Diane Cochrane – Research PhD and Diabetes tech

PhD life, student and mother, caring for my son who lives with type 1 diabetes, and walking our dog along the beach!

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Dark Matter as a metaphor for Burnout

I recently attend the tour by Professor Brian Cox in Glasgow – the Universe is quite huge folks!  Attending the show was tied up in my search for meaning, making sense of this life and questioning my core beliefs – brought about by rapid periods of growth and change for both me and my boy.  He’s 16 now.  For anyone out there with a 16 year old son, I bow to you too my friend.  So the maths are – 12 years of living with type 1 diabetes, he has had over 17,457 injections of insulin approx.  and you can add double that for finger prick capillary blood test samples too.  What a way to appreciate how fragile we are?  How precious health is and how wonderful it is to have the treatment (for free) to help stay alive.

However, what I have come to love about this period of parenting an adolescent with type 1 diabetes is the space for (just as huge and important as the galaxies) learning and growing together.  The subtleties of giving “space” and letting go of previous demands, language styles, expectations and to just let things be.


Does he meet NICE criteria/guidelines which state a healthy marker for overall blood glucose? NO.

Is he learning, growing, dealing with fears and avoiding living his life by this judgement? YES.

Is it a worry for me?  Of course it is folks. But on some level, the worry has a flip side.  I see him maturing. Slowly. Bit-by-bit.  The emergence of who he wants to be, with me very often in the sideline attempting to set temporary basal rates and vocalizing concerns in a non-critical way.

For years, as a parent of child with type 1 diabetes I followed groups on Twitter, Facebook and Forums to help me as a parent.  I still have connections with this community, but I notice that I lean on that support network less frequently.  I don’t share or post as much information, as somewhere along the way my confidence grew and developed insipidly.  I owe so much to the conversations in the small hours of the night when I lay awake, fearing hypoglycaemia, fearing my child waking in the morning and fearing my own fate.

I’m now half way through the first year of my PhD and I truly feel that I’m doing what I love.  I read and write most days and tackle some enormous questions that I’m not sure will be answered in my son’s lifetime.  However, I do see great change happening.  Changes to technology, including improved skin adhesion compounds for CGM’s which was an important theme mentioned during my Masters of research.  Adolescents sometimes reverted to pen injection therapy from previously having pumps & CGMs due to this issue.  For some, it became so painful.

Smalls steps for man, make a huge difference to people’s lives.

Technology need not always be about answering the stellar issues, the galactic problems, or the astronomical challenges which science is tackling and facing. Sometimes, it’s the small changes.  Sometimes, at family level, it’s learning to ask questions in a way that inspire a person to think for themselves (see Socratic method).  Other times, it could be a 10 minute meditation, or getting on the yoga mat to deal with the burnout.  The tiredness.  Physiologically feeling so exhausted after a round of testing glucose levels through the night – possibly due to a failed cannula / site insertion?

Dark matter, according to Prof Brian Cox is matter that is missing, the unseen – the space in between galaxies.  In alignment with burnout – it is the unseen, the anxiety, the tiredness, the worry and stresses of trying to figure out ways to conquer, treat and salve all the issues that we deal with daily – when blood glucose rises and drops – as parents and teens.  Prof Brian Cox quotes Richard P. Feynman on his tour – a wonderfully, funny and inspiring physicist who said:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

Nature cannot be fooled.  Again, how many times has technology tried to help our lives improve – and it does.  No question about that!  But with immaturity, some of technologies add burden.  This “taking and giving”, “to-ing and fro-ing” of assistance and harm/hindrance can affect our experiences.  I know that many adolescents in my research mentioned frustration, too much to think about all the time, and too many things to plan ahead for.  Not to mention too much kit to carry around all the time and it becomes to visible for them at times in their lives when social peer groups, and unwarranted questioning becomes more than an annoyance.  It becomes something to distance yourself from – creating isolation at times.

A New Horizon

There is much to learn, and the continuum of research, science and manufacturing is gladly growing.  The advent of a new insulin pump by Tandem Diabetes, which promotes it’s interoperability and customizability – allowing for the door to be opened to more person-centred and patient choice led insulin replacement and management functionality.  This is HUGE!  This is certainly a way forward for treatment, and the potential for greater adoption is happening.  As far as this becoming available to all – that is another area of dark matter.  The space in between!  But we’re all aware of it, and we can use our power, our human experience and our research to keep forging this new land of hope.

