Chewy, slightly soft, very buttery, nicely salty. What more do you want?
This recipe scales up pretty well, I had started out with a larger recipe but decided the 170 mL carton of cream is the most common carton. If you want to scale it down, you'd need to find specialist pots though.
Leftover tomato sauce from pizza has to get turned into something tasty. It's even better if it can be turned into something delicious with low effort for the next day's dinner. Pasta bakes can be prepped ahead of time and thrown in the oven whenever, making life pretty easy. Soaking the pasta in hot water instead of going to the trouble of boiling a pot of water makes things easier again. Cover it in cheese, and sure put more cheese on it when it's served up.
As the pasta will be baked in the oven (and possibly sitting in sauce for 24 hours), it doesn't need to be fully cooked before assembling the dish. By soaking the pasta in water before cooking, it has time to fully hydrate, the final stage of cooking can then happen in the oven. Using hot water shortens the hydration time, but cold water works just as well, but takes longer (I use this method for lasagne as I like to do a long low simmer on the ragú). The starches all swell up with the water, and don't take anywhere as long to cook as usual. Don't forget to salt the water as usual, and to save dishes, I soak the pasta in the dish it'll be baked in. Respect to Ideas in Food for the idea, and their book of the same name that's light enough to read in bed. I've been soaking lasange sheets since I read it. The other advantage is that your pasta probably won't soak up as much sauce as usual, so you'll still have an actual sauce in your pasta bake.
Slow cookers are great for ignoring; put things in, turn on, ignore, eat. You can ignore them completely if you get one with a timer, or get a timer plug. The things made in slow cookers aren't delicate, but they can end up juicy and tender. They usually travel well to potlucks, where you can wow people by telling them "oh yes, this took 8 hours to make" (although it took only 10mins of hands on work).
Shredded chicken takes 8 hours on low. During this time, all the connective tissue between the muscle fibres breaks down and melts away. You're left with juicy shreds of muscle for very little work. The seasoning can be changed to suit. To minimise the work in this, I pick up a packet of taco seasoning. The full packet can be a little salty in the small volume, but you can add less or make your own.
The shredded chicken is great with bowls of rice and some grated cheese, but you can also just serve it up as a tasty dip for crunchy tortilla chips. If making a mess is your thing, then load it into burritos. It freezes well, and seems to keep its flavour for a long time. I've eaten this from the forgotten depths of the back of the freezer months later, and it's been grand (though you're best off eating it w/i a month before freezer burn or general degradation kicks in).
The other week, I was asked to give a five minute overview of my experience as a postgrad and any advice I thought might be useful to incoming postgrad researchers. I discovered that five minutes is not enough, and that other's don't seem to think I'm as cynical as I am (or it just didn't come across clearly).
In essence, I want to tell new postgrads that not everything will be rosy all the time, but that people are there to help (although they may not be the people you want to help). I think the main point I had was to look after your mental health.
Research can be a bit isolating, whether you're locked in a lab on your own or surrounded by other researchers, you'll usually be working on /your/ project with /your/ problems and research questions. Sometimes people will offer help. Sometimes people will be too busy to notice you and you'll have to ask for help (it's usually nothing personal, they're as engrossed in their own work/problems as you are). Learn to ask for help. You're new in the door (or even around for a while), you're not expected to know it all, you're expected to learn. Do ask for help, you'll often find out that others have encountered the same problems you have before and might know a solution (or at least be able to tell you which avenues not to bother with).
About five years ago I started making yeast breads and asked my beloved for a pizza stone for my birthday. Thus began the great pizza-making adventure. A good yeast bread isn't too hard to make, though making great yeast bread took a bit more experimenting. Same with the pizza, a good pizza is easy to make, great pizza takes a bit more thinking, but even failed attempts are delicious.
For yeast breads, I found that I am very happy working with stupidly wet doughs. Though it took a couple of years to get there, it's worth every ten-minutes-scraping-your-hands-under-the-tap-trying-to-get-the-sticky-dough-off until you realise that you don't even need to knead this bread all that much. You end up adding a bit more flour when you roll out the pizza bases but the matching loaf made with the leftover dough is wonderfully fluffy with a chewy crust.
