40-week writing streak – week 40 as a PhD student

Ladies, Gentleman, Machines and Others, you are about to bear witness to an act of discipline as I have never been less motivated to write. It is Sunday, and all I want to do is relax and watch videos on YouTube, with the possibility of chocolate. However, all I have is a coffee and a 40-week writing streak that I am not going to break.

I spent two days this week photographing sliced lettuce in a glasshouse. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is the bleeding edge of science. I am in the glass house because that is where the lighting chamber happens to be; probably because they had run out of other places to dump it.

I am looking at how the colour of the lettuce changes over time, and for that, you need everything to be perfectly constant. If the lighting changes slightly, and I am not vigilant, I could interpret this as a change in colour of the lettuce and therefore find a type 1 error, which, for the non-statistical, is where you see a significant result where there isn’t one – a false positive.

To account for this potential drama, I have included reference standards for each image; form this standard I can adjust the image and normalise if there is a problem. For the first 30 samples, I collected there is a problem. There is a hole in the top of the lighting chamber, and I didn’t realise it for quite some time. The effect of this hole, is the images taken when it was not covered are five percent lighter.

This could have a significant impact on the results so I will have to adjust the lighting levels in post for these images. In fact, I will normalise all the images, but these will need the most adjusting, lucky for me I have learnt to program and the one-thousand-plus images I have taken will all be adjusted and analysed automatically, what a time to be alive!

I spent another two gloriously dull days milling dried rocket samples (the plant, a.k.a Arugula in the USA) so that they can be analysed. The essence of this procedure is putting the plant into the top of the grinder, which is kind of like a desktop wood chipper and collecting the resulting homogenised plant matter.

Repeat the grinding procedure for well over 200 samples, and you have yourself one mindless, monotonous task to be completed by any anonymous flesh. I still have a couple of hours worth to do with these samples, and then there are the samples of lettuce that I have just collected which will need to go through the same process: beautiful!

I’ll be honest with you dear reader; I cannot remember what I did with the other day this week. If I were not so lethargic, I might be more distressed by this issue. Anyway, it is time for me to get on with some work (boooo), so I shall leave it here this week, I hope you all have a pleasant week!

Rocket and Trains – week 30 as a PhD student

Rocketeering, this week I have been a nurse to several hundred rocket plants, watering and re-potting them as their need demanded.

Rocketeering, this week I have been a nurse to several hundred rocket plants, watering and re-potting them as their need demanded.

We are running a study to see how the chemical profile of four different varieties of salad rocket. Rather than buying the plants from a supplier we have been growing them indoors so we can control the conditions.

It has been my job to re-pot them from the germination trays into their final growing pots as living things age in their unique way, there is a consistent trickle of plants that need re-potting each day, and thus most of my time has been taken up tending to these needy buggers. After all the care and attention I am giving them they will not do the honourable thing and allow me to eat them as we have only grown enough to do our analysis.

I am ‘running’ this study jointly with one of the post-docs in the group. I jumped at the chance to work with a more experienced scientist, and I am looking forward to seeing what the results will be and if any papers come out of it.

Normally, I prefer to work on my own as I feel like I learn more. When I work alone, I only have to satisfy my standards, and as long as the work gets completed, I am happy. As a completionist, I think I would hate working with a perfectionist as I think it would be limiting with a lot of time wasted on details that are not important but ‘are better’. This is one of the reasons I chose a PhD so that I could work for myself in some small sense. That also happens to be my overall goal in life, autonomy!

Because I have had a lot of my time taken up by gardening, I feel as If I have not accomplished much this week. It is something that comes with the territory; when you’re not doing science, you feel as if you’re stalling or moving backwards. I have had a few of these ups and downs now and am experienced enough to ignore it; there is a lot of variance (ϭ2) in life!

In more personal matters, dancing was cancelled this week as the hall we use was needed for a polling station, yet another instance of politics defecating on the arts. I am surprised that as a male of 27 years who has never had an interest in, or a rhythm for dance, I am really glad my girlfriend signed us up to the classes and we are getting good!

I have also managed to run six kilometres with a pace under 5:10/km twice this week. It is nice to see progress, and for almost the first time in a decade, I prefer my cardio to weight training.

Next week I am going to Glasgow in Scotland for two days, so that should be exciting. I hope it will feel as if I am taking the Hogwarts express when I am on the seven-hour train journey.

Image result for scotland train
Glennfinnan viaduct – note my journey was nowhere near this romantic.