Student bloggers

Life as a student in Bath

First few days at University

  

📥  First year, Rob (Physics)

On a sunny day in late September I lugged my penultimate boxes up the final flight of stairs to room number 8. I slid the key in the lock, almost falling through the door with excitement. I ran to the window and checked out the view. I introduced myself to Jake, consciously aware that we’d spend the next ten months as neighbours. It was surreal but equally exciting. Our exchange was over as quickly as it began and we both returned to our unpacking duties and our respective families. I headed into Bath for one last wander with my parents.

We strolled through Bath absorbed by its history and architecture, trying to take it all in. Bath is the UK’s only city classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it doesn’t take much to see why. All of the wandering led our weary legs to Nandos (handily located right by Bath Spa station) for a well-earned and emotional meal. It hit me how much I’d miss my family, especially Mum. After eating we shared a couple of tears and multiple hugs. My stepdad took an obligatory Facebook photo for Mum and they then drove home. A U1 bus came after a few minutes of waiting and I hopped on.

 I know mum was choking back tears for this one…Maybe look at the lovely view behind us instead?


I know mum was choking back tears for this one…Maybe look at the lovely view behind us instead?

I caught the bus back to campus- the ten-minute uphill journey gave me a sweeping vista of my new home, hundreds of sandy houses set on rolling green hills, dyed golden by sunset. My thoughts could do nothing but race: would I fit in with my housemates, how would I cope with such a big workload, and would I have enough money for food AND beer? The more pressing matter was where to get off the bus! I had a quick conversation with a pair of students who turned out to also be Freshers’ worrying about the same thing. We talked about our respective courses and a second year student overheard us, giving us directions from the bus stop- it was comforting to know that I’d be living in such a friendly and approachable student community.

How did I ever worry about getting on with these lovely people?

How did I ever worry about getting on with these lovely people?

The next step in my settling in was surprisingly overwhelming. I worried more and more the closer I came to reaching Eastwood (my new home on campus). The people I were about to meet were potentially lifelong friends, and that’s a pressure due to affect anyone and everyone. Any worries that I had going into this first night of university faded as quickly as they came. I first started to chat, asking for my housemate’s names, courses, and where they came from. It turned out that my flat was full of diversity. I met Francesco from Italy, Jake from Hong Kong, and Richard who grew up a fifteen-minute train journey from me! My next door neighbour, Josh, was a physics student, meaning I’d have a study buddy for the year. As the evening went on I found that we’d be a melting pot of academia, from sports science to international relations. And after the formalities and introductions we began to relax little by little; after an hour or so we were laughing and drinking, trading stories from home as well expectations looking ahead. I didn’t even realise how relaxed I’d become.

I also managed to do a spot of redecorating…not bad for my first go?

I also managed to do a spot of redecorating…not bad for my first go?

The days after this came thick and fast as I became more absorbed in this strange new home. Coming from a small town I felt overjoyed to be surrounded by such a young, vibrant and altogether liberal population of students. It seemed that countless possibilities were opening up for me. This was confirmed with a week of daytime events showing off the University’s sports clubs, societies and facilities. I have in just one week signed up for optional Spanish units, joined the mountaineering club and got this job as a student blogger. The student’s union put on a great selection of acts and themed nights to facilitate this. My personal highlights were the silent disco and Saturday’s Toga Night, but what really shone through were the people I’d spent my week with.

It felt good to be dropped in at the deep end this week.

It felt good to be dropped in at the deep end this week.

Now I’m midway through my first week of lectures. A new mindset has taken over, as I am readying myself to learn as much as I can about my subject. This isn’t to say that it has stopped being fun; all of my lectures so far have been engrossing. It’s what I expected from such a well renowned institute as the University of Bath. Lectures aside, I’m looking ahead to a trip to North Wales with the Mountaineering Society (only two weeks from now). I’m regularly stuck in fits of laughter with housemates that were strangers just ten days ago. All of my worries have been answered and I feel ecstatic about what’s to come.

