Science Diaries: The inbetweeny stage

Science Diaries: The inbetweeny stage

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For those of you who have read my previous blog posts or follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m a PhD student and I finished all my lab work in December 2016. In my final week of running around like crazy getting everything finished up, I published a blog post called LabLife: the final week showcasing what a day in the life of a science PhD student was like.

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With being out of the laboratory setting I thought why would people want to see a day in the life post without all the exciting experiments? But in actual fact the lab part is only one chapter of the PhD process, admittedly a very big one, but there is so much more to research than running experiments! There’s a lot of data handling, image processing, statistics and thesis/publication writing to do as well before we get awarded that Dr title! So I feel that this side of PhD life is important to show to those thinking of going into research, or for current researchers who like to have a nose at what others get up to!

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So where am I at with my PhD?

Little bit of background: my research is all to do with Are you what your mother ate? I investigate how maternal diets (high-fat and vitamin D deficient) during pregnancy alter the baby’s muscle function in later life. In terms of experiments I carried out long contractile studies to test the peak force generated by the muscles, and I’ve carried out staining techniques to visualise the different types of muscle fibres and also the amount of fat accumulated in the muscle samples (changes can alter muscle function). This all means a lot of files, a lot of microscope images… and a lot of time sitting analysing all of these. I call this the inbetweeny phase – lab work is over but thesis writing isn’t quite on the radar!

It took me ages to analyse the different types of muscle fibres in all my samples as this involved counting and drawing around 1000s and 1000s of cells. That finally got done (yay!) and then I moved onto quantifying the amount of lipid accumulation in the samples. Admittedly I struggled for a while with focus and motivation (useful tips here!) as for a very active person sitting all day every day and doing the same thing day-in day-out is hard! I was also juggling other exciting science communication opportunities so it took a little longer than planned. BUT that analysis has now been completed and here is another post in the Science Diaries…

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Alarm goes off at 6:15am. Surprisingly I was pretty good on the snooze front! I have a little scroll through Instagram and Twitter to wake myself up properly and to see what’s going on in the science world. I’m so much more productive in the mornings so I’ve been trying to shift my working day earlier. Top tip: playing to your strengths makes working so much more effective!

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6:32am: Breakfast time, my favourite meal. My good ol’ trusty protein porridge to give those brain cells their much needed energy for a day in front of the computer clicking some buttons.

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8:10am: Today was an on-call day for me. For a little extra cash now my PhD funding is over (super sad, I know), I process placentas when women give birth who are consented to the NiPPeR study. The study is all about nutritional intervention before and during pregnancy to maintain healthy glucose levels and offspring health. I do my 10 minute round route to check for any deliveries throughout the day. If there is a placenta my job is super simple, cut some chunks of placenta and umbilical cord, and freeze them for another scientist to analyse in the future.

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9:04am: Getting through more oil red O analysis. This was the technique I used to stain my muscle samples so any fat/lipid in the tissue was stained red. I previously took multiple photos of each sample with a fancy microscope and I’m now using a programme called Fiji Image J to get the images ready for lipid area quantification. I want to know the total muscle tissue area and how much of that is made up by lipid. It’s a pretty long process, and not the most exciting!

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11:00am: Tea break. Like I mentioned in my top 10 PhD survival tips, caffeine is an important necessity when it comes to doing a PhD.

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11:34am: Tea break over and time to check Twitter and emails before carrying on with the oil red O image analysis. Got a lot of work on and need to keep focussed? Top tip: don’t open up your emails first thing in the morning, this can put you onto a different path than you were planning on for your days work. Limit those distractions. Is it really that important that the email can’t wait until a few hours in?

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1:15pm: Super duper happy as my image processing is done and now it’s time to run my macro to generate my oil red O data. I select all my files, I press “run” on the macro (piece of code I wrote telling the computer programme what to do) and I sit and wait for the computer to do its thing. How wonderful!

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4:43pm: After the computer gave me the numbers I wanted, I compiled all the data into a spreadsheet… and voila graphs! Science is funny, after many weeks of lab work and many days of analysis I get four graphs (each row showing the same data, just a different format). Annoyingly some of the results aren’t what I hoped for (that’s science for you) but some data (third row down in particular) is really intriguing when considering some of my other data, so that’s pretty cool!

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6:31pm: The daily CrossFit workout done – heavy deadlifts and some running. Time for drinks and food with friends. Accomplishing my work goal means guilt-free treats! Exercising and socialising is so important for that work-life balance, it means your life isn’t all about work and gives your body and mind that much needed time out.

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What stage are you at in your PhD/science career?

Is there anything about life in science/academia you’d like to know more about?

Comment below!

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