Thank you Madrid!

So my last post on here was written pretty soon after I reached Madrid for my 2 and a half month research/training trip. It is safe to say that arriving in Madrid with the worst cold I’ve had in a long time put a haze of sadness over what I thought was in store for me. I spent that first weekend (and pretty much week) wrapped up in bed only leaving the flat to go to work.

Fast forward 9 weeks and cannot believe how quickly I have fallen in love with Spain. As I sit here in the airport waiting to catch my flight back home I can’t help but think back to everything I have learnt during my time here.

Apart from being introduced to a new language (which I’m still fairly shy to speak but I WILL get better). I have experienced a new culture, which yes of course was strange for me at first, but once I embraced it, parts become second nature (namely the coffee and food parts).

I became more confident in my skills as a scientist and my ability to work in new and different environments with changing teams. I was taught new skills by experts in parasitology diagnosis and I learnt that even they, these wonderfully intelligent people get stressed, have doubts and experience days where they want to just give up.

Uprooting my ‘life’ for 3 (ish) months taught me so much about myself. Firstly, I CAN do it. It may not always seem like it but I’ve actually come quite far from the person that started her PhD journey a year ago.

I really like learning about different cultures, countries and their history and it is fairly naive to think that only your matters.

I’m leaving Spain with new loves but also the most comfortable I have ever been with myself. I’m a young South African, British, Manx, Muslim, Female Scientist and I love each part and the role they have played in shaping me.

This experience reinforced what my parents have always told me: that opportunities are all around you but nothing will just fall into your lap. You have to work hard for what you want. The world will not think it owes you anything. But you owe yourself to be/do the best you can.

I’m going to end this post with one piece of advice: Just go for it.

Keep Reading!

H 🙂

Let’s move to Spain! (for a few months anyway)

Hello Hello Hello!

This is the first post of 2017 and it’s coming to you all the way from Madrid!

I’ve been out here for two weeks for work/training and so far it has amazing. The city is so vibrant and lively. The architecture is INCREDIBLY beautiful and the people are lovely. You can wander the streets of Madrid for hours on end and not get bored. Even if you get lost there’s no need to worry because all you need to do is find one of the many Metro stations dotted around and you’re all set again. As amazing as it’s been, it has definitely been a little bit of an adjustment work wise. Moving to a new country, getting used to a new atmosphere, culture and language will take a little time but I’m looking forward to the rest of the experience :).

In the two weeks I’ve been here this is what I’ve noticed:

  • The general environment (not just at work I suppose) is waaayyyyy more chilled than in the UK.
  • You WILL have MANY coffee breaks.
  • Lunch is generally  at like 3/4pm, which means it’s not unusual for dinner/supper/your evening meal to be around 9.30pm.
  • Travel is pretty cheap (20 Euros for a thirty day travel card!)
  • Even if your Spanish is awful (which mine is) people really do appreciate it when you try.
  • There are a crazy amount of Pharmacies, I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure I counted around 6 on one street.
  • THE COFFEE IS AMAZING.
  • Madrid is a city of hidden gems, and I love just walking around (somewhat aimlessly) and stumbling upon cute little streets/areas.

I’m so excited to spend the next couple of months here and explore the city and culture more so, if anyone has any tips or recommendations on where to visit let me know!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

 

 

5 things every phd student should have.

Hi everyone!

I thought I’d write a short post about what, after near enough a year, I have found I can’t really live without.

So here they are – the FIVE things that I will not leave for university without.

  • diary / calendar – because well, how else are you meant to keep track of the HUNDREDS of things you have to do in a day?
  • good headphones – these have two  uses: 1. put on whatever gets you in the mood to be the most productive 2. if you don’t want to listen to anything, put these in and you’ll have blocked out any background noise.
  • a meeting book – you’ll probably have more than one meeting a day and meetings tend to follow on from each other so by having a dedicated book you can have a record of each meeting you attend in one easy to find place.
  • organisational stationary – plastic wallets, folders, post-its, paperclips, stapler/staples. You’ll always need them so just don’t take them out of your bag.
  • a decent water bottle – keep hydrated people! I tend to spend a lot of times in labs where drinking/eating is a major no no, but when I’m back in the office it’s always good to find a bottle of water in my bag. Staying hydrated helps with your focus and to relieve headaches.

