A lot has changed for me since I began my research journey in RCSI, as I transitioned from being an undergraduate placement student to a PhD candidate, however the biggest change has been adjusting to doing a lab-based PhD during a pandemic!
These days my work hours are shared between the labs in RCSI and my family home. While my bench space and office space used to be separated by just a few steps, there is now a 30+ minute bus journey between them. It has certainly put my planning skills to the test as now when I walk into the lab I need to be sure of what I am planning to do, and that I can complete the task in my pre-booked lab time slot.
I appreciate my time in the labs much more now that I spend so much time at home. Whether I am culturing neuroblastoma cells, analyzing proteins or genes by Western blots or PCRs, I enjoy immersing myself in the work knowing that my time on the bench is limited.
The main perk is that now when I am doing computer work – analyzing results, writing reviews, preparing presentations, using online software – I can do it from the comfort of my box-room-office, often very cosy in a blanket as I do it. While my work-from-home desk space is slightly more spacious than my desk in the now-closed “Write-up Room 2”, I do miss the chats and laughs that come with working in a shared office.
One thing’s for sure though, my two dogs very much enjoy the days that I work from home!
Catherine Murphy, Neuroblastoma UK funded PhD student
This summer I worked under Dr Piskareva supervision in the remote research program. My original plans for a lab experience were put down by COVID. My ultimate goal was to write the review article on the potential uses of retinoic acid in neuroblastoma research.
Before starting the project, I didn’t have any specific expectations. While I always had fun picking the primary articles apart and summarising the gathered data during my undergrad and med school, I didn’t believe that this experience would be the special one. And I kept thinking so as I was collecting the information from the numerous data on cell cultures. And as I was looking at the mice models studies. And clinical trials.
Then I started to write my introduction, and so researched the information on the neuroblastoma prognosis, contemporary treatment protocol and outcomes. And suddenly I saw my project in the new light. I was used to regarding the clinical trials outcomes as simple statistics, but this time no desensitization could shield me. Yes, 60% of the patients in the high-risk group die in 5 years after diagnosis, and yes, 90% of those patients are children less than 5 years old. And there is nothing that we could currently do to save those children.
On the other hand, this realisation brought meaning to my work. This time, I was not doing a PubMed search to get a good mark or CV reference. Instead, I was looking for the possible treatment of the disease. My review on the current knowledge about retinoic acid will let the other primary researchers target the most promising drug for future experiments and, eventually, create a novel and effective therapy to help those children.
And isn’t it what we are all striving for in medical research?
If I was to write this 6 months ago, my life as a researcher would be very different.
Here is a little snippet of my ‘new normal’ day getting back into the lab as a 2nd year PhD student in the Cancer Bio-Engineering group post-lockdown.
Although, in general the day-to-day life as a scientist can vary massively. So I would like to say I already had a flexible schedule pre-pandemic. This made adapting to the world of our ‘new normal’ a little easier.
I commute to RCSI by Luas. I spend the morning carrying out my essential lab work in our new environment of 2-metre social distancing and face masks. Lunch is a little lonely these days with single tables in the previous busy 1784 restaurant. Although, RCSI’s campus is in the heart of Stephens green making it a fantastic location to stroll to the park for a coffee in between experimental incubation times. Great for catching the last of the summer sunshine! When all lab work is finished I come home to my new makeshift WFH office where I have a new furry work colleague to help me get through the evening data analysis and reading.
The research consists of days of highs and lows. Behind all the failures come successes making the hard work all worthwhile!
During September Cancer BioEngineering group will share our experience of being researchers individually and as a group. We are a relatively young research group – our birthday is September 1st 2019. We are 1 year old! As a team lead I will start this challenge.
Our first-year journey was fascinating. We did research, scientific meetings, fundraising, trained undergraduate students, celebrated birthdays and success, received rejections of grants and papers, graduated an MSc by Research (RCSI) and BSc (TUD), said ‘Goodbye’ to team members and will welcome new in October.
A typical day of my life as a researcher has changed since the COVID started to shape our lives. All activities are done remotely: team supervision, project management, troubleshooting, lab meetings and so on. Indeed, grant and paper writing has always been run remotely. No change here.
