Thursday, 19 February 2009

Adventures in fancy film

Now hear ye hear ye. I am very much in love with my Smena Symbol 35mm camera. It always gives me really interesting pictures and such amazing colours. Can such cameratastic perfection be improved on? Apparently so.

I'm spreading the word: if you have any kind of film camera - start loading your films upside down!!!! I foolishly went and spent hard earned cash on 'red scale' film, but I'm reliably informed that it's just normal film loaded the wrong way round. Which makes sense as it does NOT want to be loaded into the camera and reduced me to tears with its refusal to curl round the spool.

But it was worth it. It's spectacular. It's a bit hit and miss, some things look total rubbish but when things look good they look amazing. Depending on the exposure you use* colours range from muted and tinged with red (Fig. 1) to red red red red red (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1 Sunset

Fig. 2 Moonrise

Do it. Or go here and buy some red scale. Whatever.

* I ain't no photographer - the Smena Symbol is so named because of its little weather symbols to help people who don't know any better with which exposure to use. So all I need do is say "hmmmm white cloud with cheeky sun poking out today I think". Bingo.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

And how does that make you feel?

I’ve calmed right down now. I think I was alarmed at the speed with which all my projects were rearranged the SAME BLOOMIN’ DAY as I made my little announcement.

But I did end up feeling a little on the totally useless side. So it was nice when, the next day, someone asked me if I could do a bit of teaching while I’m on maternity leave. God when will these people leave me alone?

Also I’m on a training course all this week. Of course this makes me in no way useful but still. It’s exciting.

We’re learning how to do in-depth interviews and focus groups. A lot of the stuff I do is with NHS patients. Increasingly, NHS ethics applications require that the research has been developed in collaboration with the patient population being investigated.

Ethically this is a very worthy aim: among other things, patients feel like they’re actually being listened to and that the research they pay for as a tax payer is actually relevant to them. But in terms of the science, it tends to mean that the research question being asked is not only much more focused, but also one that is likely to be worth answering (and therefore published).

And to be honest my last job involved growing cells in dishes then messing about with them - no interpersonal skills required whatsoever. So I looked forward to blossoming into a confident and friendly researcher, highly trained in the art of interviewing and people management.

Plus I thought it might make me feel like a policeman.

Through the self-reflection that is part of the process I have learnt that...

I am bad at interviewing people
I am good at role-playing the following characters in a mock focus group:

1. Dominant expert “You feel you know a lot about the topic being discussed and want to let everyone know how much you know”
2. Interrupter “You aggressively interrupt with irrelevant topics, or talk over people in a way that makes it difficult for them to finish”
3. Angry and belligerent “You have personal experience of the topic in hand, something you are clearly angry about and may have an axe to grind”

Great! Behaving appallingly in a small group of lovely people was surprisingly difficult and stressful. And although the characters were assigned randomly (others had to agree with everything, or be shy, or disinterested), y'know, first impressions and all that.

Interpersonal skills FAIL.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Here’s the thing

What a day yesterday was. Started off with a meeting in which the ethics application I’ve been working on for past 4 months was shelved. Which is fine, as apparently the work will go ahead, but in a slightly different format. This decision was made by Boss #1. This prompted Boss #2 to call a strategy meeting. By the end of the day the grant proposal I’d been working on for the past 12 months had also been shelved. Gulp.

It all makes sense in the long run. I’m just desperately trying not to think about the hours and hours I spent on it. Plus, it does seem that someone will do the project I proposed, it just probably won’t be me, as it seems that in around 28 weeks time I will be producing a small baby that I will be expected to look after.

Which got me to thinking about this blog. The idea was to write about science and what life is like as a researcher. However I have lived the past 3 months through a fog of mind-numbing nausea. Far from life being a whirlwind of stimulating lectures and academic meetings, I’ve either been laid on the sofa eating water biscuits or in the bathroom with my head down the toilet.

So maybe I’ll shelve this little project too. Don’t know. Or entirely limit its content to ‘stuff off the telly’. There’s been a lot of telly watching lately! Either way changes are afoot. Watch this space eh?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I expect it'll be a bit like Dead Poets Society

I’m currently grappling with writing my first lecture. I’ve given other people’s lectures, and I’ve written presentations on my own stuff, but this is something a bit different.

I anticipate it will go something like this:

1. Decide what I’m going to talk about
2. Get all the info
3. Structure it
4. Spend hours on google finding ‘hilarious’ pictures for it
5. Make a nice powerpoint for it
6. Rehearse it
7. Decide it’s boring
8. Add more bits to make it more interesting
9. Cut bits out to make it less long
10. Wrestle with self doubt about ability to give lectures and general suitability for academia
11. Spend days paralysed by fear and nightmares as lecture approaches
12. Give lecture

One thing I have learnt from my own experiences of listening to lectures, is never ever mention a related topic then say “But I’ll go into more detail on that later” because those words make me throw myself back in my chair wailing “What? How much later? Aren’t we nearly done yet?”

Any other tips/suggestions/pitfalls very gratefully received.