There's a reason I'm not a poet

Pressing benches

This Friday is my last day in the lab. Six weeks isn’t a very long time to spend in one, but when planning it I realised there’s a limit to how long I could be unemployed for… The aim of my time here was predominantly exposure: after opting out of research opportunities at uni in favour of things like human evolution and French, I wanted to see what the lab environment entailed, and if it’s something I could envisage myself making up a significant portion of my future career.

As I was only to be here for a short time, there wasn’t much hope of me getting oriented and adequately skilled up in time to do an experiment with results worth publishing. And while I’d probably have been happy enough with that, my supervisor was keen for me to get something demonstrable out of my time here. So, I’ve been doing a paper-based project, trying to write a review paper (/meta-analysis) on some drugs currently in Phase 1 & 2 clinical trials.

Alongside this, I’ve been popping in and out of the laboratory itself, where two new PhD students are being shown the ropes on a couple of experiments. So I’ve been learning said ropes alongside them as well as poking around with a couple of cells: feeding them, changing them, and generally treating them like microscopic babies. Or sea-monkeys!

It’s been fun here, and I’ve had a good bit of craic with the people in the lab. I think I’ve gained a nice amount of exposure to see what life is like in research, and at the different levels of involvement/seniority. It’s also quite fun hearing people having intelligent scientific conversations, as opposed to the intelligent clinical ones I’m more used to from the past few years in the hospital.

While obviously I’ve not experienced the stress induced by The Dreaded Write-Up (which my PhD friends will attest to is real), I imagine it’s something I could ultimately cope with, and so I reckon lab work is something I’d happily get involved in later down the line.

Besides, I wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to have some more sea monkeys.

M

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So for the past few weeks I’ve slowly been letting my life crumble into ruin, and having a glorious time while doing so. Why?

Because I’ve got a new video game.

I was really excited about it coming out, and pre-ordered it off Amazon. Imagine my horror when I get an email to say the delivery has been delayed by a month because they didn’t have enough of the games in stock.

So I did what any sane person would do in my situation: I drove for an hour, crossed the border to the Republic and bought it in Dundalk.

I regret nothing.

The game is so slick. I instantly fell in love with the entire look of it, from the opening credits to the bloody start menu- the game is dripping with style. Never mind the fact that it’s set in Japan and is essentially about levelling up a group of teenagers with superpowers. Add in the unbelievably cool acid jazz soundtrack and one month later you’ve got a very happy Michael, 70 hours in.

So I’m trying very hard to still go outside, to still go to work and still speak to other humans. But I mean come on.

M

Always up for a knees-up, at the weekend I was down in Monaghan for a friend’s wedding. I worked with her in Craigavon when I was starting out as a baby doctor (whereas now I’m a firmly-mature toddler doctor). The girl who was getting married is just the loveliest person, and I was down with a really nice group of people. I was pretty lucky if I’m honest to end up with the cohort of F1s that I did, and was pretty touched to be invited along.

I bloody love weddings; seeing the bride and groom at the front of the chapel/temple/secular gathering area grinning at each other and nervously chatting always brings a smile to my face. Hers was no exception, and her family were all a bit adorable. “Good bears” as she’d describe them.

The other reasons I love weddings are that they’re a giant steed good feed and an excellent opportunity to jig your foot on the dance floor. I got massively into the boogieing as I so often do, and earned the title of “most nimble guest” at the wedding. Obviously I would have preferred most handsome, but you take what you can.
In other news I’ve been working in a Belfast hospital since the start of February, under the General Medicine umbrella. It’s been quite a nice job; the staff, culture and atmosphere are all really friendly and it’s definitely been educationally useful. But I actually just finished there last week, and for the next 6-8 weeks I’ve rejoined the ranks of the unemployed.
The reason for this is that I’ve arranged a placement in a cancer research lab, where I’ll hopefully be getting some exposure and insight into clinical research, with the hope of informing future decisions on how much of a role I would like research to take in my career.

Like with starting any new job, I’m a bit nervous about starting in general, and about not knowing anything at first- as it’s a completely different skill-set from what I’ve been developing these past six years. But with a bit of time/graft/blind luck (delete as appropriate) I’ll hopefully get the hang of it.
Now, it’s time for me to confess something. To get a bit of a weight off my chest. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I feel it’s important to own up to these things.

I… I have a personal trainer.

That’s right, I’m one of Those People. Those middle-class eejits. Next week I’m sure I’ll be talking about the decline in quality of quinoa and complaining that my latte cup isn’t locally-sourced.

It started a month or two ago- I was in the gym flailing around aimlessly as I often do, when a staff member came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in a free personal training session. The first key thing he said was “free”. The second key thing was when he told me his name was Ivan. I couldn’t pass that up- I thought it’d be too funny to say no to a session with Ivan the Terrible.

