I can do this. Wait, can I? Nope, I can’t do this. 

I can do this. This is the right place for me. I know exactly what I’m doing. I always spend my time in the most productive way.  

Is feeling like this the reality?

Well, it isn’t the case for me that’s for sure. Every second of my time is not spent solely on my research and all things PhD related (shhhh),a lot of my time is spent organising things ‘life’ related. And sometimes, it can all pile up and seem like there is a mountain of things that you cannot see yourself ever getting done, which can lead to an awful feeling of self- doubt, which usually ends up in a downward spiral and that is really really not a good (or productive) feeling.

When I decided to tackle a life as a scientist in research I was told that this journey would be unlike anything I have done or will ever do, and boy – oh – boy has that been right on the nose so far. I remember meeting students that were going through the PhD journey and their general mood being in the ‘tired – what the heck am I doing’ range. Some tried to warn of this path and others gave me tips that involved a WHOLE BUNCH OF CAFFEINE (which naturally I was more than happy to try out). And I remember thinking – naively – that I am prepared. I WAS NOT PREPARED. No No No No NO! 1.5 years later and I still have days where I feel completely lost and am filled with self doubt. When that happens I usually go one of two – ways: 1) I go into overdrive, work crazy hours and take very minimal breaks  or 2) I shut down and basically try to put off doing any ‘real’ work. Neither of which are good options. Whhiiccchhh brings me back to the point I was trying to tackle at the beginning of this post (we went on a bit of a tangent there didn’t we?). How you use your time is important and your mood actually has a large influence on how you decide to spend it. It might not be something we realise however our emotion can dictate a lot of how we move forward so remember to account for downtime or you’ll burn out.

Also, having a good support system does help when things get really bad. This can be your co-workers/team, family or friends. For me, the downward spiral usually comes to a close with a combination of these:

  • My family – I don’t live with them and we’re pretty tight knit so it can get tough. When I’m having a particularly bad case of self doubt, they tend to get around 50 FaceTime calls a day. And I can be pretty grumpy so they’re all good eggs for dealing with me 😛
  • My friends (family part 2) – we usually discuss totally random things to distract each other, a pick me up here and there, joke around, a minute of serious talking, a whole bunch of light heartedness, then the ‘Mother’ of the group does the tough love thing and motivation gets kicked back in.
  • My cousin – again, we don’t live close to each other – but day or night she’s got my back.
  • My supervisor – I have to say, I have been incredibly fortunate with my supervisor and if I really am struggling with something I know I can go to him with it.
  • Praying – my faith is something very important and personal to me. So when things are not going the way I planned, it really helps me to calm down and look at the whole situation with a different perspective.

 

Well, I think we’ve come to the end of this post. I started this with an idea of what I’d like to say but as I started to write it kind of took on a life of itself. I decided to keep with it, because I think that it’s important to show that sometimes good things can come out of something unplanned (I hope!).

So I hope you enjoyed this and remember you’re not alone :).

Keep Reading,

H 🌺

 

 

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Presentation Prep.

So let’s get one thing on record: Presentations TERRIFY me, but they’re something that I have to get used to handling. As a PhD student, presenting to different types of audiences is part of the package and something that can severely impact that progress of my research. So whether I enjoy them or not I have to pull up my socks and just go for it. Over the last year I have given various types of presentations in different atmospheres but there are some things that I tend to do the same in preparation for them.

Aaannndddd, here they are:

Write a script to explain your presentation

Keep ’emergency’ notes near by – hopefully you won’t need them but if you get lost in your presentation you’ll be glad you’ve got them

Stick to the same structure, that way you won’t get confused on which area you should be addressing

Keep your display simple, with a ‘clean’ appearance. It makes it easier to follow your information (and helps if you loose your way too)

Wear something you’re comfortable in, worrying about your top or doing the ‘my feet hurt’ dance is not something you want to be doing (I’ll be doing a post on conference/presentation friendly looks – so keep an eye out!)

Use diagrams or pictures to explain complicated processes or methods, it’s better than using lots of words

Keep a bottle of water handy

Practice, practice, practice – this is probably the most important of points, it takes extra time before the event but it does help (a little) with being nervous

 

Keep Reading!

H 🙂

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 🙂

 

Is it important to Stand up for Science?

So, here’s a question… What do you do when you see science based headlines in the news?

