Posts Tagged ‘PhD’

Confession Time

// July 9th, 2009 // 13 Comments » // Blog

Yesterday, I was informed that I had received the funding I'd need to accept the position that I mentioned in my last post. But, I am still a little scared to tell you what that position is exactly.

Ack… Okay.

I am going back to uni.

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I’m Bringing Bio Back

// July 6th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I have spent the past few days with my head in various biological research journals, in preparation for a last-minute interview that took place earlier today. I was asked to select a recently published paper to review in the form of a five minute Powerpoint presentation. Five minutes is impossibly short for a blabber-mouth like me, but I think I managed it somehow!

Though I had several 'blonde' moments (for example, when asked to explain what 'p<0.05' meant, I began to mime a bell curve, clearly illustrating my poor grasp on statistics. Agh! That one's going to haunt me forever…), at the end of the torture session, amazingly, I was still offered a position by the interviewers. Alhamdulillah! However, I won't know until next week whether I'll be accepting it or not, as it depends on the funding they have available.

I don't really want to give away what the interview was for, right now – mainly because it may cause many of you to roll your eyes, and think I'm even more crazy. Especially in light of various statements I have made on this blog in the recent past. Dang, I knew this blogging business would come back to bite me one day!

Anyway, it's been a while since I sat down to read a proper research paper, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed the experience. It was a pleasant surprise for me, as in the past I'd find the same activity quite tedious – maybe because I was already tired and stressed from conducting my own research; having to read about someone else's became too much like hard work.

If you're interested, this is the paper I ended up selecting:

Cox, B., et al (2009) Comparitive systems biology of human and mouse as a tool to guide the modeling of human placental pathology, Molecular Systems Biology, 5:279.

In simpler terms: the study aimed to assess the usefulness of the mouse as a model for human disease at the molecular level, by comparing gene expression profiles in the placental tissue of both organisms. They focused on the placenta as healthy samples of this tissue are relatively easy to obtain, and the two species share physiological features. There is also a clinical need to better understand the mechanisms behind the development of placental abnormalities that can lead to conditions such as maternal preeclampsia and/or fetal intrauterine growth restriction, that affect around 5% of all human pregnancies.

A summary of the findings can be found on the group's website. In short, the group identified several thousand orthologous genes that were co-expressed in mouse and human placenta. Using an online mouse mutant database, they further narrowed down this group to a pool of approx. 130 genes that have been shown to display a placental phenotype when mutated in mice; it is hoped that these genes may serve as potential biomarkers for placental insufficiency in humans.

It's an interesting paper to read, especially if you're into Reproductive Biology and/or Bioinformatics. I was intrigued by the number of online resources they used to verify and improve upon their own data. It gave me the impression that one could carry out significant biological research using nothing more than a laptop and a broadband connection! That's my dream career, right there… inshā’Allāh.

Why I Could Teach, But Most Likely Never Will

// June 10th, 2009 // 8 Comments » // Blog

This post on homeschooling reminded me of a recent realization about my own aversion towards taking the PGCE route that so many PhD graduates seem to pursue, having realized that they can no longer tolerate the research environment.

It's not that I don't enjoy teaching – even teaching kids, and young people. I just can't deal with the discipline issues; or should I say, lack of discipline issues. I can already predict that having to deal on a daily basis with rowdy adolescents that are intent on pushing every button and testing every boundary, will eventually reduce me to one of those babbling, stuttering, post-nervous breakdown teachers that we've all been taught by at one point in our lives (for me, it was my year 9 History teacher. There were rumours that his odd behaviour was a result of him being locked in a cupboard by his students for several hours. And this at a private school).

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Love <3s

// May 7th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Photos

These Love Hearts were part of the goody bag that I received at my PhD graduation yesterday. I didn't expect something so corny from a university as sophisticated as Imperial College. :)

Dude! Bacteria Are, Like, Democratic?

// April 15th, 2009 // 8 Comments » // Blog

Watching this video reminds me of why I love Biology so much. I'd kinda forgotten during the malaise of my PhD. But I really do love scientific discovery.

If you made it to the end of the video: that's a traditional thing among Biologists when they give presentations; they usually big up the rest of their lab via a group photo. See how many people were working on just ONE biochemical pathway? Admittedly, it's a fascinating one, with potentially huge implications; so I doubt Dr Bassler has any problem finding the funding to hire so many eager PhD students and young postdocs.

