Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Natalie Lamb and Some Networking Questions

I attended an excellent event yesterday, "Working in the Water Industry and Environment", which was organised by The University of Sheffield's Careers Department. It involved professionals from different companies within the industry, who were at different stages in their careers. The professionals spoke about themselves, their current careers and the pathways they took to get into their current roles. But afterwards was the cherry on the cake. There was the opportunity to speak on a one-to-one basis with these people but I really wish that I had made the most of this opportunity a bit more. During the presentation, I jotted down some questions to ask specific professionals but I wish I would have sat down and done a bit of Googling beforehand. Since the event, I have done a bit of research and compiled the questions that I would have liked to have asked and intend to ask at the next networking opportunity I have. Perhaps they will be of use for someone else in a similar position?

Get advice
How did you get to where you are now? What has your career path been like to date? Is it representative of most people in this kind of position?
If you could give your past self one piece of career advice, what would it be?
What do you feel was the most useful thing you did to get to your position today?
If you had to re-do your career, is there anything you would have changed or done differently? What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?
How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?
How did you decide to do what you do?
Are there any courses/workshops worth taking to learn more?

Learn more about the company/industry
What is a typical day like in your role? What did you do last week?
How do you see your field changing in coming years?
What do you enjoy most about your role/ most challenging?
What are the key skills you need to do your job?
How much training do you/did you receive as part of your job?
How does your company define success?
What made you participate in this event today?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Uncovering of Maths Anxiety

Did you know maths anxiety is an actual thing? I had no idea. 85% of students are likely to have maths anxiety and I had no idea it even existed (Perry, 2004).

I was just going through potential maths and statistics courses on my University's website, trying to decide which one to attend (and thinking of many different excuses to not sign up), when I came across a one hour course on 'Maths and Statistics Anxiety'. I had never heard of this before so I read a bit more on the module description and it sounded interesting.

Spicer (2004) described the condition as "an emotion that blocks a person's reasoning abilities when confronted with a mathematical situation". And that is exactly what it is, and studies with fMRI can prove it (Young et al., 2012). The more anxious you are, the worse your working memory is working, meaning the maths is more difficult. It's very much a vicious circle situation.

I don't actually consider myself an anxious person in any way, nor does the idea of maths and stats make me outright worry at all, but something encouraged me to sign up to the course. 43% of University of Sheffield students surveyed said that they have chosen their A levels, degree, modules or job to avoid maths. I have not done any maths or stats in a number of years now. But thinking back on my years of education, I have definitely made quite a few anti-maths choices in my time. I was genuinely shocked. Perhaps I have got a touch of this maths anxiety too? It does manifests itself in different ways. There can be negative emotions or feelings (e.g. anxiety, panic, paranoia, passive behaviour and reduced confidence) but anxiety can also manifest itself in physical ways (e.g. dizziness, restlessness, stomachs ache, shaking and many more). I don't experience any of these things but, when asked, I do always say that I am rubbish at maths. 

As I'm doing a PhD in Civil Engineering and Microbiology, I thought this was something I should work on. But how can you actually overcome this vicious cycle?Well, learning about it definitely helps. Like me, with the university course, or maybe just a good google will help you out. Admitting that you have this problem or realising you're not the only one with it, helps an awful not. When you've realised it's something that you can help get better, you really need to tackle it head on and deal with it, like actually going to the dentist when you've had toothache for the past three months. It might not be something you particularly want to do, but it really could help you in future. So don't avoid the maths lessons, pick up those practise exams and start with something you find easy, then work up to the things which would have previously boggled your brain. Try writing about the anxiety, just for five minutes, before an exam, just to get your mind focused on something else. It's all about being confident in your abilities.

My next step is going to be actually enrolling on some Statistics courses, rather than procrastinating about it. I also intend to be a lot more watchful of my choices, to make sure I'm not just choosing a specific training course because of a lack of maths. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is one thing, completely avoiding a topic is quite another. Who knows? I might have a secret talent for it!

If you are interested in hearing more, I thoroughly recommend reading the University of Sheffield's Maths Anxiety presentation here. Thank you very much to Ellen Marshall and Victoria Mann for delivering the presentation. More references can be found below:

Perry, A.B. (2004), Decreasing Math Anxiety in College Students, College Student
Journal, 38 (2), 321-324.
Spicer, J. (2004), Resources to Combat Math Anxiety. Eisenhower National
Clearinghouse Focus, 12(12). 
Young, C. B., Wu, S. S., & Menon, V. (2012), The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math
Anxiety. Psychological Science, 0956797611429134.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Importance of Learning

“I’m too old to go back to uni”, my friend moaned to me last week. A 23 year old saying they are too old to learn really saddened me. I tried words of encouragement and explained different options but the potential £9500/year fees loomed ahead, making every one of my words be ignored.

