You reap what you sow – week 37 as a PhD student

The sweet, gentle, torture of having a week off of lab work; where instead, I try and write my literature review.

Writing is still my weakness. I am perfectly adept at filling a page with words that are vaguely related to the subject I am trying to write about. I still feel as if the thing I am trying to say is entirely lost from the piece; also, the section doesn’t flow well. I am confident I can fix the flow of it, but I am not sure I can figure out what I am trying to say.

One of the underlying issues is that with scientific, academic writing you need to have evidence for all the points you make for obvious reasons. However, I struggle with integrating the points I am trying to make into a coherent argument where all the points work together to make a piece. What I have just described is the source of my frustration this week; well, most of it anyway.

The other source of frustration is that it is proving a lot slower to get samples delivered than I thought it would be; I was expecting to make one phone call, and the samples would be on their way as this is what happened the previous time. Alas, this is not the case, this supplier is not so fast as the bureaucratic processes that were in place with the previous supplier are not developed. Therefore, I have to play the waiting game, and this creates some anxiety as I fell as if nothing happens soon my supervisor will be on my case.

Now that the happy stuff is out the way…

It was quite a nice week; on Tuesday we harvested all the rocket plants we planted two-weeks prior. It was backbreaking work again and the rest of the day was a write off once we got home. Although it was a nice change of pace, I will not be too worried if it doesn’t happen again.

For the rest of the week I was sat at home writing, and although I found it frustrating working from home has its charms. It is quiet, and I can manage my time how I want. This was the main draw of a PhD to me: the autonomy. It is nice to make lunch in my kitchen and nip out for a quick run whenever I reach a sticking point. It felt a lot like the earlier months of my PhD, And I hope that I have many more weeks like it. I expect next week will be the same.

Because I had been doing an awful lot of lab work in the previous month my reading has fallen behind, and next week I intend to finish A brief history of time by Stephen Hawking; I started it over a month ago, and it is a relatively short book. I was enjoying it, and as it was my second time of reading I was understanding the concepts a bit better than the first time.

One concept that fascinates me and I still don’t fully understand it time — I even wrote a post about it. For those of you who have never read any physics books you might think time is an easy concept, but in the eyes of relativity and the physical universe, it is very strange.

If anyone has any book recommendation, I would be glad to receive them as I need to get back on my reading train! Preferably non-fiction.

 

A song of procrastination and ire – week 36 as a PhD student

Game of Thrones clips are filling my procrastination periods this week; I do not know why. The interesting thing about procrastination is that it, for me at least, is spontaneous. If I could predict when and why I would procrastinate, it would be easier to avoid.

Image result for Game of thrones procrastination

This week has been a relatively good week as it was more balanced than usual. By balanced, I mean that the writing to lab work ratio was much more favourable. I have previously discovered that the best week for me involves writing and practical work; if I do too much of one or the other, I get bored and disinterested quite quickly. Two days of writing with three days of practical work seem to be the sweet spot at the moment.

I have noticed that my writing has improved; mostly it has improved in the fundamentals, grammar, punctuation etcetera. What I am finding hard, is the scientific storytelling aspect, linking ideas and guiding the reader through my thought process.

I think there are three main reasons as to why this is. Firstly, a lack of experience, I imagine once I have published my first paper it will get much easier. Secondly, I do not have a model of how I should write, this is related to experience, but also it is related to understanding your subject intimately and converting your thoughts into prose. The final thing is something I just mentioned, knowing what you want to write in the first place, I certainly do not know exactly what I want to write; I have a rough idea.

I have spent a lot of this week doing admin related activities, I am trying to organise some samples to be delivered, and it just so happens that all the people that can make this happen are away, so I am on a bit of a wild goose chase. Oh well, you can only do what you can do; I’m not too bothered about it, there is always next week.

I have a weekend of work ahead of me, there are a few hundred samples I need to analyse, and I need to learn how to use my camera! Furthermore, I would like to get some writing done; I need to keep pushing with my reports before the anxiety of not having completed it catches up with me.

