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School of Biotechnology Research Day and Belfast Visits

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Last Friday saw the return of the SoBT research day at DCU. I had been accepted for an oral presentation earlier on in December, and was looking forward to this first oral presentation of my research in a formal setting. Luckily I was scheduled first up, just after the keynote speaker, and so it meant I could get my presentation over and done with and enjoy the rest of the day, especially since I was part of the organising team on behalf of the Biological Research Society, so it turned out to be quite a hectic day.

However I must say I enjoyed my presentation. I was mostly scared of the questions people would ask, but I believe I managed to answer most of them quite well and some of the insights I got were quite good. Apart from my presentation, I also enjoyed talking to a couple of the academics about my research and also with members of the sponsoring companies (there were 10 sponsoring companies with stands there, representing most of our suppliers, and therefore it was good to have them all there to talk about your research and discuss new opportunities).

The past two weeks I have also been quite busy with two visits to Belfast. I was supposed to have a supervisor up in Queen’s University Belfast, however he has now left the University (although still in sporadic touch via email). Nevertheless, there is still work to be done there, and I have in fact been waiting for the instrument I am supposed to be using there to be fixed. Therefore when the specialist engineer was coming over, I took the opportunity to go up to Belfast and spend time with him to learn about the instrument and get trained, since the person who had used it before has now left and I will be the only person using it once it is fixed.

I had a very productive and interesting 2 days, and the instrument was up and running, so I came back to Dublin for the weekend and planned to go up the next Tuesday, to analyse my actual samples. Unfortunately, when I went back on Tuesday I found out that another part of the instrument has now broken down, as a circuit board has stopped working, meaning the mass spec magnet is no longer operating. Therefore back to Dublin I came after a day of trouble shooting, and we are now awaiting confirmation for fixing the instrument (or not) depending on what the powers that be decide.

Nevertheless, my PhD is now getting into the swing of things, and I am getting busy. I look forward to what the coming weeks and months bring up, and hopefully it will be mainly good news 🙂

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English for Academic Purposes

As part of the Graduate Training Elements courses I am following at my University is a course called ‘English for Academic Purposes’. I have followed another course previously about ‘Advanced Analytical Techniques‘ about which I have blogged previously. The English course is mainly aimed at non-native speakers of English, although some Irish students are also joining in. Lectures started a number of weeks ago, and I have been finding them really informative (albeit a bit slow-paced some times). I really appreciate the lecturer’s flexibility in setting out the course, whereby she addresses the issues we are dealing with rather than following a set syllabus. The fact that there is no mark associated to the course, is likely a big contributing factor.

As part of the course, some of the students are presenting their work to the other members of the class. The main idea is to get more experience presenting. After the presentation, we ask questions about the project followed by comments about how the presentation went, and how to improve our presentation skills.

Today it was my turn to present. I was a bit worried about making my presentation accessible to everyone present. Although most of the students are in science/engineering/IT, there are a few from the arts and humanities (including the lecturer). As a basis for my presentation I used many slides from my meeting earlier on in the month. However I tried to adapt them to a less technical audience.

Overall, the feedback was quite constructive, as it usually is. I am glad to say that the consensus was that they could understand my project, even the people from other fields. Some of the things I need to improve are related to eye contact. I was told that although I make eye contact, I tend to keep making eye contact with only a few people over and over again, rather than to all the group. I guess that is true, since I tend to make eye contact with either people I know are most critical (generally at the beginning of my presentation) so that I know from their body language what they are thinking, and then if I feel as if they are not showing an interest and I start getting stressed I look for friendly people in the audience. It was also said that I should improve the quality of the equation I inputted (it is an image, so resolution is not that great) and to use the Equation Editor.

Another comment I do not know whether to take as positive or negative. One of the guys commented that I was animated during the presentation. I know I tend to move around and move my hands quite a lot (or alternatively play with my scarf) when presenting, and also tend to go to the screen and point towards things on the screen sometimes. So perhaps I do need to tone down on that. Though other people in the group said that that kept them interested.

Overall, there is room for improvement, but I am happy about the comments I got. I should be giving a similar version of the presentation in the coming months to students from my school as part of the postgraduate presentations that the Biological Research Society are organising. So hopefully it will be an improvement on my presentation today.

Graduate Training

January 23, 2011 1 comment

Last week saw me attending my first module from the Graduate Training programme at DCU: Advance Analytical Techniques. The course consisted of a number of lab sessions where all students get to perform 4 experiments of their choice. Students (mainly in chemistry) from all the Dublin Universities (DCU, UCD, Trinity, NUIM) were participating as part of the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance. The week was quite hectic, having to perform an 6 hour experiment each day, followed by a lab report to be written.

