#ShareMyThesis and drawing my thesis

#ShareMyThesis

I’m a fan of thinking about my work in different ways. It keeps the importance of the work fresh in my mind and challenges me to explain what I do in novel ways.

Last month The British Library together with EthOS launched #ShareMyThesis competition on twitter. With over 2000 entries from around the world it was a great success. The finalists published blogs elaborating on their initial tweets and the overall winners chosen- Congratulations!

Though I think PhD students do love a competition (who doesn’t want a free mac?!), I also think it was a great way for the #PhD twitter community to talk about their research. There are many PhD students on twitter, but I feel like we rarely talk about the real nuts and bolts of our work. It was good to have a step back and really think about explaining the core of what we’re doing.

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My thoughts at the Alzheimer’s Research UK PhD Day 2015

Last week I attended the first conference of my PhD:

Alzheimer’s Research UK PhD Day and Conference 2015

Before the main two day conference Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) hosted a PhD day. Though it’s not uncommon for large conferences to have satellite meetings, this is the first PhD day I’ve heard about. Many institutes hold a postgraduate research day within departments, University wide, or both, but this isn’t the same as really connecting with people from different institutes working in your specific research area.

The PhD day was held the day before the main 2 day conference from 10-11th March. It was a full day of talks and posters followed by an evening meal.

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How do I get lab experience?!

Without lab experience I definitely wouldn’t be doing my PhD. I wouldn’t have even considered it.

I owe my enjoyment of science and research to a lot of people who have mentored and taught me, but it’s probably having the chance to experience several research environments before the end of my degree that has had the most impact on where I am now.

There are lots of ways to gain experience and hopefully I’ll mention most of the routes, but this blog is by no means exhaustive.

*This is my personal experience*

How I felt looking for experience and PhD's!

How I felt looking for experience and PhD’s!

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The Effect @ The Pegg Studio Theatre

Past readers may have seen that I enjoy the crossover of art and science. In particular from a post written last year: Neuroscience + Art. This is the first play I’ve seen since moving to Bristol and I would have missed it completely if it wasn’t for spotting a plug on twitter and having a free Friday night. With the tag line ‘Love is double blind‘*, I thought I’d have to give it ago.

The Bristol Spotlights ran ‘The Effect‘ between the 4th-6th February at the new Pegg Studio Theatre in the UBU Richmond building.

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Administered with my patient number ready for the trial to start

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The PhD Chronicles – 1 Month In

Ok, I’m more like two months in, but here are my main thoughts at the moment:

  • I have A LOT of reading to do
  • I have A LOT of techniques to learn
  • I have A LOT of names to remember

*brain explodes*

I typed in 'brain explodes' and Google produced this glorious image - Kittens make everything better! - via mydailysix.blogspot.co.uk

I typed in ‘brain explodes’ and Google produced this glorious image – Kittens make everything better! – via mydailysix.blogspot.co.uk

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Referencing rage – EndNote vs. Mendeley (and RefWorks)

I officially started my PhD a month ago and was faced with the dilemma of which reference manager to use.

Fight of the reference managers: Mendeley vs. RefWorks vs.Endnote

I first came across Mendeley when writing up my undergraduate dissertation. It was the first manager I’d used, it was free to download and extremely easy to pick up so it served me well for my 10,000 word report. So far so good.

I started my MRes the next year, which involved 3 lab dissertations and 3 library dissertations in 12 months, so I definitely needed a good reference manager on my side. This is when I encountered RefWorks. My university promoted it during my induction week and I liked that I could reference from multiple computers. However, before handing in my first project RefWorks did a classic deadline night crash leaving me panicking at 1am and wasting a good hour figuring out how to transfer the backup file to Mendeley.

I vowed I would never leave Mendeley again…but here I am.

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My favourite reads in 2014

This post is a brief run through of the books I’ve enjoyed the most in 2014.

Following several years of being overwhelmed with papers and feeling guilty for reading anything else, I completely fell in love with reading again. For much of this year I was also an extreme commuter, which meant immersing myself in books for hours every day and doing some much needed catching up.

In no particular order these are my top 5 fiction and non-fiction reads this year. Most books are fairly current but I have been dipping back into modern classics that I feel like I should have read at school but haven’t (at least I’m not alone).

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This bag sums me up perfectly!

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Any words of wisdom for a 1st year PhD?

I’m in the first week of my PhD.

Before getting to this point I’ve made it through my degree and masters, completed research projects in 5 different labs and worked as a technician.
I think I’m about as prepared as I’m going to be.

When I was applying PhD students told me that I was crazy, postdocs offered a knowing look and supervisors encouraged me.
One thing that everyone had in common was that they gave me some advice.

