Work/Life balance

We have probably all heard the expression…

“Love what you do and you will never have to work another day in your life”

This is, in my completely biased opinion, truer of science than any other line of work. Science rarely feels like a ‘job’. I base this statement in comparison to a previous job that I worked to support my undergraduate studies, working in a car park collecting trollies. This was by no means a bad job and I worked with a good friend. But I would never look forward to going into work and while there would spend much of my day counting down the hours until finish. In science it’s quite the opposite, I am battling to do as much as possible in the day and wish the time would slow down! In university I hear people say, and indeed do, something I would never hear in my old job…

“I would do this job for free”

Although working for nothing is often the case upon completion of PhD funding, it is clearly not sustainable. But practicality aside, no one really goes into science for the money – exactly – what money? People need to be paid but with a pay cheque in science often comes considerable pressure and demanding schedules. Science will never be a job where you leave work at work. I work more evenings than not. I work throughout lunch more days than not. Morning or afternoon tea breaks are typically saved for the most special of occasions, but there will always be other people who work longer hours or continually complain about how busy they are. That doesn’t mean more is being achieved, often these people are on first name terms with the staff at the coffee shop. So, it is often all too easy to get sucked into endless working and, when you enjoy aspects of it, what’s the harm? Well, from someone who feels guilty if they don’t work endlessly, I am still aware and in agreement with another common saying…

“Work to live, don’t live to work”

With the modern pressures on scientists to get funding and publish in high impact factor journals (on top of everything else!), it is still important to have a life outside of work. Very few of my friends are involved in science, which helps put work to the back of my mind when socialising. I think playing sport and/or exercising is important too. Stress arises from inescapable negative thoughts and blogs about stress in academia are all too common. It is important to work hard and play hard. Make sure there are things outside of work that make you happy and provide you with satisfaction. Like golf, science can be the best job when it goes well and the worst when it doesn’t. Take the rough with the smooth. Finally, the last saying I want to note…

“Nobody lies on their death bed wishing they had worked harder”

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PhD viva

As my previous two blogs focused on preparing a PhD thesis, it seems logical to advance to the PhD viva. If there’s one thing I learnt from asking numerous people what their viva was like, is that vivas (vivae?) differ vastly from one to the other. So with that in mind let me describe my personal story and resulting emotions elucidated in the run up to, during, and following the big day!

Upon completion of my thesis I immediately printed, bound, and submitted them to the graduate school. All 5 copies at >300 pages per thesis. Having dragged them around Newcastle upon Tyne trying to find a place capable of binding such large documents, finally submitting them was a huge weight of my back. Literally. But that was it, there was no real sense of achievement just another, albeit relatively big, box ticked. I know this stage is only a necessity to get the cogs turning toward the viva, but even so a firework or two would have been nice.

The availability of my external examiner wasn’t great and as a result I would have to wait around 3 month before my viva. This also meant I would not be finished before Christmas as I had hoped. Nonetheless I was able to put the looming viva day to the back of my mind and focus on other matters of life for much of the build-up. But there comes a time, a time which I suspect happens to many people for many things, when all of a sudden the once seemingly distant date of something is approaching uncomfortably quickly. This occurred for me about 2 weeks before the viva, which coincided with job interviews and deadlines for fellowship applications. I did bits of reading around the subject, mostly focusing on my external examiner’s papers, at weeks 2-1 before in the time I had between interview and application preparation. Then in the final week before I kept my diary largely free. My viva was on a Friday – through personal choice, based purely on Friday being a better night for a party than the other dates. In the main I was able to focus the majority of my attention on all things viva from the Monday onwards. This is probably the first time I really went inside my brain and asked myself “what do you not know?”. As my PhD progressed from day 1 until this penultimate stage I could easily answer “what do I know?”. But “what do I NOT know” is a daunting question and one which would keep me awake at night.