 

Freshers' Week: new home, new friends, and lots to do

  

📥  Laura (Psychology)

I, unlike many of my friends and much to my parents’ disappointment, was not enthusiastic about coming to Uni. Not at all. In fact, as my family’s car turned round a corner and the iconic “Welcome to Bath University” sign came into view I started to beg my dad to turn around. He refused, but as we unpacked my stuff, as I arranged it in my room, as I smiled nervously at my flat mates etc. etc. I did so with the intention of getting back into the car with my parents and going home that evening. Which I kept telling my mum, who I could see getting increasingly nervous at the prospect. After already having a year out I think she was starting to panic that they would never get rid of me. But now, less than 2 weeks in, they’re going to be begging me to come home. No exaggeration. I’m more surprised than anyone but I really, really like it here, and by about a week in I started to notice myself referring to my little Norwood flat as ‘home’.

My new home in Norwood House

My new home in Norwood House

If you don’t have the pre-uni “what if no one likes me” fear then you’re some kind of social wizard. I was not actually worried that I would make no friends, oh no; I was just 100% certain that I wouldn’t. I started to think I might not even try; 4 years with no human contact was surely achievable. But within a couple of hours of arriving I realised to my horror that in order to obtain the food my mum had put into the kitchen cupboards I would have to leave my room. And with leaving my room came actual interaction with people. People I didn’t know. Within about 5 minutes my appetite had won. It didn’t get off to the best start; as I joined my flat mates in the kitchen and everyone shared their room number I misheard and thought we were saying our ages… I couldn’t work out why no one was reacting to the fact that one of my flat mates was 12. Classic me. But once I’d cleared up this misunderstanding everything was good.

Everyone was really, really nice. This came as a bit of a shock to be honest- I’d been certain that my housemates were probably a group of sociopaths who’d already started planning how they could ruin my life. But hey, no signs of that yet. I did discover that my entire flat had been communicating on a Facebook group chat for the last few months which I had somehow manage to miss (not quite the social media whizz I thought I was) and I was momentarily panicked that they would therefore all be best friends. As it happened, whilst a nice tool to prevent fear before you leave home, those Facebook group chats don’t really affect your uni experience, so don’t get too caught up in them. People are so different in person that you might get completely the wrong impression of them from social media, just wait to meet them!

Meeting some new faces during Freshers' Week

Meeting some new faces during Freshers' Week

Freshers’ Week was such an experience. I’d heard mixed things from friends; that it was all a bit overrated, that you got bored after a couple of nights etc. etc. but I ended up loving it! My health did not- I am typing this with a tissue wedged up my nose because I cannot deal with how much it’s running. Anyone passing Norwood please chuck me a lemsip. But anyway, Bath put on so many amazing events that whatever you’re into there was something to do. There was free pizza and board games night with other people from your course, a silent disco, dressing up in a toga and even the likes of Greg James and Russell Howard (which I missed and may never get over- I did see 3 Ainsley Harriotts though so can’t complain) and those are just a teeny tiny selection of what was on.

It was a brilliant week and there is no better way to bond with your flat mates and the other people in your building than over a game of ‘never have I ever’ or going out for a hungover brunch.

Brunch

Brunch: the perfect hangover cure

 

The social side of a PhD

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Being a PhD student is time consuming, but this does not have to mean that you spend all your time working. In fact, I think it’s very important to socialise with other people, as it can otherwise become very intense! Things like getting a group of people together to go to the Parade can give you the extra motivation to get things done when you’re struggling, and even things like going out of the office for lunch with a few people will give you an opportunity to step away briefly, to come back refreshed. It’s important not to get too caught up in the PhD, I think…

One thing I appreciate about being here is that there are social events for postgrad's, students and staff in our department. From September induction week, Halloween party, Christmas dinner, international food evening and the Cider and Ale festival, to something as small as Friday coffee mornings, it’s always nice to have a chance to socialise with other people in the department. These are organised by PGBio, which is basically a group of us postgrad’s in the department, and something I’ve been involved in since the beginning of my time here. Being in PGBio has given me the opportunity to “work” with people outside my lab, while also meeting others in the department – being away from the main B&B building, I don’t see many of the other fellow PhD students usually!

These events are usually open to staff too, and we do get some postdocs coming along. This is a great opportunity to get some advice! – From advice about an experiment that you’re struggling with, what you should be aiming to achieve during your PhD (such as; applying for travel grants, publishing, experiencing as many techniques as possible) to how they approached writing their thesis, and also finding out how they got to where they are. All this is very useful, especially as I’m coming towards the end of my PhD and am going to have to start thinking about what I want to do next.

