My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Updating my Research Profile

I am quite aware that constantly maintaining an updated research profile is essential. This is especially so as any research project is constantly evolving, meaning that new research tracks arise, and events are attended.

Recently I worked on updating my profile on my departmental web page. Up to now the text on the page had been written at the start of the project. However, now, I have included more details on the project, its aims, as well as highlighting some of the main achievements so far. This more clearly indicates to anyone coming across my profile how the project is progressing and also maybe about how we might work together in some aspect.

Having updated the departmental profile, I also decided to update my profile on this blog. To the right you should be now able to see a new Research Biography section. There you can read more about my publications and presentations so far. I plan to include workshops, conferences and research visits I have been involved in soon. If there is anything else you would like to see included do let me know though!

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

Another Day…Another Danish Experience

After yesterday’s scientific experience, today it was the turn of some archaeology and natural history.

A suggestion for this morning had been to visit a ‘Whale Museum’ in Gram, a town 10km away from where I am staying. Being close that option was plumped for.

What was in my head as the ‘Whale Museum’ turned out to be the Sønder Jylland Museum of Natural History and Paleontology. The museum consisted of displays of a lot of fossils found in the clays in the region, from tiny bryozoans to massive whales (hence the ‘whale museum’ title). Unfortunately natural history always brings back bad memories of my animal and plant classification lectures during my undergraduate degree, which rather dampened my interest in the subject rather than cultured it. At least the displays there were also in English! There were also pictures of a whale which died last month in Vejle Fjord after getting stuck there and the way its skeleton was cleaned…quite gruesome but quite informative.

The highlight of the museum however is a visit to Gram Lergrav, a clay pit in which you can dig and find your own fossils and shells. The high temperatures definitely meant that today was not the day for hard work under the baking sun, but being there it was a must to try our luck. We followed the instructions of the receptionist to go through a door, pick up some tools and head down to the pit.

I was a bit surprised that there was no instructions on best practice, how an archaeological dig normally works, or anything of the sort. We were just sent through to the pit on our own and happily dug on our own. I think they are missing something in not even providing you with some information on how things should proceed and what your finds are. But I guess that would require many more resources in what is essentially a small town museum with only one person on duty.

Having found a good deal of shells and snails, we were however happy with our finds and gladly escaped the sun’s hot rays.

Update: After writing this I was told that we were given some written instructions on how to get started, but as the sheet was in Danish I wasn’t shown it. So something is being done, though I still think a lot more can be done…if resources were available.

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Experiencing Science…in Denmark

Danfoss Universe is a hands-on science theme park where both children and adults play their way to a knowledge of science. Here you can romp from one experiment and fun-filled natural phenomenon to the next.

I am currently in Denmark on a short trip to southern Jutland. As part of the plan was to visit friends in Sonderborg on the island of Als, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to experience some science in Denmark.

Even in the 30 degree temperatures gracing Denmark today I think a park such as this should definitely be on the to-do list of any kid (and older people). This was one of the most interactive museums\attractions I have visited. As the blurb explains, the science park is an interactive experience about everything, from water to energy, digital technology to the origins of the Danfoss company.

One of my favourite areas was probably the Explorama attraction. This zone concerned concepts of creativity and intelligence. There were over 50 activities to try your hands at, from trying to mimic sentences in other languages, to mathematical and logical activities and activities testing your interpersonal intelligence. My mum was a maths teacher who did her PostGraduate Certificate in Education dissertation on teaching maths in a fun way to kids which she tried out a lot of these activities on us poor(?) kids. However this meant that I grew up with a very proactive attitude to these activities such that I am always up to the challenge. So thanks mum for all the time you spent on entertaining us in a fun and educational way!

The other attraction I enjoy was the Segway track. They apparently have Europe’s first Segway track which you can try out in the form of a sort of obstacle course which gets progressively more difficult as you learn new skills. The eye-wateringly high entrance fee could probably be excused for this experience together with the extent of hand’s on possibilities in the park.

However it wasn’t just hands’ on exhibits that were available. There was also a science show organised once a day that, after the great experience of science shows at the Cheltenham Science Festival, I wanted to experience. Even though the 30 minute show was conducted in Danish, I found I could easily follow what was going on. I liked the fact that the show seemed to be structured in a progressive manner such that each demo built on a previous one. As with the Cheltenham Festival, there was also a big love for bangs – it seems like this is an essential recurring theme in science shows! My quibble however? The demonstrator was dressed in a lab coat and wore a grey messed up wig. I guess this only helps to reinforce the traditional image of a scientist. But is that all scientists are? Mad, eccentric people? I would guess (or hope!) not.

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Photographic Necklaces and Aching Muscles

One of the problems I had to figure out before starting experiments was how to place 50 photographic samples in one 100mL glass vial without any of them touching each other or the glass. On top of that it was essential to be able to easily get them in and out of the vial for them to be analysed, and that means each sample needs to be easily identifiable.

I spent quite some time on and off thinking about this conundrum. Most of the methods I was thinking about were either not very practical for later identification and analysis. This was before I stumbled on the idea of sewing all the samples together onto one piece of string. A form of necklace of photographic samples. A good idea…but how to fit them into the glass vial without any of the samples touching?

The answer to this second part of the problem did not actually come from me in the end. One of my office colleagues walked over to see my efforts with constructing a supporting structure from stainless steel wire and very calmly suggested: why don’t you form it into a coil? Brilliant idea! My having a coil I can extend the stainless steel coil and easily wrap the string around it, before compressing it again to fit into the vial.

This happened quite a while ago. So why am I writing about it today?

I started preparing samples for the next set of experiments yesterday. This morning however I woke up with one of my upper abdomen muscles hurting. It’s not a muscle I ever knew existed and I couldn’t remember anything I did yesterday which could have conceivable resulted in this.

The puzzlement however only lasted till this morning, when I returned to the lab to finish the sample preparation. As  soon as I went to punch out the first sample for the first necklace, the muscle ached! It seems like every time I pressed down on the puncher I tighten this particular muscle. Doing it ten times might not hurt, but as I found doing it hundreds of times certainly does!

What have I learnt from this? Well, I either have to grin and bear it or spread the sample preparation over more days I guess!

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

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July 2010