One year of blogging

One year of blogging

A year ago today I announced the start of “In a Science World” and published my very first blog post! Where has the last year gone?! It’s been an incredible journey and I didn’t quite expect it to take me places it has done!

I started my blog as a way to figure out whether science communication was a career route I’d like to pursue. Let’s just say I haven’t had the most seamless PhD journey and about half way through I came to the realisation that a life in academia is not for me. With plenty of thinking time and self-reflection, I realised I LOVE the science and I love teaching others about it, but I do not enjoy the process of making the science! Weird right?!

Writing my blog has opened up many opportunities that I never imagined a year ago. It’s led me to being publicist for Pint of Science, completing a science communication internship, jumping out of my comfort zone and performing my very first science comedy set and being very kindly awarded the Versatile Blogger Award…. How crazy?!

When I set out on this journey I didn’t know whether people would care about what I wrote or would be interested in what I have to say but I want to say a massive thank you to YOU!! Thank you for reading this post, for taking time out of your day to read the words I write and for following my blog (if you don’t you totally should!). Thank you for following my science journey through Instagram, expressing your support through ‘likes’ and comments and sending words of encouragement. Thank you for listening to what I have to say. I whole-heartedly appreciate all of your support.

Thank you to YOU!

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The last year has taught me a lot. Here’s what I’ve learnt over the past year (yes you know I love a bit of self-reflection) and the other awesome blogs I value, which if you also don’t follow already you really should!….

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What my first year of blogging has taught me:

  • People do actually want to hear what I have to say and value it – that makes my heart feel warm and fuzzy.
  • 1000+ word blog posts are not ideal. I’ve cut them down – minus a few!
  • Posting once a week is the most I can commit to whilst doing a PhD. That’s a Thursday by the way.
  • There is an amazing and very supportive online scientific community – especially on Instagram.
  • Instagram is such a powerful tool – I can reach out to so many people.
  • As an aspiring science communicator never shy away from ‘scary’ opportunities. They will only enhance you and lead to more awesomeness!
  • Twitter is hard for me to stay on top of – I need to work on my Twitter presence!
  • I learn so much from other scientists on social media.
  • Social media analytics are interesting in order to see what posts generate more engagement BUT I cba to analyse them for hours. I want to carry on posting what comes naturally to me and what I genuinely want to say. A scientist ignoring stats?!
  • For someone who wants to always improve, there is not enough scicomm training in the UK. But… 2018 is coming and I’m involved in some cool stuff to tackle this 😉
  • You can (and should) do other ‘science-y’ things around your PhD. Maximise those opportunities! You’ll never know where they may take you.
  • Many PhD students don’t have an easy ride. You are NEVER alone and there are always people who can relate. My PhD SOS is my most popular feature… didn’t actually expect that.
  • It is SO hard for me to say no to exciting opportunities. Anything seems more fun than writing this thesis.
  • Hmm… I seem to have learnt a lot!

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I started this blog and my scicomm journey just as I was heading into my final year of PhD, so you could say it wasn’t an ideal time! The thesis will be handed in soon so let’s see where 2018 takes me and my blog. I love this science communication world I’ve discovered.

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On a final note my most popular blog posts are “The PhD Slump” and “PhD self-care tips“. Remember: A PhD is tough and you are not alone. There is a wealth of support out there for you and seeking help is not a weakness. Do what is right by you, do the science, be awesome and thrive! Don’t just try to survive.

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Finally, time to share the science love! Here are some other blogs to go and nose at! Just click on the pictures!

Making it Mindful
Making it Mindful
dr.ofwhat?
dr.ofwhat?
Sasha
PhDenomenalPhDemale
Conservationist Krissy
Conservationist Krissy

 

Fresh Science
Fresh Science
Bites of science
Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science
Scientific beauty
The Scientific Beauty
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Soph.talks.science
Heidi
Heidi Gardner

 

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Standing up for Science

Standing up for Science

It is so important that scientific research is carried out in a sound way, that it is communicated to the media clearly and effectively, and that it’s reported by the media accurately. It doesn’t always happen! From time-to-time ‘fake news’ circulates, and that’s not good. Yesterday I attended the Voice of Young Science “Standing up for Science” workshop hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. It was absolutely brilliant!

