PhD Blog Posts

Learning the hard way – 71

I have done it again; these words are coming from the mind of an un-caffeinated coffee addict. Once again I have failed to inform my partner, who handles our online shopping delivery, that we are low.

I feel quite absent-minded and uber susceptible to distraction, but I will get through this post even if I have to run to the closest coffee shop.

This week, I had a meeting with one of my funders which is the head of the agronomy section of a major premium retailer here in the UK. As with all things we consider with high importance, they are usually far less of a moment than we had imagined, and this meeting was no exception.

We had lunch in the senior common room, and then I gave a presentation about all of the work I had done over the past year. Contrary to the persona my subconscious had given to this person; they were not a corporate dragon whose sole purpose was to ridicule and take away my funding. They were an ordinary functioning member of society who was a nice, encouraging person like many of us.

So, another week has passed, and it was relatively drama free. It has just occurred to me that I should have hyped up the details of this week’s events for storytelling purposes. But that just wouldn’t be me, I am trying to give a more honest and accurate account of what is happening, plus it is easier to write like this.

I did have one legitimate drama this week. For one part of my experiments, I measure colour changes in crops over time. I do this as it can be useful in assessing disorders with the crop. I do this by taking images and then analysing them with software.

For the first time in my life, I had a drive fail on me. When I went to load my images onto the computer, the images were not on the SD card. This is a disaster as I cant just re-take the images as time is essential with this experiment, so the conditions have changed since imaging. Re-taking the images is not an option.

When I put the card into the computer, I can see that the amount of space available is consistent with the amount of space that there would be given my images were still on there. So I know that they are still on there I just have no way on accessing them.

I ended up on google trying to find a solution. After a few hours, I found a program called photorec, and my mind has been blown. Not only did I recover 80% of the files, but I have also learned a valuable lesson as to how computer memory works.

When you delete something, it is not actually removed…

What actually happens is that it becomes un-allocated and therefore it can be written over by new information, but until this happens all the information is still there. This allows us to recover some files if they are deleted by accident, but if the drive got into the hands of someone with malicious intent, the things we though we had deleted might well be accessible.

I have since learned that to be really secure when you’re getting rid of a data drive you should run a program that writes junk data over the entire drive to ensure the deleted data is no longer accessible. There are many programs that will do this for you with the most recommended being called ‘boot and nuke’ which I quite like the name of.
That was my drama. A potentially catastrophic event, with respect to my experiment, was avoided and I learnt a valuable lesson. I am always wondering why I have to learn things the hard way, but I will be slightly less harsh on myself this time as I am not sure how I could have prevented an SD card failing.

All the best,

See you next week.

Mental resilience through increased stress – week 70

My to-do list is peaking at the moment. I have come to the beginning of what is potentially going to be a couple of unusually busy weeks.

But first, I need to tell you something about my state of being. I had my first ‘proper’ boxing class yesterday afternoon, and I am still feeling the effects of it I think. I am very lethargic today and quite spaced out mentally.

We were partnered up and were practicing the blocking of very light shots to the head; after a hundred or so punches, even with light punches, you still feel a little dizzy. It was very good fun though, so I shall be continuing with it; however, I do not wish for the level to rise more than light punches as I need my brain cells!

I am off to play a round of crazy golf in Oxford shortly; I hope the boxing won’t affect my game!

The primary reason as to my upsurge in busyness is that I have to start a new trial on Monday, which involves me driving to pick up the samples. When I moved to the city in which I currently reside, I got rid of my car as it was an unnecessary expense. So when I do need to travel, I have to organise a hire car, and as organisation is my enemy, it can get quite stressful.

It is not stressful in itself, but when you combine it with having to speak to suppliers etcetera to arrange delivery, the stress adds up. Another added factor is that I don’t know exactly what time my samples will be ready for collection – this adds extra tension as I have a time limit in which I have to return the car. This whole process hinges on several people that are not me which causes more stress than I would like.

I do feel that the more times I have done this, the more relaxed I am becoming about the situation, so there is a kind of progress I suppose.

