Sunday, 10 June 2018

PhD Rome to Rome Part 3: Impressions and Teachings

The final part of my blog series about Rome! Over my first and second blogposts, I have detailed my engineering conference experience which was particularly special as I was in Rome, and in fact, Italy for the first time. This was likely my last conference trip as a PhD student, as I am approaching the time of my PhD where I can go nominal and I am doing my final experiments before I can complete writing my final thesis. Still, weeks after my trip to Rome I can tell it has left an impression on me that I am still trying to understand.

The Design, Test, Integration, and Packaging of MEMS/MOEMS conference (DTIP) affiliated with IEEE, took place in Rome this year and I was thrilled. Thrilled because my work was deemed novel and contributes to the existing electronic textiles, wearable technology, packaging field. However, also I got to present my work in an incredible part of the world - that I have heard rave reviews about.

Of course, an experience about a place is influenced by the perspective and experiences felt by the traveler and so my experience visiting Rome would be very different to others who attended the conference and got the chance to sight-see. Although I was only in Rome for 3-4 days, I still felt that as I was boarding the plane back to London, UK that Rome as a destination has a lot to teach. Spending my short yet sweet time in Rome, I realised that Rome taught me:

1) That life can reveal a surprise around the corner: 
During the sightseeing evening in Rome, that I recalled in the second blogpost of this series, a group of us wandered through the streets of Rome and were drawn to the sounds of clapping, amusement, and strings. Turning from a main road to a walk-through alleyway our view dramatically changed from the whizzing streets of Rome to a street performer who had quite the international reputation.

This man's talent had created a formation of a 30-40 strong crowd. Viktor Angelov's performance caused a neat and naturally formed circular audience. Like me, the crowd were magnetised by the mastery in how he played notes and the bravado at which he played his violin. What set him apart, was that he was very casually dressed as he swayed and moved with his violin. He played his own classical arrangements of well-known songs today such as Ed Sheeran's 'Let It Out Loud'. According to a person in our walking group, this famous musician was traveling around Europe and playing out in the open - almost like a tour. He played for free, and went back to basics like how some famous musicians start by becoming a busker. He had a violin case on the floor to collect tips, CDs on a stand with a handwritten sign with a price. It was a wonderful amazement to find such a treasure in the streets of Rome.

2) Every day offers a new place to discover: 
A PhD professor from San Antonio recommended to me that before I left Italy there was a hidden gem to be discovered. As he kindly pulled out a map and whizzed his finger across the roads from the conference venue to the destination he recommended, I nodded with enthusiasm as he detailed the sights he saw and the feelings he felt as he visited Basilica Saint Maria delgi Angeli e dei Martiri. On the morning of the penultimate day of the conference, I had my breakfast with a view at my hotel and took a walk on my own to explore the area.

 A 5 minute walk from my hotel I saw impressionable feats of road-side architecture.

As I walked with no plan but only fueled by curiosity I found myself in front of Basilica Saint Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri and smiled to myself at how close it was to my hotel. I was in awe of the poignancy of this place of worship.

Before taking any photos, I was compelled to just stand in the middle and just take all the artistry and scale of the place properly. Then I began snapping away.

I left the place with an appreciation of life, giving, and how much possibility there is in the world to produce a lasting beauty however large or small.

3) Never be a litter bug:
One thing that struck me about Rome was the lack of bins. Talking to PhD students and academics at the DTIP conference one question that was posed to me was, "Have you not noticed the litter in Rome?" Well, to be honest, whenever I travel to a new place I never carry a clipboard and tick off a checklist rating its cleanliness. When I arrived at Rome and was getting my bearings, any signs of rubbish faded into the background as it was irrelevant compared to the beautiful buildings and smells of freshly made food that caught one's attention.

Hanging washed clothes from windows of multi-scale buildings were mindfully at the back, not to kill the romantic appearance that buildings in Rome seem to evoke. Clothes that floated in the breeze had as much character as the patriotic Italian flags. The only time I realised the presence of rubbish was when my patience was tested  - to be or not to be a litter bug? That was a tough question.

