About PhDs

Mar. 20th, 2013 08:31 pm
redfiona99: (Thinking)
[livejournal.com profile] nwhyte posted a very interesting link to a post by Liv - http://liv.dreamwidth.org/389934.html (sorry I'm not sure how to do user links to Dreamwidth accounts).

While in the main I agree with everything she said, I think one of the points that she misses is that one of the major problems PhD students face is how PhDs are sold to undergraduates, which also affects the various posts that I've seen floating around about how there are far better things to do with your life than doing a PhD.

Which I'm not going to disagree with. But for some people, myself included, there was no other option if we want to go into the career we desire. I never wanted to be anything other than a research scientist and that meant I had to do a PhD.

And I think that's important, you have to know why you're doing it, because it's a long, arduous process, and that, and an unhealthy dose of stubbornness, is the only thing that's going to get you through it. The most important advice I received came from friend 'I' when first applied for the place I eventually got - "are you sure you want to do this? Don't just take the place because it's offered, do it because you really want to do it, because PhDs are hard. You will hate it, yourself and everything to do with it before you're done."*

So what do I think potential PhD students should be told?

(Everything that follows only covers UK PhDs since that's the only kind I'm qualified to talk about.)

1) A PhD is not a guarantee of a future job or a future career in that field.

2) If you can, investigate the lab/group you will be working with. I was lucky, while I didn't know anyone in the lab I joined, I knew people in the lab next door to it. I know this option isn't open to everyone, but if you can, do it.

2 a) Pay attention to your gut. When you're at the interview, how do you feel about your potential colleagues? How do you feel about your potential supervisor? Remember he's on his best behaviour so if he's making you feel uncomfortable in some way, imagine what he'll be like once you're his student. (He is used in a gender-neutral sense here.)

3) It's a very lonely process, not in the physical sense of you being the only PhD student, but in a mental sense. You are the only one going through whatever you are going through. The systems for PhD students differ between universities, they differ between the different faculties and schools within a university, and from project to project. One of my friend's specialised in animal bones, another had to discuss the application of Marxist theory to neolithic societies. They're both archaeologists. My department’s building was off-campus, but two labs within the department were in a building on main campus, so as a whole the PhD students in the department were detached from activities intended for PhD students that were held on the main campus, and the students in those two particular labs were detached from the rest of us, which did lead to communication problems sometimes.

4) Support, there's not enough of it. I'm thinking particularly of ESL students, because writing a formal thesis is difficult for people who are English-as-a-first-language, I can only imagine it's significantly worst if you're not, and there doesn't seem to be anything available to help ESL students. There's also not a lot of support for students with chronic illnesses or mental health issues either. Sadly, the only advice I can give is that if you think you will need an extension, ask before your deadline.

4b) The people you surround yourself with outside of work are important. I was lucky enough to have friends who were going through the same experience me, and we could drink and bitch about our PhDs, which made everything much more bearable.

Having hobbies is important. It doesn't matter what it is, just something that isn't the PhD.

If you have a significant other, whether or not they are supportive can make a huge difference. I'm thinking particularly of a friend who had an S.O. who believed that what they wanted was far more important that anything of the friend's, including little, unimportant things like first year reports, second year reports, departmental talks and so on. Because of this, he's on to his second extension and 6 months behind everyone else he started with.

5) (This only applies to funded students) You will need to budget or learn to budget. This is one of the points where I disagree with Liv. I thought my research council stipend was a king's ransom, but that might have been because for the three previous years I'd been living on a third of it. That doesn't mean it's a lot of money though, and you learn to separate the things you want from the things you need.

6) (This may not apply to non-science PhD students) It's nothing like doing your undergraduate degree**. Nothing at all. You have to organise your time, your experiments, your consumables, your lab budget and frequently your time with your supervisor. That's not counting finding time for writing reports and presentations. And taking care of any undergraduate/Masters students you might be given to look after. That doesn't include finding time to go to talks and conferences. Or other things like sleeping, eating and having a non-PhD life. This is probably what I found to be the most difficult thing about my PhD.

