Seeing your students graduating is a happy moment. Meeting their parents, too! The Conferring Ceremony is the only chance sometimes. Both Nadiya and Sanat joined our team on two consecutive summer research projects and presented their work at research conferences and the RCSI Research Days. It was a great pleasure to work with them and see their progress and participation in our team activities. Both showed an incredible ability for human relations and empathy, to work in a team and lead their projects swiftly grasping complex scientific concepts.
No doubt that Nadiya and Sanat will be physicians of outstanding quality and achieve great things in their life. It is my great pleasure to congratulate them on their degree in Medicine and wish them all the best.
We all collect trophies and tokens to bring home during holidays. So, do I. Teas and spices are a zeal for me. For Christmas 2022, we stayed in Lanzarote, and I was determined to find something special in this part of Spain: a taste, a spice or a dish. With a careful touch by César Manrique’s vision, the volcano-shaped countryside inspires and recharges.
The time was festive, prompting me to make a featured dish. It would have been a roasted Turkey or Ham in Dublin, but what could I do on holidays? I came very quickly to an idea to cook Paella in our self-catering house. I tasted it several times but have yet to cook it myself. Why not? Although Paella is widely recognised as one of the most popular and renowned Spanish dishes, it’s important to note that the term “paella” (or more accurately, “la paella”) actually refers to the cooking pan used to prepare the dish rather than the dish itself.
Ingredients, including a Paella spices’ mix sachet, were easy to buy in the supermarket. All I needed was a recipe. Indeed, it is not a problem nowadays – just Google it! So, I cooked a Seafood Paella for our family Christmas Dinner. Yummy!
In February 2023, I attended a conference in Barcelona and chatted with my Spanish colleagues about Paella over lunch. What was a big surprise for me is that the authentic version has chicken but not seafood. Spanish still debate, indeed, how faithful Paella should taste. Modern Paella certainly, has many variations. For example, peas and chorizo. Having only chicken makes Paella close to Plov, Pilaf or Pilau – an Asian dish with rice, vegetables, spices and meat, which I do often anyway. This is one of my family’s favourite dishes. Now, I can do it a Spanish style. So, here is a chicken Paella recipe with optional ingredients for every taste. Enjoy!
Step 1: Cut chicken is small pieces, grate carrots, and chop onions.
Step 2: Heat the olive oil in a large wok or casserole pot. Add the chicken and cook for 20-25 min.
Step 3: Add the chopped onion and grated carrots and soften for 5 mins.
Step 4: Add the smoked paprika, thyme and paella rice, and stir for 1-2 min.
Step 5: Add 3 glasses of water [so water covers rise excessively]. Season and cook, covered, for about 15 mins, stirring now and again until the rice is almost tender and still surrounded with some liquid.
Optional: A casserole pan is handy for chicken Paella as the chicken needs more space and longer cooking time than e.g. seafood. Chopped tomatoes [200g] can be added in step 4. Chicken can be replaced with the seafood mix [400g] but should be added when rice is cooked. Then rice should be cooked in chicken broth (750-800 ml). Chorizo can be added in Step 5. Squeeze over the lemon juice, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.
The question on everyone’s lips: “how’s thesis-writing going?” The question that has plagued me the last few months from well-meaning colleagues, friends and family. I can confirm that writing a PhD thesis can very much leave you feeling like SpongeBob, or Ross from friends – I’m fineeee!
It’s never going to be an easy task, and there’s always going to be moments where you feel like pulling your hair out with stress or booking a one-way flight to another country and never turning back – but I haven’t given in to those invasive thoughts yet! And I have found a few ways to keep myself from spiralling as I attack the monster that is the PhD thesis:
Don’t give in to isolation
I get it, the temptation to lock yourself in a room with your laptop and completely block out the outside world until the thesis is done. But if you’re anything like me, this is a recipe for hitting a serious wall. After transitioning from being in the lab surrounded by my colleagues to being in a quiet room with just my thesis, I learned pretty quickly that if I didn’t take time out to have lunch or a coffee with my friends, I’d be a very sad gal by the end of the day – not conducive to good writing. So don’t let the stress turn you into a hermit, your mental health will thank you for it.