I configured our box room into a home office, upgraded the lights to brighten the north-facing room, surrounded myself with pics of loved ones, started to use active time planning via Teams, a proper headset for all my remote meetings and glasses for reading and typing, split the PC screen in two with a hope to double my effectiveness at least. 🙂
Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
I like this photo of a lovely fountain capturing 3 girls under umbrellas (Drei-Mädchen-Brunnen) in Ballplatz Mainz. It is about a happy childhood; every child deserves a happy childhood. So, I select it again to support #ChildhoodCancerAwarnessMonth.
Childhood cancer is an umbrella term for many other types of this disease. This month is a big channel to support and learn more about kids with cancer, their loving families, the doctors and caregivers who looking after them and treating them, the young survivors of cancer and those kids and teens who lost their battle, and the scientists who working hard to find a way to stop childhood cancer.
When it comes to a disease, we have to acknowledge that children are not little adults. They are constantly developing. So their diseases have a different way to progress and respond to treatment. This is very true for childhood cancers. For example, children diagnosed with neuroblastoma before a 1.5 years old mark will do better than older children.
Every 100th cancer patient is a child. Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death among children after accidents. The most common types of childhood cancer are:
Leukaemia and lymphoma (blood cancers)
Brain and other central nervous system tumours
Muscle cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma)
Kidney cancer (Wilms tumour)
Neuroblastoma (tumour of the non-central nervous system)
Bone cancer (osteosarcoma)
Testicular and ovarian tumours (gonadal germ cell tumours)
As a scientist myself, I know that behind many current default living settings is intensive research in the past. IT would have never advanced if at some stage no discoveries in physics, chemistry have happened. We would have never been able to fight bacteria infection of no antibiotic was discovered. What about discovering of insulin? This list can go on and on… Just imagine if no research happens now. How we could cope with the current coronavirus pandemic? How we could help many people with cancer to have a healthier and longer life?
Breakthrough Cancer Research united many sports professionals and enthusiasts to build up a spirited community to support vital cancer research during the COVID-19 restrictions. I heard about this race by chance – my PhD student signed up to do it. When I read it, I thought it sounds achievable to complete 20K within a month. One small step at a time. It was a slow process. But it has transformed me.
At the finish line, I became addicted to my steady jogging within the allowed 2K distance every day. I have to confess that it is incredibly challenging for me to wake up, tie my sport shoelaces and go for a jog. My body wants a smooth transition from sleep to the active state, particularly when you are at home every day! This was normality in the past.
What did I discover going through this transformation? My body knows better its needs. Every morning I start it slowly with just an intensive walk. In 2-3 minutes, my body requests more fresh air in my lungs and higher endorphin levels in my blood. I can’t resist and start jogging. 🙂
Why mornings one may ask? I have tried different times during the day. My body has decided on morning hours even it is challenging… No option to negotiate.
In the time of tough restrictions when you and your team are cocooning and working remotely, we can stay together thanks to many PC and mobile apps. We tried different platforms starting with Skype and WhatsUp and advancing to MS Teams and Zoom. The bottom line: we want to see everyone simultaneously! It is essential. As expected not every app gives you that option in a standard free package.
After 4 weeks, everyone in a spiritual writing mode. I would not be surprised to see the exponential growth of literature review articles in the coming months. I hope to get one from each team member. Sure that the quality of introduction/background sections in PhD Theses will also happen!
Actually, it is possible to play games remotely, too. What great fun!
Who could have thought that this nasty virus would spread fast? A new reality called CoVID-19 has started since all Irish education was shut down last Friday, March 13th 2020.
Initial 2 weeks of tough restrictions and self-control. Everything that seemed granted is not the same anymore. Now, it is a learning curve of how to live fully in a cocoon. Work, shop, gather and entertain.
A week of self-adjusting is gone. I am transforming from a regular IT user to almost advanced. Though, I am not sure it all up to speed. I do hope that at least my writing skills and typing speed will improve a lot by the end of this quarantine.
Some countries do celebrate IWD, others don’t. It may take many shapes and forms. For example, Russians do celebrate it and have a day off! This Day is a big day for every girl and woman. To some of them, it is a recognition of their contribution to the family and work. However, indeed it is a St Valentine’s Day for teen girls. Around March, 8th the sales of flowers can double or triple!