Viva, Experiments, and Getting Things Done

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Hey all 🙂

The last two months have been tiring with some bad news but things are picking up and I’ve got a lot to tell you about PhD examinations and ensuring you keep the ball rolling during your studies.

Viva

Well…in the style of Chandler Bing: could this have gone any worse? Yes. Yes it definitely could but it still didn’t go well and brought on some emotional difficulty at least in the short term. First of all I feel I should give you a brief description of what a viva actually is.

A viva, or to give it its full name a viva voce (meaning “with live voice” in Latin) is an oral examination of a body of work. In academia all large written works submitted for a degree (masters or PhD for example) are examined in this way. The general format in the UK is that two people (one of which an expert in the area) will read the work and take notes to question you as they see fit. After this the formal viva occurs whereby you sit down with the examiners who…examine you on it. They look to see that you understand and actually did the work, can justify the questions attacked and methods used, and that you and your work are in general up to the standards of modern research.

During a PhD most (all?) departments require students to pass some sort of first year test to ensure they are on the ball and capable of continuing to complete the PhD. This is what I had recently and which I did not do as well hoped on. After drafting my report up to the mark 2 stage I handed in and a few days later had the sit down. It started well with a light chat about the topic and what I found interesting about it. Then it progressed very quickly into probing my ability to justify why we would care about it at all and the train of thought from big picture to questions. The latter is where I fell down because whilst I had a good idea of why for the topic as a whole I was less confident and knowledgeable for those small justifications. These really are the meat of your argument for tackling your questions in the way you chose to. The viva proceeded in much this same fashion and whilst I learned a lot of peripheral things from my examiners the over-whelming result was that I could not answer the questions they were putting to me well enough.

Later that day I received the verdict: unsatisfactory; re-submit for re-examination in two months. My figurative heart fell deep. Whilst this wasn’t an actual fail it certainly felt like one. I knew no one who had not outright passed so this felt like a real downer. I felt as if I’d let myself, my partner, and my supervisor down. Suffice to say the evening was taken off for junk-food and fun TV therapy before getting back on track the following day. I made a game plan with my supervisor and I’ve been battling through that since to improve my knowledge, re-structure my report, and generally better prepare myself as I have to pass properly next time.

The whole thing was not a resounding negative however. The motivational problems I’ve felt for the last 6-8 months have certainly been given a big kick and as such I’ve been a lot more productive as of late. It was also very nice and appreciated to have a proper sit down with my secondary supervisor (one of my examiners) who before anything said that at no point did he nor the other examiner think I was incapable of doing my PhD. My enthusiasm was also praised which made me smile. So overall it was never my ability but my preparedness which was probably related to these motivational issues I’ve been feeling. If you ever get into this situation do take the time to recover from the initial beating because it is defeating. But do learn from it and take the feedback to work out why you got the result you did. Nobody wants you to fail but at the same time it is their job to ensure you are fully prepared to do the best research you can to keep up in the modern academic world.

 Experiment 1 and Being Organised

Experimental time is getting heavier now which is good. I feel a lot more productive on a day to day basis and the required structure is slowly pushing itself into the rest of my time. This is a good point to make a comment about the differences between undergraduate and PhD education. In the former your time is structured around your lectures, tutorials, and practicals etc. These form the backbone of your time and though you have to push yourself to revise and finish assignments in your own time you still have those nine o’clocks to get you going. PhD has none of that. It is all on you: your work, your time, and your will-power. I have for one reason or another let this get bad and as such my motivation and organisation have greatly diminished and a suite of problems have followed. The viva was a real kick in the behind to address these issues which is something I have started. Lesson to learn: start with structure as well as immediate-, short-, and long-term plans for yourself so that you have constant rewards for keeping on top of your workload. It’ll benefit you later when small problems can have big repercussions.

That’s it for now. The next two months will be spent getting into the real crux of this experiment, continuing with some undergraduate teaching, and working on my organisation. Oh! And that pesky re-viva! The first year report mark 3 is already in progress. I’ll also endeavor to put up some sciencey ramblings on the first of April as well.

 Thanks for reading 🙂

 BCT

iCog14 and generally get on with things.

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Hello all 🙂

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.

 

iCog14

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 🙂

BCT

Part-Time Research Conference, Report-Writing, and Messing Up

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Hello all 🙂

The past two months have been a bit uneventful (and I’m relaxing quite thankfully!) but I have been to a great little conference, writing my first year report, and had a bit of a colossal mistake!

Part-Time Researcher Conference

Firstly the positives! I attended a one day conference/workshop aimed at part-time researchers. This was organised by Vitae and hosted by the University of Dundee. The event was a great idea as there is very little support directed at part-time students and it was a great opportunity to meet others in similar situations; there were other self-funded researchers as well as people taking a PhD on the side of their current jobs and each came with their own story. The day was based on four workshop sessions for each you chose from four options. I attended: research in context, identifying employability skills, finding time to write, and presentation skills. As a side note: finding time to write was a fantastic and often humorous presentation by Dr Daniel Soule of Grammatology (@grammatologer); he talked through a number of the main walls we throw up to stop us writing and highlighted how we are the biggest obstacle. It was very informative, amusing, and engaging and I’ve taken several tips away from his session; principally you should just write something because once it’s on paper you can edit it! The other parts of the day were a very welcomed lunch as well as two plenary sessions. The opening plenary was given by Sue Black who has spent years in and out of academia as a forensic pathologist. She took us through her life and career from a small girl until now to show how little things can point us to where we are heading (often without knowing it at the time!). She also highlighted how academia doesn’t have to be a straightforward path so it’s good to create your own journey. Ultimately she stressed that our research should be exciting, fun, and not feared; if it becomes laborious even thinking about going and running those experiments. getting out in the field or dusty in those books then it’s most likely the wrong career for us. Enjoy ourselves! The end plenary was given by Eddie Small who talked about his equally unusual through academia from an evening degree through to writing books on Scottish funerals and lecturing! Overall it was a very informative and fun experience and I look forward to the next one!