Last year I picked up a tub of horlicks intending to make @wholesomeIE's malted milk biscuits (which I still haven't made...) and wondered if there were any other recipes I could use it in. Horlicks is a mix of malt and milk powder, so I wondered if you could use it as a dough improver. A lot of the loaves of yeast bread I made, I used half milk/half water as it gave a softer inside and the bread lasted a two to three days without turning into a rock. It turns out horlicks is a brilliant dough improver. The horlicks bread keeps as well as the milk breads and gets a browner crust thanks to the malt. The pizza crust turns out better than a milk bread pizza crust too. Since I discovered horlicks as a dough improver, I haven't made a batch without it and have gone through two tubs of horlicks (it's also nice added to hot chocolate, but made up on its own with milk it's gross).
As well as owning a pizza stone, I can highly recommend owning dough scrapers. They're pretty handy for scraping wet dough off surfaces, folding over wet dough, and scraping all the flour up when you're finished. You can use them to cut dough as well, or move lumps of dough about. After five years of making bread without them, and a few months making bread with them, I would say don't wait as long as I did to get a pair (one is good, two are better).
Instead of trifle and romantica, for Christmas dessert this year my mother requested I made my lemon drizzle cake and she'd make a Bailey's cheesecake. When the drizzle cake was made, I offered to make the cheesecake while I was at it, as I love making cheesecake and don't make it as much since I moved to Dublin (my beloved doesn't care for it, and the fridge in work is just manky so you can't offload it there). I probably based the recipe off a few other cheesecakes I made years back. Before I left for Dublin, I left the recipe with my mother who gets to make it a lot more often than I do, so I just used that piece of paper instead of my memory.
It's gelatine free, the chocolate ganache isn't runny so it stays reasonably stiff. If you like, you can leave out the Baileys. Use the best chocolate you can find, there's so few ingredients that you want to use the finest you can.
I love cinnamonny things, especially on a winter evening, but you can't have mulled cider everytime you want a warm spicy treat. This spiced madeira cake is a lovely, caramelly treat that's great fresh from the oven, or taken from the freezer and toasted.
The muscavado sugar gives a lovely molasses-y flavour, and I added the nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in my usual quantities of 1:2:3. If you had ground cloves, they might go well in the cake too. I only keep cloves for mulling though, so my cake gets a pass on that flavour.
I don't care for fruit cake, but you could add any sort of dried fruits that you think might go. Madeira cake is pretty forgiving, so you can add as much as you feel like (or none :) ).
Mulled cider is a great drink on a winter evening. Heavy on the cinnamon, warm to clutch in your frozen hands. What's not to like? (Cider itself according to himself). So I make mulled cider for one by adding some pre-spiced syrup to a single can or bottle of cider.
It's a fairly flexible recipe, so if you want it sweeter to go with a dry cider, add more sugar. Love cloves more than I do? Fire a few more in the pot. Can't find ginger root? Substitute it for crystalised ginger and remove some sugar (I think I dropped it by 50g that time). I add the juice toward the end, as I don't think it benefits from boiling. You can just quarter the oranges and throw them in at the start, but it doesnt really get as much juice out and you end up with some bitterness. If you're hosting a party, skip making the syrup and add everything bar the water to the cider and heat that for a half hour instead.
Thanks to Lidl and Clare, I now own a waffle iron. I'm still trying to figure out the optimum breakfast waffle, and have yet to try mad things like waffling brownies, but I did make a potato-corn-based-waffle for going with delicious chilli. It's not like a Potato Waffle, but as they're already perfect and available frozen by the kg, I don't need to figure those out.
This recipe makes about 6 Belgian waffles-worth. Enough for three big plates of chilli, or two chillis and some breakfast.
In my quest to learn how to make laminated doughs (think croissants), I picked up Murielle Valette's Patisserie. It's brilliant, I've even cooked more than one thing from it already (croissants, pain au chocolate, lemon tart, dense chocolate cake and the modified bakewell below). For my colleague's birthday, I insisted on making her some cake, and made a bakewell as I had all the ingredients to hand (in fact, the pastry had been made and frozen the weekend before). Instead of the apricot and almond tart in the book, I went for a raspberry bakewell, which went down very well when I brought it into work on the Monday.
At the recent sugar craftnight in TOG (our annual Xmas party where the crafters eat too much cake and biscuits and hot chocolate), I had a go off proper icing, with an icing bag and all, and decorated a rather dapper velociraptor (raptor made by Becky). It was also my first go off making royal icing for decorating, and I quite enjoyed the whole thing, so went out and got icing gear and a Christmas tree cutter so I could keep icing at home.
