Posts Tagged ‘Research’

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!

 

Perks of being a tree-hugger!

Sustainability of the environment is not a subject that should be taken lightly. The relationship between man and his environment is rocketing towards a non-existence. We should want to preserve our environment as it is crucial for the existence of the earth, every living being and for future generations. By the time I have finished writing this post, I’m sure my propaganda will have swayed itself into your subconscious and you’ll wake up tomorrow morning wanting to become a tree-hugger.
The way the environmental science course is taught here at QMUL Geography relates immensely to what is occurring at this present time in the outside world. We are purposely taught to start reading scientific journals, articles etc, instead of out-dated text books. This was something that will get us in the habit of reading current event materials. The field trip to the mountains of Scotland I went on in my first year at Easter was the stuff of dreams – putting theory into practice has really helped consolidate my learning.

The following are pictures taken by myself from Scotland, in the Cairngorms field trip (first year) 2014.

Honestly speaking, this course wasn’t something I had always envisioned myself studying. It was something that came to me in my final year at college when I was in the process of applying to universities.  I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of those people who always knew what they wanted to be. And there are thousands of people who don’t know just like myself, so it takes a bit of experimenting to discover what interests you. After my departure from Scotland and by the end of my first academic year I have truly felt even more excited and am 100% content with my course.
I would love to voice my thoughts to the many people who doubt our ability to resolve and restore order within our environment.  It is natural habitats such as these with gorgeous scenery and therapeutic landscapes that bring us down to earth and makes us truly question the impact we have on our planet and inspires us to preserve it to the best of our ability.

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.

A Student’s Perspective: The 2014 British Conference for Undergraduate Research

Attending this was the most fun I have had in years. It was better than going on holiday. In December I applied online to present my findings from a summer research project – and in April, Queen Mary sent me to Nottingham so that I would be the QMUL delegate at the 2014 British Conference for Undergraduate Research (BCUR). Science is fascinating to me and as I want to be a scientific researcher. My experience at the BCUR only reinforced this goal.

Travelling to a new place on your own is exciting, and it was quite a journey for me to get to the BCUR. On the train I even played poker with the stranger sat across from me while revising for an exam. After arriving at Nottingham, I met a myriad of people on my way to the conference, all of whom were happy to help me get where I was going.

An image from the BCUR website showing researchers discussing poster presentations.

An image from the BCUR website showing researchers discussing poster presentations.

I did not expect what happened then. Everywhere I went I met people who were welcoming, spontaneous, and just overall awesome. I had dinner with groups of delegates from different universities each day, and would then go to the hall bar with them afterwards. I met Swedish young scientist superstar Ulrika Frising and even a former Miss Wales. It was surprising to me how friendly everyone was, and how eager everyone was to spend time together and get to know each other. I mean: we were complete strangers.

The delegates gave talks or presented posters about their research during the day. It was fantastic to meet so many people with the same passion for science as me. On the second day I presented my poster, which detailed the procedure for synthesizing a novel bioplastic that I designed during the summer before I started university. This plastic is made up of corn starch molecules cross-linked with tartaric acid – a prevalent winemaking waste product. Its biodegradability makes it eco-friendly. Furthermore, it was designed such that it would be edible, opening up a world of possible applications. A research article I wrote exploring the synthesis of this bioplastic is currently under review for publication by the Canadian Young Scientist Journal. To learn more about the BCUR or how to apply to attend next year’s conference, you can visit www.bcur.org for information.

 

 

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