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In The Beginning…

Well, this has been a long time coming, but to you, having somehow stumbled across this page – welcome to this corner of the internet!

This page is essentially a place where I can talk about my thoughts after a few years in the field of Bacteriology as a research student. Part informative, part cathartic/stress relief, and part career move (hello… adulting). I sort of want this to be humorous and educational.

Please bear with me as I figure out how to internet/webpage… In the mean time, please enjoy the above image made by me on Illustrator, depicting a bacterial pathogen eating some chicken (an analogy for this particular pathogen’s ability to consume amino acids readily while within the host cell).

Posted in General, Ph D posts

How has your life changed under COVID-19 (student edition)? – Vol III

I think we’re all varying degrees of both.

I’ve been writing up a series of posts with some students’ experiences on how life has been during this global pandemic. Here are a couple more responses.

Student number 6:

What degree are you currently completing?

Doctor of Philosophy.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

11 months.

What do you work on?

Trying to cure HIV through improving the immune response to kill HIV-infected cells.

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

A combination of designing experiments, performing experiments, analysing the data and reviewing the literature (and lots of writing)!

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

Well my kitty is definitely loving seeing more of me and all the extra attention! I am now working from home indefinitely. Bad because it means I can’t perform experiments and generate data to progress the project. Silver lining – it means I have more time to read and to write. And the extra benefit of reducing the transmission risk helps to put it all into perspective.

What is a typical day like?

I’m trying to keep a sense of normality (despite spending all of my days now in the same apartment). I get up same time, get ready (out of pj’s/track pants!), and try to operate the same as if I were in the office. I do find it harder to focus at home because normally home is where I relax, so I’m relying a lot for the moment on the Pomodoro Technique (25 min off, 5 min off) to maintain focus.

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

My biggest concerns right now aren’t for my degree or data. The University, the Department and supervisors are being incredibly supportive and understanding that these delays will prevent generating new data (in my experience). My biggest concern is the safety and health of my family and friends. My partner is a doctor. My parents are both immunocompromised. Right now, they, and people in similar situations are the priority, so I’m okay with working from home right now. They’re worth it!

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

Facetime and Zoom catch ups really are fantastic! In addition, a few of us have a fitness group where a couple of times a week we link up through Facetime and do an hour of exercise at home. Apart from that, I’m trying to maintain eating well (and keeping a safe distance from the fridge at home!), trying to maintain regular sleeping habits, and keeping a schedule.

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Brunch. Brunch. Brunch. I am all for getting out there and supporting local businesses once things return to normal. Also catching up with friends in person. Board games nights, Friday night after-work drinks, coffee breaks to House of Cards. All the things that help keep you grounded during a PhD. I cannot wait!

Student number 7:

What degree are you currently completing?

PhD

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

4 years 2 months!

What do you work on?

I investigate how the immune system interacts with nerves.

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

I was already in my writing phase so was doing a lot of inside work anyway. I did have some casual work in an office and the gym which was a good break.

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

Most of my work now is tidying up my thesis and organising my data from the past 4 years. Everything is a bit of a mess from having no set routine but very slowly chipping away at the work which I think is better than wallowing at not being at 100% efficiency.

What is a typical day like?

Wake up with some Animal Crossing, lunch, trawl through data a bit, exercise, cook, and finishing the day with more Animal Crossing (seriously why am I feeling more reward completing tasks in a virtual island).

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

I’m privileged to be well supported, both mentally and financially, but my heart goes out to people who are not in the same spot. I am a little worried about job prospects from this but it’s not something I can control so why stress over it now.

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

I’ve started doing more voice calls – used to find them annoying but it’s nice having people to chat with. Even if you are just sitting around doing your own thing. Home workouts also real good to get blood going again (LesMills on Demand is relatively cheap with a free trial start).

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

BRUNCH! and gym. Brunch lines will be so long though 😦

Any other comments?

It’s important to not feel like you have to be super productive in these current times. There’s a quote going around saying “If you don’t come out of this with some sort of skill/side hustle, you don’t lack time, you lack discipline” which works for some people but overall you should not be expected to have “maximum efficiency”. If you need to spend the day doing nothing to cope, then do it. Don’t let other people shame you into thinking you’re not doing enough. Times are tough already and we don’t need extra guilt piled up on you. As long as you are happy with what you are doing you’re off to a good start.

Also don’t forget to check in with your friends (even the low-maintenance ones) and reach out if you need it. No shame at all.