This has been lying in the fridge for a few weeks, waiting for me to get around to drinking it. The Craigies Ballyhook Flyer smells like actual apples, appley apples rather than fermented apples. It's dark and cloudy and smells even more appley when it's in the glass. It's a very dry cider, not as sweet as it smells, but it's very drinkable (now it's aaaaaaall gone).
If you like dry cider, you'll love it. If you like sweet cider, you won't. If like me, you prefer medium dry, you'll just have to try it, and have it at the right time when you're in the mood for it. I'd love to cook with it, I'd say it'd be lovely for casseroling sausages in. Sadly I'll have to go seek out a bottle in town and I can be lazy at times.
Many of the scientists at work are talented bakers, and the rest are pro's at eating cake. Quite a few of us have the back up plan "if the science doesn't work out, I'll open a bakery/café/restaurant", after all, baking is a sort of science...
During an experiment that wasn't going very well, I started chatting with Laura about cakes that could represent various aspects of science, whether the experiment is working or not. So here's some of my possible science-cake suggestions, and some examples of how science can learn from disaster cakes.
It's that time of year, the undergraduates are finished and wondering what to do WITH THE REST OF THEIR LIVES OH NOES! So a number of them have been directed to me, and told "ask her what it's like, see if she'd recommend it". I shall restate most of my advice below, for those of you who haven't got to hear it from my face and because, apparently, it's not bad advice.
The first and biggest question: Why do you want to do a PhD?
It's the first thing I ask them, often it's one of the key questions in a PhD interview and, well, it's good to see if they have a clue what they'd be letting themselves in for (undergrad final year projects are generally carefully planned to be manageable, PhD projects, not so much). I've had a number of responses, the most common being a shrug of the shoulders and an "I'm not sure, I just thought I'd like to do one". To a lesser extent I've heard "I don't want to get a boring job" and "I'd like to be a lecturer".
The last two are easiest to address, then we'll deal with the "don't knows". Lecturing postitions aren't the easiest to come by these days. In biotech only 5% of PhD graduates have a chance of getting to be lecturers while in engineering it's a bit closer to 20%, but still, not a guaranteed endpoint (stats off the top of my head and an engineering colleague's, handy confirmatory link found by @alanmrice). As for I don't want a boring job, why don't you want a boring job? First off, real world jobs are more likely to come with lovely things like stability and a pension. Secondly, haven't you seen me repeat the same experiments for weeks/months? That's what I'll be doing for years, there's some scope for thinking outside the box and planning my own work, but most of it is a slog through identifying problems and possible solutions, over and over.
If you don't know why you want to do a PhD, then really and truly think hard and find a reason. If you can't then don't do one, get a job, do a masters, travel for a year, volunteer for some charity you've always admired, do anything more worthwhile than starting a PhD that you don't particularly want. At the very least talk to a lot of PhD students, and then talk to a lot of people who supervise groups you'd be very interested in working with (note the word very, a vague interest in a broad field might not be enough to drag you through 5 years of drudgery).
Next big question I ask them: Do you actually need a PhD?
Well? Do you? My first piece of homework for my young advice takers is "go look up the jobs websites, see if there's any jobs you'd like, and see what qualifications you need for them". If the job you want most in this world doesn't need a PhD, then why waste years getting a qualification that you don't need to have when you could be earning far more money and doing the job you always wanted. There are jobs that having a PhD could overqualify you for. If you think like a hiring manager then you'd think "this person has a great degree and is probably only applying for this job until they can find a better one, I won't be able to keep them". Sometimes a relevant masters is needed for the job, a masters will only take a year or two, and will let you enter the jobs market sooner. The final salary difference between a masters graduate and a PhD graduate makes you wonder if the PhD is even worth the extra effort.
There are many jobs that require a PhD, but the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that many also accept a larger number of years of experience outside a PhD in its place. Prior to starting this PhD, I figured I'd like an industrial research gig, but the job ads at the time all wanted a PhD or ten years experience, so I decided a PhD would be quicker to get than ten years in industry.
A PhD is basically shorthand for "I have 3/4/5 years experience, learning new skills and (mostly) managing my own work".
Tempted? are a cidery based in Northern Ireland who have a range of Irish craft ciders, and bring out the odd seasonal batch of something new. This summer's offering is Summer Sweet, and it is so very sweet.
Unfortunately, despite my fondness for sugar, it was a bit too sweet. It's a cloudy cider, with a strong oakey taste as well. A few ciders do the woody-taste well, but with the extreme sweetness, it just didn't work out. I'll stick to the other ciders in Tempted?'s core range, and wait to see what appears next year instead.
