The gym has officially become my home

When every single worker at the gym knows you, and when the receptionist lets you in as soon as she sees you, that’s when you know you’ve been spending too much time at the sports centre. My project involves testing the cognitive performance of individuals before and after an acute bout of running, investigating the extent to which potential positive or negative effects can come to last throughout the day. So, naturally I get to spend most of my time at the gym testing participants, coming to realise just how monotonous research can get. The first time you test someone, it feels quite exciting. You feel very important and grand for being able to actually carry out a project all by yourself: you’re a researcher now! Unfortunately, I did not find my initial and childish enthusiasm to be long-lasting. Sitting right next to a person while they’re completing a cognitive task is not a thrilling experience. Yet, I do have to admit it’s preferable to actually setting up the study.

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Before the start of the internship, I was naive enough to believe that, as I had already come up with a protocol for my topic, actually designing and implementing the study was going to be a very straightforward process. I was wrong. First of all, getting ethical approval can be a pain. Having to fill in dozens of forms, while at the same time making sure to be consistent throughout the application, is an extremely frustrating and nerve racking process. Adding to the mix the fact that I needed to get approval before actually coming up with the technicalities of implementing the design, I can confidently say that June was a slow and annoying month. I’d sometimes find myself wondering whether I was doing something wrong, as I felt as if I had nothing left to do. I even started learning coding by myself (which was a big disaster), attempting to polish my skills for the future. I had never worked solely on a project before, so all the extra time was making me feel paranoid. I thought I wasn’t working hard enough, and I got quite confused every time I met my supervisor and received positive comments regarding my diligence and discipline. How was that even possible? In my mind, I was barely doing anything!

Then, approval came, and I realised that the previous period was not that bad… Using coding software to set up cognitive tasks proved to be a very taxing task. Trying to find scripts online, while also despairing in the thought of having to come up with a code all by myself, certainly stressed me out, making me realise that research is not only about coming up with a proposal. Instead, it is the practical bits that can be the hardest. Fortunately, thanks to my supervisor’s effective intervention, which also included him being frustrated with MatLab, I was able to put everything into place and start testing participants. However, I came across a new problem: I had no participants! I had been so preoccupied with setting up the study, that I had not found anyone who was willing to participate at that point. In my defence, I wasn’t sure whether I would have been ready enough to start testing on a potential starting date, so I tried avoiding coming up with a testing schedule before I was confident enough of its plausibility. Nonetheless, I was glad enough to find out that there were actually people who were keen on torturing themselves with my exercise tasks, coming to provide salvation for my study. Thus, I am in the (un)fortunate position to be able to test a participant every single day (yes, including weekends) until the end of the month, barely having time to engage in other activities which are unrelated to my experiment.

Hopefully, I will be able to get as many participants as I want. Yet, regardless of whether I succeed in doing so, this project has been very enlightening in helping me understand how scientific research works, equipping me with valuable knowledge for my future endeavours in academia. I hope that my recollection of my summer work so far was not an excruciatingly painful experience for anyone who was unlucky enough to read it. Even if it was though, keep in mind that while you were reading this, it is most probable that I was at the sports centre, waiting for a participant to finish pressing the spacebar.

Scipio Africanus and how the past is imagined

My initial research was fairly straightforward. It began as a study of how the past is constructed in collective memory and, more specifically, why certain pieces of history are remembered while others are forgotten. I chose a period of history tied to a particular location – Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade – and considered how relevant it was to collective memory long after the events had ended. As the weeks have gone on however, my question has begun to unravel in all its complexities. What began as a study of memory has become a study of identity. Communities may remember or forget events to construct a particular narrative of the past. These narratives often form the cornerstone of the collective identity. In this way, the past is imagined.

The slave trade is a traumatic event inextricably connected to the history of the British Empire. It represents the ‘dark side’ of our imperial past, and one that complicates any overtly positive narrative of national history. Perhaps in light of this problem, remembrance of the slave trade has been marginalised for a very long time. In fact, until the 1990s there appears no genuine attempt to encourage awareness of this side of British history in the political domain. The silence was broken in 1997 when efforts were made by Tony Blair’s Labour Party to officially commemorate the slave trade.

The timing of this ‘explosion of memory’ is perhaps apt. It came at a time of mounting criticism of the notion of Britishness in mainstream media as well as academic circles. This criticism culminated in the publication of The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain: The Parekh Report (2000). The authors of the report proposed a model of Britain as a “community of communities”, rather than territorially organised. They emphasised the need for a re-evaluation of Britishness’ that would integrate its multi-ethnic communities through inclusive multiculturalism. This debate was reflected in the aforementioned memory shift: the political success of Labour’s multiculturalism brought new zeal to commemorate and remember the slave trade in order to openly recognise the history of Britain’s Afro-Caribbean communities. In Bristol, this shift is best reflected in the creation of the Bristol Slave Trade Action Group (BSTAG) charged with the task of making the history of the slave trade more visible to the public.

