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Checking in (and chatting) with your tribe

By Oct.07, 2013

I’ve just come back from an excellent conference run by the Women’s Engineering Society.  It was the Harnessing the Energy Conference 2013 held at the impressive venue of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.  I am a proud member of both organisations and my experience got me thinking.

I gave a presentation about my research and although it can be daunting facing a theatre full of faces looking at you, I am very glad I did it, and truly believe I got a lot out of it.

It’s a fact that doing research is by its very nature is in turns isolating, frustrating and confusing.  This is why it is really important to ever so often check in with your tribes – your peers/colleagues/people to look up to in your field.

The benefits are massive, by presenting your approach to your research you get free (and kind) feedback from people who understand.  The questions you get asked are always relevant and should be taken seriously.  The questions you provoke in your audience must be answered for your examiners.

Then there are the chats…sorry, I mean networking over the tea and coffee.  These discussions are hugely beneficial.  Delegates who may not have had a chance to ask you a question will come and quiz you, and then there are the wonderful people who share ideas and potential sources of information.  Don’t forget to listen to (and if you’re like me take notes) of the other presentations given.  Where else are you going to get access to so much free information, new research and have access to the people behind it?

You won’t get any of these benefits if you don’t go.

I would definitely urge researchers to attend relevant professional events and conferences.  Share your research.  chat with your tribes.

Here come the caveats:

  • Be involved with your relevant professional organisations and keep yourself informed about events.
  • Be discerning – your time is not free.  It is extremely valuable and you can’t afford to spare your time attending too many or too tenuously-linked events.  Also, consider if you can spare the time away from your research (if it is a crucial stage) and don’t forget the travelling time (and recovery).
  • Get into the habit of writing abstracts – get some training or advice on the rules of writing a really good abstract to improve your chances of being accepted.
  • Practice, practice, practice your presentations.  You must keep to strict time limits on the day so plan for that.

Presenting, attending and chatting with your tribes is great, actually.  Get stuck in!  You will enjoy it!


The shame of blog-neglect-guilt

By Apr.04, 2013

I am attending the excellent Tyndall PhD Conference in Cardiff.

Here is the proof:

tyndall mug

I am the proud owner of a Tyndall Centre Climate Transitions: Connecting People, Planet and Places – 3rd – 5th April 2013 mug.  And a Welsh cake.

Well, I was the proud owner of a Welsh cake.

It’s been a great conference so far and an excellent opportunity to meet other PhD researchers and learn about their research.  As a PhD’er it’s rare to be in a gang.  I wonder what the term for a gathering of PhD students is.  A ‘quandry’ perhaps? Or a ‘confusion’?  (Suggestions gratefully received)

Anyway, on the menu today was Dr Warren Pearce talking about Science Communication and when he mentioned blogging I had a vague recollection of having one.  Shamefully it took me a while to find my blog (I can’t remember when it moved) and I’m even more ashamed of my crime of blog-neglect.

So here it is, a promise resolution plan to try to be a better, more regular blogger.  This is not a great challenge as I’ve been so dreadful at it in the past…but I shall try to be interesting thought-provoking relevant consistent.

What have you done today to make you feel proud?


Great Expectations and the Relevance Paradox

By Jan.19, 2012

Thankfully all that silly Christmas business is over and we can forget it ever happened.  Great Expectations refers not only to the Dickens classic that is always shown on television over the festive period, but to my unrealistic expectations of what I would be able to achieve over Christmas and New Year.

Like a panicky last minute shopper I had stuffed my basket with thousands of words I expected to digest.  Not only digest, but also critically appraise and put in some useful order.  Epic fail.

I had caught one of those bugs that had been doing the rounds and spent a fair amount of time in pyjamas, and on the settee.  After the ill feeling had subsided it was rather nice actually.

I’ve been back at uni for a couple of weeks now and time is flying by at warp speed.  Despite not doing all the stuff I stupidly thought I could do, I’m doing ok.  I’m in list- and post-it-heaven and breaking down my tasks and attacking them bit by bit.

I’ve even been invigilating for some exams as the semester ends.  This has been a very interesting (and sometimes surprisingly exciting) activity.  I could tell you, but….you know the rest.

Next week is set to be incredibly busy with several very long days of intense learning sessions.  Three different events over 4 consecutive days, so it’s about time I spend a little time considering the Relevance Paradox while I can.