Move your body
This is a keep-sane mechanism that I neglected when the stress hit in my final year of my undergrad. I fell into the trap of thinking I didn’t have time to exercise – the wrong mindset!! I now recognize that by taking time out for a yoga class or to put my earphones in and throw some weight around RCSI gym, I’m giving myself the mental break I need to then have much more successful writing sessions afterwards. Not to mention keeping the endorphins high to balance out the thesis-induced cortisol production. So whatever your preferred form of exercise is – schedule it in and do it!
Another textbook keep-sane tip, but for a good reason! I know for a fact the days I get over to Stephen’s Green for a coffee walk or to eat lunch outside, I generally have a better mood for the day. And a happy gal is a productive gal. The serotonin boost from feeling the sun on your skin or seeing some gorge flowers or a cute squirrel is fairly unmatched. This can also be easily combined with Tips #1 and #2 at the weekends by planning a nice hike with friends to have the chats, move your bodies, see some views and, of course, get an obligatory coffee and sweet treat afterwards. I’ve found it to be an ideal weekend activity to get me out and feel like I’ve done something nice without tiring myself out too much to be able to get some work done afterwards. We’re so blessed in Dublin with parks, mountains and the seaside, not to be taken for granted!
Schedule in some silliness
I know a lot of people who vow to stay on their best behaviour while they are thesis writing, saying no to social events involving a sneaky drink or two. But I have learned that for me, this is not the best approach, and scheduling in some occasional silliness is the best motivator to keep me going. You truly can’t beat the feeling of sending a draft off on a Friday evening, followed by heading out somewhere fun with your friends. Be that a karaoke night, a few drinks in the evening sunshine, or a night away somewhere, these moments of fun are important for keeping sane. It’s also important to remember that while it feels like your PhD is the center of the universe, it’s not a reason to miss out on life events happening in the meantime – your sister’s hen party, your friend’s birthday, or whatever else is happening outside of your PhD bubble. Finishing your PhD, like life in general, is about balance, moments of fun and silliness to balance out the serious stuff.
My last tip for keeping sane while thesis-writing is to think ahead of what life might be like when you’re done. This does NOT mean stressing about applying for jobs or looking for new housing, or worrying about finances post-PhD, but just playing with ideas in your head of how you envision your life after you’ve earned the coveted Dr. title. Do you want to take a break from science, travel, or spend time with family? The world is quite literally your oyster. For a good chunk of my thesis-writing I avoided thinking ahead because it overwhelmed me, there’s often no definitive deadline to a PhD thesis, so it is difficult to plan ahead, and if you set yourself a deadline that you don’t meet, it can feel like a failure. But I’ve come to realise that by flexibly planning the end and what comes next, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes easier to see.
So they’re the five top methods I’ve been using to keep me sane in the final sprints of my PhD. My final word of wisdom is this – be compassionate with yourself. Writing a PhD thesis is not easy, and it does take time (sometimes more time than you had anticipated), so try not to beat yourself up if your progress isn’t where you thought it would be. You will finish, and it’s better to be in a mentally good place when you do so you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and celebrations that come with it.
Hello everyone, I’m Amy! I joined the team for my TUD undergraduate research project in February, which is sadly coming to an end in the coming weeks. As my time here closes, I’m filled with mixed emotions. I am relieved and overjoyed to finish my thesis and see everything come together. However, I will certainly miss the team and working in the lab. I have learnt so much from my time here. For instance, research isn’t for the faint-hearted! It is filled with hiccups and bumps in the roads and unexpected twists and turns. This means you have to be able to make decisions and revise plans quickly. For that, I have so much respect for the whole team and anyone who chooses the path of research. I have also learnt so much about lab work and scientific writing. I was given independence throughout my work both in and out of the lab. With everyone more than willing to answer any queries I had and genuinely wanting to see me do my best.
My favourite part of this research project has been the hands-on lab work, specifically the tissue culture. I’ve been trying to perfect my assay for DNA quantification recently. This photo was taken after I’d done tons of pipetting and got a hand cramp! My results looked nice, so it was all worth it. 🙂
All in all, I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with this amazing and dedicated team. I wish them all the best with their studies and research!
