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The URSS Blog

To support students engaged in the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme

Copyright: (C) 2018 Jennifer MacDonald

Photos from first briefing by

Mon, 17 Mar 2008 14:05:24 GMT

Hi everyone!

Nice to meet you all at the briefing meeting last week. I’ve put the photos up from the event – they’re in the gallery called ‘URSS Briefing meeting 11th March 2008’ accessible in the links on the left hand side of the page.

Feel free to post any updates on what you’re doing in your projects if you’ve started, and add any photos etc that you’re taking.

See you soon,


Welcome to URSS 2008! by

Tue, 11 Mar 2008 10:31:22 GMT

Hello everyone!

Welcome to the URSS scheme for 2008. You can use this blog to post your thoughts, reflections, news, or general updates about your research projects. Feel free to post photos, extracts of data, or general ramblings here – whatever you want!

I look forward to keeping updated with how you’re all getting on!


A wasted day by

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 22:46:57 GMT

Personal Problems were a great hindereance to my output today. Luckily I was able to finish some rough sketch for the Podcast tomorrow and to finish my URSS student profile, but that was about it. I really need to find some track to get into make this last part of the research a success. Hopefully recording the Podcast tomorrow will be a beginning, because it may help to reflect on the work we have done already in a new and creative way.
In my URSS student profile I ended up writing far more than I originally expected, probably this only makes the point that we have already done a fair bit of work over the past weeks. The question to what I consider to do now after the URSS project first seemed a little odd, because I have two more years to study for. Nevertheless, I followed the input and booked an appointment with the careers service for tomorrow, to discuss how I can prepare myself for the search that is inevitably coming up. In many senses URSS was an eye opener in this regards, because beforehand I failed to appreciate how difficult research actually is and what kind of self-discipline it requires. On the other hand, it seems like I have two more years to catch up on both: Academic excellence and self discipline.

2nd day by

Tue, 14 Aug 2007 20:48:30 GMT

I don’t know if it was related to the horrible weather today, but nobody in the lab was in the mood to work! Imonge went home at half 3 because she couldn’t be bothered to work any more, citing the reason that her ‘incubation would take too long’ and she’d miss the bus if she started it. Oh well!

Anyway, it seems the wet labs at Warwick come in useful! They were very handy today while I was making my media for my plants. I had to make agar plates with gentamycin for my transgenic plants to grow on. I also had to sterilise all those seeds I prepared yesterday and finished off this morning. I haven’t quite finished off the sterilisation, as there were a lot of seeds and the technique takes about 15minutes for each seed line, and I have about 40! So do the maths :p

So tomorrow I expect to finish off the sterilisation and start culturing some nice fungus in petri dishes!

Starting the final lap by

Tue, 14 Aug 2007 16:06:37 GMT

The trip to London was definatly a right decision. Even though the British Library was less helpful than we originally expected, mainly because Dan did not get a reading pass; so for everyone who intends to go: Do not forget your ID and prove of residency and a separate confirmed card with your signature. Nevertheless, it was still a very nice day out in London, which we used to visit the British Museum and the National Portrait gallery (Dan saw it on his own).
Working in the British Library was great, despite the fact that it is even harsher than our library in Warwick, was great. In comparision I would even argue that Warwick University Library is a liberal paradise; in the BL you are for example only allowed to use pencils, not speaking about any form of drinks. The social science reading room, in which I worked, is an experience in itself, but I also found some interesting information for our research. Most importantly, that the Bologna-Process has its origins in the early 1990s, when the Commission published a paper that aimed at the economic importance of higher education in Europe. I became aware of this through a very interesting article by Tomusk, who has written quite extensively on the Bologna process, but to whose work I had no access before I went to the British Library. He also had some things to say about Warwick, which I am not going to quote, because we are thinking of using his quotes in our poster presentation.
After this day out, we did some proper work today, discussung our work done in phase 1 and 2, with our supervisor Ben. I think he was quite happy with what we have done so far, however, now the difficult part arises, finding some coherent themes between Dan’s and my work.
Additionally, we are planning to publish a potcast or a vidcast on our research for which we practice in the RAW rooms today. Thursday will be the date when we will hopefully record it. First, we will have to write something like a script, though; I am very much looking forward to it.

