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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

It’s Gyoza time

I’ve written cooking posts before- my first official one being my Ramen post, but I’ve taken pics of food before that, too.

Anyway, when there’s Ramen, you gotta have Gyoza, so I decided to post my Gyoza recipe on here for you all to enjoy! This is a lab favourite, and I’ve made them a couple times for annual lab dinner (we had those before COVID-19).

***

The stuffing:

Gyoza is, generally speaking, a pork-based dumpling. You can substitute it with chicken mince if you want to, but I strongly recommend pork. Don’t bother with beef- it was nasty.

Meat mix:

  • 500 g pork mince
  • Few cloves of garlic
  • Ginger (adjust amount based on how much you love ginger)
  • A healthy splash of rice wine/Sake (drinking grade)
  • An equally healthy splash of sesame oil
  • A dash of soy sauce

Vegetable mix:

  • Half a wombok/Chinese cabbage
  • A quarter of a green cabbage
  • A giant bunch of garlic chives (spring onions will also do, but add more garlic if you use this instead)
  • Shiitake mushrooms (Only add maybe five or so large fresh mushrooms, or 6 small, dried mushrooms – rehydrated – so as not to overpower mix)

Do feel free to adjust quantities to suit. I’m just listing what I put in this evening.

Roughly chop wombok/Chinese cabbage into small chunks. Don’t worry too much about chopping them super fine. It’ll still work if they’re in big chunks. I actually like the texture when they’re chunky.

Rough chopping

Roughly chop green cabbage- chop these finer than the wombok, because these don’t lose as much moisture and become super mushy like the wombok does.

Green cabbage

Add these to a mixing bowl, and salt fairly liberally. Mush them with your hands (get in there!) so as to rupture the cells and help release as much moisture as possible. The salt is there to help with that. Leave the cabbage mix to sit for a while.

Finely chop garlic chives and shiitake mushrooms and set aside.

Mince ginger and garlic, and place in mixing bowl. Add rest of seasoning for meat mix, then add the pork mince.

Now, this is really important- you have to mix the meat so that the texture of it becomes a smooth paste. You can pretty much mix the crap out of it.

Once you’ve got the meat mix ready, get a good cloth or towel, and drain the cabbage mixture. You’ll note that a whole lot of liquid will come out (this is good). You’ll never be able to remove all of it, and you don’t need to have it super dry- just try and wring it out as much as possible, then plonk it and the chopped garlic chives and shrooms with the meat mix.

This is really important:

Don’t over-mix the combined stuffing

If you over-mix this, it’ll change the texture of it into a meatball. You don’t want a tough meat ball. Just mix until roughly combined.

This stuff smells amazing, even when raw

Pastry/skin:

The real stuff uses low gluten flour (<8% gluten), but I actually just use normal plain flour (~10% gluten) to make my pastry. This is mostly due to laziness, but I also like the more chewy texture you get from normal plain flour. I’ve never used high gluten flour before, but hey, you do you.

You can also use corn flour/potato flour to help keep the pastry smooth, dry, and crispy when cooked, but see how you feel. These days I’m too lazy to bother with all that fancy stuff.

  • Flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • Warm water

I never measure these things out, so I just dump flour into a mixing bowl and sprinkle a bit of salt into it. You could probably just add the salt to the water as well, but I slowly pour water in and slowly incorporate it into the flour, until I get a tactile dough. After that, you just knead for a minimum of ten straight minutes, and… you can rest it if you want, but I tend to never have enough time so I just go straight to rolling it out.

I used to use a rolling pin, but these days I use a pasta machine to flatten the dough into sheets, then a ring to cut circles out of them.

The folding part is too hard to explain in a blog (there’s heaps of YouTube videos, I’m sure), but so long as the bottom of the Gyoza is nice and flat, the edges are sitting at the top, and you’ve avoided any holes at the bottom… you’re pretty much good to go.

If you want super crispy bottoms, make sure to coat the bottom surface of your Gyoza with corn flour or potato flour.