I have seen grandmas in university classes doing their undergraduates, their postgraduates, their doctorates! I think learning is not about age, it is about priorities. Yes, you may think that your family is more important, your friends are more important but why not have both? You can all learn together. You can learn for enjoyment. Who does not like to go travelling? Why not learn a new language, learn to scuba dive, learn the cultures of other people.

I think learning is how to improve. The saying “try, try, try again” is about learning from your mistakes, not repeating them. If you have a bad experience in life, you learn from it and work as hard as you can to not be in the same position again.

In my life, my learning has consisted of a good mixture of academic learning and more experience-based learning. My undergraduate degree was BSc (hons) Biology at the University of South Wales.  My course was taught but we had a lot of practicals, from dissecting formaldehyde-stuffed pigeons on a dreary Welsh day to conservational scuba diving on the coral reefs of Borneo. I really enjoyed the opportunities that my course gave me to do more hands on learning.  

Since my BSc, all of my work has been hands on learning experiences. My MSc was by research and my PhD most definitely is. I realised the other day that I have not sat an exam in two whole years! But I have still learnt so much and it really has helped me understand and explore the world around me a lot more, not just in terms of the knowledge I have gained, but also the confidence that went with it.

So, you may feel that university is too expensive for you right now but, please, say that if that is what you mean. You are never too old to go out there, learn, get some experience and just improve yourself as a person.
How do you feel about learning? Is it important to you? Has it made an impact on your life? If there are any hard-working students out there who are interested in this topic, it is worth checking this website.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Contents of a PhD Student's Bag

 I was writing a post about what new students in industry should expect on their first day and realised I had not covered what they should bring with them. I thought a quick post about what I am lugging around every day might tie in nicely.

So firstly, my actual bag. Look at it! It's amazing! I wanted something that was formal enough for work but also subtly super cool. I'm not one to brag but I nailed it!

What do I carry around in my excellent bag?
1. Health and Safety passport- a small book that I have to keep near me at work because it contains the details of all of my training
2. A document holder containing some important papers e.g. my most updated supervisor meeting notes, expenses forms, general research documents that I think I will have to refer to regularly
3.  A diary, where I write meeting notes and to do lists for the day. I find it easier to use a diary rather than a normal notebook because it is easier to find specific notes if you know the date of the meeting.
4. Stationary: loads of pens, one pencil, a rubber, paperclips, highlighter
5. Water bottle, smoothie bottle, coffee cup, lunchbox
6. Battery pack, Fitbit charger, phone charger (both work and personal), both phones and headphones
7. Other useful things: hairband, comb, paracetamol, car/house keys, purse

And there we have it. Exciting!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Natalie Lamb and a Day in the Life of a 1st Year PhD Student

When I was trying to chose whether or not to do a PhD, I had no idea what day to day life was actually going to be like. Yes, I knew what the research topic would be, where it was going to be and how long I would be funded for. I had no idea, however, how much work I would have to do a day, if I would actually enjoy it and how I would fill all of those hours. That is ~4935 hours of my life that I was going to be giving away! So I have decided to write a far too in depth post about my day and how I am currently filling all of those hours.

The Short Version

7:25am-7:50am get ready for work.
7:50am-8:30am drive to work.
8:30am-4:30pm work (with an hour break 12:05pm-1:00pm and a meeting 1:00pm-2:30pm).
4:30pm-5:10pm drive back from work.
5:10pm-10pm free time at home.
10pm bed.

The Long Version

6:15am-7:25am I woke up naturally from the light from the window and decided to go for a shower because I forgot to the night before. I then went back to bed until the alarm but couldn't sleep so I mostly scrolled on Facebook and spoke to my boyfriend, Phill.

7:25am-7:50am I actually got out of bed and got ready for work, while Phill made us our breakfast smoothies. After getting ready, we spent some time chatting on the sofa until it was time to leave for work.

7:50am-8:30am During these times I was driving to work, while listening to a 'mix tape' (USB stick!) of Leeds Festival songs, to learn some new songs ready for the festival next week. It is only an 18.6 mile drive and it is the summer holidays so there is no school run traffic but it is still queues all the way.

8:30am-9:00am After parking my car, I walked the three flights of stairs to the office. I am currently doing a walking challenge with work to 'Walk Around the World in 80 Days' for the charity Water Aid. It actually means that in a team we have to walk 25,648 miles (51,296,000 steps) in the 80 days so that equates to 15,640 steps per person per day (which I think is a lot!).
When I got in to the office, I went to the bathroom, got myself a coffee, changed from my driving shoes into my work shoes, drank my breakfast smoothie and started working, while talking on and off to colleagues. I had opened any new emails, checked my calendar for meetings today and checked my diary for my to do list. I also asked my line manager to have a quick meeting with me today for an idea I had about doing a research symposium for students within the business. A work friend gave me a book she thought I would find useful to read through- Introduction to Potable Water Treatment Processes (Parsons and Jefferson, 2009). I also started this blog to be filled in throughout the day and then completed in full tomorrow.