First day by

Mon, 13 Aug 2007 17:38:21 GMT

I started my project at HRI today! Got there bright and early (a shocking 8:50am), and had the usual introduction with Katherine Denby, just basically going over what’s expected. Basically, in previous work, Dr. Denby and her team have identified three possible transcrition factors (518-A3, 518B-6 and NAC-3B) that may form resistance to Botrytis cinerea, which is a necrotrophic fungal pathogen. My job is to see if this is true.

I was given the health and safety induction and my own lab book (v. cool, although I’m not allowed to keep it at the end of the project, as it goes into the HRI archives).

Afterwards I meet another member of Dr. Denby’s team, Priya, who I will be working with most days. We go to the glasshouses to pick up six P40 trays (so called because they have 40 wells to each tray), and I also nearly destroyed one (oops!), ad then head to the dirty lab. Here, the soil needs to be soaked for 30 mins, as this makes it easier to plant the seeds. After 30 minutes though, hardly any of the soil is soaked, so we have to wait longer. Then comes to tedious task of pipetting the tiny Arabidopsis seeds: five seeds need to go into each well, to ensure that at least one wil survive and grow. If more than one grow, then they are weeded out. The trays are then covered in cling film (to maintain humidity) and placed in the environment chambers, which are set to a certain temperature, light intensity and CO2 level. My plants will be kept here for 4 weeks, then they will be ready for infection. In the meantime, I need to look after them, watering them every couple of days to make sure they grow!

After lunch I started sorting though some seeds that Priya had collected the previous week. This involves removing the seeds from the Arabidopsis plant and sifting them through a fine sieve to separate all the unwanted stuff from the seeds, which we do want. The seeds are then put into their own individually labelled Eppendorf tube.

I still have about 10 of those to do, which I will finish tomorrow morning.

Polishing by

Fri, 10 Aug 2007 00:23:51 GMT

Today was a day of consolidation, since I spend most of it brushing over my written work. Because I was not too happy with the flow of my arguments, in the text that I had already written, I decided to follow the advice of one of my tutors and to rewrite the whole text. This certainly improved my tipping, but if it was an efficient way of dealing with the problem I beg to question. Anyway, now the report has a complete body with introduction, conclusion and bibliography; moreover, I discovered for myself that I am getting more and more familiar with the subject matter.
Nevertheless, it continues to surprise me after all this reading that I am not able to write more on some topics, on which I have read whole articles about. I guess that shows me that I am not that confident after all.
Now I am intending to focus on summing up the Bologna-Process and its direct effects on Germany. In order to do this I will try to find some more sources tomorrow and see to get more commentaries on the matter. Especially, since I find it quite hard to find a decisive line that marks external inputs from endogenous developments.

Planning works! by

Mon, 06 Aug 2007 22:17:14 GMT

The morning was very productive. I sticked to my plan and worked for about two hours on my report, which left me in a very satisfied mood afterwords. The project is starting to pick up some shape, which is a very good feeling in a sense. On the otherhand, the closeness of the the final lap is somewhat scary.
The official publications on the ratification of the Bologna process in Germany that I read today were not particularly thrilling. At least, my thought which appeared yesterday, namely that the university accreditation institutes open the huge possibility for a private market, seems to become more solid. To be sure though I defiantly need to get a better idea of what the exact mechanisms in Germany are and how they are changing.
Otherwise, most of what I read was concerned with homogenising qualifications authentication. A topic which I find personally very interesting, mainly because I am directly affected by i, but which has no further relevance to my research. Maybe, I should not have spend so much time reading it, as it did not bring any direct gain for my thesis. However, on the positive, it gave me a nice insight into the very positive aspects of the Bologna process, or the Lissabon convention to be precise; namely that people who spend long periods of time in education, will get a wider acknowledgement for their achievments. I am quite certain that this will improve the quality of life for many

