So it’s been quite a while, and I’ll go back and write some updates about cool things that happened in the last few months, but I figured I’d go ahead and write about this one now!
All entering PhD students are “registered for no formal registration (NOTAF) until satisfactory progress has been made” and can say we are “registered for a a PhD (Probationary) or NOTAF” for the first year. The satisfactory progress includes a short presentation, a 40 page report, and an oral exam (known as a viva).
All in all, I passed. It wasn’t by any flying colors, but it wasn’t poor enough to look at failing me. This was aided by some of the circumstances regarding project handover and project definition being less than clean or clear for an extended period of time, so my progress was not held to such a high standard, nor has it made it to where I wish it was. My grasp on how to clearly deliver the underlying information, and in what order, was definitely lacking, which made for an uncomfortable few minutes.
The viva then turned from being grilled into a discussion, which proved very fruitful and thought provoking. We discussed ways and resources to improve my writing and undergo a longer writing process. They gave me advice on creating effective and concise figures, rather than my attempt to get my 11th hour data into the report. We discussed how to move forward with a project plan, which should prove most useful in the near future. Most importantly, we talked about the fact that I’ve been very detail oriented and have lost sight over the bigger picture, a skill I need to exercise and develop more.
This was a good and productive meeting for me. I feel both relieved to have gotten through it and excited to focus on improving in areas highlighted in the viva. I’m looking forward to spending the next few years in Cambridge developing my PhD.
Today was the big day, we made the move from the old building to the new building! After an afternoon and a morning of strenuously packing our desks and unplugging our computers, we have arrived in the new building and our new offices in West Cambridge.
It will take some getting used to, and my ability to socialize with the other first year students has gone up (seeing they all sit to my left), but I believe it’ll be a good change. I’ll be making full use of my headphone’s ability to drown out the noise around me.
7 April 2017 Update:
After a full week in the department, I think this will be a good space for us. The whiteboard has been put to good use as a mechanism to discuss and work out mathematical problems for simulations. The first years sitting together has been a good way to use each of our skills to further our work – Angiras’ ability to extract and summarize information quickly, Gustavo’s familiarity with the software that runs our simulations, my knowledge about shell scripting and programming, Kimberly’s calm demeanor around all of our chaos.
I also like the fact that the gym is across the street from the offices, so I’m finally getting my money’s worth of my gym membership I signed up for and rarely used because of rowing…
This week was a very special week as one of my longest and closest friends came to visit. Kelsey took her spring break to fly into London to spend a whole week with me! Yes, but why? Good question. I can barely stand to spend time with myself as it is, why would anyone fly 4,000 miles to voluntarily spend 9 days with me. She probably just had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire.
She few into London on Friday and went around and toured different museums while I finished off my work that afternoon. We had arranged to meet when my train got in around 6 at King’s Cross. To be honest, it really wasn’t real that I was getting to spend that time with her until I was able to spot her, dazed and exhausted, in between a few people at the station. We welcomed each other with a warm embrace as if no time had passed since I last seen her. In fact, it had been exactly a year since I had seen her.
We got to do a lot in London over that weekend, even having a productive day on Sunday before heading to Cambridge. We ate dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant and then turned in early Friday night. Saturday was seeing Big Ben, Westminster, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and London Tower all in one day! Kelsey got to see her friend from Clemson, Katie, and hang out for the afternoon. Before heading in for the night, we were able to walk around a giant mall at Sheppard’s bush. It’s YYUUUUGGGGE, the biggest. Jokes aside, it was so huge and filled with such fancy stores that it was just out of this world. It was a neat and mesmerizing walk.
Sunday we walked around Notting Hill, which was amazing. It reminded us of the prettier parts of Charleston and me of some of the quieter parts of places like Wilmington. The colors were lovely. I was able to capture what our trip looked like.
After Notting Hill, we went and rode the London Eye, which was much better than the Brazilian guy made it out to be. I enjoyed it during the day as much as I did during the evening* when I went with my family. After that, we headed back via Waterloo station where Kelsey proceeded to run into a bollard while taking a photo followed closely by me wearing half my sparkling water from Pret. We were on a roll there for that 20 minutes. After that we headed to a store that her friend point us to and stumbled across a place called Kingly Court. A neat little place that we immediately decided was going to be where we came back to eat next weekend.
