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!

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Filed under: General, 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):

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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!

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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!

Why?

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, , , , ,

Graphical Representation

Recently I have been having some issues with how to present my data and how much of it to present.

I am always inclined to insert graphs wherever possible. To me graphs represent an easy way to at a glance get a quick idea of the overall trends being discussed. However, it seems like this love of graphs rests mainly with scientists. However, doing research in an interdisciplinary field means that often I am not presenting my work to scientists, but to people from the arts & humanities. This means that my background and that of my audience is quite different.

So far it is proving to be a quite steep learning curve to figure out how to adapt what I say for a specific audience. I feel like I am definitely getting better (and this I hope is the reason I was chosen to be a NOISEmaker – that during the interview I managed to get my point across in an accessible way). However, there is still some way to go. I realise that the only way to improve is to learn more about the issues and also get more practice under my belt.

Today this article on bad ways of graphically representing your work. It made me think about how other people might react to the different graphs and images I have been using in my presentations. Are they serving their purpose? Or do I insert them just to fill in some space? And how much is my love of graphs and graphical representation of ideas in my presentations hindering my explanations rather than helping them along?

Love Graph?

Filed under: General, Rants, Complaints and General Malaise, , , ,

Science in the News

I am sure most of you following the news have heard of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. You have probably heard of its breakdowns, problems and downtime.

However…drum roll please!…it is finally up and running…and the first high-energy collisions has occurred. I couldn’t let the event go by without mentioning such an achievement. I also wanted to point you towards the article in the Guardian by John Ellis, one of the senior physicists at CERN. As he says, “I want the LHC to be remembered for something that we have never previously talked about.”

That is also what I want for all of science…not just finding what we expect, but finding that which we don’t as well. I am sure this statement will come to haunt me some time (as it has already done at countless times), but then why do research if you only find what you expect?

I will leave you with this video from Tom Whyntie who won the NESTA FameLab Competition, talking about the work of the LHC, where he works

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

Happy Birthday Blog

It’s been one year since I started this blog! Cannot believe that I am already half-way through my PhD (time seriously flies!), let alone that I have been writing about it for over a year. I thought that on this anniversary I will give you some stats about how it’s doing (I am a scientist after all…numbers make me happy :)).

Total views: 603

Number of posts: 30 (around 2.5 a month…not much maybe I should blog more?)

Happy Birthday research blog!

Filed under: General

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