I felt I understood the work in my thesis well; I had after all lived it for the best part of three years. I thus opted to focus my reading on subjects around my research rather than directly relating to my work. It wasn’t completely irrelevant and was more an attempt for me to put my results in a wider context – particularly the context of the research interests of my examiners. Ultimately I was asked little about much of what I read in this time but I don’t regret this approach and I learnt a great deal of useful information and developed a range of further studies I think would be important. I also refreshed myself with my thesis work by having a relatively quick read through it. In all I find it pretty funny that I could be literally surrounded by publications and still spend a vast amount of time on Wikipedia, the very source of knowledge prohibited to mere undergrads. Whether academics admit it or not, everyone uses Wikipedia for fast and dirty information, which I feel is fine when you know a topic.

The viva itself was an enjoyable process. It’s not often you will get the opportunity to discuss your research in such a manner. My viva was over in little over 2.5 hours which is probably on the quick side. My general guesstimate would be a viva typically lasts around 3.5 – 4 hours. Every viva will be different so I have avoided discussing the exact style of questions here, but if you would like some more specific information please leave a comment.

As far as advice goes, I can tell you what everyone is told – you will be fine and try not to stress too much about it – but I know the likelihood is you will always worry. I had 7 publications going into my viva, the last getting accepted on the morning of the viva itself (nice omen surely), but I still worried. So I won’t say don’t worry, but in worrying it is important not to concentrate on what you don’t know but appreciate what you do know.

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Preparing a PhD thesis (part 2)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year. In this blog I will continue where I left off, providing some more specific comments relating to the typical sections of a thesis and the joys of formatting that provide a constant form of frustration to PhD students worldwide…

Introduction
Also known as the literature review, this section is perhaps the most challenging to write. Usually ‘mini’ literature reviews are required for internal check points throughout the PhD, so it might be at least a small part of this has been done when the time comes to sit down and really have a go at writing it. Previous work might provide a foundation, but look to improve it and make sure references are up to date and all information is still true and accurate. Science is a fast moving field and what you wrote in year 1 may no longer apply. I found it useful to have a rough plan before I started writing my introduction. For this I spent time laying out subheadings in a document and structuring it how I felt would best provide a nice flow. Inevitably bits will get added/removed/swapped around so don’t spend too long planning, but if nothing else it helps to keep focus when sections are clearly laid out.

Methods
Depending on the structure of the thesis, which usually relates to how much the method is altered between chapters; the methods section may stand alone or be included in each results chapter. Because the methods were generally comparable between studies in my thesis I generated a large methods section. The idea is that anyone should be able to follow the methods and reproduce the work. While this is also the case in publications, the space is often limited and some element of mystery remains. However, thesis methods can be much more descriptive and should make following the exact procedure easier. It might also be useful document to have if you come back to a technique in the future and need a quick reference on how it was done last time. The methods is not going to be the most fun chapter to write, but might represent a substantial amount of the word count. So once complete you can tell yourself that you have done X% of your thesis. Every little helps…

Results chapters
These were my favourite chapters to write. Once data has been generated, the next step is analysis/statistics. This can often take as long as the generation of data itself. I looked at each results chapter like a ‘story’ I wanted to tell. I carried out a range of analyses and added copies of the figures I generated into a word document. I then added notes to the document describing what the results meant and what the statistical significance of the results was. This is perhaps a long way of doing things and if a particular analysis was integrated into the study design then doing this is obviously redundant. But for me it helped to get a feel for the data and allowed me to drill down into what I was showing and what was important. From this I pieced together the ‘story’ and began to write the chapter. How you present your data is important so take time to make the figures inviting and easy to understand. Figure legends in my thesis also tended to have added information compared to my publications to help the ease of interpretation. Results chapters are what you have added to the world. This is data you have produced with your very own hands!

