Category Archives: Neha Mehta

AquaConSoil 2017

Tatiana Cocerva and a number of the other Remediate ESRs went to ACS2017 this summer. Enjoy her great summary of the events they all enjoyed!

Working hard setting up experiments, getting the expected results, and publishing your work in great journals are all key goals for a researcher; communicating your research at a conference is also a professionally valuable experience.
This year, REMEDIATE participants had the opportunity to attend the AquaConSoil Conference that took place in Lyon, France on the 26th-30th June 2017. This event brought together students, scientists, industry professionals, and policy makers from all over the world. Presentations covered the areas of sustainable use and management of soil, sediment, and water resources.

speakers

Sabrina, Tatiana, Stacie, Panagiotis, Yi, Morteza, Diogo, and Neha (REMEDIATE Early Stage Researchers) presented their research to a wide audience in a special session “Improved decision making for contaminated land site investigation and risk assessment”, chaired by Professor Frederic Coulon (supervisor at Cranfield University). It was a very interesting session, after which we received valuable feedback and appreciation of our work. Ricardo, Coren, and Peter chose to disseminate their work in a poster session, where they actively engaged with other conference attendees, and exchanged ideas with many of them.

posters

 Being a researcher should be challenging and fun
Social events and informal meetings are the best way to create new collaborations and build new friendships. What can be more rewarding than having dinner with your colleagues after a full day of listening to interesting presentations and meeting nice people? The REMEDIATE team added researchers and new friends from Italy, Germany, Netherlands, and Chile to its network.

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The conference dinner was organised in a friendly atmosphere where REMEDIATE supervisors and researchers socialised with different conference attendees in a relaxed, informal environment. Tatiana engaged in interesting discussions with the team from BRGM (French geological survey), and found that they shared a similar network and friends in France. What a happy coincidence! After dinner, a DJ boosted everyone’s energy and we all remembered that professional people can combine research and fun.

Tatiana Cocerva with a part of the BRGM team; Photo by BRGM

We are very grateful to all the organisers for this amazing, memorable conference. This was a great experience for all of us and we were inspired, challenged, and more motivated in our work. We look forward to attending the next conference with the same positive mood!

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Summer School in Raadvad

Neha Mehta gives us her thoughts on the second REMEDIATE Summer School, which was held at Lyngby Vandrerhejm. Thanks to Lisbeth Axelsen and Kristian Brandt for their hard work in organising a great week!

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Thanks, Web of Science!

This is how every one of us feels after finding a paper that describes a statistical approach to the experiments we are doing. Nanoseconds of utmost joy, a colossal amount of gratitude towards the author, the publisher, and Web of Science for sharing the knowledge. And what if the same concept is shared by someone to us through a talk? This knowledge sharing while giving appropriate examples from different  studies was done by the tutors at Summer School 2.
This summer school promised to hone our skills in statistical applications and paper writing. This was actually an understatement. The truth is that we were immersed in a captivating series of lectures, rewarding discussions, and individual study time to apply newly learned concepts to our own projects. Summer School gave us the chance to learn things like:

The importance of microbiology in risk assessment
Remediation of contaminated sites is a complex, lengthy, and costly procedure. To decide the remediation goals, it thus becomes imperative to understand the risks to human health and environment due to contaminants. Most of the environmental risk assessment framework used for decision making at present only accounts for chemical analysis. It seems equally important to understand the health of soil in terms of the microorganisms; the effect of metal content on the growth and development of microorganism colonies, as much as knowing the total metal concentration and their bioavailability. To further elaborate our understanding on the subject we visited the Collstrop site to see how different contaminants may cause risk to environment.

Environmental risk assessment methods should try to reveal the soil health in terms of ecology, toxicity, and chemical analysis as defined in the TRIAD approach.

SS collstrop

Paper writing skills
Correcting one report, modifying the next; hopping from one experiment to another; meandering from one university to a different university for a secondment; presenting a poster, giving an oral presentation; preparing a to-do list to glancing at a done list; scheduling ICP-MS time to learning SEM; running a code on R to installing MATLAB: life is always a roller-coaster. Amidst all this, one thought that keeps on popping into our brains: AM I GOOD AT WRITING?
The problem was solved by the session on paper writing that told us that every researcher should first identify themselves as a writer. How a simple thing like saving the bibliography in a separate folder for the article we are working on right now, can save a lot of time. The introduction should always follow a funnel approach and we should first start working on the body of the article were some of the tips shared to make writing easier.

