Christmas Cookies, or anytime-spiced-iced-cookies

At the recent sugar craftnight in TOG (our annual Xmas party where the crafters eat too much cake and biscuits and hot chocolate), I had a go off proper icing, with an icing bag and all, and decorated a rather dapper velociraptor (raptor made by Becky).  It was also my first go off making royal icing for decorating, and I quite enjoyed the whole thing, so went out and got icing gear and a Christmas tree cutter so I could keep icing at home.

3 min read

Craigies Ballyhook Flyer 2012

This has been lying in the fridge for a few weeks, waiting for me to get around to drinking it.  The Craigies Ballyhook Flyer smells like actual apples, appley apples rather than fermented apples.  It's dark and cloudy and smells even more appley when it's in the glass.  It's a very dry cider, not as sweet as it smells, but it's very drinkable (now it's aaaaaaall gone).

If you like dry cider, you'll love it. If you like sweet cider, you won't. If like me, you prefer medium dry, you'll just have to try it, and have it at the right time when you're in the mood for it. I'd love to cook with it, I'd say it'd be lovely for casseroling sausages in. Sadly I'll have to go seek out a bottle in town and I can be lazy at times.

1 min read

When Science goes bad, there’s always Cake

Many of the scientists at work are talented bakers, and the rest are pro's at eating cake. Quite a few of us have the back up plan "if the science doesn't work out, I'll open a bakery/café/restaurant", after all, baking is a sort of science...

During an experiment that wasn't going very well, I started chatting with Laura about cakes that could represent various aspects of science, whether the experiment is working or not. So here's some of my possible science-cake suggestions, and some examples of how science can learn from disaster cakes.

1 min read

So you’re thinking about doing a PhD, eh?

It's that time of year, the undergraduates are finished and wondering what to do WITH THE REST OF THEIR LIVES OH NOES! So a number of them have been directed to me, and told "ask her what it's like, see if she'd recommend it". I shall restate most of my advice below, for those of you who haven't got to hear it from my face and because, apparently, it's not bad advice.

The first and biggest question: Why do you want to do a PhD?
It's the first thing I ask them, often it's one of the key questions in a PhD interview and, well, it's good to see if they have a clue what they'd be letting themselves in for (undergrad final year projects are generally carefully planned to be manageable, PhD projects, not so much).  I've had a number of responses, the most common being a shrug of the shoulders and an "I'm not sure, I just thought I'd like to do one". To a lesser extent I've heard "I don't want to get a boring job" and "I'd like to be a lecturer".
The last two are easiest to address, then we'll deal with the "don't knows". Lecturing postitions aren't the easiest to come by these days. In biotech only 5% of PhD graduates have a chance of getting to be lecturers while in engineering it's a bit closer to 20%, but still, not a guaranteed endpoint (stats off the top of my head and an engineering colleague's, handy confirmatory link found by @alanmrice). As for I don't want a boring job, why don't you want a boring job? First off, real world jobs are more likely to come with lovely things like stability and a pension.  Secondly, haven't you seen me repeat the same experiments for weeks/months? That's what I'll be doing for years, there's some scope for thinking outside the box and planning my own work, but most of it is a slog through identifying problems and possible solutions, over and over.
If you don't know why you want to do a PhD, then really and truly think hard and find a reason.  If you can't then don't do one, get a job, do a masters, travel for a year, volunteer for some charity you've always admired, do anything more worthwhile than starting a PhD that you don't particularly want. At the very least talk to a lot of PhD students, and then talk to a lot of people who supervise groups you'd be very interested in working with (note the word very, a vague interest in a broad field might not be enough to drag you through 5 years of drudgery).

Next big question I ask them: Do you actually need a PhD?
Well? Do you? My first piece of homework for my young advice takers is "go look up the jobs websites, see if there's any jobs you'd like, and see what qualifications you need for them".  If the job you want most in this world doesn't need a PhD, then why waste years getting a qualification that you don't need to have when you could be earning far more money and doing the job you always wanted.  There are jobs that having a PhD could overqualify you for. If you think like a hiring manager then you'd think "this person has a great degree and is probably only applying for this job until they can find a better one, I won't be able to keep them".  Sometimes a relevant masters is needed for the job, a masters will only take a year or two, and will let you enter the jobs market sooner.  The final salary difference between a masters graduate and a PhD graduate makes you wonder if the PhD is even worth the extra effort.
There are many jobs that require a PhD, but the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that many also accept a larger number of years of experience outside a PhD in its place.  Prior to starting this PhD, I figured I'd like an industrial research gig, but the job ads at the time all wanted a PhD or ten years experience, so I decided a PhD would be quicker to get than ten years in industry.
A PhD is basically shorthand for "I have 3/4/5 years experience, learning new skills and (mostly) managing my own work".

8 min read

Tempted? Summer Sweet

Tempted? are a cidery based in Northern Ireland who have a range of Irish craft ciders, and bring out the odd seasonal batch of something new.  This summer's offering is Summer Sweet, and it is so very sweet.

Unfortunately, despite my fondness for sugar, it was a bit too sweet. It's a cloudy cider, with a strong oakey taste as well. A few ciders do the woody-taste well, but with the extreme sweetness, it just didn't work out.  I'll stick to the other ciders in Tempted?'s core range, and wait to see what appears next year instead.

~1 min read