Saturday, 7 April 2012

PhD -> done!

I am relieved. I am happy. I am proud. Iupiiiiiiii!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

End of the road?

My viva is in two days. Viva is the name of the PhD thesis's defence in the UK. I feel almost relieved but at the same time terrified. I wish I did not have to do this, but I guess this is the only way to finally accomplish what I have being working on for 4 years!! So I cannot wait! it is a big FINALLY! If I am successful, in two days time I am going to feel so free! My PhD has been kind of a torture, a true nightmare... I think most people would say the same, at least most people I know are unhappy and frustrated with their PhD's, but why is that? In my case there are many many reasons.. I think almost everything that can go wrong with a PhD did happen to me! Lets see... Changing projects because first project was no longer funded, waiting a couple of months to know whether there would be any funding at all to continue whatever alternative project... first supervisor and second supervisor broke up and I was left with just the first supervisor. Then, first and only supervisor disappears for a few months and I'm left with no supervisor at all. Later, first supervisor returns but refuses to give proper supervision saying he does not "believe" in it(weird..) .. This means: no training, no monthly meetings, no thesis planing, no planing at all.. He would see me if I had a result to show him and that is it! At this stage I should have mentioned already that I was in a lab surrounded by germans who spoke german all the time around me (including my supervisor).. I felt lonely and apart, without understanding what was going on for the majority of the time. No support, no help, no friends. The only non german speaker, apart from myself, was a technician (poor him), who eventually left after becoming depressed... guess why? Then ok, surviving all of this, I still had to fight against a crazy radiation inspector who hates my supervisor and who therefore decided he could seek some sort of revenge by messing up with me. He unfairly accused me of wrongdoing, a matter that triggered a total mess, starting with a formal complaint, followed by unlimited meetings with all sort of people in the school, professors, technicians, head of school, then students's Union.. After a couple of months everything eventually ended and I was back to work.. work, but with some bullshit supervision, no collaborations, no friendly lab mates.. hard methods, no one to teach, show, explain. I had to learn everything on my own, sometimes by trial and error, spending nights in the lab, weekends in the lab. Stuff eventually worked out, got some interesting results. Time to put it together in a thesis but run out of funding! At that time, bloody supervisor who was suppose to cover for my expenses, but did not, said I could not finish! Although I had no money and therefore no time. Worked for 4 more months without a penny, got more results and told stupid supervisor I wanted to finish. He did not agree, I run away.. went to Portugal, wrote the thesis, came back, gave it to stupid supervisor who eventually skimmed through and guess what? He did not like the structure! Of course! We never discussed the structure before, ever! We never discussed anything related to my thesis ever! Stupid supervisor gave me his comments, I followed his advice.. at this point I just wanted to get rid of anything related to the PhD, so best do everything he wanted as long as that accelerates the process... But, surprise surprise, gave him the second version following his advice but again he did not like it! Yet, it was now based on his advice!! He said he had changed his mind.. Bullocks! therefore do it again! Third time writing my thesis up while still being asked to come to the lab because of course one cannot just write up a thesis full time.. there are experiments to run!! At this point I felt desperate, I was being used and abused. Without payment I was forced to come to the lab to keep my supervisor happy such that he would eventually read my thesis and give me corrections. But obviously he was delaying it, such that I would come to the lab more and more... it was insane. At a point he asked me to write a paper, a book chapter that was more than overdue. Out of desperation I said I could help, thinking ok, lets keep this guy happy. At the same time I asked and begged him to please read my thesis because I was struggling to live like this.. no money, no time, no sleep, no eating, feeling distressed and aggravated, trying to cope with everything. Plus the pressure at home to have my PhD finished and move on with my life which was the obvious thing to do! Got depressed. Yet did not give up. Wrote the book chapter, did the experiments and eventually got my thesis mostly corrected with some exceptions. It came to a point I could not take it any longer. My sanity was at risk, my health was severely jeopardized by all the stress.. it had been a year with no money, working night and day.. days in the lab, nights at the computer writing and reading.. lost 8Kg, my face was like a zombie's face. I could barely stand up, no strength in my legs, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. Decision made: hand in the thesis; tell supervisor to piss off! No second supervisor to ask for help, eventually got some support from a colleague and some other academics who could see it... supervisor went nuts with my attitude and is seeking revenge... kicked my name out of the book chapter I had devoted time to write: I filed a complaint against him. Rumour has that he is currently willing to destroy me. I do not know how, we do not talk, but I know he is mad and evil. I just want to get this done. I think I can tell that this means more than anything now. Good news are that I got a job, the job I wanted! Thus I just really have to pass the viva after tomorrow and everything will hopefully go back to normality I can go back to my real self. In hindsight I know today that I should have quit my PhD right at the beginning when I sensed all of this. I knew it! I truly did, but somewhat there was something in me that did not let me quit.. I think I always believed I would be strong enough to make it through, was I? I will tell you later ;)

