I apologise for posting so rarely in the past months, but it’s been an extremely busy time and not even my family heard from me very often (although I try to call them every 4-5 days).
So, what’s been keeping me so busy?
The University of Edinburgh has a mandatory annual review system to keep track of PhD students and their projects. This is to see that the student is progressing and actually doing work, but also that the project is going in the right direction. The written report for your first year is handed in 8 months after you start, which gives you time to do more experiments in case you haven’t done so far. After handing in the written report and a meeting with your thesis committee, you will hopefully be fully matriculated as PhD student (before that, you are theoretically only a “candidate”). This is a bit scary, as it can happen that you are not allowed to progress with your PhD, but this almost never happens. Most PhD students are very hard-working and keen to progress, seeing that it’s sometimes not easy to come across a PhD position (interviews, etc.), so you don’t want to lose it by being lazy!
Time has really flown by and although it feels as if I just started, I had to hand in my written report for the first year review on the 30th of June. This was a good exercise to tie all my data together neatly and try and write a “story” out of it, which will be very useful when writing my thesis. I still haven’t had my thesis committee meeting since a lot of the Principal Investigators are away over summer, but we have a scheduled date in September so I still have a little time to prepare my presentation.
I was able to attend the Scottish Developmental Biology Group Meeting in June and present a poster with my data – I received a lot of interest and good feedback, which was a little boost to my scientific confidence 🙂
Speaking of presentations, I gave a talk at the zebrafish group meeting in the beginning of July. Needless to say, I was quite nervous since this was the first time I communicated my project and data to the groups working on zebrafish in our centre, and around 40 people attended the talk (could’ve also been more or less though, I was too excited to count!). Overall, the feedback was good and constructive and lots of people told me later (over pizza that is served after the meeting) they found my talk interesting, which obviously made me very happy 🙂 This talk was a good practice run for my thesis committee meeting, so I am not too worried about it.
In the last few weeks, I have been doing some big experiments and tried collect a lot of data, because I will take two weeks off in August to go home, visit family & friends and catch a few rays of sunshine in Italy (the sun has sadly not been showing itself very often recently, only one time when I had to stay in the lab until 9:30pm 😦 ). I’m very excited to take a small break from everyday life and let my mind wander – I think this will boost productivity again.
My lab signed up to take part in Science Insights, which is an initiative by the University of Edinburgh where high school pupils spend a week of their summer holidays on various campuses of the University (e.g., Roslin Institute, Central Area, Little France) and get a taste for the science that is going on. I would have really loved that when I was in school! This was a voluntary activity for students from the area (although some students apparently travelled here from North Berwick!), and the pupils had to apply, so they were all really keen to know what’s going on and it was a pleasure to speak to them. We participated in a “research taster session”, where you show the students around the lab and explain what you’re doing and why. Everyone in my lab was busy or on holiday, so it was me, “Teacher Chiara”, who was guiding the students through our research interests. That went pretty well, although I felt a little strange because to me it still feels like yesterday when I left school (it’s been 5 years, though… starting to feel old!).
I also participated in another session from Science Insights titled Meet the students. It was set up in a speed-dating format, and (PhD) students basically went from table to table to talk to the pupils about what we are studying, how we ended up in science, and what fascinates us about science. I really enjoyed this session, and it felt like a glimpse in my past when I was about to finish school and applied to University, anxious about getting into the subject I wanted. Luckily, it all played out well for me and I hope it does for these pupils as well! 🙂
In my free time, I did something more exciting than just read or watch Netflix recently… I went to a wood cabin in the middle of nowhere in the highlands with two of my friends, and it was awesome! No phone reception, no internet – nothing but peace and quiet (and the fireplace) 🙂 We spent a day hiking up a mountain through the forest. There was no path, and our clothes were a bit torn afterwards, plus I still found twigs in my hair 2 days later – but the view was worth it. And we sat by the fire place the rest of the time. It was a great weekend, and I strongly recommend a getaway like that to everyone!
I also went whale-spotting near Oban recently. We took a 3 hour tour with sealife adventures, who is run by a Marine Biologist and his wife (who has a biochemistry PhD). I really enjoyed this tour, and the explanations we were given. The area the tour took us through has been a marine conservation site for the last 10 years, which allowed all the natural species to greatly increase in number and recover from a lot of fishing in the past, but there might be a problem with it now since the UK voted to leave the EU (and EU laws allowed this to become a conservation site) – hopefully, the Scottish government will keep it a conservation site and not allow the fishers to erode the marine life there once again.
The views from the boat were amazing and we saw some cute seals and porpoises. No bigger whales sadly, but that was okay. 🙂
Hopefully, I’ll manage to do more adventurous stuff like that in the future. Coming back to the lab relaxed and with a clear mind really helps to get productive 🙂