My past discussion details the policies of the past (Vergangenheitspolitik, to borrow Norbert Frei’s term) that local authorities pursue in order to shape popular memory. Unfortunately for my research, the impetus to remember in the political sphere only began during the late ‘90s, as I previously mentioned. My research, however, was intended to consider how the memory of the slave trade changed from 1945 until 2015. This meant that there was a dearth of information for a significant portion of my scope. I had to reconsider the nature of my question and to find creative ways to overcome this obstacle.

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Windrush Graffiti, St. Paul’s, Bristol

When we speak of collective memory, we have to be careful who exactly we are referring to; one geographical area is not often homogenous. The same holds true for Bristol. Bristol is a diverse city made up of many different ethnic and religious communities. This means that historical events can mean widely different things to different people. In Bristol, the most significant group in regards to my research is the Afro-Caribbean community predominantly around St. Pauls, Bristol, who arrived mostly from the post-war Windrush migration. The expansion of this community in the post-war years had huge sociocultural and political implications for Bristol and the rest of the UK. The political and social marginalisation of the community culminated in the explosive conflicts of the 1980s, most significantly in the St. Paul’s riots of 1980 and 1987. The effect has been the articulation of an identity in direct relation to the experience of the community, particularly through the production of new forms of culture.

The cultural flourishing of Bristol’s Afro-Caribbean community in the 1970s and 1980s is most evident in the music scene. The younger generation infused the style of their Afro-Caribbean inheritance with new energy found in their political alienation in Britain. Reggae provided the medium to express the experiences of Black youth living in Bristol. ‘Bristol Rock’ by Black Roots (1981) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emkgDApmuDY) captures this perfectly. The song – which repeats the name of Scipio Africanus, a famous slave buried in Bristol, in the chorus – connects the bands experience as black Britons to that of the West African slave.

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‘Sold Down the River’, by Tony Forbes (© BBC Museums 2003)

In a similar vein, the painting ‘Sold Down the River’ by Tony Forbes continues this idea that the memory of the slave trade has different meaning to different groups of people. The painting was created as a reaction to the 1996 International Festival of the Sea which celebrated Bristol’s maritime history without recognising the slave trade as a crucial part of it. The painting expresses his sense of betrayal: chained to a raft, the black character is being pulled downstream by the mainstream media while the statue of Edward Colston (a Bristol benefactor whose wealth came mostly from the exploitation of slaves) stands behind. Controversial and provocative, the piece is highly interesting in showing this contest of memory.

These examples help illustrate the complexities of the history of memory: the past is imagined; it means different things to different people. This Laidlaw project has taught me that research never has to be so straightforward and predictable. If I had followed a strict route at the start of my project, I may not have had the same feeling of discovery as I had with this one. An open mind and curious desire were essential to the enjoyment and success of my project.

I wish everyone luck in their research!

 

Crime and punishment

Let’s play a game.

You’re a judge. You read a short crime description and you have to decide about severity of punishment for the defendant on a scale from 1 to 7.

Here’s the story:

“Amanda has a really busy schedule every Tuesday, so she usually packs herself a quick lunch to eat during the day. Today she forgot to take it to work, so she is really hungry and she has no time to go out to lunch with her friends. She decided to go to the workplace café and buy a sandwich. When she got there, she realised she had no money on her, and she did not have the time to come back for her wallet. She was really hungry and knew that was her last chance to eat something before she gets home in the evening, so she took a sandwich from the stall at the café when no one is looking. The shop has a closed circuit TV and the theft is recorded.”

Ready with your judgment?

Now, would you change your verdict depending on the version of defendant’s face? Have a look at the picture.

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You probably think your decision would be the same. We like to believe, as humans, we are rational and don’t let someone’s appearance bias our decisions. I believe that’s not true, but we’re yet to find out.

That’s exactly what my research is about. I’m currently conducting an online study on how the perceived health of a defendant affects the severity of punishment they get for a crime. In simpler words, can we get away with more if we look healthy. Participants are presented with short descriptions of a crime and a defendant’s face, and they’re asked to ascribe the appropriate severity of punishment. However, the faces that they see are manipulated in two dimensions to create the high (face on the right) and low (face on the left) perceived health. Don’t worry, the pictures are not actual photos of people, but several photos merged together to create a new, unrecognisable face.