Overall, I must say the week was quite fruitful. I got back into the lab routine, such that you remember (or are reminded of) all the small nitty gritty things you have forgotten and all the other things you have never heard about. It was also good to meet up with all the people from the various Universities, and find out a bit about what they are doing, and also discuss some differences between the research environment at different locations. In addition, our demonstrator in charge (Dr Blanaid White) was really knowledgeable in all the experiments, and we also got the expertise of other individuals from the School of Chemistry, to give us further information about a number of experiments about which they have lots of experience.

The experiments I performed were about GC-MS, HPLC, Cyclic Voltammetry and Ion Chromatography. From each experiment I learnt a lot, but I was most excited about the HPLC experiment, since I will be working a lot with HPLC during my PhD, and this session helped me understand more about how the different parameters function and the basics about how to develop a method.

The lab reports are now written and I will be submitting everything on Monday. Let us hope I did well, as it would mean that the past week has indeed been fruitful. I wish that DCU has even more graduate training elements from which to choose from, as this has certainly been useful. I will be doing some more in the coming months, and I also hope they will be as fruitful as this.

PhD: 1/12 over

December 19, 2010 1 comment

The first 3 months of my PhD are over it seems. That means that 1/12 of my PhD is (hopefully) over. Hopefully as I would not like that my studies take longer than the 3 years for which I am funded.  I think I achieved quite a lot during these 3 months, and I am happy with the progress I am making. In my last week in Dublin I managed to order the first analytes I selected and will be analysing for. Hopefully these will be received soon, so that as soon as I go back to Dublin in January I can start working on my method development. I am really excited about that, because if I manage to achieve that with minimal problems (I am being very optimistic here) it will mean that my PhD life will be easier. However I am not looking at less than 3 months (if everything goes well that is) for this portion of my project.

The day before I left DCU I also had a meeting with my supervisor. This time instead of a lab meeting we had 1 to 1 meetings, where we discussed progress and the way forward. They seemed happy enough with my progress and told me to go ahead. One of the supervisors also suggested that I start working on my literature review. I have already read a lot of papers and have a number of separate documents from which I can pull the details. So I will hopefully organise what I have and add more to it as necessary. On the last day I also got word that I got accepted to give a poster presentation to the DCU School of Biotechnology Research Day in January. Therefore I now need to prepare a poster…have started working on it somewhat since I arrived in Malta, and hope to have most of it ready by the time I go back, since I would definitely need Bernard’s help with the design aspect.

The next months will probably be really hectic as regards to my PhD. I have to work on method development and my literature review, Graduate training elements (I actually have 2 scheduled for the same week…will probably have to drop one), I will give my poster presentation at the Biotech Research Day in January and sent my abstract for another conference at the end of February, I start practical session demonstrations in February too etc. I look forward to this however. It will be hectic, definitely…but hopefully I will actually start seeing some progress (reading papers all day long gets a bit monotonous at times).

So bring it on (and think of me so that hopefully things work out well 🙂 ).

Orientation for Researchers

October 29, 2010 1 comment

Today saw the commencement of the DCU Researchers Development Programme for 2010-2011, with the session Orientation for Researchers. It is organised by the Human Resources and the OVPR (Office for the Vice President for Research) within DCU.

Although most of the sessions are geared towards Post-docs and higher researchers, this session is suitable for all individuals. Its aims were to help researchers understand the support systems at the University for research staff and the research environment at DCU and in Ireland. It also allows for different research staff to meet and talk together. There was a strong showing from the School of Biotechnology and so I knew some people, and got to know others who I have already started meeting in the corridors etc.

The programme consisted of various presentations of around 20-30 minutes each, from various entities, such as OVPR, IT systems, HR, Finance, Commercialisation of Research, a presentation by DUCRA (DCU Contract Researchers Association) and the library. The sessions I found most interesting were those by the IT personnel and DUCRA, and particularly the latter.

The 2 members of DUCRA explained what the issues related to researchers are, and the particularities of developing your research career depending on what you would like to see happen in your career. I found it really enlightening to have two researchers discuss in a frank manner this subject. Being a researcher is nothing like other jobs. And people (at least I) do not have a good idea of what is expected etc.

Overall I think it was a great success personally. I also got to meet two other ATWARM fellows who are at DCU, who are really nice, and other researchers within the school of Biotechnology. If I had to change something, it would possibly be to have two different sessions, with one oriented towards PhD students and another oriented towards higher level researchers. But apart from that a great success.