I also ‘need’ to go to the gym and watch the rugby! Next week, I am going to harvest the 9000 plants we planted two weeks ago. I am much less enthusiastic about it this time around as I have already experienced it once. I did it last year in Rome, in the 40°C heat. The lunchtime meal in Rome was perfect, but it was not worth a second day of harvest.

In England, the food is much more standard, and we are much less pretentious about it. It is fuel. This may sound strange, but I would much rather be in the English countryside where the weather is mild than the outskirts of Rome, where it is far too hot to work! We shall see if I still have this opinion after the harvest.

An open letter – Week 35 as a PhD student

Dear Weblogger X,

I had a visit from my parents yesterday. Whenever my parents are in town we go out for dinner, yesterday was no exception, and I booked our favourite restaurant. They asked me all the usual questions, but when they asked: ‘how is it all going?’ And I replied with ‘ Well, it is just work now. I am fully adapted to my situation’. They did not bat an eyelid, and there it was, everyone in my life is now blasé about me doing a PhD. It is now the new normal; where do you go from here?

The older I get, the more I believe that ignorance is bliss. If the idea never came into my head that I should do something that is helpful society, I may be much happier with a happy go lucky attitude to life. I could drift through without doing anything challenging and be perfectly happy; instead, I have a delusion that I should be doing something grander. Ideas are dangerous!

This past week was a bog standard one; Lots of lab work, with me trying to sneak some writing in. The standout day was Tuesday where I was In Dorset on a picturesque farm. We were there to plant over 9000 plants by hand. It was relatively easy going as the weather was kind. However, everyone was sore and stiff the next day, and there was no way any of us could have done another day. I genuinely do not understand how people do this sort of work every day. Either they do not work as long and hard as we did, or It doesn’t take that long to get adapted to it, or they push through the pain. Either way, I now have a much greater appreciation for the people that do it and genuinely worry what is going to happen when Brexit takes full hold. I am not a highly political person, and I believe that you do not nay cannot have an opinion of everything, so I shall leave it there.

Next week, I am hoping that the current block of lab work will be over and I can do a lot more writing. I might just end up analysing all the data collected over the past couple of months, but I am not going to think about that now as it is depressing. One thing I should make sure I do next week is learn how to use my camera. I’m too used to the clever algorithms that autofocus and white-balance my images that using a camera with manual settings is like learning to walk again. I need a guide that shows me the simple aspects of using a camera. There are so many things I need to do that will keep getting pushed back as only the most important tasks get completed. In spite of this I have ended the week feeling quite content; now of to the gym for a leg session. You cannot neglect your body as much as your to-do list!

Your friend,

Weblogger X.

You reap what you sow- week 34 as a PhD student

Writing this is a welcome distraction from the monotonous grind of PhD life this week. I have even resurrected an old time-destroying habit that is competitive gaming to distract myself.

It is not that is bad or soul-destroying work, but if you do anything for a long enough period, it becomes boring. I have been harvesting and processing rocket for what feels like three months. I would really like a week of no lab work to concentrate on a few others things I need to get done.

I need to make some ground on my paper and learn a few data analysis techniques. You know how it is; you get home from a day a work and all you have the strength to do is the easy items on your to-do list.

I think the lack of energy for any substantial activity after a day in the lab is the cause of why I have relapsed and started to play video games again. They help to distract from the constant murmurings in my mind about variables I should measure and experiments I should re-run.

The forces of distraction are pulling me towards them as the minimum level of energy required to avoid them is not available. This weekend I am going to allow distractions!

This week brings with it a marker that I have had staked out for a few months; the marker is a three-month countdown timer to my transfer viva. This is essentially the only barrier between me and the next few years of continuation as a PhD student. Therefore, it is quite an important thing for me. To complete the process, I have to complete a report similar to that of a masters thesis and then have a viva, which is a grilling from two academics on your work. Of course, it won’t be anywhere as hard as the final viva, but to someone in my position, it feels as important.

