My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

PhD: Mission Complete!

Three years of work have finally come to an end!

My viva was on Wednesday 19th October. My sister surprised me with a visit to be there for my viva, which I really appreciated. This meant that the night before I just relaxed with her rather than stressed about the next day, which was a good thing.

As is normal, I didn’t know what to expect with the viva. However, luckily for me, it went better than I could have even imagined! The examiners immediately put me at ease – having an experienced examiner was a definite plus.

I felt that most of the questions I got were from the broader chemistry field rather than specific to my PhD. This meant that I had no way of preparing for them. However, the examiners talked me through what they were trying to get out of me such that at no point did I feel threatened.

The lines of questioning meant that I learnt more about my work by thinking about it from a different view point. I believe that this, after all, is what a viva should be about (in hindsight of course!) – you consolidate what you knew but also realise what you didn’t realise you knew!

I emerged from the examination room in around 1.5hrs, PhD in hand! No corrections was the final verdict – what more could I want?

All that is left is that I thank everyone who I have been in contact with through the PhD and who believed in me, from my colleagues in Pisa, to the workshop attendees, people who donated photographs, to conference participants who discussed my work with me. Of course, big thanks goes to my colleagues at UCL and TNA and particularly my supervisors: Matija, Nancy and Kostas – I couldn’t have done it without all of you!


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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!

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