This evening, after a long day, I opened a bottle of Mac's Armagh Cider. Only the lyte though, as at 3%, it shouldn't do too much damage to tomorrow morning.
It's a good medium cider, and remarkably dry for a low(ish) alcohol cider (it's not dry, but far from the sweetness of pure apple juice). It's very tasty and appley, a solid cider.
I'm going to start keeping a list of tasting notes for various ciders (mostly Irish, all craft) on the blog. I'm not sure whether to keep it as part of the main site or try to make a subblog, but wordpress isn't making the latter very straight forward. They will be gathered here for those of you who are interested.
It's not quite science, but it is VERY delicious (usually), so it should fit for the most part. Will have to start having my fancy camera on hand when I have the odd pint from now on :)
I love lemon drizzle cake. It's really wonderful, and not so hard to make, and in my experience, (almost) everyone loves lemony cake. As I make this cake often enough, I made some adjustments to it, to see if the people who like it a lot could find it in them to like it even more!
Inspired by my labmate's love of lemon and poppyseed cake from the canteen (I'm impressed, they didn't mess up the cake), I threw a teaspoon of poppy seeds into the cake batter and baked like normal. The seeds give a gentle bite to the cake, it's really wonderful.
So last weekend, @encephalartos produced a graph of his tweets as extracted from his twitter archive, and thereby tempted me to spend the rest of my weekend and some extra time beyond figuring out how he did it. Turns out he used excel to break the timestamps and R to do the rest, but I didn't realise he used excel till I had spent hours figuring out time in R, so I present to you the entirely R way of doing it.
I like to use Rstudio for doing my R work. It's available for Linux, Windows and Mac so you've no excuse. Most of my R knowledge comes from workshops that Kevin O'Brien ran in Tog. If you're based in Dublin and want to hang with some R folk, the Dublin R group meets (ir)regularly around town.
A number of members of my collaborator's group are leaving for pastures new, so I have made cake as a goodbye-you're-really-gonna-miss-it-here gift.
At the weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a science communication master class as part of the Famelab competition. During it, the question of "why do we communicate science" was raised and the same sort of answers I had heard before were given: science is important to society, people need to be educated, science is entertaining and fun, people need to know what tax payers money goes on, PhD students need to tell people why they're being paid by the tax payer without ever having contributed a penny in income tax. I had heard these before, but this weekend, I decided that the last two weren't a good enough reason on their own.
First the PhD student and their non-tax paying ways. The PhD student might not be paying income tax or PRSI, but they do pay plenty of VAT in their day to day lives. While they might enjoy their research and are considered a student, they are still performing a job (even if it's not defined as such). They provide teaching and demonstrating hours for undergraduate students, and by the very nature of carrying out research are doing a job for their supervisor and the greater research community. PhD students work long hours for low "pay" (it's a stipend, not a wage, this definition matters to HR and Revenue), so it's not as if they're taking this tax-money and spending it on all the luxury while never seeing the inside of a lab. Is there some sort of underlying guilt for getting to study and research and be paid for it?
I always like to have a box of frozen raspberries in the freezer. They keep pretty well and sure, when they're going into cake they'll be mushed up a bit anyway.
For the rasberry drizzle cake, I gave the rasberries a quick stewing, to both defrost and collapse them, and to collect a tasty syrup for drizzling on top. To be honest, I hadn't quite decided what sort of cake I would make before I began stewing them, but when I couldn't find the recipe I wanted in my email archive, I went with adapting the lemon drizzle cake.
Some scientists are artists, I am not one of these. Sadly, that doesn't get me out of making diagrams to explain my work.
The cooking apples havent been great this season. It seems most fruits haven't been faring too well with the wet cool summer. I managed to find three small decent cooking apples a few weeks ago, and I turned them into stewed apple deliciousness. Add some rashers and pancakes and I had a particularly delicious breakfast.
I have been quiet of late haven't I. We just moved house (gone is the gas hob and fan oven, and it's back to conventional oven and electric hob) and we're still unpacking two weeks later. On top of which I caught that marvellous virus that's doing the rounds. I also got a new camera not so long ago (you may have noticed the browniecheesecake picture was better than the ones I took with my phone camera). So to try out the new kitchen and my camera, I have documented my beans on toast method.
