Worth The Hard Work
For people on my course, the last six weeks of University were spent in a laboratory carrying out a research project. In general, these were supervised by researchers at the university and we were looked after by PhD students who were carrying out their own projects. My PhD student was looking into delaying the flowering time of rocket, as once it flowers it doesn’t taste nice and you can’t sell it for salads any more. After working in the diabetes lab over the summer, this seemed slightly less interesting and important to me, but I spent the weeks growing my little plants, picking their leaves, extracting their DNA and running tests on them. Now, let me tell you, when you have six weeks to finish a project, one of the worst things to work on are plants that usually take six weeks to grow. I ended up spending the first half of the project doing menial jobs in the lab, like making up stocks for everyone to use and helping the other undergrad student with her project whilst praying for my plants to grow quickly! As the deadline loomed ever closer, I was eventually able to pick off teeny tiny leaves from the plants to experiment on, but as they were smaller than usual it was really hard to get enough DNA from them for the experiments to work.
This wasn’t the only problem either – for one thing, some of my plants acting as controls to compare to the ones we’d tampered with were stored in a fancy-pants greenhouse with temperature control settings. Unfortunately, one weekend the cooling system broke and the temperature slowly increased until an alarm went off which is SUPPOSED to alert someone to a problem, only no-one responded to it. So my poor little plants got cooked and couldn’t be used. Not only would this be rubbish for any plants, but as they were the controls, it meant none of the plants I was comparing them to could be used either! Pffft.
My project seemed to get worse and worse, with each experiment I was doing becoming contaminated in some way or another. This was caused by a multitude of problems, like the solutions I was using being contaminated with things from before I was working there (and being contaminated with things I was using…), and the fact that the leaves were so tiny meant that the amount of DNA I had wasn’t enough to outweigh the contamination. All in all, there were only a few experiments that actually worked, so I couldn’t get any good conclusions from my work, which was a right pain.
The point of doing these projects was so we could write our dissertations on them, but due to the nature of the projects, we could only write so much as the project actually took place – it’s pretty hard to write about your results before you’ve got them! I finished in labs on a Friday and the 10,000 word dissertation was due in on the Wednesday. That sounds scary enough before you factor in the recommendation of sending it for printing two days before the deadline to ensure you miss the queues, and the fact that I’d committed to a hen do on the Saturday! That left me Friday night, Sunday and Monday morning to write my remaining 5000 words and sort out figures, references and all the fiddly stuff that always takes 10 times as long as you think it’s going to.
I announced I was going to have all of Saturday off, but wake up super early on the Sunday morning and not stop writing until I’d finished my dissertation. So it was at 5:30 am on the Sunday that I began writing and, armed with haribo, pringles and my flatmate’s company, I stayed up all night, continued writing through Monday morning and finally submitted it for printing at 4:30pm – 35 HOURS after I’d started! It was very intense and I’m not quite sure how I did it – I think I only stopped to eat a meal my wonderful flatmate cooked me, and to go to the loo. I had a list of things I had to do and kind of went into a trance just going through it until it was all done.
After submitting my dissertation for printing, I had a relaxed day and then slept REALLY REALLY well all night and all morning until nearly 2pm on the Tuesday. Then I travelled into uni, picked up my printed dissertation and handed it in. When I got back though, my flatmate said that our friend had called and said she was really struggling with her dissertation. We ended up heading over there (via Tesco to get Red Bull, ProPlus, Mars bars, cookies and all healthy stuff like that) and helping her to do all her figures, references and basically anything that didn’t require actual writing. Oh, and to stuff her face with sugar and tell her she WOULD get it done in time. This, again, took all night and she treated us to lunch when we went to get it printed. She got it in about 20 minutes before the deadline, after which my flatmate and I went home and slept for about a week.
Once everything was submitted, we had two weeks before results were out. This was spent mainly catching up on sleep, but also reading in the park, canoeing, going to grad ball and saying goodbye to my flatmate who’s gone to Honduras for a month (I’m not jealous at all. Not one bit. Honest). Finally, on Thursday, we were able to go in and get our results…
I ONLY WENT AND GOT A FIRST!!!!!
I’m so happy all this hard work paid off, and I’m just relieved that there’s no more waiting and wondering. So now I have to get my act together and start working on PhD stuff. I’ve been talking to my supervisors who ran the summer project that I did and they seem quite keen to take me on. We’re all just doing out best to try and persuade people that they really would like to give us lots of money to carry out the research. So, there’s going to be lots of finger-crossing over the next few weeks!