Fifth Fringe in Edinburgh

In true Edinburgh Fringe Festival fashion, the weather has turned very grey and rainy. George Square Gardens have been transformed into Fringe venues. Tourists are out in full force with soggy maps trying to soak up Edinburgh, before all-things Fringe engulf the city (I think it may be too late).

 

Lab stuff
I try to be as on top of my data as possible, but somehow some data had slipped through the cracks. I just found 5 days-worth of imaging experiments I’d forgotten doing in the mad dash leading up to Christmas/India. When I say just found, I mean just found, literally an hour ago! 5 folders from December are just sitting on my hard drive waiting to be analysed. The more data, the better, right? I’ve been doing lots of imaging recently to try to finish up the last few experiments I need for my thesis. A thesis does not have to tell a full story (papers do), but I have the cells and I may or may not be putting off actually writing up. Productive procrastination at its finest! I’m hoping to be done all my experiments by mid September at the absolute latest (and now that I’ve written it down it has to happen 😀 ).

 

More Edinburgh adventures
Of course everyone chooses the final crunch of my PhD to come visit. I like it though, it is a welcome distraction. Since one of my best friends from home came to visit at the end of June, I have also had one of my close friends from school come visit for a weekend and a childhood friend come up from London. I have explored Edinburgh, all the closes and the bridges and the haunted vaults (again). I’ve been all over New Town and Old Town and had my fair share of haggis. It has been very good way to keep my mind off the panic*.

*Yes, the fear has become the panic. I try not to let it overwhelm me (deep yoga breaths). I do have plenty of time and more than enough data. I try not to dwell on it. The panic can be kept at bay by lots of yoga, making my way through my analysis and weekly meetings with my supervisor. I’ve also made lists of what is done and what I have yet to do. The panic is curled up in a corner right now, I feel on top of things, but a simple “how’s you’re writing going?” could set it off again!

Back again

I hear that while I was enjoying rooftop terrasses in Montreal, the weather in Edinburgh was just as nice (I saw proof in the form of sunburns when I got back!). Unfortunately, I missed it. In fact, the weather since I’ve gotten back here has been quite grey and rainy as seen in this month’s photo- grey skies and green trees. Let’s hope there are still a few days of summer left!

Lab work
I’ve been back for 2 weeks now and I am officially back in Edinburgh until I submit my thesis *audible gulp*. While waiting for my experiments to start up when I was in India, I made lists (one of my favourite things to do) of what I have left to do in terms of experiments for each chapter. I haven’t quite started any of those yet. I’ve actually added more onto the list! I know that at some point I am going to have to draw the line and stop doing experiments so I can focus on writing up otherwise I’ll never write my thesis. There are just so many cool experiments left to do! I can definitely see how North American PhDs last 5+ years. There are just so many unanswered questions that are left to explore! Right now the important thing is figuring out which experiments are needed for my thesis and which ones I can do after submission to enhance a potential paper. It is exciting and scary. Although I’ve written up my MScRes thesis, this one seems different, more formal perhaps. I was flipping through an old PhD student’s thesis today and I was overwhelmed by “the Fear“*. I just have to get on with these experiments. The sooner I start, the sooner I finish. I’m hoping to finish all my experiments by September to submit before Christmas!

Visiting Edinburgh
Although I’ve been in Edinburgh almost 4 years now (how time flies!) there are so many hidden gems around the city that I haven’t fully explored yet. One of my best friends from home was visiting last week and together we explored all the different alleys and closes in the Old Town. We walked along the waters of Leith and explored New Town as well. We also went on a haunted walk that explored some of Europe’s most haunted locations which lucky for us are a stone’s throw away from  the George Square campus! Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, these tours are pretty freaky (the tour guide kind of looked like a goth vampire in a long leather trench coat), but also really interesting historically. It provides a new perspective on Edinburgh and points out some of the darker moments in its history that have made the city what it is today. I come from Montreal which just celebrated its 375th birthday; Canada celebrated its 150th this weekend (my friend and I celebrated with some good maple syrup). It always impresses me so much that there are buildings in Edinburgh that are so much older than that. The history here is incredible!