On Tuesday, I have an even more stressful day as I need to take measurements from the samples all day. At lunchtime, I have my Industrial sponsors coming for a meeting, where we have to discuss the project. It is going okay in my opinion, but it is always nerve-racking having to present to someone that is giving you money! Even though it is an excellent learning opportunity, it is always to difficult to see it like that. What it actually feels like is an interrogation.

So, if I can through the first few days of this week without any dramas I will be much more relaxed! So far, nothing has gone catastrophically wrong with the project. I am aware of the gambler’s fallacy, but I still have that sense that a catastrophic event is due.

In the end, I expect it to be quite a normal week; I expect it will more enjoyable than normal, but all the possibilities of how events could deviate toward the negative are hard to control!

See you on the other side!

Growing pains – my views on growing an audience

I have noticed that a lot of people have been asking for advice on how to grow their blog over the last few weeks. I am not sure why that all of a sudden people seem to be asking me this.

Maybe I have passed a certain threshold of followers that has given me blogging credibility and people now see me as someone who knows what they are doing?

What I think has happened, is that many people have started blogs in January and seen that it is very difficult to actually get anyone to look at your work. So, they have started to do what any practical person would and are trying to gather information as to how to build an audience.

Well, I will address this again, but only briefly as I have addressed it many times. The first thing you need to understand is that after you put up your post on WordPress or any other platform, there will be a brief window of time where it is visible in a public space – e.g. reader. After this, it gets buried by everyone else posting stuff.

If you are writing about stuff that is of general interest, a post about how adjectives work, for example, there is a chance of getting some traffic via a search engine, but it will be tiny. I wrote about nouns once and now if you type ‘thematically meandering’ into google on the first page is that post – I have no idea why.

Presumably, if that post is high on googles rankings you would expect that post to be viewed more than others: it isn’t.

So, you’re not likely to get many people who stumble upon your blog; you’re going to have to go out and get people!

Marketing isn’t a massive Industry by happenstance. Read their work, comment on it, like and share etc. They may do the same for you, and you can grow from there. What I am trying to tell you is that it is a lot of work to build an audience, and you should probably spend a decent portion of your time marketing.

I attended a course once that was part of a scientific program, it had a lady there talking about social media and influencing – so we could better communicate our work. She said you should spend around 10 % of your time on marketing, and after this year of blogging, I tend to agree.

The Utopian dream of writing a blog post with your coffee in the morning, posting it online and having everyone read it and even make money from it is an utter fantasy! And we should all be embarrassed to have even thought like this.

It is no less passive than any other form of employment, and it is a lot of hard work! Sorry to ruin your fantasy, but isn’t that always the way?

Normal programming will resume next week.

A malevolent cuisine

I have come to enjoy the non-writing aspects of blogging just as much as I enjoy learning the craft. Which is why I have decided to feature other writers on my Blog.

The first of which is by Aik Aleksanich who has a masters degree in philosophy and is currently blogging whilst writing his 1st book. The writing is influenced by philosophers such as Cioran, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and, as a consequence, the writing is often dark, pessimistic and nihilistic, but importantly, interesting.

A malevolent cuisine

You don’t even know, you have no idea but it’s growing inside you.

Proliferating like cells of cancer – dividing, spreading, making its presence known slowly but surely, just like death.

It feeds off you and your surroundings, not making sense.

The only thing you do is stare at your screen and type away, letting the blue light ruin your sleep, for one more night.

You can feel that you are full but it’s not the breakfast you had this morning. It’s something else filling you up and you can’t point out what.

Everything was calculated, every aspect of your life you had planned out. Like a recipe of a cake.

1 ounce of melted butter, 2 tablespoons of sugar, misunderstood relations and emotions, unpredicted incidents…do not mix – but whisk them well.

And you did everything you should have but the cake did not rise, just like your life did not work out.

You changed. Even physiologically.

You bloated and became full of melancholy that needs to be freed.

Pregnant with things you couldn’t explain, you developed a taste for misfortune and destruction.