Finishing Phase 1 by

Fri, 03 Aug 2007 22:55:50 GMT

I am glad to be able to say that I have overcome my writers block. A combination of further research and free writing was helped me most, no matte how good my own excuses were not to do exactly this. The more I wrote, the easier writing became, moreover, the whole subject matter started to make some sense. This shows me again that I should have done it much earlier, but than again I ask myself, what exactly I could have done differently in my preparation.
The Way I am working now is to write an annotated Bibliography, in which I summarise what I found interesting about a particular text. These summaries are not referenced, but completely emotive, as I found it simply takes too much time to note down any detail. In a sense, this works very well to get an overview over a topic, however, it consistently lets me down if I want to write more than a couple of bullet points on a subject. Because, this method also implies that I have to go back to each essay individually in order to find the particular passages that I need. Due to the time intensity of this, I do not make use out of all my material, because it is just simpler to stick to a confined number of sources. A vicious circle really.
I have written before on how great my enthusiasm for MindMaping software is and maybe it could offer me some guidance with this problem. Additionally to my annotated Bibliography, I could note down the passages that I believe to be relevant in my mindmap. Than, it should be relatively easy to access these parts, whilst I am writing my text. What I will note down and what will be left remains of course a question which no software will, hopefully, ever answer.
Content wise, I am consolidating my knowledge on higher education reform in Germany and start to look at the broader philosophical context. During my, gap filling, research I stumbled across some quite interesting articles that go beyond the report which I am just finishing of, but that may also be of some interest. One specifically targets the question of how European universities came on the path of marketisation at the end of the 1980s, so that should defiantly be of some interest.
Dan was also writing on his report for most of the day. We saw numerous parallels between German and British developments, especially regarding the expansion in the 1970s and the lack of funding in the 1980s. I guess, after that Britain took the more radical approach with electing Margaret Thatcher. Anyway, it is a real pleasure to discuss these things on the kitchen table, inspiring each other and spending new motivation. Hopefully this will stay the same when we start researching on the same topic tomorrow. But, I am sure it will because we are now both bringing in our own little field of expertise, which should equip us with some very individual way to analyse the same policy process

Americanisation rather than commodification? by

Sun, 22 Jul 2007 18:48:09 GMT

Follow-up to Friedman and education voutchers from The URSS Blog

I decided not to go into uni today, but to do some reading at home in Leamington instead. It was a good decision, since I got far more done than I thought I would and I feel more confident about my report tomorrow.
Essentially, today’s reading helped to get some overview over the debate on higher education, which has taken place in Germany over the past forty years. Most helpful today was an article by Andreas Stucke on the role of a “myth of American universities” in this particular German debate. This was so important to me because it confirmed my guess that the current Bologna reforms have been discussed beforehand, only then they were forwarded to make German universities (and the economy as a whole) more competitive compared to American. Roman Herzog, the former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, of whom I read a speech today, mentioned all the major points of the current Bologna reforms then already (baring in mind that the speech was held in 1996). Moreover, he says “…all the debates have taken place already, it is now time to act!…”.
The second key finding of today was a better understanding of the practical dilemma a Humboldian model of higher education faces in times of mass higher education and reduced public spending. An article by Uwe Schirmank and Markus Winnes reiterated the argument, which other stated before as well, that the research university is by definition elitist. I would not go as far, since further funding might open some possibilities. However, they may be right that many students in the current situation may not even want to study at a research led institution, but do so because of the reputation that goes with it. I am not sure what my point on this is yet, but it is certainly a very interesting debate (I also think that this argument is essential in the debate on establishing so called “elite” universities in Germany).

Tomorrow I will work in the library again