How do I do this? – 67

Sixty-seven weeks in a row and I still feel as if I don’t know how to do this. What the hell should I write here?

The problem that is incumbent on the blogger is that the format is for relatively small bits of writing to be churned out in relatively short order. Most of us, I imagine, are doing this as a side project and therefore, cannot commit the time required to produce high-quality writing.

Furthermore, if you’re anything like me, you have far too many hobbies and interests that compete for your time. For me, blogging is but one hobby of many; I would say that blogging is approximately 5th on my priorities.

My current method of writing is to sit down in the after-lunch, pre-gym slot and write from the top of my head. I occasionally make notes throughout the week if I have anything I want to include, but that hasn’t happened in a while. I am waiting for that breakthrough where I finally figure out how to write these posts.

Today is the 2nd of February in my timeline, and you will see this in a few months. My plan for the rest of the day is to do a 15k run and then watch the most important rugby match before the world cup. England vs Ireland in the six nations. Come on England!

I have just realised that this is supposed to be a blog about my PhD and I have just been rambling on like a generic lifestyle blogger.

So, at the start of this week, I spent two-days extracting sugars from lyophilised (dried) Rocket. This has become somewhat of a routine measurement, but it does not tell you that much about the quality status of the plant. Generally, after the plant is harvested, metabolism in the plant continues, and sugars are used up for fuel.

By-products from sugar metabolism are used to form various other compounds, such as those involved in defence. As plants cannot defend themselves physically, they often expend a lot of energy doing it chemically – mainly by producing compounds that don’t taste nice to deter predators.

But as I mentioned previously, it is almost useless when assessing the quality of a crop. What it does allow is for comparisons between crops grown during different seasons. Crops that are grown during the summer, generally have more sugar content and are usually of higher quality.

After I had extracted the sugars, I spent the rest of the week dong data-analysis and planning. Unusually, I have found myself in a position where I don’t have any short-term plans. By short-term, I mean to say that I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my week. This is highly unusual for me.

I ended up writing a list of all the events I had coming up, and this included two conferences at the end of the month. Now I have things to focus on and can fill my time. One of the skills I have not yet mastered is the ability to plan for the long term. I have got through life so far, by being what I can only describe as ‘micro-ambitious’. I decide what I want to happen in the next couple of years and try my hardest to achieve that. Most of the time I don’t plan any further than that.

For example, I had no plans as to what I was going to do after my bachelor’s degree. I got offered a job and PhD, neither of which I sought out. I chose the option I liked the idea of the most, and here I am.

An average week – Week 41 as a PhD student

What witty opening line can I come up with this week? I’m drawing a blank; perhaps you could suggest one.

Words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order. Hunter S Thompson

I guess the first thing of note that I have done this week is sign up for a half marathon next year. The furthest distance I have run before is eight miles, although I regularly run five kilometres twice a week. Why did I do this? I needed a new physical challenge, and I have never had a running goal, plus it was a spur of the moment thing where I saw an advert and decided it we be a good thing to do.

I am looking forward to it, and hopefully, it will be a stepping stone to the full marathon someday. I am not a natural endurance runner, I am very quick, and was always the fastest sprinter during my youth, but as is normally the case, the talent for sprinting I was gifted was taken from me in endurance.

That was Thursday, so what did I do for the rest of the week? I set up the freeze driers for someone who was on holiday. We tend to freeze dry everything because plant material has a limited shelf-life, and it is difficult to measure everything you need to measure in that period; therefore, we need to preserve it. We remove all the water from the plant and then grind it up, so we have a homogeneous sample that does not degrade. Water is essential to life, and almost all biological reactions stop once you remove water, therefore once we dry our samples they are frozen in time, and we can study them in our own time.

It is quite an interesting process, and setting up the machines is relatively simple, but I keep forgetting exactly how to set them up as I use them so infrequently. Whenever I do these things for other people I feel as if I am getting in positive favour balance; being in positive favour balance is something I always try to achieve. I am sure I will need all the favours I can get very soon.

I will need the favours as I had my summons for my one year transfer viva; this is very important as it is essentially the only exam other than the final thesis that you have to do during a PhD. I have to submit a dissertation and sit a viva; it is very much like the end of a Masters degree from what I understand. If I pass, I continue as normal; If I fail, I change to a Masters program. It seems like a win-win situation, but that kind of thinking is a trap.

I came for the W and will not accept an M.

I got to spend a lot of time programming this week, which is my favourite thing to do these days, if I were starting my career again I would certainly study computer science. There is something that I find really satisfying about automating mundane tasks. I am actually considering trying to push my career in a direction to where I get to combine my agricultural skills with technology; this is something I will have to figure out how to do before I finish my PhD.

In summary: it was an average week.

 

Finding the peaks – week fourteen as a PhD student

This week I was running experiments for four out of five days, as a consequence, I feel as if I have been quite busy. The results I have been seeing are not as good as I had been expecting; I did find some compounds that were not in any of our libraries, which is an interesting peak in an otherwise flat-line graph. I have been trying to learn how to judge mass spectra, and I think I have some candidate compounds for my unknown peaks, so I have ordered some standards to test this: fingers crossed.

I have also been doing a lot of work on my script for analysing colour. I quite enjoy programming, and I want to keep developing my skills in this regard; besides continuously making programmes, I am unsure as to what the best approach is to improve, I think I need some sort of game/competition to force my hand. One of the main reasons I enjoy programming is that you cant test your creations as much as you want, over and over continually iterating until you get the result you want. However, this may be one of the issues as it is so easy to test and change, trial and error become the predominant learning force. I rarely think too hard about the program; I should think it through from first principles, what happens is, is that I keep changing things until I get the result I want. If anyone can recommend any resources for graduating from the beginner to intermediate/advanced stage, I would very much appreciate it.

In our lab meeting this week I got asked what papers I was thinking about publishing, this took me from left field, as I have not thought about this before. So I quickly pulled some words about papers from the nowhere and just about got through it. I believe one of my least favourable attributes toward being a good scientist is that I don’t care much at all about prestige. I have heard the words ‘publish or perish’ before now and this does not give me too much hope. I understand the idea in principle; you’re increasing the level of knowledge and progressing humanity in some small way. It does seem as if publishing is gamified, and we have managed to figure out the best way to progress, and that is quantity over quality. I suspect my view is quite naive and will change over the coming years, but also, that it does have some truth in there.

In non-academic news, it seems as if I have gained 1kg in weight this week. It could be just down to the fact that I had a huge meal last night – we got a free three-course dinner for Christmas, at Jamie’s. Either way, this week I will lead a life of much less excess. On a positive note, I have got my run pace back below 5min/km; I hope I can keep that pace up. Anyway, I’m off; I need to update my gym workouts as they have become stale!

Note from the future (4 months since this was written)

I can see the grammatical improvement in my writing which is encouraging (take a look at my earlier posts to confirm for yourself). Soon you should see some development in how to put a piece together.