Monday, 30 April 2007

It's been ages since I was on here and blogged. And to be honest I don't really have much to tell everyone. Other than I am fed up about not being able to go to Taekwondo at the moment as I have hurt my back. Hurt it lifting furniture over the easter holiday's and it is still not right. Got to the stage now that I forget that it is injured as it no longer hurts ALL the time and then go and bend how I should not and make it hurt again. Really annoying and a bit of a vicious circle. It is really easy to forget at school when you are constantly bending over to see what students are writing (or not writing) in their books.

Been back at school two weeks and already counting till year 11 leave and the summer holidays. More year 11 as worried about what still have left to do before the exam. You would think that 4 weeks of school left would motivate students to not mess about wouldn't you.

At least it is only 4 weeks till half term. Hurrah.

Oh and Mark - where is my purple gone. I didn't do anything, honest!

Friday, 27 April 2007

Just a little post to say that I finally got around to doing Emma's and Monica's avatars. That only leaves the guy with the chubby wrists.

Monday, 23 April 2007

A little cautionary tale for everyone who hasn't yet repaid their Student Loan.

A bit ago I managed to pay off the last of my student loan, or so I thought.
So a week or so ago I got a bit of a shock when checking my bank statement that a direct debit to the student loan company had taken money from my account, unfortunately the call centre had closed for the night so I couldn't find out what had happened until the next day.

I was not exactly a happy bunny to find that the forthcoming direct debit payment had not been taken into account when I asked to "repay the full amount".

Monday, 16 April 2007

Why you shouldn't do a PhD. Ever.

Have a look at this. And this. Those should both be very familiar to anyone who's done a PhD. If they make no sense, then hopefully this post will clarify. It is a long one, you have been warned. I'd get a cup of tea first.

Having read Craig's blog, I got thinking about why it's so hard to do a PhD. Suprisingly, it's not the complexity of the material, it's not the hours of work (compounded by the view of most people, who seem to think you've managed to get another 3 years of student dossing), nor is it coming up with original ideas and exploring the boundaries of your subject.

The difficult bit is when (approximately 2 years in), you realise you hate your project. You're disillusioned, tired, and want to do anything else but continue. The problem is that you've now invested two years of your life, and can't just give up.

So why does this happen? It's not just me who's been there; the experience appears to be standard, and the timing is remarkably similar (certainly amongst pure mathematicians).

One of the hardest things about research is the complete lack of punctuation. As an undergraduate, you have lectures, exams, stop. Lectures, exams, stop. Repeat a few times then graduate. There are constant targets, goals and feedback. You know what's coming next, know what you did wrong last time, and can learn from your mistakes and improve on your performance. You have mates doing the same course who are stuck with the same things. You can get help from them, and feel good about helping others.

There's virtually none of that in research.
There's no punctuation. From your first year report to the submission on your thesis (typically 2.5 years or so), the biggest comma that gingerly rears it's head is merely the gentle drift from concentrating on research to concentrating more on typing it all up.
In terms of emotional support and goals: If you're lucky, you'll have a weekly meeting with your supervisor (who, by this stage knows less about your research than you do) who will offer suggestions on directions you could take, when you should start writing up, and go through a few specifics. If you're very lucky, you'll also have some mates working in loosely related fields who you can have a moan with, and throw ideas around with (not on the hard stuff, as you'd often be there all week (literally) explaining the background to it. Apt comparisons would be that you're the only person in the room learning calculus but you can only ask when you get stuck adding up, or that you're writing an essay, but can only ask your mates about the spelling and grammar). Your peers are distanced from you due to the huge specialisation required to get a project completed in three(ish) years.
I didn't realise how much I'd missed feedback until my examiners gave their opinions on my thesis (they were extremely complementary, in case you were wondering). Nige obviously felt the material was good, and had made this clear, but having some outside feedback is a very different thing psychologically.

This all leads to a mounting sense of uncertainly. It's difficult to keep slogging away when you're always wondering:
For some of these questions, you won't get an answer until you submit, for others you can only get an approximate answer from your supervisor. Then there are some for which you just have to do the work to find out.

I didn't realise as clearly as I could have what was happening, didn't recognise how disillusioned I was, and ground to a halt roundabout Christmas '05. I attempted to slog through by putting more work in when, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that I'd have been better off taking a good break for a month.

So how did I do?
  • Stuff I got right: Stuck with it, kept complaining about it to anyone who'd listen (kudos to parents here, and to everyone I've played hockey, badminton, sung or drunk beer with), and most importantly, kept on doing other things (mostly hockey, badminton, singing and drinking beer) that I enjoy. Exercise is good too: I found that I got far more work done when I was cycling to and from uni than when I got the bus.
  • One I wish I'd done more of: Given talks. I hate the idea of doing talks, but actually doing them is suprisingly ok. They're too easy to avoid doing. The highlights are giving a talk on my thesis (an exercise I'll repeat in Leicester in a couple of week's time), and a short series of teaching talks on Spectral Sequences (very complication computing machines) to the then junior topologists. Why? Feedback and interaction. Talking about my thesis generated some much needed external feedback. Teaching other postgrads some complicated material has several benefits: I learnt a lot writing the talk, I felt good about helping others, and I felt good about interacting with other students - it eased off the isolation more than I realised at the time.
  • One I got right eventually: Took time off to do something different. I had a better view of what I'd achieved after a break. Taking a month out to earn some money felt like a holiday!
  • One I wish I'd thought about much earlier: Punctuation. I'm planning on cycling to Swansea when I've finished my corrections. Purely because it'll then actually feel like I've finished.
Well done for reading this far. Hope this is helpful to someone, or at least gives you some understanding of what I've been whinging about for so long. So remember kids: just say NO to postgraduate study!

