November 22, 2023 – Catherine was officially coined Dr Catherine Murphy. A Big Day for Catherine, her family and me.
Catherine joined our team in July 2019 to carry out a research project funded by Neuroblastoma UK. In this project, she aimed to use 3D culturing to engineer a novel experimental model and study the biology and immunology of neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. There was the full spectrum of challenges and hard work spiced up with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 restrictions!
The PhD journey is never a straight line. It has a range of colours with 50+ shades for each. There are black alleys and hidden cul de sacs. Between July 2019 and June 2023, some days were sunny and bright, and some had scattered showers, gale winds and stormy snow, with sunshine developing elsewhere. The journey was spiced up with publications, conferences, travels, days out and fundraising events with the team.
Of note, she was behind our Twitter activities and blogging #AskCat, making our team visible! All these together have moulded into a new multi-skilled professional – Dr Catherine Murphy!
Well done to Catherine! Wish you the best of luck in your new adventure!
As our festive season is around the corner, I decided to look at the delicious cuisine that all Asians must-have on this special occasion. “I’d like to share one of the most well-known South Asian classic recipes, Biryani,” which is especially famous in Pakistan. We enjoy it at weddings and festivals. It is a must-have dish when we invite guests to our place.
The aroma of biryani in abroad always reminds me of special times and joy in Pakistan. The nicest part about biryani is sharing it with family and friends. My grandmother passed down the family recipe for biryani to my mother, and I’m fortunate that I learned to make it from her.
1/2 kg of lamb or chicken
1 cup of cooking oil
1 tbs. Warmed spices
4 Fried Onions
1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
1/2 cup of yoghurt
1 tsp. Lemon juice
4-6 Green chillies
1 tbsp. red chilli powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 kg of Basmati rice
Take a stainless-steel pot, add a half cup of oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 10–15 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook it until everything turns golden brown. It almost seems like it’s going to burn, but this is okay.
Add lamb or chicken along with all other ingredients except saffron, lemon, and rice. Cook uncovered, stirring constantly, until the tomatoes are soft. Lower the heat to low. Add a half cup of water. Mix it well and simmer it until the meat becomes soft and tender. And this will be your
Meanwhile, boil the rice in another large pot and bring 4 quarts of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons of salt. Add washed basmati rice to boiling water. Boil it for 4 minutes, and then Drain it in a colander.
Mix lemon juice and saffron.
Gently Layer the basmati rice on top of the khurma. Sprinkle the saffron-lemon mixture over the rice. Cover the pot tightly and simmer it for 12–15 minutes or until the rice is tender. When it’s finished, give it a couple good stirs to spread the meat and spices. It does not have to be perfectly even.
While completing my Master’s degree at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, I found the top-notch post-grad comfort food I’ve taken with me ever since. After a day of work, the last thing I want to do is come home and cook an entire meal. Luckily, red beans and rice can be adapted to a slow cooker. Allowing me to throw all my ingredients in and come home to an amazing-smelling apartment with the most satisfying warm bowl waiting for me.
There’s something to the name “The Big Easy” that describes New Orleans because the people and the food take life a bit slower and enjoy every savoury bit together. My favourite memory in New Orleans is when my friends and I prepped a massive stock of red beans and rice for the week of Mardi Gras. This is an entire week of festivities and parade floats where the city quite literally shuts down since everyone participates. It was so comforting every night (or early morning) to come back from the parades and dish out the prepped meal that would fill you up, stick to your bones, and help you fall sound asleep with more than enough energy for the next days of parades.
Red beans and rice is a Cajun dish with Haitian influence and contains the “holy trinity” – bell pepper, onion, and celery. You can find this vegetable blend in the base of almost every Cajun meal, including etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo. Red beans and rice are traditionally made with a stovetop pot set on a low boil all day. However, the ease of a slow cooker is made with the PhD student in mind as it also keeps well during the week. The most important piece is to get red beans and soak them for about 12 hours before cooking them. This will make the beans more digestible as well as more hearty. Andouille is a Cajun spiced sausage that might be at a speciality butcher shop. Another crucial ingredient, Slap Ya Mama (yes, you read that right), is only available in the U.S. Slap Ya Mama seasoning has its name because “every time a mama uses it, she receives a loving slap on the back and a kiss on the cheek for another great dish”. There are so many great memories I have from my time in New Orleans and I’m happy to share my favorite meal. I hope you are able to replicate this dish and taste the Southern Comfort that is very true for New Orleans.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Serves 6, Cook time is 4 –8 hours
450 grams of dried red kidney beans (New Orleans Camelia brand recommended)
450 grams Andouille sausage (or smoked), sliced ½ inch
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch green onions, chopped and divided
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 tablespoon Slap Ya Mama seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 bay leaves
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Cooked long-grain white rice
Rinse beans and soak.
Brown sausages in oil on both sides. Set aside.
