Chapter 4: Sunshine and UV Rainbows

The story you are about to read is one plagued with disaster, a phrase which here means one that suffers from a number of disruptive events. Sorry, that might have been a little over-dramatic; I’ve just finished watching Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Anyway, back in the real world, in the last post I discussed my first training project. For those who didn’t read it, the TLDR version: I tried a new area of research (chemistry), enjoyed it and learned some new science stuff. Now I’m going to being talking about my second training project and, unfortunately, it proved that what the Gods of Science give with one hand they can take away with the other.

Under Pressure

While the supervisor from my first training project thought I was a fool for picking an area I had little practical experience in, I’d like to think he at least appreciated that my intent was to learn as much as possible. The supervisor for my second training project did not appreciate this fact. In our first meeting, he said not only would there be a very steep learning curve but I would be in charge of two undergraduates and would be the “team leader.” The project would focus on HPLC (high pressure liquid chromatography), a technique which I (once again) had no experience in. So the thought of having to teach others this technique filled me with dread.

HPLC is very much like other chromatography you might have done in GCSE- you can separate a mixture of substances using a liquid which drags them up a solid surface. The main difference is that in HPLC the whole things is done under pressure and you can use ultraviolet light to analyse the stuff which comes out. It is not hugely difficult once you understand the basic principles, but it is one that requires practice to get right. Initially this wasn’t a problem, but as time went on technical issues combined with my lack of experience lead to difficulty in producing the “right results”, as my supervisor called them. After the first few weeks my supervisor decided we would have weekly meetings with the whole team to ensure we were communicating properly. This continued for the remainder of the project and made it rather difficult; it was hard to stay motivated when you were called in every week and told that what you were doing was entirely wrong and you should do it better.

Thankfully, by the end of the project I was able to scrape enough results together to finish the report that was required. This was something that for the last few weeks I was very unsure I would manage; at one point the HPLC machine broke and we had to wait for it to be repaired for almost 2 weeks.

Overall, it proved significantly more stressful then the first training project. Once again, this is not wisdom but, sometimes you need to learn to accept that some things are out of your control. That can mean accepting equipment breaking and micromanaging supervisors are out of your control, and all you can do is deal with them to the best of your ability. Hopefully this post hasn’t been a complete downer, and at least we are now all caught up in terms of the last few months.

Finally, I can start to give updates that are significantly more recent. My aim is to post every other week, because not enough usually happens to give weekly updates. My next post will be after (potentially during) a training week which takes place in London. Till next time, this is Steve the Scientist signing off.