Since I had Head of the River to prepare for, our mornings in Cambridge were much earlier than either of us really wanted them to be. I’d leave her in the morning, cox my crew to victory, then head to work before meeting her for lunch. Our favorite lunch was probably Peterhouse. It wasn’t so much the food as the fact that we showed up too early and spent 15 minutes walking around the gardens that I didn’t know existed.
Thursday night, Kelsey attended her first Formal Hall. Connor was able to book us, him, and his mom as part of the Engineering Formal Dinner for Churchill and they sat us away from them. We had a great time with good food and even better company.
Friday we went into London and I was kind enough to bring her stuff in for her so she didin’t have to carry it around all day… I figured this meant her suit case but I found a backpack when I came back for her stuff. -.- So I traveled to London on the train with her backpack, my backpack, and her suitcase – I was a sight to have been seen. We had our dinner at Kingly court and a restaurant called Brown and Whyte.
Saturday morning we had time before Kelsey had to head to the airport, so we went out for a late breakfast/brunch. I couldn’t convince her to order one herself, but I ordered the full English breakfast and got to show her what it was. She seemed convinced that she wouldn’t eat that much food for an entire day as I devoured the plate in front of me.
After our breakfast we had some time before she had to leave so we walked around a park near our AirBnB. It was interesting to sit and watch families in the park. The dogs that played and were well trained, the one that was not so well trained and ran off as the owners casually watched and followed later. It was interesting to see how independent the children were, riding around on their scooters – a stark difference between US and UK parents.
After the park, we walked to the tube station and headed our separate ways – her to the airport and me back towards King’s Cross. It was sad to watch her ride away on the Tube, but it’s nice knowing she’ll be back in May! Until next time!
This weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to host a friend from USC, Mackenize, as he finished off his spring break Europe trip.
This was the first time I was able to show someone from home a true tidbit of my life here in Cambridge. When he got in, we picked up food and then went to a Tequila tasting event at Claire College’s MCR Bar where he got to meet a lot of my chemical engineering friends. On Sunday, we had a couple friends take us to brunch at King’s College – a first trip to their dining hall for both of us. This was just after the International Women’s day celebration Hall and all the portraits of the men were covered by cardboard. A neat but worthless and meaningless gesture IMO. We all toured their chapel and went for ice cream. That afternoon, I headed out for rowing (preparing for Head of the River!) while he continued to explore town and figured out how he was getting back home. Our evening was filled with some good food and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something I had been meaning to do since arriving.
Monday morning was more rowing (he really got the full experience here) and hanging out with Mack before he had to head off. We meandered around the city and stopped for lunch before we had to say goodbye. As always, it was a pleasure to get to spend time with him. Can’t wait to see him next.
After a hard earned day of rest, we came out today focused and ready to chase down FaT3 before they caught Maggie m3. The weather was a bit windy again, and my start wasn’t as clean as it could have been, but we pressed hard, but not hard enough.
By the time we were coming around the first corner, we watched peterhouse get bumped behind us and FaT3 had bumped Maggie — the two boats in front and two behind us, Gone. Our hearts sank as we passed FaT3 knowing our chance of bumping them was gone. We still did our best to row on and, without words, we all turned our attention on that glimmer of hope of the overbump. Everyone in the boat silently agreed that no one would let up, we could feel it in the press of the blades as we put more pressure down with each call from the cox. “And… NOW! Legs one! legs two! legs three! …” was intermixed with calls from the bank “You’re gaining Binson!”
Against all logic of hope, we pushed on from about 5 lengths behind Magdalene, unbeknownst to us, with the last two thirds of the race to go. The radio station CamFM broadcasted, “Robinson will row over.”
As we entered the halfway point in the race, we heard more calls from the bank that we were gaining as more and more pain settled in, but no one let up and the cox, the birthday boy, got to work his magic, sitting at about four lengths back.
