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

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Thanks for reading.

BCT

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

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 knowย  how things go ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh! And I’ll be posting up a book review or two as well!

Thank you for reading.

BCT

Applications and Research Proposal Stress

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT

The story so far

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So the first point of this blog is to chat about the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate (hopefully PhD). A lot of people are experiencing an awful lot of stress during this time so it seemed like a good idea to tell you all about my experience so that future students will, hopefully, feel more at ease ๐Ÿ™‚

I started seriously considering my PhD choices during the summer. It was always in the back of my mind as I was sure that it was the best for me but I had been putting it off. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do but knew I was interested in neuroscience and behaviour (thanks to a few great modules I took in my third year!). With that in mind, I scrolled through pages and pages of profile pages from any university I could think of which has research related to behaviour and neuroscience. There were a lot of nice looking options, what should I do? I took the key individual researchers (still at around 40 or so) and listed them by preference (using a nice little, albeit juvenile, colour-coding system). I contacted my top choices with a personalised enquiry as well as my academic CV to see if I could get the ball rolling early. I got a decent collection of responses, most of which amount to “not at the moment, will get back to you” or “I won’t know until later but thank you”. A couple were more promising. A researcher from Nottinghamย  wanted to call me, which was the most terrifying thing to do at the time! We talked and he told me he’d get back to me later in the year if he obtained funding. The other, from St Andrews, exchanged a few emails with me and directed me to the studentships available. I also found a few 1+3 MSc+PhD programs, including Wellcome Trust programs at Oxford and Cardiff, and thought these were excellent (more on these another day).

So that was my summer. what about now? Since september I have been working largely on my masters thesis (in fact I REALLy should be doing my introduction right now…oops *work will be done*). A couple of weeks ago the researcher from Nottingham got back to me with a project proposal. It wasn’t quite my thing, unfortunately, so I had to turn him down but it was incredibly nice that he kept me in mind and made the effort to contact me again. The work of the St Andrew researcher (Apologies for saying “researcher” so much, I am unfamiliar with what is acceptable in the blogging world regarding naming individuals) became more appealing to me so I got back in contact and she suggested a skype chat. This had me all nervous again! The skype chat happened and it went great! I even had homework! I needed to write up a 500 word research proposal for her to go over. It was kind of scary, coming up with something which will be truly my own, but brilliant at the same time! That story is still at that point (in fact she emailed me this morning to say that I haven’t been forgotten!) I have also since applied for the Wellcome Trust 4 Year DPhil in Neuroscience at Oxford. Really straight forward application process but 21 pages! It’s done now though and they interview by the end of the month! Still in the process of applying to a similar course at Cardiff though I was stalled by the need for proof of English Language proficiency! (I do have GCSEs in English but I’ve misplaced the certificates somewhere…). The deputy course director said that my idea of submitting recently assessed work as evidence was a good one so I’ve gone with that! We’ll see! Have beenย  toying with the idea of applying to a 4 year PhD at UCL as well…still not sure to be honest!

So after all of that what’s next? Well I have my project to continue working on (will post a bit about this at a later day but I’ll give you ‘synaptic plasticity’ as a starting phrase). I will get this Cardiff application done (and perhaps the UCL one). Also, I should really hammer out this thesis introduction. I’m having another skype chat about St Andrews and will be submitting that by February! It never stops! Hopefully it’ll all go well but either way I will tell you all about it!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

BCT