Category Archives: Work ‘n’ Stuff

Overture

 

Overture

Wow, I guess it’s been a bit a while since my last (proper) post [my recent round-up of Sonisphere 2014 aside]. Well, there’s a multitude of reasons as to why that is, but they largely boil down to me being TOO DARNED BUSY with one thing and another (some of which I’ll shed light on in today’s entry) and not always having the energy to update the blog with all the goings-on and extra-happenings that have been abound since April or so. Anyway, I’m here now to make amends, so let’s make the most of things while it lasts, yeah?

So, what has been happening? Well, I guess the major thing is that I’m now a PROPER ACTUAL DOCTOR (of philosophy) and stuff, and ‘Silly Hat Mode’ got activated last Wednesday at my official graduation ceremony in spectacular fashion.

SillyHatMode

I submitted my corrected thesis back in May; got things verified and checked in June or so; and I handed the final, darned thing in around a month or so ago to get stored in the University library to gather dust, spider’s webs and the weight of no-one looking at it. I’m all done! Four-plus years of research have come to an end, and last Wednesday, I donned silly hat and silly cloak and picked up an official certificate saying that I’m now a { Ph.D survivor } and that I can officially leap into action when the cabin crew of a transatlantic flight announce “Is there a Doctor on board?” and totally be no help at all.

AAAaaaaanyway, since there aren’t enough pictures of me on the internet wearing silly hats, here are some pictures from my PhD graduation. Hooray!

The downside to finally crossing the finishing line in the PhD Quadruple-Marathon was the almost simultaneous (if entirely coincidental) culmination of my funding as a Senior Research Assistant doing research into space debris; meaning that my era at the University of Southampton has, now, properly come to a close, almost ten years since I first begun this crazy journey through academia. Naturally, this has meant that I’ve – yet again – been thrust into the heady world of scavenging for employment, yet so far have had only minimal success in landing some gainful employment. I’m still trudging onward with (at least most of) my marbles still intact, and I’ll no doubt get somewhere in the end, but just making sure that chin is kept well and truly up has been the main priority over the last couple of months. #KEEPPUSHING, don’t give up, #PARTYHARD etc. etc.

PeepShowHard

Despite the fact that I’ve not always been 100% successful at keeping on top of things whilst I’ve been out of either gainful education or gainful employment, I’ve broadly been managing to keep myself busy with job-search endeavours but also filling time by delving evermore into a few creative projects: one of these has been a strategy-board-game-thing that I’ve been desperately hammering into prototype form on-and-off for a couple of months, but the one I’m most proud of (so far) was something known as ‘Project: Elephabric’ ~

Through a whole bunch of stress and last-minute artistic wrangling, 3-metres of burnt-orange cotton fabric, black fabric paint and some potatoes were turned into a badass, home-made Arabian wall-hanging to help decorate a friend’s “Arabian Nights”-themed outdoor party gathering thing.

All in all, I think I’m pretty happy with the outcome; I’m hardly the world’s most proficient artist, but hopefully the hand-painted flaws and imperfections add to the charm rather than distract from it. It also was my first-ever foray into the world of fabric-painting (not to mention the first time I’ve made potato-stamps in about twenty years) so given my relative inexperience, I think I can be pretty pleased with my artistic endeavours.

If nothing else, I managed to get the paint mostly on the fabric and not on myself, so I guess that’s progress of sorts, right?

Anyway, anything that is unrelated to elephants is irrelephant, so I must wish you farewell; at least for now. Godspeed, comrades!

[Zinar7]

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Light Resolve

LightResolve

Okay, so I’ll come clean: I haven’t been loads brilliant at keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions nor my own, unwritten, plans for the beginning of 2014. Stuff has just kind of not happened the way I thought it would, and I’m a little bit behind with all of my goals.

After maybe a few weeks of feeling pretty darned rubbish and moping around like a sad panda, I’m determined not to let my stupid ambitions get in the way of feeling good with myself and resolve to use my hands to punch through the Wall of Awesomeness rather than to wipe the Tears of Inadequacy from my eyes. So, maybe it’s time to evaluate a little better what I want to get out of my (near-) future and where I want to be in life.

Perhaps I’m not so good at setting my own goals; and even less good at dealing with the disappointment when I inevitably don’t get along as far as I thought I would. Doing so usually leads to a whole bunch of internal disappointment, where I attempt to assess myself against some invisible barometer which marks my { contribution to society / likeability amongst my peers / perceived ‘success’ by people I don’t know } and inevitably come up short. A considerable problem I have is that I try to do too much – I try to live up to this unachievable role as someone who has a broad range of interests and talents, and who must maintain a grasp on all of these things at all time. I feel a compulsion to be ‘that guy’ who

[ plays all the video games ] / [ watches all the films ] / [ does all the music ] / [ makes video game costumes ] / [ does in-line skating ] / [ watches all the motorsport ] / [watches all the ice hockey ] / [ knows all the space stuff ] / [ does blogging and reviews and stuff ] / [ plays all the board games ] / [ does the whole ‘research’ thing ]

that I often appear to put a whole ton of unnecessary pressure on myself to keep active in all areas all  of the time; and if I’m not (or I just have a lazy day not moving forward or practicing any particular aspect) I tend to feel like I’ve wasted a day, a week, a year or however long. I feel an urge to see myself merely as a catalogue of statistics: someone who has +6 in Obscure Star Wars Facts and +4 in Playing Adventure Games – so much so, that if I feel like I’m doing something that I feel isn’t “improving” me in some way (or helping to benefit someone else), then I tend to get frustrated and anxious; as if the time could be better spent on something that is helping myself or others.

