Tag: cambridge life

Frightened and inspired

Emerging from solitary weeks of writing, today I went to the first of three days of our dissertation conference. The thirty-six members of the class are presenting their research to date. Presentations are followed by questions.

I am frightened and inspired at the same time. I’m frightened because of the impressive amount of rigour in other people’s study design. I feel like a fraud in comparison. Somehow, I must persuade others that my results are valid and reliable.

I am also inspired by how interesting and useful people’s research is. For eight hours today, my brain was filled with non-Joan-shaped thoughts and that gave me ideas for my own work. I went home, eager to tweak my presentation, looking forward to my turn to present on Wednesday.

Before I started this course, I knew two things about research: that it often a lonely occupation, and that it is a hard slog. I was warned about this and I have experienced it to be true. I also knew that good research practice includes collaborating with people and sharing ideas to ward off loneliness and stagnation, and that the best way to slog through research is to work nine to five, even in the most uninspired times.

Despite forewarning, I did not follow these two guides and it has been to my detriment. Because I didn’t have the willpower to hack through the lows, I feel the pressure now. Because I am under pressure, I feel like I can’t spend the time to talk to people and socialise. Because I don’t talk to people and socialise, I am unproductive and low.

Maybe this conference, enforced interaction, is what I need to break the cycle.

Treading water

I feel like I’m treading water. I have six weeks to get to the end of the pool but I feel like I’m not progressing. I am sick of it. So uninspired.

I have to present my findings on Wednesday. It’s a twenty minute presentation. I’m sick of thinking about this topic. I want to think about something different. I don’t want to read my own writing anymore.



Eight computers, unhungry again, and unproductive

On the weekend, I spent 6.5 hours cutting open dozens of cardboard boxes, pulling out eight sets of computer towers, monitors, keyboard, mouses, software, assembling them, crawling under computer desks to wire them up, plug them in, untangle them, rewire, uninstalling trial software, installing indispensable freeware, installing Microsoft office, setting up a wireless network, printer network, riding to electronics stores to buy more power boards, setting up administrator and user accounts, setting defaults for printing, security, software updates, registering software, flattening cardboard boxes, piling them into a mountain of tired cardboard.

Today I posted a box of software back to the computer store, was on the phone with tech support to troubleshoot a dead DVD-RW drive on one of the new computers (turned out the computer assembler didn’t plug the power into the drive), picked up two new toner cartridges and installed them, posted instructions for accessing the wireless network on the wall, updated security settings on the computers, and helped someone with the wireless settings on their laptop.


In the past week, I have lost my appetite. I eat breakfast and lunch as normal. By the time dinner comes around, I prod my stomach and am still unhungry. I’ve skipped dinner about four times in the past week.

If you’re not hungry, is it better to eat something as scheduled or not eat?

I haven’t changed my level of activity. I ran around doing the computer stuff on Saturday, biked four miles and walked the same on Sunday, ran around carrying boxes today.

Besides puzzlement about my lack of appetite, I’m worried about all the food in the fridge. I bought enough groceries to feed normal Joan appetite. Now there’s too much food. Lack of eating led to three of my potatoes turning green and white and fluffy.

I ended up cooking a big pot of vegetable curry to stop any further deterioration. That was on Thursday last week. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep the curry.

I wasn’t hungry today but I ate dinner anyway. I hate wasting food.

I’ve decided not to buy any food this week and live on the dried foods in my cupboard, plus 10 eggs. I might buy some milk and a bit of fruit too.

Maybe I’ve been eating too much all my life. For each meal, I would typically eat one or two sandwiches worth of food mass (I rarely eat sandwiches but you get an idea of the serving size). It will be hard to change my concept of ‘meal’ to something smaller.

I haven’t been productive at all for the past three weeks. It bothers me. Mostly, it’s my own fault. I get tired and instead of working through it or walking it off, I sleep or read or go on the internet. Like now.

Walk through my day

Yesterday was a fun day. I wrote some sub-sub-sections of my dissertation in the morning. In the afternoon, my college held its annual garden party, so I sat in the sunshine while eating and drinking with friends. I left the party to meet a classmate for coffee. We then walked to to a local architectural practice because the director had agreed to be interviewed for our research. After the interview, I walked home, changed, then went to Parker’s Piece for our weekly class football game. I left the game early to go to a meeting; I’m helping to organise the orientation camp for the next batch of 100 students on my scholarship. The meeting ran over time, so I was late for The Round Ceilidh at Emmanuel College. I danced English folk dances with a libraryful of people until 10:30 PM. Then I walked home.

Grocery pie

This chart is based on what I spent on my last three weeks of grocery shopping. I spend £15-20 a week on groceries. I suspect that I am fruit-and-vegetable heavy and bakery light.

By the way, it was not my idea to put two decimal places on those percentages. Of course I can’t state my grocery proportions to four significant figures of accuracy. OpenOffice did that automatically and I couldn’t figure out how to change it. I don’t know if it’s because OpenOffice Calc is not user friendly or if I’m crippled by Microsoft Excel brain.

