The trials and tribulations of a girl trying to make her way in the wide world of science

Time Flies

So much time has passed since my last post yet so much has happened. Spending everyday in the lab, many times repeating the same protocols over and over again, tweaking minute details has dashed all my romantic ideals of what it is like to ba a scientist, yet it has not quashed my desire to become one.

Many personal problems have occurred recently for me, and my work has been an absolute blessing, to get stuck in and lost in work has been a nice respite from the complexities of life outside the lab.

Yet soon I will have to leave this safe haven and return to full time study. My final year will be horrendous in many ways, yet I am so excited! No filler modules, all really exciting stuff, as my learning becomes more and more atuned to my personal interests. Only 2 weeks to go and I cannot wait!

This also brings the question, however, of what I am going to do once it is all over. Am I good enough to do a phd? Should I do a masters first? So much to do I will hardly be able to think about anything else!

So heres to a (hopefully) exciting and (hopefully) successful 3rd year.


Do NOT, under any circumstances, drink too much around the people who will be deciding your degree classification/ marking your work/ having any say in your future happiness. This should be obvious. Apparently it is not.

As I approach my final year the talk in the air around campus is all centered on one thing: Upping The Game.

Until this point a smattering of intelligence has been enough to get us lowly undergrads through the course, however, this is all about to change.

Smarts just isn’t going to be enough anymore. Intuition, self ambition and drive, skill and the like will need to come into play much more. Many of you will be thinking that these surely are all part of what makes intelligence, that how could we have got this far without using them before now. I can tell you something for nothing, the ability to remember lots of facts in the right order is a world away from becoming ‘proper science like’.

The perfect example of this has been my adventures of the last few weeks. I have begun the lab work for my dissertation, and it is a whole new ball game.

I always thought I was reasonably intelligent, even for an undergrad-the lowest of the low in the academic hierarchy- but most days I have been feeling as thick as shit to put it frankly. In hindsight, this is to be expected. I am working with a man 3 years into his PhD whose little finger probably hold more knowledge than my entire self, and rightfully so. I seem to be lacking so much of the basic laboratory knowledge. Its no ones fault in particular. It is a learn on the job exercise.

But apparently, as far as feeling not at all that bright goes, I am not alone. After having a conversation with one of my lecturers the other day he confessed that at times he still feels the same way, in science there is always someone how knows more than you until you become something akin to President of the Royal Society.

I’m not sure if this information makes me feel better or worse at the moment. It is hard to know how to feel, being surrounded by people that you feel in constant competition with- if I get less than her in the exam etc etc- it is hard to realise that you should only be in competition with yourself, improving your knowledge, moving forward and all that jazz.

Perhaps we should be content with that, competition with ourselves instead of others. But then again, thats half the fun of it sometimes.

An interesting find

While doing some very important research online (very important, top secret stuff if you really want know), I came across a hero of science cartoons for dummies. Enjoy.

The long absence

So, anyone with half an idea of the academic year will know why I have been absent these past months.

That dreaded time has been on us again, where students either get fatter or thinner, start to smell and go pasty white: The Exam Period.

There are many awful components to The Exam Period, lack of social life, lack of sleep, lack of fresh air (the Sun always seems to shine during this period also, just to spite us) and a general lack of everything apart from stress.

However, I realised this year something new, it wasn’t just me and my classmates going through these motions, my family did too. The house become a Sufferers Paradise and they couldn’t escape it. Their Mother and Partners’ head was replaced with a textbook which only emitted short grunts and when conversation was squeezed out of her, it was about her impending doom (forgive the third person, it just seemed appropriate).

So this led me to THE question: how do you get the right work/life balance? Answers on a postcard please, but I’m guessing you all have as much a clue as me.

The answer is apparently 6. Yes that’s right 6 whole students. Well that’s what the course organisers seem to think. So I can’t help thinking am I really paying 10 grand to fight over a Bunsen? I swear one poor girl lost half an eyebrow in the upheaval. I mean what was the point of putting us I such large groups? It certainly wasn’t to show the importance of collaboration as I’m assuming 6 people normally don’t need to do the same experiment simultaneously. Or is this a new way of creating jobs? Oh yes, 6 people can do one persons job and then they can pay us in shillings. Common guys: I’m sure you can do better.

Welcome to the first instalment of Scientist of the Week, where every week I’ll bring you some info on a scientist who should be better known for good or bad.

In honour of the good ol’ lambda phage practical today (more on this later), the award of Scientist of the week goes to Esther Lederberg, an American microbiologist who made massive contributions to the discovery of (yes you’ve guessed it) lambda phage, then had her husband Joshua Lederberg take a significant amount of credit for her work; as being a woman in the 50s and all meant she wasn’t a ‘real’ scientist, I’m sure they were just letting the little woman do her ‘little bit of science’ so she can do the washing-up later without complaining.

Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly fair. To be sure, working with her famous and talented husband must have had its benefits, but it’s the setbacks that stand out, mainly: was Esther Lederberg given the amount of credit she really deserved and how much of the credit that she earned passed to her husband?

Now these issues go with the times they occurred in, but it does stir up a serious question; why are women so under-represented in science?

It’s not as if there hasn’t been a steady stream of women entering the field for the past 50 years. The barriers that were once in place have apparently been knocked down. But if that is the case, why on Earth can’t most people name a female scientist? The only time they seem to be mentioned is when sex discrimination is involved which let’s be honest is so fucking last century.

And so back to our dear Esther. The marriage didn’t last but for nearly 50 years Dr. Lederberg made numerous contributions to genetics and microbiology. She made such significant advances that Stanford University has dedicated a part of their famous chalk walk in her honour.

To find out more about Esther Lederberg’s life and work go to

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