Appendix
This section fills any holes which are still left after completion of the main document and can range from media and reagent recipes to tables of patient information, and everything in between. It’s also nice to include representative gels in these sections, just make sure the best/prettiest gels are selected. There were times when I would stare at a figure/gel image/table wondering “are you worthy of the main thesis?”. This is subjective and ultimately you should just do what feels right. Your supervisor will probably tell you if what felt right is wrong anyway…

Formatting
While typically done last, I think it is at least worth getting the basic formatting set up before beginning. Get hold of the guidelines for submission (or equivalent) document and format the word document to the criteria, such as margins, font, spacing, reference style ect. I wrote each chapter in separate word documents and then combined all the documents as late as I could. This helped prevent the document getting to large which can cause it to be less responsive.

If you need to start a new page, for a figure or new chapter for example, resist inputting many lines with enter and instead create a page break. This will help avoid massive shifts in figures/tables when the document is edited. There is little worse than spending 3+ years working on a thesis and just when you think it’s finally finished you realise a duplicate word in the text. Then when you delete the duplicate word a figure from page 186 moves to page 8, a figure from page 56 moves to page 200, a table on page 137 disappears completely… Trust me, at some point you will wish word was a physical object so you could punch it! But precautions can be taken to limit the frustration and page breaks are definitely one of those. Other useful features include table of contents/figures/tables which automatically inserts a table detailing each and updates the page numbers as the document is changed. I didn’t use the table of figures/tables option and have subsequently spent more time then I care to imagine editing the table so the page numbers correspond!

Final suggestions
Simple but effective – back up regularly! And, give your supervisor the chapters one by one – don’t try and write the whole thing before you’ve had some useful feedback!

The hardest part of writing my thesis was getting started. So what are you waiting for?!

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Preparing a PhD thesis (Part 1)

Almost inevitably there will come a time as a PhD student, usually in the final year, when the once seemingly distant hand in date is no longer so distant. This is typically prompted and/or worsened by constant questions from colleagues and superiors regarding where you are at with “the write up”. I offer the same advice to all new starters, the same advice offered to me when I started, advice which I know will be largely ignored – just like I ignored it at the time. That advice is to start writing early, even if it’s just pulling together some methods into words when you have some spare time out of the lab.

I have been lucky in my PhD in that my PI really encouraged me to finish studies off and write them up for publication. The idea was that doing this would help us apply for grants to continue the research once my PhD was finished and to this purpose it has worked out well. It also helped when I came to tackle my thesis, as I had 4 papers which provided the basis for my chapters it was less daunting than the universally feared ‘blank document’. But without the luxury of time and results to publish research during the PhD, it is still a good idea to try and get some stuff into a document, be it some methods and/or general words of introduction.

Fitting the standard model quiet well, my PhD went something like…

Year 1 – Spend all my time in the lab with reading of papers during the minutes of incubation and electrophoresis.
Year 2 – Spend some time in the lab and some time writing papers.
Year 3 – Try to finish off lab aspects of the project that will go into thesis, spend time writing papers, grants, and thesis.

So the majority of my thesis work came in my final year even though I had written 4 of my chapters in publication format. My top tip, as mentioned previously, is definitely to try and stay on top of the writing. When faced with the prospect of serious writing it is easy to convince yourself something needs to be done in the lab. It’s not uncommon to sit down at a computer, open Word, and before you know it you’re filling tip boxes in the lab. There are only so many tip boxes to fill and the thesis won’t write itself. Sooner or later you will have to sit down and get it done so little and often is a great way of chipping away at the word count. Think of the thesis as a giant block of marble. When Michelangelo created the renaissance sculpture of David he did not spend the 3 years between 1501 and 1504 accumulating data on how David should look, to then spend a couple month frantically chipping away huge bits of marble. Nor should a PhD student spend all 3 years simply accumulating data to frantically try and pull it all together on the 11th hour before funding expires. If studies are finished then begin chipping away at that chapter. All going well it might be possible to get the data submitted and published, which is always nice to have going into a viva. Lab work will never be finished, there will always be more that could be done, be it more samples to process or more techniques to utilise. But recognise when you have enough to write a strong thesis and rein it in. Not finishing everything is a good thing, the future work section will contain words and you have the basis of a post-doc or fellowship application.