***

I feel like we’re just playing into stereotypes with all these brunch posts (not to say brunch isn’t awesome). #Melbourne

Once again, if you would like to participate in these posts, feel free to let me know, and I can send you the link to the questionnaire form.

Hope everyone has a good break over Easter. It can be lonesome and depressing at times, but I hope I can bring some level of entertainment and distractions with my Blog. Take care everyone.

Posted in General, Ph D posts

How has your life changed under COVID-19 (student edition)? – Vol II.

I had a few more responses to my questionnaire, so here is another rendition of how this pandemic is affecting fellow students. For those who want to read Vol I. the link is right here.

Student number 4:

What degree are you currently completing?

Ph. D.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

Three years, two months.

What do you work on?

The mammalian immune response to respiratory viruses.

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

I split my time between two laboratories, and did work at both institutions as required. Over the last few months I had been working at the Peter Doherty Institute almost exclusively and I would be the first to admit I took it pretty easy in my work hours!

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

I am currently working from home with no access to the laboratory. I have a few experiments remaining, though am currently finishing up writing manuscripts for my first two chapters with what data I have.

What is a typical day like?

I’ve been waking up after nine fairly frequently, and working on a Remote Desktop to edit figures and write. We have a daily lab Zoom meeting at 4:30 where we discuss what we have done or achieved.

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

Motivation to work. While I’m concerned as to when I will be able to complete experiments, I am worried that what could be months of working at home could lead to complacency. While I’ve never been the most fastidious with my work hours the ability to slack off generally without consequence is not good for my work ethic!

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

My mental health has waxed and waned; I’m an introvert so the alone time suits me, but the inability to indulge in many of my hobbies means that I am prone to bouts of depression. Exercising has been a struggle as I often relied on group exercise classes and organised team sports. As such me and my partner have tried to maintain daily boxing sessions, and I also try to exercise in my backyard when I can/when I’m procrastinating!

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Watching and going to the football, and attending live music events! All my hobbies are shut down! That and going to the beach without feeling like a criminal.

Any other comments?

More people need to get creative with their Zoom profile pictures.

FYI Mine is currently my Blog profile icon.

Student number 5:

What degree are you currently completing?

Ph. D.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

8 weeks to submission!!

What do you work on?

I am trying to understand how the bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila causes disease (pneumonia).

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

Super busy trying to finish off experiments for my thesis and writing it.

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

I am actually quite lucky as I managed to finish off experiments before the shutdown. The shutdown also gives me the ability to fully focus on my thesis, since I can no longer do anything else. Past me would never have thought this, but during the shutdown, the thesis writing proves to be something that keeps me sane as otherwise I might start making problems/dramas for myself/others.

What is a typical day like?

Wake up, exercise, eat, shower, write, eat, write, nap, write, cook, eat, write, Netflix/call friends and family/social media/etc, sleep. And the weekly Zoom meeting with my supervisor.

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

My family overseas. The healthcare in my home country is not as good as Australia 😦

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

Stay in touch with people, keep a good relationship with my housemate (thankfully she’s really nice!), exercise, try to meditate once in a while, practice gratitude.

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Korean BBQ, going home to see family.

***

Thank you to these additional students for agreeing to feature on this blog! I will be posting more responses as they come. πŸ™‚

Please let me know if you would like feature as well.

Posted in General, Ph D posts

How has your life changed under COVID-19 (student edition)?

Image

In the midst of our usual WhatsApp group messaging, one of us suggested doing a Q and A of how student life has been impacted by COVID-19.

In my previous post, I mentioned that our lab has effectively been shut down since last Friday. Thus far we’ve been resorting to Zoom to see each others’ faces (in terms of fellow lab members), and it’s been good to have weekly lab morning teas and Friday drinks.

But obviously being cooped up indoors, unable to go in and do experiments in the lab… it’s having quite a negative impact on those of us who needed it to finish our degrees in a timely manner. So, I put the option out there to some fellow students to fill out some questions on what life was like prior, and how it is now under isolation. Obviously intended to be humorous (because we need that during these rather depressing times).

Student number 1:

What degree are you currently completing?

None! I’m free as a birdie!

For context, this particular student has already submitted their Ph. D thesis, and on top of that, they just had their thesis accepted after an examination process.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

Complete!

What do you work on?

The bacterial pathogen Coxiella burnetii and their relationship with the host mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell).

