It’s been a busy summer.

And yes, I’m starting summer in April. It’s been a weird year.

They aren’t kidding, a PhD is a lot more work than it looks like. Been flitting back and forth between working and travelling, and am going to give you the photo montage catch up. Let us begin with April then eh?

April 2019

In April I went to the SEAHA Conference in Oxford. I got to stay in the swankiest of student accomodation, presented my poster, and then spent time dodging rain and doing some sightseeing in the afternoons and evenings. Also got to have lunch in one of the colleges, which felt very Harry Potter-esque.

Straight after the SEAHA Conference, M and I went to Malta! It was warmer and sunnier than the UK, we had the sea out the window, and there was a lot of Really Old Things to look at. It was an excellent choice. We stayed in Xemxija (which is covered in prehistoric, Roman and Phoenician remains, and the oldest tree on the island btw) and travelled around the country to Valletta, Mdina, and Rabat. Valletta is the capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like most places like this, the main street is flooded with tourists, but if you go two streets down you can wander nearly empty areas. Mdina is the Silent City, as no cars (other than people who live there) are allowed in the walled city, and even then you only really see them parked in a few areas. It’s like walking into a movie set. Rabat is the town right outside of Mdina, which has early Christian catacombs, a Roman villa, and the strangest car park design I’ve ever witnessed.

Sadly, we did have to come home and back to real life. I had some data acquisition at the museum from our scanning electron microscope trials and did work both at home (with cat company) and in the museum.

We managed the first BBQ of the year in April, when a random warm weekend showed up and we decided to make the most of it. It was wise, as the weather was a bit weird after that.

I did also pop down to London to the UCL campus to become inducted into the Institute of Making. It’s the university’s MakerSpace, and gives me access to a huge plethora of tools and ideas for making any old idea I get in my head. The idea is spreading, so check if you have a MakerSpace in your area!

Finally, I got to prep, CT scan, metal coat and SEM data capture a beefly as my first attempt for data for my dissertation. It totally didn’t work, but the beefly did make a nice little victory pose for the scans.

 

May

May was a hectic month. Started it with the annual trip to Lyme Regis with the NHM to volunteer at the Fossil Festival. Lyme Regis still looks exactly as I left it, and the kids still know more about dinosaurs than I do.

Came home from Lyme Regis, washed some clothes, and threw them back in my suitcase to head off to Amsterdam directly afterwards for the 2+3D Photography Conference at the Rijksmuseum. Ophelia did not approve of my leaving. Amsterdam was a fun city to visit, but very expensive. Also, hunting for a historical building will probably lead you through the red light district and you should be prepared for the surreal experience of prostitutes in windows. Would definitely recommend the Rijksmuseum though. They’ve got a massive collection of All Things Dutch, and have displayed it really well.

Back from the Netherlands, M and I decided we wanted to attempt camping again. Reader, one night it got so cold that ice formed on our tent. If there is anything to be learned from this second attempt, it is that camping should never be done as early as May. During the days we had a good time of it though, with rather pleasant weather.

We had to detour down from Suffolk to Chelmsford to get M’s car fixed mid trip, but we used it as an excuse to see the remnants of the Springfield Lyons Bronze Age Enclosure. You can see where the perimeter of a camp used to be, as well as some burials. Again, felt a bit like walking onto a movie set.

We also visited Southwold again, and a new visit to Dunwich – the city that fell in the sea. It’s a really interesting story, and the last vestiges of the thriving medieval city can be walked around. Plus there’s a beach, and that’s always nice on a sunny day.

I tried whitebait when we were out camping one night when we went to the nearby pub. I had no idea what it was. Turns out, it’s like fish fingers that can stare back at you. As long as you don’t stare back, they’re not bad actually. M is still unconvinced.

Towards the end of the month the weather got better and I did as much work as I could outside in the back garden. Judging from the grassprint I left, perhaps too much. When the weather wasn’t behaving, it was all good though as M built me my new desk! It feels like a real office upstairs now.

Finally, we celebrated M’s birthday and had some walks about town to enjoy the new signage that Colchester seems to be putting up everywhere. Some are odder than others.

 

June

In June we went to Italy with M’s family and stayed in a town outside of Venice called Lido di Jesolo. Honestly, if you don’t have ALL the pasta, what are you even doing? The weather was gloriously sunny, the mosquitos were in full force, and there was always something to go see or do.

One of the days there we went to Venice proper. Venice is exactly as beautiful as everyone says it is. However, it is also filled with every tourist all at once. The day before we went a cruise ship accidentally ran into one of the docks, so they banished them all from docking when we were there and I’m not sure it made the blindest bit of difference. Still, you should definitely go. But maybe stay in the city itself and enjoy it when the tourists start thinning out.

