PhD Studentship opportunity

We have a PhD studentship available with a starting date of October 1st 2014. If you are a UK or EU national and have the equivalent of a UK upper second class honours degree in a life sciences subject from a UK or EU university, then we would welcome your application. Please submit a cv and covering letter to Simon.Langley-Evans@Nottingham.ac.uk by 3rd September 2014.

The studentship is funded by the British Heart Foundation and covers all fees for 3 years. The starting stipend payable to the student is £19919, rising to £23298 in the third year of the project.

 

Research area

Undernutrition during fetal life is associated with programming of metabolic function, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Evidence is mounting that maternal obesity is also a risk for adverse programming. However, exploration of the mechanistic basis of programming is challenging, as animal models of obesity generally use hypercaloric diets based upon a narrow range of pure fats or sugars. These may have effects independently of maternal body composition. A cafeteria diet (a varying panel of highly palatable foods) is known to have a programming effect on glucose homeostasis in rodents, through epigenetic modification and altered expression of the insulin-signalling pathway. This project will utilize an established rat model of cafeteria feeding to investigate tissue sensitivity of such effects and the role of epigenetics in programming the insulin-signalling pathway. The relative contributions of maternal obesity and over-feeding to establishing metabolic and cardiovascular phenotypes will be dissected through cross-fostering and staged feeding experiments.

Training opportunities for the student

The student will receive a training in a broad spectrum of techniques which cover whole animal physiology, the use of animal models of nutrition and disease and molecular biology. All of the techniques to be used within the project currently operate routinely within the Langley-Evans and Elmes laboratories and the School of Biosciences. The student will be trained by both supervisors, supported by current PhD students, and the expert technical team within the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Nottingham.

The techniques to be used are:

Animals and whole body physiology.
• Blood pressure determination by indirect methods. The student will also be exposed to telemetry methods.
• Glucose tolerance testing.
• Running rigorous animal feeding trials.

Ex vivo cardiovascular physiology.
• Wire myography to determine response of resistance arteries to vaso-relaxant and vasoconstrictor agents.

Determination of gene and protein expression.
• Western blotting.
• Real time quantitative PCR.
• Methylation specific PCR.
• Pyrosequencing
• Chromatin Immunoprecipitation

In addition to the technical and project specific laboratory training, the student will receive a rigorous grounding in statistical analysis. The student will also access the University of Nottingham Graduate School generic training portfolio, currently comprising ~80 individual courses covering all aspects of researcher development. The courses are mapped against RCUK requirements, as defined in the Researcher Development Framework set out in the University of Nottingham Quality Manual. This central programme exists to complement the discipline-specific research training offered to research students by the supervisors.

After the agony comes the ecstasy

I recently wrote about the dismal experience of grant rejection after being smitten with the rejection-letter blues. Now I am in the happy position of reporting on the contrasting outcome of grant success.
 
As luck would have it the good news was penned by the same research officer whose bland acknowledgement of the time and effort put into an unsuccessful application elicited such annoyance and depression a few weeks ago. I was on holiday when I got the news and was taking a sneaky look at my email in one of e few zones of the property where a signal was available. That ominous subject line ‘Decision on application XYZ1234, popped into view. What to do? Do I look and risk my bonhomie and relaxation being flushed away? Do I try to forget I had seen it? I had to look of course… And the news was good!
 
So what happens then, when good news comes in? Well, whereas rejection opens up a black hole of despair and rage, confirmation of successful funding gives you wings and the ability to walk on water. I rushed around the house declaring my awesomeness. I tweeted my success. I shouted it out to the uncomprehending residents (maybe only ten in total) of the small French hamlet where I was staying and then told my family over and over and over again. Getting a grant is the greatest affirmation from skeptical peers that your ideas are good, that your research plans are worthwhile and that the effort that went into writing (6 weeks, plus the previous years of lab work) constituted time well spent. The sad thing is that with the value placed on funding over and above published outputs, these moments where success is confirmed become of greater significance than doing the science, obtaining the results and analyzing the data. However, a few days on I am coming down to earth, looking forward to bringing somebody new into the lab and getting stuck in to some fascinating new experiments.
 