For more context, they’ve looked at Coxiella proteins that are targeted by the bacteria to go to the mitochondria (trying to figure out why it goes there and what it does when it’s at the mitochondria), and also how the host mitochondria changes during bacterial infection (i.e. in response to infection).

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

Busy but good! Full of experiments and lab work πŸ™‚ and I had control (mostly) over when/what I did and who I saw.

This particular student was working in the lab after thesis submission, so that they could publish their work in a peer-reviewed journal.

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

See earlier answer (degree is finished).

What is a typical day like?

Go for a run or battle at shops for food, make coffee, do some work, make offerings to the shutdown gods that this ends soon. πŸ™‚

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

How long are we going to be like this…?

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

Talk to housemate/lab buddies via Zoom. Keep in touch with friends and family. Go for runs (look, it’s a jog at best) or do some Yoga (infrequent).

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Return to normality and lab, begin to plan move to Germany (for Post-Doctoral position/work), go for brunch again.

Any other comments?

I’m worried my housemate is plotting to kill me during the shutdown. πŸ˜›

They really are.

Student number 2:

What degree are you currently completing?

Honours

For our international readers, this particular student is completing their Bachelor degree, but Honours in this instance is an additional year that allows a student to complete some additional coursework and a research project.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

Two months (of one year).

What do you work on?

The bacterial pathogen Legionella pneumophila and their relationship with the host mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell).

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

Fulfilling and busy, almost every day was packed with lab work.

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

Trying to do coursework at home, but lack motivation. It is really hard to be efficient at home.

What is a typical day like?

Morning/afternoon workout, eat, watch videos, do some work/reading/playing with Inkscape, calling family/friends, and cleaning.

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

Not improving on anything at all, all this year, and the fear of getting even worse. Not being able to finish my degree this year, and thus not being able to have any income next year as previously planned.

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

Annoy my mum by talking to her non-stop. Workout and recently trying out Pilates. Online shopping sometimes, or even eating (which sometimes doesn’t help).

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Going back to the lab to finally observe localisation of my proteins. Eating out and shopping with my friends. Going back to be my more disciplined and motivated self. Be able to wear different clothes lol.

Any other comments?

I might spend too much on food if I’m going to be locked in my room all the time. πŸ™‚

Student number 3:

What degree are you currently completing?

Ph. D.

How many months/years are you (with your degree)?

Three.

They’ve just started their fourth year.

What do you work on?

Salmonella

FYI They work on the bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium), in particular a Salmonella protein that get injected into the host cell. In addition, they’ve also recently been exploring the function of said Salmonella protein in the context of Coxiella infection (because why not?), because it might impact the way Coxiella recruits certain host cell compartments to itself.

What was your life like prior to lab shutdown?

No time to sit down!!!!! Desk was solely for piles of scrap paper and storage of personal items.

What is life like now, post shutdown?

How are you managing your degree?

Getting a start on thesis writing. Sitting down!!!!!

What is a typical day like?

More sleep than usual, run in pretty Alma Park while playing ‘dodge-that-person’ and ‘admiring-puppers’. SIT DOWN!!! Zoom meetings/online teaching. Reading mountains of Salmonella scientific literature with a side of writing.

What are your biggest concerns in a time like this?

Putting on weight cos I’m SITTING DOWN!!!

How are you managing your mental/physical health?

Keep in touch with friends, family, binge Netflix to assimilate with society, go for runs, eat healthy-ish, enjoy a G & T.

What are some some things you are looking forward to doing (post-shutdown)?

Korean BBQ!!!

Any other comments?

It’s kind of a nice change for me cos I get to SIT DOWN!!!

***

And there you have it. I think the general theme of life post-shutdown seems to be that all of us are trying to keep in touch with friends and family, and finding distractions in the mean time. I’ve been finding it very isolating to not be able to visit loved ones, as I live a decent drive away from family.

Also, you can see the progression of a Uni student here. From Honours (fresh-faced and looking forward to the lab), to third year going on fourth year Ph. D student (‘life is crazy and I’m drowning’), and finally someone who is pretty much on track to become a Doctor of Philosophy.

If you are a student and would like to feature in this thread of posts, let me know! I would be happy to post your responses.

In the mean time, do stay safe, stay home, and take care. It can be lonely sometimes.

Posted in General, Ph D posts

Sorry, Lab is unavailable at this time

WELL- as of last Friday, my lab has effectively been shut down! We have one individual who’s been granted special permission to continue with their experiments (and provide some bare minimum assistance to maintain some other peoples’ essential experiments), but that’s it! All other lab members are working from home, predominantly on writing tasks.

