The meeting – Week 18 as a PhD student

I will start this week with a quick update on my experience of publishing these posts. I posted two posts on the first day of making my site; It has become clear to me how important a headline is. One of my posts is titled ‘An unexpected PhD student’, the other is titled ‘ Week 1 – mediocre expectations’. I will let you be the judge of which one got 100% of the views that day. I don’t know why I expected the fact that being a PhD student would be more interesting than the run-of-the-mill fitness or lifestyle blogs. Oh, how I was wrong. This adds another dimension to this experience; previously, I thought people would click on my posts and give me feedback on my writing. My current belief is that I will have to become a lot more savvy with self-promotion and become the corporate-waster I despise. Although, It will probably look good on a CV…

This week1 I had my first supervisor meeting, I had to give a presentation about all the work I have been doing, and mostly justify my funding to my industrial sponsors. At my university, this occurs every 3-4 months, with larger formal reviews at the 6six month and one year mark. I am glad to say it went well, and that my supervisor’s – all four of them – are very supportive. I had been looking forward to this meeting as I have not had any feedback as to how I am doing; this is worrying as you feel as if you could potentially be wasting your time – and their money. I saw this meeting as more of an opportunity than an interrogation, as I needed the feedback. I am glad I do not have to prepare for it anymore though as I am bored of preparing presentations for the meantime. On that note, I have been asked to present a poster at the end of the month; another couple of weeks not working on my actual work is upon me. I should reframe my thinking, and see it as an opportunity to improve my communication skills; at the moment I see it as a chore.

If you have read some, or all, of my previous posts. Firstly, Thank you! Secondly, you will see that I have been complaining about not knowing what to do, and wondering if I am doing enough work. Well, ladies and gentleman, I now have too much to do; it took 18 weeks for this to occur, what a joyous 18 weeks. If experience is anything to go by, the time will start to pass a lot quicker! I have been preparing for another presentation that I have coming up next week, so my week has been quite boring. However, I did manage to do something other than prep presentations; I have started work on my first academic paper, mostly just the research but I did manage to write my first line, which as we know, is a start. A lot of the research involved looking for journals I could publish in; it looks as if anyone can start a journal as many journals had websites I would describe as home-brewed. There were not many that I will consider for publishing; I think that sticking to the big players – those owned by Elsevier etc. – is the best strategy for me at this point. Writing this paper will be a massive undertaking, and I expect it will take a year.

I have finally finished Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, to be honest, I don’t recommend it. Unless you want an endurance challenge, I don’t think it was interesting enough for me to recommend it over other books. I will be running back to non-fiction for a while; I am unconvinced that reading fiction is a good use of my time. I have mentioned in the past that I have been writing code as part of my PhD; I have come across a few barriers recently regarding the installation of python packages. I have had a little bit of luck, but I am still stuck, however, I will continue to work on the problem as it is deep-rooted now, and I want the satisfaction of solving the problem. A less mature version of myself would have given up, and gone with another, a lesser method of achieving the same goal – measuring the colour of leaves objectively. I think this resilient mindset is something that is worth cultivating. It may be a cliché, but I believe that the work is much more important than the result. It is just important to take time to appreciate what you’re doing and enjoy the ride, as the happiness from the result is very short acting.

1. I need to find some more opening phrases.

Note

As with all these posts, they are roughly 4 months behind the present. Interesting how all the problems I had at this point are the least of my problems 4 months down the line.

A profound title – Week seventeen as a PhD student

Well, I did it, I have made a website where all of these posts will be open to comment. Of course, you already know this, as you would not be reading this if I hadn’t already done so. My experience so far is that there is a large number of people that have fitness-related blogs. I know this because as soon as I posted my ramblings, many fitness bloggers clicked ‘like’ on my post without even reading the post. I am excited to see what comes from this little online experiment.

In PhD student news, this week, I had to stop with one of my experiments as it was not working as intended. I measured the ion leakage from membranes of spinach leaves as a potential marker for shelf life; the problem was, that it took a long time after the best before date – two weeks until there was any useful difference. What I mean by this, is that I could distinguish day fourteen from day one, but not day seven from day one; as the date on the pack ended at day four, this is not ideal. From this experiment, I believe that the shelf life of spinach – from this season (Italian winter), is far too conservative. My take home from this is that you should use your judgement when assessing if your product is good for eating.