“Equipped with his five senses man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science” – Edwin Powell Hubble

silhouette photography of person





Who knows best? lessons for me, parenting alongside type 1 diabetes – transition!

Transitioning from paediatric diabetes care to teenage/adolescence: A mother’s perspective

I’ve thought deeply about writing this blog for the last few months. On which angle to write from, to reach out to as many people living with type 1 diabetes; their relatives; their classmates; teachers; coaches; instructors etc.  The conclusion I’m mid-way of reaching is that I can’t appeal to such a wide audience. I can only write from my own perspective, and then allow my ramblings to float out there into the ether.  Maybe in some hope of reaching out to others to teach myself that I’m not alone in all of this, thus helping myself and others, all in the one bag!

On this road, of parenting a young child from age 4 to 15 years – managing type 1 diabetes and coeliac together, I’ve experienced the following (the list is not exhaustive, that requires a hardback novel!):

  • In 11 years, ignorance still exists as to how serious and life threatening type 1 diabetes can be.

Examples of this in our lives include:

  1. Having to home school due to severe risk at age 11, left to wander around his school building whilst dangerously hypoglycaemic – and then scalded for eating and drinking to try to recover from said hypo.  To then have additional “pep-talk” scenario from a teacher telling him he needed to realise how different he is to everyone else, and that he wouldn’t manage in life unless he done so! To then have authorities ask me to avoid sending my complaint in writing and that it could all be dealt with over a telephone call, and that he could change to a different school – with only 7 weeks left of primary education.  Would you change your child’s school environment, the one in which they’ve felt they belonged for 7 years, the one in which they had built all peer relationships in? Because of ignorance and discrimination?  Would you be happy if your child was shouted at whilst he sat eating carbs to treat his hypo – in the school canteen/dining area in front of all his friends and why because the teachers were scared? What about the child feeling scared who was treating a bad hypo?  What about what it feels like for a small child to have a bad hypo? and what about the fact that this is still happening and legislation in Scotland is not providing adequate guidelines and frameworks to support the most vulnerable of our society – our children with type 1 diabetes!
  2. Discrimination against attending school trips with lack of support to manage the condition away from home or school – resulting in said parent attending school trip – despite outrage from diabetes specialist nursing and local GP interactions.
  3. Feeling fearful of applying for assistance known as Personal Independence Payment – as transition from disability living allowance DLA, as he turns 16 years of age.  In the last 11 years it has been an ongoing nightmare to prove to our government just how difficult life can be; unpredictable and disastrous type 1 diabetes is and the need to be there for my child, supporting him to try to live in a society which doesn’t understand how to help us a lot of the time.

With No. 3 in mind, I would like to highlight that it is just as important for me to be there for my adolescent, as it was for my small child, for the following sub-themes:

  • Adolescents can find the daily monitoring and diabetes management tasks a struggle; they can avoid such tasks that keep them safe and well for many reasons including phenomenon attached to feelings of fear; worry; anxiety; frontal lobe issues like higher brain executive functioning and the lack of; deprived sleep – due to unstable glycaemia; peer pressure or wanting to be like everyone else – not taking glucose kit out with them when they leave the house for example; feelings of burnout associated with the relentless tasks needed; to always forward plan, carbohydrate count and dose adjust insulin – all of which are avoided at times.  

  • In keeping this conversation frank, and real to us – I want to show that all of the above behaviours are talked about with language similar to this “it’s normal for teenagers”; “that’s what teenagers are like”; “he’ll come through it”; “he needs to learn for himself and make his own mistakes” “It’s so hard to let go and watch them make mistakes, because we know the harm that causes from the inside out” “you can only be there to love him” “You can’t do it for him”

If the cornerstone of keeping a person alive with type 1 diabetes involves insulin treatment (which is highly toxic and comes with severe side effects); carbohydrate counting (almost always built on estimation); self monitoring of blood glucose; and interaction with technology such as insulin pumps; continuous glucose monitors and flash glucose monitoring devices – all of which can malfunction; can loose signal; can give inaccurate readings; can fall off; can bring added burden and cause de-motivation; can cause severe side effects.  Can you now see how frightening it is for a parent as we navigate through transition?  Can you see, that since a child, all decisions of care and measurements were kept from him? and now that we have the adolescent issues combined with the constant demands of the condition, our life can be fret with so many risk factors?

Can you also now see that there has been no mentoring? Can you also see that there has been limited advice of how to tread these choppy seas?  And did you know that in society – very limited amount of people would actually know how to help – would you know what to do to help my boy?