Now, this is pretty irrational, since Life inevitably must be filled with things that must be done irrespective of whether you want to or not (like, ‘doing the washing up’ or ‘burying the body of a deceased family pet that was accidentally put in the microwave by accident’). This can mean that I get frustrated quite quickly when I’m doing something that should be improving my Stats but – for whatever reason – isn’t delivering; maybe because I’m trying to overcome a particularly difficult task in my research or hitting a difficulty wall in a video game I want to complete/succeed at. In this respect, I don’t think I do so well with failure or rejection: I tend to reflect on the lost time more than on the lessons learned or the positive steps which were made along the way. For this reason, I’m quite sensitive to criticism or rejection, and I find it difficult to cope with situations that set me back in my goals; be it as cosmic-ly meaningless losing (unsaved) progress in a Word document or dying in a video game and having to go back to the beginning of the level. These clearly aren’t big things in the Grand Scheme, but they clearly trigger something in my brain that sparks anxiety and frustration beyond levels that are considered ‘normal’.

I also find myself worrying a lot that I’m not living up to the visions or expectations of the people I know (and the people I don’t): am I being everything I can be, that they want me to be, or that I deserve to be? What do I base this judgement upon?

I often tend to place unrealistic expectations on myself; usually based on some notion of what I expect people expect of me. Usually, these are far in excess of what people really expect; yet my brain thinks that, short of securing world peace or curing every disease know to man, everyone will have a persistent disappointment in me, everything I do an what I represent. I constantly find myself searching for what people want me to be rather than just being the best person that I can be (and not worrying if it’s not good enough for everyone else). In this respect, the Jimmy Eat World song ‘The Middle‘ (on their 2001 album Bleed American) is, perhaps, perfect for describing how I should approach the thoughts and opinions of the world around me:

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.

Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

[Jim Adkins / Jimmy Eat World]

Much of the time, I tend to do the polar opposite of putting myself on a pedestal – I put everyone else on one, then feel them peering down at me like towering, relentless critics; even people I don’t know and who haven’t done anything spectacular to warrant an ivory tower. I feel like an underwhelming nobody; someone who tries hard and is always in the running, but who fails to deliver and achieve ultimate success when it really comes down to it. I need to know and respect the limits of my talents/skills; to be aware of where the extent of my skills is and not to punish myself for not being able to push beyond them or not being able to be as good as someone else at, say, Olympic sprinting or nuclear physics – some people are good at some things; others at other things. I can’t excel at literally everything I put my hand to, nor do I need to. If I did, I wouldn’t be imperfect and, more importantly, I wouldn’t be human. 

Light painting by Darren Pearson http://www.dariustwin.com/

Light painting by Darren Pearson
http://www.dariustwin.com/

Maybe I need to develop more of a thick skin to deflect perceptions that I’m a failure or a disappointment, or an anti-missile system that automatically takes down potential criticism (no matter how minor) before it begins to work its way under my skin to erode my self-confidence. Certainly for the sake of my health and sanity, I need to worry less. I need to live in the NOW and not concern whether it’s effective use of time in the grand scheme of things; just to do the things that make me happy, and to be comfortable with who I am and what I stand for. I need to take life more as it comes rather than trying to second-guess what it is I’m supposed to be.

To continue the proliferation of music lyrics in this post, there’s a fantastic quote from ‘The Hero Dies in this One‘ by The Ataris (on their 2003 album So Long, Astoria), which I reproduce here:

The hardest part isn’t finding who we need to be; it’s being content with who we are.

[Kris Roe, The Ataris]

And yes, I think that’s my greatest challenge for this year: to not race and rush to live up to some unattainable vision of myself, but to be happy with who I am and where I fit in with everything. I may not be perfect, but I’m more than just a jumbled collection of matter; with all the faults, feelings and faculties that that entails. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all that matters.

[Zinar7]

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Interstellar

Interstellar

It’s been a little while since I properly posted here. So what have I been up to?

Well, I’m still plugging away at my post-doctoral research, trying to push through the wall of Academic Sucess & get my own research paper published and working on a bunch of ‘space’-based infographic-type display materials for some of the University’s outreach and public engagement events that I’m involved in; the latter of which I’m going to show off here because I can.

From some of the space debris work that @spaceman_ben and I have been involved in, I’ve constantly been looking for engaging, and interesting, ways to communicate some of the information that we’ve collected about the current state of Earth Orbit and to inform the general public about some key facts about ‘Space’. There’s a lot of cool, interesting and captivating infographic posters floating around the internet; and I thought I’d put my hand to coming up with some for myself. Some of my inspirations were:

I designed and produced each one from scratch (well, after making a template myself for the style of the graphic) in CorelDraw X4; collating some of the data on active spacecraft and debris drawn from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Satellite Database and the public catalogues of space objects (SpaceTrack // Celestrak). Some of the results are also from the EU space debris project ACCORD which I’ve been contributing to, along with results from debris simulation results from the University of Southampton’s space debris model, DAMAGE [Dr. Hugh Lewis]. It’s been pretty fun; turns out I quite like doing graphic design and getting to funnel a little bit of creativity into my regular (research) job. 

Anyway, without further ado, here they are (I, II and III):

I. SPACE: 2014 |

Larger Version: http://bit.ly/1llwe4T

Larger Version: http://bit.ly/1llwe4T


II. SPACE DEBRIS |

Debris_InfoPoster_LR

Larger Version: http://bit.ly/1lltche

III. EARTH ORBIT | 

Larger Version: http://bit.ly/1cPNSsR

Larger Version: http://bit.ly/1cPNSsR

Each poster is (IRL) at A0 size, approx. 84 x 59 cm, which is pretty big. Since the (original) files (output at like 600 dpi) were MANY MEGABYTES big, I cranked the resolution down a tiny bit to upload them here. If you want to download the super-high resolution [600 dpi; warning: large file size], then head over here:

Download full versions:

I | Space: 2014 (.png, 6640 x 9492 pixels, 4.4 Mb)
II | Space Debris (.png, 6640 x 9492 pixels, 5.4 Mb)
III | Earth Orbit (.png, 6640 x 9492 pixels, 4.4 Mb)

Hopefully they should be winging their way to the printer’s office very soon and all ready in time for Southampton Science and Engineering Festival, which is just under a month away. I feel fairly proud of the end result (so far, at least), so hopefully I’ll feel even more pride once they’re turned into actual, physical things that I can hold in my hand/hang up on the mantelpiece/etc.  Either way, it was a monster effort and a massive time-sink to make and edit then around my regular research responsibilities, so I’m fairly pleased that they’re at a point where I can shove them out of the door and not keep tweaking them indefinitely like the perfectionist that I am.