There you have it, the 5 things I think every PhD student should have.

Keep Reading!

H :).

Long Breaks vs Short & Frequent

Hey Guys :).

For this post I decided to address a question I get asked quite a lot – is it better to have one long break during the year or have multiple short/quick ones throughout it?

Both of these have pros and cons. So let’s start with a Long Break.

Pros

  • There is enough time between the beginning and end to actually relax.
  • You have something big and exciting to look forward to.
  • The time off will allow you to miss and appreciate your work much more.

Cons

  1. You are taking a big chunk of time out of your research/work.
  2. If you decide to have a completely work free time, you will most likely miss out on announcements, events and deadlines.
  3. Regardless of how you left it – your work WILL pile up.

Short & Frequent.

Pros

  • You can have lots of these in the year.
  • You have something to look forward to.
  • They can help plan your work/research by seperating them into shorter managable ‘chunks’.

Cons

  1. Usually only a couple of days.
  2. Can interrupt the work flow.
  3.  You try to pack a lot into a short time so you can come out the other just as tired.

There will inevitably be more to add to these lists but I just wanted to give a quick and simple idea of what to expect.

From personal experience of taking a Long Break, I think I’ll be sticking to the Short & Frequent approach going forward. Though it was good to have an extended time off, the work pile up and time being out of touch with my work was not worth it for me. It wasn’t all bad though, I had sufficient time to unwind, spend time with family and being away reminded me how much I actually enjoy what I do – and being reminded of your passion is never a bad thing :).

My advice would be with whichever approach you decide to take, way up the pros and cons and how they will affect you before making the decision.

Oh, and it’s not a bad thing to need a break. It may be hard to admit that at some point it’s all getting a bit too much but more than likely everyone around is feeling a similar way and it’s okay not to be okay.

 

Keep Reading!

H. 🙂

 

 

 

 

What do you do?

So, after a few months (+ an extra few months) it’s dawned on me that I haven’t really touched on what it is I actually do. So let’s start from the beginning:

Hi, I’m Haafizah – a first year PhD student at De Montfort University. I graduated last year with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences (with a year placement – which was tough but amazing!) and then went on to this programme.

My PhD project is based around the detection of parasites within the environment (from faecal, soil, grass/shrubs and water samples) how prevalent they are and the impact they may have on public health. Detection methods include both microscopy and molecular. In addition we also look at the presence of some antibiotic resistant bacteria.

So that’s a brief introduction of my work!

Keep reading,

H 🙂

 

De Montfort University – SAHRC 2016

A little post about a conference I recently attended!

The 15th June 2016 marked the day of De Montfort University’s inaugural ‘School of Allied Health Science Research Conference’ where I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to give an oral and poster presentation on some of my research.

The day consisted of:

A broad spectrum of posters outlining some of the research that is being conducted within the School (from both staff and students).

The Keynote (delivered by Professor Mark Jobling, University of Leicester) titled ‘Sex, surnames and the history of Britain’ and an overview of Research in the School of Allied Health Sciences (Dr.Pravez Haris, Head of Research for the School of Allied Health Sciences).

A range of different topics presented by Early Career Researchers in the School. Which were then followed by presentations from some of the School’s postgraduate students (including me!)

The day ended with the closing address from the Pro- VC and Dean of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, who also gave out certificates and prizes to the poster and oral presentation winners.

As a whole, the day was really enjoyable and interesting to find out about the other research going on in the school.

Even though I have attended a conference before this was my first time presenting at one and it was a totally different (some-what nerve wrecking) experience.