7) Managing your supervisor is vital. This can mean anything from making sure you can agree on times to meet (my supervisor was a rower so had been up for five hours already when I came into university at 10. I was more of a night owl so I was still going strong when he left at 6. We ended up agreeing on 2 in the afternoon for meetings to discuss my project.) to saying “no” when they want to keep you in the lab when you ought to be writing up. That latter is especially important. Learning how manage your supervisor’s expectations of what you should be doing, by which I mean things like the direction of your PhD or the techniques you will be using during it, is one of the key steps of your PhD.

8) (This may not apply to non-science PhD students) Your PhD work might not work. Science is all about investigating the unknown which means there will be some dead-ends. It can be disheartening.

9) Your mood will depend on how well your PhD is going. I've never known anyone this didn't apply to. It's something to be aware of.

10) There will be arseholes. There is no more delicate way of putting it. I've been lucky enough not to have come up against the same kind of arseholes as Liv has but that doesn't mean there weren't any. I don't, from my own experiences, think they they're any worse that what you'd find in most jobs, the problem is there's no real equivalent of a human resources department that you can raise complaints with, particularly if the other person is someone who works in a vital role.

~~~~

I don't want to put anyone off doing a PhD, particularly the friend of mine who is starting her PhD soon, because all in all I enjoyed mine, and can't regret doing it. But then again, I'd been forewarned and I think that helped to get me through some of the worse times.

* I, it must be said, was the guy whose viva opened with the external examiner saying "you've passed, can I just talk to you about your work because it's really interesting." He was probably the best student in his year. And that's how bad he felt at points.

** I don't know how it compares to Masters degrees as I never did one.

Dublin

Aug. 16th, 2012 05:13 pm
redfiona99: (Default)
Day 1 )

Important points:
5.30 am bad
Aer Lingus good
UCD campus and staff good
UCD computer system bad
Football bad

Day 2 )

Early mornings bad.
Talks good.
Alcohol bad.

Day 3 )

Coffee vital for conferences.
Guinness actually drinkable in Ireland

Day 4 )

I still don't like whiskey.
Teenagers are terrifying.
Chemistry, however, remains interesting.

Day 5 )

Poster presentation went well.

Friday in Dublin )

Saturday in Howth )

Sunday in Dublin )

Some pictures, hopefully in clickable thumbnail format:

O'Reilly Hall at UCD - Photobucket I wish I'd got a decent shot of the rest of the campus because there's lots of pretty trees, and a lot of campus is the sort of 60s/70s concrete futurism that I like.

A photo from the walk round Howth Head - Photobucket I solemnly swear it is just outside of Dublin. Yes, I know how sunny it is. How do you think I got the sunburn? As one of the Germans said, it looks more like California than Ireland.

As proof that I was in Ireland, this is what Christ Church Cathedral looked like the next day - Photobucket
redfiona99: (Default)
And all I got was sunburn.

That's not actually true, I had a great time (of which fuller report later), met some interesting people and learnt some new things (some of which are applicable to the things I work on, most of which aren't but information is power, as they say).

And I got 2 free t-shirts as well as sunburn.
redfiona99: (Default)
So RL has been a bit busy. New project, integrating with new people, tearful post-grads, it's been a bit of a mess. Then it turns out I've lost my copy of my tenancy agreement, so I have to get another one which costs £15 (yeah, my landlord's know their tenants are forgetful). On top of that, I've managed to double book myself this summer, so I can't use one of my Olympic tickets. I'm going seeing some friends in San Francisco, therefore it's totally worth it, but it would have been nice to see Cassara, Aspromonte et al. I then lost my password to the Olympic site, after realising I couldn't hand the ticket back (because I want the ticket to be used) because the ticket hand-back thing only went until Feb 12th. So I email the Olympic site, and I'll give them this, they're prompt and useful in their replies. I can just give the ticket to a friend, which is fine, but I have to be contactable. I explained the problem with that, and they said as long as I tell them in advance, it'll be fine. So that's that sorted.

After that, the person who I'm seeing this weekend in Leicester hasn't got back to me so I don't know what stand to buy tickets for for a match tomorrow. I'm just going to buy one and hope they aren't fussy. Rugby stadium staff aren't usually.

On top of that the people I'm visiting in SF have had to change their holiday dates and now everything is all of a muddle.

In short yay and argh! Yargh! maybe?

