Post-PhD viva feels

Post-PhD viva feels

Okay, so confession time. I originally planned to have this up on my blog two weeks ago, a couple days after my viva whilst the emotions were all fresh. Truth be told (which I think is a totally valid reason!) I needed a few days away from the laptop to indulge in bubbles and cake, to catch up with family and friends as well as getting back into Crossfit. Life is good!

To give a bit of context to this blog post, I submitted my PhD thesis to the graduate school here at University of Southampton mid-January after 4.5 years of hard work. That was massive relief number one! On Tuesday 27th February I passed my PhD viva and I am SO thrilled to say I am now Dr. Lisa Ellen Jones, massive relief number two!

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What is a PhD viva?!

The format of a PhD varies hugely across the world. Here in the UK we have a ‘viva voce’ which means by word of mouth. To prove that we are worthy of that Dr title we are questioned on our knowledge of the research subject, our methodologies, what the data means and the greater impact of our work. This is carried out by one internal examiner (at the same university) and an external examiner (from another university), both in a similar field of research.

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My viva experience

Everyone says you can’t fully prepare for a viva, you can’t really predict what questions the examiners will ask and how thorough/pernickety they’ll be. Very true. Everything I revised did not come up! Despite this, there is no such thing as being over prepared for a PhD viva.  Revise as much as you can because if it doesn’t go well after all that hard work, you’ll be kicking yourself!

So, the day arrived and I kept my cool until I got to work. Examiners met to discuss what they thought of my thesis in private, so waiting in the coffee room until they were ready for me felt incredibly long. They called me in and we chatted for a little bit before the viva started. It’s pretty common (from other people’s experiences) for the initial questions to be ones that ease the candidate in, e.g. summarize your main PhD findings in 3 minutes. Yeah, I did not have that! I think my first question was to define what ‘developmental priming’ is in a couple of sentences which was not mentioned in my thesis. The second question (from memory) was delving into the intricacies of epigenetics which was not part of my thesis. Tough start! My viva lasted for 4 hours and it was a page-by-page thorough going over. At times I felt incredibly stressed, but at other times I was able to relax into the questions a bit more. A PhD viva is all about defending your work… and gosh I did! Sometimes I felt that my ability as a scientist was being seriously questioned due to the intensity of the discussion, but the examiners are there to push your knowledge and to also learn themselves – remember that! I think I lost the perspective that I was the expert in my research field and some questions were not to trick me but were because they wanted to learn themselves.

After the 4 hours I was asked to step out of the room so they could discuss between themselves. I felt like I had no idea how it had gone. Part of me felt that I had failed as every little result was questioned and I really had to defend certain methodologies and statistical analyses. I walked back into the room and my external examiner smiled at me, shook my hand and said “congratulations Dr. Jones”. Hearing those three words were incredibly overwhelming (yes, my eyes totally welled up). For those of you that have read my previous blog posts (e.g. PhD slump) or followed my science journey on Instagram, you’ll know my PhD has been far from easy. Two years ago at the end of 2015/start of 2016 I really did not think completing my PhD was a possibility. With an incredible amount of love and support from friends, family and my mentor I decided to stick it out and persevere. To have carried on in the lab, written a whole 271 page thesis and to pass my viva and to be called “Dr” is amazing to me. I am so proud of what I’ve accomplished and I have so much respect for all PhD students out there.

PhD viva

If you’re a PhD student reading this, I want you to know how amazing the feeling of reaching the final milestone and proving that you are worthy of that PhD is. In those tougher moments remember that you CAN do it. Be strong, be curious, work hard (but PLEASE not 24/7.. sleep and having fun is kinda important) and celebrate successes.

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So what now?

Now the madness of thesis writing and viva prep is over I am currently working for my PhD supervisor to finish off some image analysis as an extension from my PhD work. I’ve also got some fun scicomm projects on the go and I’m in the process of applying for jobs! I guess it’s time to enter the adult world. BUT not just yet. I’m all about treating yourself on completion of milestones, so in just over a week I’m taking myself off to Thailand and Bali for a month to relax, have fun and to get some energy back in me!