Writing a thesis is challenging and rightly so; if everyone could do it there would be no merit in doing so. In part 2 of the “Preparing a PhD thesis” blog I will offer some more specific comments in relation to each section and more general comments on formatting. Having just went through the rigmarole of thesis writing and the issues that come with it I hope to give some useful tips so others can profit from my experiences.

I wish you a very merry festive season.

Stayed tuned.

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Oral presentations as a PhD student

There is no single way to present science. Everyone’s presentation style is unique and there really is no right way of getting the story of your research across to a room full of people during seminars and conferences. So this blog is not intended to be a one stop shop for how to deliver a presentation as such a thing cannot exist. Instead this blog is designed to give some insight into my personal experiences of presenting my work and some tips that may be of use (I hope).

Prior to my PhD I had only done one presentation during my undergraduate studies, so I was not accustomed to talking in front of people. What I remember from my first PhD talk, which was a 20 minute presentation to the department, was the build up and introduction to my talk was the worst part. Because this was essentially my first ever talk I had rehearsed a lot and the talk felt more like a performance. By this I mean I knew exactly what I wanted to say, where I wanted to point the laser, and when to click for the next animation. After presenting my opening slides exactly as rehearsed I started to feel pretty comfortable, I dare say I even enjoyed it by the end. I recall sitting down after wishing I could do it again as the nerves had completely receded and I knew I could deliver the first couple of slides in a less nervous manner. I had planned to take this post-talk feeling of it wasn’t so bad into my next talk, but it was a year later before I next got asked to do another presentation, at a medical conference in Greece. By this point, the nerve-settling memories of my previous talk were lost in a storm of nerves, fear, and uncertainty. This was to be my first international conference, the first conference I attended solo, and the first conference I would do an oral presentation.

It is one thing feeling okay after a talk to a supportive audience in my home town, where my local Geordie dialect might be more easily understood and many of the onlookers were close friends, but to present to an international audience consisting overwhelmingly of medics, was daunting. I am not suggesting medics are less supportive than fellow researchers, just different. I realised the context of the talk would need to be completely reconsidered. The audience would care less about the methods used to generate the data and my pretty pictures and stats; they would instead want me to stress the clinical importance of my findings. Like every other researcher out there I feel my research is super important and can offer amazing guidance to clinicians, but to articulate this in such a way that would convince them I had shown anything of genuine merit was, in my head at least, rather difficult.

Once again I spent a long time (too long) rehearsing. Nevertheless, remembering the worst part last time out was the introduction, I made sure I knew exactly what I wanted to say in my opening couple of slides. After this I had an idea of the points to make about each slide, and it was less of a performance and more off the cuff than previous. The talk went well and I fielded all questions successfully, another aspect of the presentation I was dreading. I again made the conclusion that speaking about my research is not so bad, in fact it is enjoyable. I am passionate about my work and enjoy telling people about the data I had worked so hard to generate. So I left Greece telling myself next time I do a talk I have no reason to be nervous and to remember the post talk it wasn’t so bad feeling. Then my next opportunity to present came another year later. I struggle to remember how I felt last week, yet alone 1 year later.

I went into my next presentation with more optimism. This was at a microbial ecology meeting so the context of the conference was highly specific to my research. Thus everyone in the audience, for the first time, really knew what I was talking about. I realised this made me more nervous. It is alright feeling you know more than other people in the audience but there was something strangely fraudulent about me talking about techniques and stats to people in the audience who would know more about it. I had rehearsed less for this presentation but made sure I knew at least what I would say in my first couple of slides then to just discuss my results as felt appropriate on the day. Given the size of the audience, in terms of bodies and academic credibility, and the fact I was feeling the previous late night slightly, the talk went really well. I answered the questions well and received lots of interest in the coffee break after. I realised by not having such a rigorous plan of what exactly I was to say, I could interact with the audience a bit more and, dare I say, introduce a little humour into the talk.

