Our final class of 2020 guest, Struan talks to us about being a people person, loving the lab and the joy of a commute.
Each episode is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. Season one talks to our 2020 graduates about how things are going, or not going, for them. In episode thirty two we meet Physiology graduate Struan.
Each month we meet five more graduates. Subscribe now and find out what everyone is up to and how they feel about this weird and unpredictable time.
All opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Edinburgh.
Multi Story Edinburgh has been created and produced by the Alumni Relations team at the University of Edinburgh. If you are interested in telling your story, please get in touch and let's talk.
Music: Since When by Mise Darling.
Sonia Mullineux (host) 0:07
This is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. This is season one, class of 2020.
So my name is Struan. I am a Physiology graduate, graduated in 2020. And since then I have now started a PhD in St. Andrews at the Cellular Medicine Division. So I didn't have a preconceived thought being like, I'm going to do a PhD one day. It very much started in third year where I kind of had this realisation that I wanted to just sort of, make the most of my time, make the most of my degree. So during my third year, I started going up to lecturers after classes and being like have you got any room for an undergraduate to do a placement this summer, things like that. This is where I met my supervisor, who's my supervisor for my PhD now. And as I went up to herself, and asked if she had room, and I was just eager to kind of occupy my time, totally. So I was just like, whatever, I want to get experience in the lab more and your lecture was interesting, so sign me up basically. I had this idea that I want to get an internship and then I thought, well, to do that what do I have to do? I can email people, I can talk to people, I can go to meetings with people, at the end of the day, they're people too. The worst that can happen is they can be like you might not be a good fit, sorry, and that's it. And at the end of the day as well, researchers and supervisors, they love that, they love people going up. They say it in lectures, they're just like please ask me questions. So this is in the same ballpark, because you're going up and you're interested in something they're doing and you want to dedicate your time to do it. In respect to me, I just saw there being no disadvantage to kind of just going up to people.
Throughout uni, I actually maintained a job, part time. And in those jobs each and every single one of them, I've dealt with people. So I did retail in my first year, and in my second year I had a horrible one, it was like it was one where you'd have to call up people on behalf of gas, water and electric sector companies and like take surveys. And then afterwards, I actually worked as a barista for two years. I dealt with all types of people, and some incredibly nice folk and some, how should I put it? Awkward, irritable people [laughs]. So I think that was actually like part of the reason why I don't have this fear or daunting feeling whenever I talk to people, because I've, I've literally talked to and dealt with every type of person. And there's no difference between what type of job you have or what type of occupation you have. It's just like what type of person you are. I think that was just something that I took away as being well, these people aren't so different from other people that I've talked to. Worst they can say is no and then I move on to the next. And that's it. And if I really want to get to this place, like why should a simple 'no' stop me from kind of continuing to pursue that? Over that summer I got to attend conferences, I got a lot of lab work experience. It was a steep learning curve. I knew it would be a lot more involved and a lot more dictated by like, my exact actions. So there's a real kind of drive and incentive that I got whenever it was just me like sitting at the lab bench, like I would have my headphones in and I knew what I had to do. After seeing like the results turn out the first time, I remember I was like nervous, like my heart was beating and it was something like so insignificant. It was like a really small test to do. But it's the fact that it was just like purely me that had done it. And then actually again, it was also at the end it was a great feeling, because then you kind of had that thought process we were like, right, what can I do to improve that. So it was a, it was a great experience in terms of just being exposed to what being a researcher and a scientist is actually like.
Despite the four years you spent at undergrad you don't get a true taste of that at all, until your dissertation potentially, when you're in the lab and you do a project. But it's the fact that it was like prompted by me and it's something I wanted to do. It felt a lot more at ease. It wasn't tested, it wasn't marked or anything. It was just me getting a sense of what the environment was like. And after my time actually doing the summer internship, I went up to my supervisor and asked if she would have me for a dissertation. And it was kind of a continuation almost immediately from the summer work, so it wasn't something foreign either, it was quite familiar to me. And then of course, in March/April time when you start to see this—the Coronavirus coming up in Wuhan and then slowly moving its way over, the lab just progressively gets shut down, students get ushered out. I drove in instead of getting the bus just to take precautions and I was getting my data sorted. And because it was so so close to being like a whole data set. So it was like I can't, I can't not do that because so much work has gone into it. So essentially just to stop my dissertation being what if, I wanted to have something to just be like, this is it. In terms of reflecting on the first lockdown that happened, it's like a blur almost to me, because I was so enveloped in work, not gonna lie to you, it was very hard, hard experience, one of the toughest things I've done, because it was just me essentially in my bedroom, 24/7. And that's not even exaggeration, because it would be waking up reaching over to the other side of my bed where my laptop was and then starting work. And that was it. And it was a vicious cycle because I got so enveloped in it, where I would start to sacrifice some things like just going outside and just like taking a break. It was kind of that combination of everything, kind of made that period, just an absolute blur [laughs]. There's a whole lot of things I realised that I do in my day-to-day, both in terms of how I am mentally and physically. I used to get an hour and a half bus commute to uni every day. And I hated that at the time. But after I was doing my dissertation, it was just like I would love to have a commute [laughs]. Even though you don't realise at the time, you're kind of in your subconscious reflecting on what you're doing and what's going on in your life. It's time to yourself, it's time to stop everything in its tracks and just be like thinking about you. And that was just abolished, because I didn't have that anymore. So it was a tough time, but I learned a lot in terms of like what's important to keep you going.
