Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: grad school

Life at the MiMe research lab

I’ve been part of the Microenvironments for Medicine Research Group (MiMe for short) for 20 months, so it’s really about time I write a post about my awesome lab, the place I spend a majority of my time nowadays. Research, science, experiments, papers, seminars – these comprise my professional life, but work can be fun too, especially when you’re around a group of people who know how to enjoy the fun bits of everyday life 😉

To begin, here’s a pictorial description of what we do in the lab. Obviously cells also need to exercise, party (drink a martini or two), eat their veggies, and dwell in a comfortable environment in order to become strong, healthy tissue! (By the way, that is a bone cell, not a snowman 🙂 )

Sometimes the lab could be a dangerous place to work, and that is why everyone needs to put on their thinking caps (90% common sense and 10% consideration for others) before entering. Let’s all be safe and happy when we do science!

Living and working in Glasgow means that we endure lots of rain, as you probably know. Someone very considerate came up with a remedy that would be helpful in cases of emergency…if only you use a bit of your imagination!

Here at MiMe, not only do we investigate some of life’s most profound questions, but we also hide Scotland’s national treasure…Nessie. Shh…don’t tell anyone that Nessie prefers hanging out with us. Maybe that’s why no one’s been able to find her at Loch Ness all these years, because she’s with us! (Whoever drew this spelt “Nessie” incorrectly…but it was a nice attempt 😉 )

Someone wanted to say hi…and gently remind everyone in the lab to work hard 🙂

I think the most amusing and amazing thing that I’ve found around the lab so far was the home/hand-made Christmas “tree” that was standing at the corner of the lab entrance. How creative! I had no idea who was involved in the construction of the tree and when the tree was constructed, but all I could say was, GOOD JOB GUYS. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of talent in the group!

But of course the tree had to die after a few weeks and we were forced to say goodbye to it 😦 This also signified the end of the holiday season – back to work we go!

Spin-coating could be a monotonous procedure, especially when you have to go through hundreds of samples. That’s why the spin-coating hood has truly become a creativity outlet for many people. One of my favourite creations is this crossword puzzle of the names of the members of MiMe (though some new people have joined since this was made). Of course the author of this remains a mystery…unless someone bravely accepts credit?!

And here is a group photo of a lab event, finally! We love science but we love food even more, so we had our very own potluck a couple of months ago. Most of the group was here but unfortunately the boss wasn’t – I promise I didn’t pick this photo on purpose because he wasn’t in it! What a bunch of lovely people 😀

Around last Easter, we were visited by the mysterious lab Easter Bunny who showered us each with a Kinder Surprise! I actually got a roll of mini measuring tape, which should be quite practical, but I never found a good use for it. Still many thanks, Easter Bunny!

We also have some very thought-provoking discussions in the lab during downtime, including a very informative session on the discovery of gravitational waves. I didn’t understand it very well…so a colleague drew a diagram, albeit a VERY simplified one. I’m not sure if I could explain gravitational waves now by looking at this drawing, but at some point several months ago, this made perfect sense, believe me!

There is an appropriately labelled container in one of the labs – approach this area carefully! I would not trust anything that comes out of this container…

And finally, if anyone wants to support MiMe Research financially, here is our order list. On it are several items that we currently don’t have…such as a lab technician 😦 We will be more than grateful! Oh, more whisky is also very welcome anytime…

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Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD?

Uh, so I finished my PhD.

…yeah.

How in the world did that happen? You mean, my three years in Europe are over? I am…a Dr. now? Somehow it all feels…surreal.

The part about spending three years in Europe, that is. The Dr. part feels way too normal, in the sense that nothing at all has changed and life continues as before. Just because I have a special “title” now, doesn’t mean anything is different. At least that’s what it feels like. Maybe the moments of epiphany haven’t arrived yet. Maybe it’s still too fresh and the reality hasn’t sunk in. Maybe…

But yes, just a little update, I defended my PhD thesis on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 in Bordeaux, France. Special mention goes to my dad who arrived in Bordeaux from Toronto, three days earlier! I’ve been waiting for this day pretty much since day one of my arrival in Europe, and it has happened. Way too fast. Let’s try to rewind and see how the day went down. There are way too many pictures and I only chose the super representative ones (and that already makes 25 in this post!) Thanks to my dear friend and sister in Christ, Peiguang Wei, for being my dedicated photographer (and make-up artist as well as hairdresser) for the entire day! Click here for the full album.