In the same pan, add garlic and onion, sauté for 2-3 minutes until transparent. Then add the bell pepper, celery, and half of the green onions. Sauté for 5 minutes.
To the slow cooker, add your cooked vegetables. Then add the red beans, black pepper, Slap Ya Mama, dried thyme, oregano, and bay leaves.
Add the water and chicken broth.
Set the slow cooker to high setting for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
When beans are ready, take out 1 ½ cups to mash and put back in pot.
Remove the bay leaves and add the sausage back in. Cook until sausage is hot.
Serve over a bowl of hot white rice with hot sauce, green onions, and parsley for garnish.
In New Orleans, they also add a split-faced grilled sausage to the top.
This can be adapted to an Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) as well. Just set the pressure to high for 60 minutes with a 15-minute natural release.
If the beans seem too thick, add more water.
This is a great dish that can be stored for a week or frozen for two months.
What feels like ages ago now, my friend had asked me to bake the cake for her wedding. Sounds like a big ask at first. But I managed to talk myself off the ledge I climbed onto with the face every person pulled that I told of this plan. Simply by remembering that she is fully aware of who I am and never wanted a classic wedding cake but rather a little something to remind her of the good old days when we’d bake together. Her, following the recipe to a t and me, doing my darndest to find a way to make it our own, have a little fun with it and usually ending up making the cake a little worse than it would have been had I just stayed out of it. After plenty of back and forth, I decided on Fanta cake. With the wedding in the height of the strawberry season, what better than a sponge base with a little cornucopia of strawberries perched atop a vanilla cream dream? But the height of strawberry season also means scorching summer… It was a scorching hot day, with the sun beaming down mercilessly. As I meticulously assembled the cake, whispers of doubt crept in. Would the cream layer melt and cause the cake to run off in the heat?
But hey, the best part of this cake is the base, anyway. So I shoved away the doubts and got on with it: In a mixing bowl, I beat 4 eggs, 250g sugar and a pack of vanilla sugar until they reached a fluffy consistency. Then added 125ml of oil and 150ml of Fanta, creating a harmonious blend. Gradually, I mixed in 250ml of flour and 3 tsp of baking powder until all ingredients were well incorporated.
While that baked at 180°C for not quite 25 mins on a well-greased tray I started worrying about the problem child: the cream mixture. This is a funny one not just because it made me worry on the day, but it was also the reason I couldn’t really test bake here in Dublin because you can’t buy ‘schmand’ over here. I have since learned that schmand is simply sour cream with 20% instead of 10% fat and that crème fraiche is the same thing with 30% fat. So I could have saved myself a headache had I just mixed sour cream and crème fraiche and tested baking over here rather than the day before in a rush… anyway, I mixed together combine 600 ml of cream, 400 ml of sour cream, 2 packets of vanilla sugar, and 2 packets of dr oetker vanilla paradise cream, a no boil vanilla pudding. And only when the cake is cold, this gets spread all over it. Mine was still lukewarm, but it worked still.
And finally, don’t underestimate how long it takes to wash and arrange the strawberries. And how many do you need. The recipe says 1.5kg. But mine were so big that I needed to run back to the shops that morning to get more, even though I had more than 1.5kg of good strawberries left.. But I made it. Everything seemed doable yet. That’s when things turned tits up. The cake glaze didn’t work for me. First, it didn’t want to solidify, and then it just kept running off the cake. When spreading the vanilla cream, I tried to make a little barrier around the outside of the cake. And at first, that worked well enough. But the strawberries were so high that I needed to fill in more and more cake glaze that just kept seeping off the cake onto the counter and away. But that was going to have to be a tomorrow problem.
Quickly dressed friends already showed up to take me to the wedding. In an instant of sound thinking, I grabbed a spare tray and some ice packs to keep the cake cool on a scorching day and felt all the better for it when everyone else was overheating and with the cake on my lap, my thighs were positively frozen.
It even survived the ceremony in the car before we arrived at the venue, where it was finally placed in a fridge again before everyone got to try it and comment.
I think that may have been the first cake I ever made that no one told me how I could have improved on it after they tried it. Everyone seemed delighted, the strawberries were really juicy and flavourful, and even people who didn’t know I made the cake but thought it was part of the catering complimented it. Not sure that’s what my friend had in mind when tasking me with the cake, but she seemed delighted even though I didn’t deliver one of my classic disasters. Maybe there’s a point to recipes after all.
Hi again, it’s Lin! Last April (the end of April 2023), I was back in China, then started my 2 years of life at Soochow University (SU). Before I popped into the lab, I had a short holiday (In May). Therefore, I travelled to some cities in China.