Preparing my study wasn’t as easy or fast as I thought it would be. On the first day of my internship, I arrived at the perception lab not knowing anything about the practical side of face research. I attended two-day workshop to learn how to merge actual faces to create new ones and how to transform them in different ways (I can even make you look more like your favourite celebrity). It then took a lot of work in front of a computer in the undergrounds of School of Psychology.

The hardest thing for me though was the actual management of my project. I needed the study to start early enough to collect all the data I need before the end of my internship. It made me realise how important is leadership in academia. There was no one else to make sure my project would be ready on time, no one else to take the initiative, but me. My research required the cooperation of several people, so I needed to step up and make sure everything was ready on time. Much thanks to the leadership weekend, but also guidance from my supervisor, I managed to get my first (ever) psychology study running!

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Despite the reference to a classical literature book in the title of this post, my internship is not about English and sadly not about the fascinating world of Wonderland. I refer to Alice’s dizzying flight down the rabbit hole because that is what the last few weeks has felt like for me.

I started my research project at the end of June, diligently attempting to ignore the grad week festivities going on around me in order to take on the daunting task of defining Chinese self-identity. To do justice to a country that boasts over 3000 years of history, 1.4 billion people, and my own ancestry is an immense task, one that I threw myself into headfirst with no real map to guide me. As I dug myself deeper and deeper into the research, my brain and my notebook filled up with the voices of Chinese history. I learned about my own people and the way they’ve struggled and worked to define themselves in a world designed to keep them small. Pages and pages went by as I saw the country I grew up in viewed through the eyes of the country of my parents and their parents before them. I kept reading and learning and absorbing these tales I hadn’t heard before, perspectives I hadn’t considered, and I became invested in their story. But, as great as it was to learn about how intellectuals debated the path of China’s rise or how leaders struggled to learn from the mistakes of their friends and enemies alike, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into a tunnel of research that seemed to have no end. What I had managed to learn so far was fascinating, but I was completely without focus. How did what I had learned so far help me to answer the questions I was asking? With too much information in my head and no idea what exactly my research question was, I knew I needed to stop falling, catch my breath, and refocus on the point of all this searching. In my quest to learn as much as possible, I had forgotten the all important question of: so what?

So today I stopped reading for a second and sat down to just collect my thoughts and look over the facts I had accumulated. Before I could keep moving forwards, I had to stop and evaluate what I had managed to gain so far. To start, I went all the way back to my Laidlaw application to examine my initial research proposal. With that printed out and at hand, I set about looking at my notes and determining why it all mattered. What did each book or article contribute to the larger question? How was this author’s contribution useful to answering the question? Where were the gaps in my knowledge? What were the problems my research had shown existed in the original question?

I realized by the end of the day that I had a few problems.

  1. Given how little I knew about China and Chinese national identity, I had dedicated the last few weeks to learning about Chinese history and nationalism. What I needed to do now was actually employ my methodology of choice, discourse analysis, to primary documents. I had to take what I had learned about China and use it to search primary documents for predicates, metaphors, and influences of dominant discourse. Reading books is my comfort zone, but it was time to do the thing I had no previous experience doing, and that was evaluate primary documents.
  2. Before I could start on primary documents though, I needed to refine my criteria for what primary documents to use. National identity is sadly not as defined a concept as it may seem. There is no one account of national identity; depending on personal traits and position in society, what one considers “national identity” can vary quite significantly. Thus, choosing a specific source like a newspaper or an article in a foreign policy journal will mean picking one group of people’s idea of national identity. As much as I would like to include everyone’s perspective, I can’t. So I have to pick which group to analyze and then from there, pick what sources to use.
  3. There was a problem with the original question, in that it tried to isolate self-identity from perception of the self by others. Constructivism, the ideology my methodology subscribes to, maintains that identity is mutually constitutive. A person’s self-identity is based off of how they perceive themselves and how they believe others perceive them. Thus, I can’t speak about China’s self-identity independent of how they believe the US perceives them. If I cannot isolate one from the other, can I still study the two concurrently or should I focus only on Chinese self-identity while bringing in how America’s perception of China influenced that national identity?