 

Here’s what I learnt from it all:

  • PRACTICE – Even though I practiced quite a lot (or so I thought) and knew my presentation slides well, if I could go back I’d practice more.
  • You are going to be nervous – especially if it’s your first time. But it’s okay, the audience you are presenting to understand this and most (of not all) will have been in your position at one point or another.
  • Expect questions – answering questions was one of the areas that I think I was most nervous about but one piece of advice I’d give is when practicing – do it in front of one or two people because they will most likely have questions. Oh, and if you don’t know the answer -be honest.
  • Don’t fill your slides with text – the audience will be focused on trying to read all the text instead of listening to you. So try and use images/diagrams to aid your story.
  • Make sure you stick to the time frame given e.g. if your allotted time is 15 mins including questions, try to talk for 12 minutes (10-13 slides) which allows time for questions at the end.
  • Try and enjoy it! You’ve put time and effort into preparing for this so enjoy it.

 

Attend as many of these as you can – it can be difficult to decide when and where you are going to attend a conference (time off, travel costs etc) but conferences like this one which are at your own university or in your own city are good to attend. They give you the chance to practice your presentation skills and allow you to learn about research you may not even realize is being done. You’ll meet people you may have not met before and be introduced to topics that could impact your research too.

 

Overall I had a great time and am definitely looking forward to the next one!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

Is it a Break?

Hey Everyone!

So March is nearly coming to an end and it has gone by so incredibly fast but has been packed with SO MUCH.

At the beginning of the month I had this very real feeling that there was no way I was going to be able to do/finish everything I had set for the next few weeks. This then turned into major panic – you know that feeling when you realise there’s so much to do, so you make lists and lists and then the lists have lists and you’re dotting from one thing to another not knowing when or how you’re ever going to get it done – yeah (not good).

I realised that I had to nip this in the bud. Feeling this way was not helping the situation at all. So I decided to take a step back and attempt to organise all these thoughts and tasks (okay, so it took more than two attempts – at least). I spoke to my family, friends, colleagues and supervisor (who is just the best most encouraging and helpful supervisor I could have asked for!) about the feeling that and they all reassured me that it was normal. They also gave me some very helpful and practical tips to tackling it (some were new and some I had already been trying to do):

  1. Talk to people about your research (within the limits set) – this will help you to understand what you’re doing and why a lot better. It will also raise questions about the practicality and time frame of what you’re doing – this will help to focus yourself. It’s also increased my passion for my research.
  2. Establish a good relationship with your supervisor. This is vital and can completely alter your experience.
  3. Set time limits – not just ‘an hour to write’ but what should you have done in that hour. Be specific.
  4. Exercise everyday – even if it’s just a walk, do something.
  5. Have a good breakfast – this I find hard to do everyday because I think ‘Well, I could have 20 minutes more of sleep’ but on the days that I do it – I can really feel the difference in my energy levels and productivity.
  6. Figure out when you are most productive – everyone is different but figure out if it’s morning, evening or afternoon for you and set that time side for the pieces that require your most effort.
  7. PUT THAT PHONE AWAY – limit the amount of time you spend on Whatsapp, texting or on social media. If you don’t want to turn if off use the Do not disturb/equivalent option or put it on flight mode.
  8. Plan the day the night before – this can mean making sure you have the right books/journals/protocols in your bag, having a schedule/aims for the day, figuring out what to wear or even whats for breakfast. I like to do this toward the end of the night (usually with a warm drink and something on in the background), not only do I prepare myself for the next day but it gives me time to unwind before I sleep.

Though it is still the busiest I have ever been, I feel so much better about going forward. I know it is not going to be easy and those pangs of sheer panic will still be there BUT I know I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

To anyone going through something similar, I hope this helps and remember you are not alone!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

Oh, Hi There.