Not sure what my next creative project will be quite yet; I’m toying with the idea of designing a card+dice game based on WWII air race/dogfighting, but that’ll need some further thought before I thrust myself into the endeavour. In the mean time, I will ponder.

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Anyway, that’s all the proper stuff that I wanted to say; I shall finish up by sharing some of my most-recent playlists, cataloguing the soundtrack to 2014 so far.

I therefore leave you with these014/01 – Black Sails to the Wind (folk metal);  014/02 – Flextronix (electronic/indie lo-fi). Onwards to glory!

Playlist_01401

Playlist_01402

[Zinar7]

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Asymmetry

Blog

Okay, so it seems that 2014 is charging ahead like a tasered bison and – aside from my declaration of a few Resolutions for 2014 – I haven’t marked my blogging copybook much since the turn of the calendar; a glitch I intend to rectify right here.

It’s been a fairly tough few weeks, and I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t know where my energy, excitement and exuberancy has disappeared to since the Xmas period, but I seem to be all out of everything right now. Perhaps it’s kind of a a void that’s opened up since I finally handed in the fruits of four years of work; a kind of anti-climax and the appearance of a complete lack of direction. I think that I expected some sort of epiphany or revelatory experience once I’d handed in The Thesis – like, as if the planets would align and my path ahead in life would suddenly be made clear and that I’d forge ahead with doing what I want to do and being what I want to be. Alarmingly though, the opposite is true: what am I supposed to do now? What’s expected of me? Who am I supposed to ‘be’ and why? Perhaps it’s simply the absence of something that’s occupied my head for four years that all those other feelings – the thoughts of insecurity, the lack of major life goals and the mountain of self-criticism – come to the fore and are no longer being shouted down by the noisier stresses that previously inhabited my brain. It’s little like emerging from a damp, dingy cave (made of Thesis-writing and headdesk) only to emerge into the sunlight to discover that it’s no warmer, dryer or less full of headdesk than where you were before; except now there’s a whole lot more of it, too.

991005_20100721_screen001

Perhaps it was simply optimistic to think that everything would be a magical, rosy picnic once The Thesis was done, but when you’ve worked so hard on something for so long, it’s a natural feeling to feel some level of relief once it’s gone; I just thought it might last longer, that’s all. I’ve never been particularly good at embracing Change or shake-ups in life, although it must be said that I have learned how to be fairly adaptable to such change when it’s been forced upon me and to hollow out my comfortable life in whatever new regime. Right now, though, I’m in this sort of Limbo state of existence; halfway between a past life and some future one; all direction lost in the fog. The reference to Limbo (the video game) is more than just casual, since most of the inside of my brain currently feels a bit like a dark, atmospheric world that’s out to get me and I feel no more prepared for it than a nameless boy sent forth into it to seeks answers to questions that aren’t yet fully formed.

I’m more than a little aware, at the moment, of the passage of time. It seems to be rocketing by at quite a pace, and I’m becoming increasingly anxious that it won’t be too long before I’m due to be thrust out of my current job potentially into a gaping chasm of (at the moment, at least) Unemployment. I’ve been preparing a few steps towards establishing some sort of job, but haven’t really started Employment Quest™ properly in earnest; largely because I have no idea what I want to do. Sure, I guess I still have dreams, but I’ve lost a little faith in my abilities such that I’ll feel like a fraud if I tried making inroads towards them; and would be disheartened by the rejection when it inevitably came. I’m not scared of Change per se, but whilst I keep drawing a complete blank when pressed about what I’d like to do with my life it feels impossible to know where to start looking.

I suppose that’s the nub of the problem: I generally feel adrift. I’ve been happily pottering downriver in my boat, doing my best to bail out water that’s seeping through the hull and trying to avoid getting drowned in the rapids, such that now I’m in the open sea, I’ve lost all will and direction to figure out which island to visit first. Guidance about the correct path in life can only really come from within, but I’m struggling to decipher my true thoughts and feelings from amongst the deafening noises of doubt and self-criticism. There’s a general sense that I’m merely treading water in many aspects of my existence and function in my own little world; not really contributing to any firm Life Plan but simply trying to exist from one moment to the other without sabotaging my own sails or totally capsizing.

limbo-6

Of course, this is just a sticky patch. I’m aware that this is likely only a temporary period of feeling absolutely, truly mediocre and that I shall soon, with any luck, have my courses set for exciting destinations and rip-roaring adventures. If anything, I just need to keep trudging on through the viscous, gloopy treacle of insecurity and indecision. Perhaps, once I feel like I’m making progress with anything (from career opportunities, to actual research work, to getting my research paper[s] published, to passing my viva, to being more comfortable with myself and my appearance, to figuring out what makes me properly happy in life), all of the other pieces will start to fall into place and I’ll be able to make progress elsewhere, too. But, while I’m still feeling adrift and distant from everyone and everything, summoning the energy to start sailing  anew each day is a constant struggle; followed by fresh disappointment when night-time comes and I feel no closer to dry land. A lifetime on the waves ain’t no place for a steely landlubber, and this dainty swab thinks it’s high time he found harbour.