So, if you are looking to do a PhD, make sure you take these opportunities to socialise - day to day, it can be a bit of a bubble, so I see these socials as great opportunities to escape the bubble! Not only that, but they can also be ideal places to get some advice from others; people from outside your lab will have different expertise, which may in fact be very useful!

 

Life on a student budget: adapting from a gap year to supermarket own-brands

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📥  Laura (Psychology)

I wasn’t sure what to expect regarding my financial situation at Uni. With my student loan not quite covering my accommodation costs (I mean, that’s a bit of an understatement; it’s £600 less than my termly fees so not a great start and I'm not even in Quads) I was ready to embrace a life of total poverty. Thankfully my parents are helping out; if they weren’t I’d definitely be scrounging my flatmates’ food (even more than I do already), and after spending summer virtually living at my old job I do thankfully have some money to live on!

After 4 months travelling and living on a budget of £15 a day including accommodation I thought I’d be pretty good at budgeting but, as usual, I was wrong. I am in a permanent state of ‘treating myself’ at virtually every opportunity; retail therapy is essentially my only hobby and I’ve found myself buying necessities such as constant supplies of new make-up and chocolate a little too often... I’ve watched my account balance steadily declining and my only source of comfort is knowing that one of my flat mates has already overspent to the point where he has to do all of his food shopping at pound land. Times aren’t that tough just yet, but they are getting close.

In my defence, the first few months are particularly expensive. Freshers’ Week kicks it off pretty well; rounds of shots are a good bonding method with new flat mates and hungover me enjoys regular trips to Fresh (the on-campus supermarket) to stock up on snacks for the day ahead. One particular morning of freshers I’d eaten a share bag of crisps and 4 bread rolls before 10am. Pretty impressive to say the least, and to be fair it only set me back £2! One perk of freshers, though, in terms of budget is that I did save a fair bit of money in the weeks following simply because I had freshers’ flu. I missed a grand total of 5 nights out in the 2 weeks I was virtually bed bound, and with club entry in town averaging £6 this made life considerably cheaper. But I also felt as though I had the plague so this wasn’t a money saving technique I’d recommend regularly taking on.

Aside from these initial nights out, societies have upfront joining costs which need to be accounted for when budgeting. Sports ones have a standard £30 fee, so unless you’re in a position where you’re able to do so it probably isn’t wise to sign up to everything you see. I’m not a very sporty person (I feel like that comes across from my constant references to food), but I decided to sign up to Latin and ballroom because it just seemed like a good time to start something completely new! The joining fee is also motivation to actually go which is pretty good, as well as all the other benefits like meeting people and actually leaving my bed for a while each week. Non sports societies are around £5 or so, I’ve joined Amnesty International and will eventually go if I manage to find the room it’s held in (navigation is not my strong point). So even though I’m not doing a ton of activities for more adventurous people, these upfront costs are pretty steep and something to bear in mind when you’re planning your initial budget.

The gym is considerably more, though; I think a year’s membership is in the £270 region. This isn’t expensive when you think of it in terms of a weekly price or per visit and it’s pretty standard compared to gyms where I live at home, as well as having all the state of the art equipment, Netflix on the machines etc. But I mean, anything over about £3 just doesn’t interest me (or my student budget). The sports’ centre is pretty handy though because there are really good gym classes for £3 ish, there’s a free indoor swimming pool and running tracks which are great alternatives if you’re not sure you can commit to the gym but still want to keep fit. And my flat mates (who are just so cute) also go for group walks and jogs which is so convenient and also fun, and campus is so pretty it’s nice to explore it a bit (only when I’m ready to get out of bed though).

Who needs a treadmill when campus is this pretty?

Who needs a treadmill when campus is this pretty?

Food shopping is pretty weird. I have a ton of dietary requirements (I’m technically a dairy free pescetarian but ‘fussy eater’ will also suffice) and so my parents have always given me a lot of freedom buying my own food, but somehow moving to Uni has meant that I spend the same as the 3 or 4 of us would spend on a weekly shop by myself… To start with I justified it because it was my first shop and I was buying stuff in bulk, but 5 weeks in this has continued to be the case. My brain needs fuelling I guess??? And who can say no to a packet of biscuits (or 5) every now and then.

