The University is closed for the foreseeable future

We are in unprecedented times – I really mean it this time! The university has been closed; as a PhD researcher, this presents somewhat of a challenge. Many of you will be in a similar or worse situation, and I hope all works out well for you – I am confident it will.

Due to the way the finances work for my studentship, the money was paid upfront, and therefore my wages are ‘guaranteed’ until the end of the studentship, which happens to be almost one year from now. Consequently, I am luckier than most in that although I have lost my primary place of work for the foreseeable future, I can still work from home and not have to worry about money in the short-term.

But how will an academic cope with social isolation? Well, fortunately, I have been doing my part for social isolation since I decided to do a PhD. Ninety-percent of my time is spent alone, writing, analysing-data, or working in the lab. Being an introvert is helpful in a situation like this, and my mother has always said that ‘I enjoy my own company’.

So, for me, the pandemic has changed very little about my life. The most significant change is that the gym is closed, and the kick-boxing society is on hiatus. I suspect I will get extremely proficient at press-ups over the coming few months! Also, it might be the time to get into yoga – my shoulders will thank me.

How long will it last?

I was speaking to my supervisor as she drove me home from the university for what could be the last time? She said that they are starting to think about re-opening the university in September or even January 2021! Because of the large volume of people that congregate at universities, I suspect it will be one of the last places to return to normality. Therefore, I am in this for the long run!

When I asked her how she thinks the shut-down will affect her students (me and three others) who will graduate in ~ a year, she said we would get extensions. My first reaction was, please no! I like the student lifestyle, and it is a privileged position, but I need to do something else. I am someone who gets bored with anything after several years, which is why I will never master anything.

My life for the foreseeable future will involve lots of writing. Academic writing to be precise. Maybe the silver lining to this pandemic is that I will be forced to improve my writing. Either I will improve my writing, or my ability to procrastinate.

The mid-term future has become much more cloudy than ever before, with no one having any idea of how society will change. We will be talking about this time for decades to come.

I wish everyone who reads this the best of luck, and I have been pleasantly surprised out how we have all acted in this crisis – apart from you panic buyers!

Too much writing – week 22 as a PhD student

In the latest chapter of me doing a PhD is more of a filler chapter; the story has had a brief interlude where all I do is sit at my desk and write. If only all I did was write, that would have been a much better week; instead, I wrote for about 20 minutes and then proceeded to spend 10 minutes browsing the internet. I then repeated this for 8-10 hours a day, five days a week. I do actually enjoy writing; it is just very difficult to do it for days on end without getting burnt out; it is for me anyway. I am sure all my fellow students will have sympathy with this, and all those who are in a job that they are not 100% happy with; this is where relying on discipline is essential, as motivation is fickle and can often leave you alone for long periods of time.

I have been working on three different bits of work, my 6-month report, a paper I am writing, and a guest blog post I am writing for the British Nutrition Foundation. All of which, I am bored of looking at, this tends to happen to me with writing. I start out highly motivated; then there is a perfect negative linear trend in the interest in my work – we are talking a correlation of 0.999. I am unsure if there is a cure for this particular ailment, If you have one, please send it my way. One good thing about only doing writing this week is that I got to spend all my time at home, which is my preferred location, I am very hobbit-like in that sense. As for you dear readers:

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

As a side note, if there is a better work of fiction than the fellowship of the ring, I don’t want to know about it.

If you consider my time outside of my day-job, I did have an exciting week. On Tuesday I was in London attending a concert by Post Modern Jukebox, they are a group that became popular on YouTube for doing covers of songs on different musical styles. If you want to see Lady Gaga’s Bad romance performed in a Gatsby style, I suggest you check them out! They were perfectly enjoyable, and they did an excellent take on the main Harry Potter theme song, however, and this is true for any artist when they don’t play your favourite song you can only give them a seven out if ten max.


By far the most bizarre and comfort-zone-smashing thing I did this week was attend an American rock-and-roll dance class with my partner. We were both the worst dancers by far, I had never danced before, and my partner only had danced as a child. If there is one thing scarier than giving a presentation in front of many people – especially for an introvert – it is dancing, in public. It was one of those things we signed up to whilst slightly inebriated, but instead of just writing it off as drunken nonsense, actually going through with it. My partner and I were the youngest there by a good 20 years; she was only slightly less nervous than I was. However, as is normally the case when doing scary things, it was much more fun than scary. It was much harder than I thought it would be but this only spurred me on to get better, I will definitely continue with this. This is by far the biggest surprise of my life; I enjoyed dancing: sober! One of the problems with this, however, is now I have many extracurricular activities, I am starting to become a Jack of all trades and the master of…

 

Alcohol and blogging – week 21 as a PhD student

This is my first time writing early on a Saturday morning after an evening which involved more drinks than I am used to. I feel as if my mind is only 60% in attendance so this might be an interesting one. One of the key questions that one who is financially sensitive has to ask themselves is: ‘ Does the feeling I have this morning, and the £-41 from my bank, balance with the enjoyment I had last night?’. My answer is maybe. We were out on the town as it was the last night that our friend would be staying with us before moving out. The real question is whether or not we could have achieved the same experience for less money. My guess is that, yes, yes we could have had the same experience for less money. However, that would require thinking and effort, which as a human, does not always come easy. Preamble over.