***

Triple cooking:

It sounds way cooler than it actually is. All you need to do is line the Gyoza up in an oiled pan, and let them fry until the bottom is golden and crispy. Then you add hot water to the mix (watch out for the sizzling/spitting water), so that the Gyoza are at least 1/3 immersed. Whack a lid on the pan, and then let it steam until all the water has evaporated, which will then cause the Gyoza to start frying again. Fry until the bottom is crispy again, then serve while hot. You can drizzle more sesame oil over the top for more flavour.

Dipping sauce:

Usually it’s just 1:1 vinegar and soy sauce. If you can get your hands on some chilli oil (sesame oil with chilli), you can add as many drops of this as you like.

***

And there you have it! My crowd-pleaser Gyoza recipe. It’s pretty fun to make this together with a group of people, so if you want something to do for your next dinner night… Just make sure you don’t cross contaminate anything. Raw pork mince is still raw pork mince- even if it smells amazing with all the added seasoning.

Posted in Ph D posts

My roller coaster Ph. D project

I still remember sitting in my Ph. D supervisor’s office, way back in March 2016, being shown a figure depicting this peculiar Coxiella burnetii mutant.

Usually in a bacterial growth curve, you see something like this.

Bacterial growth, detachment and cell size control on polyethylene ...
Thanks, Google

There’s an initial lag (I like to think the bacteria are just revving their engines) followed by a logarithmic phase where the bacteria grow exponentially. This is then followed by the stationary phase, where the bacteria have essentially run out of nutrients, space, etc. and can no longer continue to multiply (they’ve hit ‘peak’ growth). Eventually, provided you don’t supplement them with more food or space, they will drop off and slowly die.

Anyway, this Coxiella mutant, missing a protein called CBU2072, couldn’t replicate inside host cells at all. The curve basically flat-lined after lag phase and didn’t go up significantly. The beauty of it was, when you gave the protein back to the bacteria (i.e. the mutant could once again make CBU2072), growth was restored to normal (wild type) levels, thus illustrating that the lack of growth was solely due to the absence of this protein.

On the left is normal (those big circles are hundreds of bacteria replicating inside the host cell), and on the right is the mutant. It just sits quietly on its own.

A protein so important that the bacteria can’t grow inside cells without it- sounds pretty funky and cool to me! is pretty much what I thought in that moment. I also got told that this project will be Metabolomics heavy, meaning I would get to learn how to study bacterial metabolism. It was a foreign concept (and associated technique/s), so I thought I should try and diversify my skill set and agreed to take on this project.

Four years of craziness followed.

This project has been with me since the beginning, and it’s been full of many ups and downs. We found out that the front portion of the protein contained a signal that was required for its function, and that the lack of growth was only seen during intracellular replication (i.e. growth inside the host cell). We found that you could ‘rescue’ growth of the mutant by infecting the same cell with a normal, ‘wild type’ strain, meaning whatever the protein was doing, it could allow replication to resume in strains that still couldn’t make protein themselves. I remember my brain just felt like it was melting all the time.

Usually when we find a novel protein, we run database searches to see if the protein is similar to other, perhaps more characterised proteins. Maybe it contains amino acid residues that are similar to a particular enzyme? Maybe it has a motif (i.e. barcode) that tells the protein where to go? Is it structurally similar to another protein? All of these things can be calculated computationally- so, I went ahead and checked all the databases, but, the rather unfortunate (but also cool) thing about Coxiella proteins is, most of them are highly unique, and are unlike proteins found in other organisms. It was just a huge, needle in a haystack situation.

When you’re at the centre of a project, it can feel like you’re at the centre of this crazy maelstrom of stress. It can affect your mindset, and ideas for experiments don’t come out naturally anymore. Especially at the beginning, I was just trying really hard to learn how to science, so things often felt really hard. Every failed experiment chipped away at your self-confidence, and every constructive criticism felt like a personal attack. Fortunately in my case, the vast majority of criticism was not personal, but I know that this isn’t always the case for others in my position.

So, what do you do when you just feel really drained, stressed, and genuinely depressed? Well, aside from learning how to dissociate your self-worth from your project, you just gotta keep crawling your way through. Try new approaches, consult experts, talk to your Ph. D committee and ask for advice… all that stuff that people tell you to do, that you kind of hand wave and dismiss at the time- turns out they help, little by little (and sometimes in leaps and bounds).