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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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Science journey update & 2018 goals

Science journey update & 2018 goals

After 4.5 years of PhD-ing, my thesis is finally written and I submitted it to my examiners last week! The PDF version got sent off on the Monday (little bit of an anti-climax!) but the printed & bound copies got sent off on the Wednesday. It started to sink in once I saw my hard work in a physical form and I feel like a massive weight has been lifted off of my shoulders! The last month of thesis writing was pretty stressful as I had a few road bumps which made it tougher than expected… but it’s now done! I can be proud of what I achieved and I can (sort of) relax! The journey to getting my PhD, however, is not quite over!

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So, what’s next?

  • My PhD viva/defence is end of February, so there will be a bit of revision required for that and practice vivas to be had! For those of you who don’t know what a viva is, or don’t know how it works over here in England, I have one ‘internal’ examiner from my university and one ‘external’ examiner from another university (relevant to my field). They will quiz me on my knowledge of the subject and my PhD work for 3-4 hours in order to see whether I’m worthy of being Dr Jones.
  • In the mean time I’m doing some image analysis work. This is carrying on from fluorescent microscopy I carried out in my PhD but the analysis was beyond the scope of my thesis. So, I’m back to counting and circling around muscle cells again!
  • My supervisor and I will be having weekly meetings to get the ball rolling on writing journal articles from my PhD work, so fingers crossed for some good publications.
  • It’s now time to be more proactive about my future. I’ll be updating my CV, LinkedIn, and applying for jobs etc etc!
  • In amongst all the ‘serious’ stuff I’m going to be getting back into a better fitness routine like I had before, and I’m in the process of planning my post-PhD travels! I’ve never had a gap year and I know I need time away to re-energise myself in order to come back and start my first post-PhD job all guns blazing!

I also want to use this blog post to share with you what I want to achieve in 2018. It’s not a secret that I love goals – whether that’s daily/weekly work goals, fitness goals or life goals! In fact, I wrote a blog post back in January 2017 on how to make effective goals, so go and check that out here!

This is the third year of making a goals board and it really does give me a sense of fulfilment when I tick them off one-by-one. In 2016 I ticked all of my goals off but in 2017 only half were achieved. Why? A few of them were all based on me submitting my thesis and having my viva in 2017, which didn’t happen! Thesis writing time had to be extended and that meant some of my goals suddenly became impossible. So, here’s to 2018 being a more exciting year! I’ve already achieved my first goal (submitting that thesis) and here’s everything I aim to achieve this year…

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I’m not one for New Years resolutions and it’s never too late to decide on what you want out of this year. What career/lifestyle goals do you want to complete in 2018?! Comment below, being a goal-geek I love to hear about them!

 

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Disease can originate from early development?!

Disease can originate from early development?!

Last week’s blog post was all about the #uosIDS 10 year celebrations here at the Institute of Developmental Sciences. We’re also the home of DOHaD (Developmental Origins of Health and Disease). But what is this? What is this hypothesis that forms the basis to the majority of research here? Well, I’ll enlighten you with some science!

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It’s well known that ‘bad genes’ and poor lifestyle choices affect our health and wellbeing in adulthood. But is it that simple? Is that all that determines our health? Professor David Barker, a Southampton based clinical epidemiologist, challenged these traditional ideas. In 1990 he proposed that poor nutrition in the womb resulted in common chronic diseases and ‘The Barker Hypothesis’ was born, which is now known as the ‘DOHaD Hypothesis’. He suggested that the environment during fetal and early life is what ‘programmes’ our health and risk of disease from infancy to adulthood. It is thought that the fetus adapts to the nutrient supply available during pregnancy. Some will have to adapt to a more restricted supply, which is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases.

Pregnancy health
Early life health. Photo: Pexels

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The science behind the hypothesis

UK lower socioeconomic areas – infant mortality rates in the early 20th century correlated with cardiovascular deaths 60-70 years later.

The Hertfordshire Study – Barker revealed that low birth weight (indicator of poor maternal environment) was associated with higher blood pressure, increased death by coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Helsinki, India and Amsterdam – studies revealed similar relationships between maternal nutrition/childhood growth and chronic disease.

The Dutch Winter Famine (1944-1945) – people including pregnant women were restricted to only 400–800 calories per day. Famine during early pregnancy lead to larger and heavier babies with an increased risk of coronary heart disease in adulthood. However, exposure during mid-late pregnancy resulted in babies with reduced birth weight, a reduced ability to handle blood glucose levels and risk of type 2 diabetes.

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Over the past 25 years a wealth of research (both human and animal studies) has contributed to Barker’s theory. Effects of maternal stress, obesity and hypoxia (low oxygen) during pregnancy on offspring health are a few conditions being researched today. Research is still on going in Southampton as a result of Barker’s work. The Princess Ann Cohort and the Southampton Women’s Survey found a correlation between low maternal vitamin D levels and lower childhood bone mass and grip strength, respectively. These results have lead to interventional trials involving vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy.

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Human beings are like motor cars. They break down either because they are being driven on rough roads or because they were badly made in the first place. Rolls-Royce cars do not break down no matter where they are being driven. How do we build stronger people? By improving the nutrition of babies in the womb. The greatest gift we could give the next generation is to improve the nutrition and growth of girls and young women

Prof. David Barker

The power of epigenetics

For years scientists have studied single genes and how alterations in them affect our health status. Recent research suggests that there are factors (epigenetic factors) which in turn alter the function of these genes. Some epigenetic markers have been associated with the natural ageing process and some have been associated with diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

So what are epigenetic factors? Epigenetic changes modify our DNA, causing some genes to be switched on or off, and consequently causing more or less of the corresponding protein to be produced. Environmental factors such as undernutrition, overnutrition, stress and inflammation can alter our epigenetics. We know these factors experienced by the mother can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases for the child in later life. Epigenetic changes in critical developmental time frames are thought to cause long term effects and consequently increased susceptibility to disease throughout the life course.

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Human placenta. Turquoise= trophoblast (placental) cells, purple= connective tissue, pink= fetal blood vessels. Photo: Placenta Lab and Biomedical Imaging Unit, University of Southampton.

The placenta is the interface between mother and baby, and the source of all the baby’s nutrients during pregnancy. Transfer of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) via amino acid transporters are vital for fetal growth. A suboptimal placenta can therefore cause problems for the baby in later life. Research here at the IDS is currently investigating how epigenetic changes impact the placenta and these amino acid transporters. Studies are also looking into the epigenetic modifications leading to changes in gene expression associated with the risk of obesity and metabolic disease in later life, which is very relevant to our current population.

 

The hypothesis can lead to good things!…

The DOHaD hypothesis has lead to a huge amount of research over the years exploring the reasons for and why conditions during pregnancy affect the long term health of the child. This understanding which is constantly growing can have a huge positive impact…

  • shift the focus of public health interventions – should not just be focusing on the health during childhood and adulthood, but also during pregnancy.
  • opportunity to reassess education, availability of health services and professional training.
  • Enhance education in the importance of nutrition, exercise and emotional health.
  • Enhanced support for the mother during pregnancy. Stress and emotional struggles can have a serious knock to maternal wellbeing and result in severe consequences to offspring health.
  • Research focusses – researching genetic predisposition and epigenetic monitoring would enhance our ability to target chronic diseases more effectively in the future.

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Additional nutritional intervention studies are vital in order to further our understanding of chronic disease risk factors and the epigenetics which play a role in exacerbating these health complications.

David Barker and his hypothesis have really made scientists change their way of thinking. It has lead to ground breaking science and provides a foundation to improve public health services in order to enhance the health and wellbeing of future generations.

… And of course it’s formed the basis for my very own PhD research.

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Fancy reading a little more on this? Click 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

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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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PhD self-care tips

PhD self-care tips

Working in the world of academia as a PhD student can be very demanding. We don’t get awarded the title of Dr for simply generating some good data or coming up with an awesome idea, we work hard to earn that PhD. Hard work comes with stresses and sometimes a few road bumps along the way.

One thing a lot of us can forget is that all important self-care. A PhD is like an endurance event, it’s a long and rewarding journey, but we need to take care of ourselves to get to the finish line.

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So how can we look after ourselves? Here are my top 10 PhD self-care tips:

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Stop comparing yourself to others

You may start your PhD the same time as other students but everyone’s PhD is different. Comparing yourself to others on occasion can be a healthy kick up the backside if you’re slacking. But trust me, for the most part it’s unhealthy and causes unnecessary stress and unhappiness. Focus on you and your PhD.

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Need help? Ask!

Whether you need help with a protocol or you’re having a few struggles with mental wellbeing, seek help. We all need help at times no matter how big or small the problem is, and there is a wealth of support out there for you. Know the right people to ask for help in the lab, find out what support services your university provides, and read blogs to help with issues related to the PhD life.

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Don’t just live for the weekend

Looking after yourself is not just for the weekends. Working 12-hour days during the week with those fun things left to the weekend is going to lead to burnout. Be honest with yourself, how productive are you after the normal 8/9 hour working day? Probably not very. So take time for you in the evenings, whether that’s just relaxing, going to the gym or seeing friends. Living for the weekend can lead to you associating the week with negative thoughts, that’s not exactly a great way to live.

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Emails. You don’t have to be attached 24/7.

Does your phone notify you as soon as you get a work email? If yes, I really suggest turning them off. Having them on means you never have a true break from work and in some situations this can lead to anxiety. Also, try not to check emails fist thing. Checking emails as soon as you get to work can lead you off track from your original plan for that day. Try opening them up a couple hours into work so you start your day off well. Are they really so important that they can’t wait a few hours?

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Sleep well, exercise regularly and eat right.

Being mindful of the foundations to leading a healthy life (mentally and physically) is so important. Getting those 7-9 hours sleep improves brain function. Regular exercise keeps you fit, allows you to focus on something non-work related and is a great stress reliever. Eating a balanced diet and not relying on sugar to keep you awake whilst working gives your brain and body the right fuel to function well. Being and feeling healthy helps to keep a positive mindset.

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Be organised

The deeper into the PhD journey you get, the more studies you’re juggling and the more items you have on that to-do list. Being organised is key to keeping yourself on track, focussed and motivated. These all lead to reductions in stress levels. Set short terms goals. I advise making daily goals at the start of the week or the day before and tick them off as you go along. Small steps make big progress.

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Play to your strengths

PhDs come with a degree of flexibility in how you work. If you are most productive in the morning, then start and end your working day earlier. Maximise that time you work well. If you aren’t a good multitasker then set aside blocks of time in your week to do your research, reading and the other odd jobs. There’s no point trying to tackle everything in one day if you know your brain doesn’t function like that!

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It’s ok to say no

You can’t take on everything your supervisor and others want you to. Saying yes to everything will lead to burnout. Be aware of the work you can take on without compromising your work/life balance. Developing this awareness does take time but it allows you to then manage the expectations you have of yourself, and enables you to manage your supervisor’s expectations of you.  

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Celebrate successes

We work hard so reward yourself when you’ve reached a goal. Allowing yourself treats will help you to stay motivated. For the smaller goals treat yourself to something little like your favourite dinner, and for the bigger milestones reward yourself something super fun like a trip to the pub/cocktail bar or a day trip to the beach.

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Time off

Remember we are entitled to time off, everyone needs a break. Taking time off helps us to relax, unwind and gives that overworked brain some nice relax time. It helps us to come back to work energised and proactive. If a certain phase of laboratory work means it’s hard to take a whole week off, make sure you’re planning in some long weekends.

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Are you mindful of putting self-care into practice? Any other tips you can enlighten us all with? As always, I love to hear from you! Just comment below.

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[ I originally wrote this blog post as a guest contributor for Let’s Talk Academia. Check the website out here! It’s full of brilliant advice and experiences about life as a postgraduate student and working in academia. ]

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Science, scicomm and supporting women in STEM – Sasha Weiditch

Science, scicomm and supporting women in STEM – Sasha Weiditch

For November’s Scientist Showcase please welcome the fabulous Sasha. Sasha is a PhD student over in Toronto, Canada. Her passion for science, engaging the public with research, and mission to empower women in STEM is so inspiring, passions I can really relate too! Sasha shares her science life over on Instagram as @scigirlsash which you have to check out! Over to you Sasha…

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What are you researching?

