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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 🙂

DCU and Sustainability

This week seems to have been a big week for DCU and sustainability. One of my supervisors was part of this initiative and so people from our lab got roped in to attending a couple of meeting organised. Yesterday was a lunchtime talk organised by the Biological Research Society at DCU and the Institute of Biology in Ireland. The talk was given by Professor Roland Clift and it was on ‘Bioenergy – and why biofuels for transport are a nonsense’. Professor Clift is at the top of the pyramid in the area of environmental science and sustainability. I really enjoyed listening to him and getting an idea of how things work, especially in relation to policy making.

It was especially enlightening to see the openness with which he gave the presentation, and particularly relieved to see that even in the higher echelons of science and even more so in policy making, pragmatism is one of the main considerations. You do not necessarily do what is the best out there (and very often you would not even know what is the best), but you take a decision based on practical factors, some of which are not wholly ‘scientifically’ based. For example, why a particular year was chosen by himself and the rest of the team preparing a policy document in relation to a particular target, where one of the reasons was that it is not too close that people in government say it is not possible and therefore not do anything about it, yet not too far away that people can afford to sweep it under the carpet.

I could link his train of thought very well with some decisions I have had to make as part of my PhD, where sometimes selection was based on practical rather than a wholly ‘scientific’ basis, such as the selection of analytes for my project…it would have been nice to be able to analyse for everything (this could run into the hundreds), but it is simply not possible, and the analytes finally selected were based on a number of criteria, which include financial considerations and time considerations rather than simply ‘scientific’ considerations.

Then today, a one day forum was held on Sustainability at DCU. I could not attend the whole day, since I was getting some other training related to my PhD, but I really enjoyed the parts I could attend. I missed out most of the morning session, where different members of the panel presented what is currently being done at DCU in achieving a green campus and future initiatives to reducing the University’s environment impact and making the campus more sustainable. I was present for part of the presentation by Dr Yvonne Ryan from An Taisce, regarding the Green Campus initiative. I had previously attended a seminar by An Taisce, when I had just moved to Ireland, where I had seen their enthusiasm in the area of environmental awareness and initiatives. This was followed by a presentation by Maggie Fagan, a student at Colaiste Dhulaig, who was part of the ‘green committee’ at the college for further education for the past 3 years, during which time they have maintained their green campus status. Maggie talked about the initiatives they have taken and the particular considerations of importance.

After these talks, a DCU campus environmental audit was carried out. However I had to be back in training, and therefore missed out on that, though I was back for the reporting back by the different groups. One of the suggestions which was of great interest to me was the introduction of a Dublin Bike stand at DCU for students to use. This would be really handy, and I would definitely use it to go to the city centre or so, if it becomes available. I have been toying with the idea of buying a bike, and this would be a good alternative.

In the afternoon session, principal investigators from the different DCU schools (including my supervisor) gave a short presentation on the research in the environmental and sustainability sector being carried out within their groups, giving a better idea of what is happening on campus. I had known what some of the other groups are doing, particularly from the Chemistry and Biotechnology schools. However I had no clue about the research being carried out in the school of engineering.

Overall, successful meetings, and I look forward to seeing what comes of these couple of days.

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.

Making Connections

March 17, 2011 1 comment

Since my research concerns environmental and local issues as a start, I am fast recognizing the importance of having connections with the relevant agencies and companies working in the area. Being part of QUESTOR certainly helps in getting the foot in the door, particularly for first contacts, for meeting QUESTOR industrial partners. Therefore, over the past months I have been trying to get into contact with relevant agencies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

I have met informally during QUESTOR events with one of the companies in the RoI, who have shown willingness to give support to my project. I have been in contact with them, and hopefully things will move forward soon. Yesterday, I had a meeting with another agency in Northern Ireland. I had been in communication by email for a couple of months now, and had finally managed to organise a trip to their offices, where I was to meet people involved in water chemistry.

Over the past week I was pleased to see that my supervisors were showing interest in attending, with 3 out of my 4 supervisors (the fourth is sick and so could not make it) attending the meeting. It feels good to see their interest in this project, and that they could be present to show support. Therefore yesterday morning saw my two supervisors attending from DCU and myself driving up to their offices. Once we arrived we met with my supervisor from QUB and in we went.

First up, after initial introductions was a short presentation I prepared about my project. This was the part I was most scared about. I was not sure of how much detail I should include or how technical the people I was meeting were. I decided to give a short presentation of around 10minutes. Had only managed to try it completely from start to finish once, yesterday morning. However it seems to have gone well. They commented that it was succinct and to the point at the end, and my supervisor from QUB requested that I send a copy. So it seems that my worries were unfounded.

After my presentation, we got to discussing our possible collaboration and what logistical issues need to be sorted out, what support they could offer etc etc. In general it was a very positive meeting, and I hope that something fruitful comes out of it. They seems really interested in the project, and as usual the main feeling at the end of me explaining what I am working on is that ‘if this works, it will be great’. But Oh Well. That is research.

