Starting Grad School: Trust nobody

I received two pieces of advice early in my career as a grad student. The first came from a friend who had graduated at the same time as me (in Biochemistry, rather than Biology, which meant that she had an additional year of undergrad to her name) and had immediately started her PhD. “Ask questions. ALL THE TIME.” She told me. No matter how much of an idiot you feel like asking a question, you will feel a million times worse if you don’t ask, and then you screw up.

The other piece of advice came from a post-doc. When I started this blog I made myself one promise: that I would not talk about this post-doc. (Put it this way: stealing my data and throwing away my entire cDNA collection was the small fry). But regardless of the abysmal state of our working relationship, this post-doc bequeathed two very important things to me.

The first was this advice: Trust nobody. If somebody gives you a sample, do not trust that it is what they say it is unless you can test it. If they give you a primer, get the sequence and have it resynthesised. If they give you a reagent, assume it is contaminated. If they give you a protocol, read all of the literature because it’s probably wrong. Ironically, it took me months before I realised that the one person this advice consistently referred to was the person who had given it to me.

My best-friend-from-undergrad (aka The Bee Fiend) has recently had to scrap months of work after discovering that the chemicals her supervisor had told her to use up before she could order more had been incorrectly fluorescently tagged, which means her data was not just a bit messed up (as she feared) but completely useless.

The other thing that the post-doc gave to me was this recipe. It’s actually a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, but it makes what I believe may be the greatest soda bread in the entire world. Enjoy!

Soda Bread


284g    strong white flour
227g    wholemeal spelt flour
55g rolled oats
9g salt (about a heaped teaspoon)
20g baking powder
100mL sunflower oil
284mL  buttermilk
284mL water

Top with:
25g cheese
A handful of seeds e.g. pumpkin


1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Use a whisk to break up any lumps, no need to sieve. Leave a deep well for the wet ingredients.

2. Combine the oil, buttermilk and water in a jug and mix briefly. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix using a wooden spoon.  There is no need to mix particularly well; you just need to combine the ingredients into a homogenous sticky dough. This should take about 1 minute.

3. Encourage the dough onto a well-floured baking tray. (Ideally use a sheet of grease-proof paper). I tend to use a 9×13 standard baking tray. The bread bakes best when it’s sort of large and flat, so use a tray rather than a tin. It will spread a bit as it bakes so don’t worry if it’s sort of sat in the middle of the tray with gaps at either end.

4. Throw some cheese and seeds on top for added interest.

5. Bake for about 40 mins at 180’C.

Picture coming soon…

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