Category Archives: musings

Career Opportunities – Science Is Vital report on UK Science Careers

At the beginning of this month, Science is Vital published a report called ‘Careering Out Of Control’, which presented the results of a survey they performed amongst scientists about their opinions of the state of academic careers in the UK. The report was requested by David Willets, Minister for Universities and Science, and is addressed to him, but it also makes decent reading for everyone. You can read the executive summary here and the report in full here.

Science Is Vital conducted its survey amongst scientists from all backgrounds and career stages, and also asked those who responded to tell their own stories. The familiar problems that I’ve touched upon previously keep on cropping up, namely that scientists are concerned about the short-term nature of many posts, the effect that has on their families, and the worry of running to the end of the line when it comes to a lack of permanent positions. Continue reading



Filed under career, musings

ISSCR Annual Meeting, 2011

Hello, remember me?!

Well, it’s been a while, and I can only apologise for the irregularity of the updates. This is what happens when you’re a final year PhD student –  you have a lot of work to do in a very short space of time, and it consumes everything – your spare time, your mind, and even your ability to dress yourself properly. Nevertheless, you probably didn’t come here to read about me whining about my project (nor my dress sense), so onwards.

One of the things I’ve been up to since my last post has been to attend the 9th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, in Toronto. As you might guess from an international conference on what one might call a ‘hot topic’, it was huge (nearly 4,000 delegates, 1,500, and some 5 million litres of coffee, I guess), and the science presented was amazing.

I wrote a report of the ISSCR meeting for the Node, a community that is designed for and written by developmental biologists (or imposters like me), part of the Company of Biologists (publisher of Development, Journal of Cell Science, Journal of Experimental Biology, and Disease Models and Mechanisms).

Since the conference was split over four days, and there was far too much to cover in one article, I wrote four reports, one for each day. Click on the following links to read the reports for day one, day two, day three, and day four.

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Filed under events, musings, reviews

The Future For PhD Students

A while ago, Nature did a feature called ‘The Future Of The PhD‘, which presented the problem that most early-career scientists know and fear all too well – that there are far too many PhD studentships, and not enough pernament jobs later on down the line.

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Filed under advice, career, musings

Reach Out (CII’ll Be There) – York Festival of Science & Technology 2011

Eagle-eyed readers of Coffee & Cake, Pizza & Beer will have noticed that in the post about Final Year Talks, I made reference to some Outreach work I took part in back in March. Well, finally, two months down the line, I can tell you about it! Hurrah!

So why the delay? Long story short, I was waiting for the publication of my write-up about it in Microbiology Today, the magazine of the Society for General Microbiology. I wrote most of the text, and it was edited and shuffled by Marjan van der Woude and Philip Kerrigan. More importantly, does this count as my first ‘first author publication’? I’m saying ‘yes’, and to hell with you naysayers. Continue reading

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Give Me Just A Little More Time – Final Year Talks 2011

A PhD student’s lot is not a happy one. You spend your first year failing in everything you do. You spend your second struggling with a lack of motivation. Your final year is taken up rushing to get almost every figure that will feature in your thesis, cursing the days of first-year procrastination and second-year moping. Then you’re forced to take part in Final Year Talks (or what is bombastically referred to here in York as ‘Graduate Symposium’). Thanks, Science!

Past ‘Graduate Symposia’ have been splendid affairs, showcasing the department’s very best students and their excellent work. My cohort and I had a lot to live up to. Here, I’d like to give you a runthrough of my preparation and that of others. Let me take you on a journey, back in time…

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Filed under musings, reviews

Picture This – When Image Isn’t Everything

A few days ago whilst browsing on the Guardian’s Science blogs, I was fascinated by the video below, one of the winning entries for the Wellcome Image Awards 2011.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Truely amazing stuff! For those of you scratching your heads wondering what the hell you’re looking at, it’s a mouse embryo, 12 days after conception, imaged using a technique called Optical Projection Topography (OPT). Long story short, to gain 3D projections of objects such as mouse embryos, one could either slice up the object and take an image of each slice, and then reassemble it (like one of those grey 3D puzzles you may have been bought for Christmas), or you’d essentially do the same thing without literally slicing it up, but instead use light focused at different planes through an object; a technique called confocal microscopy. Both methods are a bit time consuming even for objects smaller than a whole mouse embryo, which is roughly the size of a M&M. I don’t know much about OPT (have a read through >this< if you’re interested), but it’s certainly a powerful technique to enable the microscope imaging of a relatively large object such as a 12-day old mouse embryo with such detail.

Clearly the images obtained of this embryo are scientifically fascinating, and I’m sure many discoveries are being made using these images and others gained using similar methods. Even removing it from it’s scientific context, this is visually stunning – though your Gran might not have it on her mantlepiece, and it might make a bit of a dull screensaver. Seeing this image got me thinking about how much of science, in papers, posters and presentations, is related in images and movies. But is it ever the case that ‘pretty pictures’ sometimes distract attention away from ‘real data’? Where is the line between a great scientific image for a ‘purpose’ and a great image just for it’s own sake? And is the latter appropriate in a scientific report/presentation, beyond Image Awards and Photography Competitions?

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Filed under musings, procrastination