It’s not what you know… – 82

Writing early in the morning for a change. Usually, I am too groggy to write in the morning, but for some reason, I have woke early and feel primed for writing, so here I am.

It is the first week of data collection for a new trial; for me, this is where my free-time gets absorbed as I have to take measurements every 48 hours. The effect of this is that I have to work on Sundays for the next four weeks. It is not too arduous of a task as I would still rather do this than work a regular job. I just have to be more tactical with the activities I do over the one full day I have off.

The majority of the work during the first month of my trial is taking and editing images. I compare the changes In the colour of leaves over time so that we can pick up signs of senescence and degradation before it is perceptible to the human eye. This is easy in theory, but is very time-consuming in practice; with each image, there is a photographic standard of different colours. Each image has slight fluctuations in its colour, not perceptible to the eye in most cases, but still there. I have to go through all the images and adjust them so that the colour is captured the same in each image, which is a significant time sink. However, it is essential if you want to compare the colour accurately.

So far, it is one of the aspects of Image Analysis that I have not managed to automate, if anyone has any tips in this regard I am all ears. Manually editing each image in rawtherapee is quite the chore.

I joined a new club this week, one of the benefits of being at a University is that there is a club or society for anything you can imagine. There is even a lock picking society!

I joined the coding club for my school. I have been learning to code for several years now; initially, I decided to learn to code as a potentially useful skill that would look good on an application form, but it has become much more than that for me now. I am genuinely developing a passion for it, and If I had my time again, I think I would go down the computer science route.

I am hoping that being part of this club will provide new learning opportunities that would be difficult to do on my own. I went to the first meeting, and it was immediately positive. I met a couple of researchers that had built a robot to take images of their work; the only problem they had is they hadn’t figured out how to analyse the images, seeing as I have become pretty good at this an immediate connection was formed and they offered me the use of the robot! It is early days yet, and I can’t think of what I would use the robot for, but I will try my best to manufacture a reason as this can’t be missed!

I consistently dismiss networking as something I should be doing, but every time I engage in, it pays dividends. I would say that it is probably one of the most useful things that can be done with my time, but I certainly don’t enjoy it. As the old saying goes: “it is not what you know, but who you know”. Unfortunately, I find this to be all too true!

I guess the skill is learning which people are the best to connect with, and then turning up.

A profound title – Week seventeen as a PhD student

Well, I did it, I have made a website where all of these posts will be open to comment. Of course, you already know this, as you would not be reading this if I hadn’t already done so. My experience so far is that there is a large number of people that have fitness-related blogs. I know this because as soon as I posted my ramblings, many fitness bloggers clicked ‘like’ on my post without even reading the post. I am excited to see what comes from this little online experiment.

In PhD student news, this week, I had to stop with one of my experiments as it was not working as intended. I measured the ion leakage from membranes of spinach leaves as a potential marker for shelf life; the problem was, that it took a long time after the best before date – two weeks until there was any useful difference. What I mean by this, is that I could distinguish day fourteen from day one, but not day seven from day one; as the date on the pack ended at day four, this is not ideal. From this experiment, I believe that the shelf life of spinach – from this season (Italian winter), is far too conservative. My take home from this is that you should use your judgement when assessing if your product is good for eating.

One big thing I have learnt this week is that networking, and actually talking to people are very close to the top of the skill tree. At the beginning of last week, I did not know where I was going with my next experiments. I got talking with one of the postdocs1, and he suggested I ran the same experiment he was running on my samples. This is great for me for many reasons: firstly I will learn a new technique; secondly I have something to do, thirdly I have made a new contact, and hopefully, he can be an ongoing resource for me. So, there we go, the power of networking.

It feels as if I have been preparing and presentations for two different events I have coming up exclusively this week. If you think my writing is weak, you should see my speaking. I am hoping that if I become a better writer, my speaking will improve along with it. After the next two weeks, my speaking engagements will be over for a while, and I can concentrate on my research more. One thing you should know about being a PhD student is that you will almost certainly have to give a presentation every few months, so you may as well get good, that is my thought on the matter anyway.

I had a lab-group meeting this week; I am getting much more confident speaking within the group. I think I am starting to relax into being in the position I am: progress! I am desperate to not be in the seventy-percent of people who experience mental health issues during a PhD. My approach to this is to try and balance my life as much as possible: no all-nighters. This should be an enjoyable time, and I will optimise my life for happiness and not ‘being successful’. I think this is the only logical way to live.

I have a question with regards to my writing. Do you like this style of post? Or, should I do less of this bloggy stuff and more informative articles related to my field?

1. Post-doctoral researcher.