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25 before 26 food processor and carrot cakeThis post completes two of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

I have broken two food processors in the last month.

Charles bought me the first one as an anniversary present. He was really excited for me to start using it so set it up for me while I looked through the instruction booklet. A heartbreaking cracking noise filled the room - as he turned the processor on, the bowl had shattered in various places. Quick to rectify the problem, we boxed the several broken pieces up and took it back to the shop to exchange it for another.

I managed to bake a batch of vegan scones, some cakes to sell for one of the Surrey Roller Girls' home games and use some of the chopping attachments to make a Thai curry paste before the replacement broke. I left it on the drying rack after washing up the remains of the curry paste when a mysterious force (aka, gravity) caused it to fall off and crack, again. Surely the mixing bowl should have been sturdier than this, it didn't even fall that far!

I need a food processor that can cope with me throwing it around. Something big and strong, with a good motor and thick mixing bowl. I used to own a true vintage 80's Magimix, handed down to me by my Nan. It lasted 30 years before it broke! A new Magimix will become part of my kitchen toolbox very soon (once I've saved up my pennies). Until then, I'll continue to make things by hand - including the carrot cake I made this month for Charles and his new house mates (no picture sorry, it was eaten too quickly)!

One piece of advice to add - take a picture before you take something with many parts out of a box! It will help when trying to get said items back into the box, in the correct configuration to be able to actually close the box. It took us maybe half an hour to work out which way we had to put the items back in when we forgot to take a picture the first time (not a great advertisement for PhD students).

Lately in the lab September
This month I have:

  • Become a mentor
  • Celebrated Charles' birthday at a roller disco
  • Moved by belongings across campus to my new room
  • Spent a long weekend in Amsterdam
  • Seen Jason Mraz at the Royal Albert Hall
  • Bought lots of vegan goodies at VegFest UK
  • Laughed a lot at Jon Richardson at G Live
  • Attended the Agriscience postgrad symposium
  • Had my annual review
  • Relived my youth at the ChemSoc pubcrawl (read: felt really old)
  • I haven't spent much time in the lab as I've been busy writing up some reports for my industrial partners. I have put my lab coat on occasionally though to make some minor adjustments to my extraction method.

    My lab coatHPLC inside viewRound bottom flask with my extract

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    Fancy a brew?
    I make a lot of tea. However, not the kind of tea you might be thinking about - I use tree bark instead of tea leaves and methanol instead of water. I brew my 'tea' for about 24 hours. This extracts as many different compounds from the bark as possible. Then (instead of drinking it), I separate out and analyse the compounds that have dissolved into the liquid. If I am lucky I will discover a compound no one has found in this particular tree, or anywhere else before. If I am really lucky, this compound will be able to treat a particular human or plant disease and will be on the next train to commercialisation. Not bad for an afternoon cuppa.

    Tea has played a large part in my career since I graduated with a first class medicinal chemistry degree from the University of Surrey in 2012. The following 16 months after graduation took me on a journey through the Royal Society of Chemistry on their graduate scheme - where I drank a lot of tea with local SMEs, funding strategic partners I secured for the company and businesses that I contracted to work on projects I managed.

    I was also fortunate enough to drink tea (while writing news stories) for their magazine, Chemistry World. Only tea could help me meet their tight deadlines to transform complex scientific concepts into interesting stories that the public could understand.

    I returned to academia in 2014 to begin my PhD in natural products chemistry, bringing back with me my ability to bridge the communication gap between business and academia - and a box of PG Tips.

    This post was my 300 word editorial piece entry for a competition to raise the profile of the University of Surrey’s STEM postgraduate researchers with the business community. Find out why I got through to the final but didn't attend it in my previous blog post.

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    I recently wrote a 300 word editorial piece for a competition to raise the profile of the University of Surrey’s STEM postgraduate researchers with the business community. It just so happens that as an added promotional bonus, the writing had to be about my transferable skills, attributes and experience.

    My piece secured me a place in the final round - a three minute test of presentation skills and personality. With presentation aids forbidden, I had a quirky visual aid prepared to go alongside my talk about problem solving. However my visual aid didn't make its star appearance on the day, and neither did I.

    A combination of moving house and work deadline stress decided to manifest itself in the form of illness. I couldn't sell myself as a great person if I wasn't feeling like one, and so I let the opportunity slide. I made my apologies and missed out on giving my presentation. I may have let some people down (including myself), but I had to say no to keep my health in check.

    I hate missing any personal development opportunity - I think it's very valuable to say yes to as many different experiences as you can and so I rarely turn one down. I wasn't interested in the prize money or winning the competition - I just wanted the experience. Although not what I expected, not taking an opportunity was a new sense for me and I learned something from that.

    Now I know that I can say no to opportunities and still learn from them. Pushing myself hard to do the best I can shouldn't push me over the edge. Despite what others may say or think, I can say no. I can let myself breathe a little knowing that I am able to prioritise my commitments to look after myself.

    My congratulations go to the winners and all of the fellow entrants of the competition. I am looking forward to reading their articles online soon. As for mine, well you can read that in my next blog post.

    Canal boating

    It's becoming a bit of an annual tradition that Charles takes a group of friends on his parent's canal boat for a Summer holiday every year. I've been fortunate enough to be part of the crew for the last two years.

    I joined the boat a little later than everyone else as I was playing in a roller derby game in Swindon on the Sunday. My parents very kindly offered to drop me off at the boat in Market Drayton on their way home after my game.

    From Market Drayton we boated through Nantwich, Wrenbury, Whitchurch, Ellesmere and Chirk before our final stop in Llangollen. Charles was very organised and planned our stops to coincide with bathroom facilities, pubs and train stations (so we could pick up and drop off crew members). We even had time to visit a 'secret' nuclear bunker.

    canal map journey Secret nuclear bunker

    I steered the boat for some of the trip and managed to avoid hitting anything, although we did get beached at one point in shallow water. The weather was a bit interchangeable, but nothing could dampen my spirit - drinking lots of tea helped!

    Steering the boat in the rainreading on the boat

    Being on the boat is a really lovely experience. Everyone chips in and helps out with the jobs so the trip is never stressful. There is time to relax, sleep, eat, drink and catch up with friends and read. My weaving (one of my 25 before 26) benefited from some dedicated time I spent sitting at the front of the boat with a glass of wine.

    drinking wine on the boatopening the lockOpening the bridge

    We crossed Pontcysyllte aquaduct on our last day of the trip. I think I managed the 126ft high crossing very well for someone that doesn't like heights (despite what the photo may show). My heart did skip a beat though when I saw Charles trying to take a photo over the unguarded edge of the water! I later discovered that this wasn't my first time across the aquaduct - I had been over it with my grandparents and sister some time ago. I think I'm around 11 in the photo below.

    Crossing the aquaduct crossing the aquaduct
    Everyone on board becomes a lot closer during the trip. After all, when you must ask where the next pub en route is not because you fancy a midday pint, but because you must use the conveniences, nothing becomes difficult to discuss. The number of crew on board fluctuated through the week - four of us made it the whole way to Llangollen.

    We arrived at Llangollen!

    It was sad to say goodbye to the boat, but Charles has promised me a weekend away on it sometime early next year - so we hopefully won't be parted for long.