Monday, 16 January 2012

The roads into my PhD..

Like I said in my last post, I am currently looking for a job as I have recently submitted my PhD thesis (I still cannot believe it entirely...) Today, I spent pretty much the whole day looking into job advertisements, recruitment companies websites and thus spotting possible future employers. At the same time I wrote a list of skills and assets I gained, mostly from my PhD, such that I can fix and update my CV, also I spent quite some time surfing in Linkedin..

Linkedin became quite useful as it quickly helped me remembering and learning about a lot of possible employers. At the same time, however, it diverted my attention to the forums of questions and answers that are constantly going on as part of the groups that one can take part.. I am myself part of quite a few groups that I joined for one reason or another.. from time to time, and more often than I would wish, I receive, in my email box, these questions and these debates and frequently realize they are redundant. The same questions and issues are raised several times and go on forever.. I reckon that is because they are indeed prevalent within the population and important matters to be discussed of course.. In particular, there is this question about "Why did you do your PhD" or "shall I hide my PhD in my next job application" of course these questions are posed directly to people who have done PhD's but who are very much willing to leave academia for good...

Reading all this, I could not help it but rethink on my entire decision of first having thought of doing a PhD and secondly having done it, or most of it.. (not 100% finished but confident enough that I will pass my dissertation exam.. hopefully... mixed feelings here)..

At the same time I came across this blog article from a guy I know and I discovered today is doing a PhD himself.. (sorry I didnt know about that).. Besides the article being really well written I think it explains very well why most people, who have a scientific background, are dragged into this kind of life.. aka PhD/research servant forced to get accustomed to a tyrant supervisor who has no respect for the fact that his students is a human being with personal aspirations and instead simply sees a brain on a stick... as very well characterized by Jorge Cham (PhD comics says it all)...

But Ok.. I am diverting a little bit from the message I wanted to convey today which was basically to explain how I came to do a PhD... So basically and to cut a fairly long story, it was when I was in the final stages of my undergrad degree that the word PhD reached my vocabulary.. I was undertaking my final year research project and quite successfully, I not only set up an entire new lab, as I performed good research, later appreciated by my supervisors and pretty much all the scholars around. On top of that I still did some teaching and master students supervision.. all in all it was a great achievement and I got the best mark ever achieved for this discipline, 19 out of 20! During this time I was heavily persuaded into pursuing a PhD not only by the academics around me, including my professors, but as well by the job market.. Before I just wanted to finish my degree and get a job, that's it. A cousin of mine had done a PhD some time ago and struggled to get a job due to over qualification, so I knew that should be something to avoid.. but somehow I went straight to it... After applying for a few research technician jobs without success, it seemed right to do a PhD, specially because it was very easy to get it.. Also, the job positions that seemed right for me at that time, they all required a PhD or extensive research experience, thus again, the PhD appeared to be the right and only thing to do..