Report Writing

On the topic of writing…I’ve been truly kicking myself in to the process lately. I have finally accrued myself a significant number of notes and a, hopefully well thought out and logical, flow and argument for my introduction. I’m currently reviewing what I’ve written so far and working out where I have gaps in the evidence I’m presenting. If you’re at this point in your degree be it PhD, masters, undergraduate reports, or anywhere in fact the biggest pieces of advice I’d give you are: have an idea of structure before taking notes, that way you remain focussed on relevant information as opposed to related or interesting but which doesn’t help you answer your questions; and write a little every day (or on every 5 or 6 or so days a week), just a few more references ready or a paragraph written or a section edited is more than you had done before and means progress!

 Making a Mess

Ok. The negative. I spoiled some pretty fragile samples which I cannot get back through no fault that my own haste and lack of awareness. Suffice to say my anger and disappointment in myself were severe and I’m sure I let my supervisor down as well. However, I have learned something from this experience. From talking to others about it: these things happen. We don’t want them to happen and sometimes more than others it’s worse news but everyone messes up occasionally. Secondly: I will never do it again. Thankfully my spoiled samples came from a smaller experiment (which I’ve already said was a bit of a failure) and not my upcoming larger experiment. But still, the lesson learned here is to slow down and practice a tad more awareness.

 

The next two months are going to be more writing and starting the next experiment! Exciting times.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 BCT

Being rejected: is it personal?

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When thinking about a topic for my next post I got a tad stumped; nothing particularly eventful has happened in the last two months as my pilot experiment is just plodding along. I tweeted words to this effect and later that week whilst demonstrating a colleague suggested I blog about the rejections accompanying a search for funding. They added a (what seemed to me) surprising comment: “it feels like a personal attack doesn’t it?”. My response was a quick and resounding “no, not really” (I mean, that’s just how things work right? Not everyone can get the funding). Nevertheless, it made me think: is it personal or should I at least feel as if it is? So that’s what this post is about, I hope it’ll open up some real feelings about the topic.

I applied for a rather generous studentship with my supervisor a few months back. I’ve been very excited about it as it would obviously make life a little bit easier removing the need to split myself between work and research (and friends and hobbies). The application went off into the digital ether just prior to my last post and since then it has been roaming around the back of my head. It came closer and closer to the deadline without any contact from the society which made me curious but I just figured that they may not contact the unsuccessful applicant (fair enough…kinda…). Eventually the actual interview date passed and that was it: I didn’t make interview therefore I just didn’t make the cut. It was at this point when a colleague asked about how personal it feels. I was happy to move on from this and look to the next opportunity (lack of funding isn’t going to stop me from doing my PhD) so didn’t take it much to heart. I did think though that some feedback would have been useful. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the project? How could I improve my input to the idea? In light of this my supervisor emailed to enquire. The response may have tipped my feelings towards the personal side: the application was lost, a digital error. So now I was left not rejected but not even considered!

Is this personal or just an honest mistake? Well after having gone through two outright rejections, a post-interview rejection, a denial of funding, and now a lost application I can see why those who have been doing this for long enough would feel that way. I mean if you spend a significant part of your time applying for funding to do the things you want which ironically detracts time from doing your work in the first place, why shouldn’t it feel personal? Your work is an extension of you and these rejections are people essentially saying “you and your work are not good enough” so they may as way say that you are not good enough. It’s understandable. However, funders are in a tight position as well. They want to fund as many people as possible but there are always more people wanting than there are funds. So how do you deal with that? You find a set of criteria to rank applicants and you fund the best by those standards; the ones you feel will do best and gain most from that funding. So in reality is it personal? It certainly can feel so and that is totally understandable but in reality with limited resources it’s just a case of balancing pros and cons and seeing what comes out on top (I won’t comment on whether the criteria themselves are the best. That can form hours of debate). Overall, I guess it’s ok to feel that things are personal but we must all remember that everyone is in the same boat and that we do what we can with what is available to us.

In other news my pilot experiment is over (in terms of collecting data, now comes the hours of processing and analysing the data) which means my time will be more flexible until my next long-term experiment which starts around early September. I’m currently working on three plans. Firstly I’m going over some data with my supervisor to learn how to better approach this efficiently. Secondly I’m drafting my first yearly presentation within the school. They’re called ‘psycholoquia’ (psych = psychology, quia from quium = meeting). I get to present for 10-20 minutes on my topic and current work followed by 5-10 minutes of questions. It should be good! Lastly I’m putting in place a plan for my first year report in terms of its content and structure as well as when I wish to submit. As a part-time student I have a later deadline than the full-time ones but I’ve decided to give myself an earlier deadline!

The next two months are going to be data analysis, report writing, maybe a conference, and generally having fun. As a part of a continued effort to get people together I’m organising bowling for the first year PhD students in my department! It’s very important to keep the areas of life you had before PhD as it isn’t everything. Work, play, and down time makes for a healthy and well-rounded person 

Thanks for reading

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

Graduation, Bursary Application, and Job Hunting

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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.

Graduation

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 £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 🙂

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 🙂

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.

BCT

Public Engagement: Cheltenham Science Festival and Science Communication Workshop

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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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

Thanks for reading

BCT