Thursday 12 June 2014

Ph.D update: On being a testudine, not a lagomorph.

How does a being a part-time PhD researcher actually work in daily life? This is a question I gave some considerable thought to before I started my doctorate in January, as I wanted to be sure I could make the commitment to research whilst working in a job that often means long hours for weeks at a time. Now the reality is becoming apparent and the past six weeks have gone some way to answering this question more fully than previously, as the practicalities of keeping research momentum when the day job gets busy have had to be addressed (see my work here).

As I've mentioned on this blog previously one of my specialities is creating 3D animations of drug mechanisms of action; these tend to be commissioned during the middlelater stages of a drug's development to show the target audience how the drug works at a molecular level. This involves modelling lots of proteins, cells, viri, bacteria, DNA, RNA etc, often referring to published data of the structures themselves for accuracy. The animations are mainly educational in nature (being targeted at consultants and doctors) and are based on some quite remarkable cutting edge science and I love working on them. They are also extremely labour intensive and time-consuming.

So recently I've been in full animation production mode and research has had to be put on the back-burner. Well, almost. Gaps in the production process (which occur for any number of reasons i.e. awaiting assets, team and client review, rendering) for the MOA are little windows of opportunity to keep things moving, even in a small way. I had photographed most of the vertebral column and some dermal armour elements of the Polacanthus specimen I'm working on for processing into 3D data. If a machine is not rendering a sequence of animation, it can be crunching through these data and making lovely 3D models of dinosaur bones. Despite being a basic set up, the results so far have been encouraging; I'm getting good quality, detailed meshes of the specimen.

My photogrammetry setup. A tad bottom end to be sure, but it's delivering good results.
Periods of reduced work activity also give me time to get on with other small but essential tasks such as reading and annotating papers, reviews, planning next steps and keeping up with developments in the field. I use this time to get to grips with new subjects such as looking at methods of statistical analysis, bones need measuring and drawing, meetings have to be booked, talks prepared amongst the myriad of other tasks that need attending to keep the whole process moving forward.

Animation showing the mesh obtained from the photogrammetry setup shown above.

All this can be done without the slightest disruption to my work as an artist and graphic designer. Although there are periods where I work long hours for many consecutive days (running into weeks on large projects) and can't get any research done at all generally I can take tortoise-like, small steps towards the mountain on a daily basis.

It's a marathon and not a sprint for sure.