Time is flying at the moment; my six-month review is due at the end of the month. Six months! It feels as if I still have ten months of work left to do in my first year. I need to get ahead on my writing; I am starting to feel as if I need to increase my working hours, or maybe micromanage my schedule better and make sure I do a lot of writing. Actually, I need to do more coding, data analysis, reading, and writing. The workload is starting to pile up; I can barely see over it.

So, what did I do this week? Well, Tuesday and Wednesday, were the long-awaited Waitrose Science days. It was mostly two days of presentations and networking with high-level management and PhD students; this is one of the rare opportunities you get by virtue of being a PhD student. My networking skills leave something to be desired, but fortunately for me, these science days occur yearly, so I will have at least three more opportunities to improve. I had to present a poster for the first time. The first thing I noticed was that you could tell who the supervisor of the student was based on the poster. A colleague and I both have the same supervisor, and you could tell this by the fact that our posters had more than double the words anyone else did. The 2nd thing I noticed was that there are two kinds of response from people looking at your poster. The first of these and the best are the ones who ask you about it and try to understand what your thoughts on the subject are. The second type of person, will listen to what you have to say, ignore it, and then proceed to tell you there opinion on the matter. Often the latter tend to take up the more of your time. Still, in spite of this, I still had nothing but positive feedback. One of the most significant revelations about the world of academia is that 99% of people are very good human beings; I can see why many people choose to stay in this world.

If you were on the fence about choosing academia over the industry, I would urge you to at least try academia.

Easily influenced – Week nine as a PhD student

This was written well over three months ago, and I remember the next morning after writing this and thinking, that I would never publish this as it is quite weird. I think it is essential to show the process of improvement so it will be posted.

Week 9. I mentioned last week that I had a lab meeting this week, surprisingly, It went very well. To explain why I have to take you back to my first year at university. During the 1st summer holiday, I spent my time working as a paid intern at an olive factory. It was closer to my parents home than it was to my home, so during the week I would stay with my parents, and travel home on the weekend. I got bored almost instantly and the fact that I had stopped learning was grinding on me; I decided I should learn a language (One of my friend’s brother learnt mandarin and now is earning a wedge in China). I’m sure, that most people reading this are native English speakers. My thinking was to choose a language by-the-numbers, so Spanish or Chinese. However, I didn’t really want to learn either. Another one of my friends was studying computer science; I ended up choosing to learn a programming language instead. I must skip forward to the present day, as the nostalgia is leading me to become a tourist in my own youth (Sickboy). I am leaving the realms of beginner python programmer and am now touching the bottom of the boot of an intermediate programmer. I have previously mentioned that I have been working with ImageJ to analyse the colour of decaying plant tissue. I showed the group what I had been doing and got a fantastic reception. Now I am mid-development on my own program; it will do what I was doing in ImageJ but in an automated fashion. When I have finished writing this program, I will have something I can use throughout the rest of my PhD which should make things easier in the long-run.

In other news, I finally finished ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ by Tom Wolfe. I did not enjoy reading the book therefore, I will be switching back to non-fiction. With Christmas approaching I am feeling a strong bout of niggardliness coming on (if you have read the book you won’t be surprised by that word) I sensed this would be an issue now that I am more fiscally aware. I will just have to try and re-program my brain, a seasonal patch back to Self 0.5 when consumption was the well-placed hit that kept me on the ride. This week has been one of the better ones, but if you forced me I could not pin down exactly why that is, my guess would be a sense of progress. I earned £5 this week for being a participant in a psychology experiment; the true meaning of the study has eluded me, but the task was related to finding smiling faces among other facial expressions and then hitting the appropriate button upon seeing a smiling face. Half an hour of being a lab rat; £5 tacked on to my net-worth, I’ll take that over a real job all day long.

Next week presents us with a plethora of Christmas parties, my first exposure to partying with academics, into the fray we go! I am also going back to the lab to correct some of the work that was brought up in the lab meeting; the meeting was very productive. Another reason for getting back into the lab is that I am tired of staring at my computer screen. I’m running out of steam for this week’s post and am trying to wrap up. Choose a blog. Choose an error. Choose to work 9-5 as anonymous desk flesh because you’re too scared to do anything else. Choose to be like everyone else. Choose a mortgage. Choose a cat or dog, or both. Choose consumerism and a life filled with debt. Choose to read something else, by someone who can actually write. Don’t choose anything; rise with the tide and have your life be dictated by circumstance, there are no right answers.

P.S. I wasn’t high while writing this: I watched Transpotting2 last night.