One big thing I have learnt this week is that networking, and actually talking to people are very close to the top of the skill tree. At the beginning of last week, I did not know where I was going with my next experiments. I got talking with one of the postdocs1, and he suggested I ran the same experiment he was running on my samples. This is great for me for many reasons: firstly I will learn a new technique; secondly I have something to do, thirdly I have made a new contact, and hopefully, he can be an ongoing resource for me. So, there we go, the power of networking.

It feels as if I have been preparing and presentations for two different events I have coming up exclusively this week. If you think my writing is weak, you should see my speaking. I am hoping that if I become a better writer, my speaking will improve along with it. After the next two weeks, my speaking engagements will be over for a while, and I can concentrate on my research more. One thing you should know about being a PhD student is that you will almost certainly have to give a presentation every few months, so you may as well get good, that is my thought on the matter anyway.

I had a lab-group meeting this week; I am getting much more confident speaking within the group. I think I am starting to relax into being in the position I am: progress! I am desperate to not be in the seventy-percent of people who experience mental health issues during a PhD. My approach to this is to try and balance my life as much as possible: no all-nighters. This should be an enjoyable time, and I will optimise my life for happiness and not ‘being successful’. I think this is the only logical way to live.

I have a question with regards to my writing. Do you like this style of post? Or, should I do less of this bloggy stuff and more informative articles related to my field?

1. Post-doctoral researcher.

Thinking about starting a blog – Week sixteen as a PhD student

Early this week I had a strong urge to publish my journaling of the PhD experience; I thought I would make a WordPress site and just publish them on a weekly basis anonymously.

How would you know whether it happened or not? If you stumbled across this before this post, in your timeline, I would have made the site earlier. If you stumbled across it today, then you would assume I made the site a while back as there are some posts before this one. Well, I planned to make it on the weekend, and of course, I didn’t. Maybe next weekend? As I don’t have anything to lose, I will commit to getting it done by next weekend. The worst that can happen is that no one reads it and I don’t get any better at writing than I would have, had I not published this stuff. I assume that I would improve much better if other people were critiquing the writing.

What have I been working on this week? Well, I have to give a three-minute thesis at an internal conference. So I have started to write and make the slides for that. I attended a course on ‘presenting your research in three minutes’ presented by a very high-quality presenter; she is a science communicator and a stand-up comedian so you can guess she was comfortable with public speaking. It did help give some structure to my presentation, and it brings me up to seven out of five of the courses I need to take this year. Next week I have my eighth, which is about writing a literature review; I will probably register for more of them in the summer as I can’t turn down free education it would seem.

Most of this week was work, as usual, hedonic adaptation deeply rooted in at this point. A grinding situation has started to develop. I have been thinking that I need to create another stream of income as I want to increase my savings rate, and hopefully pad out my C.V. with respectable commendations. Ideally, it will be something I can do with flexi-time as I don’t want to detract from my primary objective. Another income stream will be another goal of mine added to the ‘Life.txt’ document I have. The reason I have been thinking about this is that I calculated how much money I could theoretically have by the end of my PhD; If I could increase that by roughly ten-thousand, I will be in a much more stable position. I noticed that a lot of my peers are doing some form of part-time work while doing their PhDs; I am sure they need the money more than I do as most of them are living in the typical student fashion, however, if they can do it…

My two biggest time sinks this week has been random Twitch browsing and playing video games, combined, they probably took twelve hours from me. I am unsure what I am going to do about this.

P.S This was written on the 28-1-18, and it looks like I did make a blog.

Compulsory conference – week fifteen as a PhD student

I made a rookie error this morning; I took a peek inside my investment account, although it was up 7.4%, I still have the depressing feeling of knowing it will be many many years until I am financially independent of the system. Oh, how I wish a had become financially savvy and invested in the period before academia; when I was working and spending like an idiot. Never mind, I suspect I have caught onto the idea much earlier than most of my contemporaries. This week was much more relaxed concerning my schedule; I only had one deadline, which was the submission of an abstract for an in-school conference. The interesting thing about this conference is that it is compulsory and, they are giving awards for best abstract. To me, giving out awards for mandatory activities seems off. It has a sinister: ‘not only are we going to force you to do this, but we are also going to rank you on it’ vibe. It is surprising how many hours I put into writing the 300-word abstract; If it were a piece of work for my undergraduate degree, I would spend the same amount of time on a 2000 word piece. Although there is only pass or fail in a PhD, it seems as if the pass mark is close to 100%.

