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.

A cabin in the woods – 76

I have a lot to talk about this week! It is one of those occasions where the thoughts about what I am going to write about have been whirring around my mind for the last few hours. The majority of the time this is not the case, and I don’t know what I am going to write about until I sit down. Does anyone else write like this?

The reason I have something to talk about this week is that I have been on holiday! I have spent a week in a cabin in the woods in Snowdonia national park with my family and partners. We were very fortunate with our break in that the tourist season had not started yet and the weather was perfect – for me, not too hot, but sunny. Also, we had a hot-tub; which is a vital piece of equipment after a long day hiking.

Snowdon… with snow. Image by RuthLeonardWilliams from Pixabay


I want to continue on last weeks idea of holidays/vacations and their importance in preventing burn-out. There was one important idea that I overlooked when I wrote that piece; I overlooked the possibility of me not wanting to return!

Motivationally speaking, not wanting to return from holiday is probably a sign that the thing you’re going back to isn’t at the top of the list of things you want to do. I would much rather be climbing mountains and exploring the beautiful landscape in Snowdonia than doing lab-work in a repetitively dull, but convenient, minor-metropolis.

Snowdonia national park. Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Given what I have just said, I pose the following question: Can a holiday/vacation be a bad thing?

Before this week I would have thought that the positives vastly outweigh the negatives; however, if you’re unconsciously taking a break to get away from the toil of your daily life, then there may be an argument to be made that a break is not what you need. ‘Papering over the cracks’ is a phrase that comes to mind.

I remember that last week I was talking about how I had organised things so that when I come back, I can hit the ground running. I had filled my diary so that I would jump straight back into my work as if nothing had happened. This seemed, at the time, like the optimal thing to do; however, on reflection, it just made feel as if I wanted to return even less as I had a mountain of work to return to. Maybe it would have been better to have a much gentler return to work. I could have given myself a nice light workload to return to, but I have set things up so that I am jumping in mid-flow.

What we have here folks is the classic illustration of the yin and yang, the up and down, positive and negative, swings and roundabouts etcetera.

Upon arriving home, I have spent a considerable amount of time on ‘general blog maintenance’. I have been updating broken links and correcting any errors that have been pointed out by you lovely people. I have also spent some time seeking out new blogs that I can take inspiration from. It has been a relatively long time since I gave my blog some TLC, so I am going to dedicate this weekend to improve my blog.

I want to improve my site from a visual perspective, so if you have any tips, please comment below!

I am going for a minimalist look with a site that is as easy to navigate as possible.

How much time do you spend on improving your product blog?

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!