A rare sighting of a well stocked cupboard after a food delivery

A rare sighting of a well stocked cupboard after a food delivery

I do a big food shop delivery every 10 days or so with a couple of girls in my flat, so we end up paying like £1 delivery each which I’d much rather do than trek across town with bags of food shopping. My ‘top up’ shops in Fresh, which frequently consist purely of junk food, probably don’t help my budget either, but hey, I’m adapting, right? I do cook pretty economically, though; I bulk made a veggie Bolognese, curry, risotto and a couple of pasta bakes so my freezer is always stocked if I can’t find the motivation to cook something from scratch, and it stops me reaching for the Domino’s menu- I’d recommend this if you’re frequently surrounded by empty pizza boxes.

Gone are the days of branded soft drinks

Gone are the days of branded soft drinks

Another big expenditure is travel. Within Bath it’s really not bad; the buses are around £1.50 for a single and £2.50 for a return which is amazing on a night out or shopping trip and a lot cheaper than in my hometown of Bournemouth. Getting home and to visit friends at other unis is a different matter, however. Rail cards are pretty much an essential- I think Santander gives away a free one if you open a student bank account with them (I didn’t) but I bought mine using Tesco club card vouchers, but even if you pay full price you’ll earn the money back quickly anyway. I’d recommend buying off peak returns for trains because plans change and they give you the freedom of returning any time within a month. If you buy a couple of weeks in advance they’re generally cheaper, especially if you travel on a weekday, and if they’re still looking extortionate coaches are a decent alternative although they do take a bit longer. I actually managed to do work on one the other day though which I considered to be a massive achievement.

A lot of students get student jobs, too. My parents were very much against me doing this because I’m very good at getting distracted and would probably sign up to work full time somewhere in town, forgetting that I am actually in Bath to do a degree… But yeah, the benefits of living in a city are that there are plenty of shops and restaurants in the city centre hiring, as well as loads on campus. From working at Fresh or the Limetree restaurant to showing people around Uni on open days, or hey, writing blog posts for prospective students (reserved only for the coolest of students, obviously), if you do find yourself in a situation where your bank account can’t keep up with the lifestyle you’re accustomed to this is always an option. But I’d give it a few weeks to check you’re managing your workload okay before committing yourself to too many hours!

So yeah, that’s the current state my finances are in. I’m not quite in the poverty I anticipated thanks to saving a lot beforehand and being careful (ish) when I can be. I am still awaiting my contactless transactions to come up on my bank statement from the last few days, however, so I may take that statement back pretty soon. Obvious things like not buying too many drinks in night clubs and bars, getting buses rather than taxis are just common sense and while the stereotype of poor students is fairly accurate money isn’t something to worry about too much. There are plenty of bursaries available and your loan is dependent on your parents’ incomes so don’t start panicking; you won’t just be thrown into uni with no money. I’m still adapting to life on a budget where I’m responsible for buying things for myself (the shower gel bottles don’t just refill themselves???) but it’s all an experience and all your flat mates are in a similar position. I recently had to lend a friend money because she checked her account and found she only had £1.53, but hey, it’s a learning curve and adapting is pretty much unavoidable so hey, just embrace it (and Christmas is coming up; maybe this year’s list can include fun things like shampoo and pasta).

Laura x

 

Welcome to Another Academic Year

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

Once you get into the swing of things, days begin to merge. When summer arrives, things go quiet.

Having about three months of quiet, you quickly get used to that. Then, the next academic year starts…

New students start, others return, leading to a busy campus, packed buses and traffic jams. Having to be careful about when you leave for the bus and having difficulty finding a table for lunch…

New people starting in the lab and department, along with the project students. A scramble to try find places for them all. Helping them get their bearings, and social events to meet them…

New set of seminars in the department, and for me, an invitation to attend another. New set of practical’s looking for demonstrators - hoping to get the slots…

Time to say goodbye to some old friends, who have finished Masters and PhD. - thinking about my own thesis…

Welcome to academic year 2016-17

Hope it will be a good one for you!

 

Starting PhD life

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📥  Faculty of Science, Postgraduate

Being a first-year postgraduate, this is my first summer at Bath Uni. I thought campus would be somewhat deserted – undergrads are away on holiday and we postgraduates who don’t get that luxury make up a quarter of the student population. I was wrong. I didn’t expect summer students, including entire classes from schools, to arrive and keep campus buzzing with life. Well, now I know.

