*Translation: A bit of August in Copenhagen. I’ve not spent the whole month in Copenhagen because my granddad, who lived a good life and to a ripe old age, passed away at the beginning of this month and I took compassionate leave to attend his funeral in Hong Kong. The positive side to this trip was that we got to meet our two newest cousins — a 3-year old girl and an 18-month old girl who were very cute and definitely brought joy to the occasion. In addition, I also had two planned weekends away! (It is summer after all. And I now live in Denmark where summer holidays are a human right.)
**I apologise in advance for seeming to only own one outfit this month. I have washed it, I swear.
Food nostalgia in Hong Kong
The highlight of any trip to Hong Kong for me is to once again eat all the food of my childhood – egg sandwich, ham and macaroni, curried fish balls, fish meat siu mai and a lot of snacks! It’s all simple stuff but my sister and I miss it. We did try something new – snow skin mooncakes. Mooncakes are traditionally exchanged during the build up to mid-autumn festival, which is a major event celebrating family and good fortune on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese lunar month. This year it is on 15th September. The whole family would get together under the full moon with lanterns to eat a feast, which would then be followed by mooncakes! When we were young there was no such thing as snow skin mooncakes so we took the opportunity to try some. We expected them to taste like mochi ice cream (glutinous rice pastry ‘mochi’ filled with ice cream) but they were actually filled with frozen mung bean paste, which has a dry, hard texture. Our verdict: stick to the traditional ones!
There was one day when we did a lot of shopping. Hong Kong is consumer ‘heaven’. (It’s a nightmare with all those people though!) There’s a lot of cheap tat on sale. I got myself a mini shoe rack for HK$10 = £1! It’s awesome. But apart from that I wasn’t really enjoying shopping in humid heat.
Tip: Did you know you can click on the pics to make them bigger? (Someone didn’t so I’m mentioning it here in case you also didn’t know and were thinking of complaining too.)
Hochzeit in Köln
In Cologne we celebrated the marriage of two brilliant postdocs who now work at Manchester. They had an awesome and unique wedding — they love dressing up and sci-fi. It took place in the beautiful Fühlinger See, a series of connected lakes just outside of Cologne city centre. Look at the photos of some of the details from their wedding!
I also had the opportunity to have a mini reunion with my lab friends from the MPI for Biology of Ageing! This meant going to our favourite bar Stiefel ‘Boot’. It’s a lively bar near the university with great music and table service! They serve Gaffel Kölsch, the local beer from Gaffel brewery, and our favourite shot drink Mexikaner, a slightly spicy tomato vodka shooter. I think it might count as one of your five-a-days. (Joking. Please drink responsibly.) We also visited a Brauhaus, Päffgen, for some much missed traditional German food. We went for Haxe ‘pork knuckle’ which is normally roasted with crackling but this time I opted for a boiled one for easy eating, not because it’s good looking (see pic)! It was very tender and was served with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Mmm!
The Kölner Dom is probably my boyfriend’s favourite place in the world. It’s special for many reasons, including housing the remains of THE three kings, and its beautiful UNESCO-protected gothic architecture. For €4 you can climb up the 533 steps to the south tower and enjoy the views over the city and the Rhein. If you time it right and get there slightly before the hour of half past the hour you can watch and hear the bells ring. If you have €1 and 5 cents to spare, you can press yourself a lucky Dom coin (see below). After all that hard work, it’s only fair to treat yourself to one of the best burgers in Cologne, at Beef Brothers, which we did. (My absolute favourite Cologne burger is from Die Fette Kuh ‘The Fat Cow’.)
Whilst in Cologne, we managed to meet up with one of the my friends who featured previously in the mini post-PhD career series. She hadn’t tried a Flammkuchen yet so we took her to one of my trusted places Rhein Zeit to try it out. I like it here because they serve a special one with goat’s cheese, rosemary and honey. Together we walked through Heumarkt and also ate some greasy but tasty Reibekuchen ‘potato cake’. On a different afternoon, we also chanced upon a street festival (thanks to the Yelp local events page!) which wasn’t very good but it had all the street food one can usually get at the Christmas markets.