Since these initial talks I have got involved with more teaching and demonstrating within the University. Standing in front of undergraduates every week and introducing lab classes has helped me a lot and I feel less nervous now about talking in front of people. Don’t get me wrong, there is still the inevitable nervous energy, especially when presenting to a high calibre audience, but I try to channel this nervous energy into my talk. Going to the departmental talks every week, even when they were not relevant to my research and dissecting the presentation styles of the speakers really helped me incorporate what aspects I liked into my own presentations.

As in any science writing I feel I should end with a kind of summary, so here goes. Attend as many talks as you can and really critique the style of the presenter and their slides. What do you like about the talk? Were the slides well designed? What do you remember from the talk the next day? The best presenter I have seen was Jennifer Gardy (twitter @jennifergardy) at an SGM conference. She was energetic, charismatic, passionate, funny, and really delivered the message well. I learned a lot from her about talking and engaging the audience. Jennifer will regularly give presentations and this will definitely help. I try to keep my slides easy to read with short bullet points and use of pictures, which is a style I like when attending talks, but each to their own. For results I typically present the figures with minimal text and try to explain these and I like to have my laser pointer to show the audience what exactly I am referring to.

I probably can’t stress enough the importance of trying to regularly deliver talks. If the opportunities are not there to do so at conferences or by teaching, look for other ways. Within your research group or as a group of PhD students it might be good to take it in turn to present for 20 minutes on a Friday afternoon. The presentations can be anything; the important thing will be getting accustomed to standing in front of people and talking. Remember the worst bit is usually getting into it, so have a good idea of what you want to say in the initial couple of slides. Feeling underprepared will only lead to more nerves. As a concluding remark I will suggest trying to enjoy it. Science, in general, is a supportive environment and especially as a PhD student. It is arguably the best time to present as people will be more supportive, they won’t expect presentation skills to be perfect, and if you can’t answer a question then it is usually more excusable. Further suggestions are welcomed in the comments.

The world needs to hear about your amazing data, so give it to them! Good luck!!

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Science and social media

If there is one certainty in this world, it is that science will continue to evolve and make the most of technological advances. The 90’s was no exception and with the rise of the internet came a whole new media for science to exploit. Dissemination of research was changed forever.

Recent years have seen the use of social media in science become increasingly popular. In this blog I will discuss the current forms of social media and their respective merits for science, from personal experience. I have no doubt that useful sites will exist that I am not aware of, in which case please feel to add these to the comments. From the off I should mention my main goal of using social media professionally is, unsurprisingly, to raise my profile and create a good account of myself. As you will discover, text can be interpreted 101 ways and the use of these sites should come with a warning sign – “career damage possible”. So please use wisely. Once your words are out there in the ever expanding cyber universe you have little control over the subsequent perception…

Facebook – The devil in disguise?

Let’s begin with the most popular form of social media to ever exist and probably the most dangerous for professional reputation. At least if your Facebook is anything like mine…  Don’t get me wrong, I work hard but I am partial to a good time every now and then. After all I am a Geordie and Geordie Shore has shown you exactly how I should behave (important note: if you learn or gain nothing else from my blogs, know Newcastle is nothing like it is portrayed on these disillusioned excuses for television entertainment). Nonetheless, my Facebook is a medium for arranging football matches and social events and the photos that come with the later often being something I think my superiors and potential employers can do without seeing. My golden rule for Facebook is to keep it away from your profession. I don’t add/accept students. I am careful with which academics I want as a ‘friend’. I think it is more likely for a career to be lost than made on this particular site.

Twitter – To tweet or not to tweet?

