PhD Fraud #14: Launch Procedure Initiated


On the 1st of October, 2013, I officially entered my FIFTH year of PhD studies, and technically my NINTH year of University as whole. What once seemed like a carefree jaunt into the unknown to study the engineering of aircraft and spacecraft has almost turned into a proper career, and I’ve survived eight whole years of MEng thru MPhil/PhD study to be where I am today.

Very soon, I will be finally giving man-birth to my own weighty tome, polishing off the rough edges of The Thesis and  finally palming the damned thing off on someone else. I’ve been working on my thesis document for the best part of twelve months now (although I had been writing less formally for it before that) while part-time working on my PhD research and working on other research the rest of the time. As we speak, I’m still firmly entangled in the throes of writing The Thesis, but things are finally starting to coalesce into something concrete: I still feel like I’m a long, long way off from having something that I’m happy with (and heck, there’s no guarantee that I’d ever get there in a million years anyway), but I’ve got to hand something solid in within the next couple of months, so my nose is very firmly pressed to the grindstone.

I should probably be writing this instead of penning blog entries. Oh well.

I should probably be writing this instead of penning blog entries. Oh well.

About the same time that I’ll hand in The Thesis, I’m also due to finish work on the couple of post-doc projects that have helped support my through this final year of writing-up (technically I’m a ‘post-doctoral research assistant’, but I kind of still haven’t gotten the ‘doctor’ bit yet so I feel kind of bad telling people I’m a post-doc. Doesn’t stop me, though). Since October last year, I’ve worked full(ish)-time on two EU-funded projects on space debris (the ACCORD and ReVuS projects) whilst trying to fit my PhD work and writing of crying about The Thesis into the time surrounding that. Where my PhD stuff has focussed on looking at the ocean from space by using imaging radar on spacecraft, my primary research now revolves around understanding the risks of space debris to those same satellites, and figuring out how satellite manufacturers and operators can be encouraged to comply with international guidelines that are in place to avoid a considerable rise in space debris population and hence risk to orbital satellites. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending a space debris conference at ESA Harwell, meanwhile back in July we exhibited at the UK Space Conference (and here you can find my review/summary of our time there): at both events, I spoke (or will talk) about my work on the ACCORD project and our progress so far in quantifying the effects of mitigation on the debris environment and communicating this to space industry. There’s been quite a good reaction from both industry and the space debris community about our work, and the result is a new ‘environmental impact rating’ for spacecraft based on their consequences for the space debris environment.

Unlike writing The Thesis, I really enjoy some of the space debris work I’m involved in, and it’s far, far more interesting than any of my PhD work has been. It’s certainly been an entertaining distraction from the misery of The Thesis, and I’ve been getting paid for doing it as well as been on a few nice trips abroad, so I guess that should be considered a Victory. It’s often quite a surprise to find myself genuinely engaged and passionate about research again: it’s definitely a good feeling to be ‘fired up’ about science and engineering, given that my PhD has long since descended into an uninspiring trudge. Sometimes, that spare enthusiasm spills over into my Thesis, and I actually get something done for a change, which can only be a good thing. The Thesis (v2.something) is almost ready to have the final few chapters sent to my supervisor for final comments, and it’s almost looking like a ‘proper’ piece of work now. Almost.

Sounds about right.
(Calvin & Hobbes, 31st October 1989)

I mean, “writing up”: how hard can it be? You just string a few words and sentences together, add a few graphs and diagrams that support your argument and reference all the important literature such that you have a cohesive combination of introduction, argument and discussion with which to defend your novel contribution to the research field. Piece o’ cake, right?

To some, writing comes naturally; to others, it’s more of a struggle. I actually consider myself to be a fairly good writer (although I can descend into ‘waffle’ like a pro), but it’s more through practice and perseverance than any natural talent; my usual technique to just keep spouting words onto a page and then, over a lengthy series of drafts and re-drafts, whittle that down to some pro content. I like to call this the ‘Keep Chucking Words at the Page and Eventually Some of them Might Not be Terrible’ technique. It seems to work, though, and I’ve ascended (somewhat reluctantly) to being the default writer-upper-person in our little group of grad students; enough such that I’ve rather ominously been given the nickname of a certain 18th-Century poet who dabbled in daffodils, among other things. My four-year jaunt into academic/scientific research has at least taught me a few of the tricks of scientific writing; I recently came across this chart from RecycleXP, which humourously recounts some of the prominent tropes in academic writing, and inspired both amusement at how ‘true’ it is but also quite a bit of cringing regarding how much I’ve used each one in The Thesis:

In many ways, the worst part about writing a major document is the people around you. People ask questions like: “So how much of your thesis have you written?” and “When are you going to hand in?” and “Why does your face look weird?”, which are rarely helpful and to which I usually respond with: “Argh! I don’t know! Soon? Maybe?” <*crying*>

As with all research, it’s possible to keep finding more things you’d like to do, and there’s always more data to look at and more stuff to write. I could probably keep looking at The Thesis until the end of forever and find things I’m not happy with, but I guess at some point everyone kind of has to take the plunge and submit the damned thing regardless of how close/far away it is to perfection. For me, that point appears to be approaching at increasing speed, and I’m desperately trying to tie up loose ends and polish off the ‘rougher’ bits of it and plug the most ‘obvious’ gaps in my argument. At some point though, you just have to find a place to put down your pen/typewriter/word processor <delete as applicable> and stop writing.

With that, I shall take my own advice and board the train back to Thesis-land, where I’m informed that we will be stopping at Boredom, Misery and Confusion along the way. All aboard the failroad!


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One thought on “PhD Fraud #14: Launch Procedure Initiated

  1. Sac bandoulire qui laisse les mains libres est devenu le modle le plus dsir en 2011. Il est maniable, utilisable, et aussi lger, Longchamp il pourrait tre la fois ludique ainsi que styl. Diverses versions let flow tous les go?ts, en plus de fonctionnalits font de ce sac un must-have let flow toutes les filles.

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