Saturday, 5 March 2016

To my Comfort Zone and Beyond.

At the start of 2016 I made a vision board of images that symbolised feelings I wanted to experience, mantras I wanted to abide by, goals I planned to stick to, and mindsets I wanted to adopt.

So far 2016 has been an ambitious one, a humbling one, and a fast one - can you believe it is March already?

I have been dedicating majority of my life to my PhD work, soaking up as much knowledge as I can whilst also building new work relationships with my colleagues and superiors. I have learnt so much already, and expanding my skillset by adapting them to expansive scope of work that a PhD offers.

Besides PhD work - which features fortnightly research group meetings, attending PhD research talks, soldering, befriending Google Scholar, schematic sketching, soldering, report writing, report re-writing, reference finding, picture sourcing, circuit construction, delivery collecting, lab sitting, tea sipping, screen staring, laughing loudly, laughing nervously, happy dancing, 'face in hands' feelings of calamity, hours of business trip travel, discovering new towns, machinery gawking, electronic component browsing, and adding delivery charges to orders - I have been adding to my repertoire of saying yes to things I would have once hesitated about. All of these wonderful things I have said yes to would not have been possible if I had not chosen to do a PhD. It is amazing to think how changing one aspect of your life can completely change other areas of your life.


I finally did it and the rewards were bountiful.

I gave my first public talk in January!  Ever since I was a teenager and discovered TED talks, a quiet voice formed within me that squeaked "One day I would love to speak on stage and deliver a compelling talk to an audience". When I was making my 2016 vision board, that quiet voice edged me on to giving talks and develop my public speaking skills this year. My public talk was given at an all-girls combined secondary school and Sixth Form school in Bournemouth, a place I have never been to before. I was accompanied on stage by my University Personal Tutor, my ex-professor, and one of my mentors (all one person, he is big deal in my University life). Together, we spoke about our respective academic research and I gave an insight into my own secondary school and sixth form experience that helped me become the person I am today. There is a saying that emphasises being the person you needed when you were younger; when I was in school I never heard a talk from an academic who discussed their research, or someone that I felt connected too. Someone who reminded me of myself somewhat; who revealed their journey through life, and showed me a profession that is perhaps unconventional but still rewarding. Now, I cannot claim that I did all of these things for my young audience, their parents, and their teachers, but after giving my talk I was completely overwhelmed by the abundance of gratitude, thankfulness, and excitement I received from them. In the above photo, are a series of gifts I gave them and that I received back. My gifts: I prepared and brought two smart textile samples to hand the audience during my talk - one that changes colour in response to body heat and the other that displays a clock face when connected to a power supply. As a memento, I kept the booklet of the event that myself and my Personal Tutor gave our talk. Their gifts: the school prefects who organised the evening event presented me a thank you box of Maltesers (which make the chocolate treats all the more delicious), and my Personal Tutor gifted me a bottle of white! I have eaten the Maltesers, yet to drink the white - saving it for a special occasion!

Some research is laughable.
Adjusting to PhD life was a bit nostalgic for me. In some odd way, transitioning to PhD life was reminiscent of transitioning to being a Fresher (first year) at University - new lifestyle, need to make new friends, need to remember how to make friends... Despite me staying at the same University I completed my undergrad in, and having the bonus of still having my old coursemates in their final year (I skipped my final year of my Masters to start my PhD), I still could not escape the wrath of PhD social ineptness. There are very few times in life when you socially start afresh, and skills that you learnt on your first day of school, or moving into a new town, or attending a party when you know absolutely no-one (like the time you crashed that party) are needed. In a nutshell, making new friends can be difficult, even for adults. Now, I would say that I have become more welcoming to others into my life as I have grown up. I am a lot more open, more energised, and more comfortable in my own sense of being. That being said, on my first two weeks of PhD life I could not shake that  'new kid on the playground' sort of feeling. Months into my PhD, lots of people manifested into my life through very leap of faith circumstances, meeting acquaintances of acquaintances, and striking a conversation with someone in the queue. This lead to this special evening, attending Bright Club which is a group which make PhD students  into stand-up comedians and comediennes to deliver their research with a punchline. The venue was a place I had been to last year, but I had never seen it so full. It marked the social change in my life due to my PhD, and made me reflective of how far I had come socially from when I first started my research life. 

We only have one Earth, let's look after it. 
When I joined University, I found myself forming friendships with those who had a strong passion for sustainability and looking after the welfare of our environment. I even joined a sustainability group, helping bring allergy-friendly and sustainable-sourced and labelled food in food outlets across campuses. I even had the pleasure of receiving a Sustainability Award for being part of this team and have been recently nominated with a team for another Sustainability Award for a contributing to community-driven movement that encourages public engagement to science. One of my really good friends invited me to the Sustainability Festival, organised by a University society. This meant sacrificing my Saturday morning lie-in (which was a decision my sleep-deprived self initially was against) and I returned to bed with a greater sense of modern opinions about renewable energy, new sources of food, and meeting new people. For such a grey and chilly day, I was warmed with the new information I had heard and especially since it was outside of my technical specialty. It was a refreshing feeling to hear something new. 



Getting to know Nottingham.
On the topic on learning new things, or new material (oh yes, that is a pun!), I learnt so much from my smart textile research colleagues in Nottingham. I traveled with my University PhD group to Nottingham, which took 4 hours there and back, to see all the industrial weaving, sewing, and knitting machines. All the testing machinery, stylish University students, and even textile researchers using soldering irons (well, just the research group we are working with) were exciting sights to see. More photos are in my previous blogpost; after my trip I truly believe that I will be spending more time in Nottingham. I feel that I am on the cutting edge of research, where careers like 'electronic textile engineers' will be available in years time.

Additionally, I have been prepping with Student Radio society to provide the technical radio support for our University's Student Union Elections and annual sports tournament. Yesterday night, our Student Union's Election Night Live occurred and I had a 17:00 to 00:30 shift co-managing my tech and station sound team as we edited audio interviews.
Dylan, Head of Tech, and myself Head of Station Sound
 at our University Radio Station, managing our team at during the student elections season
I also found out that our student radio training sessions for show scheduling and editing software training -  organised by myself, Head of Tech. and Head Programme Controller - had been nominated for a I Love Student Radio award for Best Training Initiative - fantastic!

As you see, variety is the spice of life. My life has plenty of variety. In fact, my life is metaphorically a spice rack.

With this acknowledgement, I am working on a filming project with my new Canon PowerShot G7X camera. It will be revealed soon, I just have lots of University tech work, meetings, and wonderful traveling to do first.

Take Courage,

Olivia

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