9:00am-9:10am I had a quick informal catch up with my industry supervisor about a meeting I had attended yesterday but she was unable to go to. We stayed sat at our computers and spoke over the desks because we were sat opposite to each other.

9:10am-10:05am I started charging my FitBit because it had been on the brink of dying the night before and updated the step count Excel Document (you are supposed to do it daily during the challenge but I had not completed it since Thursday last week!). It is day 48 and I have so far done 797,538 steps and 399 miles.
I decided not to go to some conferences because they were not that relevant and fairly expensive e.g. the Institute of Water One Day Science Conference was £150 and that would be quite a lot of my research budget.
I read the 'Science Policy' weekly email I get from the Royal Society of Biology as well as other science news. I then posted in the Facebook page I run (USW Biology Department Students and Alumni) and on Twitter (@Natnotgnats) some science in the news this week and some upcoming events. This week, the news was: Kew Gardens in race to collect and preserve Madagascar's seedsWomen in innovation: research reveals barriers and opportunities and Major pathogen of barley decoded: new avenues for control. The events were: Genome Editing and the Future of Farming 6 September in Edinburgh, Making Brexit work for ecology and conservation science 7 September in London and my own event East Anglia AGM, afternoon tea and wine tasting tour at Chilford Hall  4 September in Cambridgeshire. I made this event because I am a volunteer with the Royal Society of Biology and am Chair for the East Anglia region of the UK.

10:05am-10:10am I went for a coffee with work friends (grabbing my FitBit from charge on the way). The kitchen at work has a coffee machine which is free. It normally takes around 5 minutes because there are often queues. I drank my coffee at my desk while continuing to work.

10:10am-12:05pm I read through another weekly email but this time from Sheffield University "Professional development events and opportunities for PhD students 18 August 2016". There seemed to be an interesting event, 'Introduction to Impact', so I planned a day to attend it. I also checked EventBrite for any other relevant events. Another part of the newsletter was a #Techniciansmakeithappen competition, so I read more information about it and set reminders to do it monthly.
I had the quick meeting with my Line Manager that I wanted.
I looked into the regulations concerning lead pipes in rented properties. This is a research topic my academic supervisor is interested in me looking at and it might get published (I haven't published anything before).

12:05pm-1:00pm I went for a walk around the nearby park as my lunch break. It was a really nice day but overly crowded because of the weather and the school holidays. I quickly ate my lunch at my desk and got a coffee ready for my meeting (it is all decaf by the way!). When I'm not doing the challenge, I normally spend my lunch either in the cafeteria eating lunch and talking to colleagues or I continue to work at my desk then go home a bit early.

1:00pm-2:30pm I had a meeting with a colleague which we had scheduled the day before. The meeting was an informal one about innovative projects he is working on that fit in with my PhD's interest in water quality. I know very little about pipes so he often had to explain what the different valves and hydrants do and how they work. I made a mental note that I had to learn more about these things to speed up future meetings. While we were talking, I made notes about the projects that I thought were interesting and that I had to look into more.

2:30pm-4:30pm I went for a coffee with work friends and continued to work on lead pipes the rest of the day, sometimes while talking with people in the office. People asked me various questions and spoke to me e.g. a MSc student asked me what to include in an abstract of a thesis so I showed her and emailed mine as an example.

4:30pm-5:10pm I had started at 8:30am so was able to leave the office at 4:30pm, rather than 5:00pm. I drove back, while listening to the music.

5:10pm-10:00pm I had 20 minutes before Phill came back from work, which I wasted scrolling Twitter and Facebook and messaging my family using WhatsApp. When he came back from work we went on a 30 minute walk and then cooked and ate dinner. We went on a second walk after dinner, talking about our days and playing Pokemon Go. Then we watched a Dragonball Z film before going to bed at 10pm.

Writing this, I have realised I drink a lot of coffee!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Dyslexia- Filled PhD

I remember a certain teacher at college when I was 17, who raised her eyebrows with a reaaally when I stated that I wanted to do biology at university. She went on to explain that she was just surprised that someone who was dyslexic, like me, wanted to try and tackle a subject that was full of difficult words, both in English and in Latin. She seemed like a nice woman, who would not have intentionally said these things to knock my confidence. At the time I thought I ignored her comments, like water off a ducks back, but the fact that I remember them all these years later, suggests the opposite.

Now I have started my PhD, I have done a little study into my spelling and how dyslexia affects me on a day to day basis, compared with someone who does not have it. I know that someone who has the learning difficulty can do a BSc in Biology and can do an MSc in Microbiology and can do (or at least begin!) a PhD into Civil Engineering and Microbiology but is it an ongoing struggle or do I just face the same difficulties as everyone else?