Yet, I thought ok.. I can do a PhD BUT I should be in a project that is, in some way, linked to industry or involving industry partners, because, in fact, I never thought or planed to becoming an academic. Thus, I looked into this possibility and luckily and happily found the ideal PhD project for me. Unfortunately, the good things end here. 6 months later and my PhD project had to cease because the company I was collaborating with, and which was subsidizing the research, was in serious struggle to keep things up as the economic crisis spreaded all over Europe (we were in 2008). Consequently, my funding was cut and I was left with two options: give up and look for another project in a different place, essentially start it over from the PhD hunting point, or continue in the same place but changing the topic and the domain a little bit and doing a purely academic PhD just like the majority of people do.

I must say that by then I was already quite disappointed with many things regarding the PhD, and perhaps I should have quitted and tried to find a normal job and forget the entire PhD thing altogether... but me being me, giving up was not something that could be accepted, I do not accept defeat, ever, therefore my decision was to continue. That is, I did the most academic PhD one can ever plan, have two journal publications, can perhaps have 2 or three more, yet the things went so badly that at present I don't know whether I can be bother... I know one thing though.. I am going to leave this "world" and use whatever skills I achieved to be starting it, even if from scratch, in a different world. That was what I always wanted, so not giving up the dream! Say, it just got a little bit delayed...

One day I am going to write a post about the do and donts and my personal experience during the PhD, but I am going to leave it to another time, as this post is far too long already.. Thus for now I keep searching for a suitable career for the "after PhD life".

Monday, 9 January 2012

In a different world

Hello world!

That's me back to life... guess what? I submitted my thesis, and all of a sudden everything became bright and colourful again! Life is back in my veins and I feel alive again... And as for writing the blog I am back too :) not that it matters much, as I don't write that well nor I even write interesting stuff but for now I use it as entertainment! And for practising my writing as it turns out that it is not my strongest skill.. I realized that when I was writing up my thesis.. At times I realize that I could not really convey the message into readable and clear text.. I think that might have to due with the fact that I think much faster than I write, specially in a foreign language and therefore the text becomes confusing, and most times says nothing of what I had originally thought.. so I better dedicate my career to something where writing is not crucial to have success.. but as a perfectionist I am and because I realize it it quite important to write even if your life does not dependent on it.. I will put some effort in writing my blog and continuing using it to express myself, my thoughts and my experiences as I used to do when I started it.
Over the time during the last year I was rather absence. The Phd sucked all my free time, even my eating and sleeping time, so the blog became forgotten...
Now that it is almost over.. I am just waiting for the exam .. viva voce as it is known in the UK.. I have time to dedicate to writing some lines here, as often as I feel like.
As this post is only about coming back to blogging I am not going to speak about any other subject for now other than highlighting that I feel reborn!!
And that I am now dedicating my time to improving my life and finding a job.
At present I haven't yet got a clue of what I am going to do next or where I am going to be doing it.. as due to the job market it is difficult to tell where my job is going to be.. I will essentially apply everywhere to job positions I find somehow appellative and see what happens.. I am hopeful to get to some interviews at least.. At the same time I decided to learn another language, its either going to be Chinese, which I plan to start soon, but if I have to go to germany for a job, it will have to be german.. for obvious reasons... then another new year's resolutions, or new life's resolutions (shall be the correct way of saying it).. I also committed to learn how to program and do it religiously like a school course where I am going to dedicate some good time to it.. I find that nowadays one who cannot program is almost illiterate let alone the advantages it can bring with regard to finding a job or being involved in a particular task in the future.. so Chinese and programming are my focus for now while I will try to enjoy myself as much as I can, apply for jobs and perhaps even get a part time in a restaurant, bar or cafe to earn some money for the time being..