Science communication is extremely important. As science is government-funded I feel that it’s only right we give back to society through engaging the public with research by communicating the intricacies in a digestible format for anyone to understand. Communicating our science effectively builds trust between the public and researchers, plus who doesn’t love to learn something new?!

As an aspiring science communicator, standing up for science and dealing with the media, journalists and ‘fake news’ could be of great relevance.  The idea of speaking about research to the media can seem daunting. What happens if you say something foolish and it will stick with you forever?! Well, the workshop provided us with the opportunity to meet scientists who’ve engaged with the media, as well as hearing from the journalists themselves about how the media works and what they want from scientists.

Here’s my summary of the day and what I learnt from the workshop.

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Session 1: Science and the media

Each panellists retold stories of their experiences with dealing with the media which were fascinating. We heard about the positives and the negatives and they dished out some useful tips.

Panel 1
Photo: Voice of Young Science

Panellists:

Prof. Johnathan Napier: leading pioneer in plant biotechnology and GM field trials at Rothamsted Research.

“What’s the point in doing the science if you aren’t going to tell anyone about it?”

Dr Helen O’Neil: molecular geneticist working in embryology and IVF at the Institute for Women’s Health, UCL.

If you don’t know the answer, you can turn it around and say your key message in a different way – “it’s a second chance of getting the message across.”

Nataliya Tkachenko: PhD student at the Warwick Institute for the Science of Cities.

“Remember, it is your interview so it is your choice what information you give out.”

Take-home messages:

  • It’s better to get media training in advance.
  • The media will take you word-for-word.
  • Certain words have a bad reputation (e.g. designer babies), so be wary!
  • Ask for the questions before the interview – but it’s not guaranteed they’ll ask those and only those! Anything can happen with the media.
  • If it’s a pre-recorded interview or a written article, ask to hear/read the final version before it’s sent out.
  • Think about the message you want to get across. Your mind will go blank so remember the overall message. You have the power to turn the conversation back round.
  • A lot of news is online so if there are any inaccuracies you can ask for them to be changed.
  • Go to science festivals, and any opportunities to engage with the public is great experience.

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Session 2: What journalists are looking for

The two panellists both spoke about how they work as a journalist, what their typical work day looks like and what they expect from scientists. The media can get a bad reputation, but it was nice to see that scientists and journalists have not-so-dissimilar perspectives.

Panel 2
Photo: Voice of Young Science

Panellists:

Jane Symons: freelance health writer and contributor to national newspapers. Dislikes nutritional nonsense and debunked homeopathy.

“Journalism is high stress but you get instant gratification.”

Oliver Moody: science correspondent at The Times.

“Journalists do go out of their way to get a well-rounded story.”

Take-home messages:

  • Journalists have tight time deadlines – 4-5 stories a day and writing might not start until the afternoon.
  • Clarity and simple explanations is vital – journalists are not always from a science background and so they can misinterpret, but it’s not intentional!
  • The story has to be entertaining – journalists are there to engage the reader.
  • Scientists can be just as guilty at ‘over-egging’ a story as journalists are.
  • It is okay to ask to check quotes before print.
  • Scientists and journalists work to different time frames. If you want to engage with the media, respond quickly! Knowing you respond quickly means it’s more likely they’ll contact you again.
  • Talk with your institute’s press office before speaking to the media. They’re there to help.
  • Journalism is very competitive, it is not always a collaborative field

 

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Session 3: Standing up for Science – the nut and bolts

This session was all about us being able to get practical guidance in getting our voices heard in debates about science and evidence. We learnt about how to respond to bad science if we see it, and top tips when coming face-to-face with a journalist.

Panellists:

Hilary Jones – senior press officer at the Medical Research Council.

