Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Catch-up: The First Sprint of Three.

My presence on this blog dipped for around 1 month and half as workload kicked up a gear. After March, I was quickly approaching my first PhD milestone - the 9-month report. I am happy to report that since my workload has reduced, slightly, I have more inspiration and time to write! You can see that my spring blog banner has been updated to a summer one, to mark this momentous occasion - and the weather has been very delightful recently (well, at times in the UK).

March was super packed with repeated lab experiments, exciting London trips, and relaxing gigs. April and May was dedicated to finishing all of my experiments, typing my results, re-evaluating and improving my PhD prototype circuit, testing my circuit, and handing my report it. The 9-month mark in a PhD is the first milestone of three that evaluates your work progression; next you have your 18-month, and then your 36-month (or 30 month if you complete your research early) to hand in your final thesis and hopefully be awarded your Dr. title! Since starting my PhD, I have realised that there is a curiosity with it - what does a PhD involve, how is a PhD structured, what does a day in a PhD look like? I have touched on this here, and my 'Month In My Life' YouTube vlog series in March gave viewers an insight of balancing PhD work with a social life. Yet, I will address this in a series of future blogposts spanning from Lifestyle, Personal Style, and perhaps 'Olivia Thinks' categories. Writing these answers down will clarify the answers for myself, and perhaps help others too.

Surprise, surprise, despite my organisation skills it turned out that my 9-month report was due a month earlier than I originally thought! By this point, I had already agreed with my supervisor that I would complete an experiment, as I thought I had the time, and for around 2 weeks I got highly, but quietly, stressed. Fortunately for me, I organised my work schedule so that I would be a month ahead and I had been writing my 9-month report for a couple of months simultaneously whilst I completed my practical work. Once I organised the rest of my time, prioritised my remaining tasks (working smart), and completely focused on my work I managed to improve my existing achievements, improve the functionality of my circuit, and have a 9-month prototype that aligned with my original intentions - overall, a fantastic outcome.
Again, I may write a blogpost on how to handle PhD workload and even University workload in general as a new routine of mine has certainly influenced how I approach my working tasks. This routine will be mentioned further onto this blogpost where I get to document all the wonderful award ceremonies and happenings that occurred in April/May during my blog break!

A Paris Break.
On the around late March/early April, so much has happened since I cannot recollect the date, I went to Paris via Eurostar to visit my friend Emma! Emma and I became friends at University when we were freelance writers for our University newspaper. She studied English, I studied Electronic Engineering with AI (at the time) but we bonded over our enjoyment for writing, music, and desire to travel around the world. I made a short film of my Paris trip called 'One Day Parisian' on my YouTube channel (my 50th YouTube upload) and so happy to hear that Emma liked it a lot! Although I make films for my own enjoyment, the fact that I got a thumbs up from Emma on this video was a huge compliment.

Outreach Saturdays.
My fortnightly Saturdays are no longer spent curled up in bed, huddling my laptop or book and being entertained with catch-up TV or literature respectively. I am gladly somewhere else. In the city centre of my University town to be more exact, I volunteer with a Science Outreach group that teach science to the general public - together, we are called The Science Room. My role in the core team is video, photo, and ideas curator - one that I have naturally created myself. The leader of the team quickly made use of my camera and my perspective in how I see my surroundings when I am taking photos or filming, rightly done to be honest! I also take part in brainstorming sessions (me being an ideas person is a description I think is very apt) to help The Science Room come up with engaging content, outreach approaches, and branding. As a team, we have been working on launching our new website, filled with numerous responses we have written, filmed, and discussed via podcast to answer science questions the community have asked us. Throughout April and May I have continued to volunteer at our community events and do some photography. These photos above were for the event "Is There Life After Bees?" and other members of the core team spoke to the community/those who attend the talk on the role pesticides have in the declining bee population, ways that bees communicate inside and outside the hive, and also the other insects we can rely on besides bees. All in all, science outreach has become an integral, fulfilling part of my life after work.

Welcome to my third abode.
My first home is wherever my parents are - currently their house. My second "home" is where I live at University. My third home, and I might as well make myself comfortable, is my PhD electronics lab. I pretty much spend majority of my daylight hours there so I might as well assign a label onto it. My University Department is bountiful with labs. We have computer labs, where there are is a whole building floor dedicated to dual-screen computers, whiteboards, coding helpdesks, and co-working spaces for collaborative work. The floor above that, the top floor, is where the hardware PhDs reside. On my building floor, there are 3 labs where you have function generators, oscilloscopes, power supplies, racks of electronic components, a washing machine, an impedance analyser, mustard-coloured metal cabinets with hazard analysers on them, and plenty of beakers - as you can see, we have a mixture of electronics PhDs doing an array of different kinds of research. Due to the secrecy surrounding any PhD, I cannot share the golden nuggets of my research. Though, I plan to update my progress somehow by perhaps documenting the life lessons I learn along the way and how emotionally I am handling the process. Many friends and PhD colleagues have asked me if I found it difficult transitioning straight from my Bachelors to a PhD and I used to reply, "Well... not really." I said this in hindsight because I am very competent with handling my time and how I use my energy. I have practiced these throughout my undergraduate. Writing my blog, academic report writing, and juggling lots of commitments through different University societies collectively gave me the skills to be organised, learn to work ahead of schedule, and to always follow my intuition. I hit my first snag when I was completing technical work and I was completely fetching ideas from no-where on how to progress forward. I felt myself not knowing what to do, how to move forward, and felt limited by my knowledge. Luckily, I do not have a huge ego and know when to ask for help (even that can be daunting) and with the right knowledge and a few tips I felt very happy to know that senior academics and staff would take time out to fill knowledge gaps I had. For a while, during a stressful period I had, I doubted whether I was worth the investment my supervisor made on me. Yet, in the past I have excelled despite external factors because my self-confidence and my desire to succeed outweighed the fear of not succeeding. Keeping that optimism and diligence sustained my eagerness to learn, to be patient, and to think clearly. At the right time I got the right thought, right inspiration, made the judgement calls, and got the outcome I wanted and then some! Optimism and diligence all the way.

All things Media by the Marina.
It was award season for me near early May, a usual occurrence in my University social calendar. Looking back on it, it is amazing how I have transformed since attending my first Media Ball when I was a freelance journalist for my University Newspaper, and then fast-forward two years and I am attending the same event but as part of my University Radio Station, representing the Station Sound and Tech team. The theme was Old Hollywood, and those organising did a splendid job in the decor, dress-code, and location. The location was the Marina - a beautiful suntrap region by the docks within our University town. The Station Sound and Tech division within my University Radio Station were nominated and shortlisted for numerous awards, and even our new tech members got shortlisted for Best Newcomer (mentoring them with my tech colleague paid off!) but unfortunately the achievements of others up for the prize were more extraordinary. Well done to them, I was super impressed with the success that all the Media departments have gained this year. Additionally, it was so much fun to dress up formally and relax with friends with a waterside view.

In addition to my camera, I have been taking snapshots on my phone and uploading them all on my Instagram. Experiences of when I secured a property to live next academic year with one of my friends is there, when I attended the Excellence in Volunteering Awards, and more of my life as PhD student. How much things have changed! It is really something. Right now, my ex- hardware engineering coursemates are taking their final University exams. If I had not taken the decision to do a PhD, I would be in the same position. So much has changed. When I first entered University there was no way I would or could have predicted what I am doing right now. It just shows you, you may want to write the story of your life but what if there is a better story for yourself that you could not write? Trust in life is a powerful thing, it can take to you so many unthinkably wonderful places.

Take Courage,


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