Holidays in Zante, Greece – great to breathe in the sun and chill!

To have had any intervention / support or managed programme of moving on from being a very young child, growing into adulthood would have been a luxury – as such, it’s just families like mine, all muddling along, trying our best to function. From age 12 to 15 years, I don’t remember any situation whereby my child felt comfortable to ask for help with all these trials and tribulations. I don’t remember anyone offering me a handbook to assist him to overcome any troubles – instead I turned to yoga; meditation; mindfulness and counselling through Carers Scotland.

What I would like to add to this is this:  Since my son was age 4, I was very well-educated, in a clinical manner,  by NHS Scotland and  instructed on treatment goals as to how to keep him alive from now on.  I was instructed and taught to take steps X, Y and Z and sometimes also A, B, C, D , E, F and other letters of other unknown alphabets to me, if X, Y and Z didn’t work.  I wasn’t given specific algorithms to keep from failing. I was asked and instructed to do my best to keep him alive, every single day without rest, now that his pancreas was damaged for life, due to an autoimmune reaction.  His paediatric service team were amazing, even though they were and are overstretched and overburden by workload – (as this incidence of this condition is rising in young children). And now?  I have to, in a way, let go of all this teaching; reverse engineering of the mind if you like! Nowhere along this journey, as humans, who got slightly broken, where we educated or instructed or guided to heal, to overcome and to manage fears associated with this life threatening situation.  How would you deal with something face to face in which it threatened your life?  How would you tackle that fear?

Transition, follows a period of changing from one setting to another; one paradigm to another.  Bringing all this learned behaviour forward, bringing all our teachings; our experiences and at times failures, to the table now at transition!  We don’t come through these doors with a virgin mind so to speak, we come with gaps in knowledge, we come with fears based on past experience and we come with hope that the future will improve.  We need support, as families. We need to know that someone has our backs through this tough experience.  This is the way we can build strength; confidence and positive outcomes from a journey which has seen us, at times, fighting for our lives.  Superheroes without capes and all that jazz!

John’s older sister Katie – our talented musician, always there by his side

Meantime, it’s late nights on game stations; copious midnight feasts to fuel said gaming nights; nights out with friends and growing too tall to fit through the front door.  It’s quiet moments of looks at each other that say a thousand words, and not knowing how to navigate the change from mother-boy; mother-son to mother-man.  It’s lots of love from his sister, and secret talks in their bedrooms which I love to hear from the kitchen!  It’s constant funding of ridiculously priced branding clothing to meet the demands of such a fashionable/handsome existence and lots of love and support when things get so tough that the only thing he can do is to avoid it for days. If you’re heart breaks when reading this – I know you must have read Nicholas Sparks novels at some point in your life, and constantly listen to First Aid Kit songs like they’ve become an unseen movie soundtrack (guilty, and by the way, they were amazing live at Glasgow’s kelvin Bandstand recently)

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my words, if you are experiencing transitioning at the moment, or if you feel your adolescent child would benefit from more help in getting through a period of growth (mentally and physically) to enable and empower them to experience life as they wish. Just holler!

I’m currently starting the first year of my PhD at the University of Strathclyde, in diabetes research, having recently studied a part-time Masters in research, and many sleepless nights checking bloods etc.  My blog is a personal account of our family life, and shows my own opinion. Good luck on your journey folks – Namaste! Diane x


Let’s talk – Type 1 and music

My son John has had type 1 diabetes since age 4  – he’s now 15.

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I noticed recently on the JDRF twitter feed about #NationalConversationWeek. This got me thinking about Stephen Hawking’s voice in the Pink Floyd song – Keep talking. The hope that he brought to millions of not only defying all odds, against diagnosis and prognosis, but of his positive visions for the universe and humanity. In this quote, I take personal hope that we need to “keep talking” (about a cure for type 1 diabetes):

If human life were long enough to find the ultimate theory, everything would have been solved by previous generations…Stephen Hawking. 


Banting & MacLeod

Let’s talk about this – they helped to treat dying children with insulin, previously harvested from animal pancreatic supplies. These two prominent, hard working scientists worked endlessly on their mission to save lives. They were true pioneers.  If  they had not been so dedicated and focused, these children would have died.

Fast forward nearly 100 years and this insulin now saves billions of lives.  Their breakthrough with this life saving drug was, none more than a miracle, in my opinion.