I feel as if I am learning the way of the scientist. Previously, my biggest issue was writing in the general sense (punctuation, grammar etcetera); now my issues is writing academically, the types of words I use. It seems as if publications only want papers that read how a scientist would write if viewed by a member of the public. Now it seems there are two ways in which scientists communicate; the standard way like how I am writing now, and the publication way where all prose is derived from the axiomatic evidence from experimentation. I am still in the early phase of this and feel quite irreverent (winks at camera) towards it. I suppose I will become another homogeneous bot in the world of science, just as I would be in any other field.

I did get a free pair of running shoes this week! My girlfriend bought me some for Christmas, but they did not arrive in time. She complained, and purchased some other shoes from somewhere else; the first pair were refunded, but still arrived a couple of weeks later. On the one hand I do feel bad for the company that sent the first pair, but on the other hand, they are a faceless corporation, so I am in a moral bind about this one. I think it would be best to have them as a spare pair for when my current ones break.

The biggest struggle I have had this week has been installing packages for Python, at my current level experience it would seem as if overcoming of the difficulty of installing packages is the price of entry to the club. Installing packages does seem unnecessarily difficult. Anyway, like all other issues I have encountered, spend enough time trying to solve it and nine times out of ten you normally do.

See you next week.

Finding the peaks – week fourteen as a PhD student

This week I was running experiments for four out of five days, as a consequence, I feel as if I have been quite busy. The results I have been seeing are not as good as I had been expecting; I did find some compounds that were not in any of our libraries, which is an interesting peak in an otherwise flat-line graph. I have been trying to learn how to judge mass spectra, and I think I have some candidate compounds for my unknown peaks, so I have ordered some standards to test this: fingers crossed.

I have also been doing a lot of work on my script for analysing colour. I quite enjoy programming, and I want to keep developing my skills in this regard; besides continuously making programmes, I am unsure as to what the best approach is to improve, I think I need some sort of game/competition to force my hand. One of the main reasons I enjoy programming is that you cant test your creations as much as you want, over and over continually iterating until you get the result you want. However, this may be one of the issues as it is so easy to test and change, trial and error become the predominant learning force. I rarely think too hard about the program; I should think it through from first principles, what happens is, is that I keep changing things until I get the result I want. If anyone can recommend any resources for graduating from the beginner to intermediate/advanced stage, I would very much appreciate it.

In our lab meeting this week I got asked what papers I was thinking about publishing, this took me from left field, as I have not thought about this before. So I quickly pulled some words about papers from the nowhere and just about got through it. I believe one of my least favourable attributes toward being a good scientist is that I don’t care much at all about prestige. I have heard the words ‘publish or perish’ before now and this does not give me too much hope. I understand the idea in principle; you’re increasing the level of knowledge and progressing humanity in some small way. It does seem as if publishing is gamified, and we have managed to figure out the best way to progress, and that is quantity over quality. I suspect my view is quite naive and will change over the coming years, but also, that it does have some truth in there.

In non-academic news, it seems as if I have gained 1kg in weight this week. It could be just down to the fact that I had a huge meal last night – we got a free three-course dinner for Christmas, at Jamie’s. Either way, this week I will lead a life of much less excess. On a positive note, I have got my run pace back below 5min/km; I hope I can keep that pace up. Anyway, I’m off; I need to update my gym workouts as they have become stale!

Note from the future (4 months since this was written)

I can see the grammatical improvement in my writing which is encouraging (take a look at my earlier posts to confirm for yourself). Soon you should see some development in how to put a piece together.

Early setbacks- Week thirteen as a PhD student

 

I feel as if I have been cruising with a strong tailwind for quite a while now; this week has not felt the same. The experiments I had been planning for months did not go as well as I would like. I was extracting volatile compounds from the headspace of bagged salad and then analysing the extracted compounds on a GC-MS system. I was expecting a high turnout of volatiles from the bagged salad; however, all I found was remnants of the extraction fibre. Residues of the extraction fibre were all I saw, until three days of continuously running samples, at roughly one sample an hour. The most disconcerting factor about all the experiments was that I only needed to detect one volatile. I can then track this volatile over time to see how it changes in concentration; this will then give me an idea of what day of shelf-life the salad is at: in theory. As I could not find anything for a few days, my mood was very low at this time. It made me reflect on how, after a while, you never really notice that everything is going well, a sort of hedonic adaptation. I was certainly due a failure; on reflection, I am still up and should expect a burst bubble soon.

Due to the experiments I have been running, I have had to revise and learn how to analyse the results I am getting, i.e. how to read an MS trace. From a subjective position, before I was doing my PhD I would have expected someone who was doing a PhD just to know how to do all the fundamental scientific analysis. However, as it turns out, YouTube and Google still hold most of my knowledge. My years of development through academia have allowed me to learn a few things; it is as if my operating system has improved and I am now much quicker to execute links to where the information is in external storage. My mind is partially in the cloud.

I cannot think of much more to add to this weeks review, I feel quite a bit heavier from the Christmas period, and my time off from running certainly has been felt on my last two runs. I am expecting this will normalise toward the end of January. My investment portfolio is up almost seven and a half percent, which counter-intuitively is not great news for me, as it now costs me that much more to invest. Ideally, I want the portfolio to stay low for a very long until I am approaching retirement, when a massive bull run ensues. First world problems. I haven’t made new years resolutions before as I found the concept a bit silly, why wait to improve your life? I always thought. However, the Christmas break is usually when I review the past year, so it does make sense on some level; this year I have resolved to reduce the amount of time I spend passively playing video games whilst listening to podcasts.

Notes from the future.

As you may know, these blog posts are approximately four months behind. Looking back at this one, all I can say is, keep your chin up it will all be fine, and the stock market has mirrored those percentages in the negative!

 

 

Closing the year with a ski trip – week eleven and twelve as a PhD student

This Is week 12; I have not written anything for last week as I was on holiday. I will, therefore, combine the two weeks, seamlessly. Last week I was skiing in Slovakia for four days; I would recommend waiting until after Christmas before skiing in Slovakia, as before this the snow is highly variable and you may find many slopes closed.

This Is week 12; I have not written anything for last week as I was on holiday. I will, therefore, combine the two weeks, seamlessly. Last week I was skiing in Slovakia for four days; I would recommend waiting until after Christmas before skiing in Slovakia, as before this the snow is highly variable and you may find many slopes closed. There is nothing too exciting to tell you about the skiing trip with the notable exception that I have been sick from food poisoning two times in a row from Slovak Ski trips. The ski trip essentially took up one of the weeks, so there is week eleven summed up.

Christmas and New Year. I usually spend Christmas with my parents and occasionally my partner. This year we spent Christmas day at our respective parents’ and then met up later to exchange presents. I also met up with my old school-friends, whom I meet once a year it seems. They are much more traditional than I, fifty percent of them have a long-term partner, mortgage and a dog; yes, the set menu for two. The set-menu has never imposed itself on me; for one reason or another, I have always been eating a la carte. It’s sentences like that, which probably prompted my dad to call me sanctimonious throughout the time I stayed with them this Christmas. Christmas this year was not quite as good as previous years, this is mainly because I didn’t feel as if I needed the break as much. Last year during the final year of my undergraduate degree, I needed the break, and it was excellent.

Not much else has happened to me over the last two weeks, as it is the holiday season. I reviewed my finances based on the theoretical spreadsheet I made; I am underinvesting by £300 each month. I don’t think I have the mental strength to set my direct debit any higher for the moment; I will just keep topping up the remainder each time I get paid. I don’t feel too sad about holding slightly more cash than I had planned. I have started a new book, ‘Infinite Jest‘ by David Foster Wallace. All I have to say at this point is, wow that is a huge book with very dense text. The book is very well written; I am hoping some of it will rub off on me. Looking back over the year, I have read 33 books, I started regularly reading as a new year’s resolution. I am certainly going to continue this new found passion for the foreseeable future. The summation of someone else’s life’s work, into an easily digestible format, is probably worth taking advantage of. I think my resolution this year will be to stop passively wasting hours watching and playing video games, as I should be able to free up a few hours each day, which will probably get filled with other useless pursuits.