General, science themed posts

23_things_surrey_researchI've signed up for another 'things' project (just to confuse you all further), however this time it's being run by the Researcher Development Programme at the University of Surrey. The '23 Things' project aims to equip us with all of the digital knowledge we need to become online social media wizards, so we can cast our magical research far and wide. We might also unintentionally work on our personal and professional development in the quest to get into the party at the end of the 10 weeks (I heard there would be free biscuits).

With the other 23 Things participants' blogs stashed safely in my Feedly, I've already managed to complete 3 of the things (already having a blog saved me some time). My final thing to catch up on is to share with you my experiences of social media, so here goes...

If I had to pick one professional online tool, I would currently choose Twitter. I love Twitter - it's great for finding out about interesting things relevant to you that you might otherwise miss, following only the people you want to hear about, networking (seriously, if you're not engaging in conversation on Twitter you are missing out), sharing snippets of your day or thoughts, feeling part of a community and so much more. Perhaps best of all, you get all of this in ONLY 144 characters! It trains you to think concisely, which as PhD students I think we all need to learn. There is also a handy hashtag for PhD students (#PhDchat) and my #TweetmyPhD hashtag, in which I share my PhD life with the world. I could wax lyrical about Twitter for the rest of this post but I will spare you...apart from one last thing - to use Twitter at it's best you should really use Tweetdeck, it's incredible for managing posts from the people you follow.

tree_hug_about_meMoving on from Twitter, my profile (currently undergoing some kind of unexplained regression - the picture should be the one above and the bio more up-to-date) was recently featured as a staff pick, which completely threw me off kilter as I had forgotten about it and suddenly my inbox became clogged with notification emails from people liking my page. I didn't think was that popular, but my profile gained several thousand hits per day. On top of 30,655 hits last month, I'm currently getting about 120 hits per day, which just shows the power of being highlighted on the site.

The other handful of social media sites I can be found on include Instagram (I rarely post on there anymore, but I do use it frequently to look at everyone else's pictures), Facebook (for private use only) and Tumblr (My first blogging platform that I created to post pictures of cool things I find while browsing the web).

I'm hoping that the Surrey 23 Things project will enlighten me to the more academic social media platforms, will get me talking more about my actual research (within the limits of my confidentiality agreement), allow me to meet other researchers at the University and, perhaps most importantly, offer chocolate bourbons at the completion party...

This beast occupied most of my time last October. You probably couldn't call a 44 page report (excluding the five introductory pages of contents and standard boring stuff) a beast, but it sure felt like one.

The confirmation report, in its simplest form, is a collection of your first year PhD research. You and the report are subsequently examined in a viva-voca to test your competency and capability to complete your PhD within the time frame you have been given (the University allows 4 years but I only have funding for 3 and I sure am not self-funding any longer).

I handed in my report a month early, just before I left for New Zealand at the start of December last year. Taking a month-long holiday has wiped some of the details of my project from my brain - fortunately I have a handy report to refresh my memory before my viva next week! I’ve been trying not to think about the viva too much and undertaken some ‘positive procrastination’ by doing more experimental work this week (the results are looking pretty good). I will however be revising some of the theory before the big day! Wish me luck...

This post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

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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.

Lately in the labA mysterious box appeared one morning. What did it contain? I conspired over a new way of importing PhD students into the lab, while others thought it may be new lab equipment (how boring). Turns out they were right, although it was (chemistry pun alert) an exciting new Ramen spectrometer - so not so boring after all.

A mysterious box in the lab

I took a shameless lab selfie. Chemists always button their lab coats to the top, honest.

Shameless lab selfieHolding a beaker with gloves

I must admit it did take me a few attempts to open this screw top bottle, even with the nicely designed pictorial guidance.

Screw-top bottle with contentsThe view from above a round bottomed flaskLots of vials for analysisCalibration volumetric flasks
Calibration has been keeping me busy lately, as well as report writing and problem-solving. I however managed to squeeze in recording a short profile piece for the Radio Cardiff 'Pythagoras' Trousers' science show. It will be airing on Monday evening if you'd like to have a listen.