~~~~

Looking at the Birmingham International entry - there's 56 female foilists entered. If we discount the 7 French temporarily, at 116th in the country I'm probably the lowest ranked fencer there. Talk about a lion's den. But if I get points, oh, if I get points.

~~~~

Shakespeare meme - Day #9: Your favorite tragedy

Both my favourite plays are tragedies, Macbeth and Hamlet. And I can't choose between them so there shall instead be discussion of why I like those two plays above the others.

My problem with King Lear remains King Lear, and I'm still not sure I'm old enough to get it. I haven't seen Anthony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida or Othello all the way through. I think it's because I feel I have to be in the mood for tragedies and when they're on I'm not and vice versa. I'm not sure that Timon of Athens counts as a tragedy because Timon is an idiot and he only brings himself down not anyone (Cordelia) or anything (an entire country) down.

I like my tragedies to come from a character's strengths turned to weaknesses and I think that's why, despite enjoying it, I don't feel as fulfilled by Romeo and Juliet, which is a tragedy of circumstance, as I do by, say Macbeth, who is a wonderful soldier and possibly not a bad thain, but the little worm of ambition is turned, and he becomes a villain. Or Hamlet, whose very virtues, his thoughtfulness and his wit, are why he can't just get on with his revenge (Seriously, I challenge you, it's impossible to sit through Hamlet without wanting to yell 'just get on with it' at least once.).

Other Days )
redfiona99: (Default)
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Biology. And just a bit. I'm really regretting not having studied harder at maths right now.

It's not directly within the scope of the question, but I do think the US (and possibly other places but the UK, US and Austrian systems are the ones I know most about) thing of making students do things outside of their immediate area in the first couple of years and then specialising later on strikes me as being a very good thing. Ex-colleague P (who is Danish) was always amazed that I'd stop doing anything first language related at 16 because he thought you lost out on a lot that way.

~~~~

Dear Self,

You know that Mystique-centric mostly gen fic, where Frostie gets the first chapter to herself? Yes, that one. Can you make sure Magneto doesn't it take over, because he appears to be doing that to my (somewhat) jaundiced eyes.

~~~~

The next question on the book meme is tricky, because it's ' A book everyone hated but you liked' and my friends, both online and offline, have a wide taste in books, and two obvious answers for books everyone hated, 1) Dan Brown and 2) Twilight, won't do because

1) you can't stand the one Dan Brown book you tried to read either

and

2) you haven't read the Twilight books because vampire romance isn't your thing so it's unfair to use them.

So I could do with some suggestions for hated books.

~~~~
Interesting snippets:

From Eurosport's article on the top 10 parent and child sporting combos (http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/world-of-sport/top-10-parent-child-sporting-combos-172959290.html):

>>Cesare and Paulo Maldini

Cesare Maldini was a mainstay in the Milan defence for 12 seasons and captained Milan to the European Cup title in 1963. He also represented Italy at the 1962 and 1966 World Cups and went on to manage the national team from 1996 to 1998 too.

His son Paolo went on to become an even better player and matched his father's achievement of captaining Milan to a European Cup in 2003 — one of five European titles he won in his career. He played over 900 games for Milan and won 126 Italy caps. His number three shirt has been retired but it will be bequeathed to one of his sons if one makes the club's senior side.<<

