Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…Part 2

So, I should probably start this entry with the situation that I’m in right now…or rather, a PhD student’s daily 5-minute meditation in the morning.

Good ol’ Phd Comics…the story of my life!

I think I’m currently at “My project is not working or will have little impact”. “Go out drinking” is not really a valid option (or well, it hasn’t been until recently), so I’m kinda stuck between “Remind yourself it is better to light a candle than to curse the dark” and “Maybe if I worked harder I’d be happier” as the next step. It depends whether I’m in an optimistic or pessimistic mood…:D

Work has been quite hectic lately. Two months in Bordeaux, and I am again in a phase of uncertainty and confusion, not sure what I’m doing and why, as in this entry which I wrote three months ago. There is a sense of underlying doom that is about to explode sometime soon. I wonder if all PhD students experience this at some point during their thesis, or if I’m the only one that is seemingly bothered by it…

Office environment at the IECB (Institut Européen de Chimie et Biologie) in Bordeaux, very different than IMCN (Institut de la matière condensée et des nanosciences) in Belgium. These would be the two labs I work in, in case you haven’t figured that out.

Truth is, yesterday while doing an experiment with P.L., he gave me a lecture which really hit me hard in the head and made me rethink about what I’ve been doing in the past two years. Is it normal to feel that I still know nothing despite having studied 1.5 years in my discipline? Am I learning enough? Am I asking enough questions, or asking questions at all? Am I able to propose new ideas and make the best out of my thesis? P.L. was very direct with me as he helped me with the experiments, perhaps a bit unsatisfactorily because I was unprepared. Still, his advice is quite practical and clearly engraved in my head now. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Don’t just say yes. UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE DOING. It was a harsh lesson, but one I was gladly willing to take.

Little Elsas in the incubator. Maybe it’s time to freeze some of them?

In general, though, I’m still enjoying my work. Cell culture is exclusively done in Bordeaux, and as we need to perform differentiation studies that require culturing for three to four weeks, a lot of wait time was involved. Once the cells were ready, though…it was time for LE BOULOT! I have to face these little Elsas (AKA the name given to my stem cells, by Sharon) every day, feed them, keep them warm, etc. Eventually they become like babies…:D

Pipettes, the first “P” word, and the leading cause of laboratory repetitive strain injury, perhaps?

I realized lately that there are quite a few “P” words in grad school. Well, “PhD” is one, if you consider it as a word, but there is a myriad of other evil “P” words that grit my teeth. Among them, the most tedious would have to be “papers” and “publications”. Papers have always been my downfall, and as much as I NEED to read them, the monotonous language never fails to lull me to sleep. Publications is something I am starting to worry about, as I have to really write something to submit sometime soon, so that I can be the author of a PAPER. Ugh, the BSing begins >_> Other “P” words include “poster” and “presentation” (which I don’t mind, I like oral presentations, actually).

The feeling of being soooooooooooooooo productive…

About papers, sometimes I feel EXACTLY like this. Finishing one paragraph feels like such an accomplishment…sadly! The other day I was reading a paper and came upon this extremely long sentence midway:

In order to confirm that the observed differences were due to the lateral spacing of the presented RGD peptide domains and not simply a result of changes in the absolute surface density of RGD, we next prepared PS-PEO-Ma substrates with an average PEO domain spacing of 34 nm that were subsequently functionalized with differing ratios of RGD to RGE peptide.

Okay…usually this sentence shouldn’t be too hard to understand, but for some reason that day I had to re-read it three or four times before I could SORT OF grasp what it was talking about. The example above wasn’t too bad, actually, compared to this one:

To incorporate SAMS of various technologies, and especially amine-terminated SAMs which present a very versatile chemical accessibility, in standard microelectronics fabrication processes and harnessing these methods in the fabrication of new types of devices and especially in the field of molecular and organic electronics, there must be a complete compatibility between the processes, regarding the solvents, materials, and physical conditions during the deposition.

The label on the pink folder says “Papers already read” with “already read” written in Chinese. The folder SHOULD be really be much thicker…

Long sentences really do funny things to you. You read the sentence and by the time you get to the end, you’ve already forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was talking about. Believe me, there are TOO MANY of them in scientific publications. I’ll give you one last example of one of my favourites:

Mechcanical forces that are applied directly to integrins using micromanipulation or magnetic techniques also alter ion flux through stress-activated ion channels, G-protein-dependent cyclic AMP signalling, binding kinetics of structural molecules (for example, zyxin), protein-translation-complex formation and activities of protein kinases, such as p130CAS (also known as BCAR1) and Src.