Does it make you think why then? Why did they find those answers at that point in time? And what are the new age revelations for our generation and that of our children?

As a flipside, it’s not all plain sailing –  what about the side effects of insulin treatment  – what about the realization now that intensive insulin replacement treatment can cause severe hypo’s at any time, bringing severe risk to our lives and that of our children.  What about the toxicity of insulin?  Bringing me to The Verve – The drugs don’t work.  I understand insulin works, in that it can lower blood glucose – rather than regulate it.

How to help make life better/ easier?  Radiohead – Fitter/Happier

The impact of technology now seems to be highly fashionable in the quest for monitoring and preventing side effects of insulin replacement.  From glucose monitors to phone apps and constant alarms and interaction with data. Turning some of us parents into mini data scientists and predictive glucose trend setters – just look at the growing population of NightScout users and developers – using Open access to view glucose trends in the cloud, and view data on wearable devices – to constantly interact with dose adjustment of this drug.  I can hardly avoid mentioning Red Hot Chilli Peppers –  Blood Sugar sex Magik here can I?



I recently submitted my first draft of my Masters thesis on the topic of technology and type 1 diabetes, and I hope to continue my path of being a parent of child with type 1 and a researcher, with enough sleep and sanity and insight to be able to help those who need it most.  But a lot of the time, I push against feelings of tiredness, helplessness at not being able to fix my child and forging ahead with a sense of hope and strength. I don’t know where it comes from to be honest because sometimes this shit gets so difficult.  In quiet moments, in the car, or at the beach this song talks to me – First Aid Kit – Shattered & Hollow

Something inside of me this morning feels like a wounded animal, having opened my son’s bedroom door at 7am to find a trail of empty cans of full sugar coke cans on his floor, and him unable to waken from tiredness  – having treated a hypo in the wee hours. Why didn’t he waken me? Is he too tired for school this morning?  Should I let him sleep a bit longer – knowing fine well that in a year or two he’ll have left school and will be expected to drag himself out of bed, shattered and feeling like crap – to get to work or college or university!  I should have been there for him last night, I should have woke up and treated his hypo, like I have for the most hypo’s in the last 11 years.  Insert here – Fleet Foxes – If you need to, Keep time on me & Opeth – Burden. Two songs for the price of one here folks! 

The mind plays wonderful tricks on us to keep us in fear of these hypo’s , these times when our growing, teenage children will venture into the world without us (that reminds me, should I order him some Medical ID bracelet, that I know he won’t wear).

Sadly, after such a long time dealing with my son’s condition, I have created habitual thoughts of fear.  Fear of him feeling the burden now that I softly hand this over, bit by bit.  Fear that people will judge him – what if he’s on a train one day, having a hypo and people think he’s drunk.  Will they help him?  Fear of him being sacked from a job because he can’t deal with the tiredness.  Should I bring in a classic oldie here – Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t fear the reaper!

In order to get society to understand the relentlessness and tiring effect of managing type 1 and glucose levels everyday, it seems that we need continued press coverage to rise about the loud voice of mythology – “Diabetes and obesity on the rise” etc – this voice that has filled with nation with a belief that our children with type 1 diabetes had any hand to play in their diagnosis.  It’s widely known in the diabetes community that type 1 diabetes is autoimmune, and cannot be prevented – but let’s talk about it on the street.  Let’s see how many people know the difference?

I took my son to a chiropractor recently who felt she could manipulate his spine to help with his headaches, and back pain. When I explained he was type 1 – she said “That’s ok, isn’t it the other one that’s worse anyway?”  My heart sank.

When I called a local boxing club for my son to join, the man said “his diabetes won’t be affected madam, he’ll be fine.  He’ll be punching a lot for the first few weeks so he’ll be just fine”… Again, that sinking feeling.

If only we didn’t need other people to understand, but we do.  We have to have our children integrated into society. A society which doesn’t really know how to help or understand what the heck is going on. I believe a lot of this is to do with the damage done by the media over such a long period of time.  Presenters who never distinguish between type 1 “diabetes and type 2 “diabetes” when all they ever use in their language is the word “diabetes”. A blanket expression.  For this reason, and many others associated with the plethora of injections we give our children (and the fact that he is also type 1) I nominated The needle and the damage done – Neil Young as my next song.

As I finish this little ditty, I reach out to all the other parents/caregivers who wake in the middle of the night, or who stand at the sides waiting with sugar (candy) in hand – just in case there’s a big, bad, hypo awaiting.  I literally cannot listen to this song anymore without crumbling.