“Speak to your press officer about any bad experiences.”

Leah Fitzsimmons – postdoctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. Very proactive public engagement volunteer.

“There’s a risk of controversial issues being misinterpreted by media and public but we need the scientific voice in those debates most of all.”

Martin Smith – specialist for the House of Commons Science and Technology.

“Scientists should be active in making policy decisions. If you don’t, someone else will.”

  • Tell your institute’s press office about your paper when it’s just been accepted – don’t have to wait until publication.
  • Send the press office an image or video to go with the paper, they help to promote it!
  • Provide nice quotes. Again, helps the press office in producing a good press release.
  • Don’t have to be a public engagement specialist – small bits of training add up.
  • Be clear on what you want to communicate.
  • Practice communicating science through university magazines and blogs!
  • Get involved in social media. Check whether your institute has a social media policy.
  • If you go to the committee about a science issue, they’ll talk you through it and strive for a positive experience.
  • All scientists can be involved in committee meetings and what policy issues should be looked into.
  • Start in a ‘safe’ place. Sense about Science and their ‘Ask for evidence’ campaign is a great place to go.
  • Be an ambassador of the thing you love!

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The workshop was incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking. There was definitely a lot of information to take away from the day, and I highly encourage any other early career researchers/scientists to attend this workshop!

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To top the whole day off we attended the 2017 John Maddox Prize ceremony, an award given to a scientist who has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest with perseverance and courage. Dr Riko Muranaka won the award for her efforts in countering HPV vaccine misinformation. A truly inspiring talk. You can read more about why she won the prize here.

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#uosIDS: 10 years of developing healthy lives

#uosIDS: 10 years of developing healthy lives

A week has passed since we celebrated 10 years of developing healthy lives here at the Institute of Developmental Sciences (IDS), Southampton, UK.

I’ve been doing a science communication internship alongside PhD the past few months which was in the lead up to this event. My main role has been to increase the awareness of the IDS and the research that goes on behind our pod doors. I filmed interviews with various IDS academics, edited the footage and shared via our social media channels. I was involved in the main event too on the 8th November 2017 which was an absolute highlight… I had the amazing opportunity of interviewing a few special people!

 

“fundamental research into the processes by which the environment of the developing embryo, fetus and child lays the foundations for health and chronic disease risk across the life course”

– Prof. Mark Hanson, Director of IDS

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Part 1: Celebrating 10 years of IDS research and the future.

The IDS is split into different research themes which formed the basis of the day event. I could go into so much awesome sciencey goodness for you but instead I thought I’d share some #uosIDS tweets from a few of us. What better way to give you short sharp fun snippets of science?!

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Developmental physiology and medicine

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Nutrition and metabolism

nutrition3nutrition4

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Genomics

genomics3genomics1

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Epigenomics

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Regenerative medicine

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“If you can’t explain the research you do down the pub then you’re missing a trick” #uosIDS

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Part 2: “Building Superhumans?” – Debating the ethics of altering development

Okay so this was BRILLIANT! In the evening we had our very own Question Time style debate. We were fortunate enough to have a fantastic panel to answer the audience’s very thought-provoking questions.

The panel

Chair: Lord Prof Robert Winston (middle)

Panellists: Dr Adam Rutherford (science writer and broadcaster), Jamie Raftery (The Holistic Chef and healthier diet advocate), Shelley Rudman (Olympian and fitness trainer), Prof. Neena Modi (medical researcher and President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health).

So how did this work? College/A-level students submitted their questions they wanted to ask the panel about altering human development and here’s what was picked out!

1. What are the panel’s ideas of a superhuman?

2. Do you think anyone given enough training can become an Olympian?

These two questions led onto the discussion between nature vs. nurture (genes vs. environment), and that both are pretty important. With regards to question no.2, Shelley Rudman highlighted that to be a successful athlete it’s not 100% about your physical condition, but training your ‘frame of mind’ is also vital.

