Lost, Doom, Eureka – Three random Thursdays

University of BristolDominika Bijoś is a final year postgraduate researcher from the School of Clinical Sciences, based in the School of Physiology and Pharmacology. She studies smooth muscle contraction and examines how other cell types influence it in bladder tissue and in the whole organ. Initially, she used molecular and cell biology techniques, but spent last year watching and analysing moving bladders and the conclusion was – they dance the samba!

“What to do?!”, “nothing works” and “success!” is the range of my experiences of a PhD – any of this sounds familiar? I dare not quantify how often each of those days happens…

Lost – The day I don’t know what to do

It is a grey rainy day. I feel lost in the overwhelming amount of things I need to do. Prioritizing is never between more and less important stuff – it is between important and deadline important. I can’t do everything in a limited amount of time, but right now I am paralysed with inability to decide what I should devote my precious limited time to. Have a cup of tea with a friend, breathe. Say it out loud.

Once a decision is made, it is easier – I can at least focus on one action. I will first write the review draft, send it to my boss, with this done I will analyse the data and show it to him at the next meeting (no surprise here, bosses love data) and then prepare everything for tomorrows’ experiment.

That’s the plan. Cup of tea gets me going.

Doom – The day nothing works

In science experiments fail every day…. next thing you know you spent the first year of your PhD building a tool, optimizing a protocol, troubleshooting… You start a day: prepare, try, try, try, fail, try more, fail and go home… no wait, boss has another idea to try. Try, fail. Home finally.

I need a Mary Berry cake to cheer my up. Bakeoff on TV will do.

The difficult part isn’t in the fact that it didn’t work, not even in preparing and doing the experiment everyday as if you were about to discover something new. The difficult part is not letting it get to you and keep going.

Eureka! – The day we discover something new

Spring has come, so did the visiting specialists from Japan. In between going about the usual business, the group is doing EXTRA experiments with the Japanese visitors. Guess what? They don’t work. The equipment picks up only noise, tools break, fire alarm goes off and we need to start again, and everything that can go wrong… does.

Thursday, 9 am – prepare, 10 am – visiting scientists start, noon – Louise takes over, she works to make it work… It does at 6 pm. Next, the magic happened: an amazing recording of nerve activity! A activates B – that has never been shown before!

If A activates B and the communication is supposed to be both ways… why not check if B really activates A?  It is 7 pm and it is a crazy idea. The Experiment started 10h ago, but it WORKS NOW. It takes so much hard work, no one wants to stop! Japanese visitors share their instant miso soup with us. Delish. Note to self: buy some as back up food.

Did I mention the boss is in the lab? It is not a lost PhD moonlighting and struggling in isolation, no. Today is the day when the whole team works together. Everyone is tired, the lab could do with better ventilation, but there aren’t normally 5 people working there… This week is different.

At 9 pm the we see that B activates A. Wow.

This was the day when science worked, the day when we discovered something new and I saw it happen.

I love it. I love science.

On Friday we celebrated in the pub. Boss paid all rounds.

Thursday 1, Thursday 2, Thursday 3 and Friday!

P.S. With this post I thank everyone I worked and drank tea and celebratory drinks with!