The next time I’m back in Cologne will be to attend the public PhD defence of my very talented and hard working friend! Lucky for him, a German PhD viva is only maximum one hour long, comprising a 20-minute presentation and only 40 minutes of questions. Unlucky for him, he has to defend in the huge institute auditorium but it will filled with his friends and supporters. I’ve been reading through his thesis for him so I have an idea he will do very well on the day. I’ll update you on his success in November!
Hadrian’s Wall and Newcastle
For the British August bank holiday weekend, I flew to Newcastle and spent a couple of nights catching up with another friend who has also featured in the post-PhD career series! We went walking along a bit of Hadrian’s Wall, visited some old roman forts including Chesters Roman Fort in Hexham. The weather was beautiful and so were the English hills. On the Sunday we headed to Newcastle Quayside and ate an amazing Sunday roast at Broad Chare. I would highly recommend it but book a table in advance!
Jeg drikker mælk… Jeg snakker en lille smule af dansk!
Milk is an essential item because I drink a lot of tea but I was a bit confused about which one was the right one. There’s sød mælk, let mælk, mini mælk og skummet mælk, which is not obvious (to a Brit anyway) because they’re not coloured the same! (Who chooses grey in a milk colour scheme?!) I didn’t want to give the game away at the supermarket, holding the chiller cabinet open and inspecting the different types and brands. Anyway, a nice masters student at work has explained it to me now: sød mælk is full fat milk, let mælk is semi-skimmed milk, mini mælk is 0.5% fat mini milk, and skummet mælk is skimmed milk.
At work, we have a milk club. Whenever it’s your turn you buy 4 litres of milk – let mælk – and you know it’s your turn when you find the milk club cow on your desk! I though it was fail-safe method until at the end of the month when we ran out of milk and lost the cow! D’oh! But luckily it was found and the fridge was bountiful once more!
You will have noticed that I’ve written some Danish! Yes! At the beginning of the month I downloaded Duolingo! It’s free! It’s quite fun but I am realising it’s true when people say it sounds like the Danes speak Dnaish with a pebble in their mouths. The Duolingo lady doesn’t pronounce all the letters in the words but after a while you become familiarised. Also, the grammar is very easy – no special conjugations for verbs like German! It’s not enough to just use Duolingo because it’s not good at listening or helping you try to pronounce the words and you can’t have a conversation with it. I mentioned I’ve asked to be referred to have Danish lessons – I will have an ‘interview’ at the beginning of September to find out which class I’ll be put it. I will proudly tell the interviewer that Duolingo says I’m 30% fluent in Danish!
Postdoc-ing can be isolating, liberating, fun, exciting and terrifying all at the same time
It’s all going well but I got a pang of blues at the beginning of the month. It’s happened before and I know what it is – it’s being a postdoc in a new place. It’s being afraid of not living up to the new lab’s expectations and not knowing everything about the new lab’s set up. It’s all strange and different and new. But logically, I know I just have to make sure I stay proactive, not be shy to bug people for help and just be myself.
It’s not just at work. When moving to a new city you also have to make an effort to make new friends and go exploring. So, I signed up to my first Copenhagen Yelp event which was the launch party of the Street Food Festival CPH and it took place at Nørrebro Bryghus. It was very overwhelming because not only did I not know anyone I didn’t know what anyone was saying! Still, I managed, like you all knew I would, to meet new people. One of whom is Cindie who runs the Foods of Copenhagen. She loves food too and loves Copenhagen and her company organises guided walking tours that take people to taste foods of Copenhagen that one might not come across every day. I have booked a tour as birthday treat for my boyfriend when he’s visiting next!
It was raining that evening and I cycled there! That’s how dedicated I was to the cause. I had some anxiety about leaving my Jungherz locked but unchained outside but it was okay. However, it was still raining a lot afterwards and I only had a hoodie so I took advantage of the fact that you can take bikes on the S-trains for free and didn’t cycle home.
Ooh! Another exciting bit of news that is linked to Yelp is that through the Copenhagen events page I managed to reply quick enough to an invitation to lunch at Noma – one of the world’s best restaurants serving Nordic food. It’s not free but getting a table is notoriously difficult so I’m very lucky to be able to part with £200 for a lunch. And another £120 if I decide to have the wine pairing of £75 if I want the juice pairing! This will take place in November so you’ll get to read about it in that update!