Lets see how it goes, I wish myself good luck and I must say I feel really good about it!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Sailing progress

This is an overdue post that comes in sequence with "the dream" that refers to the so-wanted sailing around the world trip :) So from the title you can guess that I am making some progress towards that dream. I say it is overdue because there has been two weeks since I made such progress. Basically I have now completed the off-shore sailing course that allows me to navigate almost everywhere but only theoretically.. I learnt about tides, streams, wind, maps, navigation, weather, equipments, ropes, bla bla bla, so that I can sit down and plan a safe journey somewhere accouting for almost everything. It was a very useful course although a bit boring, as I cant help finding boring to be sat in a classroom listening to someone for hours. After three weekends of waking up at 7am Saturdays and Sundays and driving to Hull for the classes, then coming back in the evening, it was very exhaustive of course. And Hull is dull, it is really ugly. Overall and most importantly, theory is mastered and I am now waiting to do the practice. There will be courses running from May on, so very soon me and my boyfriend should be enrolled in one of those. Yet, we thought about trying Cornwall this time instead of Hull for the sake of some nice landscapes hehehe

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

There it snows..

Did I tell you I love snow? I do! And being portuguese I have always been sorry not to have snow over winter. I am also a ski fanatic, and I love more or less everything related to snow. Besides my critics to Nottingham, and England, I must say that I am happy now that the snow arrived, and although it is quite unusual, there's loads of snow in Nottingham right now, and has being snowing beautifully!!! Two days ago I went to the movies and when returning home I was presented with very nice, fluffy big snow puffs falling from the skies, it was like a dream or a fairy tail!

I took some pictures with my phone, they are not brilliant and they dont really show the magic moment, but they certainly show my happiness like a little young girl :)) (and they show my awesome boyfriend too :))

Monday, 29 November 2010

Empty mind

I have been so busy recently that I forgot about the blog. It is not the first time.. from time to time I forget it.. sometimes I feel like writing and sometimes not. but I never feel the obligation to do it.. basically I have been quite moody and only focus on my work. Two weeks ago I finished my thesis plan, very detailed and now I only have to fill in the gaps.. meaning the text, the figures and everything essentially... I am feeling so much pressure that I can barely relax.. and though there are so many things running in my head at a time that I feel empty.. I feel mostly like a robot would feel.. if it would feel.. Just doing the tasks and ticking the boxes in a robotic concerted manner.. no distractions .. no fun.. just work work work... I don't feel human.. its sick. The worst is I know that some of the work I am doing is not necessary but I decided I want to do it, I decided that before and now I cant let it go.. I have to do it, no matter what.. There is something insane about me now. When I try to see ahead I know the time is too short for what I wish to do, but I try to avoid that fact  and just work more to get more done.. and then there are also so many things I end up repeating because they dont look like they should!! So insane.. I feel that if, by chance, I decide to do this kind of job in the future I will be very unhappy. Somehow it is very addicting, too addicting for me to do other things, to have a life basically! I want to have a life, I want to go home, and still have some energy for my family, or still be able to talk to a friend, to cook dinner and to watch a bit of TV eventually! This is no life.. And there is worse.. I just talked to a friend who just finished writing up a diploma thesis, and shared the experience of writing... so destructive! so I know that from today on it will be more and more destructive.. I want to stop this.. I hope I remember to read this, one day things are over and happy again, and I do not do the mistake of starting it over again! This is a reminder for myself and for you too!! Don't work too much, it makes life go so fast and although you may first denied it, with time, you will hate knowing that the time is gone and you forgot to live it!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Science and Humour, how can they work together?

I recently published a post about scientific comedy where I introduced you to the comedian Brian Malow and his scientific jokes. Later that week I discovered that there is a scientific journal named The Journal of Irreproducible Results (click on the link if you would like to visit the web site), and as the name suggests it publishes funny scientific articles. Unfortunately one cannot read it without paying and I haven't had access to any issue yet, but I think one finds things like this one figure shows you, and so on..