During the term, this would normally be the time that I’d go to my tutor. Armed with enough information to seem informed, but still pretty confused, I’d lay out my questions with the hope that they’d provide some direction or give me some insight. Since I don’t have a tutor in this instance, I emailed my supervisor to see if she could be of some assistance. The relationship we have with each other is very hands-off. I haven’t spoken to her about the project since the application process, other than to say I’d gotten it and that I’d be in town by the end of June. I am not really sure if she’s here (I don’t think she is), but I hope that a Skype session or even a phone call will help me figure out where to go next with my project. I’ll just have to change my Skype name really quickly before she calls because I might die of embarrassment if I have to tell her my username is…

Nope, not going to tell you guys either. As great an end it would have made to this post, a girl has got to have her secrets! So there you have it. A few weeks in and I feel a little bit like I’m at the middle of the rabbit hole. I’ve been falling for long enough that I’ve travelled quite a ways from the very start. I’ve learned more than a few things, but have kind of lost myself in the information too much to actually move anymore. I now need to pause for a second, set the parameters of my exploration, map out a path, and then keep falling. I know there is still a lot more to discover and I look forwards to it very much. But this middle step is necessary to relocate the purpose of the project and guide my next steps forwards.

In case this was tl;dr, here’s the King of Hearts with a really pretty fail-proof plan:

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”alice falling

BEC

Hello everyone, I hope you are all doing well.

(Do you get the joke of the title? It is condensed and I am studying condensates! No, OK, it is not very funny…)

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through all the posts before mine. Thank you all for sharing your experiences and in such excellent prose. Everybody’s projects sound so interesting and I can feel the contagious enthusiasm in every post.

It has been seventeen weeks since we had our first leadership weekend, and I can’t believe how the time has flown. I highly value what I learned about leadership and research during the weekend, but I also appreciate the feeling of community with my fellow interns that I took away from it. Since starting my project, this has only strengthened as I have chanced upon new friends around St Andrews. The networking lunch of last Tuesday was one such delight and of course a welcome return to the excellent food provided at all CAPOD events!

I hope that now you won’t be too put off as I delve into what I’ve been up to the past few weeks. As a scientist, I feel I am in the minority of my cohort that might find it slightly more difficult to explain to everyone why their project is so awesome. Honestly, it is interesting! All right, on to the theoretical physics.

I have an intense interest in understanding how the universe fundamentally works. Quantum mechanics is a fascinating theory that tries to do just this and so I take great delight in exploring it.

Time for a quick jargon guide (sorry):

  • BEC is an acronym for Bose-Einstein condensation (more on that to come).
  • Absolute zero is −273.15 °C and is literally as cold as it gets.
  • Spin is an intrinsic property of particles that is related to angular momentum.
  • By particles, I mean things like protons, neutrons, electrons and atomic nuclei.
  • Bosons are simply particles that have integer spin values of spin.
  • Polarisation of light is familiar in the context of polarised sunglasses, which
    reduce glare by filtering out one polarisation.

One curious spectacle of our world that can be described through quantum mechanics is BEC. I am sure you are all familiar with the four fundamental states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. You might not be aware that if you push a system’s conditions (such as temperature, pressure and energy) to their extremes, other exotic states of matter are revealed. BEC is one such state, generally attained by cooling a gas of bosons (such as helium-4 atoms) to a temperature of near absolute zero. This induces the majority of the bosons to simultaneously occupy the lowest quantum state, which could loosely be described as the particles merging into a ‘super-particle’ as they all fall into the same single state. First theorised in 1924 by (you guessed it) Bose and Einstein, it was not experimentally observed until 70 years later when the first BEC was produced by Cornell and Wieman at the University of Colorada Boulder. The past two decades have seen our understanding of the state grow along with much laboratory observation of BEC of atomic nuclei, molecules and quasi-particles.

However, it was not until 2010 that the most common and familiar boson – light, in the form of photons – was successfully condensed. The challenge to this feat is that unlike with particles like atomic nuclei, photon number is not conserved. That is to say, photons are particles that can be created and destroyed – think of a light bulb creating light – whereas conservation laws prevent such creation and annihilation the other mentioned bosons. Thus, on cooling a system to attempt to condense a gas of photons, the photons will be absorbed into surrounding matter, leaving nothing to condense.

The photon BEC was achieved in an optical microcavity, the space between two very small and close mirrors, which was filled with dye molecules. To maintain a sufficient population of photons, a laser was used to pump the system. The gas of photons thermalises through interaction with the dye molecules to the temperature of the dye molecules, meaning the photon BEC could be produced at room temperature.

This exciting breakthrough has drawn the focus of much experimental and theoretical research, opening prospects to further probe the underlying nature of the universe and test our understanding in the context of quantum mechanics as well as its potential application in offering a new coherent high-frequency light source.

A theoretical model of the system exists; however, there has been limited progress in studying the effects of polarisation in photon BECs and the model lacks polarisation. As yet unpublished experiments at Imperial College London have shown that the way light is polarised changes on condensation. To investigate this phenomenon, I have been developing the model to include polarisation. What does this mean day to day? Well, I’ll break it down by week. (I should mention that I can by no means take full credit for my accomplishments so far – my supervisor, Jonathan, has been extremely supportive of my project and I am inspired by the insight he always shows during our discussions).