There’s a lighthouse out there somewhere I’m sure; I just need to make sure that I don’t needlessly sail myself into the rocks before I stumble across it.

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #17: Extended Acknowledgements

PhD_17

Well, it’s handed in. It’s all done. I am done.

Four years of work has finally culminated in 261 pages of words, numbers and pictures. At 2:39 pm today, I finally handed in my soft-bound copy of The Thesis for immediate review and examination. It’s all done for me now until the PhD viva; I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to fill my time with (other than worrying like hell about the viva), so perhaps it’s time to reflect on what I’m achieved in the last four (and a bit) years. Wow.

The Thesis

261 pages, 74173 words, 28 tables, 70 figures, 41 equations, 414691 characters (no spaces), 486444 characters (with spaces), 33 footnotes.

Because there wasn’t enough room on my ‘Acknowledgements‘ page to cover everything and everyone that has given me inspiration over the last four years, this post represents an extension of that page to make sure everyone is thanked for their endless help. If I’ve still forgotten you or something else dear to me, then let me know and I’ll fix it. But without further ado, let us commence:

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(EXTENDED) ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The process of research is often a complex, syrupy substance and without the frequent, helpful advice and guidance of my friends and colleagues, I would most likely still be stuck somewhere in the fog.

Gratitude must first go to my supervisors Dr. Adrian Tatnall and Dr. Gary Coleman (now at NASA Langley Research Center), along with those who became prolific advisors on many aspects of my work: the guidance offered by my generous colleagues was more than I could hope for, providing both stimulating academic discussion and constant reassurance that, although the journey would be difficult, the destination would be reached in the end. Other academics who aided in soothing the worries and focusing the research were Dr. Watchapon Rojanaratanangkule, Dr. Glyn Thomas and Dr. Hugh Lewis. I must also thank the assistance of Prof Roland Romeiser (University of Miami) and Prof. Vladimir Kudryavtsev (Nansen International Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, St. Petersburg) for permitting use of their numerical codes for ocean radar image modelling (M4S and RIM, respectively) and invaluable guidance to my seemingly endless, undoubtedly short-sighted, queries.

Of course, my fellow students in the Astronautics Research Group also provided exciting and entertaining discussions both about research and the world at large, such as Ben Schwarz, Adam White, Rhys Clements, Dan Greenhalgh, Angelo Grubišić, Warinthorn Kiadtikornthaweeyot, Jaye Foster, Rich Blake, Zhe (Jeff) Zhang, Marcello Remedia, Francesca Letizia, Stefania Soldini, Stefano Redi, etc.  I wish everyone all the best; for both those who’ve finished their postgraduate journey (“we made it!”) and those who’re still marching on (“keep going!”). You all deserve immense respect for putting up not only with the harsh, unpredictable Building 13 temperature climate, my leaky headphones, but also my noisy drawer-rummaging for the best part of four years; you have the patience(s) of saint(s). Also, I should also congratulate the vending machine on Level 2 of Bldg. 13 as it has proved a reliable ally in delivering sugary and/or caffeinated goodness to me when I really needed it. Vending machine, you’re the best.

The Theatre of Dreams.

The Theatre of Dreams.

They say music soothes even the savage beast, and for that the friendly Southampton RockSoc crew deserves recognition for their constant encouraging support and wise words throughout the course of my research. Here’s a (rather extensive) list of some of the RockSoc champs who have kept me on the straight ‘n’ narrow and whispered encouraging words in the last four years: Dave Joce(*), Jenny Josephs(*), Dan Illingworth, Ant James, Kim Lipscombe, Kate Thackeray, Timmy Peters, Louise Roberts,  Pete Boorman, Andrew Day, Bob Rimington(*), Charlie Hargood(*), Adam Sobey(*), Angela Tack, Kirsty Mills, Lexi Elliott, Steve Bailey, Sina Simangooei(*), Al Frazer(*), Shez Parry, Pat McSweeney, Mikey Federanko, Sam Lander(*), Trim McKenna, Gord (just ‘Gord’), Louisa Wronska(*), Mike Williamson(*), along with many others I’ve inevitably forgotten; (*) also representing survivors (or current footsoldiers) of the PhD machine. There are still more Southampton people who must be recognised (but perhaps don’t fit under the ‘RockSoc’ banner): Laura and Dave; Claire/Sarah/Alice/Chloe/etc.; and many more.

Cap-doffing must also go to the raft of bands whose music maintained my focus and drive during my studies, notably AFI, Daft Punk, Rush, Nine Inch Nails, Less Than Jake, Foo Fighters, Turisas, The Ataris, Jimmy Eat World, Andrew WK, Ke$ha, Chipzel, Anamanaguchi, Cave In, Karnivool, Faith No More, Queens of the Stone Age, Justice, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, Biffy Clyro, [spunge], Iron Maiden, Sonata Arctica, Blaqk Audio, Weezer, Tool, Alkaline Trio, Owl City, Rhapsody of Fire/Rhapsody/Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, Ensiferum, Dream Theater, The Smashing Pumpkins, Power Quest, Funeral For A Friend, Bad Religion, NOFX, The XX, Deadmau5, Owl City, Soundgarden, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Skindred, Knife Party, How To Destroy Angels, 2:54, Týr, The Explosion, Rival Schools, Gregory and the Hawk, Metallica, Cradle of Filth, Stratovarius, KT Tunstall, Thrice and a whole ton more. You guys rock, don’t ever stop.

The Thesis (2)

Three soft-bound copies of The Thesis. Boom.

