Sunday 6 July 2014

The hardest 6 months of my life?

Casual diatomic nitrogen molecules.
So, I guess I could call it 'the beginning of the end'.. or, in the words of Winston Churchill, 'perhaps, the end of the beginning'. Yes I am being dramatic. A couple of months ago, a friend and colleague told me that I was about to begin the hardest 6 months of my life - the write up! 

As I near the 3 year mark (October marks the end of my third and final year as a PhD student), I have been met with looks of sympathy from friends and colleagues, one even going so far as to tell me I had the 'thousand yard stare'. 

Tuesday this week will be the last time I bleed a lobster, and from there on in, I guess it will be tying up loose ends and writing, which will, come September, form the chapters of my thesis (if all goes to plan...)

Zoology ambassador, Caspian

However, it's not only the science that's been keeping me occupied- summer time means summer work, and the last week or so I've been back to my old tricks helping out Swansea Science Summer School (S4). S4 is a project funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which offers a five-day science programme to Year 12 school/college pupils, at the College of Science in Swansea University. The students are just about to start applying for universities so this gives those interested in science the chance to have 'tasters' of what it might be like.

Each of the five days is spent in a subject area: physics, maths, computer science, geography and finally (saving the best till last?) bioscience! As an ambassador I am on hand to advise and help the students, often just a friendly face, who's 'been there, done that', plus, they seem to love my lobsters, so that gave me extra 'cool' points!

Students have been able to help Dr. Mary Gagen bore trees in order to age them as a part of the geography workshop, create computer games with Technocamps for computer science and work with exoplanet modelling in the physics department with Dr. Will Bryan. For the bioscience day we looked at adaptations of fish and rockpool species with Dr. Ed Pope, and had a surprise visit from Welsh Assembly Member and prospective MP Byron Davies - really nice for the students to be able to see how science is widely appreciated.

As part of the Bioscience day, ambassador Ross also created a time-lapse of us feeding a tank full of mussels with algae. We had a spectrometer and lamp at one end so that we knew exactly when the water was clear enough to be classed as 'back to normal'. The students took guesses on how long it would take the mussels to clear the tank, and I think the winning answer was 4 hours! My favourite part of the video has to be the little snail moving around as the evening gets darker. Invertebrates are now officially cool (you were always cool to me, guys!)

Checking out some mussels feeding on algae!
In addition to the subject specific programmes, the students also attended a UCAS workshop, which gives tips on how best to prepare a good application for any university, not just Swansea.

Personally, I love these weeks, it gives us a chance to share my passion for science with younger generations, and I think it's really important to inspire future scientists! In the evenings, it's back to the thesis, but that's okay. We have another S4 week coming up at the end of this month which is residential, so students from farther afield can benefit from the programme - I can't wait!

Hardest 6 months of my life? I'm having a pretty good time, thanks very much (NB... don't tell my supervisor that)!