You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog has been all but quiet and desolate the last three months. This is completely my fault and an unconscious act of neglect. There are two main reasons why I have been so absent and hopefully I can give you many excuses to explain these reasons while also updating you on my progress.
The first reason is work. In mid-August I had what's known here as a Late Stage Review (LSR). This is something all Imperial PhD students are required to do in order to complete their PhD. The aim is to present your results and future plans after around 2 years of doing your PhD. You make up a report and do a presentation for two examiners. They judge your work and your ability to complete your PhD and sign you off. Usually they don't fail people (there is always the possibility) and the idea is for them to give you ideas for finishing your thesis and focusing your work. Obviously you want to present as much good data as possible. Hence the absence beforehand. I spent all my time writing the report and generating as much data as I could. All in all the LSR went fine. My work is satisfactory enough to continue. However I am not going to lie I was disappointed afterwards. I thought going in that they would help me narrow down and focus on the more important aspects of my project but instead I was told to "expand more to focus more". I realistically have 12 months left in the lab. This was not what I wanted to hear. I need to add more work to quite frankly an already daunting amount of work. Following from that I wanted to finish up at least one part of my project (validating my significant probes found from the DNA methylation array in another format i.e pyrosequencing). And this you will be happy to know showed...........nothing. Bupkis. Nada. I have negative results. While this is not an epic failure (as my brain wants me to believe) nor is it a triumph. Essentially what this means is I need to go back to my plan and look at the question a different way. And this is when I appreciated the LSR. Yes I needed to do more work but actually it gave me an opportunity to approach my project at a slightly different angle and who knows maybe something will work. I am now in the stages of planning and implementing that work. And who knows maybe in a few months time I will have something positive to talk about.
The other reason I have been absent is I went on a 17 day holiday. I travelled to Rome, Sicily, Dublin and Cork. It was amazing and relaxing. And I didn't have to worry about my project or stress about what I needed to do next. I even slept the whole way through a night for the first time in, well, years. It was incredible and for anyone looking for their next holiday destination I highly recommend Sicily. Get a car like we did, drive around and soak it all in. Mountains, crystal clear water, food. A must really.
And finally on a slightly different note I am taking up some teaching! An ex-member of our lab, Kirsty, is part of a team which has created a brand new innovative BSc undergraduate programme in Imperial. The course focuses on interactive learning and face-to-face teaching. It will be one of the first courses of its kind and hopefully not the last. Part of this course is to teach laboratory skills, called lab pods. I will basically be a part of a team of PhD students in these lab pods who will help guide students through techniques like cell culture and western blotting. Guide being the operative word. Unlike traditional teaching labs where I would show them what to do and answer all of their questions for them, this lab aims to make scientists. So I am really there to watch and provide last resort help. The idea is that the students will get a protocol, read through it and do the experiment. If it goes wrong then they have to figure out why. Exactly like anyone working in a lab would. Besides having a master student, I haven't really taught before so this is a new and exciting experience! Terrifying (especially when you realise you're about 10 years older than they are) but exciting.
And that's what I've been doing. hopefully I will be a bit more dedicated to the blog and I can keep you updated on my work, my teaching experience and also complete a few posts (such as my "What the Hell? - Cancer" series).
Btw I am not quitting this PhD any time soon in case you were worried.
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My name is Caitriona and I am a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK.