Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The feeling of doing nothing

I seem to spend a lot of my time waiting. Waiting for simulations to run. Waiting for calculations to complete. Waiting for analysis finish. Generally waiting for the computer to do it's own thing.

I guess it wouldn't matter what form of science I was doing, I would probably spend about as much time waiting. I guess every scientist in the world is waiting for something; mostly waiting for their results to come through so they can see if all that waiting and stress and headaches were worth it in the end.

It's probably only a problem for me because I permanently attached to a computer and thus only a few clicks away from the internet in all it's glory.

The direct result of all this waiting (and internet browsing) is this nagging feeling that I'm not doing anything, tht I've not achieved anything in my first few months of my PhD. This worry builds and builds until I'm convinced that I won't achieve anything at all in the entirety of my PhD studies, if I'm lucky enough to pass first year.

Then, usually in the space of a few hours of furious activity, I realise that I have actually achieved something. Because instead of having gigabytes of files filled with random numbers or binary, I've finally got the holy grail of science.

A graph!

And suddenly all the doubt melts away if only for an instant. Because that graph isn't just a few pretty lines with some words and numbers. That graph is real, tangible proof that I'm actually doing something. I have been doing science this whole time!

At the moment I have furiously analysing the simulations that have worked so far, trying to produce a few graphs for next week. Why next week? Well next week I'm in Glasgow for a conference (Glasgow in December, lucky me) and it just happens that a number of our collaborators are going to be there. My supervisor wants me to have something to show the progress I'm making.

These graphs I'm hoping to have aren't just to convince me that I've been achieving something worthwhile this whole time, they have to convince other people as well. Other people who are far more knowledgeable about everything than I am and who are probably responsible for securing the funding so I could do this PhD in the first place.

So no pressure huh?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Myth of Specializing in Science

I always thought that as you progressed through learning you were supposed to focus your time on increasingly specific topics that you can specialise in. M y own learning is a good example of this. At GCSE I was learning “Science”; for A level I did Biology, Chemistry and Physics; at undergraduate degree level I studied Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, a specific subset of chemistry. And for my PhD I thought I was specialising in Computational Chemistry.

Which is true, but also a misconception.

I work on molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules, primarily proteins and DNA. What that means is I’m basically a biophysical chemist as well as a computational one. Those words, biophysical chemist? I’m back where I was with A Level pretty much.

Where I do my research is essentially at the interface of biology, chemistry, physics and computer science. And while doing multidisciplinary work at the interface between the different flavours of science is really quite trendy, what it means for me is I have a hell of a lot of things I need to know.

I need to have a working knowledge of the biology of proteins and DNA. What they do in the body etc. I needed to know how these molecules work on a chemical level. How they form, how the chemical structure affects the biological behaviour. I have to deal with chemical structures and understand things like bond angles, bond lengths and what the consequences of that are. When I carry out my simulations I am applying lots of physics to my model. I need a good idea of the physics I'm using; a knowledge of Newton's laws and the more complicated equations required for the complex structures I'm dealing with. Each step of my simulation is basically a lot of maths, which I need some idea of as well.  And because all of this is happening inside a computer there is yet another area which requires my knowledge. I need a working knowledge of Linux, where all my calculations are carried out. I need to be able to use the suites of programs that carry out the calculations, and know how to use the programs that analyse and compare my results. I need to know a bit about various coding languages to make my job easier.

So you see how I haven't really specialized at all. And that's without getting into the spectroscopy side of my project our the experimental work I may potentially carry out.

I believe that in science there us no such thing as speculating. Everything requires more knowledge and the lines between the different sciences are increasingly becoming blurred. There may once have been a time I could have called myself a chemist, but not so much now. I'm a computational chemist working on classical molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules.

I think I'll just called myself a scientist.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hello, World!

Hello world is such a cliche. Every tutorial I have ever done that was remotely related to programming has used Hello,World! as an example. But I thought it would be an ideal way to kick off this blog.

So, hi there, world. I'm Rachel, and I just started a PhD in Chemistry. I'm less than a week into it and already I have had some strange thoughts about this thing I've decided to devote the next few years of my life to. It's scary, strange and pretty new.

That said, I'm still in a pretty enviable position. I'm studying for my PhD at the same university I did my undergraduate degree at, so I know the campus and the city really well. I'm also working in the same research group with the same supervisor I had for my master year project. My research is also fairly similar to that I did in my masters as well.

The reason it feels so scary is because there's three years of this ahead of me, and there's much more expected of me.