Candy – Paolo Nutini  

“Oh, darling I’ll kiss your eyes
And lay you down on your rug
Just give me some candy
After my heart”

Do you have a song or a memory like this? Share with me. I look forward to hearing from other parents who cry at songs, who have quiet moments of contemplation with songs, and who secretly enjoy their child’s fascination with rap (that’s me).


To my son John “I let my tape rock , ’til my tape popped”. 



To sleep or not?

We’ve hit puberty big style! The insulin dosages creep up and up, the midnight feasts, bolusing for every snack that’s grazed upon. The tip-toeing into the kitchen at all hours to eat even more bags of crisps. Yes, it’s the bottomless, empty leg syndrome of a growing lad. I’m happy about that, don’t misunderstand me. I’d like to share my opinion on some management issues for this style of living with type 1 diabetes and coeliac in adolescence:


1 To collaborate with my growing lad and discuss openly that he has to live his life to the choices he is beginning to make. Supporting him and guiding him through this life with love, patience and a very good sense of humour. Most of the time this how we live.

2 To accept sleep will be broken for the next few years at least. Very rarely we have a smooth ride at bedtime, but it’s been like this since day dot with this condition.

3 Dealing with Fear of hypos:

Since his seizure, I wake most nights to check his blood sugars, I test them several times between 10pm and morning, just to make sure he is safe from harm. This happens when you almost lose your child because of the treatment that keeps them alive. I won’t dance around the seizure issue. His sister, pictured above, and I both have regular nightmares about it – even though it happened a year ago now. We have to talk about this because these are real, daily fears we have.  Unless we could have technology that gives seamless, useable and comfortable protection against hypoglycaemia  – these daily issues will be continue to be with us.

For example, just two nights ago he had a severe hypo in his bed at 10pm following a nice hot shower. Only half and hour before that his bloods were in a good place. You form a sense of trust that the blood glucose is playing nice, only to find half an hour later you were wrong. This frustration and worry is always with me as a parent. Even now, I know that logically I shouldn’t feel blame that I get things wrong, but how on earth could I not have predicted that one? Surely I should have guessed that the heat from the shower was going to be too much for him?

Anyway, since Lucozade have now changed their sugar content, and this is how he likes to treat a low blood sugar, he had to drink almost the full bottle to begin to feel normal again. For the shaking to stop.  This led to him feeling very sick. I sat with him til midnight. Testing his blood glucose at regular intervals. To which end, his fingers were sore and he continued to feel low.  Thinking we now need to look into stopping purchasing Lucozade and try different hypo treatments – I wonder how many other of the millions of people with diabetes are turning to other measures to treat low’s – please discuss folks? I would love to hear your ideas on this one.

The pump is great for introducing reduced basal rates when this occurs but basal changes can take up to 2 hours to have effect. Anyway this was the option I felt was best for that time of night. Roll on two hours, 2am and I felt in a panic that he had overtreated his hypo and blood glucose may have risen too much. I woke in a panic, with my heart rate racing. His bloods were at 12.1mmol/L.  I left him til morning. 6:30am, and they were still at 12.7mmol/L.  I should have corrected that one, but following a hypo one can never predict the glucose patterns.   Can technology help us with all of this? Is there a panacea out there for these issues, these worries. Or will the functionality always need to include sleep disturbing alarms and vibrations.

I dropped him at school the next day, with a tired look on his face. As I have done so many times. There have been times when he hasn’t made it into school due to the tiredness, but usually we get through.

I’d love for people to understand just how exhausting this is, and the effects of that on our whole family. With him reaching nearly 15 years old now, and having lived with this since age 4, it can start to feel like a bad version of the film Groundhog Day.

I try hard each day to be grateful for him, grateful for life and happy that we have insulin as many around the world don’t have the same level of access to this life saving treatment. But oh my, just let me have peace of mind for one night!


Diet and Lifestyle

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Gluten Free pancakes in France

I’m thinking there used to be a school of thought whereby people who lived with type 1 diabetes felt restricted as a child when they ate at times, depending on influences from parental and clinical involvement. Thankfully now with the insulin pump, my son doesn’t always have these restrictions on when he can eat – apart from when he is hypo.

Scenario 1

Hypo: body needs sugar – fast! Let’s get the orange lucozade (his choice). Imagine you had just ordered a nice meal in a fancy restaurant, and you have to treat the hypo first. This is because they body needs fast acting glucose for at least 10-15minutes before you eat.

