PhD Blog Posts

The great restorer – 94

One odd side-effect of being a student that I did not anticipate is the financial efficiency that I have had to develop. For me, this has developed into a habit of fixing and maintaining things myself rather than paying other people or buying new items.

I spent four hours today changing the bottom bracket in my new (to me) pride and joy, a mid-1970s Puch Alpine bicycle that I bought for £45 from a local cycling charity. The bike is old enough to be my father. Of all the things I own, I think it may be my favourite, and I can’t quite express why I like it so much. <Insert Image>. Something is satisfying about keeping kit running that has been a work-horse for, I assume, several people before me. Although, whoever had it before had very ugly handle bars, I have since changed them for much prettier matching brown leather ones.

Vintage puch alpine road bike


Last-weekend I repaired the battery on my iPhone 5s, and now it works better than ever – and it only cost me £10 and some time on YouTube. I have been tempted, and very close to, purchasing a new bike and phone over the last few months when they both had failed me. But for some reason, it now has become amusing to me to see how long I can keep them going. I have started to notice people make nostalgic comments towards my phone when I get it out, which is interesting – it was released in 2013.

When it comes to technology, especially phones, it seems that anything older than five years is museum-worthy. In fact, my previous phone (the iPhone 3gs) was in the science museum of London a few years ago when I was visiting. I had one in my pocket, and everyone found the moment when I pulled it out for comparison hysterical.

More than merely saving money, which I must admit is a nice perk, I also get to learn things by fixing my stuff, and for me, this has become a hobby itself. It is a win-win situation when you try to fix something; you’re ready to replace it anyway, so if you break it trying to fix it you’re at no loss. If you fix it, you save yourself some money that could be put to better use.

Fixing the things you have rather than purchasing the latest version of that item may be a subversive act in 2019 as consumerism is considered a pillar of morality. Anarcho-punks of the future will be those that can wield a soldering iron, huffing on the fumes of the rosin liberated from the flowing solder. When that time comes, as a contrarian, I will be forced to innovate and turn towards consumerism.

If I put half as much effort into my writing as I did my bike, I might have got much further through my thesis and produced some half-decent content for this site. But, alas, the time that I will be happy to call myself a writer is ahead of me – not too far I hope, Ideally before the end of my PhD, but having said that it would be typical for this time to come long after it was necessary.

I wish everyone an enjoyable Sunday, is anyone doing anything exciting?

On not being a sell-out – 93

This one is not going to be related to my escapades as a PhD student as I have something else I would like to write about.

It is something that I have been thinking about for a few years, but I have not had my thoughts gathered sufficiently as to explain them to you until now – I hope.

I still do not know if there is a word for this phenomena, so perhaps you can let me know. It is the idea of taking advantage of those less savvy than yourself for your own personal gain. I wouldn’t say that it was exploiting, but approaching that kind of idea.

We all do it to some degree, if we sell something we rarely do it at cost, we add on a margin. This type of capitalisation is not precisely what I mean, there is more of a moral component to what I am thinking of.

The main arena for the kind of behaviour I am thinking of is marketing and PR. I first noticed in the music industry. Take a look at any famous band, and you will see that they have an anti-establishment vibe to them, yet regularly will appear in commercials selling things.

I recently saw an advert for Beats headphones – I can’t think of a brand trying to be more mainstream – which used Billie Eilish as the model. I don’t know much about her, but from what I do, she presents herself as very alternative. So when you see her in an advert for beats headphones, you may sense an abundance of inauthenticity. The younger me would not have noticed this, but I am starting to see inconsistencies like this more and more.

Essentially my question is if you can, should you exploit your unsuspecting followers/fans/fellow humans for your own gain?

After all ‘there is a sucker born every minute’.

Should I exploit the suckers?

It feels as though everyone else is.

It almost feels as if it would be a subversive act to not ‘sell-out’. A pursuit that never fails to be undervalued.

There have been many instances where I have seen ‘influencers’ point their audience towards a website, that they have been paid to promote for their followers to get scammed. One apology video later, after taking large sums of money from the suspect paymasters, and the whole ordeal is forgotten about.

Rinse and repeat. The sheep are being fleeced etcetera.

Politicians used to tell lies to try and make the data fit, they don’t even bother doing that any more. They just say what they want and deal with the minority of people calling them out, mainly by dismissing it as fake news.

So as a someone who is relatively tech-savvy, it would be easy for me to exploit all of you – those reading this.

The question is… Why shouldn’t I? After all, everyone is getting away with it.

There are a lot of people, it would seem, that are happy to take things at face-value and do not think on it any further.

Should the ‘strong’ pray on the ‘weak’?

Anyway, use the offer code ‘SlowDegredationOfOurMoralFibre’ for ten percent off of that thing that the person you look-up to has and therefore you need.

Moving house – 91

This is the 91st entry into my weblog, since starting this in October 17 I have only missed a few weeks. Most of those that I have lost have been in the last few months. I’ll be the first to admit that my levels of motivation for writing and my PhD, in general, are at an all-time low.


It’s not that I have been spending my time lying on the sofa watching TV. I have been enjoying my life and probably spending too much time on other projects. I only have a limited supply of motivation, and I am spending too much in other places.

I don’t feel too bad about this as whenever I speak to other students or ex-students, and they always say there is a slump around the second year. I sometimes wonder if I am too relaxed with my job, but there have been points where I have been stressed and working hard, so I think that on average everything is going fine.


I have also been distracted by buying a new house, well when I say house I mean flat, and when I say buy I mean get a mortgage for 40% of the total value of the property. I am not that bothered about getting on the property ladder at the moment; renting is fine by me. But my partner wanted to, and I am relatively indifferent, so we are buying a flat! What this means is that we have spent a lot of time signing documents and scraping money together.

Luckily, over the last several years, I have become financially savvy and frugal. So for my part, I didn’t have to move much money around for my contribution to the deposit. I suspect this is part of the reason as to why I am not that bothered about the situation.

To me, the worst part about all of this is the actual moving process. I have only moved twice before, but the effort has exponentially increased each time. This is because we tend to move to slightly larger places each time and the amount of stuff we accumulate increase (by we I mean my partner); therefore, the number of things we have to move increases.

As a student, I am expecting to move at least a few more times as I settle into a career, so it is quite difficult to see this new home we are moving to as anything other than temporary accommodation.

I am looking forward to a fresh start with my working environment; this is probably the best part. But now, my partner has started packing up the room I am in so I must go and help.

The institutionalisation of I – 90

I have not been very active on here for the last few months. The reason for this is that I have had next to no motivation to write.
I have spent a lot of time on a website called Kaggle, which is a website for competing in data science tasks. So, it is not as if I have been idle, it’s that I have picked up a new hobby, and writing for this blog has slid to the bottom of the list.

Changing passions every few years is the modus operandi of my personality. Would I choose this trait if I had the choice? No. The reason being is that I tend to get good at a lot of things, but never master anything. If I could just stick with something long enough to learn it, then I would probably much better financially. One sure-fire way to get paid well is to be an expert in a domain. I imagine most people are like me and enjoy lots of different things, and never become a master at anything, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Speaking of other things, I was recently asked if I would like to join a site that was setting itself up as the audio equivalent of YouTube. They asked if I wanted to audio versions of this blog. I find the idea quite interesting, I would still have to write to make scripts, but I would also have to get good at speaking. Something that I don’t do a lot of!

What are your thoughts on having an audio version of a blog?

Although my motivation is almost gone, I will continue with this blog. I am now about half-way through my PhD and feel as if I cannot stop now. I will drag myself over the line. Hating your PhD by the end of it is a time-honoured tradition and who am I to break with tradition.

I have signed up to work in the Universities call-centre for one day next week. The job is to accept or reject students to the university based on their A-level results. I have never worked in a call centre before so that will be an exciting experience!

What I have realised after signing up for this is that I am somewhat institutionalised. Turning up at a particular time and staying in one room to the end of the day isn’t something I have had to very much in the last five years. During my studies, I have been fortunate enough to do what I want when I want. So long as the project progresses and the work gets done, no one asks questions. The thought of going to an office to work seems alien to me. When I leave academia, I will be aiming for a job that allows working remotely and flexibly. Turning up to a certain location for a set period of time seems very antiquated to me now, and I wonder how I put up with it before I became a student.

I can see why people tend to stay in academia now, you do become institutionalised in some sense.

regression toward the mean – 89

I have come to the end of my surge in productivity and motivation. I find that I have cycles of motivation, where I am incredibly productive for around two months, and slowly this degrades into my least productive – which is where I am now.

This is the concept of ‘regression toward the mean’. For those that have never come across this principle before, the basic idea is that overall your performance is average. In my case, I have been performing above average for the last few months with respect to productivity, it is no surprise that now I am performing below average – overall, I am performing averagely. Here is a nice example if you want to read more. If you’re a sports fan, it is similar to how one week your team performs brilliantly and the next poorly. Or you can write thousands of words one day and a couple hundred the next. 

If you don’t recognise that this can happen, then I expect that you will be extremely disappointed in yourself when it does happen. I was.

This type of work that I have been doing this week is part of the reason as to why I feel my productivity has dropped. I have been a logistics manager; it would seem. I have been sending emails and having phone calls with many different people having very similar conversations.

The situation is this. I am partly funded by a premium retailer here in the UK, so I get all my samples via them. At the start of my studentship, the employees at the retailer were organising the delivery of samples for me. However, life happened. On the first day, I went to collect the samples, the person who was organising them was off sick, so they asked one of their interns to help me.

The original person then went on maternity leave, and the intern became my permanent contact.

The process is now this. I ring the people who produce the products – the farmers. I get them to send my samples to the retailer, where I then go and collect them. Why don’t I get them delivered from the farmer? Well, they say it is too expensive. Fair enough.

Up until this week, this system has been working relatively ok, considering how convoluted it is. But this week, my samples went missing. Admittedly, there was always the potential for this to happen. When you’re dealing with millions of products each day, you don’t tend to care about a few that are destined for a third party (me).

So, I have been calling and emailing anyone and everyone to try and find these samples. I failed. What has happened is that my address book has doubled in size. For networking, this has been great! However, for furthering research, it has been a stall.

This is by far the most hated part of what I do, although I am sure most people would probably feel the same way. Does anyone like organising the thing more than the thing?

Thesis Reflection Attempt no 3: The beginning of a thesis’ checklist….

I am a masters student in Performance Studies, with a particular interest in dramaturgy and dance. I am also fascinated by philosophy and science and I am interested in exploring how these different fields of study can interact, challenge existing modes of knowledge, and offer alternative ways of understanding concepts such as cognition, embodiment and experience.

Ok, now I feel like I am starting to actually get somewhere…

Yesterday, I had this sudden burst of thoughts while I was on the train, so I noted them down on my phone, and I think they might be a good way to start my thinking process…

I think after you reach some critical points during the thesis process it is important to identify the issues that were creating issues and mental blockages… And then, I remembered a book that I read recently written by a Atul Gawande a doctor trying to figure out ways to deal with complex situations…The title of the book was The Checklist Manifesto, and however odd or funny it might sound he uses some really interesting examples on how a good checklist can prevent to a large extend a wide variety of even deadly incidents…I am not going to elaborate further on that, but it might suffice to say that it has been mastered by aviation professionals, civil engineers and construction workers and their success depends heavily on checklists…In the book, he even presented very compelling examples and evidence in order to encourage more and more doctors to use checklists…

All in all, the point that I want to make is that it might prove also useful to try and employ this strategy for my thesis….these critical points that you might encounter during your thesis are moments when you learn something, whether this had a positive or a negative effect, and by trying to condense and codify them, you might prevent the same issues from coming up again, even in a different form…I don’t know about the rest of the people, but I think that some of the problems that I encounter might manifest in different ways, but actually originate from the same source, maybe that is a thought, a specific insecurity, an attitude that I have acquired over the years and I continue to enact, without me really realizing, and most of the time without realizing how detrimental it might be for my mood, and the way that I decide to approach things….. Soooooo what should my checklist include???

These are the first points that I came up with while on the train:

  • Accepting that you might need to let go of an idea – Veery important!!! I tend to get stuck on a specific way of doing things that has proven many times in my life and for very different things to be very counterproductive….
  • Learning to identify when advice and help is needed – I have this also very annoying attitude towards things most of the time, where I want things to be perfect and I think that I should be able to do everything on my own…But then, you end up getting stuck in your own mind bubble…also very counterproductive as well as frustrating
  • Start writing, formulating thoughts, even when you feel you don’t have any – Sometimes ideas don’t just appear, and inspiration can’t just pop out of nowhere. Yes, it is true that some days you have a, let’s say a more “productive” mindset, but unless you maintain and oil your machine regularly, it will eventually get stuck and then you would need twice the effort to make it run again… So, it’s good to start writing…whatever that writing might be, just to open the tap and let the water running. I think this is why I am also doing this blogpost…writing in such an informal context, without being worried how “correct” I am, whether my thoughts construct a convincing argument, they are “well- researched and backed up by other authors, helps me get into the mood and into the flow if writing…In my mind, I am now considering this an essential part of writing my thesis…and I am actually very, very surprised at how many words I was able to generate in the last three days, with literally no struggle, no effort.
  • Let the text speak for itself – Another important element, don’t try to impose your own desires and wishes on a text. On a superficial level you might think that two authors are saying similar things, but when that time comes when you need to bring them together it suddenly doesn’t work….and then you get stuck….If you see that something does not flow and cannot be explained and connected in a simple and precise manner, then it might be wiser to distance yourself from the text(s) and rethink your approach…
  • By trying to articulate your ideas in an informal setting you are testing the extent in which you have truly comprehended the material – Really useful exercise and also connected with the previous points about accepting help or advice, or even just be excited about what you are doing and try to share your ideas with people who are interested in listening, I think I have underestimated the power of communication until now during this process…
  • If you are not able to construct a consistent narrative then you might need to re-evaluate how your ideas are linked – Also connected with the point on making the text speak for itself…it is very important to be open to the flow that research generates. There are certain things that you can control and other that you can’t… and in the end this is the point of doing research you want to find out more about something…if you already knew everything you wouldn’t enter into this process… but then exactly because you don’t know everything, you don’t know exactly where the text that you are reading will guide you …you start with some assumptions but maybe your initial assumptions might be wrong… of course you start working on a topic that you are more or less familiar with you already have an intuition and some explicit or less explicit reasons why you choose that, but it is again extremely counterproductive to try to impose your ideas on your research sometimes you might need to…just go with the flow…

Well, if I might say, I am quite satisfied with the first draft of my checklist…it will definitely need to go through many trial and error checks and I think I will have something more concrete only after my thesis has finished…maybe even several months later…But I think it will be fun to see where this thing goes…

To see more of Liza’s writing click the link below.

Missing the wave – 88

The man who got into writing when media had advanced through two different formats, video and audio, is a fool?

Getting into blogging in 2019 is, unbeknown to many people, a bit like getting into steam-powered vehicles – times have changed.

Do you ever feel like switching to video or audio? I imagine most of you are not only interested in writing but in other forms of media to. For me, blogging is something that is a skill-building exercise. I started this because I wanted to improve my writing, not to become a writer; a by-product of creating this blog is that it would look good on a CV, or so I hope.

This is the student mentality, you have to be forward-thinking and plan things around getting a job. In my fantasy world, I see myself working for myself – and very little work actually happens. I am aware that it on average, you can make much more money by selling your time to someone else. Nine out of ten businesses fail and all that.

Anyway, have any of you out there transitioned from one media to another? I would love to hear from you.

In the world of being a student, this week, I have been fairy unproductive; in the short-term, at least as I have spent most of the week learning about neural networks. This means that I didn’t get any of my actual work done, but I may have discovered a new skill that I can apply to my work.

Halfway through writing this, my partner and I went on a walk down the river, I had an interesting point I wanted to make before I left and now I can’t remember it. I remember thinking that I should write it down before I went, but of course, I didn’t, and now I regret it.

I had a slight setback this week that ended up being a blessing in disguise. Every time I want samples, I have to hire a car and collect them from a distribution centre. At the beginning of my PhD, I was supposed to have someone else arrange this for me (one of my supervisors who is high up in the company that gives me samples). Still, they went on maternity leave, and I ended up having to do all the work. I am not scared of work, but I am also ‘just a student’. Because I am just a student, I am easy to ignore.

I spoke to the head of agronomy for my PhD sponsor, and he said I should name drop him if I ever have any problems. To put this in context, supermarkets dominate the food industry in the UK. You would think the people who produce the food would have the power, but this is not the case. If the supermarkets choose not to take the growers food, they can no longer sell their food, and they go out of business.

So IF I name-dropped this guy, my samples would be delivered out of fear. As someone who has had a job before and has experienced this, I did not want to take this course of action. I always hated the corporate culture, the fact that we are all adults, but have to pretend like some are superior to others while we are in the office.

If I were the employee at the company and someone name-dropped a higher-up employee to get something done, I would hate them. This is why I was reluctant to name drop, even just cc’ing on an email is too much for me. I suspect, my reluctance to do this is one of the many reasons as to why I will never be at the top of a corporation.

How much of an ass-hole are you willing to be to get where you want?

10 Tips for Improving Your Academic Writing

As a graduate student and then as a practicing librarian, I’ve consumed my share of dry-as-the-Mohave-in-July academic literature. As an academic editor, I’ve helped authors make their prose clear and readable–or at least preferable to a slow death in the desert. From my experiences as a reader, writer, and editor of academic literature, I give you the following top 10 recommendations for improving your academic writing. Bonus: most of these techniques apply to business writing as well, so try them on your next email or annual report.

  1. Be clear. The purpose of writing is to communicate, not to obfuscate or show off. Big words don’t make you sound smart. They make you sound pretentious, and they make your writing harder to read. When you have a choice between an everyday word and an SAT word that means the same thing, go with the everyday word. I am not suggesting you dumb down your work but that you do your best to make your work understandable and accessible. You do want people to read it, don’t you?
  1. Be brief. Use the minimum number of words necessary to communicate your idea clearly. Most of the editing I do consists of deleting meaningless words and redundant points. Every word you write is a request for a reader’s time. Don’t waste that time.
  1. Stay on topic. Think about what you want each article, paragraph, and sentence to do and make sure you stick to that purpose.Tangents and other material unrelated to your purpose will distract or confuse the reader. Help your reader make connections, and guide them through the progression of your ideas. Don’t assume they’ll understand how paragraph 3 relates to paragraph
  1. Show them. Transition words and phrases like therefore, because, and unlike can help you clarify connections without adding lots of extra words.
  1. Organize your thoughts. Use an outline or a mind map or just make some notes and sort them into logical chunks before you write. Well-organized writing is much easier to follow and will make your points clearer. For a longer work such as a dissertation, consider trying Scrivener , a program for writers of long-form work. It is designed to help you organize your ideas and your text. A free trial is available.
  1. Avoid passive voice as much as you can. Some people argue that this is a pointless rule made up by English teachers. They’re wrong. Most readers prefer active voice, because it is much easier to read and understand. Don’t make me hunt all through the dang sentence to figure out what you’re trying to say. Get that subject up front! And yes, sometimes passive voice is hard to avoid in academic writing, because we aren’t allowed to write in first person. Just do your best.
  1. Don’t submit your first draft. Gag your inner editor and get those ideas into words. But when you’ve finished the first draft, allow plenty of time for revision before you submit. For journal articles, I try to allow at least two weeks to revise my initial draft and usually produce at least two additional drafts during that time. And yes, as an editor, I’ve received pieces that were clearly cobbled together at the last minute. One memorable chapter consisted primarily of quotes from other works, pasted together with almost no original writing in between. Don’t do that. You’re contributing to the worldwide body of scholarly literature in your discipline, not writing an undergraduate term paper two hours before it’s due while hung over from last night’s party.
  1. Write with confidence. We academics do a lot of hedging in our writing. “It appears that…,” “The evidence suggests…,” Etc. That’s usually necessary, because we can rarely prove anything beyond all doubt. Now I’m imagining Isaac Newton as a modern academic author:”In repeated trials with a variety of solid objects, those objects accelerated toward the earth. These results suggest that the earth produces a force that acts upon objects of measurable mass, but more research is needed to solidify this thesis.” But I just violated rule 2 above. Drat. Back to the topic at hand. Despite the need for a bit of academic hedging, make sure that your conclusions look like, well, conclusions. “The results of this study suggest that 2 hours of underwater basket weaving per day reduces systolic blood pressure in duck-billed platypuses by an average of 5.3 points.” Put the precious new knowledge you’ve discovered right out there in plain sight.
  1. Write with style. Sure, you’re writing up the results of a Stage 1 clinical trial on the impact of underwater basket weaving on the blood pressure of duck-billed platypuses, not the great American novel, but you can still make your writing interesting to read. Try varying the length and structure of your sentences to enhance meaning. For example, a short sentence in a paragraph of longer ones will stand out, so try a short sentence to emphasize a key point, like I did with the sentence immediately preceding this one.
  1. Get help if you need it. Many brilliant researchers can’t write their way out of a wet petri dish. If that’s you, do not despair. We all have different talents (for example, I can write just fine, but I have the mechanical reasoning ability of a sea sponge). If you know you are a weak writer, or if you’re struggling to write in a language other than your mother tongue, find someone to edit your work before you submit it. Some lucky folks can get professional help from their institutions. My last institution employed science writers to help researchers with grant proposals and publications. If you aren’t so fortunate, see if you can bribe a friend or colleague to help whip your prose into shape. Some of us will work for tacos.

One last point: Writing is a skill that most people can learn, not a black art given only to the lucky few born under a full moon at midnight. If you would like to be a better writer, read a book or take a class, then practice, practice, practice!

Want to learn more? Here are a few articles that expand on some of the ideas above.

Janet Crum is a librarian at Northern Arizona University, published academic author and editor, and fiction writer.

he loves clear, straightforward prose and hates passive voice with the fire of a thousand suns. Janet grew up in Northern California farm country and currently lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband, son, and three greyhounds. Stop by her blog for writing advice and random ruminations seasoned with lots of childish humor. 

A writer’s warm-up – 87

It is relatively early in the morning for me to be writing. Still, I have a lot of other writing-related things to do today, so I am trying to get a head start on it.

As I am not at my prime this early in the morning, and the mind is still a little foggy, something has occurred to me.

Do you, a writer, have a warm-up routine before starting?

I imagine writers are not the breed to have such a formality, but maybe there are some of you out there that are more structured in the process. I come from a background that is more athletic than academic; in the world of performance, having a warm-up routine ensures you start as close to optimal as possible.

The warm-up is for the mind as much as it is physical; the mind-muscle connection is real. Given this, it makes sense to me that before starting to write, there may be a benefit to do a form of warm-up. Having a quick google, it seems as if it is a concept that already exists. I am surprised that with all the effort I have put into ‘Learning to write’ that I have not come across this idea before.

I suppose that editing makes this idea less relevant, the allure of getting more words on the page is probably more appealing to most people. The type of writing I do lends itself to getting words onto the page and then editing down rather than editing as I go along.

Anyway, the reason I am starting this early is that I have to start putting together another piece of writing. At some point during my PhD, I have to undertake a three-month internship with a non-academic partner. The one I am going to apply for is a government organisation that conducts research into waste management in an attempt to guide policy. Throughout my research, I have referenced their work heavily, so I feel as if I know them quite well.

I have had some email correspondence with one of the lead researchers, and from the emails we exchanged, I am very confident of securing the placement if I can get to the interview stage. To get to the interview, I have to create a POSTnote, I know, I hadn’t heard of one either until I saw it was one of the requirements. It is a document that synthesis the research and relevant literature in an attempt to brief politicians. The documents also become available to the general public. You can see some examples here.

The one catch with this report is that it has to be about something not directly related to my field. Seeing as this is a document only to be used at the interview stage, I feel as if I could be a risky and produce one that is within my field and thus make it easier on myself. However, I know that data is the lifeblood of the company. I will be potentially joining, so I am going to make my piece about AI and agriculture and hope that it sticks.

So, I am off to do some research, this has been a proper warm-up for the challenge to come!

I hope you’re all having a much more enjoyable weekend than I am!

The one where I went to an academic conference for the first time – 86

This past week I attended an academic conference in the Czech Republic. I have always been sceptical about the value of academic conferences, and now I have a much more defined opinion of them.

In short, they are networking holidays.

At the conference I attended, I was in the minority – as a student. Most of the other attendees were professors of big labs with lots of experience. Some of the attendees were business people who are quite easy to talk to. Still, the majority were high ranking scientists that just spoke to each other.

As a student, it was quite interesting to see how the system works, as far as networking, it was one of the least valuable events I have attended. This is because I don’t really have anything to offer the other attendees. The professors can offer to collaborate on projects or talk to business people to try and get funding. I, however, could only provide questions. My fellow students and I spent most of our time talking to each other, which wasn’t too bad.

There were three days of lectures and one 16 hour excursion that included a tour of a winery followed by wine tasting amid a European heatwave. From the talks, I probably understood around 20% of the subject matter. This is not unusual as there were quite a few different disciplines involved, but this obviously makes it hard to stay interested. I noticed a lot of the higher-ups tended to leave for days at a time to avoid this. As this was my first international conference, I was told that it would be best to stay for all the talks. I ended up doing a lot of work on one of the many projects I have going on, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

We, me and my girlfriend, decided to take some holiday before the conference and explore Berlin. I would say that of all the places I have visited, Berlin was the most liveable. It is the perfect size for commuting via bicycle and has everything one would need. We ended up taking a bicycle tour that cost £16 for 3.5 hours which was fantastic, and it took us around all of the highlights. I could not recommend this enough if you ever visit. The rest of our time we spent mooching around shops and parks as any good tourist worth their salt would do. We also went to this bar that is at the top of a tower block looking over Berlin zoo; It was free to enter, and you could see the monkeys!

After our three days in Berlin, we took the train to Prague, which is a fantastic Journey that meanders along the river Elbe. The journey was relatively slow, taking four hours in total; taking advantage of the relatively cheap train fairs in Europe, we travelled in first-class which would have been unthinkably expensive in the UK.

When we arrived in Prague, we only had a couple of hours before our next train, so we didn’t do much exploring. I had been before, so I wasn’t too bothered about exploration, and we were perfectly happy to sit in a restaurant and avoid all of the rampaging stag dos.

Finally, we had another train journey, this one only two hours, to our final destination in Olomouc – the second biggest city in the Czech republic.

I may have an unpopular opinion here, but for me, cities are fine for a weekend visit and no longer. After that, they start to feel very generic. See the map of a generic city below

Generic foreign city

As a holiday I would give it a 5/10, as work I would also give it a 5/10. If I have my way, I will only attend another conference if it is in a destination that I really want to go to. My suspicions about it not being worth it was mostly accurate – and I was there with six other lab members, so we did a lot of drinking. The conference itself was very well run, and I don’t want you to get the impression that I thought it was terrible itself. It was the opportunity for me that was 5/10.