We have reached a tiny milestone this week, this is my twentieth consecutive week of writing, and the fifth month of my PhD. I have just come to the end of a hectic period; as the light of the tunnel came within a few metres, I received more tunnel. The first piece is in the form of an exam, and I need to do an online course culminating in an exam, to be able to attend a course allowing me to use liquid nitrogen. Of course, this is something I want to do and will help me with many experiments, but the notion that I have to sit an exam still sends shivers down my spine. I have a few weeks to complete the course, so it is not an immediate priority. The second piece of the tunnel is the first of my bi-yearly reports. I have to fill out a form and produce a thousand word document on the work I have done thus far. This gets assessed by my primary supervisor and an external assessor: I have one month to complete this.
I am starting to worry that this recent trend of deadline-after-deadline will continue until I am finished my PhD. The pressure will keep building with each week that goes by, and there is no time for thinking. I am seriously considering blocking out part of my diary for thinking, My project is quite broad, and has some philosophical elements to it. For example, what does ‘fresh’ mean? My conclusion is that ‘fresh’ is a simile for ‘recently’. Shelf life and how to define it is a much more challenging proposition, and for me, requires a lot of thinking.
This week I received more details about my Knowledge Transfer Network course that I have to attend as part of my studentship on a yearly basis. It is a two-day course, which will be held Glasgow’s Hilton hotel, where I have got to attend different workshops. These include things like: maths for biologists, advanced data analysis, managing social media and so on. Again this comes back to the strangeness of higher education, where for an undergraduate degree you have to sell your soul, at PhD level you get paid to do the most fantastic things. For that reason alone I would recommend doing a PhD, especially is your primary joy in life is learning.
This week I have been extracting data from the previous weeks experiments, which were the extraction and quantification of glucosinolates and isothiocyanates from rocket leaves. I am looking at these compounds for potential markers of shelf life; in an ideal world, they would change in a predictable linear fashion over time so that I can use them as makers of shelf life. So far, it looks as if Isothiocyanates do reduce over time; however, I have only used small sample sizes so far, and need a more significant experiment to confirm this. I have not been able to analyse the glucosinolates yet as the damn undergrads are hogging the computer that has the software on it. I will install the software on my laptop next week! Agilent Chemstation for those who are wondering. I may or may not have taken the databases from the lab’s computers so I can use them on my laptop. I have also continued work on my review paper, and this is an arduous task at the moment as I don’t know what I am trying to say. Progress is slow, but it will get easier; I need to keep setting time aside to write, as I have been demoting it to a secondary activity, with experiments being the primary.
I feel like I am at a peak at the moment, as I am looking forward to a lot of things, and the dips (deadlines) are while away. I shall enjoy this time, for I know it is only temporary.
Note – this was written approximately three months ago.