Italics mine. It's not just that Paolo played more than 900 games for Milan, it's not just that that included a ridiculous number of trophies, or the silly number of games he played for Italy or the number of finals that included, it's not even that they retired his shirt, which is not something they tend to do in Italy (the only other player I can think of who had his shirt number retired is Maradonna's Napoli no. 10), it's that they've made it a heritable relic, up their with crowns and the like.

~~~~

The Argentine response to 'The Iron Lady' appears to be oddly similar to the one found amongst lefties in the UK - http://movies.uk.msn.com/news/argentine-film-buffs-pan-iron-lady

Mostly TV

Sep. 24th, 2011 10:17 pm
redfiona99: (Default)
I'm a bit out of the swing of things, mostly due to work. Okay, and the sport. Mostly the sport. Although there's been a lot of work too.

And fic writing. There's two fics with deadlines coming up, so that's why there's basically been radio silence on that front.

Also, I've had my first first author journal article published. This is a good time.

So while I get back up to speed, have my much delayed comments on the last episode of 'The Shadow Line'.

I think the ending of 'The Shadow Line' was that rarest of things, it was an ending that fitted, something far more important than merely happy or sad, no matter how much I would have preferred a happier ending for several characters.

Spoilers )

In short, good, yes.
redfiona99: (Default)
Back from the CCPN conference at the remarkably lovely Scarborough. I'm off again to London though, but when I return, I promise I shall give context for that last post.
redfiona99: (Default)
Firstly I hope all the various East-coasters are alright in between the hurricane and the earthquake.

Frankfurt was lots of fun but I'm utterly wiped, 5 days of sciencing from 8.30 to 19.00, and that was before the after day food (and drink, oh the drink). It got to the point where coffee stopped working.

Then I went to my friend's stag do, which was fun.

Now, I just need to sleep for the next 10 days to recover ;)

~~~~

Other than that, two fannish matters:

1 - If anyone doesn't mind giving a ~ 8000 word X-Men:First Class gen fic a quick beta, I'd be obliged. Mostly it's picking up on any British-ism that have slipped the net, and the usual tenses issue.

2 - Meme pinched from [livejournal.com profile] saruwatari Give me a character from any of my fandoms, and I’ll give you one reason for liking (or disliking!) the character, two favourite ships, three favourite friendships, and four pieces of headcanon.

Frankfurt

Aug. 19th, 2011 05:47 pm
redfiona99: (Default)
Heading off to Frankfurt for a conference. It should be nice, if long (the days go from 8.30 to 19.00).

Straight after that I'm heading to a friend's stag do, so hopefully I will surface some time next week.

See you all when I get back.
redfiona99: (Default)
Or why I have no such fear.

(A minor TMI warning - for those who wish to avoid the TMI, skip the first paragraph)

Then again my Friday the thirteenth started quite badly on Thursday when my bowels decided to try to escape without warning. Not good times. Worryingly, this is the second time in two months this has happened the day before my period starts. Dear body, we are 26, new symptoms are not required or expected.

Anyway, so I have maybe 3 hours of sleep the night before my final corrections, which I'm expecting to be horrible. I catch the train, a different one than the expected on because the trainline lies.

During this I get a Red Bull shot drink freebie. Now I still say that Red Bull tastes worse than anything you should ever consume, unless you're taking a medicine, and we know that they all taste terrible, however, at five to eight in the morning, when you've been ill all night and you cannot cope with the idea of food, but you need sugar and caffeine, it's a life saver.

So I get to Leicester, and internal examiner is not in yet so I have to sweet talk my way into the building. Not a problem.

I get the corrections, they're done in a couple of hours, and I'm printed out by three, and fully submitted by four.

Silly hat day is go.

(Or, for those who haven't seen the headwear that PhD graduands have to wear, graduation is go.)

~~~~

CSI:NY -

Can't really get to liking Hawkes's new girlfriend in CSI:NY because she reminds me so much of ex-housemate's girlfriend. You know, my-fun-is-more-important-than-your-work girl. Argh!! Then again Sheldon being all 'can't say no dude' is not helping either.

I see the idiot writers are back. Half the characters are acting like themselves, and half of them are totally wrong. And Not-Stella is still a judgemental know-it-all.

Dude, Mac is now a chilled person. It's freaking wierd. Good but weird.

Bonus:

No CSI: Miami, atomic force microscopy does not work like that.

~~~~

Mostly for Twig, but the TV adverts for Blitz are starting showing (it's out the 20th of May). I am mostly unimpressed. I have no idea how you do that given that I <3 one of the actors in it, and am v. fond of another one, but fail, TV advert maker, fail!

