Our team is expanding – we are welcome our new PhD student Ellen King!Her project will add another dimension to neuroblastoma research. She will look into potential targets on the surface of neuroblastoma cells resistant to therapy and investigate how we can strengthen the patient immune systemresponse.
Like everyone, my current workspace looks very different from what it normally looks like. I have just joined the Cancer Bioengineering Group as a PhD student in the midst of the pandemic. Certain moments like induction day or meeting my new lab mates, will all be done virtually due to the pandemic. Luckily, I have spent the last year working as a research assistant at RCSI and this has taken away all the stresses of finding my way around a new campus and indeed making friends. Without a doubt, the transition is and will be a strange one but the excitement and enthusiasm haven’t gone anywhere!
Recently, my days as a researcher have been spent at my lovely, newly-built (with the help of IKEA instructions) home desk. And as the picture I have standing proudly beside my laptop says, there really is no place like home. I feel very lucky to be able to safely work from home and continue my research while so many people are now without jobs or are risking their lives to keep people safe during the pandemic.
Most days I wake up early and go for a run along the lovely canal beside my house. This is a great way to wake up my brain and is also great preparation for our virtual VHI mini-marathon on the 7th of October 2020 in honour of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I start work at around 9am, which at the moment is mostly research, reading papers and writing a literature review in preparation for my return to the lab soon. I miss the experimental side of my research and am really excited to start this new exciting project.
This summer, I had an amazing opportunity to work under the supervision of Dr. Olga Piskareva. I scheduled to join the lab for the second time, however, this plan was unfortunately cancelled to the COVID19. I was still hopeful and later I got the opportunity to work on a remote research project. My goal was to write a comprehensive review of existing and prospective antigens for antibody specific immunotherapy for neuroblastoma.
This was my first literature review and I was excited about it. I had previously worked on a lab neuroblastoma project that’s why I was familiar with the topic. However, this was a completely new and different undertaking for me. Before starting the project I had to understand about literature reviews are and how are they written. My project involved looking at a lots of clinical trials and PubMed articles. I had to learn about how clinical trials work and had to develop a search strategy for the project. I understood that literature reviews are a very important part of lab research and forms its backbone.
I started writing the project and ended up writing 40 pages! I developed awesome illustrations to support my review using the software. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the remote research! As I was writing the project I understood that ‘Neuroblastoma is a devasting disease for children and the tremendous amount of effort and knowledge is being built upon to find a better and enhanced treatment to reduce the disease burden.’
I learnt and gained many critical skills during this review. My review on the existing and prospective knowledge about immunotherapies will enable researchers to get a summary of knowledge that will aid in giving them direction to eventually, create effective immunotherapy to defeat neuroblastoma.
Sanat Rashinkar, 3rd Year RCSI Undergraduate Medicine Student
You may wonder whether I re-submit the same. the third time? Actually, our team has 3 ongoing PhD students and one starting from October. So, here we are. Three identical titles so far but different journeys. Today, it is Tom’s turn to tell his story.
Three years I ago I decided to try my hand at some cancer research and quit my job as a medical scientist in a diagnostic lab. I am now in my third year of a PhD and I am certain I made the right choice. It was a challenging transition from working in an environment with a lot of automation and standard operating procedures to one where you have to figure out everything for yourself! However, I think that that learning experience has allowed me to adjust quite well to all of the COVID-19 related upheaval.
Pre-pandemic you could saunter between your office and the lab as often as you pleased, you had a choice of at least four different places to go for coffee on campus and you could squeeze into a packed lift to avoid the stairs to the lab. Now a day in the lab is quite different. We have to book lab space online, social distance from our colleagues, frequent hand washing and wear a mask at all times.
These days I plan all my lab work and book lab bench space the week before. On a typical day I split my time between the lab and working from home. I am quite fortunate that my commute is only a 6 minute walk through Stephens Green, which is only 5 minutes longer than the walk from the lab to my old office.
Working through a pandemic is certainly challenging however I do appreciate my time in the lab much more now and I feel like I am much more productive when access to the lab is limited.
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
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. 🙂