In the Physics CDT programme, my first six months consisted of lectures, lab techniques, computational techniques, and an industry placement in the Netherlands. For the next six months up to now, I’ve been working on my PhD project.

The project involves using my supervisor’s atomic force microscope (AFM) to image the surface of crystals. Images can have such a high resolution that individual atoms can be seen. That all things are made of atoms is like the holy grail of science, so to see atoms for the first time can be satisfying. Have a look – they appear as orange/red dots in the photo below.

dewan-labdewan-computer-analysis

Imaging samples to atomic resolution allows their nanoscale structure to be analysed. What’s more is that an AFM can also move atoms. The goal is then to customise samples at the atomic level such that they gain desirable properties for use in future technologies.

Experimental physics can be frustrating because things don’t usually work. It’s the hope of finding a way to make things work that provides motivation to keep going. However, there can only be so many failures before I start to doubt my sanity. Here's what I’ve gathered that helps keep my mind in check.

  • I get along great with my supervisor. When we’re having lunch or coffee together, she tends to mention how wonderful her dog is. I used to be a cat person before I met her; I am now a dog person.
  • There’s more freedom in PhD life compared to undergrad because I choose how to spend my time. The caveat is that it’s super easy to procrastinate. You see, with great freedom comes great responsibility.
  • I’m more willing to organise lunch with friends. Working on a PhD is isolating enough as it is. Making the most of opportunities to socialise keeps me in touch with reality.
  • Small breaks between work is refreshing. Pokémon Go has given me extra incentive to walk around campus. (I’m in Team Mystic.)
  • Having tennis scheduled at the end of my day helps me unwind. It gives me something different to look forward to.

Despite frustrations of not making progress and the guilt of procrastinating, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. After all, I didn’t run in the opposite direction after graduating, so student life must not be too bad, right?

 

Exploring “The Edge” at Roche Continents ‘16

  

📥  Uncategorized

Agnes Wong, one of our MPharm students, has just returned from taking part in this year’s Roche Continents project in Salzburg, Austria.

The project aims to bring together 100 top students from across Europe to give them the opportunity to explore sources of inspiration at the intersection of science and art, as well as the creative processes that drive innovation. 

Agnes has written a short blog about her experience


The journey did not start in Salzburg, nor at W.A. Mozart Airport, nor at Stansted airport… It all started with the application form.

The Roche Continents program was a pivotal moment in my three years as an undergraduate pharmacy student. After being nominated to attend the event, I was directed to the application site where I was to put on a different thinking cap after a long time since studying Theory of Knowledge during my IB days. “What does ‘The Edge’ mean to you?” This question was not an easy one to tackle but it definitely set off my personal expectation for Roche Continents 2016 – it was going to be an exceptional experience.

Roche Continents ’16 group photo. Photo credit: Roche

Roche Continents ’16 group photo. Photo credit: Roche

This year’s theme was “The Edge” and broadly speaking, we were meant to challenge the boundaries of our thoughts across the arts and sciences – two subjects at both ends of the area of knowledge continuum. Throughout the week, we had the privilege to listen to talks by renowned speakers on various topics such as astrophysics, evolution, cancer and genome sequencing as well as musicologists and Salzburg artists on the evening concerts we were to attend. Another brilliant experience I had was when we were given a task to present an artistic concept representing “a billion” which had a mix of science and art students. This was definitely an eye-opener for me as I had the opportunity to explore the mind works of scientists and artists.

Me outside the Mozarteum where the works of Cerha, Schwetsik and Gruber were performed.

Me outside the Mozarteum where the works of Cerha, Schwetsik and Gruber were performed.

Intriguing talks, evening concerts, sumptuous food (yes, we had waffles for breakfast) etc, but personally my best bit of Roche Continents was the opportunity to listen to the stories from my fellow friends from across 29 nations. During the week, I met some of the most inspiring personalities and creative characters who are courageously pursuing their passion in different fields, some of which I have never heard of such as theoretical chemistry. The individuals I encountered were bubbling with so much enthusiasm when they spoke of the work that they do, be it producing compositions using African polyrhythms, doing a PhD in Wallerian degeneration or even organizing Roche Continents for the nth time; these special people have certainly helped deepen my understanding on what it means to be Passionate about something. Over the course of six and a half days at Salzburg, this group of strangers became a group of friends whom I seemed to have known for six and a half years.

