Friday, 25 January 2013

Saying Thanks

I am just about to send my thesis to the printers and the last part I did was my acknowledgements. I still have to do my viva examination, and I will have corrections but I couldn't wait to share this (and yes, I have thanked Twitter). 

There are also many more people I want to thank for helping me along the way. I could have written about 15 pages. 


Firstly I would like to thank my Mum, Dad, sister Joanne and Grandparents for being there throughout my whole education and always supporting me even if they lost track of where I was, didn’t quite understand what I was doing or didn’t have a clue what I was trying to achieve. They have continually challenged me in many ways but have always been there for me, and explaining my work to them was a starting platform for my other passion, sharing the wonders of biology with others.

My deepest appreciation goes to my supervisor Professor Ruth Ross and my PhD collaborators at Selcia. I want to thank them for believing in me, and giving me this opportunity. Working with such talented and inspirational supervisors has made this project an absolute pleasure. To those that have helped me in the lab who are now my friends I want to say a big  thank you, especially to Lesley Taylor for all the guidance at the start of my project (and continual guidance in my life), Lauren Whyte who is always available for a chat and without whom I would never have finished the final year of my project, Daniele Bolognini without whom I would probably be a lot thinner but not as happy, to Hollie Vase who has shared the ups and downs of the whole of my PhD and also to Gemma Baillie, Irene Hunter and Lesley Stevenson for their continued help, support and chats. I also want to thank Douglas McHugh and Heather Bradshaw at the University of Indiana for offering me the opportunity to spend time in their lab, welcoming me, and supporting my project.

To the Au Science Magazine team, sharing PhD stories and advice helped me throughout the whole process, provided me with great ideas and I want to thank you for your friendship, especially Gina Maffey, Sean McMahon and Kirsty Nutt. 

Sonia Watson and Alun Hughes, thanks for being my buddies in the pursuit of evidence based thinking and the battle against pseudoscience, a welcome pastime when I wasn’t working on my PhD.
I want to thank all my friends who haven’t forgotten me despite living 500 miles away and have still offered me support throughout my PhD and my life, Sarah Harrison (Sazzle), Joanne Thompson, Gemma Craig, Claire Collins, Lara Maisey, Katie (Mc)Tween(igal) and Sophie Dunne. I wouldn’t be here and couldn’t have done this without you.  And to those friends that have welcomed me in Aberdeen, especially the Phil’s (and Ryan) thank you for all the tea, cake and fun times. 

I want to offer a thanks to Jack Dorsey for inventing Twitter, and for those on Twitter that have offered advice and support and allowed me to connect with and present my work with the rest of the world, despite living in the north of Scotland.

Finally, but not least I want to thank Ben Frizzell (friend and husband-to-be) for his seemingly never ending patience and support throughout the ups and downs of the whole of my PhD.  

Monday, 7 January 2013

Finishing a PhD and managing an industrial partnership

Finishing up a PhD isn't a swift and easy process (something my family can find difficult to understand). It's made slightly more difficult if you move away, start a new job, or if your supervisor moves half way across the globe which is something many PhD students have to contend with. Although, supervisors are always busy even if they are in the same city as you are.

I'm reaching the final stretch now. My final hand in date is the 29th of January. I wrote my first full draft back in October and immediately sent it to my supervisor to look over. I took a break over Christmas, and I started my new job in October, went to the Abu Dhabi science festival and then went home ...  all great career stuff, but it delayed me a little getting the final bits of thesis completed.

My supervisor didn't have too many comments or corrections, so I have only got a few final tweaks (and the dreaded references) to sort out before the end of January. I am finding it useful to have had a complete break from it for a few months. Getting back into it feels less of a drag, and I don't feel like I have read every sentence 500 times which I did when it came to proof reading my final draft. Sending my completed draft of my thesis seemed to work well with my supervisor too. I was planning on sending drafts chapter by chapter but I got carried away and just wrote the whole thing.

I think it might be difficult reading a lone chapter without the introduction (I didn't write everything in order.. it went something like this -
  1. 3/4 of methods
  2. 3/4 of chapter 1 (which is the biggest chapter)
  3. all of chapter 2 (when I went back in the lab to do some extra bits)
  4. half of chapter 3
  5. the final quarter of chapter 1
  6. chapter 4
  7. rest of the methods
  8. introduction
  9. discussion/conclusion

I had discussed before I started writing anything the chapter structure, order and flow of my thesis with my supervisor. So she was aware of what I was doing. We were in agreement on how it should work too which was nice. I know many people have arguments at this stage about what should/shouldn't go in the thesis and the order it is written.

One thing I wasn't quite expecting is the amount of results I have. My thesis would have been a 700 page epic with them all in.

My PhD is funded by an industrial partner and I have spent a good portion of my time screening certain compounds (drugs) that they have created. I developed the screening and that is detailed in my thesis.  I/we didn't feel that endless drugs in a thesis would make very interesting reading, especially as I don't have the chemical structure of them. So I have concentrated on what we have learnt (or in some cases not learnt) about cell signaling pathways and behaviour in response to the common agonist and antagonist (pharmacology chat, apologies) that is well known in the literature.

So I have found myself writing two theses, one for my final examiners and another for our partners that contains all the work I have completed with their compounds. My PhD life has two sides. I have enjoyed the partnership and like working with our partners. The big downside to this is the lack of publications, as a lot of the data will be held by the company and permission needs to be sought about everything we wish to publish and talk about. My topic is a very new area too, so there is a delicate balance between holding on to information you have discovered before sharing it with the world (when you have confirmed it) and sharing it, as that is what gives you credibility in research. I was only able to present my work externally in my 3rd year at a conference.

Some of the things I have found could give the company a competitive advantage over others when it comes to drug development. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong. It's just the way it is with this kind of work and PhD at the current time. We aren't hiding things either. I have been working on this project as a lone ranger for 3 years only. Most of the 'findings' have been found in the last year and a half, and we are putting papers together to publish it at the minute. The way publications work at the minute means this process takes time.

Doing it this way also means my PhD thesis can be made public, if I had results on unpublished compounds in there, we would have to make it confidential.

I will let you all know as I start preparing for my viva... and when it is available online.... 

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