I've not yet decided exactly what kind of a blog this is going to be. Whether it will be talking purely about research, or if it will touch on other aspect of a PhD. Whether I will talk about success and roadblocks and the emotional side, or whether I will focus on the learning that will accompany my research. Knowing me, it will end up being a little bit of all of it.

To round off this first post, a little background on myself, the author. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham. I studied Medicinal and Biological Chemistry as a 4 year MSci degree with an integrated master research year. My research will focus on simulations of protein DNA complexes and analysis those simulations.

This blog will record my progress, at least for the first six months until I either tire of it or I become far to busy to sleep, let alone blog.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hooray For Trolls

I might not have posted here in a while but I'm obviously doing something right as I just had my first troll comment. Three of them in fact. None of them were anonymous though unsurprisingly their Blogger accounts were set to private. Even more unsurprisingly they were all male.

I honestly have no problem with people disagreeing with any of the content in my blog. But if you want to make a pro-dieting comment you sure as hell better back it up with something better than "I was a chubby kid and now I'm not" or an "everyone knows how simple it is to lose weight".

Eighteen months ago comments like the ones I just got would have been a horrific experience for me. A real blow to my self esteem. But today, when I got the email notifications all I did was laugh. I honestly don't understand people who choose to spend their free time posting nasty comments on peoples' blogs. Maybe it's just because I have better things to do with my time. Perhaps its just because I'm not an asshat.

In any case, let me make something abundantly clear. This is MY space. This is where I'm working out the best way for me to deal with living in this world. It is my space and I control what goes into it. Any comments that are offensive will be deleted. Any that I don't like will be deleted. Feel free to make pro-dieting comments, but they better be polite, as respectful as possible and be backed up with some awesome scientific references using the Harvard System of Referencing.

If you disagree with me the internet is big place. There's space for you to have your own say. But not here. My space my rules.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Silly Quick Hit

The fat haters seem to have put their foot on the accelerator this week and at time the hate and shame has bordered on overwhelming. I'm not linking to any of it because I don't want to ruin your day. It struck me that there's a solution that sounds pretty good for both fat people and fat haters.

Ship all the fatties to the moon.

For starters we'll all weigh less on there, which should ease the minds of the haters. For another thing we'll all be on the moon and they won't have to look at us any more.

But it's actually a sweet deal for us fatties too because we won't have to deal with any of their crap. We can concentrate on building a rad fatty colony on the moon. We could even rename the moon the Fatosphere*! How cool would that be?

Now we could start off with just rad fatties on the moon, but no one would be excluded. Thin fat allies would be more than welcome. And we could invite every oppressed person in the world to join us in building an awesome colony on the moon where people are treated as people. We could have an awesome time playing with the reduced gravity and eat moon cheese all day.

So come on fat haters; start using all that hate and anger productively. Channel it into building the technology we'd need to live on the moon and we could get there no problem.

I want my rad fatty colony on the moon. And I'd kinda like it sooner rather than later.

*I have to admit, that wasn't my idea. Props go to my boyfriend Sam for that little bit of awesomeness.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Quick Hit: Just think about it for a second.

So I made the mistake of reading the comments over at this awesome post.

Dear Fat-Haters, trolls, and anyone who believes people can lose weight "easily if only they would try"; if it's so easy to lose weight then why are there so many diet companies and plans?. Surely if it was so damn easy to lose weight we would have found the one magic way to make everyone thin and stuck to it? And if that were the case wouldn't everyone be thin already?

And another things; hate and shame is never going to make people thin. If it did I promise you there wouldn't be a thin person on the planet. There is enough vitriol spouted daily that fate shame and hatred has reached such a concentration in our atmosphere that fat people in remote locations away from western media would have been made thin already. Hate does not make a person thin, and it certainly doesn't make them healthy. All it does is make their lives more miserable.

Angry making comments made me angry,

Monday, 31 January 2011

The Difference a Year Makes

Trigger warning: Contains discussing of body hatred and past dieting. Proceed with caution.

I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks pondering just how far I've come in a year. It is slightly difficult to believe right now that this time last year I was in hate middle of one of the worst periods of self hatred in my life. I hated everything about myself. I was researching diet and exercise tactics to find the best methods of losing weight. I was researching weight loss surgery and reading blogs by survivors about how the horrible side effects were worth it. I was seriously considering the mutilation of my digestive tract just to drop a few dress sizes.

My self esteem was shot, my self image was about as negative as it could get. I have no doubts now that I was depressed. I remember one evening last December/January that I spent sobbing my eyes out because I felt I was so disgusting. And then on the First of February last year I started what was the first official diet of my life. It was a thoroughly miserable period of my life.