With this project, I tried so many different things. My Ph. D Thesis has more of these (inconclusive) experiments outlined, but eventually, they started to form a pattern.

It’s hard to describe everything without having a face to face discussion, but we discovered a couple years ago that when you don’t have CBU2072, even when you restored intracellular growth in the mutant, they still couldn’t pump out specialised bacterial proteins called ‘effectors’ through a bacterial syringe-like apparatus.

Pumping out effector proteins via the Dot/Icm type IV secretion system (T4SS) is absolutely essential for Coxiella to replicate inside cells

So if absence of CBU2072 meant effector proteins couldn’t get out, that suggests that there’s something wrong with the secretion system (T4SS in the diagram) itself… But unfortunately, by the time we bulked out the data with more experiments to try and support this claim, my Ph. D candidature was drawing to a close!

And I guess that’s the point of this post. Sometimes, the simplest conclusion (written essentially with a couple sentences) may take 3-4 years to become fairly solid, and even then, it might not answer your original question. I still have no idea what this protein really does- if I could just ask the bacteria, I would!

‘Excuse me, kind bug? Sorry to be a bother, but, WTF DOES THIS PROTEIN DO?!’

*shakes fist at sky angrily*

*Coxiella laughs and runs away into the distance, leaving me all sad*

There are plenty of other experiments that could be done to keep trying to answer that simple question, but it’s time for me to pass the baton on to somebody else. Maybe someone might figure it out one day, but at least I got to lay down the foundations for them to do so.

If you like closure, or a finality to things, science might not be a good fit. 99.99% of the time, experiments only churn out more questions. The story never really ends. It might curve around and take you on random tangents, but it’ll never come to a close.

So here’s to my last paper, and CBU2072, now named EirA (Essential for intracellular replication A). You’ve been a giant pain in the arse, but I’m glad I got to tell your story.

If anyone would like to read this paper, the link is here. Unfortunately this paper is not Open Access and will require purchasing to read the full text.

Posted in General

One year anniversary

Hah! I got a notification to say that I’ve been blogging for a whole year!

I hope I’ve been able to give some entertaining snippets into what life as a Ph. D student can be like.

Posted in General

Still under attack

Remember my bird netting cone from a couple posts ago?

The cone of (semi)protection?

Well, something got inside and managed to ravage the sugar snap peas- which suggests to me that whatever has been munching at my vegetables is likely to be a rat like being.

I added more ties to prevent any large gaps from forming between the mesh, but I think we’ll just have to see how it goes. This is the sunniest spot for the plants at the moment so I don’t really want to move them elsewhere.

The back garden is doing alright thus far (i.e. nothing has been eating the plants here).

This is in the shade, so not quite ideal for growing stuff

And I finally have garlic chives sprouting out! I use a lot of this stuff when I make Gyoza on occasion, so I would love to have a giant bed of them one day.

Definitely looking forward to eating these

There are some beautiful autumn colours about at the moment. It’s probably my favourite time of the year, because it’s not freezing, not hot, and I’m not sneezing like crazy (thank you, hay fever).

Posted in Careers, Ph D posts

How did I become #PhDLife? (part 4)

It’s been almost a year since my ‘How did I become #PhDLife? (part 3)‘ post, and given that I am now at that point where I’m just waiting around until my Thesis is accepted, I thought I’ll add a follow up post of what the latter part of my Ph. D was like.

I’ve written previously on the basic overview of a research-based Ph. D in a previous post, and another post on the basic overview of what is in a Ph. D thesis.

If you would like a more specific overview of what 2019 (i.e. fourth year of my Ph. D) looked like, I have another post from late December detailing all the major events.

Looking back, I can tell that I was much more excited and motivated by lab work at the beginning. I think it was a relatively gradual process, but over time I begun to resent the fact that you could put in so much time and effort into an experiment and not get anything useful back.

I’ve detailed this before, and anyone in science knows that sometimes, things just don’t work.

It could be user error- I’ve had my fair share of experiments that I could have done better if I’d just tweaked some things or asked the right questions earlier- but this is what experience and hindsight can bring you.

