I don’t recall if I mentioned this in any of my previous blog posts but I am doing a URSS project this summer. I am working on polymer chemistry and doing what I never thought I’d find myself doing….until I found myself doing it!
My URSS supervisor asked me what I want to work on and my instant answer was that I want something tailored to the environment. It is a strange interest I have ended up with where as the world wails the rise of single-use plastics and I myself try to cut down on plastics in my life, I also find myself increasingly drawn into polymers. But of course polymers aren’t all just plastics and the poison can be the remedy (and vice versa).
This summer project has been the most wholesome learning process ever. The confidence I have developed during the past six weeks or so is amazing. The first four weeks I had someone from the research group helping me and she trained me really well so that when I was left to work on my own, I didn’t feel lost or confused. Of course I have questions and always find the help around but I don’t have too many moments of panic (fingers crossed!) because the people in the group trained me so well.
I am now confident with the use of Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and gel permeation chromatography (GPC). Preparing samples for these two techniques has got to be one of the most therapeutic things in labs. I am also confident with analysing the results from these instruments and seeing what they tell me. GPC especially is beautiful as it literally gives you the molecular weights and polydispersity of your polymer. I have also prepared NMR samples but couldn’t run them myself as I am not trained but I used the research labs’ IR today for the first time and it is so sensitive that that thing gave me a peak for carbon dioxide because I was breathing next to it. Like what? Literally I hope no one saw me loading the sample and instantly moving away in case I exhaled and that sensitive thing detected it (I was advised to do this by the person who trained me).
Between the end of term 3 and start of my URSS I had two weeks off and one of the days I spent downloading Windows on my Mac using Boot camp. I later felt great regret that I didn’t find out about Boot camp earlier as I couldn’t figure out how Virtual Box works and therefore couldn’t get Windows-compatible software like Origin on my laptop. But still the time spent earlier this summer was so worth it! I was able to download Origin on my laptop finally and use it for my URSS as no one uses Excel.
I still have it but I found out that one person in the group codes their graphs. That was it. I knew it was my moment to learn so I approached them and now I plot all my graphs on R. One of my flatmates last term taught me some Matlab so hopefully I can learn it too. I am a long way away from saying that I am proficient with the use of these softwares but I remember the first day I used R, the screen went all red because everything was giving me an error message but now that only happens when I am experimenting with new commands and trying to introduce new exciting things into my graphs. Again, this would never have been possible if the person in the group hadn’t taught me so well and been so helpful with all my queries so really it is not just what I have learnt but the people I have met this summer that makes me feel so grateful. Everyone is so willing to teach and I feel like it is such a positive environment.
My supervisor literally said that they don’t want any results or data, they just want me to do whatever I want to do that they can accommodate. The emphasis this summer truly has been on learning for fun and trying new things and it is so interesting that now I think for myself without a set protocol and decide, for example, which samples to submit for an NMR and not only understand but for real utilise the information the different analytical techniques provide me about my samples and think about what it tells me.
I think I could go on and on about my URSS project. There is so much to say. I feel really tired these days and waking up at 6am which used to be my forte has not happened in a long time even though I still get my 8 hours of sleep. I am both iron and B12 deficient but I was feeling much better so I stopped taking my supplements which went horribly wrong. I have been now looking after myself, not doing any work outside of my work hours that are quite flexible as in I give myself a break when I feel too tired. I have social media back and sometimes scrolling down a feed is all I want to do because I am too tired for anything else. For lunch, I have been meeting up with my friend and we have our lunch together which is quite good as I get to spend time with my friend as otherwise not very many people are on campus at this time of the year. Having said that, quite a fair amount of my friends are doing a URSS project this summer so we do bump into each other every now and then and quite a few of them are in the same flat as me as well.
Wow this blog has been long; I guess this is more of a diary entry for you to read. A summer project is work. Sometimes I think that I should have just gone for that super long summer with absolutely nothing to do like I have had for the past three years but this project makes everything so worth it. I may not have solved the problem of recycling but I certainly understand it a lot better than I did before, have read loads of papers (and have many waiting to be read as well), and my supervisor also tells me a lot about how recycling happens and it is so much more fun than I could have had at home binge watching Indian TV soaps (because I’ve started doing that now) or reading about Brexit.