The reality is that it is scarce for anyone to fail, and one should not worry too much, but in a more physical reality, it feels as if it is fifty-fifty: pass or fail.

Coming up next week is a day where I have to leave at 5:30 AM. This is something that would sound like hell, but I am looking forward to the change of pace. We are going to plant 9000 plants for a field trial; I have not been involved in the planting stage before, only the harvesting stage. It is going to hard, gruelling work, but I like to try everything once, and it will be a nice break from my day-to-day activities.

I hope next week will bring about the end of all the long days in the lab for a few weeks, so I can do some planning and get on track. Mostly, I hope I can make a decent start on my 1st-year report as this would help relieve some of the anxiety I have towards it. I woke up thinking about it during the week; this is one of my sure signs that I am not quite altogether mentally.

Welcome home procrastination – Week 34 as a PhD student.

Writing this is a welcome distraction from the monotonous grind of PhD life this week. I have even resurrected an old time-destroying habit that is competitive gaming to distract myself.

It is not that is bad or soul-destroying work, but if you do anything for a long enough period, it becomes boring. I have been harvesting and processing rocket for what feels like three months. I would really like a week of no lab work to concentrate on a few others things I need to get done.

I need to make some ground on my paper and learn a few data analysis techniques. You know how it is; you get home from a day a work and all you have the strength to do is the easy items on your to-do list.

I think the lack of energy for any substantial activity after a day in the lab is the cause of why I have relapsed and started to play video games again. They help to distract from the constant murmurings in my mind about variables I should measure and experiments I should re-run.

The forces of distraction are pulling me towards them as the minimum level of energy required to avoid them is not available. This weekend I am going to allow distractions!

This week brings with it a marker that I have had staked out for a few months; the marker is a three-month countdown timer to my transfer viva. This is essentially the only barrier between me and the next few years of continuation as a PhD student. Therefore, it is quite an important thing for me.

To complete the process, I have to complete a report similar to that of a masters thesis and then have a viva, which is a grilling from two academics on your work. Of course, it won’t be anywhere as hard as the final viva, but to someone in my position, it feels as important. The reality is that it is scarce for anyone to fail, and one should not worry too much, but in a more physical reality, it feels as if it is fifty-fifty: pass or fail.

Coming up next week is a day where I have to leave at 5:30 AM. This is something that would sound like hell, but I am looking forward to the change of pace.

We are going to plant 9000 plants for a field trial; I have not been involved in the planting stage before, only the harvesting stage. It is going to hard, gruelling work, but I like to try everything once, and it will be a nice break from my day-to-day activities.

I hope next week will bring about the end of all the long days in the lab for a few weeks, so I can do some planning and get on track.

Mostly, I hope I can make a decent start on my 1st-year report as this would help relieve some of the anxiety I have towards it. I woke up thinking about it during the week; this is one of my sure signs that I am not quite altogether mentally.

Ennui in the lab – week 33

On goes the YouTube mix playlist and the writing commences. In the latest instalment of being a PhD student, I did some reading, I did some writing, and had a packed schedule of monotonous lab work that is fast becoming my least favourite part of my existence.

On goes the YouTube mix playlist and the writing commences. In the latest instalment of being a PhD student, I did some reading, I did some writing, and had a packed schedule of monotonous lab work that is fast becoming my least favourite part of my existence.

Close the YouTube mix playlist as I’m not in the mood for random songs this morning. Instead, open up Spotify and put on my Conor Oberst playlist. Now the music matches my melancholic mood. For those of you that are not, or have not been a PhD student or researcher of any kind, I am going to talk about something you will probably relate to. Several months ago, sat at my desk, trying to busy myself I was dreaming of getting into the lab and doing some ‘actual work’.