So in this instance, there can still be an element of restriction. Would he even feel like eating the meal after a hypo? who knows.

The thing is, it is not always possible to predict a hypo is it folks?

Scenario 2

Hyper: body needs more insulin. He feels so ill. Headache, sick. Again, you wouldn’t want to have ordered a nice meal would you?

The micro management of the insulin doses in life become so that you try to predict and prevent these swings in blood glucose levels. However, is it always possible? Swings in blood glucose levels can also be caused by stress, illness, growth, forgetting to bolus.  The trials!

After all is said and done, I’m so proud of how he is navigating this foreign landscape and taking on board a collaborative relationship with me. Allowing me to support him when he just can’t deal with it. Taking the reigns when he wants and wonderfully guessing carb counts daily.

I’ve cared for him since age 4, and some days I miss the little feet, the little hand holding mine. But when he towers above me, and tells me he loves me that’s all I need.

Sleep will just need to wait!


Those long legs, walking a friend’s dog on the beach!

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Teenagers, Trials and Tenacity

It’s been a while since I’ve posted so here’s an update!

I remember folk from years ago telling me that teenage years for a child living with type 1 diabetes were great fun. Satire at it’s best. Noted.

He is almost 14 years old. It’s been nearly 10 years since his pancreas exclaimed “nah, can’t be bothered” (said Kevin).

I’m here now. In the midst of it all. Puberty. Hormones and the lack of. It’s nothing short of living within confines of the extreme limits of human patience combined with the strangest art form – which I can only relate to as some sort of pseudo-psychic mind games.  Does Derren Brown have an answer to this paradigm shift in behavior,and the management of? This phenomenon known as teenage manhood?  Or is that just me being a nagging mother?  To talk or not to talk? Chapping on bedroom doors to get shouted at “don’t come in!”  etc,etc.

We have limited blood glucose testing at the moment, with the associated snorts and groans of what resembles a British Saddleback.  There’s the refusal to change the insulin pump cannula on day 3, resulting in bedtime (and through the night) hyperglycaemia reaching steady heights of >24mmol/L with various correction regimes. We have the non-compliance to remembering how to operate the messaging services on iPhones – known as “text”.  Furthermore, the Instagram and Facebook messengers have now been denied access. Next on the list is his refusal to answer the telephone when it rings. It’s funny, and enjoyable folks. I love it.

Clinical measurement

Hba1C used to be something I had some sort of limited control over, with regular input to his care and management. But these days, I’m lucky if I’m allowed to touch him to prick a finger. So there goes that as a reliable measurement. Other parameters to measure who a teenage is living and coping with type 1: refer back to the pseudo-psychic mind games statement.

Why do we still seek answers?

With all this in mind, I thought it would now be interesting, and slightly ironic, to introduce you to my next career change. I have completed the BSc (hons) Biomedical Science successfully,  and now plan to embark on a life changing masters course. This will be research based – looking at the application of technology to treat type 1 diabetes in paediatrics. I’m hoping the course will allow me insight into the hidden world of where the answers lie. Like some strange landscape on a (not yet discovered) planet, in some far off nebulae, where the cast of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are all sat around a table, looking at graphs with nice straight lines. Or, I could just wait for the artificial pancreas to be MHRA approved?

Yes, I am sleep deprived.

It’s not all bad folks, sometimes he laughs at my jokes. This usually happens around December time.

Thanks for reading!2015-04-16 10.26.19


It’s the final countdown

Did you sing it? …Air guitar!

Tonight, I wanted to jot down some feelings about my final exam coming up, as part of my BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science degree at the wonderful University of the West of Scotland in Paisley. Has anyone ever felt the impending crisis of confidence that comes with this finality? tripping up at the last post? falling at the last hurdle ? and all other steeplechase adages. Can I say? This is partly me. The other part of me wants to be the person who tries their hardest right til the end, like “when the going gets tough..” You may be thinking enough of the proverbs, if so, I don’t blame you.

It’s the pressure I’m under you see. Right at the end of this degree I have the whole plethora of reasons which I’ve built up over the years ,to keep on going. The memories of the stresses and strains it has put on me and my family. The lack of sleep due to many reasons and the blind faith that I would keep pushing myself to get there.  I’m almost at “There” now, or am I?

