My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Valuing Photographs

Today I had a meeting at TNA, as project partners in my PhD regarding the issue of values and heritage. It was my first meeting there with a group of people besides my supervisors. Besides the discussion being very useful for my research, it was also highly enlightening to observe how topics are discussed within the institution. In particular I feel I gained a lot due to the way they question things, challenge each other’s ideas and are in general up for really thinking an issue through.

In light of that, one of the meeting participants, following the meeting where we discussed so much about photographs, particularly colour photographs, sent us all this comic. I thought it was hilarious! So here are Calvin and Hobbes discussing photographs!

If you’re interested here are a few resources about heritage values you can look through:

Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage (The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles)

Values and Heritage Conservation (The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles)

Significance 2.0 (Collections Council of Australia Ltd)

Representation and Intervention: The Symbiotic relationship of conservation and value (Taylor, J. and Cassar, M.)


Filed under: Research Process, , , , , ,

Who’s a Scientist?

I always wonder what people think that a scientist looks like. Do they believe the typical stereotypes like  big unruly hair, zero social skills and white coats? Being a scientist (or at least working in the field) myself I of course see scientists as normal people. Anyone around you could be one and you couldn’t pick them out in a crowd. Of course unless they are looking intensely at some random object and they are over the age of ten :). But maybe that is my skewed view of normality being what I am used to?

One of the bloggers I follow in London, IanVisits yesterday posted an article about an experiments ‘done’ on school children. The children were asked to draw what they thought a scientist looked like before a visit to Fermilab, a particle research facility in the US. They were then asked to repeat the exercise following the visit.

While prior to the visit the pictures consisted of stereotypical images of scientists, following the visit the people in the pictures looked much more normal (You can see the results here). I wanted however to leave you with the pictures of one girl, Amy. This is what she drew before and after the visit (Before on the left, After on the right):

Filed under: General, , , ,

Researching out and about in Kew

As I have written about in previous posts, the centre I am based in organises monthly research meetings during the ‘academic year’ months. It has however become a sort of tradition that the last meeting in June is what we call a ‘research day away’. Last year we visited the two London Tates. This year we travelled a bit out of central London toKew.

Our first stop was at the Collection Care department at The National Archives. There they discussed with us what is the work they do. However, even more importantly they discussed how they approach research and how it is informing their policy making and priorities.

As a researcher it is very important to understand how research is being used in practice in institutions working outside of academia and what is valuable to these institutions as outputs from research. Particularly as they are a partner in my PhD project it was exciting to hear more about how my work will feed into the bigger picture of the work and research being done at TNA.

A visit to the repositories was then planned. I have of course often visited them, but for most of the others in the group it was their first time, for some also their first time in an archival repository. It was interesting to learn that they position their materials on the basis of how often they are requested, amongst other factors, so as to improve accessibility to their users. Accessibility in fact seems to be one of the highest, if not the highest, priority at TNA.

Following a delicious lunch at TNA, the day then continued with a visit to Kew Gardens. It was my first visit there, partly because none of my friends were that interested in going, and partly because I never could justify me spending money for me to visit on my own. It was good to finally go though. We thus spent the afternoon walking around the gardens, peeking through different greenhouses (it was too hot to spend too much time in any of them!) and in general just relaxing with our people from the group.

A thoroughly enjoyable day. I think it is a great idea of bringing the group together, while learning more about the field we work in and relaxing together. Looking forward to next year’s research day away. Who knows where we will go?

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Making Money as a Student

As a full-time student I have no regular income. Living on my savings, however, is definitively not the most productive, so I try to grab any opportunity from which I can support myself.

The most logical way is probably to work. If you have a supportive supervisor you can probably get some jobs from within the university itself. In my case I have so far worked on a project which was being carried out in the centre I am based in. This meant that besides putting some of the skills I have gained during my research into practice, I also gained some relevant experience within a research project besides my own.

However, there are other ways in which a student can get some money to support themselves, which may not always be the most logical.

So far the most lucrative possibilities have probably been applying for posts offering fixed grants. For some reason I always manage to come way under budget for these events, which means that besides gaining quite a lot academically, I also manage to support myself for that bit longer as a student.

Another way of making some money is then from participating in focus groups and/or research experiments. These opportunities mean that for giving up some of your time you are either paid in cash or vouchers. If I am paid in vouchers I normally try to choose vouchers from places I know I need something, so that the money can go towards something I really need.

