Monday, July 16, 2012


Well that went quickly didn't it?

It's been over TWO months since my last post. Mind you, it's been a pretty trying couple of months and to be honest, I just haven't had the time or the right frame of mind to keep this blog going. However, lots has been happening on all fronts so here's an update on what I've been up to, and a short reflection on some of the recent science news.

 Of course, I can't ignore what probably will be the science breakthrough of the year, if not the decade, and for some physicists, of their lifetime: The results out of the LHC regarding that little particle. All So much has been said already by those far more qualified than I, but what I can say is that even as a biologist I can appreciate the amazing result and what it means for the standard model of particle physics.  There were the usual cries of "But what does it mean for us? How will it cure, fix, or make life better?" Science isn't just about making the world better or life easier, sometimes the beauty in science is finding out something unknown, of adding a new piece of knowledge to what we know. Where a new piece of knowledge can take us in terms of applications is really an open-ended question. It's well known in science when one answer is found, about a thousand more questions simultaneously arise and a scientists work will possibly never be done. When Einstein published the Theories of Relativity, nobody could predict it would enable us to use satellites to track locations in the form of GPS. Finding the Higgs Boson is another piece of the puzzle, and a wonderful demonstration of how global effort can be enacted to improve our understanding of the world.  I listened to the live broadcast announcement of the discovery, and I even understood little parts of it! Despite not understanding all the physics I could hear the excitement, the sheer pride of the chief scientists as they spoke of the result, and this is something that made me proud to be part of the scientific community, and inspired to keep chipping away at my own research questions. The discovery and announcement of this little particle was a wonderful day for scientists of all disciplines, and the result is a shining example of collaborative science at its finest.

I've got some great papers to review for my paper dissection posts including one on how men with wider faces tend to lie, the correlation of size and strength to human formidability and some examples of sci-fi getting real including genes that can be activiated using radiowaves and how methylation of DNA can be linked to memory.  It can be said that like New York, Science never sleeps!

Speaking of unrest, on the PhD front it's been a harrowing couple of months. I waited nine weeks to finally hear that my PhD scholarship has been extended. I didn't think waiting would actually get to me, afterall I had good grounds for an extension, but waiting that long without an answer was hard, and stressful and even at times, quite distressing. The story behind the extension is a good one - it involves a mix of an electricity cut, insurance claims, waiting for orders and a supervisor who went AWOL. Basically I was delayed, and thankfully as slow as the government was, my money was approved.   The lab work also wasn't going so well - it seemed everything I touched turned to rubbish. And I mean everything - even the most basic of procedures were either failing or turning up cruddy results. Thankfully I stuck it out and thankfully I've done the troubleshooting and things seem to be back to working (for now). I've only got three weeks of lab work left, which is pretty crazy. It's getting hard to say goodbye to things I've been doing constantly for almost three years, it is also exciting to know a new adventure is coming and I since I can see that tiny little light at the end of tunnel, the motivation to keep going is probably what will see me through the hard part i.e.finishing all the loose ends and producing a coherent document at the end of it all.

The big news is that I submitted my first paper from my thesis - it is still sitting with a sub-editor waiting to go to review. It was a great feeling to finally press submit, but there was also a touch of trepidation. I've been in the field long enough to know sometimes getting a paper published is like a lottery. Sometimes you get good reviewers, sometimes you don't, sometimes the comments are mean, sometimes they are helpful and sometimes it feels like a merry-go-round. Just when you think you've achieved something, there is a peer reviewer who will bring you right back down to ground with a resounding thump.  It does seem for every 10 steps you make, there is at least one setback - grant rejections, paper rejections, nasty comments, politics, no money, failed experiments. But all the setbacks mean when you do something great, or your paper does get published, it is all the more sweeter.  If I've learnt anything in this PhD (aside from science) is that we are all full of far more fight and passion and endurance than I ever imagined.

So stay tuned, the blog is well and truly back! And I have a new motto especially in times of stress, of which there will be several between now and when I submit the thesis:

I have a funny feeling that in order to keep calm in the next couple of months, I will be baking a lot of cakes.....

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