I've been meaning to make cheesecake brownies for a few years. I've a great recipe for brownies from Chocolate Cookery (you'll have to look this one up on abebooks) and an equally great recipe for white chocolate cheesecake. Others have combined these before with much success, so it was my turn to have a go off them.
It took me a while to realise I liked cinnamon. I think I must have been in my late teens when it hit me that this stuff is AMAZING. A wonderful warm flavour that goes great with apples, or better yet, some sugar and butter and little else.
I love a good shortbread so I do. It's quick enough to make, and the buttery delight means it's hard to make shortbread that doesn't taste good. People always go on about shortbread being quick enough to make if guests suddenly arrive and you want to show off / not go to the shop for biscuits, but seriously, who does actually do that. I just make it on a whim, so the lads in college will be in for a treat tomorrow, lucky folks.
The recipe was derived from a barely remembered (misremembered?) ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part sugar. It's VERY buttery, so if you don't like buttery shortbread you won't like this (also, how can you not like buttery shortbread). It's a simpler cousin of this recipe, it's not as delicate and fragile, an altogether more robust shortbread than can survive the trip to work.
As you may know, I'm a crocheter at heart. Since I learned to crochet, I essentially gave up knitting and can't go back. However, I've taken to machine knitting as a way to still knit without the fiddly hassle....
I was recently given a Bond Classic knitting machine and have been making squares and handbags on it. I got it into my head that I'd like to make a teddy bear, but struggled to find patterns online, so I came up with one. As both sides of the bear need to be the same, I have actually documented this pattern and will reproduce it below for future reference.
Being in no fit state to bake anything today or even ramble about science, I sat on the couch experimenting with some Tunisian Crochet. In Tunisian crochet, you pick up a row of stitches on to your (long) crochet hook and then cast them all off on the reverse pass of the row. By varying how you pick up the stitches, you can get a very different look.
I've been meaning to get around to making coffee and walnut cake for years, and what better excuse to make a big decorated cake than a party! So, today, I made one, finally! Taking inspiration from Darina (did I mention how much I love the Ballymalloe Cookery Course book?), I added walnuts to the basic coffee cake recipe and doubled the buttercream quantity so there'd be some to go on the top.
I am told that there are "people" out there who don't like peanut butter, not because they're allergic and their face will swell up, but because they just don't /like/ it. Well, this is not for those "people", this is for us normal folk who enjoy smushed nuts smeared on toast.
We like peanuts in this house, they're tasty, very tasty, and go great with beer, cider or just a big mug of milk. Every once in a while, we end up picking up a bag of peanuts that aren't nice and crisp and seem to be under roasted. One day himself decided we should figure out how to make peanut butter to use up these less nice nuts.
After rearranging the freezer to fit stuff in properly, I (re)discovered a tub of Aldi Strawberry flavour frozen yoghurt. This stuff is actually really nice, more fake strawberry sweets flavour than Wexford's finest, but that suits me down to the ground. On its own it can be a little dull, and I'm all out of chocolate or otherwise sauces, so I decided to have a bash off making a quick chocolate sauce.
Many of the nice chocolatey sauces I'd come across before contained golden syrup to make them sticky, so I figured I'd bung some of that in (well, honey, as there was a squeezy bottle to hand, and the tin of golden syrup is a bit of a pain). I also threw in some butter, to give that nice buttery flavour and also to stop the chocolate being so firm (just in case the syrup didn't do it's thing). The chocolate came from Lidl and was very nice. "Bellarom creamy milk chocolate" is what the packet tells me.
Obsession with lemons you say? Who? Me? Surely not....
Intending to make lemon cake during the week, I bought a net of six unwaxed lemons in the supermarket. Sadly, I didn't get around to it in time for my final day in my most recent lab rotation. So there were six lemons staring up at me for the past few days. Now, much and all as I love lemons, using all six at a go was going to be quite the feat, so I've done an experiment in lemon preservation (details to come shortly) and also made some curd. The curd used up two lemons. I used the zest of these two lemons to make the shortbread that follows (I decided I dont much like the bits of zest in curd, as my zester makes them too big).
I've had half a pack of digestives staring at me for the last week and a bit. Shocking stuff I know, but as a caffeine half-intolerant (none after lunch) coffee drinker and someone who doesnt like tea, I don't have much opportunity for chowing on digestives in the evenings. The other half of the packet was sacrificed to the noble cause of being a cheesecake base (I'll write it up soon, honest). I've never made chocolate biscuit cake before and got the idea into my head earlier that that's how I'll use up the biscuits.