I know I had a lot of nudges from supervisor/s and committee to guide me in the right direction, but I found that sometimes, even when I thought I’d understood something, in reality I hadn’t grasped the whole concept. Eventually things clicked, but that took time and contemplation on my part. I wish I could make that process go faster, but sometimes I just couldn’t ‘get it’. If you don’t realise you haven’t understood something, you can’t even ask questions to clarify things, but sometimes that light bulb moment just couldn’t be rushed.

Issues with experiments could also just be the experimental procedure, or a combination of both user and procedure… sometimes you have no idea what went wrong, because so many things could go wrong at every step. Too many variables.

Some people are fine with this, because they can continue to persevere and stay motivated. Generally it’s fairly up and down, where you go from being motivated to mentally drained, sometimes within a couple of hours! But as I got over the half way point of my Ph. D, I realised that I was feeling more drained than motivated, and I started to tease apart what was still enjoyable and what wasn’t.

***

For me personally, I found that experiments themselves were still enjoyable. The mechanical action of pipetting something, or holding tubes in your non-dominant hand and opening the lids aseptically (i.e. without contaminating the contents)- that aspect of lab was still fun. I’ve always been dexterous, and I hope I always will be (well- until old age, I guess).

But… again, it was always when things went wrong that I’d feel really exhausted and sick of everything. E.g. something went wrong with the protocol so I have to start again (usually user error after an exhaustive day)… the experiment didn’t work (results aren’t coming up/are inconclusive) so I have to try again, while figuring out what went wrong so I can tweak the parameters appropriately… I don’t know about other lab people, but I always felt my gut clench and squirm uncomfortably as I waited for the results for an experiment, hoping that it’ll show something promising. Sometimes it would work, and things were good (stomach would relax), but most of the time it didn’t look good and you were left with this really sickened feeling. Given we do multiple experiments in one day, it would mean I would feel tense and uncomfortable all throughout the day- hell, the worst one is when you find out your experiments failed on a Friday evening. We’re also on a time crunch, with many deadlines coming up all the time. Maybe it’s for a publication, a review meeting, or just your weekly catch up with the supervisor. Either way, I begun to hate the feeling of disappointment in myself.

Don’t get me wrong- when experiments did work, I still got very excited about it. I would imagine it’s very similar to the rush of endorphins people experience when they’re playing slot machines and they win money (any money). For a brief moment, you feel elated, and can’t wait to tell your supervisor about the result. In the beginning, I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out what the result meant (i.e. how does it tie into the overall Biology of your organism?), but over time I got better at making good suggestions for discussion points. I felt like I understood the overall picture (albeit a fuzzy picture), and it was exciting to try to piece the puzzle together.

… and then something would happen that contradicts the hypothesis, and you had to change the narrative a little to suit this new finding…

… or you can’t repeat the original finding.

THEY KNOW

And that just meant more experiments- sometimes the same ones over and over again, until the results were relatively consistent, or they weren’t. If they were too inconsistent, the approach would have to be abandoned. URGH.

So over time, I realised that this wasn’t going to be for me anymore. The normal career trajectory for a Ph. D graduate is to find work as a Post-Doctoral researcher (Post-Doc). When I thought about doing this for the next five years… well- I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to have to grind through it for another few years and regret it, especially if I could have transitioned out of it earlier. I think there’s a weird mentality that you should suffer and toil as a researcher, and that you’re weak for seeking something easier (come on, fellow students, you’ve seen and heard this before). Well, f*** ’em. If they want to live like that, that’s their choice, but they don’t make that choice for your life. I decided that this wasn’t for me, because I realised it would be too much misery- you can, and should, prioritise your well-being.

***

Anyway, as I was beginning to hit this realisation that research might not really be for me, I was also doing a lot of work for my first manuscript. The first iteration of this manuscript (let’s go full Tony Stark and call it ‘Mark I’) was written during the latter half of 2018. The experiments were actually pretty good (they were working), and I found that writing the whole study up was really fun. I’ve said it before, but I’ve always loved story-telling. Usually it was fiction (Fantasy/Sci-Fi), but I would fill up notebooks with made up tales, usually based on dreams I would have. I’m not very cohesive when I talk (yeah, I know), but I always found that writing something down on paper let my ideas flow out in a much more ordered fashion. Turns out, this also worked with scientific writing. Not to say I was perfect at it (I had a lot of really good feedback), but I just enjoyed it a lot. It wasn’t tiring because I wanted to do it, and it didn’t leave me with stomach knots because I knew the feedback I would get would be constructive. Also- I knew the writing wasn’t shite! I was very lucky to have solid guidance from co-authors to help me improve my writing during this time.