Old friends never die, and as such there’s a whole raft of Herefordshire inmates (and escapees) who’ve kept me afloat through these long few years with exciting distractions or wise words, and encouraged me to blow the Horn of Gondor in academia: Jeremy Gadfield for constant encouragement (“KEEP PU$HING”) Oliver Kibblewhite, Ananda Hill, Steph Dutson, Stacey Gibson, Laura Derry-Jones, John Sampson, Dave Grist, , Rachel England, Emma Hillier, Ed Locock; you know who you are, and you’re all awesome. My family also deserve immense recognition for their continued support and encouragement, and for being a rock of normality in my whirlwind research career whilst keeping me furnished with clean socks and stocks of home-made lemon curd (not to mention finance). As an aside, my faithful steed Big Suze should also be commended for being possibly the only reliable(ish) French car in history, and for letting me gad about the country in my time off to visit family and friends. THANK YOU BIG SUZE.

Lastly but by no means leastly, I must thank my dedicated partner, Bryony, for her constant support through all the stresses, struggles and stickiness, and for always believing in me.

Just a selection of the notebooks and draft versions of The Thesis that I've eaten through in the last 4+ years.

Just a selection of the notebooks and draft versions of The Thesis that I’ve eaten through in the last 4+ years.

 

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I briefly wondered what I would do once I submitted, and whether I would continue to post entries under the ‘PhD Fraud’ banner: I figured that, YES, for the time being, I shall continue. For a start, I’m not out of the woods yet (I still have to get through my viva before I can truly shake off the “PhD Fraud” title I have placed upon myself), but I also still feel that there are some legs in the series; at least as long as I continue to stay in academia/research and can still (potentially) offer some guidance/support/kindred misery with other PhD Frauds and Survivors across the globe. The story of my PhD struggles may soon be over, but there are still some lessons that can be learned from them, and which I am happy to impart.

Anyway, as a point of celebration, I made a couple of November Spotify playlists which boosted me through the harsh, unforgiving ‘formatting’ process. You can find them here: 013/11a – The Illusion of Safety (grunge/alt rock);  013/11b – Drain the Blood (punk rock).

The Illusion of Safety

Drain the Blood

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #16: A Game of Theses

A Game of Theses

Given my predilection towards video games, there is a natural tendency for me to try and turn everything in my life into some sort of game. For The Thesis, this is no different, and a lot of parallels can be drawn between research and particular gaming genres, most notably epic role-playing adventures. Here, I address some of these parallels and attempt to show how gaming experience can teach valuable lessons for academic research; some serious, some silly.

ThesisInTheKnee_2

Most notably, research is often described as a ‘quest’; usually by some lone hero who is trying to shine ‘light’ into ‘dark’ corners previously not traversed by man/orc/elf, or to seek some golden treasure (‘knowledge’) that others have yet to attain. Comparisons between PhD study and video gaming, then, naturally lend themselves toward the world of Role-Playing Games (RPGs); particularly the sort of epic scale, fantastical journeys portrayed by the likes of the Elder Scrolls, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy serieseses. Think about it: a young, unknown adventurer heads off to various unexplored climes to meet a plethora of challenges head-on before battling some sort of final ‘boss’ (the thesis examiner) to return back to his village with the spoils (his or her doctorate). I’d say that that sounds fairly familiar to anyone who’s gone through the PhD process, and there are other parallels that can be made with the acquisition of new skills or the levelling up of key stats. From this perspective, it’s certainly a lot easier to deal with the daily grind of research when you think of it as an XP+ (experience)-gaining exercise than a ‘job’; furthermore, it’s even mildly satisfying to pretend that a little ‘+50 XP’ notification comes up in the corner of your screen every time you fix a bug in your code, analyse a particular piece of useful data or get a journal paper accepted.

However, where RPGs can represent a epic quest from obscurity to world-saving greatness, they can equally imply a long, time-weathered slog  through dark, dank dungeons filled with tough, armoured beasties; something that’s not too alien to the experiences of most PhD process. Doing a PhD is hard; like, Water Temple hard. Typically, a lone hero must struggle through wave upon wave of gnarly, heavily-armed enemies in order to save the world/rescue princess/defeat evil overlord [* delete as applicable], which is easily comparable to the loneliness of the long-distance researcher battling against wave upon wave of research struggles. Largely, the main RPG/PhD protagonist is dropped (largely unprepared) into a new, fully-formed world and told to fend for yourself with little in the way of guidance and usually only a minimal tutorial: this is much like the progression of a grad student from being a bog standard research student into someone whose skills hold up on their own. If my PhD experience has been anything to go by, this is a perfect metaphor for the life of a new grad student dropped into the floodwaters of academic research without armbands or a life vest, where you must learn your own skills, navigate your own research path and figure out by yourself how you’re going to conquer Mount Thesis with only a wooden sword and shield.

Holy shit original content

Much like epic-scale RPGs, a PhD also offers plenty of scope for distraction. Sure, the main quest may be to finish this piece of research so you can write it up in this chapter of your thesis and then hand it in, but along the way it’s easy to find other things to do to kill time. Research typically has a plethora of side-quests dished out by random Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) and townsfolk, as well as other missions that deviate time away from your thesis but ultimately earn you bonus XP and strengthen your skills. These might be:

– Writing journal papers [+35 XP]

– Applying for research funding [+40 XP]

– Tidying your desk/lab area while trying to avoid proper work [+5 XP]

– Making Gantt charts for weekly schedules and things (even though you know that you will not be able to keep to it) [+8 XP]

– Looking at pictures of cats when you totally should be working [-6 XP]

– Attending conferences/workshops/etc. [+25 XP]

– Sucking up to your supervisor by marking undergrad assignments [+15 XP]

etc.