Now I must start on those experiments and make a plan for writing my thesis *another audible gulp*.

 

* The Fear arises in final year PhD students when they realise that the end is near and everything needs to come together. It can be exacerbated by things going wrong (which will happen), papers getting rejected (again, it will happen) and seeing blissful and completely unaware earlier year students (their turn will come).

Here we go again

The weather in Edinburgh was gorgeous last week! I was so mesmerised by the sun that I completely forgot to take a picture of George Square Gardens before leaving! Thankfully my friend took one for me from our office when I was already on board a plane to Montreal! (Thank you Amy!)

Lab stuff
Getting back from India was rough… The jetlag was unpleasant and the weather-which was cold and rainy (I brought the monsoon back with me you see) was unbearable. Luckily it started to clear up right before I had to pick up and leave again.

I got back from India and spent 2 weeks in Edinburgh before jetting off again to go to a conference (more on that later). I was back in Edinburgh just enough time to have a barbecue in the Meadows and repeat an experiment that hadn’t worked. I had stained and imaged a few cells right before going to India in January. Unfortunately, something went wrong with my staining and I couldn’t see my protein of interest. I repeated the experiment when I got back and I think it has worked this time. At least I could see the staining with the microscope, so that’s a good start. I’ll start on the analysis this week. I spent the rest of my 2 weeks analysing the data I had collected in India. Despite the little hiccups, the data look good. I met with my supervisors to show them my results and they are pleased with the work that I managed to do. It was a bumpy road, but all in all it was a great experience and it is a bonus that data actually did come out of it.

CAN meeting
I only spent 2 weeks in Edinburgh, because then I had to rush back to Montreal for the Canadian Association of Neuroscience (CAN) annual meeting. I’ve been away from Canada for almost 4 years, so it was good to see what research is being done and catch up with some old professors. I presented a poster that was very similar to what I presented at SfN. Although there were no synaptic vesicle recycling experts who came to my poster (there aren’t really any in Canada), I got the chance to explain my work to lots of people who weren’t familiar with my protein of interest or my imaging technique. It was really good to get a new fresh perspective on my work. People would ask questions that may have seemed naive but they made me question things and change my perspective on my research. Overall it was a really great conference. I want to thank CAN and IBRO for awarding me with a travel grant to attend the conference.

I now have 2.5 weeks off at home to relax, get over my latest bout of jetlag, analyse some images, start writing a paper, start thinking about my thesis and apply for another travel grant. A week in the life of a PhD student…

Three months have come and gone

This is my last week in India! The past 3.5 months have really flown by! I am definitely going to miss the weather and the beautiful campus views. This is the view from the colonnade by the front of the building.

Lab work
It is fascinating how everything can go wrong in so little time. My last post was full of optimism, everything had started to work, unfortunately that did not last long (that is the reason why this post is coming so late). Let’s go by chronological order, shall we?

•First, the stimulator which I use to stimulate my cells during my live cell imaging stopped working correctly. It took us two weeks, (a few electric shocks) and multiple discussions with the Instrumentation department and Electronics department and even getting a Warner engineer out to take a look at it before we figured out what was wrong. Unfortunately one of the components had broken and cannot be fixed. A new stimulator was ordered, but it will take at least three months to arrive. Luckily my supervisor in Edinburgh could lend us one for the rest of my stay here. He promptly shipped us one which worked perfectly (for a little while…)
•Everything was working again, my cells were healthy and responding to stimulation, it was all going swimmingly until there was some kind of power surge that fried major components of the microscope, including the power supply and lamp box. No one is quite sure how this happened. The microscope engineer came in to have a look and will try to fix the components or get us new ones as they were plugged into the electrical line that should be infallible to surges.
•A fuse blew in the new stimulator from Edinburgh! Luckily it was just a fuse and once I changed it, it all worked perfectly again.

I know that I’ve had quite a bit of bad luck, but it is not all bad. I still have a functional stimulator, perfusion system and suction pump, so I moved my imaging set-up to another microscope and continued to image. And I’ve had the chance to do most of my analysis and it looks beautiful! Despite the mishaps, it looks like I’ll still have complete datasets. It has been a bit challenging, but PhD students are nothing if not resilient.