  1. During the first week, I got myself up to speed with the work done on the existing non-equilibrium model of photon BEC. I read through the relevant papers, caught up with the required analytical physics and mathematical techniques required to describe such a system and followed the derivation of the quantum master equation of the system. Having accomplished this, I rederived the rate equations which describe the system through a semiclassical approximation of the master equation to convince myself that it was correct and that I understood it.
  2. Now that I had the established physics behind me, I could move on to some new physics. Starting from those rate equations that I mentioned, I generalised them to allow the description of polarised light. It turned out that the best way to do this was to re-express the equations in spherical harmonic space (rather than angle space, which was the first thought). Working analytically (ie. with pen and paper), this inevitably meant that I had to wrestle with some horrible integrals to try to get a result. I did manage to solve most of the integrals by clever manipulation of and use of the orthogonality of the associated Legendre polynomials introduced by the spherical harmonics, but a couple of the integrals remained stubbornly intractable.
  3. Feeling that analytics had taken me as far as it could, I turned to numerical methods to solve this final obstinate part of the equations (I hope I don’t sound too resentful about that). After a discussion, we had decided that the problem could be solved analytically, but that it would take a lot of work. Thankfully and somewhat surprisingly for me, the numeric result was simple and quick to obtain. This gave me a set of coupled equations which described the system including the effects of polarisation. Now all I had to do to investigate the behaviour was to solve them, so I started writing some code to do just this. Unfortunately, by the end of the week, I still had not managed to obtain the expected results.
  4. Enter the debugging week. I went back through both my analytical work and all the code (and my supervisor proofread) to check for errors. Finding plenty (oh dear) I set about fixing them as I came across them. Finally, by the end of the week, I ran the code and it was with great joy that I saw the output graph of the populations had that lovely curve to a steady state that I had been looking for the last two weeks.
  5. It is week five already? How on earth did that happen so quickly? Now that I have a working (I hope – I’ll do some tests after writing this) simulation of the system, I can start probing the physics of it and see if any interesting behaviour is apparent considering the polarisation.

Which brings me up to this point now. I feel that I have probably written a bit much already and I am excited to test my simulation, so I will leave you to do just that.

To conclude, some acknowledgements:

Thank you so much to CAPOD – especially Eilidh and Cat – for the leadership weekends, the networking events (of which I would love to attend more), the tremendous effort they put into this programme and for always brightening my day when we meet.

To Lord Laidlaw, I am indescribably grateful for your generosity in providing us all with the opportunity to dedicate our summer to research we care deeply about and to develop as tomorrow’s leaders.

 

Hidden behind the Iron Curtain

7.30 am. My alarm clock goes off. Pretty early for the summer, but because of the heat in my attic in northern Poland at this time of year, I probably wouldn’t sleep much longer anyway.

Still half-asleep, I think about the border which this summer is nearly always present in my mind – the Iron Curtain. I imagine myself trying to cross it: it’s heavily guarded, I’m in danger, and I know that once I’m on the other side, there will be no return. The familiar view from the skylight window re-assures me, but this product of my imagination was in fact the reality for my parents’ generation: until 1989, Polish borders were virtually closed. My Laidlaw Internship involves researching the interactions between Poles and international students who made their way to the coastal town of Gdynia (which happens to be my hometown) prior to 1989.

This is a typical day of my project: by the evening, I will have visited two Universities, one library and one archive, travelled by 6 different buses and trains, interviewed someone, and read a total of about 2,000 names.

 

8.39. The train takes me to the Marine University in Gdynia. I kick off my day with a two-hour visit to the University Library, where the staff has kindly provided me with a complete list of alumni. In order to find out how many international students were enrolled in a given year, I identify foreign-sounding names on the list. In the interconnected Europe of the twenty-first century this may sound grotesque. However, until 1989 Poland was such a homogenous country that a native speaker of Polish can easily single out those names which belong to foreigners.

One page from the list of alumni of the Naval Academy

One page from the list of alumni of the Naval Academy

11.00. I pay a visit to the University Archives, guided by the ever helpful curator Ewa Otremba. I want to access the records of some of the students whose names I found on the alumni list. However, I am informed that I need to obtain permission from the University Principal. At first, the word “bureaucracy” comes to my mind. However, I soon realise that this procedure protects personal data of the alumni, many of whom are still alive. After all, I wouldn’t like it if my own student records were made available to everyone.

Data at the Marine University is still easier to access than the archives of the Naval Academy. This second university where I do my research is under the auspices of the Polish Navy. I was already denied access to some materials for reasons of national security – which adds a romantic veil of mystery to my research.