“Here we go boys, we’re three lengths off of them, give me three tens here… Now! Swing one!…” our cox demanded; the pain continued to set in, but we pushed harder. Shouts of “They’re falling apart! Get them Binson!” distantly rolled in from the coaches on the side; the pain continued to build, but no one lost hope. “Good, boys, two lengths! SWING, NOW! SWING, One!… ” Our muscled cried out in pain, deprived of oxygen; our minds wondered if we had enough race course to catch them, but we pushed through each stroke.
As we begun approaching the railway bridge, we heard the whistle, the Holy sign to say we were within one length. We pushed harder, moving it to two whistles – indicating a half a length between us and their stern as we passed under the bridge. Our bodies pleaded and ached for us to stop after this 8 minutes of oxygen deprived torture, yet, everyone agreed to push on without ever uttering a word.
We exited the bridge. Whistles came from the bank. Crews waiting to go off shouted and cheered. The distractions were at an all time high as our bodies tries to tell us ‘no more, no more’. Our cox yelled to us: “Finish them, NOW! HOOK, SEND! HOOK, SEND!…” The whistles stopped and were replaced by shouts of “CANVAS!!” From the bank to say we were less than 4m off them. In agony we all pushed, knowing they were within reach and the end was approaching soon. I could look over and see the stern of their boat as we took the final strokes, catching the blade of their stroke seat.
The arm of their cox went up and ours yelled “Hold it up! Hold it up!” That was it, we had done it, achieved an overbump! Exhausted, we pulled off to the side, cheering and screaming out of both joy and agony.
In these moments, everything that I love about the sport came together for eight and a half beautiful minutes. The rowers all endured pain of immense agony as the oxygen was stripped from our muscles. We, all eight of us, answered the question “what will you do when it hurts, when you have no reason to believe and push harder?” Silently and in harmonious unison, we answered back: be our best, stay focused and determined, push hard, and trust every other member of the crew to do the same under the leadership of our cox and coaches. Our cox was faced with “How will you motivate and lead your crew when you know what mountains of challenges they are facing?” And answered with level-headed control, judgement, and communication; with mutual respect and trust. Today, our team became something more than the sum of the individuals in the boat. Today, our team accomplished something special, an overbump. Today, it became apparent to everyone that we have a team bond filled with unending trust, respect, and determination. Today, we validated every early wake up, every cold morning outing, every evening erg session, every reason why we trust and believe. Even luckier for me, today, we caught it all on video.
Tomorrow, one final push, one final outing towards blades.
My mental focus and physical resilience was put to the test today. Less than 30m from the boat house, a pedestrian blindly stepped out into the sidewalk. Pedro slammed on his breaks coming to a stop before hitting him. Unfortunately, my brakes didn’t fare as well and I clipped Pedro’s back tire, sending myself tumbling into the street. With just as much bruising to my pride as my legs, I quickly gathered my belongings and begun to walk to the boat house. Luckily, I was just a bit bruised up and left with a little bit of road rash through my jeans, but after a few stretches and a couple minutes on the erg, I determined I was still in good enough shape to row. Putting the accident behind me, I honed in on the challenge ahead.
As if that was not enough of a test, we rowed through a flock of birds who flew away in all different directions, but not without one skillfully hitting me with excrement. At this point I felt I had two options — the easier being to let myself be mad and flustered that these two events had happened to me, losing focus and thinking just about myself; or, to put it behind me and let it go, to focus in on what was to come. I washed off that part of my jacket, considered myself lucky, and placed the last 30 minutes behind me.
With a new order and a new comprehension of the process, we rowed down to the marshaling area with the same hard fought determination. We knew we had an angry Churchill M2 behind us, and a slow Claire Hall ahead of us.
BANG! Off we went. Our start was clean and powerful today. Our focus was sharp and locked. We all knew what was needed – put the blade in the water and push, push hard.
Our work was rewarded by quickly closing in on Claire Hall within the first 600 m of the race, bumping them with our hardest effort off the start yet.
Due to our failure to understand how to use the GoPro, we ended up with a slideshow set to music chosen not by us…
Over the last few days of 2016 and for the beginning of 2017, I had my first friend visit, Josh. Unfortunately, unforeseen to me, all of the colleges were closed for break, which I learned while my family was here. So, instead of touring around the colleges, we spent a lot of time reading, working out, and playing Halo. Josh seemed open to this, even though I doubt it was his ideal version of the trip.
