Glasshouse challenge – week 39 as a PhD student.

Note: this was written three months ago, as were all my posts.

As I sit here writing this, it is one of the hottest summers I can remember, and England are about to play Sweden in the world cup; there is a lot of potential for this to be one of those talked about summers for years to come.

I have managed to complete two days of what I am going to call the glasshouse challenge. What is this challenge? Well, for my project I am monitoring how the colour of plants change over time. To monitor the plants I need to take pictures of them, which means I need a lightbox. The lightbox resides in the glasshouses at the university – I haven’t had any time to move it.

I have spent about six hours on each of the two days that I was photographing the plants in 38°C heat. For an Englishman, this is the approximate temperature of hell. Because I was using my phone as a remote trigger for the camera – the lightbox has to be hermetically sealed, so no outside light interferes with the image – I needed a complicated charging/cooling system.

Towards the end of the shoot, my phone would run out of battery, so I needed to charge it. The problem with this is that it overheated! To remedy this, I wrapped some Ice in some tissue paper and laid my phone on top of that; it was a highly sophisticated solution, perhaps It will get published in Nature?

One positive from my time in hell is that I am now able to withstand this relatively mild 30°C heat with ease, whilst my girlfriend won’t even let me near her as I am ‘too hot’. She has been severely crippled by the heat and spends most of her time sleeping on the sofa.

I have spent a lot of time trying to find out what chemicals I need for my experiments and how much they are going to cost me. Provisioning for myself is something I did not expect to have to do at the start of my PhD, partially because of the undergraduate experience, my expectation was that I would turn up to some room and say I need x and they would hand it over.

It turns out; this is not the case, you have to buy absolutely everything yourself as if you are a member of the general public buying research chemicals for personal use. Maybe this is different at different universities, but here it is every man/women (mostly women) for themselves.

For the first time in roughly 15 years, I am excited to watch a game of football. I have not seen this level of shared excitement throughout the nation before, not even during the 2012 Olympics in London.

It really goes to show how popular football is here in the UK and Europe. I realise that most of the readers of this blog are American, and when I say football, In American that would be soccer. American sport is fascinating in many ways. Americans have many unique sports that are almost exclusive to America, American football, basketball, baseball etc. Of course, they are not exclusive to America, but they might as well be as I don’t know any other nation that takes those sports seriously.

Imagine if America competed in sports that the rest of the world did! Due to the size of the population, I imagine they would win most competitions, making the country even more popular. I may write about this subject at some point as it is fascinating.

Ennui in the lab – week 33

On goes the YouTube mix playlist and the writing commences. In the latest instalment of being a PhD student, I did some reading, I did some writing, and had a packed schedule of monotonous lab work that is fast becoming my least favourite part of my existence.

On goes the YouTube mix playlist and the writing commences. In the latest instalment of being a PhD student, I did some reading, I did some writing, and had a packed schedule of monotonous lab work that is fast becoming my least favourite part of my existence.

Close the YouTube mix playlist as I’m not in the mood for random songs this morning. Instead, open up Spotify and put on my Conor Oberst playlist. Now the music matches my melancholic mood. For those of you that are not, or have not been a PhD student or researcher of any kind, I am going to talk about something you will probably relate to. Several months ago, sat at my desk, trying to busy myself I was dreaming of getting into the lab and doing some ‘actual work’.

Lab work was fun for the first few weeks when you’re figuring everything out, and there is a problem-solving element to it. However, after this comes the work-phase, this is where you rinse and repeat the method you have been working on to collect data, this is where it is as monotonous as any task; I could be back in the warehouse moving around car parts as the stimulation is the same! The one bonus is that I don’t have set hours. This can also be a curse as I don’t finish at 5:30 like everyone else, I finish when I have finished.

This ennui created from repetitive tasks is, I am sure, a universal experience. Doing a PhD does not make it any more glamorous or enjoyable it is work. This is why I am starting to fall out of love with lab work and move towards a greater appreciation of the data analysis phase of research as this is where you see the results of all the work you have put in.

In other ‘news’, I have become a contributor to a software package called PlantCV which is focused on developing tools for plant phenotyping. This will firstly, look great on my CV and secondly help improve my coding. Coding has become my favourite new skill, I enjoy my time working on it, and if I had my time over, I would undoubtedly have started learning earlier as it would have helped me in numerous situations. I had thought that I should do an extracurricular activity that would boost my PhD and now I have two. Blogging (writing) and collaboration on an international opensource project. I will now promise myself to take on no more projects! I don’t have enough time to eat all of the things that are on my plate.

I had a bizarre problem this week, which was the search for a camera that can save as TIFF or RAW files. I can do it on my iPhone 5s! But I can’t find a camera for less than £400 that will do this. I think I will have to use my iPhone for scientific purposes, which could be interesting! If anyone has any camera recommendations for working with plants, please comment below!