Whilst video games might be thought of as a distraction or evil time-sinks, there’s certainly a plethora of research skills that can be gained by engaging in { certain types } of video game. An open-world, (potentially) story-based quest provides a significant opportunity for exploring a complex, expansive world and can teach very worthwhile skills in adventuring into the unknown and metistically scouring dungeons for loot/treasure; a direct allegory to painstakingly reviewing academic literature and investigating infinite paths until you finally stumble across one which isn’t a dead end. Such adventuring can also teach patience, and impart an ability to take time over your search and to be curious enough to poke your nose into every nook and cranny; persevering in the face of adversity (and/or ragequit) to eventually finding that well-hidden chest containing a magical sword that kills everything with one swing; infinite amounts of some special cake that never makes you fat; and some experimental/simulation results that aren’t complete tosh and might actually be worth publishing.

So yes, in many ways, embarking on a PhD shares much similarity with booting up a new video game RPG for the first time; the awareness of the impending time-burden painfully bright. There’s excitement and fear in equal measure at the challenge(s) that will thrown whimsically at you from every direction, and an anticipation of what it’ll feel like to be a fully-trained, battle-hardened adventurer once you’ve beaten the final boss (your final thesis examiner); but all in the knowledge that it’ll be long, rocky road that will take significant mental and physical energy to overcome. All this withstanding, everyone must start out with their simple wooden sword and shield, and elevate themselves to the role of ‘Hero of Time‘ by traversing many Water Temples and by battling many Skulltulas; it’s not an easy quest.

But where the Triforce of The Legend of Zelda fame unites ‘Power’, ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Courage’, in the case of a PhD [project slash thesis], there are three far more fundamental aspects which define the True Hero, and which must be bonded together in perfect harmony to once again bring balance to the world: ‘Hard Work’, ‘Coffee’ and ‘Crying’.

It’s a long, hard road, but we’ll all get there in the end. Godspeed!

Well excuuuuuuse me, Princess!

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #15: The PhD Pre-Flight Checklist

PhD15

Through the course of the last 6-12 months of writing-up, my impending collision course towards Thesis Zero has highlighted a number of key things that every grad student should keep in mind before officially handing in your work for appraisal, and which has led to generation of the official PhD Fraud Submission Checklist.

The list aims to run through those things that one might forget in the heat of the moment or in the mad rush between finishing your final sentence and celebrating with copious amounts of alcohol. The PhDFPSC, therefore, is here to help guide you through the finalising and formatting process, in case the dizziness of finally getting to the end is too much and you lose all focus on space and time. It’s primarily a list for my own use, but hopefully it’s relevant for everyone who’s in the final throes of putting together their own weighty tomes, and wants to make sure they don’t forget anything crucial.

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The PhD Fraud Pre-Submission Checklist

  • Check the submission guidelines of your institution. For reference, mine can be found [here]. You don’t want to get it wrong; in the worst case, you might have to completely re-submit everything again. If you’re going to spend time formatting and tidying up your completed thesis, you may as well get it right first time, yeah?
  • Check all spelling and grammar and everything in the document. If possible, get someone else to read it (or at least scan an eye over it) since Microsoft spellchecker is about as trustworthy as a van parked outside a school with a hand-painted sign saying “Free Candy”.
  • Make sure that you haven’t accidentally left in all those footnotes and comments bad-mouthing your supervisor/examiner, calling him “a fop-haired imbecile”.
  • Check that all figures, tables, equations, etc. are numbered correctly and referenced properly in the text and in the contents pages. The last thing that an examiner wants to do is to be flicking backward and forward through 100+ pages and not being able to find that diagram of Honey Badger mating rituals that you’re referring to in the text.

    A conservative estimate of a thesis examiner's fury.

    A conservative estimate of a thesis examiner’s fury.

  • Also, make sure that your references section or bibliography is up-to-date and contains all the relevant information. If possible, make sure you referenced journal/conference articles that your examiner has written, such that he gets a warm fuzzy glow of being important and powerful.
  • Further to the above, if you have referenced your thesis examiner, then do make sure you’ve spelt his/her name right and their co-authors: believe me, they’ll notice. Also, try not to reference their work in the context of criticising it or saying that it is “total bullshit”; things like that will tend to get you a bad rep, and are unlikely to contribute to a super-happy-fun time in your viva voce.
  • Check that you haven’t accidentally ‘lost’ a whole chapter, or accidentally pressed ‘CTRL+A’, ‘DEL’ by accident and wiped your enter thesis. It’s easier done that you’d think (as I can attest from experience).
  • Did I already mention that you should back up your files and documents properly? You should back up your files and documents properly. For something as important as The Thesis, I tend to at least carry two hard copies and three soft copies on my person at all time. Paranoid? Me?
  • Make sure all your fonts and formatting is nice and consistent. If you have used anything except Times New Roman, Garamond, Calibri or something like that, change it.
  • Be subtle about plagiarising: at least re-phrase some of the stuff you’ve inevitably copy-pasted from someone else’s work; or if you can think of a way of writing it that’s completely different (but essentially the same), all the better.
  • Have you sorted out a Table of Contents, and listing of all the Figures, Tables, etc. you’ve used? Make sure they’re nicely up-to-date and don’t refer to a previous draft or point to the wrong page numbers.
  • While we’re at it, how’s your Bibliography looking? It’s not the quantity of references that matters, it’s the quality: an examiner will likely notice if you’ve tried to artificially pad out your Bibliography with things you haven’t read. On the flip side, if you’d like to have fun with your examiner, include a completely made-up reference, just to check whether he/she is properly paying attention:

    Brown, E. L., & McFly, M. S. (1985). Unsteady State Analysis of Flux Capacitor Self-Excited Time Manipulation. Journal of Time Travel, (9), 992–1000.