Still not sure whether or not to go and see it, part of me says yes, because how am I supposed to resist, part of me says no, not least of all because I have no idea where the local cinema is.

~~~~

In terms of TV that's caught my eye, my Sunday night sleep-plan is presently being wrecked by 'The Shadow Line' which is brewing up nice and slowly into something complex.

It features Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Ecclestone, and five hundred different you know, that guys.

The opening scene with David Schofield (or creepy guy from Pirates 2 as you might know him) basically monologuing was a work of genius.

I spent the whole of the first episode hoping something horrible would happen to Jay Wratten, played by Rafe Spall. Partly it's that Rafe Spall has the most unfortunately punchable face. Partly it's that his character is a little Caligula thinks he's so tough when he's really not, and he keeps getting into confrontations with people who are far more dangerous and they're not smacking him, for their own reasons and I think not smacking him is only going to rebound badly on them later.

Spoilers )
~~~~

Comedians - Dave Fulton is looking old. I remember when he had long black hair.

As a general point, since I no longer have the time to watch late night tv the way I used to, I have to rely on Mock the Week and the other stand up shows to find out about the new, upandcomers, and mostly I'm not impressed, with the exception of Andi Osha.

The problem is, the way I see it, half of them have only one schtick and that's 'look, I'm posh and yet I swear', which is not funny to me. The other half are funnier but not much, including a fair few who are poor re-treads of other people's stuff.

(Honourable exception is Tommy Flanagan, who is funny, but just has a really unfortunate voice. My issues with him are not his fault.)

~~~~

Motorbikes - oh BBC commentators, how I love you. Calling Simoncelli Side-Show Bob is naughty but funny.

The trouble is that much like Ruben Xaus, there's a lot of Simoncelli so occasionally he takes stupid lines. (And he now has a reputation.)

It looks like there's going to be a punch up between a team manager and the stewards. I have seen that walk before.

Dani Pedrosa has pulled an Uncle Ste - my Uncle broke one collarbone, had it fixed, then broke the other one. I hope Pedrosa doesn't finish the cycle, because my Uncle then broke the first collarbone again but it only fractured and healed really quickly because it was in exactly the same place.
redfiona99: (f1)
Back home this weekend doing some PhD corrections. I've now reached the stage where my internal is telling me to change things back to the way they were before I made any changes. I'd be more calm about it if one of the changes hadn't been one of the three major ones my external wanted.

I have also watched the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The moment of most non-F1 fan interest was probably Petrov's short flight - http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/formula_one/13028570.stm (Don't worry, he's fine.) Nick Heidfeld's start was pretty awesome too. It's interesting to see Renault doing so well, even if it makes me sad that Robert Kubica isn't driving the car given all the work he put into its development.

The Red Bull radio crew continue to be fun, I'm thinking in particular refering to the tyre wear as 'falling off a cliff'. I also like that they send their 'we have no KERS' clear instead of code. Yes, it gives the other teams extra information but it also demoralises them, Red Bull are doing that much better without the magic box. I am still intrigued by why KERS just won't work for them. They've had two years to work on it since their last attempt, you'd have thought they would have ironed out the problem unless it's to do with their aero-package/downforce issues.

And for the interest of people who are not me or F1 fans, I present photos from the Washington Post Peep Diorama contest - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/gallery/2010/03/29/GA2010032903934.html Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] fileg
redfiona99: (Default)
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I would like to wave my knitting in her face and go 'see, I have craft skills'.

Yes. I am still mad about that. Yes, I know it was 14 years ago.

~~~~

World Book Day Meme as taken from [livejournal.com profile] nwhyte.

The books I am reading: 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (Douglas Adams) and 'The Black Cat' (Martha Grimes).

The book I am writing: Well that would be telling. Like everyone, I am convinced I have a novel in me somewhere, it's just being awkward on the getting out front.

The book I love most: 'The Three Musketeers' (Alexandre Dumas, pere)

The last book I received as a gift: Probably How Things Are Made (Sharon Rose and Neil Schlager)

The last book I gave as a gift: Either 'Serious' (John McEnroe) or 'Ronnie' (Ronnie O'Sullivan) which were Christmas presents to my Mum and Nan respectively.

The nearest book on my desk: 'Computing Made Easy For The Over 50s'. I suspect it of being my Mother's.
redfiona99: (matters scholastic)
Or advice I found useful.

Notice I say surviving and not passing, as far as I can tell passing your viva is between you, your supervisor, your examiners and whichever God or Gods or lack thereof you believe in.

1) It's not personal. Your examiners would grill you even if you were the reincarnation of Einstein. It's what they're there to do.