We submitted Mark I for review at a relatively good journal (a pretty major Bacteriology journal) in late 2018. Unfortunately it was rejected, but they sent back the reviewer comments and we spent the first half of 2019 working to improve the manuscript for submission elsewhere. The experiments were annoying, but they worked in the end, and once again the write up was the best part.

This was around the time I started this Blog. I had been talking to some people who suggested that I start something like this, so while I kept working on my Ph. D, I also started writing about what it was like to do one.

I’d also well and truly started editing my Literature Review to form the Introduction to my Ph. D Thesis, and had begun compiling my Materials and Methods section. Part of it was due to anxiety (gotta start it now because I don’t want to leave it last minute and have all this anxiety and guilt looming over me), but I also just wanted to write. It gave me a sense of productivity that experiments just couldn’t.

By the time manuscript Mark II had been submitted to another journal for review, I could tell quite clearly that I needed to find a job that was writing heavy. I also got introduced to this site that helps people figure out careers after Ph. Ds, and I think my results were all science writing related. I spoke to quite a few people in different professions- two medical writers, a research scientist (but with computers), patent attorneys, pharmaceutical representatives, lecturers, biotech/start up entrepreneurs… With all of their advice in mind, I’d started applying for different positions that were writing or editing related. Updating my resume (not updated since early undergrad) was an interesting exercise- almost like an archaeological dig.

But that isn’t to say I really knew what I wanted. For so long, I had these obvious aspirations: you do your Bachelors, then Honours, then Ph. D… so what do you do after that, if you don’t want to progress to a Post-Doc? I still don’t really have career aspirations. I never did. So many times in the past year, I had conversations with various people telling me to do/don’t do this/that, because it would or wouldn’t benefit my career. I didn’t go into science because I wanted to get a successful career out of it. I went into it because I wanted to know stuff, and I found it fascinating. I still do, but I also can’t tie it to a particular career path.

Anyway, I had so many rejections, because there are many people out there who have Post-Doctoral experience (i.e. even more experience than me) who want to get out of academic research, or just have better qualifications more appropriate to the field. Thankfully I wasn’t desperate for a job in late 2019 (I still had a ways yet with my Ph. D), so it was just a good exercise in writing CVs and cover letters. I’d accumulated quite a few different versions of each for various different roles I was applying for.

Manuscript Mark II was accepted in September, then published in October, but I had already moved onto working on my second manuscript. September was just… insane. So many experiments, and I’d over-committed myself with other stuff… it was terrible, but we managed to piece together everything so that we were able to submit in early December for review (which, given I was on holiday in October, means I did relatively okay). I think the writing side of things had sped up significantly, given I’d spent the previous twelve months working on my first one. I really enjoyed putting it all together into a cohesive story.

But again, publishing is never super easy, and when we got a response from the reviewers on Christmas Eve last year, there were many comments to address, some with words, but others with experimental data. This was another telling moment for me, because the fact I still needed to do more experiments made me feel really frustrated. I desperately wanted to be done with them, so that I could just spend my days writing. I’d also spent the majority of December working on my first results chapter, and wanted to work on the subsequent chapters quickly, so it put a lot of pressure on my overall timeline.

The next three months (Jan-Mar) were just horrendous- hopefully outlined in my blog posts during that time. I had experiments to do, a manuscript to edit, a thesis to write/edit, jobs to keep applying for, and teaching commitments. The crushing weight of all of these things made me very, very stressed and depressed very quickly. Eventually they started affecting my work output and my personal life, and I just felt like I was drowning. When I realised that this is what life in academia is like all the time (with a tonne more work), I knew I had to get out.