I went fully expecting to hate it; and find the whole thing both awkward and useless, his guidance of “drink protein shakes and women will love you” to fall on some very deaf (and very gay) ears. But the crafty beggar sussed me out- he worked out that I’m fundamentally lazy, and explicitly said there was a limit to how much I’d be willing to be pushed. He told me that he wouldn’t go overboard cause he knew I wasn’t interested in becoming ridiculously-built. He didn’t mention attracting women once. He scoffed at the idea of protein shakes and said I should just eat real food. And to top it all off he had good chat.

He got me. Read me like a book and now I’m paying extra money to the gym. I’m Chandler from Friends and there’s no way out. Excuse me while I go look for a fair-trade yoga mat.

M

Examine that

On Wednesday and Thursday I had the pleasure of sitting some exams. I thought it was two three-hour papers, but I found out on Sunday that it was in fact three papers. So you can tell the extent of the preparation I did for them..

It’s a bit annoying sitting professional exams- necessary hoops to jump through in order to progress in any speciality. Unlike exams at university, there’s no-one else really going through the exams with you, and other people don’t really understand what the exams are, so there’s a distinct lack of sympathy for attention-seeking people such as myself. Again unlike at university, you don’t get any time off to revise/learn for them, so all your work is being done in the evening when you’ve just come home from a (usually tiring) day at work. There’s also no sense of relief when you finish or pass them, as you’ve gotta go back to work and again, there’s no-one else doing them. The benefit of them not being university exams is that you can resit them if you fail. It just costs you several hundred quid each pop.

I shouldn’t complain too much though. It is useful learning things, and I’ve found myself using some of the new information in work. And any difficulty with passing them is probably down to my laziness more than anything else. They were difficult, but they were always gonna be difficult, so we’ll see in a couple of weeks time how they went.

Work’s been going well recently. Initially when I came back I was piecing together one-off shifts to get some money in, but since the start of February I’ve been working on a full rota in a hospital in Belfast. It’s been nice having a steady routine and income, and as well the hospital is small and really friendly which helps with job satisfaction. Got on a work night out the other week after some night shifts and had the standard slightly-awkward conversations in work several days later when people comment on my unexpected dancing enthusiasm.

I’ll be there until the end of this month, when I’m doing a couple of weeks in a lab doing voluntary work (essentially a studentship) to try and see what I think of research and whether/how much I’d want it to be a part of my future career. So at the minute I’m in saving mode to try and prepare for being unemployed again!

A pretty major positive over the past few weeks is that my sister has been able to come up to Belfast a good number of times with my new nephew in tow! The wee dude is doing really well, and is a very well-behaved child, rarely venturing anywhere near crying. I was really honoured a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to be his godfather! I said yes, as I figured any opportunity to further my mission to become his favourite should definitely be taken.

M

A gig around town

Trying to be alternative, I was at a few gigs last week. The first was a night called Output, an annual conference for people in the music production industry in Northern Ireland. I obviously didn’t go to this bit, but in the evening across about six different venues in Belfast there were a series of gigs from Irish artists. Mostly based in the cathedral quarter, the place was absolutely buzzing and people were having a great time running between the gigs- or even just setting up shop in one with a beer and seeing what was in store.

Some of the highlights:

A wee band from Armagh, these guys captivated the back bar in the Duke of York, silencing the room with their melodies (at least until my drunk friend fell off his chair).

Next up is a band from down south called Le Boom, who were having an absolute rave of a time in the Dirty Onion

 

As well as the Output festival, last weekend I went down to Dublin to see Tegan & Sara. They’re a Canadian band, are twins who are both gay, and their target audience is teenage girls from 2006. So I was kind of excited to see what the crowd would be like now that those gay teenagers are now pushing thirty.

Their past two albums have marked a change from acoustic to a more pop sound, and they changed some of their older tracks to reflect this on the night. Tegan was ill, and pumped up on antibiotics and steroids, battling through like a trooper. There was a lot of jumping, and the place was absolutely packed- the atmosphere was great, and Tegan’s determination to keep going helped to feed that.

Anyway, as per their song for the Lego movie, everything was awesome.

M

Things that need to happen

A child is born

Yesterday evening after work I flew down the motorway to Dublin where I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my new nephew! He was born on Thursday and it’s a little bit    pretty   massively exciting.

I know we’ve had nine months to prepare for this moment, but I was pretty amazed at what my sister has achieved. It sounds like things happened pretty quickly at the end, and she did really well throughout it. In true form, at one point she apparently turned to the midwife and said “I’m sorry, I’m normally really in control”.

She’s always been my sister, and then she became a couple, and now the three of them are a family.

The end result is this tiny little human, who just seems amazing. It’s impressive how quickly you can feel a strong connection to a baby- the instincts kick in and you find yourself fascinated just by looking at them. Holding him in my arms, my mind was boggled imagining his entire life stretching out ahead of him. I’ll hopefully get to be a part of this new person’s life, get to know his personality and see some of his life experiences. He’s going to have hopes, goals, favourite foods and pet peeves, and right now he’s a wee sleepy newborn who gives the middle finger when you try to take photos.

I’ve had a decent amount of success into fooling my young cousins into thinking that I’m actually cool, and I look forward to attempting the same feat of trickery with this kid.

M