Having taken my sweet time to devour some delectable gelato in Rome, naturally followed the need to throw it away in a bin. I kid you not, I was walking 15-20 minutes after eating my gelato and I did not walk past a single bin as we walked. I ended up throwing it away in one of those large, community bins that dustbin service trucks empty. Maybe I was expecting to find small bins on the corner of a street or along a street - like in the UK - but would that not be wrong? Every place has different customs, different ways of doing things, and different motivations. Honey, these are bins. Give a lady a bin to drop off her rubbish to be a mindful and law-abiding citizen!

4) Look left, look right, pray, then walk:
This became my mantra as I crossed the roads in Rome. Rome is a place full of high energy. People walk with high energy, people use hand gestures with high energy, people drive with high energy. Compare that to me - who has bundles of high energy but reserves it for particular moments and crossing the road is not one of them. Crossing the road should be a low energy task in one's day compared to other daily occurrences. Crossing the road in Rome puts you in an overwhelmingly, energetically, highly frantic state. A moment I can find comparable to crossing the road in Rome is before playing a dancing arcade game like Dance Dance Revolution when you have absolutely pitiful coordination and laughable rhythm - there is a strong possibly that you will make a complete fool of yourself and fail hard but yet you have no choice but to try not to. Making it across a road in Rome successfully is effectively a momentum feat of not failing.

Rules of the road in Rome are essentially non-existent with motorbikes curving round corners side by side with cars. As if they are battling with one another, motorists squeeze between the pedestrian pavement, the pedestrian, and cars. Pedestrians form on either side of the road to cross wanting to cross, vehicles and motorists throttle at what you hope are law-abiding speeds down the road. The only way for a pedestrian to make it to the other side of the road is - which defeats all logic - to cross the road whilst vehicles are driving at high speeds. Somehow, in a miraculous fashion the vehicles slow down within two seconds of reaching you. Quite the art form. Still, it sends a shiver down your spine and makes your heart do a jive in your chest!

5) Military presence can make you feel safe:
Any form of protection in the day and age we live in is welcomed. However, in Rome, I did not expect to see how forward the military were in making their presence known. Every 15-20 minutes or so, the roads featured a camouflage army vehicle filled with 6-7 soldiers. At first, I was not sure if there was a high-profile event occurring during the days I spent in Rome. Such would explain their frequent visibility. It then occurred to me, that they could actually be patrolling the streets.

During the sightseeing evening, we walked to the Colosseum and as the wonderful view approached there lined rifle-holding soldiers in camouflage positioned to guide tourists a particular route to the tourist attraction. Any sight of rifle-holding soldiers is enough to make a citizen feel on edge but the soldiers were very friendly, would answer questions about the region, overall helped you feel safe and comfortable with their otherwise domineering presence. To this day, I am not sure what I was meant to kept safe from, but I felt very happy and at ease that they were there. I guess this was a sign that they achieved their purpose.

6) Take your time to marvel at history: 
One the penultimate day of the conference, attendees had an official tour of Rome with a tourguide. In some sense, the route this tourguide took us all on was more insightful than the spontaneous weave around Rome a small handful of us took on a whim the previous evening.

Having a local who knows the area and shares the histories and intricacies of a place is such a special moment you can experience when abroad. Our tourguide took us to main roads, side roads, had us walk through archways, made us peek between columns to reveal different viewpoints of Rome's key tourist attractions.

It forced me to move at slower pace to appreciate the surroundings that Rome offered - which are very different to those of the UK.

Choosing to listen to the tourguide was optional - and had to be so as sometimes his mic was far away from his hand as he enthusiastically pointed to areas of interest or explained emotive stories about areas of the city. To marvel became a verb that I became reacquainted with.

Due to the change in pace a PhD forces you to operate at, I personally find that I lack moments where I could appreciate my surroundings or even feel strong or heightened emotion for things that typically engage my senses and/or attention. Rome reminded me that there is enjoyment in taking the time to marvel and I should do it more often.

7) Food in Rome is not Over-hyped:
From breakfast in my hotel to the lunches at the DTIP conference, moments eating food in Rome were so great that I wish I could be in the happy state it put me in for much longer than the time taken to eat the food. To try and put into words how impressive food is in Rome would actually be a dis-service. Words would never be as comparable to experiencing the taste of the fresh ingredients married with the careful handling and respect the chefs had for the food they cooked and prepared. Yet, if the wonderful Anthony Bourdain who recently passed away could describe food and taste so effortlessly and majestically I am sure that I can have a go.

