From the other side of the Viva – what would I do differently if I did my PhD now?

I never thought a three hour-long exam would be my best Christmas present but December 2019 was the month I finally passed my PhD viva. It has been a long struggle, not helped by hospital admissions, family illness and battles with depression and anxiety. Whilst I’ve learnt a lot about plant biology, pipetting and p values, this journey has also taught me valuable life lessons such as perseverance, keeping perspective and practising self-care. Looking back, if I had to do my PhD again, there a certainly a few things I would do differently…

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Beware – the cult of presenteeism!

It’s 7pm and I’m in the office for PhD students, exhausted after a long day of writing reports, experiments over-running and a fresh truckload of email admin. Tomorrow will be more of the same so I decide to call it a day. Gathering my belongings, I slink to the door, avoiding the gaze of the other students still working away. I ask myself “When did it become normal to feel guilty at leaving the office so late?!”

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What I learned as a London intern

Until this year, living in London was an alien and slightly frightening concept to me: what limited knowledge I had came solely from television and the odd family day-trip. As a countryside-loving girl who grew up in the suburbs, I had always presumed I would never survive in the ‘concrete jungle’. But then I was awarded a 3-month internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology based in Westminster and suddenly found myself living right in the political heart of the country. Having come through it – and thrived!- I can honestly say it was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat. Besides boosting my ambition to have a career related to science-policy, it was a rich source of life lessons in so many ways. Here are just some of the main things I learnt:

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What I’m missing about Sheffield

Having lived in Sheffield for the past five years, I had come to think of it as home. I moved to the Steel City in 2013 to start a research PhD in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, studying parasitic weeds. But this chapter of my life is drawing to a close and, with my funding running out, it made economic sense to move back to my parents in the West Midlands to write up my thesis. One month later, here are the things I find myself missing the most.

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Enter the FutureCade! Review of Festival of the Mind 2018

One of the things I love best about living in Sheffield is that there is nearly always an exciting city-wide festival going on. The latest to take over the Steel City was Festival of the Mind 2018 (20-30th September), an event that always captures the imagination because you never know quite what to expect. Described as a “celebration of ideas, culture and collaboration” the 2018 program included “music, art, lectures, heritage, local history, international stories, performance and dance” – all free and open to all. I popped along to the FutureCade, a collection of bizarre and unique installations exhibited in the Millennium Galleries throughout the duration of the festival. This year, under the theme ‘Utopia/Dystopia’, researchers from the University of Sheffield had teamed up with animators, artists, musicians and craft workers to present visions of how technology could potentially be used to shape future societies. Continue reading

Is it possible to shop plastic-free as a Sheffield Student?

Even if you didn’t watch Blue Planet 2, you almost certainly know we have a ‘Plastic Problem’: all the packaging we throw away is literally chocking the world to death. The realisation of the environmental costs of our throw-away culture has prompted leaders across the globe to make bold pledges to reduce the use of disposable plastics, but these are so engrained in our society that it seems a very far-off reality. Practically every time we shop we inevitably contribute to the problem. Imagine if all the plastic packaging you used in a year was piled up in one big heap…I’m embarrassed to even imagine how much it would be for me. But I’m not here to make you feel guilty. As students we have tremendous power to drive social change. Currently it is simply much more convenient and easier to buy things wrapped in plastic – and that won’t change unless we demand it. Competition between big businesses is fierce so they have to be attentive to our wants if they hope to benefit from our purchasing power. The way you shop sends them a message and can help to make real change happen. Continue reading

Staying in Sheffield over summer? Don’t despair…

As a PhD Research Student, summer is the time when the office and labs suddenly empty as all my colleagues depart for exciting international conferences or the holiday they have been dreaming of all through the long dark winter. Sadly, I won’t be joining them this year. With only a few months left to finish all my lab work before my funding ends, I simply can’t afford to take any extended time away from the department. If I was a computational scientist and could take my work with me, things might be different but as a plant scientist, I have to be around to look after my ‘babies’. Continue reading

The Graduate Science Showcase – what’s it all about?

It seems only yesterday that I was diligently attending my PhD induction lectures. And now here I am in my third year, being prompted to prepare a poster for the Graduate Science Showcase. This is an annual event at the University of Sheffield that brings together PhD Research students from across the whole Faculty of Science.  Even though it is meant to be an informal celebration of our diverse research project, I feel the pressure to perform well. With cash prizes on offer for the best posters, the standard is sure to be red hot!

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Ready, get set – code!

In all areas of modern society, new technology is being developed at breakneck speed. Much of this depends on coding, which is now seen as such a fundamental skill that it was introduced into the National Curriculum in September 2014. Now, children as young as five years old are learning how to ‘talk’ to computers.

Code First: Girls class of 2017 – photo credit: Pauline Narvas

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