Tag Archives: cells

WTF Is My Area/Field/Forest of Interest?

It’s been rather slow these past few days, so I’ve been thinking a lot. Mostly about the prospect of starting my PhD studies. I’m working towards a Master’s degree right now; I’m graduating next summer. It seems quite a long time, but it’s not too early to start thinking about it, right?

There are, obviously, a load of factors to consider, and quite a few of those will probably ultimately boil down to be determined by “whichever place accepts me”, but I decided that I should at least determine what sort of topic / area / field / whatever I’m most passionate about and would like to devote 3 or 4 years of my life for.

Because, the thing is, I had never made an entirely conscious decision to choosing a research project. Let me explain. I first started looking for research opportunities when I was a freshman at university because I was bored out of my mind and because doing research was what I wanted to do, but being freshman I didn’t really know what I could do and how to find a lab and stuff. So, I simply went to my study programme’s supervisor and was, like: “Um, I want to do research, can you help me?” He asked me what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know, so we determined that using a simple process of elimination, and I ended up deciding that I’d like to work with small things (like cell cultures and stuff), and he helped me set up a few meetings. After a couple of misses and some more help from other people, I ended up at a cancer research lab which was fascinated with Nanoscience applications in cancer detection and treatment. I worked there for a couple of years and a series of baffling and unreproducible results (but I had an excellent supervisor and learnt loads). Then I found out about a summer science internship program which came with a stipend. I applied for a number of bio/chem/phys field internships that sounded interesting (a lot of them sounded interesting). Funnily enough, the only internship I ended up accepted for was one I almost didn’t apply for because the description sounded rather intimidating. And here I am, two years later, continuing and expanding on the project for my Master’s thesis, making stuff with laser light. It would seem that this slightly random process has been rather lucky for me. But I don’t know if I want to trust that same process with my PhD; I think that I should have at least some sort of sense of direction.

Thus, I come to my problem – I find the whole frigging world fascinating. Nice problem to have, when you come to think of it, isn’t it? Well, at this point I probably won’t head into Geology or Astrophysics. But the part of Nature that replicates is still rather wide open. Though I can narrow that a bit further because I don’t fancy field work much, I prefer the controlled environment of the lab bench or even laminar-flow hood for cell cultures (which, after 6 weeks of internship I hardly ever find annoying anymore). But where to go from there? Do I try to decide what problem I find most pressing in the world? That would be climate change, I guess, but that’s largely a political problem too and I just get frustrated by that sort of thing very easily. I don’t know if I’d like it to be my job. And at this point it occurs to me that perhaps the advice to not do a PhD until you’ve figured out what you’re most passionate about is not so bad (even though I actually decided that I didn’t want to wait, though I reserved the right to change my mind). At the very least, it gives you time to explore (maybe I’d find that environmental science or solar panel development is actually something I’d like to do). But what if several years from now I still won’t have found THE area? Because I know one thing right now – I know that I love doing research, I love learning, I love exploring how Nature works, be it in the form of a bundle of cells growing in a flask, or tiny balls of atoms glowing in the dark. And, ultimately, I want to share it with other students, and I pretty much need a PhD for that (or at least be in the process of getting one), so why wait? Perhaps THE area isn’t so important because I’m fascinated by so many things? I also must consider the fact that if I narrow in too much*, I won’t have much choice and the chances of not finding a position increase. And it’s not like I’ll be stuck with whatever I do my PhD in for the rest of my life, right? Perhaps I should just trust that the slightly random process that led me here, will continue bringing me to cool places? Are there any options I haven’t considered?

Lost in thought,


P.S. Yes, I realise that I started the post with the decision that I should determine an area of interest, but ended up thinking that it’s not so important after all. That’s how my thought process works sometimes – I’ve just been turning this around in my head for a while now and wanted to get it out there (and hopefully get some feedback), so I can move on.

*And I don’t want to narrow in too much at all – I chose to major in Biophysics (partly) because it covered the widest range of subjects in the first place.


Excitement, Making Posters and Getting Hung up on Words

…Yeah, my mind is all over the place today.

It‘s amazing how quickly stress-less time can turn into busy time. That‘s what happened to me last week. I suddenly found myself scrambling to make a poster presentation for a conference and, having received new baking dishes, baking new cake (if you don‘t understand what I‘m talking about, look here). The cake seems to be turning out better this time, so that‘s exciting.

However, most of my thoughts were occupied by the poster, since it‘s my first poster and all. I had made oral presentations in students’ science conferences before, but this is the first grown-up conference my work is going to be presented at. It‘s not a peer-reviewed paper, but I‘m still excited. Hm… there seem to quite a lot of excitement happening in my life right now.

Making the poster was a very enjoyable experience. I‘m the sort of person who likes making to-do lists and planning my time in a way that‘s most efficient; and I love jigsaw puzzles. So, I loved telling the story of my work in (mostly) pictures, trying to fit it all nicely and neatly into the allotted stretch of space.

The most interesting poster-making-related experience quite surprisingly was getting critique comments from folks at my home lab. Before this I had made slide presentations and got feedback from my supervisors but more people were involved in this, and this being more serious than a students’ conference, people looked rather closely at every detail. Also, since I‘m away, I got most of the comments in writing. It was rather amazing how two comments saying pretty much the same thing can be put in such ways that one makes you think “Oh, OK, these are good points, I should change this and that” and the other makes you feel as though your whole work is being called rubbish, which, I know, wasn‘t the commenter‘s intention and that‘s not what they said, but that‘s how the particular words that jumped right at me left me feeling for a short while until I got past the words and just took in the meaning. I‘m probably oversensitive (I‘m trying to work on that), I get invested in, well, (almost) everything I do. But I do think that words matter, especially if they‘re in writing, because they just stand there alone in front of you and you can‘t always tell what tone those words would have if spoken. Maybe I get hung up on words too much, but, really, I think, most people do that some times – have you noticed, for instance, how often a discussion/argument ends up trying to determine a meaning of a key word and it turns out that the sides fundamentally disagree on it? I guess, what I‘m trying to say is, first, that I should try to pay less attention to wording of people‘s e-mails, because obviously they have more important things to do than think about the words they choose, and second, that I suddenly realised how much I appreciate when people take that extra minute to read through before submitting any sort of written bit of communication.

Having read through and rewritten that last paragraph like 7 times, I’m still not sure if it carries my point across the way I want it to,


P.S. Oh, and one more exciting thing in my life right now: people read my blog, OMG! Comments are so exciting! 😀