For Easter my lovely fella's lovely mammy invited me over for dinner, so I had to bring something tasty. I've been meaning to make something lemony for a while, and so lemon bars were made. Unfortunately, they're awful tasty, so I had a couple for breakfast, leaving not quite enough to go round after dinner....
The base is a sort of lightly crispish base, like that of the caramel slices, and the topping is a lovely sweet lemon curd. I'd imagine dropping some of the sugar or increasing the amount of lemon juice should increase the tang, or making icing using the juice of another lemon should get a proper wince going.
At the beginning of the month (March 3rd and 4th to be precise), I had the pleasure of attending ScienceHackDay Dublin, which was a great big hackathon in the name of Science! A hackthon is basically a long session hacking away at your projects or your friends' projects, think staying up stupid late to get a paper in for a deadline, except more fun and the project is of your own choosing.
The event was very well organised, with food provided (including apple lattices for all!), and plenty of space to work. All internetworking sorts of things were well sorted too. After a few introductory project talks in the morning, people assembled off into groups to work on a variety of projects from programming to building hardware to visualise aurora. But wait, Tríona doesn't do programming or building hardware, so what did she do for the 36 hour event?
One of my favourite things to have with a cup of coffee is a humble caramel slice. They also make excellent treats to bring in to work (if you try to eat the whole tray at home on your own, I am not responsible for hospital bills). So, when I finished my second PhD rotation, I brought in caramel slices, to make doubly certain everyone would miss me....
No no, there's no dinosaur cheese in this bread, sure dinosaurs weren't mammals so they didn't make milk! The blobs of gouda on top make me think of dinosaurs (what a dull explanation).
- 200ml Milk
- 200ml hot water (not boiling)
- 5g salt
- 7g packet active yeast (them sachets you find in the supermarkets, you'll have to increase the amount if you're fancy enough to use fresh yeast)
- 300g strong white flour
- 300g plain white flour
- 50g butter (softish)
- sliced up block of gouda (or other nice cheese, gouda was what we had in the fridge)
Put the flours, yeast and salt into a bowl and mix through. Then pour on the milk and then the hot water (the combination of hot water and cold milk should be a pleasant warm temperature that the yeast will like). Squidge around in the bowl until it all starts to come together, you can then turn it out to knead it or you can just squidge around longer in the bowl (i dont like messing up the countertop until I need to). The dough should be slightly sticky, not totally wet, but definitely not dry. Pop the dough back in the bowl and cover with a lid or a plate or some cling film. Leave on the counter for two hours until all puffy and risen.
With the sorrowful arrival of the kettle corn recipe, comes the shopping for clothes two sizes bigger. The stuff is unnessecarily tasty, and as I discovered this evening, terribly easy to make. So far it doesn't seem to have ruined the pot either (my other excuse for not making it till now), though I will keep you posted if I find out otherwise tomorrow.
So my not so well behaved dinner this evening contained potato cakes (and a beautifully fried egg). Potato cake are very very easy to make, the hard part is ensuring you dont eat the mash before you cake them. For tonights dinner, I used leftover cheese and onion mash (I specifically made a double batch for that dinner), but if you like to mash other things in (I can highly recommend ham) then go for it!
Inspired by a very tasty lemon curd muffin I got in the Kinsealy garden centre last week, I decided to make lemon buns and curd to go on top of them.
For the buns I used the recipe for lemon drizzle cake and spooned it into 15 bun cases and baked for about 20 minutes until set.
So today I got to do some Proper Lab Work, ie, mixing chemicals to make liquidy chemicals (a buffer today) for putting delicate proteins in. Buffers are solutions that provide the optimum environment for the little cells or proteins or nucleic acids that you work with, so they dont change conformation or otherwise break.
I was given the list of ingredients, and being a happy little chemist for the morning set about making the buffer. As always, I got all the tubs of powders and worked out what weight I needed of each to get the right molarity (that's a measure of concentration). Then I proceded to add each of the powders to my glass bottle and poured most of the water I would need into it (If you're going to be pH'ing something, don't put in all the liquid, you might change the volume when you're adjusting the pH with your acid or base). And then, I was utterly confused, the nice solution I was expecting to be clear was a muddy brown… sort of like when the water is turned off for a few hours and turned back on.
So, I'm back in a lab, doing the first rotation of this structured PhD programme. The people are lovely, and the subject seems pretty fascinating, but I've been stumped searching through the literature.