The Roche Continents experience has taught me a lot about passion, to never lose the willingness to explore the unknown and last but not least, to continuously push my “Edge”.  It has been a pleasure to have been part of the journey. Thank you, Roche Continents and thank you, DPP!

 

Starting my Industrial Placement

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, Joseph, Second year

As some of you may already know, I am currently on my placement as part of the ‘year in industry’ scheme available to the vast majority of students at Bath - the Electronic Engineering Department is no exception. To be quite honest, when I joined Bath back in 2014, I didn’t really envisage going on placement and I was certainly very apprehensive about taking time out of my studies to work for a year. How naïve I must have been? Going to just one of the many talks provided by the engineering placement team persuaded me of all of the benefits of taking a year to experience industry in its fullest. One thing that really surprised me is quite how much information is available to students about the placement year, which, in general, doesn’t even take place in Bath. The placement team could not have been more helpful. I attended loads of lectures about the year away prior to even applying for a placement scheme and now that I am on placement, I can say with confidence, that this level of support carries on which is fantastic.

The myriad of connections Bath University has with the engineering industry worldwide means that the number of placement schemes listed on the University Moodle Server feels unending and really allows for a very personal and thoughtful choice of which schemes or jobs to apply for. Personally, I wanted to find a relevant, well known, engineering company in the South-West. A country boy, I didn’t think I could handle the bright lights of the city just yet. Fortunately, this was no problem at all with hundreds of placement opportunities dotted about the South-West region. This range of choice meant that I needn’t apply for jobs outside of my search radius as there were numerous opportunities within it.

Having followed the very thorough and helpful instructions provided by the university team, I was quick to send off several cover letters and applications for various jobs in the South-West including Babcock, Centrax and Pipex px NOV. At this stage, out of the control of the swift acting placement office, it was a waiting game to see what opportunities materialised; meanwhile the placement team were flooding me with further options into the summer months as other positions became available.

I was very lucky to be accepted by a Plymouth based company called Pipex px who have recently been acquired by the American engineering giants National Oilwell Varco (NOV). Pipex px NOV is proving to be a really worthwhile placement scheme and I am benefiting from the wealth of experience and opportunity across the now enlarged global company.

Following a swift induction to the organisation I was set to work right away. Moreover, I wasn’t just making cups of tea – from day one I was able to apply the skills learned at Bath to real world engineering problems. One of the things that has surprised me most thus far is how much the employer appreciates the Bath IMEE course and recognises the vast skill set I have developed at Bath. From minute one I understood that my presence within the Engineering Services Department was on a very professional basis as I was assigned an audacious desk space, an engineering grade PC and four screens to play with – yes, four computer screens!

My favourite lunch break destination on the Moors

My favourite lunch break destination on the Moors

Another of the many things that I have come to appreciate during my first few weeks is just how tailored my Integrated Mechanical and Electrical engineering course is to the requirements of engineers in industry. I have already been contracted to design, model and draw a water filtering system – skills that I have ‘mastered’ during the first two years of my degree course. To my surprise, the system which I have designed has already been sent to the factory for production - albeit a prototype -  to be sent to various sales teams in the States. How extraordinary?! I would not have been able to do any of this if it had not been for the rigorous design modules that I have studied in Bath.

Always kept on my toes, it was not long before I was requested to ponder over some beam calculations as part of a feasibility study. This was a real test of my memory, having studied statics as part of the Solid Mechanics course in year one. To my relief, I was able to re-enrol on the course using the University Moodle Server – something I never thought I would do. Yet another pleasant surprise.

It goes without saying that my CAD skills have been completely overhauled since entering the professional workplace and I very much look forward to becoming better and better in such fields. I already fully understand why the year in industry is so recommended by the Bath team and I cannot wait to re-enter year three with the array of new skills I will develop over the next year. As always, I will keep you posted…

 

“We need to do more for women in science”

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

This is the title of an article I found online, in the journal Science. Clearly, there are still issues in terms of bias against women in science/academia – and I’m sure this is not something that’s limited to science and academia. The article mentions incidents, and thankfully I have not experienced anything like that yet, and for the majority of my university life I have been looked after by female academics. And it is definitely good that there are schemes to support women in science, such as Athena Swan.