Like all things that are worthwhile, it takes time to publish; it also gets easier with practice. So don’t wait any longer. Start writing that paper now.

SS paper writing

Presentation Skills
This time we had a project meeting just before the summer school. Every presentation was recorded on a video camera. Supervisors were given a form to comment on the presentation skills of the ESRs.
Ohhh no… I did not rehearse… you did not tell us… this is not fair, we just came yesterday night and did not get a proper sleep. Yes, this is how we all reacted to the idea of Julie-Anne and Nick. But we had a sigh of relief, when these forms and videos were shown to us again in groups and we had chance to discuss among ourselves on how we can improve. There was no mentor, no supervisor telling us we were right or wrong. We were all friends set on a mission to improve ourselves, to help each other, looking at videos, eating the evening snacks and telling each other.

We may have discovered a simple procedure to help in the remediation of brownfield sites, now we should get out there and tell everyone.

Discipline
Preparing for next set of experiments in lab at night to submitting a report in wee hours of morning. We all have control of our schedules. One of the biggest benefit of being a PhD student is that we have all the freedom to plan our day according to the workload. In such a scenario, we often fall out of daily routine.
So here came lessons on discipline. Summer School was organised at away from the hub-bub of Copenhagen. So if we woke up late and missed the breakfast, there was no 7Eleven nearby. Lunch timings and dinner timings were fixed. Finishing dinner till 7:00 pm led to a situation when some of us were running in night, starving and looking in each other’s room for food. This is how we were all given a chance to live a healthy life. Waking up early to attend lectures, going for long walks to see deers and stroll on the beach in the evening, getting to sleep on time kept us motivated and energetic throughout. It was also important for inculcating self discipline.

Self discipline is when your conscience tells you to do something and you don’t talk back.
W.K. Hope

SS dinner

Statistical methods and application of R
Hovering a cursor from MS Word to MS Excel; writing an email, to using Mendeley for managing my bibliography; plotting maps on QGIS, to using SURFER for interpolating the data: we forget to pay heed to R, or to any statistcial software for that matter.
Somehow, everything that we forget or do not pay attention to, was included in the program of Summer School. The session on application of R taught us about writing code and data analysis using linear regression method, Principal Component Analysis and clustering approaches.

Statistical methods provide us with the conceptual foundations in quantitative reasoning to extract information from the sea of data.

Team Building
Missing a call from one of our fellow researchers, replying late on WhatsApp; looking at our Facebook feed, finding out about our friend’s achievement through Researchgate: there are multiple occasions when we find ourselves guilty of not remaining in touch with our friends. When an interdisciplinary project has students in five different countries, this is something that is bound to happen. To make the bonds of friendship stronger, no stones were left unturned by the organisers. We spent one of our evenings at Dyrehavsbakken Amusement Park. It is the world’s oldest amusement park. Pedaling cycles to the park, holding each other’s hands on a horror ride, shouting together in another ride gave a joyful refreshment to our friendship.

Away from the city, in a lush green location, learning from people who know their subject down to the minutest detail. Lessons not just on science, but on every aspect of being a successful researcher, was definitely a wonderful experience.

SS fairground

One step at a time

Our ESR at the University of Turin, Neha Mehta, has written a post about the responsibilities and opportunities we have as scientists. We hope you enjoy it!

While mapping locations of samples on my computer, I found myself sitting and pondering the last sampling trip. I have been on many trips in the last year, for collecting mining waste dotted over mountains, for working with soil near the waste, and to collect water samples (to find out if the water was using perseverance and hard work to slowly dissolve the metals around it and carry them large distances, or if the metals were loyal enough to remain attached to the rocks and not fall in love with ions in the water).

Sampling feels different in different seasons, and this was first time I had done it in the autumn. I went with Giorgio and we were joined by Scolari (an employee from Comune di Gorno, Lombardy). We were there to sample water springs and water from mining tunnels that would reflect the level of metals in the background and in contaminated water.

When I got out of our car, I could see colours in the mountains that were not evident when I had come earlier in the year. Apparently it was views like this that made the author Jim Bishop write “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

travel

How meticulously nature paints itself. When I was taking pictures of the sample site, I could not stop myself taking photographs of mountains and the paths decorated by leaves.