The top 1 of my favorite cities is my hometown – Yantai (a coastal city in Shandong Province). I went straight back to Yantai after I left Dublin. I haven’t seen my family for two years since I went to Ireland. I missed them soooo much. I visited my grandparents, my uncle, my aunt, and my cousin, I had a happy time with them. If you want to travel to Yantai, I suggest coming here every May and June. The cherry is ripe every May and June. Therefore, at this time every tear, you can not only eat a lot of cherries, but you can also go to the farm to enjoy the joy of picking cherries.
After 2 weeks of family time, I went to Hong Kong to visit my friends. My friend showed me around Hong Kong. If you like to climb mountains and enjoy the natural scenery in the mountains, I suggest going to Ngong Ping 360 and the Peak. You can try the cable car in Ngong Ping 360 and the Peak Tram in the Peak. You will have a different experience and enjoy your time. If you like shopping, you will love Hong Kong. There are some expensive shops and also some cheap ones. There is something for everyone in Hong Kong.
After traveling from Hong Kong, I returned to Suzhou, where my college is located. Soochow is famous for its Chinese classical gardens. My favorite place in Soochow is not the garden but Shantang Street. I always go there with my friends at night time. Blowing the wind and enjoying the night lights, Shantang Street is particularly charming.
Due to limited time (I need to be back in the lab as soon as possible), there are many places I did not go to, such as Yunnan, Tibet, and Gansu. If you want to travel to China, I hope my experience can give you some advice.
I’m Ellen, and I am a 3rd year PhD student in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. Last week I attended and presented at my first international conference, ISCT (International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy), in Paris. I spent five days in Paris with three of them at the conference where scientists, researchers and pharma professionals came from far and wide. There was a strong focus on collaboration between industry teams and academics, and it gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my own PhD and career journey as a whole.
As a soon-to-be final-year student, the next step in my career has been on my mind. Starting out, I was very sure I wanted to progress within academia and follow the “traditional” researcher route. Industry always seemed so far removed from the basic sciences, and specifically biology research roles are hard to come by in Ireland. Having the opportunity to travel to Paris and meet with such a wide range of professionals really opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in the industry. It was reassuring to see that even after leaving academia, there is a cross-over and lots of collaboration. Industry or academia? The fork in the road when it comes to this career choice is becoming lesser and lesser.
While I was in Paris, I had a lot of time to ponder the fantastic science and research that I discussed at the talks (Did you know? One adult human heart produces enough energy in one lifetime to power an 18-wheeler to the moon and back). Additionally, I could also see first-hand that the positive aspects that we associate with academia (presenting research, freedom of research topics and the conference wine receptions, of course) are also readily available as a non-academic based scientist. In fact, there is a career that has the “goodness of both”. So many academics discussed start-ups and spin-out companies developed off the back of their academic research, and there were even talks that discussed the how, what, when and where of transitioning between the two settings.
I’m so grateful that I could attend this conference. I presented my research (a project very much blended between academia and industry), got to chat to like-minded people and came home with a wealth of new knowledge. This knowledge will not only enrich my PhD project but will stand for me as my career moves from student to fully-fledged scientist. The topic of post-PhD job hunting often comes with a knot in the stomach, but seeing the exciting opportunities that are available out there has me much more excited than stressed about this next step. And now to finish this PhD so that I can take that next step 🙂
My trip became possible thanks to the Company of Biologist travel grant and support from the RCSI Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine.
My best friend turned 30 over the weekend, and I decided to surprise her by coming to her party in Palermo 🥰
While I was in Palermo, I asked my grandmother to cook for me one of my favourite dishes: pasta alla norma. Who knew that I would be writing a blog post about it during my back flight to Dublin?!
It is typical Sicilian pasta that reminds me of my childhood summer that I used to spend with my relatives in our sea house. ☺️Those months of holidays were really packed with activities: morning at the beach, lunch at home, a quick nap, and a play date with friends until my mom came home from work (good times 😂). For lunch, my grandmother used to make me pasta alla norma, which I ate sitting on a low wall on the patio. I loved that moment, and I’m sure you will love this delicious pasta 😊
Sunflower and olive oil
Grated cheese (we use a typical cheese named ricotta salata, but it is possible to use parmigiano as well)
Step 1: Rinse the aubergine and pat dry with kitchen paper. Then, chop them into cubes of small sizes.
Step 2: Drizzle a splash of sunflower oil into a large frying pan and heat it. Once hot, add the aubergines in a single layer and fry until softened and golden -stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Place the fried aubergine in a single layer on a kitchen towel to drain the oil. In this way, the aubergine will be crunchy. 😋
Step 4: Add a splash of olive oil to a pan or pot, and when the oil is warm, add the tomato sauce. Add the salt and leave to cook on low heat for a few minutes.
Step 5: Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until “al dente”, which means that it should be soft enough to eat but still have a bit of bite and firmness to it.
Step 6: Drain the pasta and place it again in the pot. Then, add the tomato sauce and the aubergine and toss well.
Step 7: Divide between bowls, grate over the cheese and finish with the basil scattered on top.
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.
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!
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.