Do you accept the story because it’s filled with facts and figured? Do you totally disregard it because no doubt it’s been sensationalised? Or are you somewhere in the middle of that spectrum? Can you spot bad science – what do you do about it?
Okay, so maybe that was more than just “a” question but really, what do you do?
As a scientist being able to present your work to the public is extremely important. Not just for the publicity but because in a lot of cases the public have a right to know what research is being done and how this may impact them.
Now as a first year PhD student, it’s not something I had really given all that much thought to. That is, until I was invited to attend a workshop held by Sense about Science and Voice of Young Science (alongside a whole host of societies).
This workshop was extremely enlightening about how we, as the next generation of scientists, should be engaging with the public about our research and the media (though it may seem daunting and sensational) can be a great way to reach a wide range of audiences that may never hear about your work otherwise.
We heard from a panelist of academics who offered advice on the best way to present your research and yourself in the public eye. A few of the take away points from this session were:
  • Know what you want to say and stick to it
  • Lend yourself to areas that you have experience and genuine knowledge
  • Don’t loose your credibility as a researcher or academic
A panelist of journalists then shared their views on how to get your research into the media and what THEY are looking for in a story and a scientist.
Two points were recurring in this session:
  1. Initiate contact with journalists
  2. Relate your research to people. How is this going to impact the public? What does this mean for the future?
Between the last set of panelists we heard about various initiatives to engage the public in scientific research and how early career researchers can get their voices heard in debates about science.
We heard real life experiences and tips on how to get yourself move involved. For me, the take home message was: Apply, join and volunteer for as many things as you want to, they may not all be a great fit and that’s okay – find away that works for you and GET YOUR VOICE HEARD. Because at the end of the day if you don’t, who will?
Sometimes it can be tricky navigating the media, I would DEFINITELY recommend attending one of these sessions if you have the chance. It’s certainly given me a bunch of ideas on how I’d like to be more involved and I can’t wait to see what experiences come out of this.
Plus, you get to spend the day with some pretty awesome people!
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 🙂

PhD life and Ramadhan

Hello everyone!

Let me start of by saying I know it’s been quite some time since my last post – it has been a MANIC few weeks! Hopefully, at least a small portion of the craziness will pay off!

For this post I decided to do something a little more personal than my others. As I’m sure we’re all aware our personal beliefs, ideals, morals and faith play a part of the person we are and in turn the type of student/employee/teacher we become.

Ramadhan:

This week (06/06/2016) marked the beginning of the 9th Month of the Islamic calendar (Ramadhan). This is the time of the year when Muslims all around the world fast; abstaining from food, water, worldly desires and urges (whatever these may be for the individual) from dawn to sunset for the entire month.

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar phases the time of Ramadhan changes annually and in 2016 it has fallen during the summer months in the northern hemisphere (June-July).

For most undergraduate students it means that the academic year is over and exams are coming to an end, if not finished and they’ve gone home.

But for some (like me!) the year is not over. We are still running around campus trying to conduct experiments, working full days (and maybe nights?), going to presentations/ conferences or doing a bunch of other things that are just part of the usual day.

During Ramadhan – Muslims try to involve themselves in more prayer. One way is by praying Taraweeh – this is an additional prayer that is performed at night (which can last around an hour).

So with this in mind and in addition to the lovely weather we’ve been having it is no wonder that tiredness creeps in at the oddest times!

This first week (for me) has been a lot of trial and error of which is the best way to plan my day. So here’s what I found:

Start the day a little later than usual (if you have that option) I usually start the day at 8 am, but during Ramadhan I’ve found it much better to start around 10am (maybe 11 :P) and work later into the evening.

Take time out to Pray the 5 Daily Salaah at the recommended time (this will change place to place) it allows you to have breaks in your day. Also try to pray some Qur’an (Islamic Holy Book) after each prayer.

Having Iftar / fatoor (post -sunset meal) on your own IS NOT FUN. Trying going to the local mosque / prayer room (we’re fortunate enough to have one on campus) and breaking your fast with others or invite friends over to join in this time with you.

DRINK LOTS OF WATER *during Suhoor (pre-fasting meal).

If you feel a burst of energy USE IT.

Listen to your body – if you really need a 30 minute power nap, take it. Not only do you need to be alert for your work day but for the night to.

It’s easier than you think to burn yourself out.

Remember: Ramadhan is the time to be the best version of yourself, so don’t use it as an excuse to let your work/effort slip. Instead use it as ‘training’ for the future, as a way to plan and use your time more efficiently.

I hope this was help for you and may this be the best Ramadhan for you yet!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