The ecstatic feeling soon disappeared when I started walking in the mountains to collect samples. The leaves and water made some of the locations slippery and so scary that we were all walking like tortoises even with proper shoes. Leaves that hide holes beneath them; leaves on plants and around that hide the water source itself. I kept on repeating to myself “Slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race” as if it was only this hymn that was saving us and our instruments from falling down; and we kept on walking.

sites

The area had a plethora of flora and fauna: we came across cats, dogs, horses, big and small mushrooms, a donkey, salamanders, goats, and cows grazing on surrounding fields, appearing here and there and sometimes walking with us until either of us changed path, as if they were keeping us company in our work that could lead to the betterment of not just human life but also the local environment, perhaps thinking ‘How weird these human beings are, they do not know how to walk properly even with shoes!’ or maybe just looking at us and getting busy in their chores again.

fauna

At this point someone reading this might wonder if I was collecting samples or taking photographs. Where are the samples? Where are photos of sampling locations? In case you failed to notice, look again at the pictures. The team walked to long narrow tunnels used for underground mining of zinc and lead.

The tunnels have their own stories on how men used to drill along the tunnels and cut the rocks, and women used to segregate the rocks with minerals from other rocks. Tunnels that silently roar ‘Oh you! You are also one of those who want to have everything, but do you really stop for a moment and try to imagine the effects of mining on workers, the backbreaking work and the precision through which it passed; the chemicals that were used to wash those rocks?’ How neophiliac and shortsighted we really are: we look at something, buy it, use it, and forget it. It cannot go on.

mine

Someone like me must come and show the pictures, trigger the cognitive process again, shout if we are not paying heed. No matter how much we try to overlook our footprints and try to remain caged inside our own comfort zones there will be something which will come in different forms in front of us. Therefore, we need to find answers for our own benefit, for ourselves to have peaceful sleep in night. We cannot leave all kind of marks on earth and go on Mars or the moon to live happily ever after! I was experiencing centuries in a few minutes and using knowledge of every discipline I have come across. History, chemistry, geography, geology and environmental engineering were all in my head.

Then I suddenly remembered words of wisdom from my mentor Professor Domenico De Luca: “Neha, passo dopo passo [step by step]! When you get emotional while you are doing research, remember just one mantra. Take a deep breath and move forward with just one step. Do not think too much and keep on taking every small step you can.”

After all the conversations inside me stopped, I took the smallest step I could take at that moment, and continued measuring electrical conductivity, the temperature and other physiochemical qualities of water.

Here are some bonus pictures from the sampling trip. Do not forget the lesson… ONE SMALL STEP !!!

one small step

Summer School!

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Remediate and ATBEST Fellows bask in the sunshine outside the Lanyon Building at QUB
Our ESR at the University of Turin, Neha, sent us a brilliant summary of the first Remediate Summer School, held at QUB in June 2016:
Summer School: Training and learning outside Laboratory
Recently we had summer school in Belfast organized by the Remediate project team. Although the summer school agenda was a conglomerate of multifaceted segments ranging from history of industrial activities, soft skill sessions, risk assessment studies, 3 minute thesis presentations, site visits etc, still I felt a bit reluctant to travel from Torino to Belfast in the summer. To attend I took a taxi at 2:00 am, waited four hours for a flight from Brussels to Belfast, and roamed around the city centre to find a travel adaptor. After all this, when I reached the University Residence at around 6:00 in evening the only thought that came to my mind was ‘Why?? What’s the use of this?? I could have taken courses in my university for developing scientific skills and taken some memberships at Social Clubs for brushing up social skills and here I am doing everything to attend Summer School.’ And then the activities related to summer school started just after one hour. No!! It was not a lecture but an informal dinner at a Mexican Restaurant where our group could meet another Researchers group who were working on biogas facilities and was on the final stage. There I realized that even the students who are going to defend their thesis in just some months also have smiling faces and can talk about things other than their PhD topics. The reason that summer school was worth all the efforts is not limited to only meeting new people but goes beyond this which I found in the four days of fun and learning in the city of Belfast. 
Learning science is easy if history is appreciated:
There were some lectures about history of Belfast, the course of industrial development, the spread of Gasworks in Europe which actually made it simple to understand how contamination is linked to source. It was much easier to conceive the mutations in contamination process after the development of activities was unclouded.To make it more understandable there was a bus city tour organized in evening and a site visit at one of the gasworks site and a landfill site where we got chance to see the Belfast and to understand the pathways of pollution. 
Helps to know other researchers and inculcates the feeling of team player:
The conventional routine of a researcher’s life seldom leaves space for thinking about making friends and knowing each other. Even most of us end up doing desktop dining when the deadlines are at close quarters.During our five days stay at Belfast most of us ate together. Waiting for each other, walking together in a herd, dragging someone to reach destination earlier, playing weird games in the evening, talking in night and watching movie in the kitchen until everyone sleeps were some of the pleasures that made us lively again. The time spent together turned the professional welding into close friendships easily. 
Gives time for brushing up networking skills:
While reading articles and scientific journals every one of us dreams about publications incessantly. Looking at profiles in ResearchGate and thinking ‘How will I feel if I have that many citations?’ consumes our mind to a level where ResearchGate becomes the most adopted social platform along with Facebook. We think about networking skills only when we see our Professors exchanging their views with other professors.The sessions on Tweets about our research, networking opportunities, way to approach another researcher during a conference, use of blogs told us about the plethora of opportunities available to us for discussing about our research apart from ResearchGate. 
Allows the leisure to see bigger pictures of one’s own research:
Most of us work on things which have depth and solve a particular challenge of a wider picture. Working everyday on the same precise area makes it easy to forget the colossal effect it has on the broader scale.The sessions that were closely linked to our own areas, the basic conceptual model development lessons, 3 minute video presentations reinvigorated the process of appreciating the bigger pictures of the research. It also made it easier to view the different areas in which our own research can proceed or other ideas that can be included in our projects too. 
Lots of opportunities for future collaborations:
Discussing and sharing ideas on the widespread areas, meeting the scientists from different specializations, viewing the industrial use of the research, listening to workshops from career mentors not only gave chance for further collaborations but also reminded us not just to think about our careers after completing the PhD but also to plan it wisely and work towards it from an early stage.
All in all sharing ideas outside the laboratory turned out to be super fun.