Didn’t know I was looking for love until I fondue

I cannot think of the word ‘fondue’ without singing the Everything but the Girl‘s song ‘I didn’t know I was looking for love‘ …until I found you.

I’m a fan of the chocolate version, and luckily for me, Anna decided that chocolate fondue would be the centrepiece for our girls’ night in.

In a typical engineering course, you might get about 15% of students being female. Our engineering for sustainable development class is blessed with 33% women, and with the partners of men in the class, we could have up to seventeen women at our social events.

After extensive and sensitive consultation, Anna determined that it would not be politically incorrect to have a girls’ night in. Sorry guys, you’re not invited. Monday was the night (the beginning of May Week) and it was a decadant night of mojitos, corn chips, summer fruits and chocolate fondue, ice cream, jelly, buttered popcorn, chick flicks and natter about childbirth, women in science and business, the cultural role of women around the world, and… our dissertations. (There is no escape.)

The gorgeous women of the engineering for sustainable development community.

Anna and I went to the Video Emporium to hire chick flicks. Not knowing people’s precise tastes and moods, we covered all the ground and rented Like water like chocolate (foreign language weepie), Erin Brockovich (girl power + environmentalism), and My big fat Greek wedding (funny and supposedly pointpointingly accurate).

Dissertation milestone — Woot!

My last post gives people the illusion that I’m organised for this dissertation. What you haven’t seen are the previous versions of the Gantt chart, from which you would have realised that over time I have moved the red block representing the first milestone from March 26 to May 28 to June 4.

So, did I hand it in the week starting June 4? Of course not. I just emailed it off then, three days late.

But like the honest consultant that I am, I kept the supervisor up-to-date with my setbacks. Upfrontness is my best policy.

I’m pleased it’s in. I now have a month to write the next three sections. They’re the chunkiest and most important sections but I think I’ve gotten the hang of this now.

Runs on the formal hall board

Formal halls are a highlight of the Oxford or Cambridge University experience. Each college has formal halls once, twice, or even three times a week. You get a three course meal for anything between £3 to £16 (A$7.50-40), and it often includes sherry, port, wine, coffee, tea, chocolates and fruit. Cambridge has 31 colleges. By the end of my year here, I will have been to formal hall for at least eleven of them.

Formal halls attended or soon to attend

  • New Hall
  • Hughes Hall
  • St John’s
  • Clare Hall
  • St Catherine’s
  • Newnham
  • Wolfson
  • Sidney Sussex
  • Darwin
  • Churchill
  • Emmanuel

Formal halls regretfully declined because of other commitments

  • St Edmund’s (missed out three times!)
  • Trinity Hall
  • Downing

Lunched at

  • Darwin
  • Peterhouse
  • Hughes Hall
  • St Edmund’s

Playing blocs

When I got to Parker’s Piece* for our class football game, Anna and Chris were already there. Bettina soon joined us, and in fifteen minutes, there were ten of us.

‘Ten! Perfect! We can have two teams of five.’

‘How do we split it? Boys against girls?’

There was a short and lively discussion about the fairness of this arrangement, and how embarrassing it would be when the girls won.

‘I know! Let’s do Kyoto and non-Kyoto!’ someone eventually exclaimed.

‘Huh? Oh, you mean…? Would that work? It does!’

And so it was, that the five people from the UK, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, and Ireland (countries supporting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to curb the world’s greenhouse gas emissions) played off against the five recalcitrant Aussies and Americans.

‘Okay, guys,’ said Chris. Chris is from Seattle and is obviously evil. ‘Remember, we don’t like Kyoto so we can play dirty.’

‘Nation’s right to pollute!’ hollered Ian, a stubborn Australian from Adelaide, as he charged after the ball.

‘Voluntary emissions targets!’ I yelped, running to the other half of the field in my ignorant and conservative manner.

After fifteen minutes of vicious football, Don arrived.

‘Hi guys, sorry I’m late,’ he said. ‘Whose team am I on?’

‘Are you for Kyoto or against Kyoto?’

Without batting an eyelid, Don said, ‘Well, Canada’s on the fence for this one. But recently, it’s been rumbling against mandatory targets…’

‘Traitor!’ someone cried.

‘You’re with us, then!’ I said, triumphantly.

With six versus five, the global tide soon turned against the Kyoto Protocol. A passerby from Kenya was invited to join the pro-Kyoto side and soon, the game was back on the knife edge.

Who won?

Don’t know. We lost track of the score.

* Parker’s Piece is a historic place, famous for being the birthplace of modern football (or soccer). There is a plaque on the ground which reads:

“Here on Parker’s Piece, in the 1800s, students established a common set of simple football rules emphasising skill above force, which forbade catching the ball and ‘hacking’. These ‘Cambridge Rules’ became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules.”

Source: BBC (2006)