My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Courses Galore: UCL

As part of my studies and I required to take the equivalent of 20 credits (i.e. 10 half-day courses) per year. With the start of a new academic year comes the release of new courses, and with it an increase in the number of courses I have been attending. As with the NOISE workshops, I have not had time to write about them in detail one-by-one, but here is a brief run-through of what I have been doing, and why. I am now in what should be the final year of my PhD, so you can of course notice that I am taking a number of courses which focus on career and employment-related topics.

How to Engage with Businesses

The course is aimed at people who would like to start research collaborations with companies outside academia. Overall, this is not something which I am actively seeking at the moment. However, I appreciate that learning to speak the language of the non-academic world is a great skill to aim for. Before the course I considered myself to be not that good at this; during the course I confirmed to myself that I am not that good at it. However, the course gave me (and the other participants I am sure) a good basic framework to enter into these discussions with. In other ways, it gave me something to grasp on to in my incompetence and to structure the way I approach such meetings in a more fruitful manner. Also, it made me think about what companies are really looking for, which, considering I might get a job outside academia, is important to keep in mind!

Interview Techniques – with MatchTec

This was the first in a series of employer-led workshops offered in the skills development programme. MatchTec, which was the employer presenting at the workshop, is a technical and professional recruitment company, which places quite a number of PhD students. The recruiter presenting to us described what is expected in an interview, what an interview might consist of, as well as how to tackle questions. In particular she was quite good at identifying how skills we are gaining as part of our PhD can be translated into the skills required outside academia. Even though I have been to interviews before which I was often successful at, the course was still useful, and highlighted issues I might not have thought about that much which I should start doing.

MATLAB Basics

I have been to other MATLAB courses before. However, as I haven’t really jumped in and started using it, I do not feel confident at using it. So far I have only attended the first in a series of lectures which will occur over the next few weeks. Although the course is aimed at neuroscience students, so far it has been quite general. The lecturer did seem to rush through things as though he needed to finish early (which he did!). For that reason I was glad that I have had some previous experience with the programme. However, otherwise, I found this lecture one of the better MATLAB lectures I have attended, so looking forward to the next ones!

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Banging away at UCL Chemistry

Having seen and been impressed by Andrea Sella presenting at the Cheltenham Science Festival (I had written about it here), when I saw that he was presenting a new chemistry demonstration show at UCL I immediately marked it down in my calendar. The event was organized as part of the UCL Chemistry and Physical Sciences society events in collaboration with Society of Chemical Industry. I was impressed as to how full the lecture theatre was, including with young kids excited at the prospect of experiencing some exciting chemistry!

This time round the show was called ‘Bangs and Meringues’…and that’s exactly what was delivered, together with a lot of bubbles! We learnt about the concepts of surface tension, and how and why bubbles are formed. We also saw a lot of bubbles and foams being produced! More than any grown up should enjoy making, but then why become a chemist if you want to lose that sense of wonderment? Meringues are also a form of foam (did you know that?), and he prepared some in a microwave. I’m not sure I would opt for that method if I’m preparing any for a party, on the basis that they ended up burnt, but hey – the microwave did its job (and more!)

However, the most exciting, especially for the kids, was definitely the fires and bangs. We had hydrogen bubbles causing big pops, big flames running across the front desk (with a fire extinguisher which didn’t quite seem to work!), and a big mentos and coke experiment (which unfortunately didn’t hit the roof – boohoo :P).

As always, a typical demo show by the irrepressible Andrea Sella: a bit wacky, quite a bit disorganized, but so much fun! Would I go again? Definitely! When’s your next show Andrea?

You can read more about the event and see photos, thanks to Ian visits.

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RSC does Heritage Science

Earlier this year I applied and was accepted as a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). On joining I started looking at the events being offered, and one which caught my eye in particular was the event ‘Heritage Science: Does that Deal with Old Science or New Challenges?‘.

This event was being organized by the RSC Marketing Group in collaboration with the science department at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. So far I had not been for a good visit to the V&A, except for a presentation being given there by a friend about her PhD in the field. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to get a bit more involved with the RSC, while learning more about heritage science in practice.

As the event was on Monday, when a tube strike was lovingly gracing the underground system of London, I decided to cycle there using the ‘Boris bikes’. I arrived a bit early and took the opportunity to have a quick trip around the exhibits. Unfortunately the photography gallery was closed due to lack of staff as a result of the strike. I did manage to make it to the tapestry gallery though. There I was particularly fascinated by the smell, probably emanating from the tapestries themselves.

Having had a quick look around the museum I then made my way to the lecture theatre. For the event I was also joined by Eva, a PhD student in my department. The first thing on the program was a short lecture by Graham Martin, Head of Science at the museum, giving an introduction to Heritage Science. It was a very good introduction to the subject, pitched perfectly for the mainly non-heritage science chemists in the audience. However, the most interesting to me was definitely what came after!

Following the presentation we were then given security passes, divided into groups and sent off with one of the scientist to have a look around the museum and the labs. The scientist leading our group was Graham Martin himself, and he did a very good job of showing us how scientific research has fed into the way the objects are displayed, particularly in the Jameel gallery (below). This is after all the aim of heritage science: that what is being studied can feed directly into the field to improve the condition of heritage objects, be they big buildings, or minuscule jewels.

During the trip around the museum we also came across the tapestry gallery again. I swiftly grabbed Eva and took her in there for a sniff. We are now both curious as to the volatile organic compounds, or pollutants, which are being given off from the tapestries and creating that smell. Maybe we should do some investigation of our own? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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