Thesis writing: Preparing in advance

Thesis writing: Preparing in advance

It’s time to talk thesis writing, a topic I know a lot of my followers are waiting to see pop up on my blog! For for those that don’t follow my science journey, I’ve submitted my thesis and my PhD viva/defence is next week! Throughout the process of writing my thesis I noted down bits of advice I thought would be worth sharing – a combination of things that really helped me and things I wish I had done in hindsight.

Of course, every PhD is different and our experiences are all going to vary hugely. However, there are definitely some golden nuggets of advice which will hopefully help everyone out.

There is SO much information I want to discuss so I’ve decided to break in down in to a series of posts. So let’s start from the beginning. Here are some tips for how to prep for thesis life when it’s not the sole focus and you’re still in the laboratory/generating data.

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My top 10 thesis prep tips:

 

1. Plan ahead. When do you want the research component finished? When will you start to focus primarily on your writing? When will you have a first draft completed by? Set these deadlines earlier than you’d like. Everyone I know has said the process takes longer than you expect, me included.

2. Prioritise. To achieve the above, prioritise! Make a plan for the rest of your laboratory/pre-writing work. Discuss with your supervisor the list of priorities… 1) What is necessary for you to pass your PhD. 2) What would be nice additions if you have the time. 3) Extra work which would be an additional bonus for your thesis, it’s not vital and could be a project for a student.

3. Make a thesis outline plan. Get a plan together of chapters and headings so you can start to think about the thesis flow. Arrange a meeting with your supervisor(s) to talk about this so you know you’re on the right track. Once you have that flow you’ll have a clearer idea of how your thesis will shape up, exciting!

4. Familiarise yourself with thesis guidelines. Check your university’s thesis guidelines and apply this to your outline plan. Most likely there will be specific margin requirements, font size, line spacing, order of content etc that your thesis has to be inline with. Check if it’s required to be bound double or single sided (if double you need mirrored margins to account for the binding edge. Having a play with this and getting it all set up when you have a spare hour here and there prior to writing will save you a lot of time formatting in the long run..

5. Make graphs as you go. Graphs tend to be more time consuming to make than you think! If you have a spare 30 mins in between experiments and you have data to plot, graph them! Arrange them into a layout so they’re good to go into the thesis. I use GraphPad Prism to make my graphs, a really user-friendly bit of software.

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6. Little bit of reading each week. Even if it’s just one afternoon a week, try to set time aside to stay on top of the literature. It keeps you in the loop with current research. Some people say you should read every day. Well, from my experience that was totally unrealistic. In fact, squeezing in reading every week was tough due to the nature of my experiments. A lot of my reading was done during the thesis write-up. Not ideal, but hey!

7. Note down all the details. Make sure any protocols and methodologies you use throughout your PhD are written in detail (including manufacturer/product details). It’s the little details that can be forgotten so quickly! When I came to writing up about the animal model I set up, there were so many steps and considerations that I had forgotten when it came round to writing the methods section… so thank goodness I’m thorough and all those details were already in a document. A lot of time information searching saved.

8. Utilise the positives of social media. A PhD isn’t like an undergrad or a masters where everyone in your cohort has the same exams and the same deadlines. Thesis life can be a little isolating in that respect. If you’re on social media utilise it for your needs! Follow and interact with other people in the same position as you. It can be a good source of support, Instagram was great for that!

9. Look at previous theses. Ask your supervisors, colleagues and friends to look at previous theses. They will give you an idea of what you’re going to be embarking on.

10. Remember the lab work/thesis is never a finished product. There’s always more experiments which could be done and different ways to analyse the data. You have to draw a line under the work at some point in order to get that thesis written, submitted and be awarded the title Dr.!

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Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

It’s time for another Scientist Showcase and I’d like to welcome you to the wonderful Dr Farah! Farah is a medical doctor specialising in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology whilst also doing an academic research component investigating the effect of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and human breath. I love learning more about what she gets up to in the clinic and in the lab over on her Instagram! Farah is a self-taught belly dancer (incredible!) and a lover of tea, travelling and reading! Over to you Farah…

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Tell us more about the scientific research!

We’re doing a pilot study looking at how the route we administer antibiotics (through a drip or via tablets) impacts on the community of organisms/bugs (microbiome) that live naturally in the human gut. This is a big topic in research at the moment as we’re learning that while we live in harmony most of the time with this microbiome, it can affect our health, our brains and even how we think! Importantly, changes in this gut microbiome can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. If we can reduce effects on the microbiome, then we can potentially reduce antibiotic resistance. A lady in the US recently died because the infection she had was resistant to all our antibiotics. This should be one of our biggest fears- the antibiotic apocalypse!!

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What inspired you to go into medicine? And what inspired you to add research into the mix?

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do in life (is anyone?!). I’ve been lucky in that I’ve managed to end up doing something I really love but that was honestly touch-and-go for a while. I wasn’t doing brilliantly in my AS levels and aiming for medicine helped me to achieve my grades. When I got into medical school, I found that I enjoyed the subject and I got better and better at it over time. I’m also a people person and enjoy the mix of skills, teamwork and the general variety within medicine. I was introduced to research during my undergrad- I did an extra degree for a year in International Health and conducted research in Ethiopia. I decided I wanted to be able to spend a bit of concentrated time on research, so here I am!

“I’m just proud of what I’m doing and have done, and happy with where I am in life.”