Hello everyone! I’m Federica, the new PhD student who joined the group 😃
I’m amazed that it’s been almost a month since it happened, and I couldn’t be happier!
I was born and raised in Palermo, a beautiful city in Sicily (Italy), but I always felt that it was not my place. So, I tried to combine my passion for cancer biology and my desire to live abroad by exploring the Erasmus Mobility Programme. I was awarded this scholarship twice, but both times I couldn’t avail of this opportunity. In March 2022, I got my Master’s degree and said to myself, “It’s time; this is my chance to go and build the future that I want”. And here I am. 😄
I moved to Dublin in June 2022 and loved this city’s vibes! I met wonderful people from all over the world with which I spent really fun and carefree moments.
These are only a few of that magic moments:
– I saw a deer for the first time in my life – I was soooo happy!
– I tried the “mate”, a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused herbal drink. As you can guess, I didn’t like it 😂 (sorry, my Argentinian friends).
– I got used to the outstanding colours of Ireland.
Obviously, I also had hard days. My English is still not perfect, but it’s getting better every day! I remember the first day I arrived in Dublin when I was looking for a cup, but I asked for a cupboard in three different supermarkets 😂. People looked at me, probably thinking: “Why is she looking for furniture in a grocery store? Should I say something to her?” I realized that I had asked for the wrong thing only during the night, when I was in bed, thinking about that first crazy day.
To be honest, I had a lot of really hard days, days when I felt that I wouldn’t be able to deal with other problems. But I never thought of giving up and returning to Italy. Every difficulty, every good or bad thing, is part of this wonderful experience, and I’m so excited and proud of myself for all the improvement I’ve been making, step by step.
I couldn’t make a better choice because I found my place in this super nice and great team in the Bioengineering Group 🙃
I look forward to better knowing all my new teammates and sharing with them my journey as PhD student!
Had you told me before I started my PhD that I’d rushedly be writing a blog post on a bus in Bergamo, and it’s all part of my project, I certainly would have laughed and figured sure, maybe as a one-time exception if I find out something fascinating. But no, this is my second conference abroad this year, out of five in the past 4 months. My view on science and what is important to conduct good science has significantly changed since then, though. I have a ton of data from my secondment to Vilnius, but it is not all analysed yet. There are a number of decisions left to be made before my project becomes fully rounded and provides useful conclusions that I could share with people. But conferences serve another purpose. If everyone was only there to present their finished project, who would they present them to? At the current stage of my research, exchanging ideas, receiving feedback and seeing what others do helps immensely to provide perspective and both motivate me to do more and do better, inspire me to find new angles and also to relax and understand the bigger picture your project is a part, rather than getting bogged down by the day-to-day issues that so easily cloud your mind in everyday routine (as far as a PhD allows for routine…). In this way, conferences can shape a project, inform analyses and provide far more than an excuse to be out of the office.
Even more enjoyable are, of course, conferences when they’re held in such beautiful places! I’d never been to Barcelona or Milan. While I have no intention of making the cultural metropolises of Athlone and Limerick pale in comparison, it does feel different when adding an afternoon of sightseeing, includes a couple of centuries-old towns that look like they fell out of a fairy tale and churches built in the 13 hundreds in 20 degrees in March rather than freezing your fingers off after just an hour outside or seeing some trees and an old pub. I never thought science would facilitate me seeing the world, but I am delighted that it does. And while I never would have expected it before, I can now appreciate the value of presenting your project halfway to ensure that it’s the best it could have been when it’s done.
Ellen here! It has been a while (almost 3 years, actually) since my last blog post and a lot has happened in the meantime. Life as a first-year PhD student is very different to life as a third-year student. Even writing this blog post has really opened my eyes to how much I have grown and developed, both personally and professionally. Don’t get me wrong, the past three years have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but having a supportive supervisor and a great group of friends around me in the lab has made the journey a lot easier.