During my PhD, the neighbouring lab group that shared our floor was largely focussed on researching one gene. I regularly observed the individual team members pairing off to converse about their latest findings, generating new ideas along the way. In contrast, every member of our group was working on a separate pathway, with little crossover between us. Well, I did have another PhD student researching the same gene set as me: but she wasn't one for sharing, unfortunately.

I never really had anyone to bounce ideas off of during my project. I had plenty of people to turn to for technical assistance, but not inspiration. I have learnt that if am not sufficiently inspired, then I become very inefficient in my duties. You don't go into something as dynamic as scientific research for it to then become one big chore. I may as well return to working as a till girl at the local supermarket: the pay is comparable, and I'd have a far more healthy social life.

Watching the video reminded me of why I love Biology… but also, why I love working with people who love Biology as much as I do. I don't know if I'll ever return to working in a laboratory – but it's nice to know that some loves are more constant than others.

A Leech is Born

// November 14th, 2008 // 8 Comments » // Blog

I assigned myself the somewhat derogatory title of “The Leech” during my PhD years, when I noticed a potentially annoying personal behaviour.

When faced with a problem, I used one of two 'extreme' paths in my search for a solution.

Where I suspected that I knew enough to fix the problem myself, I was very secretive, independent, and head strong. Even if someone offered me advice (though it would not have been requested), I'd politely listen to them, but in my head I was thinking:

“Yeah, yeah, I already knew that.

“No, that won't work.

“Please, just let me get on with it!”.

I think it had something to do with trying to 'prove' myself; either to my supervisors, or just as an ego rush. This behaviour lead to me wasting six months on an experiment, that never yielded any results. I kept repeating and repeating the assay, and I would report my work regularly, but I never actually thought to sit down and talk to someone about why I was failing so consistently; I was that determined to solve the problem myself.

One supervisor openly chastised me for this, and I think the embarrassment from that experience, combined with the frustration of having clearly wasted so much time, caused me to swing the other way completely. Thus, 'the Leech' was born.

Now, every time I had a problem, even a tiny one, I would seek human intervention. It didn't matter whether there were manuals written on the subject, or in-depth how-tos posted online; I still needed reassurance from someone more experienced in that field, to make sure that I didn't mess up to that extent again. I am surprised no-one ran away from me in the hall ways, screaming:

“Noooo… I have given all I have to give! You have sucked my brain dryyyy!”.

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The End of an Era

// September 16th, 2008 // 12 Comments » // Blog

As of yesterday, I am officially no longer a member of Imperial College London's current study body.
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Apparently, I have an ‘Ijaza’ in Biology!

// July 14th, 2008 // 9 Comments » // Blog

That is according to a wikipedia article that I looked up to establish the significance of the title, “Doctor of Philiosophy” (i.e., Ph.D):

History of the Ph.D.

The origins of the doctorate dates back to the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd (“license to teach and issue legal opinions”) in the medieval Madrasahs from the 9th century, though it was limited to Islamic law at the time, as in a Doctor of Laws degree.[4] The doctorate was later extended to philosophy in the European universities in the Middle Ages which generally placed all academic disciplines outside the professional fields of theology, medicine and law under the broad heading of “philosophy” (or “natural philosophy” when referring to science). The degree of Doctor of Philosophy was a doctorate, generally granted as honorary degrees to select and well-established scholars.[citation needed]

[4] Makdisi, George (April-June 1989), “Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77]

How cool is that?

Islam Expo & Other Stuff

// July 12th, 2008 // 7 Comments » // Photos

A very quick note… I went to Islam Expo today… lots happened… very cool stuff, māshā’Allāh… but I can't tell you now! In the mean time, check out my photos on Flickr.

Oh, and I have “outed” myself at the Expo, pretty much. I had a bunch of snazzy business cards printed off to give out to anyone I thought needed to be convinced that I was a serious blogger-type person. I know… it was tough!

Unfortunately, the timing was off. I didn't put “Dr” so-n-so on the business card, cos I am paranoid about using the title until I have official confirmation from the University of London that I have passed, in the form of a proper certificate. Well, the official confirmation decided to turn up two months early, just after I left the house to pick up the cards! Ah well… I am happy either way, alhamdulillah!

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