Well, March has certainly creeped up on me. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t seem that bad- it’s still the beginning of 2016, Easter break hasn’t started yet, it’s not exam season and it’s still cold out. But what it actually means is: I’ve been at university for over a month, I have two deadlines by the end of this month and two for the next, the teaching course I thought was far off is in a month plus I’m a third into my allocated literature review time – and I have definitely not read or come to grips with a third of the relevant literature.

I felt like in the first month, it was ok to feel a little lost because I’d just started and was still finding my feet. The only problem is I STILL FEEL LIKE THAT (maybe even a little more so).

My very well thought out and detailed timeline doesn’t even bring me peace right now 😞.

It can only get better right? RIGHT?!

So that was my little panic –  lets hope some good came out of it and you feel a little better or you had a good chuckle

I guess I’ll be off to make some strong coffee and read or write…Something… Anything.

Keep Reading,

H ☺️

I’m here! Now what?!

Hello!

Well, after about 7 months of applications, form filling, interviews, crumbling into a little ball in the corner and a whole bunch of tears I’ve FINALLY started my PhD project (microbiology/parasitology) – and it is AMAZING.

Taking time out of the field has really made me realise that I am definitely in the right place. I know that even when everything seems overwhelming (which will occur often and soon) I’ll push through it because at the end of the day I love what I do – and yes that does sound cliche but in this case its the truth.

With that being said- it doesn’t mean the first few weeks were a walk in the park. No no no no no. Most definitely not.

Examples? Sure:

  1. I moved into a DUMP – actually, dumps are probably cleaner and have way less funky smells. It’s been sorted and my current living situation is SO MUCH better so I feel like I can look back and laugh – there was definitely no laughing at the time though, I’m pretty sure I spent the ONE night I stayed there choking back the tears (and reaching 2 am where they all just came pouring out). Thank the Lord I had a friend keeping me company and whose house I could crash at, it would not have went well otherwise.
  2. THERE IS SO MUCH TO READ and I only understand about 20% without having to refer to other journals, textbooks or a dictionary (I’ve been told this is normal when you start but it doesn’t make you feel any less like you’re in over your head).
  3. Security now know me because of the amount of times my card hasn’t worked or I needed access to a new place (I’ve been here 3 weeks).

But seriously, now that I’m starting to settle in and establish a routine that works for me I look forward to what the next few months (well, years) bring for me. I’m sure there’ll be a bunch of disasters but no doubt a ton of great times too.

Keep Reading!

H.

My First Conference!

Hi Everybody,

So not so long ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to a local BioMed conference (the first of many – I hope!) and boy – oh – boy was was it wonderful. Well, I can say that now- at the time I was terrified ( the good sort of terrified where you just do not want to say anything silly ). It was filled with some of the most inspiring people I have met to date. I don’t just mean the work that they were doing but the people that they were. Listening to their dedication and passion for their chosen paths made me think about mine – Where did I want to be in 3 years? What do I want to do now? What is the aim of my research? Why did I choose Microbiology/Parasitology? How did I aim to achieve my goals?

Throughout the day I mix and mingled with a range of different people – Medical Doctors, Members of Government, Environmental Scientists, Investors and the list goes on. The one thing I learnt from speaking to all of them – KNOW YOURSELF. Not necessarily to justify your choices but to help them understand your work. Now, being my first conference I was very nervous when I had to talk about my work/aims (and I’m not usually a nervous person) however, as the day went on I became more confident in myself and could essentially “pitch” myself a lot better. Talking about yourself is usually pretty easy once you get going but you have to remember you aren’t JUST talking about you and your life – you are there because of your work and your work/research still needs to maintain a level of confidentiality. Thankfully, my supervisors were able to give me some pointers about what I should be speaking about.

Overall the day was great, I met a bunch of wonderful people and learnt a lot about the type of scientist I want to be and though I may not have all the answers to my questions (and theirs) I am definitely closer.

I would strongly recommend to anyone to attend conferences. They may seem daunting at the beginning but as the day goes on you’ll see the benefit through the cloud of fear.

Keep Reading,

H 🙂