 Luckily being in France when I got my positive decision meant that a bottle of bubbly was available. It proved inadequate, but there was plenty more to be had.

Rejection dejection

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I wasn’t going to post anything about this topic as it feels like washing dirty laundry in public, but before I take a short break for the summer I need to get it off my chest…

I got one of those unfortunate letters last week from one of my favourite funding bodies. It was one of those letters which end with the statement:

We do appreciate the time and trouble taken to prepare applications for grants and I am sorry to write such disappointing news.

I’m sure any academic readers out there will know exactly the range of emotions that this statement elicits. Outrage, disappointment, stunned shock (is that an emotion?) all play through the brain in rapid succession as the world momentarily falls away from beneath your feet. It is a statement that has been written by the non-academic to try and acknowledge the disappointment and deflect any of that outrage that might be sent back via email. It is a bland understatement of the flipping obvious that just throws petrol on the flames. It is a nothing statement that has been produced by someone who has never received a grant rejection letter. What the author of such lines does not know is that:

GRANT REJECTION HURTS! A LOT.

It hurts like hell. The words informing you of your rejection are the knife that slips in under your ribs, hefted by a hidden assassin. Surprisingly you survive the assault, but it soon emerges that the knife was coated liberally in a slow acting poison. This poison targets your central nervous system and over the days and weeks to come you will suffer random bouts of anger at the reviewers who so cruelly provided the basis for your rejection, rage at the committee who could not see the positive points provided by said reviewers, fury at the funding body who have forbidden resubmission, and deep self-loathing for the silly mistakes that weren’t picked up before submission. Between the angry phases comes a feeling of utter helplessness. A great idea (usually your best ever) has been trashed (usually for the flimsiest of reasons). The overall effect is almost like a bereavement or the sadness at the end of a long-term relationship. There is a grieving to go through and a period where you question whether you’re really cut out for this academic malarky. Wouldn’t a proper job be more fulfilling? Do we really need to keep setting ourselves up for a grand kicking from our research rivals? Why not open a B&B in a pretty and far away place? Or sail away on a boat to where life is simple? Or (my personal favourite) work the land to support yourself on a Scottish croft?

The bland understatement from the administrator comes nowhere near to the truth of  my grant-writing experience. Yes, I did take a lot of trouble to prepare my application. I would guess it was 6 weeks of thinking and writing and discussion, but that was the tip of the iceberg, because there were 4 years before that where we gathered the data that supported the application, got it published and refined the hypotheses that I eventually went with. I am also a lucky person. I have had funding before, I know how the game is played and I am not fighting for my career. For others at the start of academia, these rejections mean so much more- they can shatter careers completely and snuff them out before they get started. Grant applications are about peoples jobs and wellbeing.

I am pissed off. Dejected. Blue. I feel crushed and (yes, just a little bit) humiliated.

But the good news is that I still care. I will arise phoenix-like from the ashes and I will try again. I will triumph and crush mere mortals beneath my mighty research boots. This is what we do. Academics are a sub-species of humanity who have evolved to have a hide like a rhino, an immune system that can combat the poison on the assassin’s knife and a brain that keeps cycling through to the next big idea. I also make a vow- there are two grant proposals in my inbox as I write and I vow to be nice. I vow to respect the authors and include many positives in my reports and give them the fighting chance that they deserve.

Fellowships opportunities now available.

The University of Nottingham has two Fellowship schemes available to exceptional postdoctoral researchers. If you have an interest in either the Nottingham Research Fellowship scheme or the Anne McLaren Fellowship scheme and would be interested in taking up a position in the School of Biosciences, please contact me in the first instance.

 

Both schemes provide 3 years of Fellowship support and lead to a permanent tenured position.