 

12.30. Lunch. Pierogi – a more mundane (but still convincing) reason to do research in Poland.

 

13.30. I reach the Naval Academy, where I interview one of the alumni (now the deputy Principal) about his foreign friends during his studies in the 1980s. Interviews are an integral part of my research. I want to find out how meeting international students shaped the Poles’ national identity and their views on foreigners. Before carrying out the interviews, I needed to apply for ethical approval to UTREC. Filling out their forms prompted me to consider the ethical implications of my research and potential threats to my participants. I find it important that my interviewees have a chance to make an informed decision on whether to participate. Therefore, I prepared information and consent forms for them.

 

17.00. Free time. Since I’m conducting research in my home town, I have a chance to spend some time with my friends and family in the evenings. I also read a lot this summer. I have just finished The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… And Why by the social psychologist Richard Nisbett. The topic is not directly relevant to my work. However, by analysing Nisbett’s methods I started to appreciate even more the importance of interdisciplinary background research for carrying out any study.

 

20.00. In the evening I write a weekly report for my project supervisor. Dr Bernhard Struck has been very supportive from the early planning stages last year. Even though I am staying in Poland for the entire duration of our project, we stay in touch via email, Google Docs and Skype.

I finish the report just in time for the EURO 2016 Semi-finals.

 

My days in Poland are flying surprisingly swift, and this research project is definitely a learning experience. Even though some aspects of my work, such as reading long lists of names, seem monotonous at times, the feeling of exploring new territories (and, hopefully, laying ground for some more extensive future research) is a reward in itself. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Lord Laidlaw for generous financial support and, more importantly, for creating a framework in which honours students can engage in real-life research.

Mad, drunk, diseased, or just in love?

My project is the exploration of imagery and motifs used in love poetry, spanning across different ages, and cultures: from the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians, to the British. Five weeks in, and I have discovered that these conceptions of and about both love, lovers, and the experience of love, have, for the most part, evolved and adapted according to each context. The imagery and motifs of death, disease, destruction, madness, slavery, war, and fire, amongst others, have prevailed even to this day, and yet we never pause to question from where they arose. For me, this is just another example of the relevance of ancient civilisations to the modern world, and another illustration of how their way of thinking still influences our ideas, our thoughts, and our identity today. This is especially pertinent given the great emphasis in our society on marketing, presentation and image; where symbols and brands are used to convey meaning and symbolism – a concern which was manifestly shared by the poets in their presentation of love and lovers.

Madness, and the idea of a mad lover, is one motif which originates from the Ancient Greeks, and Romans. However, their conception of madness, is not one which is necessarily limited to the raging mad and frenzied lover, but also includes the idea of someone with a lack of rationality, whose love and emotions prevail over logical reasoning in their decision-making. For example in Sappho 16.7-11: “᾿Ελενα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα/ τὸν [πανάρ]ιστον /καλλίποισ᾿ ἔβα ᾿ς Τροΐαν πλέοι[σα/ κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδος οὐδε φίλων το[κ]ήων / πάμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ᾿ αὔταν” (Helen, left her husband, who was best of all, and went sailing to Troy, with no thought at all for her child or dear parents, but (love) led her astray). Manifestly, Sappho presents Helen here as so consumed by her love that she completely forgets about all her responsibilities, her reputation, and the consequences of her actions. Her emotions and desire prevail over any rational thought, and so in that sense she is ‘mad’. This is emphasised linguistically by the ironic juxtaposition of “᾿Ελένα [το]ν ἄνδρα” because it visually enacts her proper place beside him, who is described as “τὸν [πανάρ]ιστον”, in emphatic enjambement. This heightens the idea of Helen’s madness for leaving her husband who was “best of all”, and heightens this transgression. This idea is conveyed by “παράγαγ’”, in the prefix “παρά”, since this is usually used in the sense of ‘beyond’, but also ironically ‘beside’: a clever contradiction which illustrates her situation of no longer being beside him because she has gone beyond the limits of her position. Furthermore, her irrationality is illustrated by the fact that she abandoned her entire family, “πά[μπαν]”; but even more outrageous is the use of “μιμνήσκω”, which suggests that she did not even remember them – rather she was consumed completely by love.