I didn’t understand most of that sentence, by the way, and sometimes fancy sounding words ought to be replaced by simpler words that are more straightforward. The one I remember most from one of my internships was the word “exacerbate”. Is “worsen” not a good enough alternative for the word? I don’t get it.

Then again, I might be contradicting myself. I complain that words are too complicated in scientific publications, but when fancy words are eliminated and replaced by everyday English, I complain that the paper is too boring. Gah, I’m too hard to please, huh…

I don’t wear a lab coat in France, but I don’t dare NOT wear one in Belgium!

About lab coats, I don’t mind them, and the graph above does show somewhat the truth. I do tend to feel more “science-y” in a lab coat, and I’ve used a lab coat as an extra layer of clothing in the winter while working in a cold room. It really came in handy! In Bordeaux, though, I haven’t even touched a lab coat, whereas in Louvain-la-Neuve, I can’t even enter the lab without one. Quite a difference in policy there.

Didn’t want anyone to lose a finger…

Unfortunately we don’t have specialized facilities in Bordeaux to prepare Piranha solution. Unlike the lab in Belgium where Piranha solution is used daily by everyone in the group, there is no need here…well, unless I had to prepare clean polished silicon samples. Luckily we had the sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide that was needed, and I didn’t need to make huge quantities like in Belgium. Still, for safety’s sake, a sign was set up so that no one would get any nasty surprises. Don’t worry, the cleaning wasn’t done outside of the hood; I just moved the sign out to take its photo 😉

Eh, what is Annie hiding from?

Annie doesn’t slack off at work…or does she? There’s no time to slack off, I need to get that manuscript written sometime soon…ahhhhhhhhhh!

But before that, Annie is going to…CHINA!!! The 9th World Biomaterials Congress is happening in Chengdu from June 1 to June 5, and Annie is going with her entire group, yay! I’ll be leaving on Wednesday afternoon, arriving on Thursday in Chengdu. Then I’ll be at the conference for five days, after which I will head to…GUANGZHOU FOR A WEEK! That’s a whole two weeks of my country of birth, and I’m excited…and nervous at the same time! I’m sure this will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to be remembered, and I will certainly blog about it after I return in mid-June. Perhaps I’ll squeeze in another entry before I leave, but if not…cheers, take care, and SEE YOU AFTER CHINA!!! 😀


8 responses to “Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…Part 2

  1. Geoffrey May 31, 2012 at 17:28

    I really like the random charts and stuff you have in this entry XD. I hope you’re enjoying life.


    • Annie Bananie May 31, 2012 at 17:42

      Thanks Geoff, except I can’t comment more because I’m in China now and WordPress is blocked and I don’t remember what “random charts and stuff” I put in this entry (I’m assuming it’s the PhD Comics). I’m only able to reply through email…hopefully. ❤ Chinaaaaa~


  2. NerdyMum June 11, 2012 at 12:11

    Of course all would have experienced some period of uncertainty and confusion, especially if you had to think and propose of your own project. I had 9 months of that and am still in the I-dunno-what-Im-doing phase but thankfully it has progressed a bit into the I-dunno-what-Im-doing-but-at-least-my-prof-thnks-i-know phase haha

    All the best!


    • Annie Bananie June 14, 2012 at 12:08

      Thanks for your comment, and I think my prof really thinks I know what I’m doing but I’m still quite unsure! I just got back to the lab after a 2-week trip to China and everything is in a blur. There are so many things to reorganize and pick up again and I just hope it’ll all be on track again soon 😉


  3. London Caller June 14, 2012 at 22:02

    Welcome back, A!
    Did you have a great time in China?
    What did you do and see there?

    Don’t give up it.
    If you don’t succeed, try harder and harder again. 🙂


    • Annie Bananie June 15, 2012 at 00:19

      The 9th World Biomaterials Congress took place in Chengdu and I was there for 6 days, then I went back to visit my hometown Guangzhou for a week. I’ll definitely write about them…soon, I hope. Still recovering from the fatigue 😦


  4. Pingback: Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…Part 3 | Annie Bananie en Europe

  5. Pingback: Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD? | Annie Bananie en Europe

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