3. We all need a ‘healthy diet’ but how do we determine what ‘healthy’ means for an individual person?

The panel agreed that a balanced diet is key. An interesting point Jamie Raftery mentioned was something we discussed in an interview beforehand,  that a diet which works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. We’re all different and so we need to work out our own balanced diet. Personalised diet is a form of personalised medicine, pretty cool concept right?! Dr Adam Rutherford raised the fact that according to scientific data, diets don’t work. Fad diets actually end up leading to weight gain! Prof. Neena Modi said we should give our children a whole range of foods, flavours and textures to give them the best chance of a healthy diet, and that if given a choice between unhealthy and healthy food, children tend to gravitate to the healthy stuff over time!

4. As it is now cheaper than before for genome mapping, should everyone have their genome mapped so that we can design or give interventions for diseases much earlier?

There was definitely a difference in opinion here! Some were in favour as it would be interesting to know what your genome says about you and your future health, but for those reasons, some would rather not know what lies ahead of them! Getting our genome mapped would be so fascinating, but what’s more important is knowing the results on a larger population scale, not just a few individuals. Could everyone’s genome be read at birth?

5. How do we draw the line between genetic modifications which improve health and those that give other perceived beneficial traits?

The opinions of the panel were divided on this one. Interesting, Prof. Neena Modi highlighted that by choosing who we have children with we’re actually selecting the traits we want to be carried on into the next generation. Is that a form of genetic modification? Advances in scientific technology are of course happening, and so we’ll see what happens in the future, but there could be some ethical dilemmas to figure out!

6. Should anyone be allowed to be a parent?

What a question to finish on! You could just see the whole audience lean out of their seats to see what the responses were going to be. Not surprisingly, a few of the panel did not want to respond with their personal thoughts! It’s a tricky one. The against side of this question were comments about how people such as paedophiles and murderers shouldn’t be allowed due to major impairments in their mental state. But we can’t live in a society which actively stops some people from conceiving children. That just leads down a nasty road and not very ethical! Lord Prof. Robert Winston threw the eugenics word into play! We of course already have framework in place to take children out of ‘bad’ homes. So although we can’t stop the reproductive process, and therefore the ‘nature’ side of development, we can to some extent tackle the ‘nurture’ element.

As you can probably tell this was a fantastic debate which gave me a lot of food for thought.

I just want to finish off with my personal highlight!

R.Winson interview

There are some exciting things coming from my work here, so watch this space!

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Now it’s your turn! How do YOU feel about these questions?! Let me know in the comments below!

Follow @uosIDS on Twitter to keep up-to-date with the research going on in this part of the world.

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The power of mentoring – Stemettes & MonsterConfidence

The power of mentoring – Stemettes & MonsterConfidence

It’s National Mentoring Day tomorrow, a day to recognise the importance and benefits of mentoring, whether that’s being a mentor or being a mentee.

One of my aspirations is to inspire the younger generation to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). I was fortunate enough to be part of the amazing MonsterConfidence event here in Southampton with Stemettes a couple of weeks ago.

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Who are Stemettes?

STEMETTES 'Monster Confidence' @ Southampton  - ©Paparazzi VIP Photography

Stemettes is a social enterprise who aim to empower young women to consider a career in STEM. They do this by introducing these ladies to amazing women who are already working and succeeding in the field. Stemettes organise many events throughout the year ranging from panel events to “hackathons” to the MonsterConfidence tour.

“Women only make 21% of the core STEM workforce.”

Wise Campaign

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They’re doing a fantastic job at accomplishing their mission. Just under 15,000 young women have attended their events, and a whopping 95% of attendees have increased interest in STEM after just one Stemettes event.

So! If you’re a young women aged 15-22 in the UK and Ireland, and would like a boost in confidence and become more informed in what the world of STEM has to offer you, then check out their upcoming events!

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Mentoring at MonsterConfidence

Head Stemette Anne-Marie has set up the MonsterConfidence tour to provide confidence, inspiration and guidance for girls and young women who may want to get involved in the world of STEM, or are unsure whether it’s the right path for them.