Food in Rome was not loud. It was not showy, it did not elbow its way to the forefront of your awareness, it did not gloat. Yes, food in Rome has a reputation for being amazing but advertisements for food was not very visible as you walked around the streets. What got you weak in the knees, made your lips tremble, saliva tickle the corners of your mouth, and you stomach ache for food was the enticing smell of it. Lunchtime became moments of the day I became excited for during the conference. With no menu beforehand, I had no idea what they were serving and what combinations of food would be presented. Over the three days, I ate tomato with penne pasta, lasagne stacked with cheese and vegetables, herb-laden salads with a signature of balsamic to dress it, freshly made bread to wipe all the goodness up, to be left with a love-drunk brain ruminating over all the flavours and textures I consumed in the hour and a half before the next technical conference session. As I wrote before in a previous blogpost, food in Rome was delicate yet delicious.

At first bite, you knew that you were eating something that was fresh, authentic, and was joyously simplistic. Colours of the food were bright and vibrant. When conference attendees were unknowingly treated to a 6-course meal at a restaurant to end our guided tour of Rome, we sat in a quaint restaurant tucked away in a tourist-deserted alleyway. We ate, drank, and hugged our stomachs merrily between courses. Do not take my word for it, do go to Italy and try the food there yourself  - it is a life's pleasure.

8) Always make time for the classics:
In my final day in Rome, I had a little bit more time take a tourist trip to the Pantheon and it did not disappoint. I will just let the photos speak from themselves.

This marks the end of the blog series! It has been a joy to write, and it seems it has had quite the interest online. Now, onto completing my final experiments and finding out what the next chapter is going to entail after my PhD.

Take Courage,


*All these photos belong to me and were taken by me. Please do not use without permission. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

PhD Roam to Rome Part 2: Sightseeing

In this second edition detailing my delightful few days 'conferencing' in Rome, this is the blogpost for all the travel photography lovers. Yes, it is the sightseeing blogpost.

Beyond the Shadows

Following on from my previous blogpost, my first experiencing sight-seeing in Rome was practically with strangers. I met a few PhD students at the Design, Test, Integration, and Packaging of MEMS/MOEMS (DTIP-MEMS) conference, had just learnt their names, and within the hour we were all walking together through the streets with a map to guide us to a trail of tourist attractions.

It was an adventure in Rome. A serendipitous moment that became a bonding experience! We met at the conference venue and walked deeper into Rome's centre. Rome is a timeless place and it seems rather unbelievable how the locals can go about their day, doing their errands without gawking at their surroundings. Or even take a moment to stop, sit, and just appreciate the beautiful architecture. Barmy, really.

Perched by the Moon

Rome really shakes up your senses. Its alluring traits forces you to wake up, look alive, pay attention. All that remains is your mind expanding to be able to comprehend how much history and preservation has occurred in order for these structures to still be standing today.

It was truly incredible to see Rome with my own eyes. From the historic Colosseum, to the charming doorknobs which seem to express their own personalities and hint at histories of their own.

In These Streets

The colours of the buildings were very summer-tonal yet its also revealed the passing of time. You got a sense that the colours before used to be more saturated and loud but as you look at them you also gather that the colours have aged gracefully. The overall effect was a warm filter-like quality when looking around Rome and you could not help but sigh with gladness - I am sure I was not the only one.

The ruins of Foro Della Pace

The sounds of Rome were an orchestra of hooting horns, running engines, the mummurs of standby soldiers, the slurrping of thirst quenching drinks, and the smacking of lips after the soul satisfying (really) taste of Italian gelato. The chatters of tourists, the snapping of cameras, the playful splashes of water fountains, the hard-sell commentary of selfie-sticks, bracelets, and costume-wearers.

Altare della Patria and Piazza Venzia

We walked through Rome for around three hours, and within this time we got gelato and happily got lost on our way back to our starting point. During this time, we learnt about each other's countries, interests, research, and once strangers we ended the night as acquaintances.

Trevi Fountain

I slept with only gelato in my tummy for dinner. I was in for a restless night, but I was happy. I finally got to see the Colosseum with my own eyes after having it as my laptop background since the start of 2018 - with only a dream and ambition to go there this year.