The idea of frenzy, and madness in the conventional sense, is manifest in Propertius I.V.1-4: “quid tibi vis, insane? Meae sentire furores?/ infelix, properas ultima nosse mala,/ et miser ignotos vestigia ferre per ignes,/ et bibere e tota toxica Thessalia.” (What do you want, madman? To feel my frenzies? Wretched man, you hasten to get to know the most extreme misfortunes, and wretched man, you hasten to carry your steps through unknown fires, and to drink poisons from the whole of Thessaly.) Propertius addresses the man as “insane”, “infelix” and “miser”, which epitomises his experience of love, and reinforces the suggestion of madness as a necessary trait, and result, for those in love. Anyone who desires to be in love, and is in love, are mad, because he insinuates that the experience is unbearable:  it is emphatically described as “ultima..mala”, which is heightened by the use of the superlative “ultima”: it is not just an evil, but the worst one possible. In addition, the experience of being in love is equated to the painful experience of going through “ignotes…ignes”, and consuming “toxica”. Thessaly is traditionally known for its witches, and the potency of these poisons is enhanced by the alliteration of ‘t’ in the phrase “tota toxica Thessalia”, and the fact that they are from the whole of Thessaly. Furthermore, the sensation of love is described as “sentire furores”; “furor” in itself conveys the idea of being in love as one of madness, and this is reinforced by the fact that furor can mean “madness”, “frenzy” and “passionate love” – an assimilation which is recognised in the language itself.

This imagery is prevalent also in the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. In The Silent Arbitration of a Face: “Love is a madman,/ working his wild schemes, tearing off his clothes,/ running through the mountains, drinking poison,/ and now quietly choosing annihilation”. As you can see from the above examples, and others, the same ideas or madness, poison, irrational behaviour and death are present. These lines suggest that the experience of truly being in love causes one to cease thinking or caring about any trivialities, because love is so overwhelming and all-consuming that it can lead you to extremities, and even to death.

These are just a few of the examples I have found so far in my research, which I hope to expand upon by examining British poets from Shakespeare to Duffy, and ultimately to write up in a report. However, regardless of my success, or not, in doing so, I believe that the most important outcome of this internship scheme is the ability to research, think critically and analyse with an independent mind, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to enhance these skills, and of course, to spend my summer researching areas of interest.

 

 

 

What if I’m infected?

I kid, I can’t be infected (probably not). Though the paranoia still hasn’t faded after 5 weeks!

My project is all about looking at the host parasite interactions between microsporidia and mammalian cells. I was specifically going to try and infect human Hela cells (and yes, I am working with cells that we heard about in Biology at school! How cool is that?!?) with Trachipleistophora Hominis (or Homies for short) and then do Interferon studies on them.

That was the plan.
The plan was perfect.
The plan was executable.
I was prepared for the plan.

I then made an important discovery. Science NEVER goes to plan.

Let’s just go back in time a bit. Week 1, specifically. It was magical. I had never been inside an actual lab where I was allowed to touch all the coloured liquids and glass bottles with ‘danger’ and ‘explosive’ marked on them! I felt like a 5 year old in Toy ‘R us. They have a machine that stirs for you! No more need for those glass stirring rods! And other machines with the coolest names ever: vortex, and belly dancer are just some examples.

The magic soon lost its sparkle and became just straight up tiredness. How did people work full days? And in research, the days don’t finish at 5! I found myself leaving the labs and just collapsing in bed and when I woke up I was late for work the next day. It was a bit of a shock to the system but I think I settled into it by the 3rd week.

It was a lot of learning. When not in labs I would try and understand the complex interactions between this 31 protein system, which by the way was only to do with one process that happens within the cell, which also happens to be triggered by a lot of different factors. My head was aching constantly, and I seemed to forget what I had gathered from papers the previous day! I was so lucky to have a PhD student that was patient with me and my incompetence. There were so many things to remember for each technique, be it for seeding, splitting, growing, fixing, mounting, and counting the infected cells. I did seem to grow quite attached to my cells; they do become your pets! You come in every morning and try and check in on them and hope that the right infection is growing in rates that you need it to!

I have learnt a good few things so far:
• Hands are very important. You use them a lot! It’s best not to worry about their shakiness as it only makes it worse.
• Cleanliness is key.
• You have to love your cells!
• You have to keep the curiosity levels high, or else it’s easy to become bored.
• You should ask for help when you need it, but you should think twice about whether you really need it or if you can just figure it out.
• Things break because of you, but worrying about then is not going to help. You really just have to move on and learn from the mistake (I’m still trying super hard to get better at this, it feels like the end of the world when one cover slip breaks).
• You have to be focused all the time, and be able to work under time and condition constraints (can’t quite do this yet… but miracles can happen!)

These are just a few to be honest. I am learning so much, I sometimes worry that I won’t have enough brain space.

Science is quite tiring, with reward coming at you when you least expect it. There are always unexpected surprises! Sometimes these are the best things that could have ever happened but more often then not, it just takes you back to the drawing board, and makes you reconsider your life choices…but that’s not as bad as it sounds! It’s actually one of the best things I can take home from my project. This need to think again and go down all the alleyways instead of just the big shopping street!