Back in London, I was back in the lab helping with an intern doing some SEM work for me. We scanned all kinds of microfossils. We also pushed the SEM to its limits and ended up finding a fault in the contrast that nobody had noticed before and had to call out repairmen. Fun times. We also got to go up one of the towers of the museum, courtesy of my supervisor, which was a legitimately fun time.

There had been a heatwave all month and towards the end it finally broke with a deluge of rain to try and make up for the previous lack of it. SO. MUCH. RAIN. This has been a trend that continued throughout the summer, with a spell of no rain and high heat, then humidity going through the roof, then a torrent of rain.

Back at the museum, I finally got a chance to see the temporary Museum of the Moon exhibit. It’s free, so well worth a visit, but it’s also pretty darn cool.

Mostly though, I was downstairs doing work. Like sorting out butterflies in a box. And then bringing said butterflies to an after hours museum event to explain what I’m trying to do for my PhD to members of the public that walked through. So far everyone has nice things to say about it. So far.

Also, one day I decided to make a log of how long it takes me to get from London back home to Colchester. Not sure I want to know how long it takes going the other way after doing this. I mean, obviously I have an idea, but it just confirms my lunacy in hyper-commuting like this.

July

Not nearly so much going on in July. Went to Manchester for the MMC 2019 Conference and presented some of the work I’d been up to thus far at the Zeiss Microscopy booth. Got to see some really interesting work done in the microscopic world, and even learned a few tips and tricks. And it being Manchester, we got rained on.

Went to a wedding for one of M’s good friends as well. Beautiful converted barn location out in the West Country. Fabulous couple, amazing food, and riotous dancing were all a part.

Otherwise it was mostly just time sat in the lab, working on data acquisition and attempting some experiments.

Oh yes, we also painted the kitchen. And then got a phone call that they could take my gallbladder out the next day. So that happened. And then I got to wear those glorious compression socks for a week. God, those drugs were heavy duty. I didn’t have any pain issues, but I also seem to have lost 4 days worth of proper memories. To be fair, one of those was the hottest day of the year, so I don’t miss that one much.

 

August

August has been frantic catch up of data acquisition post-surgery and then write up of dissertation based off said data. This means I’ve been knocking about the house A LOT. So much so that I got to see our new wheelie bins delivered as our council has decided to join the 21st century and collect rubbish from bins rather than bags on the ground that get savaged by seagulls, cats, and foxes.

The heat came back, and with it I made sun tea. Ophelia guarded it carefully.

Most of the time though, I’ve been dragging the chair and table out and do my work in the sunshine.

There was some rain again, of course right before my early birthday BBQ. I watched the weather apps religiously up until the day and stared out of the office window.

Thankfully, the weather mostly held on the day, just giving us some exceptional winds. It was great to see everyone, though hopefully next time will be a bit less breezy!

 

And there we are, basically up into today. From here on out I’ll just be frantically writing up this dissertation and then prepping for the oral examination with PowerPoint that’s due to come afterwards. Oh yes, and waiting for ethics approval to do the proper PhD work as well with minors. But hey, what is academia if not a long list of things to do, things to chase up, and things to wait to happen?

 

— Kate

Almost Back.

Hello all!

Been busy reading, and rereading, and brainstorming, and writing, and a little morose sulking, and all of those other things that come alongside with dissertation writing these last few months. Side effects include the complete lack of will to blog (“What did I do this week? I sat on the same sofa cushion every day and researched biological growth rates.”), weight gain (an unfortunate product of being planted on said sofa), and general whining (my friends and loved ones are SAINTS I tell you). Thankfully it’s nearly (hopefully!) wrapped up and I should be back to normal-ish by the end of this week or next. Of course, there will be revisions and edits and looking-overs until right before it’s due next month, but at least the painstaking effort of making words appear on a page in sentence form will be done. It’s not all been doom and gloom though, and I’ve had a few glorious breaks in which to get out and see the world. In order to psuedo-catch you all up, I’ll give you the last few months’ highlights in photos.

In early May my favourite human had a job interview down in London, so I decided to take the day off and go wander around the British Museum while he interviewed nearby. That ended up being a stressful experience that no one had planned for. Ordinarily, one needs only to take the train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street Station and then the Underground to Holborn.

We ended up taking a train that stopped once for 15 minutes due to a malfunctioning train in front of us, which then started moving again only to be completely shut down due to an accident on the lines ahead of us. This so happened whilst we were nearest to Shenfield, so due to the train line being closed until police could settle the matter, we had to get out at Shenfield. From here, the options were to take a train backwards to another line that would go into London, or find a taxi, or take a bus kind of backwards and around to the closest Tube station.

We happened to be super lucky and a lovely older couple offered to take us in their car to the nearest Tube station, as the gentleman needed to be in London soon as well. We still ended up being late to that interview, but they were able to slot him in later in the afternoon. Leaving behind a thoroughly rattled boyfriend, I went to wander the museum’s section on Crete and the Minoans.

I’ve always passed by this section, but am usually with others that had no interest, so I was excited to be alone and able to enjoy this obscure section to my heart’s content. And I did. I think I read every single bit of text in the exhibit and even had a little bit of time left over to start into the medieval section. At that point though, the interview was a success and it was time to get the poor frazzled one some lunch and to go back home.

Soon after, I also got to witness British democracy in action, though only from the sidelines. It’s a very weird phenomena to see all these signs and posters reminding you to vote and realising that you aren’t allowed to here. Interestingly though, I did learn that if you are a Canadian or Australian living here, you can vote in UK elections. Commonwealth benefits that Americans obviously missed out on. The only way they’ll ever let me vote is if I pass the citizenship test.

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Watching British democracy in action from the sidelines.

Next was our welcome break from the paperwork monotony at the end of May to Calpe, Spain. It’s over in the Costa Blanca region, near Alicante and Valencia. It was warm and sunny and very laid back, and we had a fun evening in the middle of it celebrating the beau’s birthday!

After Calpe, it was a decently quick turnaround until my parents arrived to see me and tour around the UK. Remember, I haven’t seen them in person since I left in September, so I was SUPER excited to see them again! 🙂 We had a great mix of catching up, explaining the country and it’s quirks, and looking at all kinds of places. We started in London, but left quickly after for Leicester so they could see where I’d spent my last few months. We got to see a Magna Carta performance in the Guildhall, Richard III’s new burial spot, and got lucky and caught the organ player at St. Nicholas’s Church. He let us see the inside, played us a beautiful piece, and even let Mom ring the church bells. She looked like a kid at Christmas. 🙂

Next we went to York. York is just like going back in time when you get to the centre of the city. We saw castles and medieval side streets and ancient pubs galore. We even took a haunted ghost bus tour, which was more silly than scary but still good fun. After a good two days in York, we continued on to Warwick to see the castle. It’s gone a bit commercial these days, but it was still an enjoyable experience – minus the downpour of rain. I did love to see the shock on Mom’s face each time it would start to rain, like it wasn’t supposed to be happening.

Bath was our Sunday adventure, and we fed them a proper Sunday roast before walking the city. The next day we made a quick detour into Wales just to say we’d been there, then drove on to Stonehenge for the majority of the afternoon. You can’t go up and touch Stonehenge anymore, but we had another bit of luck and happened to come in just as the Druids were closing their ceremonies for the summer solstice. It was positively magical! The heritage centre next to the circle is also really well done and makes up for not being able to get as close as you’d like to the stones.

Our grand adventure wrapped up in Reading, but not before we stopped in at Dad’s childhood home in Syresham. Grandpa was in the military in the 70s, so Dad and the rest of the family moved around the world quite a bit. For about 5 years though, they lived in England. Their home is a historically listed property, so it’s still around. Needless to say, Dad was stoked to see it. We only intended to be there for a few minutes to take a photo of the outside and have a quick drive around the village, but the lady who owned the house was actually outside. She was glad to hear about the old stories Dad had and even let us look around the inside. It was such a neat experience to have a visual for all the stories of the place that I had heard as a kid, including the infamous Toast Ghost.

Sadly, we had to leave Mom and Dad from Reading. They took the coach back to Heathrow and safely flew back home. When I called to check up on them this weekend, they’ve already settled back into US summer life, with Dad extending the back deck and Mom slowly deep cleaning her way through the house. I can’t wait until they can come and visit again, though perhaps the next time we’ll stay in one region and make day trips out. Packing a car for four people every day can be more tiring than you think! Still, it was a great trip. 🙂

Now, I’ve just got my conclusion to write and some better signposting throughout the dissertation. And of course all the edits that will inevitably appear after those are written in. Still, I’m only 400 words away from my minimum goal and I can see a future ahead that doesn’t involve staring at my computer all day, every day. I might even get to go for more walks! This summer is full of excitement to come, and I’ll fill you all in later on it. 🙂

— Kate