  • Make sure you make all your graphs, figures and tables look really nice. Also: make sure that they’re decent resolution with a good DPI so that they look good even when they’re zoomed-in on a PDF. Go mad, use Adobe CS6 if you need to, but just take some care in how you’re presenting your results; if you can make it look visually appealing and interesting as well as merely presented the data, then it helps the examiner to read your work and engage with it.
  • Do you need to submit programming code as an appendix or on a data CD? You’d best go through your code with a fine tooth-comb, removing all those comments like “// THIS SECTION OF CODE DOESN’T WORK”, “%FUCKING MATLAB”, etc.
  • Fill out your ‘Acknowledgements’ page properly; don’t skimp on the thanks for those who deserve it. This may be your only opportunity to do anything like an hour-long Oscar winner’s speech, so feel free to thank all the names under the Sun. Heck, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back as well; you certainly deserve it.
  • Best take out that experimental slashfic chapter you wrote about your supervisor/Voldemort in a coffee-fuelled all-nighter haze way back in second year.
  • Have you actually finished everything? There’s nothing important you’ve forgotten, is there? Just spend a few days thinking about it before you print and soft-bind it; you never know, you might finally remember that crucial figure you meant to put in but never got ‘round to that is totally the whole basis of your argument.
  • Remember to actually submit the damned thing – in the joyous celebration and raucous parting upon finishing 3-4 years of work, it’s probably a good idea to not forget to hand it in.
  • FINAL STEP: Party. Then have a massive panic attack because you just remembered that other key thing you forgot to put in and your thesis is already winging its way to your examiners. Oh well, never mind; there’s always time during “minor/major/entire corrections” (delete as applicable) to fix anything.

ThesisParty

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #14: Launch Procedure Initiated

PhD14

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!

[Zinar7]

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PhD Fraud #13: The Doctor Dilemma

PhD_13

Given that I’m soon to be submitting The Thesis for critical review and that it’s very possible that, in less than three months’ time, I could technically be a Doctor, it’s time to properly think about the implications of completing the PhD process and entering the world as a proper Doctor of Philosophy.

Should I pass the viva examination, one of the first big decisions will be: what the hell do I call myself? After four years of hard work and much perspiration and  consternation, I will officially be allowed to call myself ‘Dr. George’. In itself, that’s a terrifying thought, but is it what I want?  Much as this series of blog posts has been titled “PhD Fraud“, the feeling that ‘it’s all been some big mistake and the examiners have accidentally awarded me a doctorate by mistake’ is not likely to go away; I will probably still continue to feel like a bit of a fraud and that I don’t deserve such accolades. I’ll therefore feel immensely awkward as introducing myself as ‘Dr. George’ rather than just a simple ‘Mr.’, and anyway ‘George’ isn’t a surname that suits much of the ‘Doctor’ prefix: I’ll just sound like I’m local GP or something, whereas I have only a rudimentary knowledge of medicine and certainly wouldn’t be any use if a passenger’s head just exploded on a passenger plane. No, if I’m going to keep the title of ‘Doctor’, the least I can do is to have a surname that’s worthy of using the prefix, and the only logical answer is ‘Thundersmash’.

All Joking aside, while I’m not going to be rushing out  to properly change my name straight after my viva, I’m certainly considering how I’m going to approach introducing myself to new people. Already, I kind of feel awkward talking about my research with anyone (not even other grad students), let alone with the general public who perhaps aren’t as aware of ins-and-outs of academia. I’m generally a pretty quiet and humble sort of chap who doesn’t like to blow his own trumpet, so tend to end up acting pretty bashful when non-academic friends/people ask what my research is about (and, usually, find it a heap more interesting than the reality actually is).

When I talk to my friends outside of academia, I kind of feel like I’m not much of a success: my best friend works for a Formula 1 team, whilst the other does media/filming stuff and so gets to go to swanky things like major film premieres and whatnot. Meanwhile, I’m stuck in the same office every day, staring at the same bits of MATLAB code and faffing around with the same Word document (The Thesis). It’s sometimes difficult to visualise what effect your research has on the world at large – often, research is so incremental and focussed that it can be difficult to make a connection to the real world, or value its relevance; certainly not in the same way that a doctor, firefighter or even coffee shop barista can measure what they’ve done for other people. So yeah, sometimes I end up feeling a little unimportant when I’m striving away at research at the same desk day in, day out, and so perhaps getting a few letters either before or after your name helps to reinforce the ‘value’ of your research efforts.

Despite all this, cruising around thinking of myself as ‘Dr. George’ – or even just being known as ‘that Doctor guy’ – is still going to feel intensely strange; I’d rather people just call me by my first name than have to get all tangled up in surnames and honorifics. Staying in academia following graduation implies that one must call oneself ‘Doctor’, since it effectively describes ‘rank’ on the academic ladder. Away from academia though, and the necessity to retain the new prefix is far from critical, and likely comes down to personal choice: for me, maybe I’ll add a ‘Ph.D’ suffix after my name on business cards or CVs just to make myself sound more important than I really am, but I’m certainly not going to come across all Alan Sir Sugar Lord if you don’t use the correct title.

Thundersmash Business Card

Anyway, how close am I to finishing? Well, not too far off (I hope). Last month, I submitted a 95% complete draft to my supervisor, which was returned with some helpful comments. I’m currently bouncing around trying to add the final 5% of work and tidy up everything that was there before. I’ve just negotiated to have my thesis deadline extending by a couple of months in some recompense for the year or so I’ve been doing other (unrelated) research, such that I can submit final copy somewhere in November/December. I’m certainly intending to get final draft to my supervisor by the end of October, which should provide sufficient turnaround to address comments and feedback before I commit to submission.

I’ve heard from various people that this part of the ‘write-up’ process is the hardest, and I can’t argue with that sentiment: it’s the most nerve-wracking, as you desperately try to wrangle the more slippery parts of The Thesis into some sort of shape, but also the most frustrating since you’re so, so close yet you can’t cross the finish line quite yet. There’s also a continuing frustration that you’ll never get it into a perfect state that you’re completely completely happy with, and at some point you just have to push it out of the door and hope that it’s ‘good enough’. I’m nearly at the point where it’s going to have to be pushed out of the door regardless of my satisfaction with it, and that inspires both terror and relief in almost equal measure. In many ways, I know I’m so, so close to the end, but things still feel a way off yet. Nearly there!

