PhD Blog Posts

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.

Learning to write – Determiners

What is a determiner? Determiners are a class of words which include: articles, possessive adjectives (my, his, her, its, our, your, their), demonstratives (this/that, these/those) and quantifiers.

The essence of determiners is that they tell us if a noun-phrase is specific or general. Therefore they must come before a noun.

As we looked at articles last week in this post, we will not go over them again here.

Possessive adjectives

Possessive adjectives show what belongs to, or is related to something else.

my, his, its, our, your, their etc.

My writing is improving.

The man jumped out of his skin when a spider presented its fangs.

Demonstratives

demonstratives differentiate between things that are near and far because that is important to have a category for words that do this…

Near: this, these. Far: that, those

It seems that that doesn’t necessarily indicate Far. What is that on your face!

What shall we do this weekend? (close)

Do you recall what the weather was like that weekend we went to France? (Far)

Quantifiers

From the name, it should be easy to guess what these do.

They come before a noun and tell us about the number, or quantity of the noun in question.

No, none, either, neither, any, both, few, little, etc.

How many new followers will I gain due to this post? Any? None?

As Bilbo Baggins said: ‘I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve’

The above is an example as to why the English language is so complicated. I am a native English speaker and do not understand anywhere near all of it. It seems as if there is a lot of overlap in these categories.

For example that could be a pronoun, demonstrative, adverb and a conjunction. The key would be where it appears in the sentence and what it precedes as to what category of speech it would fall under.

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.

Learning to write – Adverbs

Adverbs are to verbs as adjectives are to nouns.

Unlike adjectives, Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

Adverbs are used to make a sentence more interesting and can be used around almost any verb.

Adverbs usually answer questions – how? When? Where?

I walk (how?) quickly

I went to the shop (when?) yesterday

adverbs can be created from adjectives by adding ‘ly’, which is the adjectival form of an adverb

quick becomes quickly

Sometimes you need to change the end of the adjective.

Happy becomes happily.

Unlike much of the rest of the English language, where structure is key, the placement of adverbs does not seem to matter so much.

She answered the door quickly

She quickly answered the door.

As with adjectives groups of words can create an adverbial clause or phrase. As with adjectival clauses, adverbial clauses should contain a subject and a verb. Whereas the adverbial phrase does not have a subject or a verb.

I will have lunch when I have finished writing this post (answers when)

some make money blogging, some do this for fun (answers why)

Intensifiers

supplementary adverbs that are used to add emphasis are called intensifiers – because grammarians like to categorise things.

Very nicely, really like etc.

My personal preference is simple language, so if you don’t need to add an adverb: don’t.

Here is a good website for more information on this.

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.

Learning to write – Adjectives

Adjectives

a.k.a describing words

Adjectives often destroy a sentence. You could have an exquisite sentence only to be ruined by the overuse of clumsy bewildering adjectives.

Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns and tell us something about them.

They do not modify verbs, adverbs or other adjectives.

If you want to sound sophisticated and sanctimonious, you can derive adjectives from proper nouns. Simply add the suffix (a morpheme (a unit of language that cannot be further divided) to the end of a word derivative) an/ian/ean.

Elizabeth → Elizabethan

Shakespeare → Shakespearean

Dickens → Dickensian

the ‘an/ian/ean’ means ‘of or pertaining to.’

you can also add ‘esque’ to mean ‘in the style of.’

Dante → Dantesque

Franz Kafka → Kafkaesque

Adjectives come in 3 forms: absolute, comparative and superlative.

Absolute adjectives describe something in its own right.

A great writer.

A beautiful women

That clumsy cat

comparative adjectives, compare things!

A better writer

A clumsier cat

Superlative adjectives indicate something has the highest level of quality.

The best writer

The clumsiest cat

Coordinate Adjectives

Here is one for the grammar nerds

You have coordinate adjectives when they both modify the same noun in a sentence. The adjectives should be separated by a comma or the word ‘and’.

This is a long, meandering blog post.

This bloggers tireless and dedicated attempt to learn to write is remarkable.

Adjectivals

Many words can join together to form an adjective. If they contain a subject and a verb, they are known as an adjectival clause.

My fellow bloggers, who are much better at writing than me, are more successful.

If the clause doesn’t contain the subject and verb, then you have yourself an adjectival phrase.

This blog was not too terrible.

Sometimes, a noun can become an adjective depending on where it is positioned in a sentence. For example ‘guide’ is normally a noun but in the following sentence, it functions as an adjective.

Never try to pet someone’s guide-dog without asking permission first.

This example was taken from this blog

A general rule for the use of Adjectives is to not use them unless they do something.

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!