I was quite fortunate to have finished all the required experiments for my second manuscript earlier this month. I can’t imagine how I would have been had this been, say, a month ago. The idea of having to cease experiments when I was only a week or two away from finishing for good… Yup, very lucky indeed.

But yes, it’s been fine for me, because I’m done, but for other members of the lab it’s been quite the shock. There’s a lot of uncertainty from fellow students about how this shutdown affects one’s course/degree and their scholarship/stipend (which has a strict time frame), and on top of that, some of us have lost casual teaching jobs with the university. Some subjects just can’t be put online, especially those that are heavy on Practicals (i.e. students performing experiments in Prac rooms).

The uncertain financial situation puts a lot of strain on students, who are already living on a pay to pay basis (there’s not A LOT of room for savings with a Ph. D stipend), so it feels very gloomy right now.

So, to combat the gloom, our lab’s jumped on the Zoom video conferencing bandwagon, because the University already grants its members free access. Of late, we’ve been holding weekly morning teas on Zoom (obviously beverages and snacks are BYO), and if people are experiencing cabin fever at home, we’ll hold Friday drinks (also BYO drinks).

A weird Brady bunch situation here.

It sounds silly, but when you go from seeing certain people every day to nothing so suddenly, even though (at least for our lab) we knew this was happening very soon, it still feels weird. At least we can still get together and talk shit for an hour (or more) if we want to.

Hope everyone is staying safe out there.

Posted in General, Ph D posts

Post-Ph. D Hobbies part 3

I finished the LEGO Treehouse!

… but it also means I’ve finished it. 😱πŸ₯Ί

I wish I could run away to a hideaway treehouse like this one and wait out this global pandemic. Everything seems a little scary at the moment, so focusing on hobbies like these are helping me feel a bit better. Hope everyone else is alright.

Posted in Careers, General, General Lab, Ph D posts

Some reading material

Seeing as a lot of us are working from home, self-isolating, or getting bombarded with rather depressing news, I thought I’d compile a list of previous posts that might tickle your fancy.

For those that want to think about a career in research:

Want to know whether you’re cut out for it?

Who works in a research lab, and how is it structured?

Not sure which lab to pick?

How does a Ph. D work?

What’s a typical day like for a Ph. D student?

Things I wish I knew before I started a Ph. D

How to write a Ph. D thesis

What is a scientific conference?

How do you write a scientific paper/manuscript?

On the long road to scientific publication

Not sure what to do after graduating from a science degree?

For those that want to know more about me and my career journey:

Part 1: High school

Part 2: First to second year Undergraduate student

Part 3: Third year Undergraduate student to Ph. D

The stuff I worked on

Moth stuff

Friends appreciation post

Trying to sort out where to live

A general post at the end of 2019 on my progress

Experimental procedures:

DNA: A general protocol of cloning (with ongoing follow up posts), plus how to look at DNA

Proteins: Protein gels and Western blots (Part 1 and Part 2)

How to study Bacterial effector translocation (i.e. transport of teeny Bacterial proteins into the host cell)

Other fun, bits and bobs:

How to say ‘I love you’ as a scientist

Teeny lab stuff

Hilarious science comics

Posted in General, Ph D posts

Post Ph. D hobbies part 2

Well, the raisin bread was amazing.

🍞
Look at that cross section. 🍯 🧈🍞

So that made for a lovely breakfast. I wish I could send the smell that wafting around the house this morning. Cinnamon and honey is a good combo.

I’d bought groceries yesterday so I spent the day clearing and storing all the stuff I’d brought back from my desk and bench in the Lab. Also read β€˜The Journey of Shuna’ by Hayao Miyazaki (famous as the Director of many of the iconic works from Studio Ghibli), which formed the basis for many of his films. After that I felt like re-reading β€˜Watchmen’, so I’m about half way through that now. I’ve always loved Fiction because it lets me escape into another world- especially when the real one is a little too intense.

So… Basically I’m really enjoying doing very little.

I also built a roof for one of my LEGO treehouse cabins. Makes me wish I could escape to the woods in a decked out treehouse.

It even has a little swing (blurred as it was in motion when I took the pic). 🌳

Hope you all have little bits and bobs like this to keep yourselves entertained.

I can work on the foliage tomorrow.
Weeeee.