As a part-time student, I have met so many wonderful people who have inspired me. I’ve met a lot of friends who share my passion for being a science girl/nerd/geek/weirdo/guru. On the whole,  I can use the word “privileged” for how I feel about this change. Anyone, who undergoes a career change may feel trepidation at the prospect, but I can confirm the change has been good for me – so go for it! If it’s something you need to do in life, I hope you get the chance to.

Biomedical Science and this career change is always a moving target. One which never really came into focus before now. You see it’s not until the end of honours year that you start to really take things seriously, how could you before? you didn’t know you would get this far, right?  I mainly speak for myself here.


You begin to meet people, who you may actually be involved with throughout your career.  For example, recently, we’ve had the pleasure of hearing how it is in industry with a series of talks from scientists working in labs in Scotland.  They have discussed the focus of their specialisms in laboratory diagnostics or research – highlighting the impact they have on lives at the other end, perhaps vulnerable and waiting on results.  Their responsibilities at hand of keeping systems in flow, and performing accurately to meet demands of ongoing developments and tests in Biomedical science.  A recent lecture from a clinical immunologist on the range of allergy testing that can be carried out nowadays inspired me.  One talk discussed the ways of testing for allergies including skin prick tests, measuring wheals as they responded to localised allergens under the skin, and also the movement towards molecular genetics such as the awareness of the ‘Ara’ gene’s in peanuts and their related allergens that can be detected with antibody testing. It almost ranked #1 in lectures, however this spot is reserved for Dr Anne Crilly’s lecture on autoimmunity. Dr Crilly was my research project supervisor, so I do have vested interest in being a fan!  I feel inspired by great minds who tackle very complex scientific challenges to improve people’s lives, and I hope student’s voice their appreciation of this which I know a few of my peers do.

Clinical immunology is where I aim to be involved, but as I learn about the scientific community and the specialisms out there, I realise, if I achieve my BSc (Hons) that I’ll be a beginner again and rightly so. For this reason, saying that  I’m almost “There” now seems a very sinuous comment to make in this industry.

Diabetes Research

In the days gone by, whence I was young and naive (not really, I was 32 when I started this degree) I thought I would qualify and go straight into diabetes research. As a mother of a child with type 1 diabetes, I was sure this was all the gumption I needed. <insert evil laugh here>.

I know differently now. Those little acronyms, of which I have learned so many, are now staring me brightly between the eyes most days. PhD being the one of most illumination. However, as mentioned (quite a few times now) on this blog, I do have a family. I do have growing teenage troops and they do need parenting as much as little babies do.  Side note: If you have teens, you will know what I mean.

Inevitably, I will try to make a confident decision and move forward with my career, but I wouldn’t have been in this position if it wasn’t for my quest to find out why my son was diagnosed with autoimmune conditions. Each time things got difficult I told myself “if someone else can do it, I can too”.  This quote is dedicated to my children.

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John, my snowboarding genius!

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Katie, my young aspiring musician, and teacher!

To Katie & John:

If you read this (meaning you may have to actually use your mobile phones, and now my argument for this seems ineffective) – Thank you for putting up with me, and having faith in me so far. In this day, when you live with your mobile phones joined to your hands and google anything you want to know, I want to highlight that being part of studying for a degree is great but you’re in it for the long haul and you have to be patient with yourself.  Good things come to those who wait.


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IBMS Congress from a student perspective

2015-09-28 13.30.33Yesterday, I traveled down south from Glasgow to Birmingham, for the IBMS congress at the ICC.  On my part, this was a mixture of career planning, travel enthusiasm and escapism if I’m honest (who let mum loose?).  Who doesn’t like day trips? (insert Beatles song here).

Also, I want to be proactive about my career. It’s a great combo!  Since the flight was cheaper than travelling to Edinburgh for the day, I thought why not? I was eager to meet people who are passionate about biomedical science from other walks of life.


On arrival, I found Birmingham looked like an up and coming city. I felt full of  “spring” in my step! The newly opened New street station was certainly worth my visit, if all else failed.  However, I was full of purpose, so didn’t hang around much to be honest – heading straight for the ICC on a mission.   2015-09-28 13.22.55I had expectations of chatting with scientists, and professionals on current treatment options/diagnostics and you guessed it… all with a bias towards autoimmune conditions. So where was Medtronic?

Students of Biomedical Science unite!