And was all that misery worth it? Was the diet worth the deprivation and the torment and the near constant hunger? Was it worth the guilt that came from slipping up? Was it worth the increased hatred of myself because I couldn't use a skipping rope for five measly minutes a day? I have to say that it's a resounding no.

There was never much to show for the six weeks or so I was actively dieting. If I lost weight at all it was minimal; I think I more experienced a rearrangement of where my fat lived. To be honest I never expected that much. I never bought into the Fantasy of Being Thin (FoBT). Actually being thin is a goal that is so far out of my reach as to be nigh on impossible. Even the aim of my diet wasn't to be "thin", merely to be "less fat". And I guess that fueled the self hatred; that I was so far out of the "normal" (BMI) range that I had to settle for just being less fat.

Well you know what screw that. Last January was one of the most miserable periods of my life, which is saying something considering the effort other people have put into making my life miserable in the past.

I am so grateful to Sam for introducing me to Big Fat Deal. It was the starting point for my journey into Fat Acceptance. And not just into Fat Acceptance, but in to Everything Acceptance. It has lead me to the fight for equality, the fight against bigotry in all it's forms. It literally changed my life.

This year, this January, I am writing from a very different perspective. In some ways I am a very different person to the one who started this blog a year ago. Instead of hating myself for being fat, I am in the process of learning to love the body I inhabit, and the fantastic things it is capable of. I subscribe to the radical notion that a persons body is their own to do with what they please, including fat people, including me. To borrow a phrase from Dances With Fat; I am the boss of my own underpants. I believe that no one has the right to comment on another persons body, or bully them into changing it. I believe that each and every person has the right to live how they chose, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

I also believe in the principles of Health At Every Size (HAES) and have chosen these as a guiding principle for my life. But I also believe that Health is not a moral imperative. If someone chooses not to be healthy then that is their decision; they are the boss of their own underpants. I believe that the constant pressure we all face to strive for health is problematic and possibly misplaced. The pressure to strive for health is attempting to force all human beings into a narrow band of acceptability and ignoring the natural diversity that exists in nature.

Given the massive changes I have undergone in my beliefs, my body image and my self esteem this year, something struck me as slightly odd. In some respects I am trying to make some changes to my life that are similar to the changes I tried to make when dieting. I'm increasing the amount of exercise I do and making changes to my diet in order to make it healthier.

The big difference is that this time I'm doing it from a position of self love and respect. I'm doing more exercise because I know moving my body is good for me; I want to treat my body as well as possible and this include exercise. I'm trying to find ways of moving my body that are fun and pleasurable, not only because this means I'm more likely to do it, but because having fun and enjoying myself helps me love myself and my body more. I'm doing more exercise because it makes me feel good, because I can see and feel the difference in myself.

My new attitude towards myself is even more evident in the changes I'm making to the food I eat. Instead of taking things out of my diet, I'm adding things in. Instead of restricting, I'm increasing. Adding new things in naturally reduces the amount of some other things I eat but reduction is not the ultimate goal. I'm trying new things and eating food I enjoy. And it feels a hundred times better than restricting my food intake through a calorie controlled diet.

I honestly believe that a person cannot make positive lasting changes to their life from a position of self hate. I believe that positive change can only come from a position of self love. Today I am taking steps to enact positive changes; I’m not trying to change my body, I’m trying to change what it can do. And you know what? I am much happier for it.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Look, a blog post!

So far in 2011 I’m not really keeping up with my plan to blog at least once a fortnight, but I’m blaming that on exams.

There have been lots o things I’ve wanted to talk about but none of them have been worth a blog post in their own right. Also I thin of these things primarily as I’m falling asleep or just waking up, so by the time I get to a computer I’ve completely forgotten what I wanted to say. Today, however, I have three things I want to talk about.

The first things I want to talk about is this article from Scientific American asking it’s to be possible to be both obese and healthy. The article isn’t bad, considering its from a fairly mainstream science magazine. It put the out the message that a lot of people in the Fatosphere already knew; that it is possible to be fat and healthy. For me the article falls down a lot in what it doesn’t say. The article says the following;

obese individuals are less likely to survive a trauma as compared to normal weight individuals despite similar injuries, due to longer transport times due to their higher body weight, and difficulty assessing and treating the injuries. Further, they are less likely to see their physicians regularly, which may be in part why cancer is generally diagnosed in obese individuals at later stages.

but doesn’t even attempt to examine WHY these things are the case. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence in the Fatosphere that indicates that some of these problems are at least partially caused by the discrimination fat people face from the medical profession. That’s why Ragen Chastain of danceswithfat wrote this ebook on coping with visits to the doctor. There are a few studies that have been done on this as well.