My experience thus far has given me quite the insight into this very new way of life. One really needs to be resilience personified! That word brought back all the things we learnt at the leadership weekend, oh good times, oh food times!

Right now, I’m trying to go down another alleyway with the hope that it will yield me some more meaningful data, and surprised by science again, I think we might be onto something!

20160705 atg5 thom rk13 pfa 1_Image007

This image has a lot of super exciting stuff going on! The big blue bits are cell nuclei. The little blue dots are the parasites that I’m looking at. 1) No one has studied this protein that is shown by the red dots, in this context before. 2) The red dots are a lot more intense around just one stage of the parasite! 3) I made the image!!! (Obvs with the help  of my PhD student, who is a real star!

I hope all your projects are swell, and your using all that resilience when things don’t quite go to plan!

Memories of Scottish Fishing Music

Cluinnidh mi thar uchd na mara

Ard os cionn na gaoith ri gaillinn

Torman beag an cois a’ chladaich

Mionaghallan na maighdinn Bharraich

I hear from the depth of the sea, high above the raging wind, soft murmuring on the shore, the keening of the Barra maiden.

This song, “A’ Mhaigdhinn Bharraich”, or “The Maiden of Barra”, was written by Father John MacMillan, a Catholic priest in Barra in the early twentieth century. It is written from the point of view of a despondent woman whose husband’s fishing boat has not returned because he fell prey to the desires of a mermaid. Barra, an island in the Outer Hebrides, was one of the many coastal communities in Scotland affected by the boom of the herring industry in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As fishing technology improved, men were away from home for longer and longer trips. Whether their wives followed the boats to work as herring gutters in the ports, or stayed at home in the Hebrides while their husbands sailed around the North Sea, they were always anxious that their husband’s boat might not return. As a priest serving a fishing community, John MacMillan knew all too well the pain that families felt when their menfolk were lost at sea, and this song may have been inspired by his own experience of consoling fishermen’s widows.

A Scottish fisher girl in Whitby. (© Scottish Fisheries Museum)

A Scottish fisher girl in Whitby. (© Scottish Fisheries Museum)

My Laidlaw project was originally entitled “Religion and Folk Belief in Scottish Fishing Music”. Scottish fishing communities experienced varied and intense religious missions throughout the course of the herring industry. Some areas became very evangelical, some remained with the Church of Scotland, and other places, like Barra, were predominantly Roman Catholic. The fact that a Catholic priest wrote a song about mermaid superstition intrigued me, and I wondered whether mermaids and other folkloric creatures of the sea survived the harder-edged evangelical revivals of Scotland’s east coast.

However, as I planned my project, I felt that this focus would be too narrow. It wasn’t clear to me that there would be many Scottish fishing songs at all out there, let alone songs about such a specific topic. So I broadened my topic and renamed it “Memories of Scottish Fishing Music”. My new goal became to cast a wider net and collect songs of any topic as long as they were somehow related to the fishing.

Fisherfolk baiting lines, North Street, St Andrews. (© Scottish Fisheries Museum)

Fisherfolk baiting lines, North Street, St Andrews. (© Scottish Fisheries Museum)

Happily, I have found that there is more material out there than I had anticipated. As my list of “Scottish fishing songs” grows ever longer (220 and counting), I find that there is a significant minority of the repertoire that deals with themes of religion and folk belief. Comparing these songs to the rest of the material, which varies from accounts of fishing disasters to raucous ditties about the gutters’ boyfriends, provides insight into how belief was one of many facets that informed the lyrics of fisherfolk’s music.

Even though I have found that the specific information I was looking for was out there, I never would have found most of it if I had kept my initial search terms too narrow. The process of starting with a specific aim, broadening to soak in as much material as possible, then narrowing the focus again, has been an incredibly valuable experience for me. In a typical undergraduate essay, I often feel the urge to pursue new strands of a topic as they crop up, but the deadline and word count limit my ability to do this. The wonderful thing about the Laidlaw internship is that I have had complete freedom to follow up on new leads as they come up and see where they take me. I might start one morning reading an ethnographic interview of a fisher lass from Buckie, and by the end of the day I’m knee-deep in the history of trans-Atlantic sea shanties. Not all leads pan out, but this in itself is instructive – I’m learning to know a red herring when I see one, while developing my general knowledge on the subject.

As I start to shift my focus from in-depth trawling through online databases, to arranging to interview people in the Western Isles, travelling to libraries and archives, and planning an event based on my research with the Scottish Fisheries Museum, I feel so thankful for having the chance to set this summer aside for something so special, and I look forward to whatever comes next.