Time for something new! Time for a monthly blog post series, with little mini-interviews of PhD students around the world! Time for…
The idea behind this is to showcase PhD students, give a bit of an idea of what’s going on out there in PhDland, and show to the world what PhD life is like! Perhaps they are thinking of doing a PhD themselves, or just generally want to know more about it. Or they’re already doing a PhD and want to see that they’re not alone in their struggles or successes!
While Friendly Bacteria is a vaguely microbiology-themed blog, for this series of mini-interviews I’m wanting any PhD student no matter the field! I think it will be a fun way to connect with other PhD students we wouldn’t normally be able to get to know, too.
If you’re a PhD student and want to get involved with this, leave a comment here, send me a DM on Twitter ( @friendlybugblog ) or shine the Bacteria-signal into the skies above Aberystwyth and I’ll send you the questions!
I'll go first:
Tell me about yourself.
I'm Gareth, doing a microbiology PhD in Aberystwyth. I'm 23, interested in animals, microbes, anything alive really! And all things science. I like watching movies, going on mini adventures like trips to the zoo or dolphin watching, and walking around on the seafront or in the mountains! When I'm not doing that I have this blog, and am tentatively trying to do Scicomm youtube stuff too (Here's the link to my channel if you're interested!).
What's your project all about?
It's all about the bacteria that live inside plants, called 'endophytic bacteria'. They interact with the plants and help them grow, and my project is looking at how that all works! How it evolved, how different endophytes can do different things for the plants (like boost growth or fight off pathogens) and things like that! I'll be looking at different things the bacteria produce too, like antibiotics or what have you. It is absolutely fascinating! Plants and bacteria are really intimately linked, and it's a really exciting field to be working in right now. If everything goes perfectly, then I'll boost global crop yields, land availability for farming, stop the antibiotic apocalypse and just generally save the world. Might not work out like that in practice though...
How's that working out so far?
As my blind optimism probably gives away, I'm still in the first year of the project! It was off to a slow-ish start, as I had all sorts of training modules, literature reviews and things to do (not to mention never-ending piles of reading), but now that's all under my belt I'm accelerating into the meat of the project, and I'm loving it! I'm happiest when I'm dressed up in PPE, surrounded by agar plates and exciting bacteria, and now I get to do that all day! I'm a bundle of excitement at the moment, everything is starting to fall into place and be fantastic, and I couldn't be happier!
What are the three best things about your PhD so far?
The huge excitement I felt when I opened up the incubator and saw my first endophytes growing happily was definitely my proudest moment so far! It felt like that moment at the top of a rollercoaster when you can see everything unfold before you, and you start to move forward into it all.
I have an awesome research group. My supervisors, lab people, office people, fellow PhDs and everyone else, are all just lovely. We all have a wide range of experiences in lie and in the lab, so together we always have interesting talks and get a lot of stuff done!
I'm also super happy with where I am. Aberystwyth is gorgeous, and one of the friendliest places I've ever been. The hills are a bit steep but that's insignificant compared to everything else! I really do love it here, and am pretty excited to be here for a few more years.
And the three worst things?
This is a tricky one, as not a lot has been bad at all. I think definitely the first few months of this year were rough, as I had chosen to do two years worth of training modules in one go so was chained to my desk doing assignments. It was totally worth it though, as I'm free for lab times now, so I don't mind too much!
I also had to give a presentation in the last slot of a two-day seminar session thing. It was fun, and a big challenge, but I am the least confident person in the world so it was a real struggle. I had the whole two days building up the presentation in my mind to be this terrifying thing, and I ended up not doing it as well as it deserved.
I also managed to jam the doors on the autoclave and the -80 freezer simultaneously on my first day in the lab. These are pretty much the two most important and widely used bits of kit in the lab and I put them both out of action for a day...
If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be? Why?
I would have signed up to do demonstrating and teaching and stuff. At the time, the thought of having to interact with people scared me away (combined with me being based off the main campus, way up in the mountains) but I think it would have done a lot to boost my confidence and give me great experience of teaching people fun things about science! Definitely signing up for it this time around!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a PhD?
Do it in something you love. Not just something you think is cool, or you're pretty interested in right now, but something that you are really passionate about and will continue to be passionate about for years! Even when it won't stop slapping you in the face with a big stick labelled 'stress'. I'm really lucky to have got the PhD I'm doing, and I think that'll be a great boost to help me through any tough times.
What's the plan after you finish?
I want to keep going with research. I love the feeling of finding out things that nobody else has ever known! Plus I see it as a way to make my mark on the world, and help make it a better place. And research is lots of fun!
That's about as specific a plan as I've got at the moment, however... I think there's a long time between now and when I finish, so I'm not committing myself to any far-reaching plans yet!
Any further thoughts/comments?
I think this is a fantastic blog series, everyone should share it and get in touch to appear in the next one!