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

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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.

BCT

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

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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™‚

BCT

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 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.

BCT

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 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.

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 πŸ™‚

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

Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 NottinghamΒ  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 beenΒ  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 πŸ™‚

BCT