Now, let’s roll. (Follow my “Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD?” journey by reading part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

The defense began with a 45-minute presentation of the work I’ve done within the past three years, on the thesis topic of “Biological Multi-Functionalization and Surface Nanopatterning of Biomaterials”. Don’t worry if it sounds like jibberish to you. Sometimes after three years I still don’t understand it and think it IS jibberish. The presentation is followed by a questioning period by a jury comittee that lasts typically an hour an a half. Oh boy. It was gonna be a tough battle, but a glorious one.

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Reunion in Liège

The trip to Durbuy that I wrote about last week was actually a side excursion outside of the main trip that took place in Liège during my last weekend in Belgium. Seeing that Yi-Shiang and his family live in Liège, and that there are quite a few IDS-FunMat students in Liège, I figured I’d take the opportunity before I left Belgium to visit them. After all, it’s not so far from Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN), only 2 hours by train.

Ara and Alina found out that I was going to Liège, and decided to tag along as well. Then the group snowballed. One LLN IDS-FunMate joined after, and soon we almost had the entire crew from LLN going together, with a total of 8 people! The group would have a reunion (for some new guys, it’ll be the first gathering) with the people in Liège, about 7 of them. It certainly became a massive LLN exodus and a long awaited post-training school reunion!

I arrived in Liège on Saturday and stayed overnight while the other LLNers joined on Sunday. Yi-Shiang and Janet kindly hosted me in their home for the night. As they live on the 9th floor of a high-rise building, I was able to see the residential area of Liège from a high place (definitely included in the next “From high places” post 😉 )

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Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…Part 3

It’s been a year since I wrote part 2 of the PhD series, which means…I am graduating soon? Soon means I am defending my thesis in December, which is just another 6 months away. Uh oh. WHAT. IS. GOING. ON.

As I enter the critical thesis-writing stage of my PhD, I often get asked, “How’s your thesis coming along?” Well, fellow non-academia friends, let’s go through some grad school etiquette, shall we?

Thank you, Jorge Cham, for putting it in an understandable, acceptable manner. In short, do not ever ask a PhD student the two taboo questions (or questions remotely similar to them). These questions may induce unnecessary stress, irreversible brain damage (either to the PhD student, or to you, when the student goes berserk and attacks you), loss of appetite, or (in extremely rare cases) increased motivation.

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IDS 2013 part 2 – Training time

Hmm…I didn’t think I’d be too busy to update, but I underestimated this mission to Belgium. Third day back at the lab and I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things I have to accomplish by the end of the month. Bring it on.

The blog posts must continue. It’s been almost two weeks since the training school in Annecy – wow? I left the IDS-FunMates in Bordeaux – lots of them, including Yi-Shiang, Jiang, Xuesong, An, Vusala, Edgar, Mathilde, Hanbin, Camille – and joined the ones in Louvain-la-Neuve again – Diana, Alina, Victor (I think), and Naresh who is arriving soon.

These are only some of the 60 or so students in IDS-FunMat. Now in its third year, the program has approximately 20 students per class, meeting annually in March for a training school where everyone gets to meet and mingle. Yeah, “training” school. Of course we have lectures and seminars and presentations and workshops, but all of us know that we don’t see some of our colleagues except during this event, and so we take full advantage of the week.

Especially me. I ❤ my IDS-FunMates so much. (Photo album here.)

I arrived in Annecy on a Sunday afternoon, roots and branches still visible, but on Monday morning I awoke to a big surprise – snow! Big snow! I think it was a present from the people who arrived from Canada or Belgium. I mean, I did request snow maybe two months ago, but c’mon, it’s the end of March. Some spring, please? Well to be fair, the snow was lovely, and I didn’t mind it, especially with the Alps as the background for our training school the entire week 😉

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