So, I did the only thing I could do at this point. I slowly crawled out of the hole and kept on crawling toward each milestone as best I could. I cut back on some planned revision experiments, which required negotiations with my supervisor and some eloquent rebuttals. I focused heavily on the writing (both manuscript and thesis), because that made me happier and gave me a sense of purpose. I revised my financial situation and paused job hunting momentarily so I could focus on my Ph. D. I also shared the workload for teaching so that I couldn’t over-commit, although it actually ended up working out okay.

Things started to slowly come together, and my work output picked up a little over time. I also got an interesting text from my supervisor mid-Feb about one of the divisions in our research institute- they were looking for someone to do some technical writing and data analysis part time. It seemed to be a steady job, and I was very keen. Thankfully my supervisor had already put my name forward, and I ended up having a few informal chats about the role in the coming weeks.

Speaking to all these people who were in various different roles within the scientific field, I found that it was very clear that there were opportunities out there outside of academic research. The only problem was they were very competitive.

But what I found most interesting was that almost all of the ones who had come from a similar background to myself would always reassure me that it was okay to leave academic research. It’s that stigma that I mentioned earlier. There’s a weird, underlying vibe that if you leave, you’re taking the easier/weaker path. The best part was when they would tell me how much happier they were for having left. Better pay, work-life balance, job security… These were ticking many boxes for me. On top of that, I found people who had the exact same feelings I did, in particular with their attitudes toward experiments. There were quite a few people who realised after their Ph. Ds that they didn’t really want to do anymore lab work, and had found success in other roles that were still within research. It seems silly, because it seems rather obvious now, but it was still really reassuring to hear it directly from those who once felt as I do now.

***

I pumped out what ended up being my last experiments all within the space of a week, and submitted my thesis the following Friday. I’d edited everything on the Tuesday, so I had plenty of time to sit and mull it over. I also submitted the rebuttals for this second manuscript the following Tuesday, and had it accepted two days later, so all of a sudden everything to do with my Ph. D just ended. Obviously the examination is still ongoing, but I literally couldn’t do anything else to make it progress faster. I had my job interview for the aforementioned technical writing role on the day my paper was accepted, so I felt really good for the first time in ages.

Then the following week, the lab shut down, meaning I’d just missed COVID-19 related chaos by a mere two weeks. Given my bug takes a week to grow up, I am so thankful I managed to get everything done before this all hit. I also managed to get the job (I found out late the following week), so that was also very fortuitous in the current climate.

So, basically in the space of a couple weeks, I’d submitted my Ph. D thesis, re-submitted my second manuscript and had it accepted, did a job interview and got accepted for the role, had my lab shutdown so I couldn’t see everyone anymore, and couldn’t visit friends and family due to restrictions…

***

To cut a very long story short-

If anyone else has hit that point in their candidature where they suddenly have a much bigger existential crisis where they don’t even know what to do with their life anymore, I hope this post helps. There was a lot of introspection and soul-searching involved, but I managed to figure out what I enjoyed the most and how I might be able to transfer those skills to a different role. Talking to people was really good, because they either confirmed your ideas or they don’t. Either way it’s still a learning opportunity. I think a lot of people saw the successes on the forefront, but hopefully you can appreciate that it came with a lot of internal struggle. Someone might look fine, but in private they might not be.

I have no idea what the next few years hold for me (especially given this current pandemic has cancelled my teaching commitments), but I will continue to post bits and pieces from my Ph. D life. Otherwise, stay safe, stay well, and 2 m please (yes I know Australia is 1.5 m- just watch the video, it’s hilarious).

Posted in General

Under Attack!

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been doing some more gardening lately to pass the time (gotta get my daily vegetable intake!).

But I made a grim discovery a couple weeks ago where I’d noticed that my poor sugar snap pea seedlings were being nom-ed upon by something (photo too graphic to show).

We get all sorts of wildlife around here in suburban Melbourne, so it could be a number of culprits.