My PhD is in biochemistry, specializing in protein chemistry. Protein chemistry is a big field, because proteins are arguably the ‘do-ers’ in an organism. Your DNA holds all the information that makes you, well, you (aka your genes). Genes are encoded into proteins that float about in the cell and get all the molecular processes going. I’m looking at a specific organism, the bacteriophage, and how it’s molecular workings cause it to perform its function, which is to kill bacteria. Scientists are now looking for alternative sources to fight bacteria in our bodies, food or anywhere really because of the rise of antibiotic resistance amongst bacteria. This makes the study of bacteriophage an exciting prospect for the future.

Sasha lab1

“I loved doodling the Krebs cycle in high school biology and thinking about all the elements in the periodic table in chemistry. Putting it all together and understanding that these beautiful and intricate processes drive us and our world forward, it’s really something wonderful to investigate”.

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You started #PhDenomenalPhDemale – tell us more!

It’s pronounced phenomenal female, and the hashtag was inspired by the well, ‘phenomenal’ women I am fortunate to have met throughout my graduate career. These are women who are choosing science, pursuing challenging PhD programs and following their passion to use science to create a better tomorrow. I thought – ‘I already know about these inspiring women, why don’t more people, and especially more young women?’. Throughout my academic career I had experienced the plaguing uncertainty, the challenging competition with peers, the long hours of studying, the feeling of ‘why am I even doing this?’ and yet, above it all, I made it through. While I am now accustomed to those feelings being a natural part of the PhD process, I am aware of how debilitating those thoughts are as a high school or university student. Thus, PhDenomenalPhDemale is a way to give real life examples that with the right amount of perseverance, hard work and belief in yourself, your dreams are attainable.

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Let’s talk scicomm! Your Instagram is just beautiful.

I enjoy using Instagram for science communication as it’s a fast and fun way to be part of a community of scientists and bloggers. I love sharing cool science, or, everyday science that’s cool. Using IG to learn from other scientists and followers who comment and ask questions is one of my favourite ways to share information! I love that anyone can tap into their device and ask a scientist a question, or see what day-to-day research life is like. I’m hopeful that this type of interaction will shed a positive light on scientists and break stereotypes for women in science.

I’m also very aware of the negative aspects of an app that is on a device that is with you literally all. the. time. In one minute, harmful societal notions of how your body is supposed to look, what you’re supposed to say, eat and dress like are reaffirmed by these falsely idolized figures. So basically, I was sick of it. I wanted to be part of a space that promoted real women doing inspiring things in their lives and in science.

SoapBox Science

I recently took part in Soapbox Science, which I found out about through IG! I was honoured to be part of this event as it aligns with my goals as an ‘instagrammer’, which is to promote women in STEM. Standing on my Soapbox in the busiest intersection in downtown Toronto wearing my lab coat, I got asked many questions on my topic, the bacteriophage, by young and old, men and women. And – it was a lot of fun!

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How do you balance work, scicomm and personal life?

A valuable piece of advice given to me that sticks into my mind all the time: not every day has to be balanced to achieve ‘work-life balance’. Sometime days are longer, some days are shorter. Some weeks are longer, some weeks are shorter. Being a PhD student, this resonated with me because I often (like I think many millennials are) am trying to fit it ‘all’ in and succeed in my professional goals. I try my best to make time for things like fitness, spending time with family and friends and of course, keeping up with blogging and social media. Still my PhD work is primary, so keeping this advice in mind, I remember not to stress when the ‘balance’ isn’t met and make up for it in the future.

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For other current/soon-to-be PhD students, what are your dos and don’ts?!

Do NOT think that you are alone in experiencing the roller coaster of success and failures in your research or graduate school life. Great discoveries are spawn of the curiosity to try something that may not succeed (or better, you learn from that negative results as well!).

Stay focused on your research goals but also make time to find out what else excites you outside the lab or in other research groups. There’s a whole world waiting to collaborate in many cool ways.

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And finally, a day in the life of Sasha!

 

A huge thank you to Sasha for sharing her life as a scientist, science communicator and promoter of women in STEM. To see more of what she gets up to head over to her Instagram and give her a follow, or you can find her on Twitter!

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