Alice Royal

Alice Royal
Ph.D. Cardiovascular Pharmacology
Hi, I'm a 2nd year PhD student, based at the Heart Centre in QMUL's Charterhouse Square campus. My project is funded by the British Heart Foundation, and the focus is in the area of cardiac arrhythmia. After I complete my PhD I hope to continue my career in academia. When I'm not in the lab, I really enjoy practising yoga and attempting to learn ballet. I am also a keen (amateur) cook, and you can see my culinary adventures in my personal blog: www.thekitchensmiths.com

The dreaded ‘Write Up’ stage approaches

Only a few months remain before I leave the lab and enter the dreaded ‘write up’ stage of my PhD, where I hear day and night no longer hold such distinction, and it becomes acceptable to drink before noon. Duvet day, everyday! I fear that novelty may wear off pretty darn quick.

To be honest, my project has been on a steady track to doom since the start, but a couple of months ago began to turn around. I can just see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, partly because I might not have 80,000 words of pure negativity, and partly because this last year is finally coming to an end.

The final year is a strange one, as I’ve been told by many a friend that made it to the end. I want to be rid of this year just as much as I want to cling onto it with both hands. I want to leave this year behind mostly because of the stress. Oh, the stress! Frantically trying to finish experiments that are really resisting completion, whilst having to accept that not everything will actually be done by the time October comes around, and that any promising aspects of my project might be picked up by another student in the future. I feel very territorial about my work, which is why I don’t want to ever leave – I want to stay and finish every last bit myself. Alas, I have to fly the nest because nothing is ever finished in academia.
I must admit, the light emerging ahead of me evokes a level of excitement inside. The nervous kind of excitement that comes from wanting to move on into the big wide world and it being almost close enough to touch, but also not knowing what on earth that will bring. I could be unemployed for months, or I could be snapped up into the job of my dreams. Who knows? But, I’ve been traveling through this dark tunnel of a PhD for so long now, the brightness and vastness of the world ahead is also frightening one. How will the harsh environment outside of my little academia bubble feel?

My next post may well be written from a duvet den at around 3am, laptop on knee and gin in hand. But thankfully (I think), it’s now back to the lab.

To commute, or not to commute

That is the great question that faces the majority of people who work or study in London. I, unfortunately, could not escape this dilemma.
During the first year of my PhD it was my first time actually being in London, on a daily basis anyway. It therefore didn’t take me too long to conclude that I definitely wanted to live in London, no matter what. Besides, I had commuted to university in Sheffield from Lincoln for my very first semester in my undergrad (don’t ask) and I absolutely hated it!
I had big dreams of the city, where everything was just a short whirr of a tube journey away, and I would spend every weekend gallivanting round the trendy markets and shops of London. I was surprised then, as you can imagine, when I had to get the bus most places (including to and from the lab everyday) because an annual travel card for the tube was out of financial reach, yet the bus only cost £530 (a year!) with my student discount, and I spent almost every weekend visiting or being visited by my boyfriend in Cambridge.
Even though I got the snail-paced bus most places, I did really enjoy the freedom that living in London brings. Being able to hop on a night bus that will take you pretty much all the way home after one too many drinks, is something that you simply can’t do if you don’t live here. You have to factor in last trains, and thoughts such as, ‘is it even worth going out?’
Welcome to Liverpool Street Station

Despite all of this, I’m now living in my second commuter town. I first moved to Welwyn Garden City, where I lived for a year, and it took 1 hour 20 minutes from front door to desk. Now I live in Bishop’s Stortford, and even though I have a longer walk from the station, the faster train makes it 1 hour 15 minutes, if there are no delays!
Sometimes I miss the magic of London, but I think the time was right for me to move. As an undergraduate I hated commuting, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, but as a postgraduate I think it definitely has its perks. Commuting by train means I have a dedicated time slot to read or write, and I even get a little desk on the back of the seat in front of me! If I didn’t have that hour or so to read (scientific papers, by the way!) I know for sure that I wouldn’t make that time up during the day. Besides, lab work is just too busy sometimes.
My bank balance obviously suffers a bit of a blow once a year when I have to fork out for my annual season ticket, but I’m rewarded with remarkably fresher air than in London, a cheaper cost of living, and an actual house. That’s right, two whole floors that actually belong to me and my boyfriend. We even have a garden! Compare that to the one room I rented in one of the flats in a converted house in north London, for almost £200 more per month, and I’m laughing.
You may have grasped this already, but despite the allure of the big city, I would commute into London any day. This is obviously just my opinion, but as a postgraduate with choc-a-bloc days, I vote commute. (Unless of course you can afford to live within walking distance of uni/lab, but for me that would be sacrificing too much money, space, and dignity. I don’t want my bedroom to be a converted living room, thanks!). Besides, if the city beckons, I can use my annual season ticket to go gallivanting at the weekend!

 

How I came to do a PhD…

Good day!

I thought it would be sensible to start off my contribution to the student blog with how I started my toughest journey yet: my PhD!
Back when I was a wee college student, studying (ha…) for my A levels, a PhD was something that I associated with grey hair and wisdom. I didn’t realise what it was, or how you got it. When I was an undergrad, I knew my lecturers had ‘Dr’ preceding their names (or professor, in a couple of cases), but I never really thought about how they got those mysterious letters. Naive? Maybe… But I also put that down to lack of education in career prospects and progression.
My undergraduate course was a BSc biomedical sciences, which included a placement year at a hospital or in industry (only if you were successful in application and interview!). It was only in my third (placement) year at a small biotech company in Cambridge that I became aware of what a PhD was, how to get one and what it can do for you.
More than half of the 50ish people working at this company had a PhD, and almost everyone in the biology lab, where I was based, had one. It was here that I learned how it is pretty much vital for a career in research, in industry or academia. Why did they never tell me this at university?
When I returned to university for my fourth and final year, I began researching potential PhD supervisors and their work. For some reason, I felt intimidated by PhD application forms and the potential for high-class competition, so instead of applying through ‘findaphd.com‘ I applied directly to each supervisor.
By writing an email directly to my potential supervisor, I made sure my application actually made it to their office, and I wasn’t surrounded by other applicants that may have attended a better university or, I don’t know, done more volunteering or something. Insecure? Probably!
Out of the 7 supervisors I emailed, I got 2 replies asking me to attend an ‘interview’, which was basically an informal chat to make sure I wasn’t completely hopeless at life. Both of them offered to write up a grant proposal for me. Wait… I had just been offered 2 PhD positions, and I was worried about my application?
Just goes to show what being a little proactive can do for you!

I think I have to include a photo here, so here is me graduating (on the left)… ready to head down the long, dark road of the PhD. I should definitely look more scared…

 

graduation
‘Til the next time,
Alice.

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