The Relevance Paradox is similar to ‘Unknown Unknowns’.  I remember learning about this in lectures a few years ago.  It explains why unintended consequences happen, and why it’s important to not limit your quest for knowledge in a narrow beam.

The way it applies to me (I think) is that I need to be open to information.  Until I have the information I won’t know if it’ll be useful to me.  From where I’m standing now I can’t know what I’ll need to know therefore I can’t discount it, or not look for it.

I’m assuming there’s a point I need to stay ‘stop!’ before my search for knowledge ends up in a neverending cycle, like a dog chasing its tail.  Maybe that’s one for the supervisors, putting researchers out of their misery.

Shamelessly stolen from wikipedia is the poet Ibn Yamin’s take on the four types of men.  He was born in 1286 so the cultural references are a little old but still enjoyable.

  • One who knows and knows that he knows… His horse of wisdom will reach the skies.
  • One who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows… He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!
  • One who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know… His limping mule will eventually get him home.
  • One who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know… He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!

Here’s hoping everyone’s horses of wisdom reach the skies!


the nature of research and the value of networking

By Dec.14, 2011

Since I’ve been here I’ve had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many different people.  It can be a little overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Through training sessions and tweeting I’ve met up with some great people with fantastic experiences and created links to so many other disciplines.  I’ve even been on a ‘tweetup’ (a tweeters meet-up) and yesterday I went to the research centre christmas dinner. 

Both events were primarily organised as ‘social’ events but in reality if you get lots of researchers together they can’t help but discuss their own work and ask about yours.  This is genuine interest being shown, and an eagerness to share relevant information with you.

I think it’s in these discussions where the greatest value of networking lies.  In the same way it’s the coffee breaks at conferences that make the conferences (sometimes) worth going to.

As somone who can be a little shy I’m very encouraged by my experiences and am grateful to the good advice freely given by people I respect.  My advice to anyone else in a similar situation would be to make the effort to meet with people, be open to new experiences and see what happens.

One of the most reassuring things several successful researchers and lecturers told me was ‘if you know what it is, it isn’t reasearch’ and it’s perfectly normal to be confused.  Phew!

In other news, my slanket arrived and is wonderful.  The cheapest colour was brown so when I’m wearing it at my desk I do feel slightly like I’m playing a monk in a historical drama.  I don’t care.  It’s toasty.

Slanket and heater and thermals combo in the cold cold lab



Slanket is the future…and the future is now

By Dec.09, 2011

I’m now 6 weeks into my PhD and am over the initial euphoria of being here.  Don’t get me wrong I love being here and the intellectual challenge is very welcome and exciting…but…now I know that I know nothing.

Not nothing exactly, but nothing like I need to know, especially if I’m going to defend my research or be able to explain it.  It’s a little overwhelming.  Thankfully my supervisors, other researchers and the excellent SPoRT training sessions are helping.  The realisation of what I’m attempting has hit home and it’s massive.  I’m not entirely alone, and this is immensely reassuring.

One thing that I do know for certain is that the research lab where I have my desk is freezing.  The clues were there in all the extra heaters I noticed when I started six weeks ago, and now the cold weather has hit it is arctic in here.

Despite being an arthritic, all year round motorbiker and all weather dog walker with more thermals than Ranulph Fiennes (arctic explorer) I have ordered myself a ‘slanket’ for use in the research lab.  For those not in the know, a slanket is a fleece blanket with sleeves.  I’m eagerly awaiting the delivery any day and will update the blog on this most important aspect of my PhD.

Now, back to my learning agreement, literature review and ethics forms…


a brave new world

By Nov.17, 2011

Being new to my PhD and independent researching, it really does feel like a brave new world to me.

Energy – its consumption and conservation, is a massive issue for so many around the world.  From being something on some people’s radar since the 1970’s and earlier, it really does seem like we’ve reached a tipping point, where almost everyone is concerned.

Concerns about pollution and climate change, rising costs and fuel poverty and energy security are in the mainstream news most days.

Energy is a personal issue that affects everyone’s lives.

I hope that with my research I can help to bring more understanding into how people use energy in their homes.  I will also be looking at the current and future technologies that just might help us make the connection between what we do and the energy consequences.