Nonetheless, the purpose of my post today is to strengthen the idea that there are a lot of funny things about science and  it can be accessible to everyone. However don't go and do a PhD just because you like science and feel fascinated by it, or at least not just because of that :p Do not underestimate. There's obviously a lot of effort behind the discovers of all times so it is never a cup of tea although most of the greatest discoveries were rather by chance when the scientist was focused on something else... 

However and probably because research demands so much time, patience and dedication, there are every time more scientists that feel they cannot take their science too seriously and they engage in humoristic events and  publications. I think it also feels very rewarding that the general public is getting more involved in scientific matters and that brings enthusiasm to researchers and, in turn increases the need to bring more information to the public. Information that is delivered in a non-academic way. 

Another example of humour in science are the Ig Nobel Prizes given every year to brilliant scientists with outstanding discoveries in improbable science! This is organized by another science and humour magazine, the Improbable Research and their motivation is "Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK". Basically it can teach people a lot of serious concepts, making them laugh rather then bore them, and by doing so people are learning real science. It is another great way of bringing academic discoveries to the public. 
I realized 3 or 4 years ago a new subject was being strongly introduced into the fields of research, the so-called " research communication". It is becoming almost mandatory that students are taught about communication and how to deliver their lab discoveries and their academic topics to the general public. The era of the guinea pig scientist locked up in his lab in a basement far from the world and the society is over. Now people demand to know  what is going on, and the scientists have found their own ways of passing on the knowledge and captivating the public.
Personally I think that generally I am a good speaker yet I am very unsure about my skills of communicating my research to the public. I often think about it. I wrote a lot complaining about my PhD my I have never described what I'm doing.. I am putting some effort to that, and I hope I will soon post something on that matter, I promise!

Friday, 19 November 2010

"Sliding doors" moment or the fate changing moments of life

Have you ever watched "Sliding doors" the movie? If you do, you know exactly what I am talking about, if not you also know what I am talking about.. :P

watch the little video below to see how tiny little things change our life's fate...

Now coming to the topic, the reason why I decided to write about it, it is because there are moments like this one in the movie that you do not control, do not choose and cannot decide .. however there other situations where you clearly make a decision, that you know it is affecting, no matter what, the main course of your life! I knew I made that kind of decision when I decided to come to Nottingham. I could draw a tree with three branches based on the numbers of options I had before I took this decision. Each branch would represent three different lifes. One is the one I am living that derived from the fact that I chose Nottingham to do my PhD. There would be another one if I had chosen Manchester and another one for London. There would be multiple other less obvious and less likely options, but I am just saying the three I had in mind before I chose. And life continues like that all the time... Choose this, choose that, in detriment of other options and carry on to the end. Best option? I don't think that there is such a thing.. all options are potentially good because it is unknown what they drive you into and although I am not religious the bible presents a nice metaphor for these kind of episode, where you have a pretty and easy road that leads to hell and a steep and rough road that leads to heaven. I dont actually believe that the hard pathways are necessarily the right ones or the ones that lead to success and joy, but that is anyway not what the bible means, and not the point either.
What I want to say is basically that I feel that I did the right choice. I did not always thought that but given the present situation and the potential future it seems that I may have done the best choice. But how do I know? I don't know, I just feel, and yet I may change my opinion with whatever comes next, I don't think so. Now obviously there are "sliding doors" moments every day, and sometimes they maybe more important than we can actually think.

In the end there is nothing we can do about fate whether you believe it is pre-destined or not we cant plan ahead everything that's going to happen to us, there are so many variables that make it incredibly complex, no to mention the butterfly effect alone that introduces a lot of entropy! Probably I believe it makes sense that its this way and it gives life some sense too, but I still like to believe I did the right choice and that it wasn't a huge coincidence that I found here, in Nottingham, the guy of my life, who shares the same dreams as me and has similar life objectives.. I couldn't have found him anywhere else... therefore it was the right choice!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Euromillions - is it totally random?