The student expo, as aimed at undergraduates wondering where this ‘broad-ranged‘ degree will take them.  Sarah May, Deputy Chief Executive of the institute highlighted the routes into working for the NHS and options which may be available to a new graduate – more often than not – a laboratory support role.  These jobs are marketed at pay band Grade 3 (NHS grading)  for those without any qualifications, which may seem like you’ve hit disaster after 4 years of hard slog, and brain-bashing theory to gain a piece of paper, which you didn’t need to begin with! Don’t be disheartened was the message, students with the BSc(hons) degree can progress from these roles within the NHS, and aim to specialise in a chosen niche – look at it, as a step in the door.  For those who wish to be at the forefront of diagnostics, and feel the support of the largest employer of BMS behind you, then I feel this could be a great career.  Also, a wonderfully, inspiring talk presented by Sgt Colin Hudson of the Royal Air Force left me feeling amazed at the capabilities of scientists in the most difficult of places and circumstances a person could ever be asked to face.  This also made me feel a little sad, because my son can never apply to the forces due to his medical condition, but it is good to know there are strong minded, focused and extremely capable scientists meeting the needs of those at the face of human crisis on our planet.

I personally was very interested in the talk by Dr Sue Jones, from York St John’s university.  I am not a young undergraduate, and have come to biomedical science as a second career. Therefore, I have strong determination and deep personal reasons for being interested in completing this degree. I carry with me experience of treating a child with a severe life threatening medical condition, and this gives me a double-sided view of why research is vital, why it is important to network and sell products that vastly improve patient’s lives.  I am that customer.  Which leads me onto the exhibition.

Exhibition hall and the big names in industry including Leica, Abbott, Siemens and the list goes on…

At break, we ventured into the massive exhibition hall to wonder at the latest and greatest of diagnostic equipment, laboratory aides and tools.  I chatted with a few exhibitors about my student experience so far and well wishes all round were exchanged.  I personally felt like a child in a sweetie shop – literally, due to the fact every stand was happy to supply everyone with a quick sugar rush. Ironic? … discuss.

From a student perspective, I felt the career aspect of the expo was vital to anyone who has not thought about the different routes to follow after the undergraduate degree.  I got chatting to a few students from universities in England, about the differences in their degree programme and mine, but one thing remained the same, these degrees are very popular in the UK. There is widespread competition and we all need to aim for more experience in the lab if we want to stand out from the crowd.  If it is financially viable, to gain lab experience at your university or research institute, then keep trying – I know I found my summer work experience invaluable.

Finally … let’s not avoid the elephant in the room any longer – Earning potentional!

There is an element of “but when will I get paid?”,” When will I earn from this degree?” and I admit, I have thought that quite often. I do have two children and a mortgage and without my husband’s career things would be very different for our family. Nonetheless,  I try to hold onto the dream and hope I had at the start of this route for a specific reason, and that was to help make my son’s life easier, to understand the mechanisms behind his wonky immune system, and to try and work alongside researchers who also feel as passionate about that as me.  Currently, I have no delusions about earning the best wage.  I know that applying for funding for a PhD is highly competitive.  As is, finding that job that makes all this seem worthwhile. Basically, I have admired a certain researcher for the past few years who works at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston, USA – so quite a far travel for someone from Ayrshire, Scotland. It does all seem like a pipe dream to me, but not one I am willing to give up on just yet.  For those who wish to enter the NHS, there is also the delayed potential to earn a band 6 wage – which could take quite a few years post-graduation.  In summary, why should we not go for sales jobs? I’ll leave that to you to answer, It is a very personal answer – but please feel free to share your own experiences.

When you walk around the exhibitors hall, it can be quite an eye opener to see the ones who make money from biomedical science. But if you are passionate about the subject, it could be you who helps to write the rule book, who aids the invention of the next immunoassay or who writes a paper leading to the improvement of millions of lives.  We certainly wouldn’t be living with some of the best technology for managing type 1 diabetes without some of the best research and pharmaceutical involvement in the world. medtronic-cgm

So without coming across as a cheesy motivational speaker, I would like to finish up by saying, it would have been wonderful to be able to sign up to attend a talk listed on the plenary. If this was an option (I’m not sure if it was), I would have loved to hear the talk by Dr Claire Guest – CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (I know of a family who have a dog that responds to a child with hypo-unawareness – a life saving dog!).

My aim was to explore where my career would go, but I still leave that open. Open to chance meetings.  Open to networking. Open to fate perhaps, and certainly open to more day trips and conferences.

Please feel free to comment, and share!  I hope my post inspires others to attend conferences, and get meeting others in the field.