Seeing the Colosseum

Soon, part three on my thoughts of Rome!

Take Courage,


*All photos are mine and are taken by me, please do not use without my permission

Monday, 28 May 2018

PhD Roam to Rome Part 1: Hotel and Engineering Conference

As I video-chatted my friend in London about my four-day conference trip to Rome, naturally he asked me how my experience was. Upon answering, I stopped to think a while, I hummed as my eyes edged towards to the upper corners of the room - something I do before going deep in thought. I then replied, "You know, one thing you can say about Rome is that it is un-apologetically beautiful."

I have always wanted to travel to Rome ever since I saw footage of it in films when I was a teenager. As I have progressed through my PhD, I have gained friends who originate from Italy and have gotten glimpes of their culture. From how they interact with each other, to how they reminisce about their homeland. My trip to Rome was not of complete leisure but for a conference trip! In my likely last conference before I go nominal for my PhD - yes almost there! - I took a four day visit to Rome last week to fulfill my duties as part of my paper publication at the Design, Test, Integration, and Packaging of MEMS/MEOMS (DTIP) 2018 conference. A talk and poster presentation was asked of me by the conference committee, and eating pizza, pasta, and other Italian delights was asked of me by my excitable appetite.

I am going to split my account of Rome visit into three parts, as my trip had three distinct themes:
1. Where I stayed and my time at the Conference
2. Sightseeing
3. Impressions of Rome

So, onto the first part!

When I found out I got into the DTIP Conference I leaped for joy and danced the running-man (because no-one was watching). What was great about this particular conference for me was that it is affiliated with the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE is a professional technical institution that any PhD Electronic Engineering candidate strives to have a publication with. As a result, this particular publication will be accessible online via the IEEE Xplore Database! Additionally, I have had an image of Rome's coliseum as part of my laptop background since the start of 2018. I had this image to remind me daily of my ambition to go to Rome this year. So, the fact that I was actually fulfilling a goal I set myself by going to Rome was a really proud moment for me.

Though, it only registered that I was actually travelling to Rome as I passed airport security and boarded the plane. I had an arm injury earlier this year which rendered me unable to type, write, and do day-to-day activities. Even up to my flight, I was experiencing pain but a positive conversation with doctors meant it was good for me to travel. As a result, I was so preoccupied with my health whilst ensuring my experiments and research were on track my anticipation for travel was incredibly delayed. Concerns over my health slowly faded into embracing the new opportunities and experiences I would experience in Rome - but first I had to find the hotel. It was dark when I arrived, and navigating the hyperactive Roman streets to get to my temporary home for a couple of days was something I was eager to finish. I wanted to experience this adorable and impressionable hotel as soon as I could: Hotel Diana Roof Garden.

Hotel Diana Roof Garden, Roma
 When I was selecting a hotel to stay in Rome, one attitude I deployed was "if the hotel you are staying at is no better than your place in your home country, you might as well stay at home!" This was a chance to treat myself - but still spend wisely of course! Priorities for me were walking distance from Rome Termini station, from the conference venue, and nearby any tourist attractions. As I booked my hotel months before attending the conference I was truly spoilt for choice. What set apart Hotel Diana Roof Garden among the other hotels is in its name, roof garden. The Gallery section of their website really gave a sense of the atmosphere in Rome which is what I was searching for when selecting a hotel. The frugal part of me who always loves a bargain was pleased at savings from (this blogpost is not sponsored). With my hotel choice, I was less than 10-minutes walk from the station, conference venue and had tourist attractions surrounding me.

Single Room in Hotel Diana Roof Garden, Roma
To save money further I booked a single room. Despite this, the room was still spacious, and the size of the single bed seemed slightly larger than that in the UK. Its theme was subtle floral prints and with dusky pink drapes and bed runners. The room came with ample storage space, a mini bar, a wall-mounted flat screen TV where I could browse Italian shows and pick up a few words, an ensuite bathroom, and a view... of an adjacent building (and not the pretty side). Nonetheless, the lack of view from the bedroom was highly compensated by the AMAZING panoramic view of Rome I got to experience every morning as I ate breakfast.