Meet the Researchers – Neha Mehta

Moving to take up a position as an Early Stage Researcher inevitably involves big changes in how you lead your life. Read how one of our ESRs, Neha Mehta found this has been (ultimately) a happy experience!

Neha Mehta Web

Celebrating Diwali with Crackers of Laughter !!!

Coming out of India for studies to a place so far was something that was unimaginable for me and my family even after I arrived in Torino. Although I have had lived in different parts of India but still I had never celebrated Diwali out of my home. I used to go to my parents on Diwali irrespective of anything. And they also knew that I would be with them cleaning home, making sweets at home, sharing household work with my mother, lighting Diyas, going to temples and squares near to my home to light Lamp there and planning all nitti gritties of the celebration.

But this time it was different, they had bid me good bye just before ten days of Diwali knowing that I am not going to celebrate with them. And here I was in a city which has everything to offer- parks, piazzas and bars still there was something that my eyes kept on searching. There was something that told that I was out of India. I was somehow not at peace with myself. I was settling in my work life partly because being a Researcher was a dream that I had from a long time and also because I had colleagues who were easy to get along with. But life outside my lab was becoming tough with every passing day. I started missing my home more and more as the days passed. I dreaded being lonely on evening of Diwali, being engulfed in the darkness of my own sadness.

And then finally the day when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya in the History arrived. Everyone was wishing me Happy Diwali on WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook and through variety of Forums while I was working in my Lab on a presentation with my tutor. So the day passed without much difficulty, discussing with my guide. In the evening after my work when I went to kitchen of the University Residence to prepare Coffee I met another student. I almost burst out with tears in my eyes telling her that today is Diwali and I am here. To my surprise she knew about Diwali as she was an exchange student from UK and knew many Indians there. While having conversation we decided to call other students also and to have dinner together.

When we were preparing dinner together I came to know that everyone belonged to different country and culture. Yet all of us were gaily, sharing recipes of food, talking about Shahrukh khan, Katrina Kaif ( yes they knew about Bollywood also ) one girl from Morocco was a big fan of Shahrukh Khan and told me that she watches every movie of Shahrukh Khan and has watched DDLJ for incalculable number of times. We were chatting about reason behind Diwali celebration, Manipal University, about life in Europe and Asia in general, conversing about history of Italy, contributing our own thoughts on different religions. Soon Diwali was full of Crackers of Laughter, lights of smile on our faces and radiating eyes and good food on our plates. Barriers between Jain, Muslims and Christians were meaningless and there was unity in diversity. All of us were together like different spices in food making it delicious with every next bite.

That moment I started loving Torino with all of my heart for giving me an opportunity to meet such nice people and stopped my search. I started being happy after lab also and meeting new people. Every day after that was livable. And so my own Vanvas ended with Diwali.