I have been lucky to have managed to save some money during my previous degree from working and stipends. However, these small amounts have definitely built up to mean that I feel less guilty of treating myself every so often.

Filed under: General, Research Process, , , , , , ,

The Maltese Connection

UCL is listed as having more than 21,000 students and more than 8,000 staff. Of these a significant amount are non-UK students. And of course, Maltese citizens are not lacking either. I already know a couple of Maltese people from my own department. However, earlier this week I was contacted by another Maltese person.

Following my writing on the UCL blog about Cheltenham Science Festival I received an e-mail from a Maltese lecturerfrom the chemistry department. He had read my posts and decided to write to say hi.

From this first e-mail we then ended up meeting for coffee later on last week. I had already heard about him from a number of individuals, including past professors of mine, so I was looking forward to meeting up with him.

I really enjoyed the meeting. It was really good to meet up with someone new, and to discuss PhD’s, chemistry, universities and other general issues. Doing this in Maltese, and being able to discuss about Maltese issues was even better! So if there are any other Maltese UCL’ers out there, do get in contact. Meeting up for a coffee would be nice!

Filed under: General, , , , ,

Saving our Heritage

At the Centre for Sustainable Heritage, where I am based, there is currently a lot of work being carried out to determine how different heritage materials degrade under different environment conditions. This is one of the major research themes the centre is focussing on. In fact, work is being done on materials including plastics, paper, furniture and of course colour photographs.

Why am I saying this though? Well, the work on plastics, with reference to previous work done on paper by members of the centre, has been featured in today’s edition of the New Scientist. Starting with the words:

AS I raise the gun to her head, the leggy blonde stares back at me impassively. “Just squeeze the trigger,” urges a voice from over my shoulder. So I place the tip of the barrel on her temple, and fire.

I hope you will find it interesting reading.

Filed under: General, , , , , , , , , ,

Christmas time in geekland!

In the geekland formally known as ‘my department’, Christmas has definitely arrived early this year!


Up to now the lab we had access to was a tiny room with a big chamber in the middle of it, leaving a small L-shaped corridor around it to work in…shared by around 5 people at one go. Let’s just say that this was not ideal set-up for a lab! It was really much more than a room with bench-space rather than a lab as I understand a chemistry lab to be.

The day finally arrived when we got our new lab last weekend! While I was busy enjoying the Cheltenham Science Festival, some of my colleagues made a start on getting the lab all nice and ready for Tuesday. Why the deadline? Well, we had an important delegation coming to our department then so we needed to make sure that the lab was all nice and ready for their visit.

I entered the lab first time on Monday morning. I was definitely impressed! The lab is much bigger than I ever imagined! And there is so much space to move around in, bench space to work on, and storage space for anything needed.

Up to now going to the lab has been a not-so-pleasant experience…a descent into a windowless, crowded basement room. Now? I think I just might find any excuse to go their. Experiments here I come!

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, General, Research Process, , , , ,

Cheltenham Science Festival: The Aftermath

I am now back in London and starting to recover from the festival. As I have commented before, this was my first science festival. And I was definitely impressed!

I had a really hectic time of it, what with seeing around 20 shows in 3 days and one evening, going through the interactive displays in the discovery zone, and just soaking up the atmosphere. However, on top of that I was also writing about the festival for the UCL website.

I won’t repost everything here, but will just gently nudge you towards my posts on that blog. Do go check it out and let me know what you think!

Filed under: Events and Activities, , , ,

Cheltenham Science Festival Commences

I cannot be at the festival today. However, I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun! So I opted to go the twitter-way and follow the festival that way. In fact, my first blog post for the UCL blog is about how I have been experiencing the festival by proxy from London. I will be arriving in Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon where I plan to start experiencing the festival directly!

Filed under: Events and Activities, , , ,

Cheltenham Involvment

As I wrote in the last post, there were more things in the pipeline for me at the Cheltenham Science Festival. What is this? Well, UCL Communications contacted all the bursary winners asking if any of us would be interested in writing about their experience at the festival on a blog they were setting up. Seeing as I would blog anyways, and this would be a good way of reaching a greater audience, I immediately accepted.

The festival is this week so finally the UCL Cheltenham blog is up and running. Do keep an eye on it in the coming week. I have my first post, an introduction to me, already up. Will keep the blog updated as I go along. Hope you enjoy it!

Besides that, other news about the science festival is that, just in case I wasn’t already busy, I now also have tickets for one more event at the festival: Lasers on Sunday.

This weekend should be good!

Filed under: Events and Activities, , , , , ,

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