Name: Cathal Meehan
1. What is your home university, what department and lab are you in?
School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick. Dr. Gutierrez-Marcos’ lab, Genetic and Epigenetic control of Plant Development (C30)
2. What type of studentship are you on? CASE, iCASE, NPIF etc.
3. How did you organise your accommodation for the first year?
I was working in the University of Warwick prior to my PhD so I was able to organize accommodation with my friends. However, there is a very active FaceBook group called ‘Warwick Postgraduate students looking for housemates’ that frequently has advertisements for short term subletting that may benefit students looking to pay organise accommodation for a short period rather than commuting from Birmingham or Leicester. For the training period I stayed in Earlsdon, Coventry. This is a great location for post graduate students as neighbours tend to be young professionals and quiet international students. While it doesn’t have the same choice of supermarkets as other areas around Warwick, there are a number of shops, nice pubs and takeaways that make the area feel like its own little town. Coventry city centre is also a very short walk from Earlsdon for those who want to venture for to the cinema, theatre, Coventry train station or a later drink!
For accommodation during my Birmingham miniproject I posted up on the MIBTP Whatsapp asking if anyone needed someone to sublet their apartment during this period. Luckily someone was doing their PIPs in Brussels at this time, giving me the opportunity to sublet in Selly Oak, close to the University of Birmingham. Selly Oak is a friendly little student area full of all the supermarkets, discount stores and pubs that a student could possibly want. It is a bit far from Birmingham New Street however, so you’ll need to transfer trains there to go to Coventry or Leicester.
Organising accommodation for my PIPS in Morocco was a bit more difficult. In North Africa it can be difficult to organise short term lets from internet sites that people are typically used to in Europe such rightmove, gumtree, etc. The best way to tackle this problem is to use the likes of Airbnb, which although expensive, can offer discounts for weekly or monthly stays that bring it back within a realistic range. It also has the added benefit of being having a rating system to ensure a degree of safety and accountability that other rental services may not offer you. From this base you can talk to other expats in the region about organising alternative accommodation. My Airbnb housemate, a Tunisian student in his 20’s, was very friendly however and soon became a good friend! From this perspective it can be tempting to go for Airbnb as its possible to decide whether you’d like to stay with a family or someone your own age, depending on your preference.
4. How did you manage commuting to UoW for the first term?
The cycle path from Earlsdon nearly covers the entire journey to the University (15/20 mins), but the 11 bus will take you there in about 25 minutes. Being close to the Canley train station is also handy for getting to any masterclasses you may have in Birmingham.
5. How did you organise your mini-projects?
My PI recommended me to do a mini-project with Dr. Lindsey Leach who specialises in Statistical Genetics because I would need good computational and analytical skills during my PhD. After sending on an email to Dr. Leach with my CV she was more than happy to take me on. A list of potential supervisors can be found on the MIBTP website for those who want to dip into an area of research they’re curious about, however if you’d rather get skills relevant for your PhD thesis, you can always ask for advice from your supervisor. Remember that it’s your PhD however and this is a valuable opportunity to be paid during an internship in area of research you’re interested in!
6. How did you organise your PIPS?
I had a strong interest in becoming involved with an international agriculture organisation during my PIPS and sent out multiple emails to various centres I was interested in working in, most of which didn’t reply…so the key can be to have plenty of contingency if you’re aiming to work with a particular type of work. The International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) got back to me saying they’d be interested in taking me on. I had one other offer from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) that I managed to organise by contacting a previous MIBTP student who had done a PIPs with them. Don’t underestimate the value of contacting previous cohort students and professors in your department, they’re generally more than happy to help, and they’re a valuable resource for connecting you with others in science. Once I had decided on my PIPS choice, ICARDA drafted up an internship contract that I signed to confirm my placement there.
7. Is there anything you wished you'd known before you started?
I was at an advantage because I was in contact with current MIBTP students and was able to get good advice on how to organise myself during my training year. There wasn’t much that caught me off. Hopefully this blog will help inform students for the coming year about making the most out of their training year!