Just under 100 young women attended the Southampton event which was full of inspirational talks, interview practice, mentoring, career workshops and meeting people in industry. It was a fun day full of energy, encouragement and of course food!

STEMETTES 'Monster Confidence' @ Southampton  - ©Paparazzi VIP Photography

As a speed mentor I spoke to young girls one-to-one for a speedy 6 minutes a time. I was there to act as a listener, a source of support and an advisor. We discussed my journey, what they liked at school, what they struggle with and where their next steps in education might be. I was there to answer all the different questions they had and it was great to talk to a wide variety of students. Some knew their career direction already, some had an idea of potential options, but many students felt unsure. A few of the girls I spoke to said how much the event had inspired them which is fantastic. One girl even said a talk in the morning had inspired her to look into a completely different area of STEM! That just proves the power these type of events can have.

STEMETTES 'Monster Confidence' @ Southampton  - ©Paparazzi VIP Photography

I was also given the opportunity to do a lightening talk at the end of the day. I spoke about my experiences from school (and how I thought I was always going to go into graphic design) to my PhD in physiology and current aspirations to be a science communicator.

“Many expressed an improved perception, awareness *and* confidence in STEM careers.” 

Stemettes

 

Despite being there as a mentor, even I got a little bit of mentoring! Dr. Jen Gupta, an astrophysicist by day, a comedian and presenter by night shared her journey with us, how you can have more than one passion, and how you can have confidence in what you do.

The event ended with the attendees taking part in a Soapbox challenge where they shared what they had learnt from the day. They showed confidence and they showed that they were mindful about their future. It was incredible to see what they had learnt, and truly proved that Stemettes is doing a brilliant job.

STEMETTES 'Monster Confidence' @ Southampton  - ©Paparazzi VIP Photography

I never had opportunity like this when I was at school. Looking back, I only really had the guidance of school teachers and my parents. Don’t get me wrong, that was great. I went to a great school and my parents were supportive of my choices, but there is so much more support out there now. No matter whether you want to pursue the STEM route, or go another direction there really is a wealth of support out there for you. Seek it out!

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Once this PhD is finished and I have a little more free time, I aim to carry on being involved with mentoring events like this for young people in STEM.

Stemettes – hopefully I can become one of your Sherpas in the not too distant future?!

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Follow Stemettes on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and check out their website!

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Science Diaries: Three months to go

Science Diaries: Three months to go

Two months later and it’s time for another Science Diaries post. Since my last one, I’ve learnt how to create a multilevel regression statistical model  (I won’t bore you with the details!) in order to analyse my animal data sets which was a massive hurdle. As of yesterday I’ve now run all of my data (I think) through the model, so I’m a very happy girl. Here’s another snapshot of my day as a PhD student.

Onto the next phase…

0621 yoga

6:21am: The constant desk work is really starting to feel detrimental to my body despite being a very active person outside of PhD work. It’s easy for a few hours to pass whilst just sitting running the statistics model on data set after data set.  So I’ve decided to start 20 minute morning yoga sessions to improve mobility. This morning was the first one!

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0702 breakfast7:02am: Protein porridge is my favourite way to start the day. Genuinely makes me so happy early in the morning! Sets me up for a productive day of work. A lot of science communication Twitter chitchat happens US time, so I normally combine breakfast with catching up on conversations I’ve missed overnight.

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0836 Nipper check

8:36am: Today was another NiPPeR study on-call day. I briefly explained what this study is all about and how I’m involved in my last Science Diaries post. No deliveries over night and no women in labour ward meant it was a placenta processing-free day for me.

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0950 meeting prep

9:50am: Every Wednesday at 10am I have a meeting with my primary supervisor. The first part of my morning was gathering all the data I had analysed over the past week so we could discus the results. We also have a kids day organised by my supervisor in a couple of weeks which I’m helping out with, so I thought I should probably swat up on what I’m supposed to be doing for it!

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1133 supervisor meeting

11:33am: My PhD meeting is over which was really productive! We discussed my data and a few extra things I could do with it. I’m now at the point where I’ve done all the data analysis I can do for now, so it’s onto the thesis writing. This was a pretty daunting realisation! We also discussed viva dates following a conversation my supervisor had with my internal and external examiners. SCARY! It all feels a lot more real now.

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1357 plan IG post

1:57pm: Lunch eaten and my lunchtime walk done to properly stretch those desk-bound legs! I finished my lunch break with planning my Instagram post which was all about making daily goals to stay on track, and how that helps us to feel more motivated and positive about work.

 

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3:26pm: Time for my friend Emma and I to have some filming fun! I’m currently doing an engagement and science communication internship with my department. We have various research themes and I’m filming interviews with researchers from each one. Today I was making the most of Emma having her a-MAZE-ing placenta game at work so managed to get some good footage of her for the public engagement theme. Totally love this girl, she’s mad.

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1640 deadlines

4:40pm: Now that it’s time to write this thesis, a plan is definitely required. I’m giving myself until Christmas to hand it in, I don’t want to go into 2018 with this still looming over me. So it’s T minus three months and deadlines are getting set. It’s going to be tough but it’s the final phase now, just got to power on through and stay focussed.

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1804 Bright Club

6:04pm: I’ve finished PhD work for the day and walked the extremely long 7 minute walk back home. So for some strange reason I’ve agreed to perform at Bright Club this Friday in my PhD city of Southampton, UK. It’s an event where researchers become comedians for the evening so I did a little bit of practice before my housemate came home. I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m a little nervous, but very excited! All the comedy sets will be going up on YouTube so I’ll hopefully be blogging about it next week and sharing the footage… if it goes well of course!

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1943 dinner

7:43pm: Dinner time. This evening was chilli with a little bit of mushroom rice and green veg. I was trying to be healthy today but then my housemate decided to make cake, which of course I was not going to say no to. I’m looked after so well! I may never move out.

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2013 blogging and film

8:13pm: Normally I CrossFit in the weekday evenings but I’ve started being more organised in order to push my blog further, whilst having a good balance between PhD work/blogging/fitness/social life. I always publish my blog posts on a Thursday so I’m now setting aside Wednesday evenings to write a blog post or finish bits off if I started it at the weekend. I wrote this blog post whilst watching a film on the sofa… and of course eating cake. Perfect way to blog!

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If you want to get a good feel of what my science life is like then head over and follow my Instagram account. This is where I share my journey as a scientist and PhD student through photography and daily Instagram stories!

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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? As always I love to here from you in the comments below…

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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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Comment below!

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Science Diaries: The final lab week

Science Diaries: The final lab week

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Since my first blog post “Are you what your mother ate?” I’ve been working like crazy in the lab to finish my final experiments for my entire PhD (absolute madness!), and after over three years of PhD life and hard work the final lab week is here!

One of my reasons in making this blog is to give others an insight into the life of a PhD student. When I applied for my PhD I was currently doing my masters project but knew a PhD was going to be a big step up. I wanted to understand more about what it was like to do one, but couldn’t find many people’s experiences documented online. So here is is, one day in the life of one PhD student…

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Wakey wakey

After pressing snooze on my alarm a good few times and being too cosy to jump out of bed, a typical day for me starts at 6:45am. I get up, and as it’s December I go and find my advent chocolate which makes getting up that little bit easier! Porridge is always my staple breakfast as it gives me a good amount of energy to start a day in the lab. My walk into work is about 20 minutes which is great – not too far away but enough time to get fresh air and clear my mind before I’m deep in antibody calculations, immunofluorescence staining, PCR analysis and microscopy. A LOT to do!

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Work begins

Works starts nice and early at 8am (got to be productive before the necessary tea break)! First things first, check my to-do list that I made at the start of the week. Top tip – being organised and planning your week is a massive help to keeping on track and being productive amongst the craziness of a PhD. The last couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of immunofluorescence staining so I check my plan and grab the right set of samples out of the freezer and let them air dry before I start the experiment.