Twitter blew my mind when I first made an account. I have no idea why but suspect it is related to its unassuming simplicity. Unlike Facebook where the user has unlimited characters, for better or worse, to talk about all their thoughts, twitter limits to 140. Relating science in this many characters is a skill in itself, but an increasingly important one. This is a brilliant medium for effortlessly keeping up to date with developments, papers, conferences, and all things celebrity. I go through phases with twitter, which no doubt correlates with how busy I am at the time and how much public transport I am using. The formula will go something like…

Twitter use = (lab work × writing)2

                      journey time

For raising your profile and helping publicise your latest research I cannot recommend it enough. Like science in general, twitter can be a cruel place at times. I will begin with an exemplary case which occurred at the recent SGM, which was the focus of my previous blog. In jest I tweeted the following…
Oct 1 snip

Happy that my name would now appear on the #SGMSUS twitter feed (whereby anyone who searches “sgmsus” for the latest gossip will see my tweet) increasing my exposure, I sat back to enjoy the next session. Three minutes later I was left wondering where the nearest black hole was to swallow me up. I hadn’t really considered such a seemingly harmless/mindless tweet would cause offence. I suspected that someone might jest back, but I did not expect that to be Nigel Brown, President of the SGM.

Oct 2 snip

I explained in a reply that I had found all sessions interesting and that I did not mean my tweet so literally. Though I will certainly be more careful about exactly what I tweet in future, it’s not all doom and gloom. My latest PLoS ONE paper has been tweeted and re-tweeted (passed on by other users to their followers) numerous times. This is great for dissemination of my research and will increase the likelihood of people reading and citing my work. A recent example of why I love twitter came when I was walking to work. I was mentioned in a tweet by Mike Cox of Imperial College London…

Oct 3 snip

It transpired that my PLoS ONE paper was being passed around with some positive comments. This lead to Nick Loman of the University of Birmingham to tweet this…

Oct 4 snip

As a result of this offer I will be giving a presentation in Liverpool in November to some really important people from my field. This is extremely exciting and timely as I approach the end of my PhD.

Research gate – Another scandal?

40 years after the Watergate scandal the suffix “gate” is still widely used to represent scandal. Research gate does not come free of controversy. I personally quite like research gate but I know others who don’t. For me this medium is simply a way of raising my profile and keeping my publications in one place where people can easily find them. It’s one of the top Google hits for me and immediately provides an overview of what I am about. So in general I don’t use research gate much, usually just update it on release of new publications. I did have an evening recently where I searched for terms related to my interests and ‘followed’ likewise people. This actually led to correspondence with a couple of people. On the back of this and with a bit of luck I will acquire some funds to facilitate me visiting a lab for a couple weeks to exchange methodological advice and open up avenues for collaboration. Following people results in notifications by email when they add a new publication which can be useful, annoying, disheartening, and inspiring if you follow regular publishers, like Rob Knight. So there is definitely merits to be gained here, just don’t waste your life answering other users’ questions.

LinkedIn – LinkedOut, shake it all about.

Much like research gate I find LinkedIn to have its uses but it is not a site I will access daily. Usually a couple times a month, then whenever I have something I want to update on my profile. But again this will come up in Google searches and can be useful source of information if anyone wishes to find you. Everyone seems to be under the impression that by being on LinkedIn you will receive regular job offers. I know of many people who use LinkedIn and none who have gained a job through it. But that’s not to say it cannot happen and there are useful tools within the site for keeping up to date with available jobs. My philosophy on research gate and LinkedIn are they take 20 mins to set up on a rainy day and won’t do any harm just existing in the cyber world.

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Let’s Confer

Let’s confer 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A fitting opening phrase to begin my blogging series in which I aim to explore all things PhD life and science in general. You will have me for 10 monthly blogs, in which time I plan to give an honest account of my personal experiences as a PhD student. Who knows, there might actually be some useful advice in there for others to implement – I certainly hope so!

