Broken! – week 44 as a pH D student

Broken! Not physically or mentally, but technologically. This week, two out of two of the machines I was needing to use broke. One of them, a single quad LC-MS broke twice.

I have been extracting like a third world country that has just discovered a rich mineral wealth under its feet, or a hedge fund that had based its headquarters In the UK. But seriously, Seeing as I have a few a big deadline coming up, where a lot of data is required. I have been busy running lots of experiments to collect said data.

The list of things I have extracted from Iceberg lettuce and rocket this week is as follows:

That is quite a lot of data, however, I can only extract these compounds from fewer than half of my samples as the rest are yet to be freeze dried, and are currently sat in a freezer waiting for there turn in the drier. I have just remembered that one of the driers is broken, so that makes three out of three.

When I have weeks like this, I question as to how anything gets delivered on time in science. It is a constant stream of ‘fix, run samples, repeat Because. The machines we use are very sensitive and relatively rare, they often break down in ways only official engineers can fix. Which is costly, both in time and money.

Another speed bump we had to contend with this week, was in the form of refrigeration. Because the storage space is currently at a premium, we had to hire our own freezer trailer. Well, this week, the terms of our lease were up and we had to move all of our samples into a backup freezer, which is not designed for long-term storage. This is one of the aspects of project management, that I dislike. In fact, I do not enjoy project management at all. I wish I had a surplus of everything, and therefore, remove the need for any planning.

One of the positives, and I know I am clutching at the thinnest of straws, at least it wasn’t my fault.

I am going through, the proverbial meat grinder of late as I have a big exam coming up. One hour I am feeling fine and its not even on my mind, the next minute, I am a shuddering wreck prepping for my exit from university life. You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

I am at the stage where I have cut back all non-essential activities, and am focusing all my efforts on my PhD at the moment. It is not a state I like to be in, as I am reading, exercising and learning less; which is ironic.

I cannot wait to get back to the time when leisure was a word I understood. Only a few weeks to go. I realise that with a few tweaks, this post could be the ramblings of someone prepping for Brexit. But, as a remain voter (a metropolitan liberal elite), that is none of my business.

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!