My Dissertation Experience – Maria Kontopyrgou

My Dissertation Experience

Supervisor and project title:

Dr. Dayi Zhang: Phosphorus forms determining growth and phosphatase activity of Microcystis aeruginosa.

My project as its name suggests examined the effect of 59 different phosphorus types on the growth of Microcystis aeruginosa and the expression of a critical protein alkaline phosphatase.

What I investigated…

Microcystis aeruginosa is a cyanobacterium present in algae blooms and can secrete toxins that have adverse effects. Under certain circumstances an increase in the concentration of various nutrients in aquatic systems (a phenomenon known as eutrophication) occurs which leads to enhancement of these blooms. Therefore, by understanding the phosphorus requirements of M.aeruginosa it would be possible to understand its behaviour under such phenomena and possibly manipulate the types of phosphorus deposited in waters to decrease eutrophication.

A typical day involved…

The amount of lab work was different throughout the experiment so most days involved spectrophotometry to check the growth of the algae cells at the same time every day and ensuring that the algae were stored at their optimal conditions. Busy days involved pipetting (countless times) into wells containing the algae to measure the activity of alkaline phosphatase protein or detecting how much inorganic phosphorus the algae produced.

What I discovered…

Although the experiment itself was not “too fancy” the analysis of the results was far more interesting. The results showed that different forms of phosphorus (i.e. organic, inorganic, cyclic nucleotides, non-nucleotides) had a different effect on the activity of alkaline phosphatase and followed alternative pathways leading to algal growth.

Feedback from supervisor…

That was one of the major issues I faced and didn’t expect at all. My supervisor was very busy so most of the time did not have time to advise me properly, respond to my emails or give me feedback on time. Therefore, he asked me to contact his post-doc student who was also involved on the same project for any questions I had.

Any hints or advice?

My advice is to keep in mind that your supervisor is not ignoring you! They are extremely busy working on so many different things at the same time, so they might just have missed your email. Be patient but don’t hesitate to show up in their office if you feel something is unclear. Make sure that you understand what you are doing throughout the project and don’t let everything until the last moment when you’re writing your project.


If I could do it again I would change…

Be organised! My third year was very packed and project writing was stressful. If I had the chance to do it again I would arrange a couple of hours before my lectures every morning for the write up. It might seem that it is not helpful, and you would rather spend your morning sleeping and leave a full day free to work on it (that was me). But honestly, how many free days do you have in your third year? My so far little experience from my MSc course taught me that this is extremely helpful, and when you see the results you’ll realise how much time this saves you on the long run. Plus, you also feel more productive as you start the tasks early, finish before the deadline and have extra time for editing your drafts.