2) Find someone who has had a viva in a similar part of the field to you and ask them about it. They'll mention all the little things that someone who isn't in your particular field won't. In my case, L said they asked a lot of methodology questions, so I made sure to read up on it. I didn't get a lot of them, but the ones I got I knocked out of the park.

3) Don't panic. Yeah, I know, easy to say. It would be better to say accept the fear and the insomnia. They happen to everyone, do not worry about it.

4) You will end up unaccountably grumpy. At the oddest things. With me, the phrase most likely to set me off was 'don't worry, you'll be fine'. That also comes under the heading of things not to worry about.

5) This one is from my boss. Remember that you are the person in the world who knows the most about your thesis topic. You are the expert.

6) Also from my boss, and related to 1). Do not be overly defensive. There are going to be errors in your thesis that they are going to find. Going overly defensive will only raise their hackles and make them question you more.

PhD

Dec. 12th, 2010 01:13 pm
redfiona99: (Default)
I am now Dr. Red :D

Viva went well. They thought I knew my stuff, asked no difficult questions, their only problem was with the way I'd written my thesis. Basically I have to re-write my results section, or write it in the first place, really, it's somewhat underwritten as it stands. I've got two months to do it in, which I think is doable, because I've got all the information, it just needs to be put in.
redfiona99: (Default)
Yes, those exclamtion marks are deserved. Thanks for all your kind words the past couple of weeks.
redfiona99: (Default)
In the category of days where no one died or was seriously injured.

So my thesis was ready for printing at 11. By the time it was printed at 4.30, the binders had closed.

In between there was:
a fire alarm
one terrible print job that I refused to hand in
two different copies of the same edition of Microsoft Word giving completely different results (seriously, the difference in quality was ridiculous)
the most unhelpful AVS staff in the world
me losing my temper in the most ridiculous way ever
me waiting until 3 to figure out the answer to the problem because my brain just didn't connect some bright flashing dots

and

getting splashed by a passing truck.

I declare today to have been terrible.
redfiona99: (matters scholastic)
More sensibly, the end is in sight, but it takes 5 times longer than expected to do the appendix faffing.

PhD

Sep. 21st, 2010 01:14 am
redfiona99: (matters scholastic)
The first copy of the final draft is done. 166 pages or 24244 words. I never wish to see it again, but I know there are at least two more rounds of corrections (my supervisor's final ones and my viva corrections) in my future.
redfiona99: (Default)
Day 19 - Best TV show cast

I am going to use this as an excuse to mention Rome in this meme. Because there were no bad actors in it. When Tobias Menzies (Brutus) is the nearest thing you have to a weak link, that is one heck of a stacked cast.

The Other Days )

~~~~

As well as working on the PhD I have been working on some fic, some of which is now finished (finally, two years late in one case). With a couple of them it was just getting past a hurdle and then it was plain sailing from there (plain running maybe, to keep the analogy going). Seriously, with one fic, more got written last night than had been written for the past year.

Other ones have got stuck at interesting places (including one I can't talk about because it's a gift and it is stuck beyond the speaking of, argh!). The one that amuses me the most is a Sherlock Holmes (RDJ version) fic that was supposed to be a PWP. It has developed plot. I am writing a whole case to go with it, to the point where I'm not that interested in the porn bit. It's still going in, because the case doesn't make any sense without the porn, but it's now become plot with porn instead of porn without plot.

~~~~

Sadly, it doesn't take away from the nightmare I had last night where, because my library books were overdue, I couldn't graduate and it lead me into a life of ruin. I think it's mostly PhD stress making itself know.
redfiona99: (Default)
Day 18 - Favourite TV intro



I Dream Of Genie, mostly because I remember when I was watching when I was small and German speaking and loving the show, and not being able to remember it's name when I was slightly less small and in England, but the minute I saw the credits I knew I had the right show.

The Other Days )


~~~~

Rant:

Dear Supervisor,

I know you only want the best of me. But those positions you want me to apply for need you to have published a paper. I haven't and thus I cannot apply. I know you want me to e-mail people any way, and I will, but it takes me longer to gather up my courage than you might imagine.

Yours,

Red

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