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

Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element. Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!)  It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate