Physically shaking – week 19 as a PhD student

Once again, a skill that I thought was overhyped in its importance has had a significant impact on me this week. I am talking about networking; as an introvert, this is a not a skill I enjoy nurturing. I mentioned last week that I had to give a presentation this week, it went okay. It was a three-minute thesis competition that I did not have a choice about my participation. I felt okay giving the speech as I had practised it around 50 times in the mirror; however, my legs were physically shaking behind the lectern. I did my talk, got off the stage and that was that, or so it thought. At the lunch break, to my shock, I had many people coming up to me and saying that they found my talk interesting. I accepted the compliments and just assumed they were being nice, and perhaps they were. The next day I ran into someone whom I had never met, and again, to my surprise, they said they liked my talk. I started talking back to this person, and asking her about her work; we had a good conversation about measuring sugars! The most exciting impact from my talk was yet to come; I received an email from someone in the audience who worked for the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), and she said that she enjoyed my talk and wanted me to write a guest post for their website(1). Of course, I will jump at the opportunity, and post a link to it on here once it is live; the only issue is that it will remove my anonymity, maybe it is time to own my work. So, what did I learn from this experience? Giving talks, no matter how terrifying and seemingly irrelevant looks as if it is an excellent way of increasing your opportunities.

The conference that I had to give my talk at occupied most of my time this week. However, I did manage to run two different experiments; making this week one of the busiest so far. I measured the volatile compounds given off from rocket leaves, and the microorganisms that reside on them. I also got close to finding out what compounds I have seen that are not in the standard library’s.  I also extracted glucosinolates from rocket leaves and will review those next week. This weekend, I have spent almost all of it trying to make a poster for a conference I have next week; I am looking forward to the conference but do not relish making this poster. February has consisted of two presentations and a poster presentation; I hope I do not have any more for a long while as I need to get my head down and write.

I did not win any of the prizes on offer for the three-minute-thesis competition; normally, I would probably just ignore this. I have kept the book of abstracts, and intend on going through it and looking at the writing to try and figure out where I can improve. The younger me would not do this, I believe in learning from your mistakes and intend to get around to reading the abstract booklet later today! Maybe I will do a teardown of what I wrote and how I could improve it, and compare it to some of the other entries.

On a more personal note, we – my partner and I – have had a friend staying with us, as she split with her partner and needed somewhere to stay while she finds a new property. She is occupying the room where I keep my gaming PC, and as a result, I have not been playing games all week. This might be the solution I needed to the time suck, that is video games. It has been quite refreshing to have a flatmate; I have not shared accommodation with anyone other than my partner before – except holidays – so this should be an exciting experience, and might stop us becoming too comfortable and predictable with our lifestyle.

The most significant lesson I learnt, or re-learnt this week is how important networking is. I shall ensure that I keep it at the forefront of my mind when considering what I should be doing with my time. I hope you all had a great week, please let me know what you’re up to, maybe link your blog?

(1) – I ended up going through with that guest blog post which you can see here

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.

Booking some time off – Week Seven as PhD student

Almost without fail, I plan to write these on a Friday and then forget about it until Sunday. So here I am on Sunday writing this to fulfil an obligation I have long lost sight of. At first, I thought I would do it to improve my writing skills, I am not sure if there is any difference so far, I guess I would have to take the plunge and make them public for that to happen. I also committed to writing six posts/articles/diary-entries? I’m not sure what to call this exactly, but I have now exceeded that goal. I write with Libre office and then use Grammarly to check my grammar (the free version only so far). I do really like the program and I think I will invest in the full version as I progress through my PhD and have to produce higher quality content. I set out to write around 500 words, as I can’t really be bothered to write for too long and it should keep me concise. We are currently 172 words In, if you count 172 as a word, which I did.

This week I veered widely off my path in terms of reading, I have picked up a book called ‘Look homeward, angel’ by Tom Woolfe. I thought I would start with a classic and couldn’t find anything else I recognised. To be honest I am not enjoying it and long to get back to non-fiction. To me, the book feels like it was written as an art piece with a thesaurus used extensively. It is very diverse with its wordage and doesn’t connect with me that much. I can’t really pursue the nomadic narrative, In all its forthcoming glory. I did read an amazing article this week though, called ‘an interview with the man’ found on raptitude.com. In my opinion, it is required reading. In other news, I have not really done much this week, in terms of variety anyway. I had a course on Monday, which was about making and designing posters for conferences. It was actually quite useful, I can now spot a sub-optimal poster a mile off. Also with that course, I have completed my compulsory five courses for this year!

In other news, this week I upped my investments to twice my previous monthly amount; I am still half of the monthly amount I can theoretically invest each month, but I am unsure how much doing a PhD will cost so I am starting off more cautiously. Still, a big improvement and I am feeling better. My flexibility has also improved massively, I can now stand with straight legs and very nearly put my hands flat on the ground, a few more months and I will be there. I also booked off 4 days in December for a quick ski-trip to Slovakia, which will be the first time I have been skiing in two years; that is the longest I have not skied for since I was ten or eleven. I do not think I will be able to backflip like I used to, not because of skill, but because of nerve, I have none any more. The more educated I become the fewer risks I want to take, make of that what you will.

With regards to my work this week, I have spent most of my time at home. I am running an experiment from home, using ImageJ to track the development of discolouration in lettuce. I thought a software solution would be quicker, but it still takes me two to three hours a day to analyse. I need to write a script to save me a lot of time. There are still a few issues I need to iron out though; at the moment I am only capturing around thirty percent of the leaf in my data. Tune in next week to see if I resolve the issue!

P.S Grammarly is telling me I have 20 advanced issues, see if you can solve them!

Week one – Mediocre expectations

First of all, I think it is important for to me to explain the position I am in, and how it came to be. Just this year I graduated with a 1st class honours degree from the University of Reading. My degree was in Nutrition and Food science and I had a year in industry between my 2nd and 3rd years. My expectation was to go into industry after my degree and nine-to-five-it until I had accumulated just enough resources to not have to do that anymore and sit around all day doing ‘whatever I wanted’, being perfectly mediocre, all the while imagining being rich and successful.
During my final year, I did my dissertation with (someone anonymous, we shall call C), looking at discolouration of lettuce. This was essentially a continuation of the work I had been doing on my placement. Towards the end of the project, C asked me what I was going to do when I left university, and if I wanted to do a PhD. My reaction was essentially ‘me?, but aren’t PhDs just for geniuses?’. Luckily for me, they are not just for ‘geniuses’, and a plethora of skills are required. Anyway, I’m not rich how could I afford it? I think I need to work.
Later in the year the idea of doing a PhD had been grinding on me and perhaps I could do it, otherwise, why would she ask? To speed up along the story, which I am getting bored of typing when I finished my degree I had two choices, a PhD fully funded and with a £17k a year salary or a job I liked paying £30k. I was quite conflicted myself, so I asked my family and friends, which had a 100% response rate of ‘PhD’. It was the best of times and the worst of times, I had miraculously got a win-win situation and it became a source of misery, in the end, I know you feel very bad for me, but it was a very strange situation.
When the time came that I had to decide, my mind was fully made up, maybe I should not go the mediocre route, and avoid becoming anonymous desk flesh for at least three more years. In the end, it was very easy to choose the PhD.
It was July, I had accepted the PhD, and was due to start in October. A new ultimatum, to job or not to job, the latter won out and I went into retirement. I have never been much of a good-little-consumer eating all the market has to offer, so I had enough saving to bridge the gap. So that is what I did, and to my surprise, didn’t really get bored. I filled my days doing all the things I didn’t feel I could do during my degree, as it would be procrastination, and I learnt loads of useful things, like how to solve a Rubix cube. I would recommend retirement as soon as possible, or at least financial freedom which is now one of my main goals, more on that at another time.
The bit where I actually start my PhD. Week one has mainly consisted of figuring how to structure my calendar and email, Microsoft’s new clutter feature hasn’t helped. Everything is now in sync, and I have a relatively large amount of training and inductions to attend. This is good news as I do not have any lab work planned; it breaks up the reading that has become my life, as does writing this.
What is my PhD in you ask? Food science, understanding freshness and quality etc. The end goal of the project is to have packaging that will better predict when the food is about to go off, and thus reduce waste. In the interest of reducing waste, I am going to end this now, I shall try and write one of these each week. I have left out pages and pages; the trip to Rome for example. I hope there are many mediocre free moments to come over the next 3-4 years.

Continue reading “Week one – Mediocre expectations”

An unexpected PhD student

About this blog. Which, coincidentally is a word I despise.

 

I will get straight to the point. I am a Ph.D. student in Food and Nutritional Sciences; I have got to this stage by largely ignoring writing as a skill. I felt as if my skills within science (maths, physics, etc.) were the most important aspect to improve, so I spent most of my time working on science-related skills. As a consequence my writing skills are very low, hence this blog.

My idea of this blog is to journal my progress through a Ph.D., as it is probably one of the most interesting things I will ever do. But mostly, it is to practice writing and eventually get good at it.

As I am writing, this I have already written several months worth of posts; originally, I was not planning on posting them, but I think that there is no downside to me publishing these posts, as the worst thing that can happen is that I get bad feedback. In this instance, it still helps me improve my writing, so it is win-win as far as I can tell.

As I have previously mentioned, I am several months ahead of this initial post and only plan to release one a week. Becuase of this, my writing has already improved massively, and I am embarrassed to release some of the earlier posts. However, I believe that the journey is much more important than the end so I will release all my posts un-edited.

I intend on writing about more than just my thoughts on being a Ph.D. student such as nutrition, finance, books I’m reading and general thoughts on life. So, if you would like to help me out and provide some feedback, I would greatly appreciate it.

I will remain anonymous for now.