Living with my two housemates has been great so far! True, the flat is a bit crowded when we’re all in but it’s nice to come home and chat to people in English. We (more the new housemate than me) have been making each other dinner, we’ve been out for Thai and burgers. We’ve been scouting out dogs to dognap and keep (I have a pic of a cute beagle we saw outside the supermarket). I’ve been eating a lot, some may say too much. It’s hard to watch your diet when every other day at work someone brings in bread for their birthday or cake for their last day or it’s Kage Klub on the Friday! It’s exhausting, I tell you!
Being a postdoc is also very liberating and fun! I promised myself after deciding to stay in academia last year that I would give it my best shot. I have the luxury of a salary for the time being but for me it’s the perfect time to be a grown up postdoc and try to secure some independent funding. I definitely feel more prepared now than I was 2 years ago. But because I am such a slow developer, I’m not eligible for many of the early career fellowships. On the topic of proposal writing, I want to thank my lovely and super intelligent friend in San Francisco who helped me when i didn’t know where to start! The following are my options at the moment:
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship awards the ‘best, most promising individual researchers’ from anywhere in the world, with at least 4 years research experience since start of your PhD, to work in Europe. This grant provides funding for 1-2 years and covers research costs, overheads, and an allowance to cover your living, travel and family costs. Deadline: 14th September.
Carlsbergfondet Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship awards ‘up to ten two-year postdoctoral grants for the best foreign postdoc to stay at leading Danish research institutions’. The applicant has to be ‘among the top 5% within his/her research field in his/her respective country’ with no more than 5 years of experience post-PhD. The grant provides funding for a 2-year period and covers salary, operating expenses but not for overheads or administrative fees. Deadline: 1st October at 4pm.
Lundbeckfondet Postdoc in Denmark Fellowship awards many personal grants to ‘particularly promising young researchers – Danish or foreign – who wish to establish or develop their own research groups at a Danish university or university hospital’. This grant does not cover overheads. Deadline: 24th November at 1pm.
L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Prizes awards up to 3 women annually in Denmark and aims ‘to get more women into science and highlights great women role models in scientific research’. The prize awards 110,000 DKK to be used for research. Calls for 2017 not yet announced.
Unfortunately, Def Frie Forsningsråd (DFF) no longer have personal awards for non-Danish early career researchers.
Today I presented my research proposal to the Clinical Biochemistry Department. I presented my previous work on the tendon circadian (24-hour) clock and my proposal to learn how the tendon clock works and how to turn back time when we age. Fingers crossed they think it’s feasible and want to embark on my new adventure with me!
EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: If you want to hear more about the tendon clock, you can pop into Café Scientific on Thursday 29th September at 7:30pm at MadLab in Manchester Northern Quarter, UK where my previous boss Karl will be presenting! I think it’s free and there might be beers so do pop by! He’s a captivating speaker! And the data’s not bad either!
Come on, science talks are great! I went one of the 27 live screening of Stephen Hawking’s Carlsbergfondet Distinguished Lecture on Quantum Black Holes. Tickets for the live event sold out in minutes. His talk was relatively easy to understand (for a non-physicist) and it was funny. I’m not going to be able to give you a summary, but basically black holes are no longer thought of as a place where nothing escapes. (Here’s a transcript from another lecture he gave which has very similar content.) The message I took home was: “If you feel like you’re in a black hole, don’t give up. There is a way out!”
Listen to some podcasts while you wait for the next post!
With all this waiting around in airports and writing proposal and papers – one resubmitted after revision (fingers crossed!) – I’ve been listening to more podcasts. (Thanks to my BFF for getting me into them in the first place!) Here are some of the ones I’m enjoying at the moment that I would recommend: Reply All – stories about and inspired by the internet; My Dad Wrote A Porno (season 2) – name says it all, perfect for listening to when you’re doing boring image analyses, very funny so you’ve been warned that you will burst out laughing in public places; Modern Love – sounds like it could be cheesy but it’s full of beautiful and inspiring essays that make you feel like this world is amazing; Radiolab – a wonderfully produced podcast for all curious minds on fascinating topics including science – listen to their latest episode on the discovery of funghi networks under the forest floor. And if like me, you’re into true crime, listen to these (not for the feint-hearted): Sword and Scale – absolute horrific crimes that are also fascinating to listen to. If you’ve got a recommendation for a podcast I should listen to, let me know! This blog can be a two-way thing, you know!
So that’s all for this month. This next one should be interesting!