The Experiment
Over the course of a day, one dyslexic person and one non-dyslexic person recorded how many words they wrote in any format. They also recorded how many were correctly spelt, incorrectly spelt, auto corrected and manually corrected. The experiment was going to last one week but it was very tedious in practice!

It seemed that when an error had been made, the person with dyslexia was less likely to have had their error automatically corrected or manually corrected. This resulted in them actually writing the error and potentially sending that message with a mistake. The person without dyslexia tended to manually correct their writing much more than the person with.
Graph 1 and 2: A Comparison of Types of Errors 

 On the whole, there were few differences between the two people when it came to spelling accuracy. Both people correctly spelt the majority of words written. Although the person with dyslexia wrote a decreased percentage of correct words, it was only a difference of 1.89%.
Graph 3 and 4: A Comparison of Types of Spelling Accuracy

Interestingly, the person with dyslexia wrote words more accurately than the other when the calendar was the method of communication. But otherwise, the values were all very similar.
Graph 5: A Comparison of Communication Method and Accuracy

Just for interest, the inaccurately spelt words from the dyslexic included: Lincolnshire, WhatsApp, Natalie, miss, Sheffield and dyslexia. The non dyslexic errors included: who's, beautiful, didn't, ascending, aren't, symmetry, attached, generate, anxious, pepperoni, to and its. A mixture of complex and simple words for both.

During this very short and small study, I was able to see a very small difference in the accuracy of spelling between the dyslexic and the non dyslexic person. I know different people are affected in completely different ways by it, but the observable difference in my experiment was very small and would likely be unnoticeable in practice.

So am I, as a dyslexic person, having terrible difficulties doing the PhD? No I am not. Dyslexia is something you have your entire life. I develop strategies to cope and I know I can get help through Student Finance and my university when I need it. Good luck!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Natalie Lamb and the Brexit Opinions of Students

For the past month, the UK media has been saturated with information (whether fact or opinion) about the  EU referendum. The results were announced yesterday and I felt a post had to be completed on it. Instead of just giving you my opinions, I have asked for the opinions of my fellow students, so you can really see how people are thinking and feeling at this time of change.

I was really surprised at how passionate the students were. These are science PhD or EngD or MSc students, not politics students. They are from Cranfield University, Sheffield University and Imperial College London, so it was a mixture of universities too. I kept the questions unbiased and yet the opinions all seem to lean in the same direction.

Did you feel properly informed before the election?
"Yes, thanks to Buzzfeed"
"As well as I could have been, I think, as a lot of it was guess work"
"Yes in terms of the amount of reading. No in terms of true facts"
"Yes- the information was there if I wanted to know more"

How certain of your vote were you?
"100% IN"

When did you decide which way you would vote?
"The day I was born"
"As soon as the referendum was called"
"As soon as it was announced"
"Monday before 23rd"
"A few months ago. I was even more convinced after watching a video on EU law by a Liverpool professor" 
"As soon as it was announced"

How did you feel when the results were released?
"Angry and ashamed"
"Sad. Disheartened"
"Gutted/quite ashamed to be English"
"Devastated. Why would people want this?"

How do you think your future will be changed?
"Not sure yet, but most likely negatively"
"I don't know whether I'll stay in the UK"
"Massively for the worse"
"It's looking a lot gloomier. There could be limits on my exposure to different cultures, traditions and people, which is sad"
"I finish my PhD in 2020 and am worried there will be less funding for research and innovation. I am worried I will have greater difficulty finding a job"

How do you think the UK's future will be changed?
"The poor will be most negatively affected by likely reduction in human rights protection and employability laws"
"Less multicultural. Less open to foreigners"
"Massively for the worst. It will set Northern Ireland back by 20-30 years with the troubles and it is a big worry for me. We now look to be a bigoted/narrow-minded nation and this will cause unrest in the UK"
"Who knows"
"Beyond repair. Our borders, strength, unity will shrink and we will ALL be worse off"
"I'm worried we will no longer be a united kingdom- Scotland will want to leave and what would stop Ireland and Wales leaving too? I am scared other countries will think of us as racist."

Any other comments?
"Fuck Gove! Fuck Boris! And fuck Farage too!"
"I feel like I'm not welcome in a country I love and where I would have wanted to live in the next few years"
"I sincerely hope that the leave campaign proves me wrong but I have serious concerns for my own and my children's futures, as well as the future of every other nation"
"Crazy how people like me can vote on something so big. Who knows what would happen either way! I found like 'parent age' voted leave more than people my age. World is doomed!"
"I remember studying the break down of the League of Nations in high school and thinking how ridiculous it all was- couldn't they all see it coming? I think the next generation may be sitting there in high school thinking the same about this situation. I hope not but that's how I feel"