Coronavirus: Rats are on the rise as COVID-19 shutdowns cuts their ...
The most likely scenario is that it was a rat. (Google images)
Australian Brushtail Possum
But it could also have been one of these cheeky bastards. (Google images)
Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) | Common Rā€¦ | Flickr
We also get the ringtail variety as well. (Google images)
Humans harming Victoria's fruit bats in record numbers | Herald Sun
… This would be unlikely- but we do have them here, too! They like the fruiting trees along the nature strip. (Google images)

Either way, I thought I’d try to show a little more ingenuity and bought some bird netting to shroud the pots that had vegetables. So far so good.

A view through the wires
Posted in General

Adjusting

Why hello there- long time no see!

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve basically been spending most of last month working in my new job.

Starting work in a new environment/role was always going to be a huge learning curve, but given I’ve spent the last five years doing relatively similar things in the same lab, I’d sort of forgotten how exhausting a day can become when almost everything is new stuff.

Meeting new people, being in a new environment, learning about the job role and what the organisation does… my brain quickly turned into goo šŸ˜µ, but hopefully I can slowly become more at ease with everything. There is a looming terror that I’ll stuff something up (thanks, anxiety), but so far so good. I’ve shifted from basic research to public health, so my whole world has changed.

I’m actually still working in the same building as I have been for years, so that’s a big bonus (I can’t say on my Blog exactly where I work- sorry). I know the place well, and my commute hasn’t changed at all- except the floor I get off at is different. But unfortunately I’ve noticed that I’m feeling a little lonely at work, as the pandemic has meant all the familiar faces aren’t around.

My Ph. D lab is still shutdown, so while I’ve been back working in the building, I haven’t seen any of my former lab mates. I’m sure some of them would be happy with that šŸ˜’. We still catch up for Zoom meetings, though, which is quite nice. Many of my other friends in the building are also working from home, so unfortunately they’re not around either. šŸ˜”

On the plus side, the morning commute has become significantly better. I’d worked from home these last couple weeks, and this week I was working the morning shift (6:30am-1:00pm šŸ¤®šŸ’€), but prior to that I was getting into work in 20 minutes (door to door) during peak hour, when normally it would take me well over an hour. But the eeriness of not seeing people around is still somewhat disturbing. There’s alcohol-based hand sanitisers everywhere, too. My hands have probably been cleaner than they’ve ever been- not that I was a grot, but given I’m using the hand sanitisers on top of my usual hand washing, I’d imagine my hands are even cleaner.

***

I also finished my only remaining teaching commitment for the semester, as all other prac components for other subjects were cancelled. This particular subject is being taught online now, so adjusting to teaching everything via Zoom and such was an interesting learning curve, given this subject is Prac heavy. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have anywhere near the same work load as subject coordinators, so we can’t really complain. I don’t envy teaching staff at the moment.

***

My Ph. D thesis is still under examination, too. It’s only been a little under two months, so I would imagine I won’t be hearing about it for a while yet. *twiddles thumbs* Given that the mid year graduation ceremonies will likely be cancelled or postponed, I don’t feel as great a need to have the results back ASAP.

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Aside from work, I’ve been doing some gardening around the house. šŸŒ±šŸŒæ I actually had a funny interaction recently when I went to buy more gardening gear. A guy who’d parked next to me remarked that everyone is gardening ‘because there’s nothing else to do’. I chuckled, but also refrained from mentioning to him that this is what I do every year, regardless of pandemics. I just like growing stuff! Plants and bacteria alike- but not fungi šŸ„! Moulds creep me out (yeast are… okay). The only thing that I wanted to do that would have been out of the ordinary would have been to keep chickens, but they would have been harder to house. I would also imagine our real estate agent would have had objections. šŸ“šŸ“

Hoping for some sugar snap peas and spinach… the little stubs are pak choy Iā€™d bought from the shops. I lopped the top off and planted the bottom to see what would happen.
Splashed out on some frames. šŸ’ø

I’ve also been cooking stuff, and I was going to make a post about making Gyoza, but while I was putting my porcelain grater away into the dishwasher, I slipped, smashed the grater, cut my finger on the ricocheting shrapnel, and had a bit of a bloody accident, so… another time, perhaps. I already have the recipe written up (it’s in my Ph. D lab’s Dropbox), but I thought it would be nice to have accompanying photos that don’t have blood in it.

I still made the Gyoza, though. It was pretty tasty. šŸ„Ÿ