As is customary, let me begin with a brief introduction of myself. My name is Christopher Stewart, I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne some 24 years ago and have been true to the region ever since. I did my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology at Northumbria University and then went straight into my PhD at the same institution. I covered this transition in the initial blog I submitted for the Cambio blogger competition. Suffice to say, I consider myself very fortunate to be doing a PhD and owe it to a healthy mix of hard work and good luck. My research has focused on the microbial community in the preterm gut, specifically the poo (ah the glamour of science…). Changes of this dynamic community are related to the pathogenesis of disease. It’s a great project made possible by the enthusiasm and hard work of the neonatologist in the local special care baby unit. But enough about me. The focus of this, my pioneering blog, will be all things SGM. While I plan to dedicate a future blog to conferences in general, I feel it fitting to provide some information about the SGM having today returned from the autumn conference held at the University of Sussex.

I had the pleasure of being invited to this conference by Cambio and the team were excellent with me. As I approach the end of my PhD and the pressure is building, it was great going to a conference with no poster or talk to worry about. For the non-microbiologists among you, the SGM (Society for General Microbiology) is an excellent society for supporting PhD students, facilitating the attendance of one of their annual conferences by providing generous travel grants. As well as this, registered members can apply for travel grants for other non-SGM conferences. The international travel grants are currently a very reasonable £350 or £500 for inside or outside of Europe, respectively. The application for travel support is straight forward and I am not aware of a case where the application was rejected. So I cannot recommend registering enough and indeed, it is usually the first bit of advice I give new PhD students related to any aspect of microbiology. Consider the £25 registration fee an investment. A sound one at that.

By its very nature, the symposiums are often expansive so unlike a more tailored conference, the SGM attracts a range of scientific personnel. For non-PhD students it is often a place to catch up with old colleagues. For PhD students it is often a conference that permits the attendance by numerous members of a lab, whose vastly different research interests may not facilitate this in more specific conferences. So there is always an interesting talk to broaden knowledge and it is nice to spend time with lab friends away from work too. I always enjoy my time at the SGM conferences and the recent event was no different. If you are aware of other societies providing travel (or other) support to PhD students then it would be great to add these to the comments.

The work side of my conference involved attending the ‘Impact of bacteriophage in the environment’ session. This opened with an excellent and, for a relative phage newbie, informative talk about all things phage by Michael Rossmann of Purdue University, USA. The work on the structure and assembly of phage was fascinating. Being a scientist with clinical interest, added to the bias of favouring talks from groups within my department, I must give mention to the ‘Characterising the impact of temperate bacterial viruses of Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolated from cystic fibrosis patient’ talk, delivered by Fran Everest. It was excellently delivered and some really exciting data was presented. Fran is a 1st year student and this was the first talk of her PhD. The SGM can be a cruel and merciless place at times but her talk stood up to the test and she confidently answered all questions. For budding future scientists in the initial stages of a PhD or masters, who might have similar gut wrenching first talks to give, trust in yourself + your work and you will be fine. Scientists, by and large, support each other.

An SGM cannot be mentioned without reference to the prize lecture which was delivered by Neil Gow of the University of Aberdeen, UK. This talk focused on medical mycology, an area Neil passionately feels is understudied and underfunded (to his dismay). He sold it to me. What an interesting and novel area of medical science just waiting to be explored. If you are looking for a PhD or post-doc and are interested by the work of Neil, you could do a lot worse than regularly check his website for the latest available projects (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mmfi/).

Finally, let me take this opportunity to thank Cambio for selecting my entry and giving me the role of Cambio blogger. Big thanks too for the invitation to join them at the SGM, I had a wonderful time getting to know the team. Not least Suzanne Kennedy, the director of R+D at MoBio, who is a great scientist and an equally great person. Her knowledge/advice/persistence was invaluable in the success of my RNA work. Thank you.

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