Exploring Bangalore
When I was not imaging and talking to various equipment engineers, I did have time to explore Bangalore. We visited the castle which is built in line with European architecture and is almost out of place in India. It was very pretty. The garden was planted so that there would always be different flowers in bloom. Speaking of flowers, we also went to the bustling KR Flower Market. It was beautiful. It was incredibly colourful! I have never seen so many flowers all in one place!


Discovering Munnar
Last weekend, we took a weekend trip to Munnar in Kerala. Munnar is full of tea plantations. It is so green and lush. We trekked through the tea plantation and watched a glorious sunrise. We drank lots of tea and indulged in Kerala cuisine where everything is cooked in ghee, not peanut oil, so I could eat it all. We did go during monsoon season and we got rained upon, but it was an incredible trip and I highly recommend it.

 

Last but not least, I would like to thank everyone in the lab for welcoming me and helping me familiarise myself with the lab and Indian culture. I would like to thank the PIs who were very helpful during the whole process. I also need to thank Instrumentation and the Electronics workshop for dealing with all the broken equipment!

 

Now off to enjoy my last few days!

 

Always an adventure

It is so nice to be able to work with this view. As I mentioned, there are so many people in the lab, it does occasionally feel quite crowded. Luckily there is a mezzanine with work stations between each floor of the building. It is so refreshing to just be able to sit partially outside and work while feeling the lovely breeze.

Lab stuff
Experiments have finally started! There were a few set backs: reagents still being in the US, fluorescent dyes not being fluorescent anymore… but we got there in the end. It can be really trying (but rewarding) to set up a brand new protocol in a lab where you are the sole expert and everyone you look to for advice (your own experts) is 5.5 hours behind you. After a few panicked emails to my supervisor and labmates in Edinburgh, I think that everything has been set up. The cells look happy, the microscope works and the results are starting to come in- what they look like I have no idea, analysis is the next step.
In my last post, I mentioned that perhaps a lab is a lab is a lab is not true. Even if you were to replicate the exact same experiments here and in Edinburgh there would be some things out with your control. For instance, room temperature. Summer has arrived in Bangalore, it is 37C everyday. Despite the air conditioning, room temperature is definitely warmer than it is in Edinburgh. Although not all labs are the same, I firmly believe that a microscope is a microscope is a microscope (well at least the epifluorescence one I use). When I am in that dark imaging room, listening to my podcasts and staring intently at the computer screen trying to detect subtle changes in fluorescence, I completely forget where I am. I could be back in my imaging room in Edinburgh. It is nice to have some familiarity so far away from home.

Holi in Hampi
I’ve been taking advantage of being in India to explore some of the surrounding areas. My friend lent me Lonely Planet’s Short Escapes from Bengaluru and the other students from Edinburgh and I are making our way through them. At the beginning of March we went to Hampi. Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with tonnes of gorgeous temple ruins. We saw all the ruins, watched an elephant get bathed in the river, climbed 575 steps to the Monkey Temple and almost lost my phone to a particularly cheeky monkey. What was really nice was that we were in Hampi during Holi, the Hindu festival of colours/ the festival of love. Holi is celebrated by throwing powdered colours at one another. Lucky for us, the colour was permanent (I am still washing green and pink out of my hair 3 weeks later!). It was an incredible experience that brought locals and tourists together. Children were sitting on our shoulders and showering everyone in colour. It was quite spectacular.


Mysore
Last weekend, we headed to Mysore to rack up some #wildmiles and raise awareness for intellectual disabilities, autism and fragile X syndrome. We climbed 1000 steps to reach a temple, only to discover it was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding! Mysore is a beautiful city with an incredible palace that was lit up at night. We also visited their massive market where our senses were overwhelmed by the colours, sounds and smells, it was hectic but beautiful.


Enjoy the pictures!

The first month in India

Isn’t the view incredible? This is the view from the colonnade at the front of the building where the lab is. The architecture is very open concept like in other warm and tropical countries. This lets in lots of natural light, a nice cool breeze and obviously the heat! It is 34C here (and it isn’t even summer yet)!