Mostly everybody that plays this kind of game would say yes it is completely random and, of course, there is no chance to predict what numbers are coming up next time. I may point out that this is only partially true.. In fact it is not totally random although (and unfortunately) it is still pretty impossible to predict the numbers.  However, it is possible to group numbers by sets of odds based in the history of the game.
But.. why is it not totally random?
well.. it appears that at least in gambling nothing can be totally random, according to Persi_Diaconis a great specialist the matter of statistics, shuffling and randomness with particular attention to gambling applications, these kind of games where you have a set of balls in a tumbling machine or cards in a deck, there is always a limit to the randomness of the thing. So lets think how this makes very much sense..
The balls that enter the tumbling machine during the Euromillions draw do not enter it all at the same time. The same applies to the exit. On top of that the first ball to come out influences the second and so on. Also, the balls do not all have the same distance from the exit, and that also influences the results! It is virtually impossible to make it totally random, we also talk about 50 balls. And probably in every draw there are differences of milliseconds from the time the balls go in and each ball comes out, and that too also influences the result...
So all these differences and perhaps a few more together restrain the randomness of the game and make it more predictable than one would probably think! that is confirmed by looking into the statistics and the history of Euromillions by visiting this web site for example Then you will see what I mean.. There are numbers that have almost twice more chance of being drawn  than others!! So think twice before playing. Indeed we can't predict the numbers but by choosing among a smaller set of numbers, therefore the ones that have the higher odds, there is an increasing probability of wining the the game! And this same strategy applies to pretty much all these kind of games!

Now good luck and fingers crossed ;)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cool Advertising

T-mobile advertising campaign. It is incredible how the human voices can sound like authentic instruments in a band. Very funny video. Its worth to watch!! 

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Sailing trip - building the dream

Last time I talked to my best friends we discussed my sailing dream. I am every day more and more excited about it and about making it real. There are few but very important things I need, to realize this dream among finishing my PhD, raising money, buy the boat, learn to sail and go. While I can't do them all I spend some of my procrastinating time doing the small things, like for example, planing the route. I want a route that's doable in less than a year, and I did some research about it. The route I came out with should be done in about 9 to 10 months giving us time for some stops in main planned places. These are the places we aim to spend some time:

Departure: Cascais, Lisbon, Portugal

Second Stop: Azores archipelago.

Second Stop: Caribbean Islands

Leaving Lisbon we would head to Azores, 9 portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We would do our first stop there, visit the islands, and get ready for the next sailing chunk, the longest without pulling over - 3-4 weeks.


Coming from Azores we will arrive in the Caribbean basin (left). There we will visit some of the islands while heading towards the Panama canal.

Dominican Republic

Once we cross the Panama canal we will go to the Galapagos Islands. From the Galapagos we will head to French Polynesia, and cross the Pacific Ocean towards Australia. 

Panama Canal

We will yet stop at Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, New Caledonia cross the coral Sea and arrive at Queensland.
French Polynesia - Tahiti

French Polynesia- Bora Bora

By this time, we must have spent over 4 months of our time, crossed two entire oceans and visited some of the most stunning places on earth.
Australia - Queensland
From Australia we haven't yet decided whether we head north towards the Philippines and visit Macau later or we go to Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Either way we will end up in Thailand. Later we will go to Singapore and leave towards the Sri Lanka.


Sri Lanka

From the Sri Lanka we will be going to Maldives, Seychelles and Mozambique where we plan to spend sometime looking around... 

From Mozambique we go around Africa near South Africa coast, heading to the Brazillian Northwest - Recife, Natal, Fortaleza. We will leave brazil towards Fernando de Noronha Island and heading to Cape Verde. By then Our trip is nearly over and we must have spent about 9 months. We will need two or three weeks to arrive back in Portugal, still passing by Canaria archipelago.

Fernando Noronha
Cape verde

The return to Lisbon will be the end of the circumnavigation and the achievement of our dream. For now it is only a dream that we are making real. But I am very confident that this dream will become true indeed. I will keep you posted ;)