[Zinar7]

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UK Space Conference 16-17/07/2013 – Personal Debrief

Last week was the second UK Space Conference, so along with a couple of colleagues from the Astronautics Research Group, we headed up to steely Glasgow to put up and run the University of Southampton exhibfaition stand at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) for the 16th-17th of July. All things considered, everything went pretty well and we put on a good show; nonetheless, here’s a few of my thoughts about the experience and what happened at #UKSC2013.

UKSC-UoS

Having sorted out shipping all of our exhibition materials up to Glasgow via DHL the preceding Friday, Ben, Rhys and I hopped onto a plane from Southampton Airport at Monday lunchtime to arrive in Glasgow in the afternoon. Grateful that our exhibition kit had all arrived at the on time (and in one piece), we set to work on fitting it all into our 2 m x 3 m display area. We set up the big stand, a couple of pull-up banners, the display counter and a table-top touchscreen PC, and hung the neon-coloured Southampton High Altitude Re-Usable Platform (SHARP) cubesat from the roof of our display (and its parachute) to attract the eye of potential visitors. With almost ruthless efficiency we erected everything in (unofficial) record time, ensuring that everything that could be duct-taped down was duct-taped down – either for the safety of passing hobbits/children who are in constant danger of the main stand collapsing and falling on them, or to avoid expensive pieces of equipment going AWOL during a busy conference. At this stage, I’m fairly sure that stock prices of duct-tape go through the roof every time we organise an outreach event, so we should probably look into some sort of sponsorship deal.

UKSC-DAMAGE

The University of Southampton’s space debris evolutionary model, DAMAGE

The conference began in earnest at 0900 on Tuesday, where I was immediately required to abandon the stand in order to deliver a talk in the opening session the conference, which was the ‘Have Your Say’ Soapbox session: a couple of months back, delegates were invited to submit a 140-character abstract for a 5-minute presentation slot, with those selected to give the presentation then required to finalise a 140-word summary and a set of 5 presentation slides that did not exceed 5 minutes but which fit into the main topics of the session covering “current industry and academic projects, new results, proposals for new work and availability of support and funding.” Taking my recent work on the ACCORD project, I submitted (with the help of Ben) an abstract entitled ‘A Web Tool for Spacecraft Manufacturers & Operators to Promote Sustainable Space Operations’, with the aim of introducing our new ACCORD environmental impact rating for spacecraft which measures future, prospective spacecraft designs for their potential impact(s) on the space debris environment in Earth orbit.

UKSC-Soapbox

The talk went fairly well, though I can categorically say that the strict five-minute slot was indeed very restrictive (but in a good way), and that the sight of your presentation slides slowly filling up with a red border as you approached the five-minute limit (and the threat of the microphone being cut off) was certainly an effective way to get speakers to conform to the time restrictions. Sadly, I didn’t win the prize of an iPad that was being toted for the ‘best presentation’ of the session, but I think I pulled things off fairly well – it was certainly the only space debris-related talk across the whole conference and, looking past the blinding stage lights, I could see a few members of the audience photographing my slides for future reference, so hopefully I raised some very valid awareness about our work on ACCORD. I definitely stressed out far more about the talk than I honestly needed to, but I always tend to get butterflies at these sorts of things.

[if you would like to download, or view, my presentation slides from the Soapbox session, you can find them by clicking here]

Returning from the stand after my talk, it was immediately obvious that we’d made the right choice to exhibit at the conference: despite the expense, hassle and energy required to purchase a slot and fill it with attractive marketing gear (and three post-grads), we were the only major UK ‘space’ university (aside from the Open University) to properly exhibit at the conference, and I think that this was good certainly from the point of view of ‘reaching out’ to industry and also trying to talk to students prospectively looking at careers in the space industry. It also helps that the space industry is scattered with graduates from the University; in particular, the current Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr. David Parker, and the Chief Engineer, Dr. Richard Crowther – it was certainly nice to hear so many ex-students talking about their time here with some fondness. That being said, following a thorough survey of all the free pens we could steal from other stands, the generic University of Southampton pens we borrowed from the Faculty were by far the cheapest-looking ones at the conference and to blame, in no small part, for how few got picked up by visitors and how many we had to bring back to Southampton. For next time, I’d definitely be interested in getting some proper (and classy-looking) Astronautics Research Group ones, or at least Aero/Astro department ones.

P1000338

Our stand was positioned fairly well (an end slot near an aisle, and visible all the way down the main aisle) and nestled between the stands for the  National Physical Laboratory and Thales Alenia Space, so we ended up getting some pretty good footfall from people either walking through or passing by, and certainly plenty of questions. In retrospect, it would have been really handy to have one of the actual academics there (and not just three post-grads), but I think we fielded most of the queries pretty well in the most part. In our shipment, we’d send up a heckload of University prospectuses, leaflets and flyers (on everything from the whole Uni down to Faculty information) and a lot of this stuff came back – I guess we just overestimated the demand for paper materials, but it was better to have plenty left over than risk running out of publicity material. The same happened with ACCORD flyers, as we kind of over-estimated how many people would test/check out the new spacecraft rating system (head over here if you’d like to find out more), so we have plenty of ACCORD flyers to take to other events, or distribute by hand to spacecraft designers & manufacturers. In retrospect, it might have been worth going round some of the other stands when the exhibition hall was quiet and asking if they’d like to take a few minutes to test the rating system, but alas, we didn’t. Oh well.

And on that bombshell I shall end this post, but before I do, here are a few more of my photos from the conference. Enjoy:

UKSC-UoS_stand

[Zinar7]

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