I hope that what we discussed will come to fruition, but I am sure that even if it does not, this initial contact has been useful and will bring some benefits somehow.

QUESTOR@DCU

As I have said previously, although my PhD is funded by the EU, through the FP7 Marie Curie people project, the QUESTOR centre is the coordinating body. Apart from the 5 ATWARM students at DCU, there are a couple of other QUESTOR funded (these are actually funded by QUESTOR) students within DCU, and yesterday (Friday 4th March), we had the annual QUESTOR@DCU meeting. It was the first time, I think, that all QUESTOR funded students at DCU met since I have started my PhD, although most of us met in Belfast for the QUESTOR/ATWARM meeting in November. The director of the QUESTOR centre was also present, as were a couple of people from industry, who are either part of QUESTOR or are thinking of joining.

After introductory presentations form the QUESTOR@DCU coordinator, Prof Fiona Regan and the director of QUESTOR, the student presentations were next. We were 12 students in all. In order to limit the length of the day, we only had poster presentations. So the way it worked out was that we all got to stand in front of our poster and speak for around 5 minutes about our project. After this, questions were asked by the people present. I think I did quite well in my presentation and I got a couple of questions I could answer and a couple of suggestions etc. However the problem which always comes up in my presentations cropped up again, where I start talking and halfway through the presentation my mind wanders and then my brain notices that my mouth is talking but I have no idea what I am saying. People say that they do not notice it (although my sister has commented on it before, in that my eyes start to wander), and so think it was overall successful.

After lunch, we had two presentations from the Industrial partners. The presentation by Mark Bowkett from T.E. Laboratories was particularly interesting, as it showed me how companies look at research, and how academic and industrial partners can come together and make it work for them. After that was a presentation by Dr Conor Tonra from PatelTonra Ltd. who gave us a case study on the application of scientific and environmental knowledge to the business mindset. Although this last presentation was interesting overall, I think it was too focused on what the company does, rather than how we can get into such an area or make it work for us.

The day had come to an end, however before we left we had some important discussions to make. The next QUESTOR/ATWARM meeting, will happen in May in Germany, and we all got together to discuss how to organise the trip. We will probably all go together, get the same flights and stay at the same hotels etc. We should be getting further details in the coming weeks, however by next week we will probably know what flights we will be getting. Germany here we come.

The QUESTOR@DCU students with Prof Regan and the director of QUESTOR

The QUESTOR@DCU students with Prof Regan and the director of QUESTOR

Lab demonstrations

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

A part of being a postgraduates in the School of Biotechnology at DCU is lab demonstration responsibilities. I will be demonstrating the labs in Microbiology and Cell Biology for 1st year Undergraduates. I have demonstration duties on Thursdays for the whole day, with two different groups coming in for the morning and afternoon sessions. Going in I was quite worried since I have very limited experience in microbiology and no experience in cell biology. However the first practical was microbiology. At least I knew the concepts behind it and the basic techniques, through my job before starting my PhD. Unfortunately this is what happens when you are in the school of biotechnology.

However when I got to the lab I noticed things were quite different, since we would be working on an open bench rather than a laminar flow hood. Luckily we were too many demonstrators with a small number of students (here there are a number of demonstrators per class: a lecturer responsible who explains the different aspects of the lab and who oversees everything and is actually present throughout the experiment, unlike in Malta where they only pop in generally, if ever they pop in; and a number of postgrad demonstrators who are responsible for a bench of students, of up to 15 students or so and demonstrate each step of the experiment before the students go on to do the same thing). Therefore some of us got sent off whilst I stayed with the lecturer in charge who demonstrated for my group whilst I looked on.

In the second week i.e. this week, we again repeated the same practical with a different group of students. After seeing it being done last week I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at demonstrating it myself. The morning group was not a success. However for the evening group things went much better, since I knew a couple of mistakes I had done in the morning. For the evening group I also had a smaller number of students, so it was easier to explain something that I was not too confident about.

Next week we will have to demonstrate the next practical. Hope things go well 🙂

Dealing with these guys...hopefully they did not agree to proceed

Dealing with these guys...hopefully they did not agree to proceed

Research Days, Conference etc.

January 27, 2011 2 comments

Tomorrow start my first ‘public appearance’ of me and my PhD. The School of Biotechnology at DCU is having its annual research day. I had been accepted to present a poster, which has now been prepared (thank you Bernard 🙂 ) and printed, and I am excited to be able to present it tomorrow.

My Poster: School of Biotechnology Research Day

After that, I have just heard at the end of last week that I have been accepted to give a poster presentation at the Conference of Analytical Science in Ireland which will be held at DCU at the end of February. So after I see how things go with the poster  tomorrow, I will amend and make the necessary changes for the CASi conference.

Today I also heard that I should try and participate in another conference to be held in Cork in Ireland concerning the Irish Environment in April. I still need to prepare an abstract and see whether I will be accepted. I hope I will, as I will get to go to Cork.

Hope all goes well tomorrow. Wish me luck!