actually intending on doing the research. We have to research the background, the impact, the costs (specifically to equipment and people), the duration etc. The assessment is done such that all questions needing answered in a real grant proposal, bar those we could not such as preliminary data, will need to be addressed. I think this is a really good exercise in seeing how long and detailed the process of obtaining research funding is!

Finally, my project is still a bit on the -_- side. I am growing neurons in a cell culture and I’m having the repeated issue that they keep dying. A few reasons haven’t been my fault, or obviously my fault, but it’s still happening and I’m not sure why! If anyone out there is experience with neuronal cell culture do feel free to send some tips my way πŸ™‚

That’s all for now. Continuing the project, working on my grant proposal, looking at funding for LESIS More.

Thanks for reading.


First PhD rejection, the MSci course, and LESIS More.


So a few days ago I received my first rejection. My application to the 4 year DPhil in Neuroscience at Oxford was declined. I was a bit down as you would expect but I was one of 240 or so applicants for 5 places (thus not being in the top 2% isn’t something to be ashamed of). The only big negative here is that I am one option down but I am carrying on none-the-less! I’m still to hear back from my other application and I’m just putting together the final draft of my research proposal! (things are all a bit scary).

I should tell you a bit more about who I am and what I’m doing. I’m currently in my final year of an undergraduate masters (MSci) degree in Human Biology. The MSci course is identical for 3 years to the standard BSc but then it differs. Rather than graduating last July, I am staying on for an extra year. This year consists of: Research project (50%), research skills (33%), and a chosen taught module (17%). The degree largely provides a nice bit of extra training for those perhaps unsure if science is for them. I have learned a lot more regarding my own time management as so little is time-tabled. So far it has been very fun and interesting (with the same expected set backs as in any research project or set of assignments). I feel the MSci program is a good choice because it allows me to gain a greater qualification within my standard degree as well as, importantly, a lot more experience doing real research! Any questions about this? Please do ask πŸ™‚

I’ve been pretty busy recently with a number of things (research project, funding science workshops, christmas, avengers movies, writing abstracts etc) and to add to that I am a co-organiser of a talk series. LESIS More (Life and Environmental Sciences Interface Series) was set up by me and a fellow MSci student (whose blog you can find here http://thebinbagtheory.wordpress.com/ ) after noticing how many more interesting topics in science there are which students and researchers may never experience due to their curriculum or primary research. We hosted three talks last semester on the topics of artifical and natural intelligence, astrobiology, and public engagement in science. The latter of which was mentioned in the blog of the Biochemical Society (http://biochemicalsociety.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/lesis-more-at-the-university-of-birmingham/). We are continuing to host talks this semester on human palaeobiology, synthetic biology, and studying the brain. For any more information LESIS More has a facebook (www.facebook.com/lesismoreuob) and twitter (www.twitter.com/lesismoreuob).

So that’s it for now. I’ve got a group grant proposal exercise, continued research project, seminars to attend, and talks to host coming up. Will let you all knowΒ  how things go πŸ™‚ Oh! And I’ll be posting up a book review or two as well!

Thank you for reading.


Applications and Research Proposal Stress


Short post today.

I submitted application to Oxford and Cardiff on the 4th! Cardiff was difficult again! Their system for references is ambiguous: They seemed to required a posted copy of a University headed letter from the referee; not something I can exactly do one week before application! My referees said that a headed and typed pdf emailed to the primary contact should be ok so we went with that! Oxford interview over the 24th-25th so I should hear back soon (as the first of those dates is in 11 days!) and Cardiff state that they contact you if invited to interview within 4 weeks. I’m fully expecting that both won’t contact me at all unless successfully invited to interview -_- but hey!

In a slight moment of stress (slight, yeah right) I received feedback on my first research proposal draft. It was full of honest, but constructive, criticism from my hopeful supervisor. I fully agreed with all of the comments but for my first go it did feel a tad demoralising, though she did say she knows how difficult first attempts are. I took the day off and did some fun things :).

So anyway that’s where I am. If you’re reading this and you’ve got to that point in your applications don’t worry. Everyone pursuing PhD goes through it and no one is expecting something utterly brilliant from us first time round πŸ™‚

Continuing my masters project next week, a bit of prep today!

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