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How do you find balancing being a doctor and doing research? That’s a big job!

The NIHR-funded Academic Clinical Fellowship is great in that it allows for dedicated time to focus on research that is protected from clinical time. However, it is really tough pursuing both simultaneously and so I am having to balance that mix a little. I do it by trying to plan ahead, by listening to my body when it’s tired and by cutting myself slack when I’m not “achieving” the way I want to be. I find giving myself deadlines that I tell other people is also a big help. Also, I LOVE my Filofax. Writing things down physically and giving myself tick lists is the only way I focus my mind. I review and rewrite it every Sunday and during the week I work through it. I make that list short though. No more than 3 or 4 things to do. Never set yourself up for a fall!

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What advice would you give to those considering/currently combining medicine and research?

Do not say yes to everything. You have to learn to say no sometimes.

BUT be brave enough to say yes to open up opportunities for yourself!

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I learn so much from your science IG! What led to the decision to document your medical/science journey on social media and blog?

I’m not 100% sure how it happened. I think it started as a way of cementing my own learning. I’m a very visual learner so Instagram was an ideal platform. The blog came about because I had more things to say than I realised! Also, in thinking about doing a PhD, I noticed that funders like you to share your research and science, so I realised it wouldn’t just be seen as ‘time-wasting’ either. Scicomm is a skill (and a very difficult one to master) so every little helps. I became increasingly enthusiastic and I found the community a fun and supportive one too.

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Why is science communication important to you?

Lots of reasons, I think. It’s about showing the world why you’re passionate about your job and inspiring people to consider your career too. The thing with science communication is it breaks these ridiculous myths that science isn’t cool or that you have to be completely boring to do it. I want kids to be excited by schooling. I work with a charity called Students for Kids International Projects (SKIP) and when I was at uni we went to Zambia. The kids we worked with LOVED going to school- they saw it as fun, as an opportunity. I think finding learning fun is actually very natural for humans but it’s not always taught in the most engaging way. That’s because it’s difficult to do! Taking part in scicomm activities is challenging for me but it’s important in enthusing younger generations and showing them different possibilities for themselves.

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Finally, how do you balance work/scicomm and personal life?

I’ve been a bit poor at this for the last year or so, I’ve enjoyed my job so much and the balance hasn’t been great. Outside of work I used to go to Lindy Hop classes and my husband and I danced at our wedding in Lindy style! At the moment I mostly try to keep up with friends, relax in the evening to keep my sleep hygiene in tact and do exercise. Exercise used to be belly dancing around my room but now consists of BBG, walking and running. I also like reading and that for me is the best way to keep up with my Spanish language learning, in fact I’m reading Harry Potter in Spanish!

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Thank you Farah for being a guest on the blog! To learn more about her journey as a clinician and a researcher you can find Farah on Instagram and Twitter. Also, go and check out her blog!

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#WearingWhite: Cancer immunotherapy

#WearingWhite: Cancer immunotherapy

This Sunday is World Cancer Day. Staff here at the University of Southampton have been wearing white in order to raise awareness of the life-saving research being performed behind the laboratory doors. In fact, today the University of Southampton are celebrating hitting the £25m target for the UK’s first dedicated Centre for Cancer Immunology!

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Why white?!

We have a lot of different cells in our body, in fact there’s thought to be approximately 200 different types of cells, but today I’m talking about our white blood cells. White bloods cells are the superhero cells, their role is to protect us from infection, disease and foreign invaders to keep us healthy. Here in Southampton, these white blood cells are being used in laboratory research to develop new therapies to fight cancer. The research is being applied into the clinic, and results from clinical trials is showing a lot of promise!

Wearing White

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We are the cure

Immunology is a pretty complex field, and so I’m not going to go into the details (you’d be sat here reading for hours trying to get a grip on a lot of different molecules), but basically, researchers have found that our immune system could actually be used to cure cancer. That’s pretty neat right?!

A type of treatment called immunotherapy harnesses the power of the body’s immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells (see video below). Cancer cells have the ability to switch off or confuse our killer T cells which then enable the cancer cells to grow. Cancer cells are very hard to defeat! Immunotherapy switches these killer T cells back on and so those useful killer T cells become back in action. They are then able to detect the invasive cancer cells (and potentially any hidden cancer cells!) and destroy them, providing long lasting action to protect against cancer growth. There are different types of immunotherapy including the use of monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, cytokines and adoptive cell transfer and you can read more about these here! They’re all about enhancing the ability of the T cells to recognise the cancer cells. Immunotherapy has the potential to provide us with a lifetime immunity to cancer.

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Successes

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, but the results from cancer immunology clinical trials suggest great hope for controlling and curing most cancers.

Immunotherapy clinical trial patients in Southampton:

  • As many as half of the patients with difficult and terminal cancers (often just given months to live) are showing dramatic improvements.
  • 20% patients are cancer free.
  • Drugs for advanced and terminal cancers, such as lung, skin (melanoma), blood (lymphoma), head and neck cancers and childhood cancer (neuroblastoma) are showing outstanding results.

“The cure for Cancer? You’re it.”

– University of Southampton

To read the stories of patients, researchers, fundraisers and donors click here and scroll down the page.

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For extra info click the following links: Cancer Research UK & Cancer Research Institute.

If you are interested in taking part in an immunotherapy clinical trial please contact your GP or cancer specialist.

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If you want to learn some more interesting science then check out my previous science blog posts here.

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