Lab work
I’ve been here 24 days and I haven’t really started any of my own experiments yet. I have helped and supervised other students’ experiments. I have also made up all the solutions that I need. There are so many things that need setting up when you move to a new place. It gives me newfound appreciation for our technician in Edinburgh who makes up all of our solutions and aliquots out reagents for us so we can focus on our experiments. The good news is that now everything is ready to go for my experiments and I should be able to jump on the microscope here in a few weeks! This may be the longest I will have been away from a microscope since starting my MSc. I think I am starting to experience symptoms of withdrawal!

A lab is a lab is a lab (maybe not)
So it turns out this lab is different from the ones I’ve worked in in Montreal and Edinburgh. Sure there are pipettes, beakers and nitrile gloves, but the way the lab is run is different. The lab is open concept and there are people doing electrophysiology on one side and on the other side are student benches. The lab is huge! There are 50 people! I’m sure I haven’t even met half of them yet! It is a multidisciplinary lab with different members doing electrophysiology, imaging and molecular biology. I think that the fact that there are so many people doing so many different things is what is so different.

Out and about
The campus is at the North of Bangalore and there is not much around. I have ventured into the city centre a few times (a 30-minute drive away). My second supervisor was here with his family last weekend and I joined them on a visit to the modern art gallery. I have also been to Commercial Street which is a street lined with shops and vendors and thousands of people both locals and tourists. You can find saree shops, traditional craft shops, shoe shops, pharmacies, jewellery shops…

Now, I’m off to take advantage of the sun! (I’ll try to send some of the sun Edinburgh’s way as the weather there is quite rainy currently.)

Here goes nothing

Hmmm it seems like George Square Gardens has undergone a major transformation this month…The reason this picture is taken at the airport is because I am off to India for a few months! (More on that follows.)

Lab work
January has been a very short month. I’ve only spent 3 weeks in the lab but they were arguably the most productive 3 weeks of my PhD. I’ve finished all the experiments for one of my thesis chapters. This was particularly important as I can now start writing up the chapter and paper to accompany it while I am waiting for my experiments to start in India.

Prepping for India
I am moving to India for a few months as part of a collaboration. We had an Indian PhD student and postdoc come to Edinburgh for 3 months this spring to learn the techniques that we routinely do in our lab. Now I am going over there to do those same experiments on their models and foster new collaborations. This is a fantastic albeit slightly scary experience. I’ve always said that the University of Edinburgh’s collaborative research is a huge asset. I am truly glad that I can take full advantage of it during my PhD.

I already moved from Canada to the UK, so I should be used to travelling across the Commonwealth countries, but this move feels different. Of course some things are the same: visa applications, the mad dash to get everything sorted out/finished before leaving… Other things are completely different. I had already been to the UK prior to moving here; I’ve never been to India, it is all new and unknown. I’ve had to get loads of immunisations (better safe than sorry) and load up on allergy medication (it is quite unfortunate that I am allergic to major components of Indian cuisine).

I suppose that a lab is a lab is a lab. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, right? That should be an element of consistency to ease my nerves, because as everyone in the Hugh Robson Building can testify, I have been quite nervous leading up to this trip. I would like to thank everyone for keeping me calm and sane, for all the comforting hugs I’ve gotten and for the lovely guidebook of Bangalore.

Now I must be off to my gate. I will keep you all posted about how it is all going in India once I get there and get settled in!

December delights

I know this blog post is a few days late, we can just blame it on jet-lag or the weather. To make up for it, not only have I included a picture of George Square Gardens from December, but also a picture of the view from my bedroom here in Montreal. Isn’t the snow so fluffy and magical? I am definitely blaming it for delaying this post. 
 