A PhD's advice to prospective candidates - PhD comics no. 53

PhD’s advising prospective candidates – PhD comics no. 53

I’ve decided to chronicle some of the words of wisdom and things I’ve learnt along the way. This may help others but it’s also a record to see if I actually take any of it on board!
Or whether I will look back at this in 3/4 years and sigh ‘if only I had listened…’

Advice from past supervisors

  • Starting a PhD is exciting, and daunting at the same time – You are going to enjoy it
  • Have regular meetings with your supervisor
  • Get the balance right between working independently and asking for advice from your supervisor when necessary
  • ‘My best PhD students have been the ones who have designed experiments and only told me about them once they had done them, not advisable right at the beginning but work yourself up to this’

Practical 

  • Make sure you set out the exclusion criteria clearly before you start
  • Always characterise your model before using it
  • Double check co-ordinates/values if the protocol has been passed on
  • Run projects in parallel so you always have something to work on
  • Make a record at the end of each experiment about what you’ve done and learnt

Writing and presenting

  • Organise your papers clearly from the outset
  • Your reference manager is your best friend
  • Get as must presentation experience as possible
  • Learn to critically analyse your results and write things up as you go along
  • Great is the enemy of good
  • Back up everything

Life

  • Technicians, librarians and administration staff are your friends
  • Take advantage of University training and resources
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks – holidays are allowed
  • Help is always available from somewhere
  • An existence outside the lab is essential
  • Remember to think about life post-PhD

UPDATE 14/12/2014

After posting and tweeting earlier this week I got some more excellent feedback and advice which of course deserves a place on this blog.

From Twitter’s #PhD community

  • DON’T PANIC, PROCRASTINATE, THEN PANIC!
  • Best advice: plan short and long term
  • Start writing your thesis today. Start at writing intro chapters. It will change but easier to edit than create.
  • Make sure you look after yourself!
  • It’s all about writing. Write often, preferably daily. But enjoy all the other fun PhD stuff too
  • Make a wise, informed choice on what you want to pursue and maintain focus
  • Treat PhD like FT job: reg hours & fun wknds!(#nosciencesaturday!). Keep a presence in the dept. Write often & from the beginning.
  • Don’t forget there’s world outside the academia. Go out with friends, take a walk, eat good. Keeps the batteries charged.
  • My biggest piece of PhaDvice: own what you know & don’t know, & don’t ever apologise for being brilliant
  • Share your knowledge in the Twitter sound chamber because you never know who you’re reaching
  • Enjoy the journey. Peaks, troughs and hoops. In your darkest moments, remember your passion for the question
  • Enjoy it
  • Look at careers you might want to use your PhD in
  • Stay organised
  • It’s a tough road, but worth it
  • The only way to learn how to do a PhD is to do one

And I got lots of Good Luck too 🙂

Thanks you so much to everyone who contributed, favourited and re-tweeted – you know who you are!

There are of course many articles to read and people to ask, but these are the nuggets of advice I’ve picked up.
Do you think I’ve missed off any essential points?!

Please comment or tweet me!

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Has getting a PhD changed?

I love science and as a result I’ve spent the last few years perusing a funded PhD studentship researching neurodegeneration. My effort has paid off – I have secured a place in a lab with a project I’m interested in, and I hope to (at least partly) enjoy the next 3 years.

I’ve given advice for applicants in a previous post, and these are some of my thoughts on applying for a science PhD.

Applying for PhDs - courtesy of the amazing PhD comics

Applying for PhDs – courtesy of the amazing PhD comics

Throughout my lengthy applications I often felt alone and frustrated. I knew very few other people applying for science PhD’s and when I did there was an air of competition which meant things were never discussed in detail. I have gone back through my saved CV’s and cover letters and over two years I applied for 24 PhDs and had 6 interviews, resulting in 2 offers (over 1 year apart). I feel like I had a hard time finding a position, but I may have been ‘unlucky’ or this may be normal.

The point is I have no idea how common my experience is and that is why I’ve written this blog. Continue reading

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The Simpsons, Maths and Museums

I ventured into London last Friday after securing tickets to see Simon Singh, David X. Cohen and Al Jean talk maths and The Simpson’s at the Science Museum.

The event coincided with the paperback release of ‘The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets‘, which had been waiting patiently on my wishlist for several months. The evening meant not only getting my hands on the book, but also hearing the shows writers talk about the maths they’ve hidden within the most successful cartoon series of all time.

I adored the Simpsons when I was younger, I had several VHS compilations and I always made sure to catch the episode aired on BBC at 6pm on school nights. I still quote memorably sayings with my suitably ‘geeky’ friends and enjoy watching the odd repeat.

A favourite Simpsons maths moment:

The sister series, Futurama began in 1999 and I was hooked from the start.  With a sci fi theme, added science puns and crazy story lines, it’s quite possibly my favourite animated comedy. Continue reading

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