The challenges I face in my placement.

Finally got some time to write a blog. Writing is always a good way to spend my me time, because it allows me to take some time reflecting on myself and my recent life. Well, I have been working (doing a placement) at the Crick for almost six months now. I am still grateful for working with many dedicated scientists, and being able to learn different things everyday.

I am working as a research assistant. What is a day like in the life of a research assistant? Well, it is quite flexible, since we don’t have to follow the 9 to 5 traditional working hours. I normally come to the lab at 9.30am, reply to emails, check my calendar to see if there is any upcoming meeting.  Then, I carry out cleaning and weekly maintenance of an instrument called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). After that, I conduct experiments to prepare samples to be run on LC-MS. Apart from my metabolomics project, I have another project about Parkinson’s disease in a neuroscience lab. Hence, I normally do some molecular cloning in the afternoon. Sometimes, I sit in front of my PC for a few hours to process and analyse my data, attending online lectures/talks/seminars and meetings. In a nutshell, working as a research assistant involves both lab work and office work, and it is down to you to organize your day. So I sometimes finish my work at 6.30pm, sometimes I finish my work early and do some voluntary work in the Covid-testing pipeline (I will talk about my volunteering experience in my next blog).

Although my working life goes well, I face a few challenges and difficulties while doing my placement. Firstly, my English. People here communicate in English very fluently and effortlessly despite their diverse nationalities. However, I always feel that my English is not good enough to communicate with them. I literally feel frustrated when I have lots of thoughts on my mind but I just couldn’t find the correct word to explain it, or simply get mixed up with the sentence structure of my mother tongue. However, my colleagues are so nice that they always listen to me patiently, or smile at me (when they don’t understand what I said LOL). Actually, I guess that the root of the problem is not only about my English level, but also the lack of confidence in speaking. I literally feel shy to talk to my colleagues, and thus my conversations with them always end up quickly. I feel regret all the time because I really wanted to get closer with them, but I just don’t have the confidence to talk to them.

To get over this, I listen to English learning podcasts and Ted-ed Youtube videos everyday on the way to work. By training myself in listening, I hope that I could immerse myself in an English-speaking environment to improve my confidence in speaking. At the same time, I will try to talk more at work without caring about making errors (although this is hard for me, this might be the best way to face the current challenge). Hopefully, when I return to Surrey in my final year, I would have already been a fluent English speaker.

They are my manager and supervisor, James and Nathalie. They really help me a lot.

Besides, the progress of my neuroscience placement project is fairly slow due to the pandemic. In January and February, all staff at the Crick are told to work from home, only essential workers were allowed to come in. There are only two people allowed to work per bay, meaning that only two people can work in a 6-people-office-space. This has greatly slowed down the pace of researches. Since the case number slightly goes down recently, three people will be allowed to work per bay starting from 22 February. However, since I am sharing a lab bench with my supervisor, and he is quite busy with his work, I have to do my experiments while he is not in. Nevertheless, I have been really lucky to be able to come to work during the lockdown. Many of my coursemates were not allowed to come to the lab, or not be able to work on their projects (they have to help out with other healthworkers to tackle Covid patients in hospitals.) Hopefully, the government will lift lockdown very soon if the situation allows.

Well, that’s all my moans/murmur about my placement. No pain no gain, there are always challenges in every stage of our life, and we just have to find ways to overcome them. I believe that I would gain a lot after completing this placement.

That’s all from me this week. Have a nice weekend, and take care!