Lab work

It has been a bit of a whirlwind since getting back from SfN. I had originally planned to get all of my imaging done before I went home for the holidays so that I could do data analysis during the break. So that didn’t happen… I was testing out a new imaging protocol and I just couldn’t quite get it to work properly. Although the live-cell fluorescence imaging assays that we do in our lab are relatively straightforward, there are so many little things that can ruin your timetrace acquisition. In my case, my cells were jumping in and out of focus during your 10-minute long experiment, making it practically impossible to track my fluorescent molecule. No one said science was easy. I did still manage to gather some data which I have yet to analyse. My biochemistry/ molecular biology experiments worked quite well however and all the analysis has been done for the experiments I’ve completed. Although the results weren’t what we had hypothesised (and will require tonnes of reading to make sense of them), the fact that I finally got the assay up and running and working with my different mutants definitely gives me that morale boost. You have to celebrate the small stuff in science! It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is magical!
  

December delights

I have always loved the run-up to Christmas. Despite the lack of snow, Edinburgh definitely does its best to get everyone into the festive spirit. Between the Christmas Market on Princes St, office Christmas parties, turkey dinners, lab lunches, and departmental festive drinks in the Anatomy Museum, it is a wonder that anyone actually got anything done! The city is engulfed in Christmas lights and mulled wine spices. It is a lovely place to be! Currently, I am in Montreal. I get back to the warmer albeit wetter Edinburgh weather next week. I’ve taken advantage of my time off to do lots of yoga as to be more chilled and be able to start off this new year relaxed and peaceful (though that inner-peace will probably melt away as soon as something stops working or the lab fairy interferes). 
 

Happy 2017 everyone! May your year be filled with significant results! 

19 hours and 8 timezones later…

Winter is upon us, or rather it was last week, but the weather has been quite good this week, we are hitting double digits tomorrow! So it would be the absolute perfect time to head down to the Christmas Market or up Arthur’s Seat or even perhaps have a Meadows barbecue?

SfN
A few weeks ago, I went to the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting in San Diego. As I mentioned last month, it is the biggest neuroscience meeting in the world! There were over 30000 attendees! That’s 1.5x bigger than the town I grew up in! It was so incredible to have so many neuroscientists all in one place! And the lovely San Diego Convention Centre managed to host all of us for 5 days. The conference itself was slightly overwhelming with dozens of overlapping symposia and mini-symposia and nano-symposia. It did take me a full day of preparation to figure out which talks I would attend, which posters I’d go see and which exhibitor booths I’d check out. I mostly stuck to presynaptic talks and talks about Fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. While the talks were very interesting, I thought that the poster sessions were most useful. It’s a way to see what other labs are doing, meet other people (and network) and actually ask questions and talk about your work and give advice and get feedback. I also attended the Canadian Association for Neuroscience (CAN) social and got the chance to catch up will some of my old undergrad professors from McGill (and jokingly/ maybe-not-so-jokingly ask them if they’d have any openings for postdocs in their labs in 12 months). I have managed to make several new connections which will benefit my ongoing research and potentially lead to me getting a postdoc position. I networked my little heart out. Going to this conference has whet my appetite for big international conferences. I am already preparing my abstract for the CAN meeting and looking for more travel grants to allow me to go back to SfN next year! I definitely have to acknowledge and thank the CMVM and Guarantors of Brain for providing me with the travel grants that made attending this conference possible.

On a side note: San Diego was gorgeous. It was definitely a long way to go and the jetlag was horrendous, but it was 100% worth it. It is an incredibly vibrant and welcoming city. I would highly recommend visiting! The palm-tree lined roads are so inviting and all the fresh seafood and Mexican-inspired dishes are delicious. I may have overdosed on fish tacos hehehe.

Lab stuff
Despite being in sunny California for a week, I have still managed to be productive in the lab this month (please don’t tell the lab fairy). It is currently the run-up to Christmas and everyone is trying to get stuff done- the mad dash has started. I think I have finally optimised an assay that I started working on in August! August! Yup, it has been a long process and there have been lots of different steps to work out. I am really hoping that now it works when I try it out with the mutants tomorrow. It’s all well and good that the WT works, but if the mutants don’t… back to square one. I’m not superstitious but please knock on all the wood, cross all your fingers (and toes) and send all of the positive vibes my way. Science is definitely a journey.

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day! If you are in Scotland you must go find yourself a ceilidh to go to! It is tradition after all.