Panoramic views of Rome from Hotel Diana Roof Garden

A light breakfast to start the day in Rome

Special details around the rooftop garden at Hotel Diana, Roma
With a spring in my step, and with slight humour with walker-bys calling me 'Bella' in the street, it was a short walk to the conference venue called Centro Congressi Cavour. To actually enter the building I first had to cross the road. In the UK, people may have grown up with those road safety adverts featuring singing hedgehogs - yes, with children's TV anything is possible. All the lessons that were ingrained into my memory from watching these adverts caused such inner turmoil when trying to cross a street in Rome. More on this in part three of this series!

As I exhaled in relief for somehow making it on the other side of the pavement, I became acquainted with the conference rooms, the academics, and fellow PhD students who were attending.

Attending the Design, Test, Integration, and Packaging of MEMS/MEOMS Conference in Rome
My presentation was on the first day. My nerves kicked in as the numbers of speakers before me started to reduce. I was feeling the pressure, but realised that this could be a chance to overcome fear and one thing I could control was my breathing and this helped me stay somewhat calm. It was not long before it was just me to give an overview of my research poster to close the conference session of that day. I had to make a first impression to 30-40 leading academics and PhD students from around the world, whilst enticing them to talk to me more during the poster exhibition. Importantly, I was trying with all my might not to say the dreaded two letter word - "um". Moments like these I thank my lucky stars that I was chosen to play the narrator in childhood theatre - I know how to project my voice, control rhythm, and tone. Yet, a tip my Mum gave me the night before my presentation was to count two seconds between sentences to mitigate the impulse of saying the 'two letter word I shall no longer write down'. It actually worked! This presentation was probably my best to date, and I look forward to presenting in the future with what I learnt and applied at DTIP. I had a flurry of curious Professors and PhD students at my poster and a few business cards as they parted - I would count this as a success!

Empty room at Centro Congressi, the DTIP Conference venue
As the first day ended, and I laughed with PhD students over drinks whom I met during the day the evening took an unexpected turn. It has happened the last two conferences I have attended. Every single time I make sure to be more courageous by having less seconds pass before I say yes. A few PhD students at the conference and I were talking after the poster showcase and they asked me if I wanted to take a tour with them of Rome in the evening. It was not long before a group of us strolled into the depths of Rome where three hours of sightseeing awaited us. I was eager for camera shots and gelato.

More on what happened in Part 2 of this blogpost series!

Take Courage,


All photos are taken by me, please ask for permission before use. 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017, what a year.

A break from the lab for a conference trip, Amsterdam

This post marks a 4 month reunion with my blog. Crack out the champagne, tea bags, or coffee granules to celebrate. It feels invigorating to have the inspiration of writing again; flowing through my fingertips at the right timing - the last day of 2017. What a year it has been. A year of triumphs, tests, tribulations, and trust - 2017 has been a defining year in my life.

Butterflies of life, after reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

As someone who likes to write and enjoys the process of stringing words together to make a daisy chain of, what I hope are, meaningful sentences - one could not possibly believe that I did not write at all over these last 4 months!

I have been writing, a lot! Writing forms, logging in my PhD book, drafting conference papers, journals, thank you post-it notes, job applications, and I have been working on a very special writing project over the festive period. So, even now as I write this I ask myself:

         If I was quite content with writing away from blogging for almost half a year, why come back? Why come back to a hobby that it seems evident I can live without?

Well, because this blog for me is more than just detailing the present. It is wrapping up the past into a parcel of hindsight to remind myself of the lessons going through adulthood and an STEM career brings.
The main reason I started this blog was to detail my life through engineering and technology, to show others interested in the field what a life could be like. Also, it was to widen a perception of the personalities, backgrounds, and interests of people within STEM have. Lastly, it acts as a viral diary to capture all the life lessons I have learnt through this journey, one day to look back on and maybe even pass down. So, this blog will always be relevant. It is a timeless venture, unbounded by trends. It is as important as self-reflection, self-perception, and personal growth for me.

Wandering through London museums

London catch-up at Coppa Club

I was a Science judge for a local Primary school this summer! A week before my PhD transfer viva

2017 is the year I found the bellow of my voice. The feeling that makes you believe yourself when you speak. That feeling of knowing that you can articulate to make others understand an honest version of yourself. This has been manifested through passing my transfer viva, discussing about visions of the wearables/electronic textiles field with technical interviewers, and even having conversations I did not want to have because it required a strength I was not sure I possessed yet. Certainly, this year has made my confidence feel more durable.

