New Year, Same Experiments

Happy New Year! It is an absolutely beautiful day here in the capital. It is 9 C which is absolutely tropical compared to the -14 C (feels like -24 C) in Montreal. I do admit that it was nice to come back to the mild Scottish weather. I think that I am starting to lose my Canadian-ness.
And, happy Burns Night to all! Burns Night is the celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns and is celebrated by feasting on haggis. Some of my fellow PhD students and I intend to throw a little Burns Supper tonight, complete with bagpipe music, toasting the haggis and whisky sauce.

While visions of haggis neeps and tatties dance in my head, I will give you an update of what I have been doing since coming back to Edinburgh after Christmas break.

Lab work
When I started my PhD, my supervisor had told me that I would be able to use our new microscope. This was a beautiful brand new microscope that would be in its own room, separate from our group’s other microscopes. It would have fancy new software and dual perfusion lines so there would be no cross-contamination between different assays . In sum, this was going to be the best thing ever. The only little problem was that it was only due to be set up at the end of October. So until then, I worked on the same microscope that I had used during my MSc. We all knew that there would be a few teething problem once the microscope was set up. There was a steep learning curve for the new software which was nothing like the one we were all used to. The other issue that we had to deal with was setting up the room which, for some reason, didn’t have any air conditioning. All of our experiments which were supposed to be done at room temperature which is about 20 C, were being done at 26 C. Those 6 degrees are enough to skew results. After a few weeks and visits from engineers, everything has been sorted. So now I get to repeat all of the experiments that I was doing on the other microscope as well as those that I had been doing while the room was really hot on the beautiful brand new microscope. Although it may seem like a lot of work, I have mastered (well as mastered as I can) the assay that I will be doing. While I am repeating those experiments, I can get other things up and running, so I don’t view this as a setback. Hopefully everything will be smooth-sailing from this point on… It probably won’t be, but if it were life would probably be much less eventful.

When you do a PhD, you are always encouraged to do some sort of teaching. This is especially important if you want to continue in the realm of Academia. Although I am still not quite sure about what I intend to do after my viva, I have decided to do some teaching, just to keep all options open. It isn’t usually recommended teach in your first year, but as I have already been here a year, I decided that I could handle it, and importantly my supervisor did too. I have officially become a facilitator for Medical Biology 1 (MB1). MB1 is a first year course that is taken by students in Biomedical Sciences, Nursing, Chemistry as well as a lot of other science or health related courses. The breakdown of the undergraduate degree here is different from in Canada. Here, during the first two years, students all take basic courses in the general area that they wish to study. In third year, students specialise (into Neuroscience, Pharmacology…) and start taking specialised courses. In their fourth year, there are more specialised courses and the possibility to do an Honours project with a dissertation. This is a brief background to explain that some of the students in MB1 are directly out of high school, some don’t know what they intend to study in third year and some aren’t even sure if the broad field of Biomedical Sciences is really for them. In MB1, the students get an overview of different topics including homeostasis, social behaviour, pain… It sounds like a good introduction into this vast field. Part of the course is facilitated group discussions (FGD) which is where I come in. The students are given different topics as well as articles related to this topic to read. They then have to discuss the topic. My task is to ensure that they discuss the topic at hand, stay on topic and make sure that everyone is getting the opportunity to share their opinion. The students then write a report which I mark and provide feedback for. This is going to be a very interesting and fun experience. I am looking forward to it. I’ll keep you posted on how everything goes.

And now let me leave you with fun facts about haggis that I have learned while living here*:
Haggis are small fluffy purple animals that live mostly in the Scottish Highlands. They are well adapted to their environment and have one leg shorter than the other which allows them to run around the steep hills. If you are very lucky, you may see one running in circles around itself in the Meadows.
Think of this tonight as you address your haggis and toast it.

Happy Sunday!

*Note: This is purely fictional. These are bedtime stories told to Scottish children. Unfortunately, you will never see a haggis waddling in circles in the wild.