Our ‘Day in the Life’ series of blog posts continues – this time with a day in the life of Daniel Amund-a final-year PhD student in the Microbiology Research Unit of London Metropolitan University
I am studying for a PhD in Food Science at London Metropolitan University (LMU). My research assesses the effects of environmental stresses on functional properties of probiotic bacteria, especially those stresses encountered during transit through the human gastrointestinal tract.
I was first introduced to the concept of probiotics, live microorganisms which can provide health benefits, while studying for a master’s degree in Food Science at LMU. I chose a research project on probiotics and prebiotics in yogurt for my master’s, supervised by Dr Hamid Ghoddusi, because of its novelty, especially as I come from Nigeria, where the concept is not very well-known. I was also keen to do a microbiology project, since my first degree was in Microbiology, from the University of Lagos, Nigeria.
When the opportunity arose to do a PhD, also under Dr Ghoddusi’s supervision, I pursued the opportunity. My research addresses whether there would be any impact on the in vitro functional selection criteria for probiotic bacteria, if they are first exposed to stress conditions mimicking those they would encounter in reality, and the possible implications.
My work day varies, depending on the tasks to be completed. However, being a food microbiology lab, a major aspect was the preparation and sterilization of microbiological media and glassware, which were required for a lot of our analyses. If I haven’t learned anything else, I can definitely say I’m fairly confident at operating autoclaves and dishwashers! I’m also a dab hand at pouring a decent petri dish of agar. Aside from my ‘housekeeping’ duties, I was also involved in teaching activities, mainly demonstrating to or supervising undergraduate and master’s students in the teaching lab, known as the Super Lab, Europe’s biggest teaching lab.
Being a PhD student has been quite challenging, mentally and emotionally, but especially financially. I received a tuition fee-only scholarship from the university, which I am highly grateful for, as an overseas student. However, living in an expensive city like London, to earn some extra money, I’ve had to take up casual work. Fortunately, I work for the university as a student ambassador, which can involve representing the university at external education fairs, and receiving visitors to open events at the university campuses. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of modeling for the university, and even ended up having life-size cardboard cut-outs of me around the university buildings!
Despite the challenges of juggling experiments, writing reports, making presentations and posters, teaching, and working, not to mention writing the thesis, it has been a rewarding experience too. As a PhD student, I feel I have had opportunities that I probably might not have had if I weren’t one. I’ve definitely grown as an individual, and met lots of new people. Being in a place like London, which is a hub for so many things, means that one is never short of activities to do or get involved in. I’ve enjoyed attending lectures, workshops and conferences, and also volunteering with learned societies. I like the attention I get, justifiable or not, when I introduce myself as a PhD student.
I think researchers of my generation are at an amazing period in history, in which ground-breaking research can be carried out because of advancements in technology. The proliferation of social media channels means that it is easier to communicate one’s work and share knowledge. Open Access publishing also ensures that important research findings can be disseminated more widely , as they are not hidden behind a pay wall. However, with the current economic climate, young researchers may struggle to find funding for their work, or to find jobs altogether.
It’s important for young researchers to engage with the world around them, and not dwell constantly in a laboratory ‘bubble’. One is going to need a lot of creativity and networking in order to enhance their prospects of securing increasingly competitive jobs. Personally, I’ve found it useful to take advantage of opportunities to learn about different career options outside of the traditional academic or research jobs. I learned about the relationship between science and the media by attending a Standing Up for Science media workshop by Sense About Science (SAS). I subsequently became involved in their Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network, through which I have taken part in the Ask for Evidence campaign, and volunteered at SAS events. The VoYS program encourages early career researchers to get involved in public debates about science, to have their voices heard.
Being involved with SAS gave me the confidence to apply for a three-month postgraduate fellowship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). POST provides parliamentarians with balanced analysis of science and technology policy issues. I was really thrilled to be offered the fellowship, funded by the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST). I researched and helped write a briefing paper on Livestock Vaccines. I learned a lot about the relationship between science and policy, as well as science communication. Writing a four-page paper that had to be accessible to non-scientists was a true test! It was also an awesome feeling to be working for Parliament.
On a final note, my mantra as a PhD student has been “give it a go”. I’ve tried to seize opportunities as they come, and I think I’m all the better for it. My scope has been widened, and I can only look forward to what the future has to offer. In the meantime, I’d better go finish my thesis!
In the video below, Daniel talks about his involvement in Sense About Science's Voice of the Young Scientist Network.