Even though the article starts well it ends quite badly, in my opinion. Even though it is possible to be obese and metabolically healthy the author of this article still thinks fat people should lose weight. Still, I think that we need more articles like this in mainstream science publications. Maybe then we’ll start to get our message across to the general population; that fat people are people too.

Speaking of fat people being people; fat women are still women. And I would say the vast majority of us need to wear bras on a regularly, if not daily, basis. Marriane Kirby over at therotund ranted about the lack of plus size bras recently. My particular rant is about the lack of supportive sports bras for women in larger sizes.

A lot of retailers I’ve looked at very rarely cater to the larger sizes, in either cup size or band size. And those that do don’t cater to my particular needs. See I have a barrel chest. My ribcage is just built that way. So I require bras with a band size 40 or higher. But the retailers seems to have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that if you’re a 40 band size, you must have a cup size of at least an F cup. Well I’m here to confirm with the existence of women who have large chests but smaller breasts.

It’s extremely frustrating that I can’t find proper sportswear in my size. Not only is this problematic for my goal of being more active this year, but I could seriously injure myself if I do vigorous exercise without proper support. Yes I am fat, no I’m not looking to change that, but I would still like sportswear that is suitable for me to do exercise in. My money spends just as well as a thin person’s money does. My breasts are just as worthy of protection as a thin persons.

To end on a slightly lighter note; my hula hoop arrived today. I’d been toying with the idea of taking up hooping for some while, but had been hesitant because I’m already learning poi, staff, devil stick, diabolo and ball juggling. But hooping well and truly fits into my goal o being more active, do I went for it. My hoop is big and beautiful (like me) but boy is it hard work. Actually keeping the hoop going is much harder than I anticipated. Guess I should have spent my childhood learning to hoop instead of beating up boys. But anyway, I intend to hoop at least once a week, which is going to be great cardio.

And even though I find it difficult, hooping is fun, which in the end is what matters to me.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Years ReVolution and Goals for 2011

Generally speaking I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. People don’t stick to them very well, and I’m worse than average at keeping my resolutions. I decided that this year I would buck the trend slightly. Only instead of a resolution that will barely make it to February, I want t set myself some goals for this year. I have a range of things I want to achieve, from the small things to the fairly big things. I want to set goals that I know I can achieve; things that I have control over and I don’t have to rely on other people for.

In addition to the goals I want to set for the year, I came cross the New Year’s ReVolution campaign. The papers today have been full of statistics saying that weight loss is the top resolution for the New Year, and the women’s mags are stuffed full of adverts for weight loss products. Instead I am joining the campaign to put out body positive messages and let people know there is an alternative to hating your body.

My goals for this year are all well within the remit for HAES and body positivity. This time last year I hadn’t heard of HAES and was definitely not in a body positive mindset. I’m looking forward to what 2011 holds for me as I continue on this journey of self love.

So without further ado, here are my goals for 2011;

Learn to juggling three ball cascade

Learn at least three new tricks for each of poi, staff, devil stick and diabolo.

Be more active in everything I do; physically, in my activism, in the things I enjoy.
            I will achieve this by;
                        - Continuing to practice juggling once a week.
                        - Going for a walk once a week, lasting at least half an hour.
- Finding a way of moving my body that I enjoy and can do once or twice a week.
- Blogging at least once every fortnight.
- Standing up for my fat accepting, body positive, HAES beliefs whenever I have the chance.
- Talking about body positivity in all my internet places. And with my friends offline too.
- Continuing to read up on awesome recipes, then making them.
- Working hard at my final semester at uni.

Drink more tea.

Read more books for pleasure rather than work.
- I want to have read the size positive books I currently have by the end of February.
- Read three more size positive books by the end of the year.
- Read four of the fiction books I have sitting on my shelf.

Continue to add things into my diet.
                        - By having a green smoothie once a week (at least).
- Introduce more veggies into my dieting by eating meatless meals once a week.
- Add more wholegrains and none wheat carbs into my diet. Starting with using up the pearl barley and millet seeds I already have.
- Baking biscuits and making my own sweets more often.
Looking after myself better, especially my feet. I have a whole plan for this.

Trying new things whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Forgive myself if I miss any of these goals. This might actually by the most important goal.

Participate in the 2011 New Year ReVolution by doing all of the above.

With a bit of luck, some hard work and a lot of fun, this time next year I should be posting about how I’m met and exceeded these goals. I hope you will all join me for the ride.