That said, in a year's time when the dust has settled and I can't remember any detail of what I've been working on for all this time, I know I'll be glad I did it.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Every Thursday at 11.30 for an hour there is adoration fo the Blessed Sacrament but I could never go because it's a bit of a silly time and I'm working. But today I could and I went. I really like the adoration, being silent in front of the Sacrament is good for me. It gives me peace, because I give all my worries to Him, so at the end I go out light and refreshed and the poor Sacrament is loaded with my troubles. Today was particularly good, it helped me to keep things in focus, to stop everything and think about Him, find a space for Him. I wish I could go every Thursday but it's a silly time.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Good Easter, Bad Easter

Good: I have an interview for an amazing job, well paid, very interesting, which would suit me as a career.
Bad: It's 200 miles away, and we've just bought a house in Manchester.

Good: Chester Zoo. Caught the feeding of penguins, sealions, lions. The batcave thing is really cool.
Bad: Sunburn.

Good: The lounge is now tidy, and looks like a lounge ought to look like.
Bad: Tidying houses makes Adrian grumpy.

Good: Emma having a much needed holiday, since we spent last half term moving house.
Bad: Emma having two days of holiday, then deciding she's bored and phoning me at work to complain about how bad life is.

Good: Had a pleasant visit from Emma's parents: Ohn (Emma's dad) helped me put the shed up (I'm currently feeling very DIYesque), while Dawn (Emma's mum) has made the garden look nicer.
Bad: People being sniffy about our fantastic new house (which does need some work, but let's not be so bloody negative all the time, shall we?)

Bad: Biscuit (hamster) died.
Good: The poor thing had never really been well since we got her (this was about the fourth visit to the vets since buying her in November(ish)) and she was really suffering, so this was probably a good thing.

Good: Wednesday have suddenly started winning a lot.
Bad: We're never going to make the playoffs.

Good: Housewarming party on Saturday.
Bad: The dreary cycle of temping (looking for it, then doing it) begins on Monday.

Good: Corrections have been passed to examiners for approval, so I might finally get finished with uni! I've also been invited to Leicester to give a talk on my work (by the external examiner, John).
Bad: Writing the talk (work) and giving the talk (scary).

Good: Badminton tomorrow; Mum, Dad, Nick, Ann and Neil coming up on Friday, with Nick and Ann staying a few nights

I've run out of bad, so that makes it a good Easter. Huzzah!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

I've just finished talking with my friend Marghe, the nun. She took the temporary vows on the 25th of March at 4.00pm, at around 4.00pm of the same day Mark proposed. Being Lent I couldn't phoned her, but because of the great news I was allowed to phone for half an hour. Tonight I could finally talk to her for an hour. It was really good. We talked about my wedding, about flowers, music, reception, but not about my bridal dress because like everybody said, it will be mission impossible to find one ( this is because I'm a bit particular, just a bit). My friend Gio' doesn't want to come with me to help me. Last time I had to buy a dress was for my sister wedding. Gio' and I went to a shop and I tried several dresses but none of them met my standards. ( I wanted a simple,very simple black dress ) The shop assistant was really helpful, too much actually, according to her I was pretty in every dress I tried. After having tried all the dresses in the shop, I really tried all the dresses available, (even a horrible orange gown) she said I didn't need a dress but a psychologist. Now all I want is a simple, very simple white dress. Gio' said she won't come with me. I know she will.
Marghe told me a bit about her wedding ceremony, she said she's got a tape so I could see what happened. Now she is wearing a black veil, instead of the white one.
On the 1st of May it will be her birthday and I've got an idea about the present, but Mark I need your help. I'd like to make a CD with some pictures of me and you and of the places we 've been, so that she can see a bit of it.
On the phone she was asking me how do I look now, how long my hair is, whether I'm eating or starving, and she said "I don't know how you look now". It's so strange that we are so far away. We used to see each other every single day. I know her since I was 12. But we have never been so close like in this moment. We are close in prayer and in God, she prays for me I pray for her. Julie, a friend of mine, said to me that the most important and beautiful thing you could for a person is to pray for her and the same is knowing that someone is praying for you.
1 Last thing: I'm really happy to marry Mark, he is always nice and warm (I'm always cold), he eats everything without complaining, he speaks English, he looks good with a hat, he's got a soft facial hair and a good aftershave, he doesn't break the spine of a book while reading (I do ), he doesn't underline while reading (I do), he drinks beer (I don't) but we can work on it, on you Mark not drinking not on me drinking.