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Getting prepped

Whilst waiting for the samples to dry I check emails, calculate antibody dilutions and prepare the necessary buffers to use for my immunofluorescence staining.

What is immunofluorescence staining?

So my project is all about looking at how the offspring’s skeletal muscle development and function is affected by a maternal high-fat (first study) or vitamin D deficient (second study) diet. Research shows that diet can alter the type of muscle fibres that make up an individual’s muscle, so this is what this experiment is for. As a brief insight, I have cross sections of muscle samples previously cut and put onto glass slides (as you can see in the previous picture). Different muscle fibres express different types of the protein myosin heavy chain (MHC). Adding antibodies specific for these proteins and then adding a fluorescent tag to each one allows me to see which fibres are what type under the microscope, and ultimately see how the number of each type of muscle fibre changes with a normal or altered diet.

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Primary antibodies on and two hours to wait!

These primary antibodies are what attach to the specific types of MHC protein. I make two different cocktails of antibodies which are mixed with either of the two different buffers made above. One muscle sample will be incubated in three out of five primary antibodies, and another section of the same muscle will be incubated with the other two antibodies. I also have to include ‘negative controls’, these are sections of the same sample which are incubated in just the buffer without any antibodies. As there are no antibodies applied to these samples, in theory they should not fluoresce when I image the samples, and it shows that any fluorescence is due to the primary antibody attaching to the correct molecule.

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Tea break o’clock

The 11am tea break is a fundamental part of my day! My friends in the lab and I pretty much always have this without fail. Bit of caffeine and a catch up means a boost of energy and ready to go… until lunch break!

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Catch up take one: PCR analysis

Whilst waiting for my two-hour incubation to finish I catch up on other bits of work. Here I’m analysing a PCR I did a couple days before. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a technique that allows me to quantify how much of a specific gene is expressed in my tissue samples. Here I was looking at the gene troponin 1 – a gene important for the expression of a protein involved in muscle contraction regulation. I’m seeing a few significant differences (yay!), a point where all PhD students have a feeling of relief!

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Primary antibodies off, secondary antibodies on

After two hours, the primary antibodies are washed off with the buffers and the secondary antibodies are applied for one hour. The different secondary antibodies recognise their corresponding primary antibody and bind to them. They have a fluorophore attached and this is what makes the muscle fibres a fluorescent colour when I look at the samples down the microscope. It’s important that these are incubated with a non-see through lid as exposure of the fluorophore to light will ruin the fluorescent signal. Too much exposure to light = experiment fail.

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Catch up take two. Making pretty pictures

After my secondary antibodies have been applied, washed off after an hour and stored away ready for image analysis the next day, I catch up on some remaining image analysis from the previous day. This is all done in a dark room – how wonderful! This picture shows a typical muscle cell stained for the fibre type IIa. Using the fluorescent microscope, I change the filters to view the other fluorophores applied to the sample and therefore see the other fibre types which fluoresce in different colours. I use green, red and blue, which means pretty looking pictures!

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Me time = crossfit time

Lab work for the day done and off to crossfit I go.

A work/life balance is extremely important to me, and exercise is essential. If possible I go every weekday evening. Working out helps me stay healthy and gives me that time away from the lab to focus on something else, and relax.

After crossfit, it’s time to meet up with friends or go home and chill with some food. Day done!

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There it is, a snapshot of one day in the lab. Admittedly I am in my last week but this has been a pretty typical day for me over the last couple months in between other experiments going on. Of course a day in the lab can be completely different to this. I had days where I’d be doing long 18-hour days due to animal studies, or shorter days in my first year when there wasn’t as many bits and pieces to do. But for those who don’t know what kind of thing us PhD students get up to, I hope this gives you a bit more of an idea!

So my lab time is up, and off I go to enjoy my Christmas holidays before I start the mammoth task of writing my thesis.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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