For new years, we skipped out on going to London and stayed in Cambridge, hanging out with some Gates students to ring in the new year. The company was great, games fun, and drinks plentiful. Sadly, we didn’t do anything to watch a count down. I don’t think this is because the countdown is not as big of a deal here as in the US, I think this was just more we didn’t make an effort to find it online. Instead, someone just counted down from ten off their phone, we all chanted, declared happy new year, and blissfully put 2016 and its problems behind us for the evening. Some people scoffed at this notion, reminding us that yesterday’s problems aren’t solved by the turn of a calendar, we drunkenly asked them to let us have the night and to remind us tomorrow.
After recovering on New Year’s Day, myself, Josh, Alex and Marisa flew to Barcelona to escape the grey blanket and see some sun and blue skies for a few days before returning to work. Immediately, I wished I understood more Spanish, a feeling that has been growing with my encounter with more international students. The city was lovely and the food was amazing, but I couldn’t help but feel like a pampered guest in the city. People talk about Barcelona as the nightlife where everyone parties until the break of dawn, which is not the side of Barcelona or any culture I want to see.
Some of the coolest stuff that I did see was the idea of how much history did occur in Barcelona, with the Catalonians and the explorers. Standing on the same steps where Columbus would have walked to ask for money or have returned with Native Americans was quite a powerful thought. I learned to look up free walking tours where you tip your guide at the end. These were fun and informative. We took a Paella cooking class where we took part in preparing and cooking Paella and making Sangria. Josh made a great bartender. Lastly, I look forward to touring la Sagrada de Familia on the inside instead of just the outside.
Last March, I told my mother I wasn’t coming home for Christmas. As the look of devastation begun to appear, I told her that she would have to come visit if she wanted to see me at Christmas. This gave me two benefits: (1) I didn’t have to worry about making plans to travel home and (2) my mother would focus on planning a trip and not me leaving all summer. And it finally happened! They arrived at the Heathrow airport last week!
We got to spend a few days in London. Our airbnb was out just a few metro stations away from the middle of all the tourist attractions, so it was a nice place to be, but the building with the windows knocked out across the road from the metro stop was a little unnerving.
Some of the best experiences we had in London we had was seeing Wicked and visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide. James booked us tickets to see Wicked, which I got to see in NYC. I really enjoyed seeing it a second time because it was like rewatching a movie or book — you got to catch all the foreshadowing. I was able to recall some of the clues after watching it the first time, but it was amazing to see how much I missed the first time.
The slide was 80m tall and takes 40 seconds to slide down, and Alex was able to convince James to do it. Here they are admiring their challenge, and conquering their challenge.
James was a little less enthusiastic about enduring the slide than Alex was. He’s lowered the amount of time he’s willing to endure anything from 40s to 30s…
After venturing around London, we headed to Cambridge to spend time there. Alex had to leave the day after Christmas and I got to spend a couple of days with my parents, hanging out, and visiting the Ely Cathedral before they headed home.
Well, I cannot believe that the first term is over. Like the rest of my time here, it has flown by. The term was filled with lots of new friends, reading textbooks, compiling software (LOTS of unsuccessful attempts), tea times with the group, lunch with the first years in the department, lectures on new topics, enough alcohol to drown a fish, enough formal halls and good food to keep me satisfied, and about three department holiday parties.
Out of all of that, I think the three holiday parties was the biggest surprise. I’ll raise my glass to the next one.
The scene begins.
Setting: A fancy Mansion just on the outside of town.
Cue the Porsche 911 pulling around; camera shows legs getting out of the car.
Cut to ground level view following the person towards the door.
Door opens to reveal the black tie party with food, drinks, poker, music…
Cut to a view of Bond, James Bond, walking through the door.
Okay — it really didn’t happen that way — but it was really close.
The night is best described like this: imagine 200 of the coolest people you know getting to dressed up in fancy dresses and tuxedos to hang out, drink, dance, play poker, silent disco, and just have a blast with all of your friends around. It really just was a magical night to hang out with friends.
The silent disco spilled out and consumed the entire house as Titanium was sung at the top of people’s lungs — sung being a generous use of the verb.