But here’s a thought: a study published in 2015, in which the authors used hypothetical applicant profiles for an assistant professorship in various fields, found that in most cases women were favoured over men. So if there is a higher preference to hire women, why is this not reflected in reality?

According to an article in the Guardian (citing an article in New Scientist), this may be due to the fact that early stages of a research career involves short-term contracts in various places; this coincides with the time when people want to have children, and the nature of these post-doc. contracts is hardly ideal for anyone wanting to settle down to start a family. Now, this would equally affect men as well as women, but further in the article it cites a study showing that men are more likely to have partners who are willing to stay at home to look after the kids while women are more likely to be with a fellow scientist. This would create a situation where women are more likely to have to choose between a family and their career, and it is a sad thought that capable young scientists are having to make this choice.

This got me thinking: is this choice something that women have to face regardless of what they do? Or is it more difficult in science? Surely there are men out there that will have to make this choice too? Personally, my main focus for the future has been a career. This does not mean that I don’t want to get married and have a family – is this something unrealistic for me to try and achieve?

I guess it’s hard for anyone to make these decisions. It took me a long time to think about what exactly I wanted to do, and it seems like I’ve ended up here without really thinking too much about what next! Right now, I am happy to be doing what I’m doing, and somehow it feels like I am where I’m meant to be right now… Doing this PhD has made me realise my passion for research, and although I have not really thought too much about what I will do after, my feeling is that it will involve research in some form or another!

 

My Motivation

📥  Faculty of Science, Maho, Postgraduate

One of the reasons I chose to do my PhD in microbiology is that I believe a lot of modern medicine relies on the ability to treat infections. For example, without that ability, things like surgery, transplants and immune suppression will be too risky. And the scary truth is that antibiotic resistance is becoming a big problem. Recently, a review on antimicrobial resistance by Lord O’Neill was published, and this article summarises the key findings.

A brief overview of how antibiotic resistance can occur: sometimes it only takes one change in the DNA sequence of the bacterium to become resistant to an antibiotic, and if that particular species is a fast growing one this can happen quite quickly. Another way of acquiring resistance is by picking up bits of DNA from the environment, which is not necessarily from the same species; these genes exist because antibiotics are based on products which are made by bacteria. So in a way, we’re trying to control nature by using chemicals derived from nature. While bacteria can adapt to this new challenge easily, it can take a while to adapt the chemicals. This leads to a situation where the number of antibiotic resistant infections are on the rise, but the number of agents which are available is not rising at the same rate; it was last year that a new class of antibiotic was found after almost 30 years.

So what can be done to make sure that we keep antibiotics effective? Certainly more awareness and control of its use will be helpful (especially in veterinary medicine), as will improving hygiene and surveillance – points which the report highlighted. But I believe focus on research and development is important, not only to discover new antibiotics but also to create new tests to ensure that appropriate antibiotics are given – again, highlighted in the report.

While these above points are important, I also believe that the pharmaceutical industry need to play a part too – after all, even if discoveries like teixobactin are made, there are lots of steps before it can become a medicine and I believe that this will be difficult without the involvement of pharmaceutical companies. Now, the fact that resistance to antibiotics can occur rapidly means that it can become ineffective very fast – not great if you are trying to cover the cost of its production! There have been proposals both from the pharmaceutical industry and in the report of finding alternative ways to fund antibiotic discovery; this I think will be crucial.

Funding for research I think is another crucial piece of the puzzle in terms of finding new antibiotics or new ways of treating infections – that is how teixobactin was found, and I hope that research like this will be happening long into the future. As technologies improve, we are able to increase our understanding of how the infection process works, and who knows, this may lead to a change in how we approach infection treatment. With genome sequencing improving all the time, there may come a time where a clinician may be able to sequence a patient sample quickly, and then work out if antibiotics are necessary or not, and also work out which antibiotics will be effective/ineffective.

I am hopeful that with the above report and the Longitude Prize being focused on antibiotic resistance we will be able to tackle this problem which may indirectly affect a lot of us.