Category Archives: Work

Passed my First Year Viva!

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.

New Building!

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…

End of my first term

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.

Hedgehogs do exist!

Although this news that hedgehogs do exist will not be a revelation to many of you, I can say I saw my first hedgehog outside of captivity. I was walking one early morning and out of the corner of my eye I see a black blur climb up on the sidewalk and go towards bushes and stop. Thinking that I must be losing my mind, I walked over to try to identify the leaf, plastic bag, or crumpled up advertisement that just rolled up on the curb. I cross the road and get closer to my subject only to have a little hedgehog face staring back at me! We locked eyes, both confused by the others presence, until the hedgehog defense mechanisms kicked in — it turned around and buried its face in some leaves, the classic “I can’t see you so you can’t see me”-trick. Excited and perplexed by this encounter, I left the frightened creature alone and continued along my way.

Although I truly saw one, I really wondered why and how the possibility of the encounter ever occurred… After a quick google search of “Do hedgehogs live in the UK” (this was the second returned suggestion, I’m apparently not the only one), I have learned that hedgehogs are apparently fairly common in the UK and under threat. This is a much happier theory than a child lost his hedgehog one afternoon …

Churchill Formal Hall Candlelight

Anyway, the food here is really not as bad as I anticipated. I’ve been able to bake a few chicken breasts and some potatoes to put with a salad to take for lunch most days, and I’ve cooked a few dinners a week and eaten at formals and out the rest of the time. I guess I’m spoiling myself when it comes to formal hall food – award winning chefs are hired to plan the menu and cook, so the food is always extravagant  and delicious.  Plus, it’s kinda fun and a good reason to leave work to go get dressed up in suits for dinner. I just need to invest in more formal wear…

Sunrise over the Cam from Magdelen Boat House
Sunrise over the Cam from Magdelen Boat House

A little back to reality here… work (school) is going well. I’m I’ve finished my third week in lab (sitting at my desk) and have been learning quite a bit. Most of my day is split a couple different tasks – learning the theory  and numerical processing behind Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and learning how to use two different CFD programs – OpenFOAM (an open source C++ CFD library) and STAR-CCM+ by CD-Adapco and Siemens – as well as some additional software that is used by our lab (including LaTeX and a Linux cluster). As one could imagine, the licensed, corporately developed code is a little better when it comes to the Graphical User Interface… In the long run, I will be using CFD to model combustion and will hopefully couple this to other work my lab does, but for now, there’s a lot to learn before I get there. I’m trying hard to make sure to take ample notes to be able to install all of the CFD programs all over again as well as have a small packet of condensed CFD theory for next years graduate students – it’s a hair more time consuming, but good practice.

West Cambridge Sunrise
West Cambridge sunrise on the way back from the gym

Outside of the working hours, I’ve been enjoying rowing more and more. Robinson’s boat club has finally divided up the novices into two teams and Pedro and I made the first novice male boat, NM1. We had our first outing as a crew on Thursday morning and it went very well. I’m anxiously looking forward to tomorrows outing and the Queen’s Ergs event as well (comically, I noticed they use the same WordPress theme as me). Since I need to be awake early for rowing a few times a week, I’ve decided to make mornings my gym time on the off days. I’ve been making it about 3/4 of the time, but I think I’ll get better about it.

Sunset off Pembroke Street where I work.
Sunset off Pembroke Street where I work.

I think I’m also finally getting over this cough that I’ve had for two months now. The first round of antibiotics didn’t do anything and the chest pains got worse. I’m now on a more aggressive antibiotic that covers pneumonia and various strains of bronchitis and my cough has subsided greatly and pain is less frequent. I’m hoping it goes away entirely. The surgery here (doctors office) did recommend me for a chest x-ray and a spirometry (breathing) test. I’m curious if they’ll show inflammation.

This afternoon, I’m headed to London with my friend Danny to go see IAMX in concert. We’re hoping to catch one of the last trains out, but we’re gonna play it by ear.

First Day as a Graduate Student

Back in high school, a little over five years ago, I remember sitting in my first research lab, performing ATR-FTIR measurements on dyed fabrics for two hours at a time after school, loving every minute of it. It was then, a little over five years ago, that I decided I would go to Graduate School to do a PhD…

Fast forward two years, it’s Sophomore (2nd) year at University of South Carolina. The workload feels like it could crush me from all the piles of textbooks and hand written homework assignments, and all I wanted to do was be in the lab problem solving, collecting data, and expanding the edge of science. All I wanted to do was be done with college and on to grad school…

Two more years pass. The workload is quite literally killing me. The 110 hour work week was maintained by 2-4 hours of sleep during the week, many meals were missed, friendships seemed to fall apart right and left. The applications felt endless, and I did even fewer than I wanted. Life decisions felt like giant stones to be carried up the mountain. I really doubted if I wanted to go to grad school, whether this was all worth it.

Today. Today was my first day as a “Graduate Student”. Okay, you’re right, technically term started last week and I went to safety training, I know. But today, was my first day sitting at my desk and beginning a new adventure of learning and growing as an academic, an intellectual, and a person.

It feels weird knowing I’ve made it. Nothing feels all that different from five years ago, but nothing feels the same. Everything about this experience is new, but yet, so familiar.

I really haven’t done much yet. I attended more safety lectures, seen enough gruesome pictures of lab accidents that I should be afraid to use scissors to cut paper without causing a spark to ignite a gas leak from the floor below me, set up my desk, begun setting up my computer, read a few pages out of a paper, and got my mug (and promptly told them that my work here was done and I could go home a happy man).

Using my new mug at the Department's morning tea time.
Using my new mug at the Department’s morning tea time.

I don’t really know how to describe this feeling — accomplishment, triumph, a halfway viewpoint along a long academic journey, excitement, anticipation, a medley of these and many more. But today, I can finally say “I am a grad student”.