Everyone has their own “survival guide” for getting through a PhD, from daily walks in the fresh air to after-work downtime with friends. For me, taking “brain breaks” little and often has been my saving grace. I love to travel and experience new places and so, with a bit of planning and (a good bit of) saving, I have taken my “brain breaks” in a few new cities since starting my PhD. Seeing the world has always been a priority of mine, and I am very lucky that I have been able to keep this up during the last few years. Working hard and efficiently during the 9 to 5 makes taking a day or two off every-so-often possible. Because I live in Ireland, I am fortunate to have most of Europe on my doorstep and thanks to Ryanair I can travel quite cheaply (we all know the miserable stipend saga). I have had a few travel firsts over the last few years with a few of these being trips to Spain. I travelled to Barcelona to visit Catherine, a fellow PhD student on secondment there. We visited Sagrada Familia and Parque Güell, some of Gaudi’s famous sites and made sure to take as many pictures as we could with all the pretty views.
More recently, I visited Seville and was blown away. It is almost like a mini-Barcelona, with all of the great food, rich history and ancient architecture that Barcelona has but with the added charm of being much smaller and walkable. It was so surprising to know most locals don’t speak English at all and you can really feel the sense of community and pride that the Sevillians have in their culture. I visited Seville in the middle of the famous orange blossom season, and it was amazing to walk the streets with the constant perfume of oranges. They are quite big, though, and they do fall, so you have to be ready to dodge them every now and again.
Outside of Spain, I visited Milan for the first time, and I finally understood why people love Aperol Spritz (it just took having a very authentic Italian one to convince me). I visited the Duomo cathedral and ate the most amazing pasta and pizza (Dominos will never live up to the standards now), and as the fashion capital of the world, I got to “window-shop” at all the VERY expensive designer shops. Milan, as a city, has a very luxurious and expensive feel to it. When in reality it is very affordable and only a short flight from Dublin. 10/10 would recommend for an easy PhD “brain break”.
If I had to choose my favourite city that I have visited so far, I think it would have to be Seville. But there are plenty of others that would give it a run for it’s money. Corfu, Vilamoura and Dubrovnik to name a few.
A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint! Taking a day or two off to see these parts of the world has been the best way for me to stay productive over the past 3 years. Most of us have spent the majority of our 20s in school or college and choosing to do a PhD adds another layer (and another 3 or 4 years) to that education. For me, it was important to come to the end of my 20s with a jam-packed thesis but also a jam-packed camera roll filled with my travel memories. At the end of the day, a PhD is not all-consuming and life must go on outside of the “lab bubble”. It is possible to do both and have a lot of fun along the way.
If you haven’t met me before, my name is Ciara. I’m a final year PhD student in the Cancer Bio-engineering group. My research focuses on using a 3D model of neuroblastoma to uncover pathways that cause cancer cells to invade other parts of the body, in a process we term ‘metastatic spread’. As a whole, I really enjoy my research and have a keen interest in the topic, making it easy to stay motivated and driven. However, as a final-year student, my lab days can be long and labour-intensive; unfortunately, experiments can sometimes span the weekends. This makes work-life balance hard to achieve. I have come up with three effective strategies that help me manage my workload and still enjoy my PhD work while taking the necessary time to recuperate. I would love to share them with you.
Make a fun recipe – After a stressful day at work, plan a yummy dinner meal. While science experiments can fail, recipes only ever end with a delicious reward of a belly hug after a long day. Making a home-cooked meal helps me take my mind off the day’s stresses and fill myself with nutrients that keep my immune system strong. Check out some of the delicious recipes I’ve made so far.
2. Attend conferences. Conferences are a great way to meet researchers on the same journey as you. They can help keep you motivated and trigger new ideas for your own research. My most recent conference was in Athlone. While I enjoyed presenting my research and listening to talks, I also took some time to make new friends from other universities and explore the history of county Westmeath – for example, having a Guinness in the oldest bar in Ireland (they have a Guinness world record to prove it).
3. Plan a holiday to work towards – There is no better motivation to complete your work than jet-setting off to explore a new country. I aim to take a short science break every 4-6 months. My most recent one was to the snowy Italian mountains for a week of skiing. I came back with lots of fun memories and laughs, feeling ready to launch into another few months of hard work.