When I moved to St. Andrews, I didn't want to stay in the centre because it's absolutely extortionate rent and I'm not putting myself through that. And I moved to place and it's just by it called Guardbridge. And that is a 10 to 15 minute commute every day and it's time where I can kind of not think about anything. But aside from that, during the work day, I make an effort to just go on a walk in the middle of the day at some point so that I can have that kind of respite before I go back to doing more work. So yeah, just kind of making an effort to take more breaks and to like give myself time just to do nothing. That's definitely the biggest lesson I've learned from all of it. So like after I graduated, I was burnt out after everything that happened with the dissertation, so I was thinking like, right, don't want to go immediately into academia again, just kind of want to take a break and then recollect after that. The way it came about is that I was in touch with them, like stem recruiters and trying to get involved in working for companies like Valneva who are doing the Covid vaccine. So I tried to explore avenues like that. I then saw on social media that my supervisor was then opening up a position for a PhD student. And then that just kind of snowballed from there. It was making that dissociation between the pandemic and the work itself because I think the pandemic hit me so hard. And it was just slowly kind of creeping up to the realisation that I liked the lab environment, I like the just, the physical lab work. And I like the fact that my day is dictated by essentially what I'm interested in. Instead of it being me pitching up to work and doing this job for years and years and stuff like that. I don't know, I still yearn for that, that almost independence and that, that free feeling, I guess that comes with academia. I was still a barista at the time and I was in the back of the shop, doing the dishes and stuff and I felt my phone go off in my pocket. And I knew that my application was meant to be reviewed soon so I was just like, I'll just, I'll just look at my phone, no ones around, it won't matter. And then got the invitation for an interview. It was such a relief to, to like, take that next step towards what I, what I now knew I wanted. It's only been a recent realisation but I've arrived at it the right way. It's great because I feel myself being pushed every day. And I felt the boredom I had before and I knew that this is was what I needed to not feel bored and to not feel useless and lost essentially. So this pushes me to the point where I am developing. There's no feeling I love more than improvement. And obviously jumping from undergraduate straight to this, a lot of improvement is required [laughs]. So whilst it's hard, and it's a lot of work, it's never a doubt in my mind that I want to do anything else.
Sonia Mullineux (host) 9:31
We also asked our graduates to share a place, somewhere special, somewhere we can get together when all this is finished.
The Isle of Islay. Being the typical Scotsman I am, I'm very fond of whisky, particularly the Islay whisky. I have been going to Islay with my family since I was probably about one or two. And it's probably been going there for like every other year essentially visiting that place. There's very little to do on Islay apart from drink whisky and go to the beaches and just kind of enjoy your time, like, just there, just in the place. But that's kind of the beauty of it because you spend less time looking to do things and more time about being with the people you're with. So I've obviously been with my family numerous times, absolutely love it every time. It's a place that none of my mates have gone to yet. And I think they would have a cracking time going. So I think to have all the people I love and care about there would be amazing because the place is essentially what you make it. So it's directly dictated by who you're with. And so with all the people I love and care about, it would be great to go there.
Sonia Mullineux (host) 10:46
Thank you for listening. Join us next time for another graduate and another story.
Kirsten Roche 10:57
Feeling inspired by what you've just heard? Take the first step to getting the career you want by contacting the Careers Service. As a recent graduate, you can continue to access all of our services, including access to vacancies on my career hub, practice interviews, our full calendar of online employer events, and online appointments with one of our careers consultants. Find out more at ed.ac.uk/careers.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai