Thursday, October 27, 2005

Graduation Day

Sorry I haven’t updated for a while – my time planning’s gone all wrong these past couple of weeks.

Anyway, let me tell you a little about Graduation Day, which was yesterday. The ceremony was held in the Royal Albert Hall, just beside the College, a stunning venue with some of the best architecture I’ve ever seen. We were all cloaked and gowned, and each of us went up on stage in turn to bow to the Chairman and shake hands with the Principal of the Faculty of Medicine. With around 1000 students graduation from the faculties of Medicine, Life and Physical Sciences it was quite a long ceremony. Indeed, to paraphrase The Deputy Chair of Imperial’s Council, “The graduation ceremony is like an annual play. However, perhaps most people in the audience are only interested one of the actors, and many find the acts overly long…”. I think most of the participants really enjoyed it though. For my med school friends the ceremony only commemorated our intercalated BSc degrees, and so didn’t have the same sense of finality it did for most of the other students, but it was nice that the long nights and incessant reading we’ve put into achieving our degrees was recognised in front of our families and friends.

During the ceremony, winners of various prizes were celebrated with applause, and during the cheering I’m ashamed to say that the green monster came out in me. There was a prize for the best candidate in each of the BScs, but I didn’t win the neuroscience one. In all honesty, I certainly didn’t deserve the accolade and the winner was a far more hard-working and accomplished neuroscientist than me, but there was a slight pang of jealousy when his name was announced. If only I’d put everything into my work, I wouldn’t be left wondering ‘what if…’. Thankfully I have a chance of redemption with the PhD, an opportunity that I’m determined to make the most of.

Probably the best part of the day (aside from being able to dress like Harry Potter), was meeting friends again. During the first two years at med school most of our time was spent in group lectures with all 340-odd medics in the same lecture theatre. Most of the third year was spent in small groups in hospitals all over London and the home counties, however, and the fourth (BSc) year was similarly spread out. Having started on the PhD in July, I’ve sometimes felt even more isolated. But yesterday was a chance to meet everyone else again, and how great it was.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pleasant surprise

Just got a nice surprise. When I went to the grand opening of ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Your Ocean’ galleries at the National Maritime Museum last month, I entered a short multiple-choice question competition. Today I received a letter saying I’d won one of the runner-up prizes, and got a booklet and DVD on Admiral Nelson, his leadership style and the relevance of his lessons to the modern business world. I know next to nothing about the guy, so it’ll be interesting to explore more.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

T Square 200

Today was the culmination of events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. A big open-air event was held in Trafalgar Square where, after a talk about how important the seas are and the vital role still played by the Royal Navy, we were treated to a sound and light show. There was dancing, cutlass-fighting, a modern-day marines simulation, gymnastics and lots of fine band music. The evening was a bit jingoistic with plenty of flag-waving but it was pretty magnificent and good fun overall. Unfortunately my photos are rubbish, but hopefully they’ll convey some of the atmosphere and spectacle.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Transferable skills course

Imperial requires all it’s PhD students to take compulsory courses in transferable skils training, so on Tuesday over thirty of us newbies trundled to a conference centre near Bracknell for three days of activities exploring team-building, networking, effective communication, and project management. We were split into four groups and completed a series of timed tasks; some outdoor, others indoor, some active, others cerebral, some structured and others highly flexible. Through these we learnt to work effectively together, to respect each other and to complement each others’ skills. It was great fun but also really nice just to meet other new students. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, since Hammersmith can be a pretty isolating place to work in at times.

On the trip, I also made the effort to stay up taking each night. Usually I head straight to my room after a day of talks but this time I tried not to and I’m glad I did.
On the last day, we were asked to come up with a song, poem or dance to represent the lessons we’d learnt, the skills we’d acquired and the people we’d met during the course. One group came up with this classic verse. Sing it loudly to the chorus of ‘Hotel California’!

“Welcome to the research course in Bracknell
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Smile on your face
Livin’ it up on the research course in Bracknell
You can learn with me (you can learn with me)

And the food is free (and the food is free)”

Like the St John course, I’m not sure how useful some of these skills will be during the PhD (the activities were team based, for example, but the majority of us present spend most of our time working by ourselves), but I did learn quite a bit about myself. One thing happened right towards the end that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Monday, October 17, 2005

St John Ambulance Leadership I Course

A weekend of developing skills for leading and working within a team. We were placed in small groups and given a number of tasks to complete to the best of our abilities. There was a slight competitive element, and to be successful we would have to organise and plan quickly, delegate roles and support each other to fulfil these roles.

I found it pretty challenging working with a group of strangers whose strengths and weaknesses we don’t all know yet. It also felt a little bit artificial because during all the tasks we were under incredible time pressure, but I did learn quite a bit that hopefully we can apply back at Imperial. The best part though? Getting out of London for a while. The air was so pure near Chalfont and Latimer. The conference centre wasn’t even located in the village itself but way out in the sticks: no street lights for half a kilometre!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

iFirst Aid

Recently St John has been receiving lots more enquiries about first aid courses and training. To make information more easily available, the charity has made available first aid audio tips recorded by a qualified trainer. They cover a variety of topics, including:
  • Primary Survey (at the scene of an accident)
  • Rescue Breaths
  • Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Recovery Position
  • Fractures
  • Burns
  • Bleeding
  • Shock
The files are available in mp3, AAC and Real Audio formats, and can be downloaded for free at this website. Give it a go! You never know when you might need these skills. If you’d like to learn more just drop me a line – I’ve got lots of training books at home.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ig Nobel winners 2005

Check out the Ig Nobel prizewinners for 2005.

Medicine - Gregg Miller from the US for his invention of Neuticles - rubber replacement testicles for neutered dogs that are available in varying sizes and degrees of firmness. "Considering my parents thought I was an idiot when I was a kid, this is a great honour," said Mr Miller.

Peace - A UK team for their pioneering research into the activity of locusts' brain cells while the insects watched clips from the Star Wars films.

Physics - John Maidstone from Australia for his part in an experiment that began in 1927 in which a glob of black tar drips through a funnel every nine years. Mr Maidstone shared the prize with a late colleague who died sometime after the second drop.

Biology - The University of Adelaide for "painstakingly smelling and cataloguing the peculiar odours produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed".

Chemistry - A University of Minnesota team who set out to prove whether people can swim faster in water or sugar syrup.

Economics - A Massachusetts inventor who designed an alarm clock that runs away and hides when it goes off.

Nutrition - A Japanese researcher who photographed and analysed every meal he had consumed during a period of 34 years.

Literature - The many Nigerians who introduced millions of e-mail users to a "cast of rich characters... each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled".

Agricultural History - A study entitled The Significance of Mr Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers: Reflections on an Aspect of Technological Change in New Zealand Dairy-Farming between the World Wars.

Fluid Dynamics - Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh - Calculations on Avian Defaecation.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Do it anyway

The following poem was found engraved on the wall of the Mother Teresa’s home for children in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. It was attributed to her, but was probably written by a guy named Kent Keith in 1968. He copyrighted the work and included it in a booklet published for high school student leaders.

Whoever penned it, I think it represents a pretty good way to live.

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.

More of Mother Teresa’s words can her found here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Drinks with the director

Most new PhD students within the CSC begin at the start of the academic year, and hence have just started their students. Since I’ve only been in the group for two months, I’ve been attending all the induction sessions organised for the newbies. Yesterday was a chance to have drinks with the CSC director, so we all congregated to the cafĂ© after lectures. After heartily welcoming us all, he talked about how good our training would be, and how valuable the scientific skills we would learn would be in any future employment. “Of course, you’re all very important to us too…” he ended, “because you’ll be generating data”.

I left soon after to see a preview screening of 'Kinky Boots'. It's a film about an unwilling shoe factory owner (Charlie) whose business is failing. Following a drunken night in London he ends up in a drag quuen bar, where meets Simon/Lola. The women's boots that Lola wears can't bear a man's weight distribution, and the heels are constantly breaking. This gives Charlie the idea of scrapping making unprofitable men's shoes, and instead to begin making 'kinky boots' for cross-dressers. He recruits Lola up to his working-class Northamptonshire factory, and what follows is a tale of risk, challenging stereotypes and coming to terms with your identity. It's well made and I found it pretty original, but a reviewer on the Internet Movie Database has said it had many parallels to British movies such as 'Brassed Off' and 'Calender Girls'. I haven't seen either of these and would be very interested to hear what you think.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Phew, I can barely walk. Yesterday I participated in the Rainforest Foundation fun run, and I’ve been aching ever since. The run was in aid of raising awareness of the increased destruction of rainforests throughout the world, and of the impact this has on their inhabitants. The event was held in Victoria Park in East London, the first time I’ve headed to the ‘other side’ for quite a while. I ran with Kevin, and also had the pleasant surprise of meeting Winston there, with whom I went to Delaware in 2003 and hadn’t seen for almost a year.

The race itself went pretty well. I’m scandalously unfit, and only had time for one practice session in the gym before the big day. So I’m relatively happy with my time of 53 mins and 31 seconds. I did, however, get passed early on by a heavily made-up middle-aged man dressed as a battle ready Red Indian and wailing at the top of his voice. Target for the next 10k run: 48 minutes.

The run has definitely highlighted that I am not as physically healthy as I’d like. So what better impetus than to apply to run in the 2006 London Marathon. I’ve just sent my application off. How about joining me?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Friday debacle

I’m so disappointed in my sister.

My cousin T is a fresher at Brunel University in Uxbridge, and I had volunteered to pick him up by car and bring him back to London for the weekend. We had arranged it all last Monday, and it would have been a good opportunity to catch up before we were both busy with college work. I would be going with another cousin, S, who is studying at UCL and would be coming up to Kilburn especially for the trip. S and I were to meet up at the train station at 6pm, walk home, drop our stuff and then drive up to Uxbridge together. Only when we got home, the car wasn’t there. My sister had taken it in the morning, saying that she would return it in the early afternoon as she knew I needed it for the trip. I tried calling her lots of time on her phone, but I kept getting her voicemail and I later found out that my mum had unsuccessfully been trying to get through to her since 3pm. Normally I would have understood, but my sister has a habit of disregarding other people’s commitments and switching her phone off when she hasn’t fulfilled a promise and doesn’t want to be contacted.

Anyway, I called T to explain what had happened and he was seriously annoyed. He ended up asking his sister to pick him up, but she did so begrudgingly, having had to give up her Friday evening plans. I heard that she let T know her feelings in no uncertain terms, and this in turn made him even more furious with me. I felt terrible. When I called back a while later to apologise again, explain the situation and ask for his pardon, he refused to answer the phone, and hasn’t picked up today either. I think it’s a pretty juvenile response. Does he really think I would have left him in the lurch if there was any way I could have avoided it? Even if I was busy or feeling lazy, if there was an alternative way to collect him I would have done so and not broken a promise. I respect the guy. Why would I want to lose my respect and trust with him? Anyway, seeing as I can’t get through by phone or text I’ve sent him an email outlining my side of the story. Will wait to hear what he said.

So, what did I end up doing on Friday night? Well, S ended up staying over, and we went out for some food before heading to this dodgy snooker hall. I had a good time and really enjoyed his company. He’s just a thoroughly decent guy. He’s from Leicester originally, and this was the first time we’d had a chance to catch up properly for nearly three years. I’m sure we’ll meet a lot more now that he’s studying in London though.

My sister had just got home when we returned, and gave a pretty lousy justification for her antics. The friend whose place she was going to have driven to in the morning hadn’t been free till the afternoon, so she had decided to postpone her trip till the afternoon. Her phone’s battery had run flat and hence we hadn’t been able to get through.