I tend to underestimate the value of text books, but for the basic beginning of looking into a subject they're fantastic. Naturally the most relevant books in the library have been checked out (and thanks to the clear website of the library, I dont realise this until I'm over there and the books not on the shelf). So I start looking for review papers, and here's the problem, noone writes textbook level introductions to topics. There's wonderful review pieces on small topics within the whole, but no crash course on families of molecules or the mechanism of glycosylation. The primary research is great, but in order to understand something in a slightly new field (or a field that you didnt study so well as an undergrad), you just can't beat the simple introduction. The wikipedia is great for the super-superficial look at things (the science pages can be surprisingly detailed, though nowhere as impressive as the pages discussing comicbooks).
I have another lemon drizzle cake cooling in the kitchen right now. Very very tasty and filled with the goodness of two lemons! (it's not my fault if vitamin C is a delicate compound that doesnt like being heated…)
Yesterday I brought a delicious Victoria sponge loaded with strawberries and cream to college. Needless to say it didn't last long, us sciencey folks need cake to keep the research going...
I found the recipe in the Ballymalloe Cookery Course (big book by Darina Allen, great for the basics). Ideally you need an electric whisk for this recipe.
So I'm finishing up my masters programme out in DCU. It's a taught MSc. that culminates in a 12 week research project.
Semesters one and two were (to me anyway) not too hard going. The modules were interesting, some of the topics I had covered before, and most of the workshops and assignments were also ... emmm interesting (for want of a thesaurus, and it's actually the exact right word I want). The taught portion was sort of like doing final year again, except with more modules that interested you.
The research project takes place over the summer, so the masters doesnt finish up till the beginning of September. I was assigned a very interesting and challenging project that should have me doing the proof of concept of an assay my supervisor had conceived (really, not enough words in English/my head for things). The people in the lab I work with are great and really helpful, but the assay itself didn't want to comply. With a number of hurdles including being sick a lot, contamination, and reagents that suddenly didnt want to work, I haven't completed all the work I intended doing on the project. On top of which, again due to being unwell a lot, I haven't got as much writing done in advance as I'd have liked. The deadline is in two weeks (probably shouldnt be writing this post) and a fair assessment might be "I'm bolloxed". The project component of the masters is designed to give you a good taste of research and an understanding of techniques in the laboratory, it is fair to say I have gotten a good dose of both.
That said, I really enjoyed the masters programme (DC727), and would happilly recommend it to anyone interested in diagnostics. Just get started on writing up your research project earlier than I did....
So further to my IRCSET application, I was turned down. Which was pretty crushing at the time, given how much effort I had poured into it. I'm still waiting to get feedback on my application, so that should be pretty interesting. When that arrives, the IRCSET chapter should be closed (until I need to look for more funding in the future).
So I'm currently enjoying the struggle that is getting a PhD application together. Every year IRCSET run a programme for funding shiny fresh-faced wannabe PhD students (it's called the EMBARK initiative, you can find it here). Like many other funding bodies, it has reduced the number of places available, going from two calls in a year to one. However, it's certainly still worth having a go off, the stipend is quite reasonable (althought it only covers three years) and the grant also throws eight grand towards fees and supplies.
The toughest part is the personal statement. You have 1200 words in which to say how awesome you are, why you have the relevant skills, and what you want to do with your life (there's actually a bunch of questions in the guidelines, but that's broadly it). So at the beginning it's hard, you throw together some lines about your skills and experiences, and you don't oversell yourself. Then your supervisor points out that you really do have a bunch of strenghts, so you have another stab at it, it's easier and you spill out loads of awesome words on to the page. Then it gets hard again, you have to stay under the word count, the webform just won't accept the superfluous words. After you've been reminded how great you are, cutting out the words of awesome is difficult, but eventaully you succeed.
Delightful, Pfizer to close their large R&D facility in Sandwich in the UK, with the loss of 2400 jobs. Given how there's not exactly thousands of jobs going for scientists at the moment, that's gonna be pretty rough for UK science.
Pfizer seem to be getting out of the research game, cutting funding all over the place. It'll be interesting to see where they stand in ten years time when a lot of their on-patent drugs go off-patent….
Disappoinment, as today (a Monday) I came home from college to find a Nature-shaped-absence behind the letterbox. Hopefully it turns up tomorrow.
In the meantime, nature.com/news is providing my fix.