Lab work was fun for the first few weeks when you’re figuring everything out, and there is a problem-solving element to it. However, after this comes the work-phase, this is where you rinse and repeat the method you have been working on to collect data, this is where it is as monotonous as any task; I could be back in the warehouse moving around car parts as the stimulation is the same! The one bonus is that I don’t have set hours. This can also be a curse as I don’t finish at 5:30 like everyone else, I finish when I have finished.

This ennui created from repetitive tasks is, I am sure, a universal experience. Doing a PhD does not make it any more glamorous or enjoyable it is work. This is why I am starting to fall out of love with lab work and move towards a greater appreciation of the data analysis phase of research as this is where you see the results of all the work you have put in.

In other ‘news’, I have become a contributor to a software package called PlantCV which is focused on developing tools for plant phenotyping. This will firstly, look great on my CV and secondly help improve my coding. Coding has become my favourite new skill, I enjoy my time working on it, and if I had my time over, I would undoubtedly have started learning earlier as it would have helped me in numerous situations. I had thought that I should do an extracurricular activity that would boost my PhD and now I have two. Blogging (writing) and collaboration on an international opensource project. I will now promise myself to take on no more projects! I don’t have enough time to eat all of the things that are on my plate.

I had a bizarre problem this week, which was the search for a camera that can save as TIFF or RAW files. I can do it on my iPhone 5s! But I can’t find a camera for less than £400 that will do this. I think I will have to use my iPhone for scientific purposes, which could be interesting! If anyone has any camera recommendations for working with plants, please comment below!

Regret? – week 32 as a PhD student

I have been fending for myself this week which is just as well as it has been an anxiety-ridden week for one reason or another.

My partner has been away for seven days at this point. She is on holiday in the Nashville, and I could not go with her due to a few reasons that are some of the downsides of doing a PhD. She booked this holiday last year and had wanted me to go with her, but I had anxiety about taking ten days off when I did not know what I was going to be doing at that point in my PhD.

Image result for nashville
Basically why I’m not upset I didn’t go.

With the clarity of hindsight, it would have probably been okay. However, I would not have been able to collaborate on the project I am working on now. This project involves growing different varieties of rocket leaves at different temperatures to see how the chemistry is affected, and therefore, flavour.

I am learning a lot doing this collaboration, so it has been worthwhile, and I don’t know how good it will be until after the data analysis phase. It has taken a lot of my budget and I am not sure how beneficial to my project will be at this stage. This is creating quite a bit of anxiety; I am on the ride now so have to see it to the end.

This is the longest I have been away from my partner in seven years, I am coping okay, and I don’t wish I was in Nashville. I do wish I was with her though as most of my life is built around stuff I do with her and I can’t really relax when she is not around. Whilst she has not been here I have spent almost all hours working on my PhD; good for progress, bad for general enjoyment of life.

Because I have been working so much, I have lost 1 kg in weight, and have started to drink more coffee as my sleep has degraded a bit. Also, I have been listening to a lot of Metallica; I wonder if there is a correlation? Your life burns faster, obey your master.

When I have had some time outside of the lab this week, I have been continuing my quest to learn more about machine learning. This has its challenges as does anything that you’re learning. You see a concept that you can use, but you know you need to learn a lot more before you can actually use it. I am at that stage; I need it now, but alas I cannot have it. More is all I need.

As soon as I finish writing this, I will be back at the learning process trying to train my machine to recognise plants from the scene. It is possible, and I will complete this task if it kills me, even If I have to work on it while I am chopping my breakfast in the mirror.

I am booking a meeting with my supervisor for as soon as possible, and hopefully, she will pull the strings and get me back on track; at least mentally anyway. The interesting thing about this is that I can only see the workload getting thicker, rather than winding down. I think what will happen is that I get used to the high workload and it becomes normal. After all, I assume that is one of the skills that makes someone with a PhD employable. The ability to work hard.

Can you guess the song I was referencing throughout?

Connect on twitter?