Hey there, this is Alysia! I recently joined the Cancer Bioengineering team as a first-year PhD student. At the beginning of 2022, I was selected as a Fulbright-RCSI StAR Programme student. I spent the summer in anticipation of what to expect from my new home. I had never travelled outside of America before! However, moving to Dublin has been a great new adventure with tons of amazing experiences and new friendships. One of the first things I did when I got here was going to cafes all over town to get to know the area. Also, to indulge in the foodie scene of Dublin. I also did some great walking tours, joined a tag rugby team, got cosy with the pub culture, and found some unique thrifting shops. Dublin has a lot of charm and hidden gems wedged in between the cobblestone streets. As an American in Dublin, I thought I would have a really hard time adjusting. However, everyone has been so friendly and helpful! I’ve been able to catch on to some of the local dialogue and sometimes catch myself about to say, “it’ll be grand!”
One of my favourite things I’ve done since being in Dublin is exploring the surrounding area through hiking. I’m from Colorado in the U.S., so the mountains here are quite a bit different. However, I can greatly appreciate the hiking culture that everyone seems to enjoy. I’ve been able to go on hikes with colleagues and friends alike in new stunning locations. My first introduction to Irish hiking was along the Howth cliff walk. Not only was the wind strong enough to fly me back to America, but the rain was “lashing”, and the temperature was absolutely, “Baltic”. I was soaked to the bone but could not be happier about getting outside and finding a social hobby that would help me adjust to my new home.
It’s only been a few months into my four-year journey in Ireland, but I’m looking forward to so many opportunities. Being so close to the rest of Europe, I’ve already travelled to Paris, London, and Barcelona. I was even in Brussels and Luxembourg for a Fulbright Seminar visiting the EU and NATO! I plan on travelling around Europe some more, exploring the coasts of Ireland, and of course, sampling all the new cuisine! I really lucked out with a great team here in the Bioengineering Group. We have conferences here in Ireland as well as internationally, which helps me explore. I can’t believe I’m here in Dublin doing cancer research. Being selected for Fulbright is an incredible opportunity for me to fall in love with Dublin while doing a PhD program.
For a short month, we really made the most of February in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. We attended not one, but two conferences both outside of Dublin, with presentations from every member of the group and more great memories made.
At the end of 2022, I was lucky enough to be sent on a 3-month research secondment to the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) in Barcelona, so I was delighted to return in February for the Transdisciplinary Approaches in Neuroblastoma Therapy symposium. I got to present my work from my secondment in “Flash-poster” style, alongside other group members Ciara, Lin & Alysia. Ellen and Ronja also did a great job presenting a more extended cut of their research, and we got to see team lead Olga give a round-up of our group’s work as a whole.
Outside of the conference schedule, I was tasked with the role of Tour Guide because of my familiarity with the beautiful city of Barcelona. I led a group of 20+ researchers to a small bar in the Gothic Quarter for some well-deserved refreshments after a day of conferencing, brought my team to my favourite tapas restaurant for lunch (I still dream of the croquetas) and went on a lovely walk up Montjuic Hill to take in the views of Barcelona and reminisce on the 3 months I had spent there.
It felt as though the Ryanair flight had just touched down in Dublin when we started preparing for another conference – the Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) meeting, taking place in Athlone. With great memories from IACR 2022 in Cork, I prepared for the conference with great excitement – looking forward to both interesting science talks, and good craic with the gang of RCSI researchers attending the conference. I had a poster presentation for this, again focussing on the work I carried out on secondment in IBEC as well as some work at home in RCSI. I enjoyed my chats with the poster judges who gave some good insights on the work. Ellen and Lin had oral presentations at the conference so again I got to resume my role as the group Twitter mom, taking pictures and drafting tweets while the girls showcased their great research.
Each day when the conference was drawn to a close we set our sights on having a bit of fun with the other attendees. We enjoyed a pint of Guinness and some Trad music in the oldest bar in Ireland – Sean’s bar (they had the certificate to prove this). We made friends from outside RCSI including researchers from Queens University Belfast and Sales Representatives from various lab supply companies, had a good dance in the residents’ bar of our hotel and took over the dancefloor of a small local club. The gala dinner was lovely as always, and I’ll forever have fond memories of my lab group playing “Heads Up” to entertain ourselves in between courses. Finally, a highlight for me was being given a Highly Commended Poster Award at the dinner, such a nice acknowledgement to receive for my work and a lovely way to wrap up the last conference of my PhD.