Sixth Form reunion in Greenwich, London

With regards to my research, 2017 has been a year of wisdom and growth. PhD life is not just about researching and experimenting novel concepts and systems. Additionally, what is paramount in the PhD experience are the moments where you need to persevere emotionally and physically through perceived and actual barriers. I realise now that doing a PhD has made me 21.999% less an optimistic person (haha) in that with most ventures I make these days there is a slight fog of "This will not work because of X". Those moments of doubt, nonetheless annoying, are incredibly helpful. Engineering wise, it has made me plan my work with the intention to maximise success and reduce failure. It has encouraged me to reach out, and pick the brains of individuals I can learn from before beginning a plan of action.
I am now in a position that I can publish work, the penultimate prototype of my work is completed, and I have built a network of reliable, intelligent, and helpful people - all through using doubt to highlight what I want to accomplish and encourage me to accomplish.

Snapshots of my conference trip to Barcelona

Towards the end of 2017, I have really been enjoying the process of living life. Friends that know me realise that I am an in-depth planner. I like to know all my options and mentally prepare myself for scenarios that may arise from an outcome. Yet, I realise now that in some respects this removes the magic of life. By not allowing life to unfold and always having a tight grip it removes the fun of suspense. That is not to say that thinking about the future and how scenarios can unravel is not a good thing. At times, it has saved me from going through options that had no positive outcome. What I do understand is that it is good to define the structure of a desire, goal, or outcome but not knowing how it will actually come to be is absolutely fine. That is what time is for, and be aware that inspiration and information can come from unlikely sources.

Finding refuge in Bristol

One year older

Dinner party invite

A place to have great conversation and a cosy sit down

Appreciating the sunset ambience between assignments

Wandering through the streets of Brighton

There have been many moments in 2017 where I seemed certain I should take a decision to achieve a goal but life did not turn out that way. Like the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) talk I was meant to give but had to retract my intention. I ended up turning down an IBM research internship I wanted at the time, but other priorities surfaced that I had to complete. Both were very, very, hard decisions to make but with hindsight the best decisions. Making hard decisions become easier, I have learnt, when you trust your judgement and know what you need.

Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), London

Display of innovative technology, IET

A gift for the Master's student I helped supervise this summer

2017 has also made me realise that the magic of life is not dead. There have been stepping stones I had to leap on before I could land on pastures of value that I could truly appreciate. For the first time in a long time, I am actually enjoying leaping on those stepping stones instead of hopping onto them with reluctance. The more I paid attention during the turbulent or energy-demanding times, the more knowledgeable I was when it was time to demonstrate the lessons I was supposed to learn. In a social sense, this meant people flowing in and out of my life who taught me how to communicate my inner thoughts, how to communicate needs, how to know when to give and when to stop, and how to recognise individuals you can rely on.

Guy Fawkes Night

Appreciating jazz in the evenings

Language Exchange evenings

A different kind of lab life

Lastly, 2017 had taught me that life can be unpredictability fleeting. That stability can crumble beneath you and you need to find the courage, bravery, and will-power to say that the life that I lead is still worth seeing what happens. I am surrounded by those I cherish who have been through this, currently going through this. We need to cherish the one chance we have to live. That means living through the experience we want to experience, not holding back on how big we want to dream, not diluting the excitement we have to achieve, and truly showing how much you appreciate and adore those around you.

Banksy's commentary on Brexit, Bristol

Bristol views

A Clos Maggoire festive experience

Christmas 2017 arrives

 In 2018, I want to be opportunistic in all areas of my life. This means spotting an amazing feat when you see it, and saying yes wholeheartedly to it. It means making a commitment to yourself to uphold the standards you want in life but admitting that you do not know everything that you want or need. It means relishing in the magic in what we cannot see, but feel the impact of its impression.

I might as well re-name this blog 'Find Courage' as this year I really had to demonstrate what I thought courage meant to me. I had to find the courage within myself multiple times when I was too fearful of doing so. Looking back on 2017, I am glad I embraced vulnerability and strength. I shall now take the courage through to 2018.

Take Courage,