The burning sensation of liquor grew on you. Cigarette smoke became the air in your lungs.

Caffeine, lots of caffeine, like it’s a necessity for your rusted heart to start pumping again- with no milk, no sugar- but you were a sweet tooth back then.

Anyway, you write. Not to tell a story or to get laid. Nor to earn money or make a name. You write to stay alive, to empty yourself so you won’t explode like a balloon filled with too much air.

You blame yourself for forgetting.

The smell of someone, you can’t remember, the touch of a skin or the contours of a face.

And writing, like suicide, frees yourself of your own blame.

You write to keep things alive that are fading away.

You write because you can’t do much else.

Visit Aik’s Blog for more writing, or if you’re cooler than me Instagram!

If you would like to do as Aik has go here!

How do I do this? – 67

Sixty-seven weeks in a row and I still feel as if I don’t know how to do this. What the hell should I write here?

The problem that is incumbent on the blogger is that the format is for relatively small bits of writing to be churned out in relatively short order. Most of us, I imagine, are doing this as a side project and therefore, cannot commit the time required to produce high-quality writing.

Furthermore, if you’re anything like me, you have far too many hobbies and interests that compete for your time. For me, blogging is but one hobby of many; I would say that blogging is approximately 5th on my priorities.

My current method of writing is to sit down in the after-lunch, pre-gym slot and write from the top of my head. I occasionally make notes throughout the week if I have anything I want to include, but that hasn’t happened in a while. I am waiting for that breakthrough where I finally figure out how to write these posts.

Today is the 2nd of February in my timeline, and you will see this in a few months. My plan for the rest of the day is to do a 15k run and then watch the most important rugby match before the world cup. England vs Ireland in the six nations. Come on England!

I have just realised that this is supposed to be a blog about my PhD and I have just been rambling on like a generic lifestyle blogger.

So, at the start of this week, I spent two-days extracting sugars from lyophilised (dried) Rocket. This has become somewhat of a routine measurement, but it does not tell you that much about the quality status of the plant. Generally, after the plant is harvested, metabolism in the plant continues, and sugars are used up for fuel.

By-products from sugar metabolism are used to form various other compounds, such as those involved in defence. As plants cannot defend themselves physically, they often expend a lot of energy doing it chemically – mainly by producing compounds that don’t taste nice to deter predators.

But as I mentioned previously, it is almost useless when assessing the quality of a crop. What it does allow is for comparisons between crops grown during different seasons. Crops that are grown during the summer, generally have more sugar content and are usually of higher quality.

After I had extracted the sugars, I spent the rest of the week dong data-analysis and planning. Unusually, I have found myself in a position where I don’t have any short-term plans. By short-term, I mean to say that I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my week. This is highly unusual for me.

I ended up writing a list of all the events I had coming up, and this included two conferences at the end of the month. Now I have things to focus on and can fill my time. One of the skills I have not yet mastered is the ability to plan for the long term. I have got through life so far, by being what I can only describe as ‘micro-ambitious’. I decide what I want to happen in the next couple of years and try my hardest to achieve that. Most of the time I don’t plan any further than that.

For example, I had no plans as to what I was going to do after my bachelor’s degree. I got offered a job and PhD, neither of which I sought out. I chose the option I liked the idea of the most, and here I am.

Let’s talk sponsorship!

I need your help, I have come across an issue that, until now, I have never thought about seriously. Last week an email arrived in my inbox with the title “Let’s talk about sponsorship”. The email was from a representative of a software company that I had never heard of, asking if I would like to do a sponsored post.

My first thought was that it was a scam. It’s perfect for a scam; from the moment most people start blogging we are waiting for this email. Please pay me for doing a relatively easy job. There were links in the document and English was clearly the second language of the sender.

Obviously, the first course of action was to google the company. The website didn’t look too bad, but I could not decide if it was legit based on this alone.

I decided to converse with my would-be sponsor a little further, as this was a new experience to me. I was more than curious.

Here is a heavily redacted version of the email I received:

Hi Louis,

Thanks for your reply! ProductX is a editing software which can help you to edit, annotate, convert and OCR your PDF files.

