I’m a real PhD student

The Fringe is over, Freshers’ week is over, summer is over… Things are slowly getting back to normal here in George Square (well other than the grass, it is still trying to make its comeback after being covered by astroturf for a month). Before I go into my wonderful, insightful and witty blog post, I would like to thank everyone who read my last post. It had 96 views in the first week! Thank you for reading!

The lab fairy*
Until a few days ago, I thought that the lab fairy was a well-known concept. I appear to have been mistaken. That being said, I am sure that I did not make this all up, I must have heard it somewhere. I will share my knowledge of this creature with all of you, I do this for your own good, a sort of public service announcement if you will.
Unlike the name would suggest the lab fairy is very far from being a benevolent creature, perhaps the term lab imp is more suited to her mischievous ways. She is the one who comes around the lab at night and messes up all of your experiments! I am sure that I am not the only one to have suffered her torment. Have you ever had a PCR that you have run before without any problems suddenly not work? Have you ever had contamination of agar plates or tissue culture flasks that you cannot for the life of you explain? Have you ever not had bacterial colonies grow without any explanation? Have you ever had a transfection mysteriously not work? Or even worse, have all of your WT drosophila suddenly die? If anything along these lines has ever happened to you, you too have been a victim of the lab fairy. I have not yet decided if each lab has its own fairy- though it would be quite terrifying to imagine hundreds of thousands of these little beings who live for messing up our experiments and making our lives miserable- or whether there is only one, like the tooth fairy, who makes her rounds to different labs every night while us scientists are sleeping soundly in our beds dreaming of publishing in Nature and winning a Nobel Prize (well that is what I dream about anyway). Although the lab fairy is very cunning, I have a few tips that I have developed over the last 8 years to try to outsmart her:
-Make sure to wear a lab coat and a fresh pair of gloves to avoid all possibilities of contamination.
-Read and re-read and re-re-read protocols and plan things out ahead.
-If you make beer or bake bread, make sure to change clothes before you come in to do experiments (yeast can definitely wreak havoc).
-Although it may seem quite evident, make sure not to leave things open on the bench, in the hood, in the incubator, by the microscope, in the cold room…
-Don’t leave any bug waste on your bench, much less anywhere near cell cultures.
-Wash your hands, ALWAYS.
If you follow all these tips, the lab fairy should be flustered enough not to bother trying to ruin your experiments (I hope).

8-month report presentation
I have previously documented my journey as a first year postgraduate student and all the different milestones that had to be completed before achieving PhD student status. I am finally a PhD student! Woohoo! My committee got together last week to discuss my progression. I must admit that I wasn’t very worried about my presentation, however I got progressively more nervous as I went on with my presentation. I did have quite a lot of data to show, so my data talk itself did exceed the 10-15 minutes that we are recommended. On the plus side, my supervisors appeared to be impressed by all the data collection. On the downside, when there is more data, there is more data for you to be questioned about… And this is exactly what happened. All in all I think I managed well, well obviously well enough to proceed with my second year. I honestly never had any doubts about this. I have weekly meetings with my first supervisor and that keeps me on track. The most stressful part of my meeting was after my 90 minute presentation (I said I ran over… but this did include questions and discussing the next experiments and the future of my project with my supervisors), when I was asked to leave the room so that the chair of my committee could discuss, me, my lab work and my progression with my supervisors. I was a lot more worried than I ever imagined I’d be. After 5 minutes I was called back in and after my one-on-one meeting with the chair of my committee, my second supervisor told me, with a huge grin, that I was officially a PhD student. All is well that ends well.

Supplemental funding
I currently have a 3-year studentship from the College. In theory, I should be able to finish up and submit by the end of my 3rd year (33 months from now for those who are counting). In practice, this rarely happens. I am thus applying for extra funding to be able to pay me for a fourth year. It isn’t as straightforward as it may sound because I am Canadian and thus not eligible for a lot of the UK/EU funding. I have however found a studentship that I am eligible for and that I am in the process of applying for. It is a long process: updating CVs, compiling lists of academic research and poster presentations, writing proposals… It is a lot of work. It also gives great insight into what being a PI will be like, having to apply for grants to ensure that your lab can live to pipette another day.

I am off to continue working on my application.
Happy Sunday!

*Note: I know that there is no such thing as the lab fairy, though it is quite nice to blame some other force outside of your power when things go wrong, especially when you cannot explain why you failed to get any results!