I think you can write review our product from these aspects:

1. What is ProductX?

2. How is ProductX?

3. Introduce the features of ProductX, or compare with other products;

4. Add anchor text: ProductX (https://thierwebsite.com)

5. Word: about 700

What do you think of this review? What’s your budget to do that?

Thanks,

Employee X

Here are my honest thoughts that occurred after receiving this

Dear reader

  • I suppose this could be a good excuse to try and write in a different style. I have been finding it tiresome writing in the same style and this could be interesting.
  • How much should I charge? How would I take payment? I am not a business; I don’t know how this works, do I pay tax? I need to speak to someone who has experience in this. I don’t know anyone who has experience in this. Maybe I will ask them to cover the cost of this blog for a year?
  • I should just do it for free; then I won’t have to deal with the questions I have posed above.
  • Yes, I should do it for free, then it will be an excuse to do an interesting piece of writing and get my foot in the door of sponsored work.
  • How could I Justify writing one solo piece about this software? That would be extremely out of character. Maybe I could shoe-horn it into a post about all the different software I use for my studies.
  • Hmmm, writing for money is the last thing I expected.
  • I don’t think this is right for me. But maybe selling out is fine?
  • I need to find out more about this company.
  • Oh dear, the reviews of this company on trustpilot are the worst I have ever seen.
  • I will just ignore the email and carry on with doing what I want.
  • Note to self: develop and ethical stance on such matters, and have a plan in case this happens again and I actually like the company.

What would you have done?

How much would you charge?

I am sure that, like me, most of you have thought about this only in your dreams and do not actually have any legitimate plan for what to do if they actually became a reality.

I have been searching through WordPress, and have not found anyone who has written about this subject. To me, this is like the first time I was asked on a date. I feel awkward; I don’t know what to say ; I have been hoping it would happen at some point. What the hell do I do!

Like the idea of that 1st date, my answer is ‘I would love to, but not with you’.

Note: If I had left in the company’s name in, this piece would have been a post-modern anti-advert, which happened to be the exact word length the company was asking for.

Dr NOir – 66

The light is fading fast, and this coffee is getting cold if only I had spent more time planning I wouldn’t be in this mess.

Hunched over the mechanical keyboard, trying to put words on the screen with the intention of contributing to an ever-expanding stream of content that provides no inherent value. Not only is the premise long forgotten, but the mundane nature of discipline bleeds out all of the interesting.

The coffee-shop smell of this room still isn’t strong enough to build a narrative on, and she, the only thing that matters is too distant to see. Ever since I could remember, she is the only thing that mattered. She is the only thing on my mind, the only thing I write about and the only thing that holds my attention any more.

Its Wednesday, I had spent all of Monday weighing out samples and then adding the highly aggressive organic solvent to extract the chlorophyll from my plants. I switch on the machine only to discover it has given up. Perhaps I should have secured several different machines for every experiment I do; given the notorious temperamental behaviour of scientific equipment, I should have known.

Another week, another chance squandered. I am now in the throngs of a back and forth with the owner of a new one of these machines, hopefully by Tuesday I will have access. Now I am stuck at home and out of action, with nothing left to do but analyse the data that I collected well over six months ago.

I have a conference to attend tomorrow, which requires waking up at 5 am, I didn’t try and get a decent education so that I could wake up at 5 am! Either way, someone from the lab group has to go, and the conference is closest to my area of study – not close enough to warrant the couple hundred pounds I am going to have to spend to get there. With these delays and distractions, she seems further away than ever..



Its late at night at kings cross station, and as expected the conference was not worth my time. However, I did see what the people look like who have always known what they want to do with there life and then spent 20 years pursuing it. Needless to say, they make us normal people pale in comparison.

Time to catch this train, and get some sleep, after all, I have a presentation to give tomorrow.

I had fun with this one! Someone in the comments suggested I try and do one of my normal posts in a noir style. I thought that my writing was getting stale and I needed a challenge; this is why this post exists.