Goodbye London, Hello Guildford

So I’m leaving London in two days having finished my MSc at University College London a couple of weeks ago, to start my PhD at University of Surrey, Guildford – as I sit here typing in the little pan-Asian food store I’ve worked part-time at for the past few months, I look forward to and can’t wait to start something new! And what a year it’s been having met so many nice people on the MSc course from numerous nationalities, it’s been a valuable experience in personal development and I didn’t even need to leave the UK – that appears to the be power of London and I think it’s quite a good thing; being so open and international a country. What’s more is there’s probably someone nearby to visit wherever I decide to travel in the world.

Quick note: Hopefully my writing style will improve over time as I progress this blog – I’m also hoping these improvements will apply to my academic paper writing.

I decided to get out of the city because I’m a countryside’r. Yes the transport, bustle, opportunity and investment into the area is great but it can also be loud, dirty and of course expensive. So expensive. It was great to experience the capital for a year, I hadn’t been to London before.

One of the hardest and unexpected transitions from my BSc degree at Aberystwyth University was the break up of a close-nit study group which I had for three years previously. Group study I soon realised was amongst the most powerful tools for working and revising and, I most likely took it for granted during undergrad – I’ve found it difficult to tackle some MSc coursework alone e.g. High-Energy Astrophysics. This was very surprising as I’d always considered myself independent and a fully capable lone worker. However, this particular module may have been tougher due to my conscious and gradual transition from hardcore theory towards practical and engineering disciplines.

Another phenomenon I encountered was the change from living in a house full of students to flat shares full of random people, most of which I never spoke to. This change really hit hard when I went to a friend’s house party and realised how open everything felt compared to my seclusion; living in my bedroom and hardly ever speaking to my fellow flatmates whenever I was at my flat – not fun.

But that should be the end of it, no more flat shares in the city and more so house shares in a small town. I found a nice house with a very nice group of girls a couple of months ago. It was the second place I viewed. The first was a family’s spare room which seemed a lovely place. The father is a lecturer at the university, not sure what the mother did but she has a son who I played a little bit of badminton with in the back garden during my viewing. There was also a piano and guitar in the living room, greenhouse in the garden and on top of that was the potential for tutoring her son in Mathematics. All in all a pretty appealing living situation. What sold me on the second property I viewed was the wooden beam in the kitchen, a back garden with fruit trees and upon meeting them, my fellow tenants are all about the same age. Some of them go to Uni and some have jobs. The family share would’ve presented some restrictions in terms of having guests over and noise such as music – I didn’t fancy these restrictions as it would’ve definitely been a sign of getting ahead of my age with the calmer lifestyle.

Preparing for PhD has consisted of some packing and sorting through four years of accumulated study-living, reading the Induction Week Schedule (which has got me more excited to begin) and keeping in touch with my supervisors over the past few months. I thought keeping in regular contact would be a good move to show some dedication, excitement and perhaps find out what’s been going on in the department and reassure them they made a good decision in choosing me.

There were five people in total applying for two PhD positions and I managed to get one of them. The reason I mention reassurance is because I believe they took some risk in choosing me. My background is BSc Astrophysics and MSc Space Science & Engineering, not Aerospace or Mechanical Engineering which are commonly applicant’s backgrounds. However, I managed to convince them through the interviews and gain their confidence. One of the “disadvantages” I had not coming from a Aero. or Mech. background was not knowing common methods and techniques. I was anticipating a question related to this and was asked what I thought about this in general. I quickly responded with reference to a previous statement one of my interviewees had made concerning the ideology of a PhD which is; to conduct work and research that no one else has ever done. This I used to my advantage and explained my reasoning as such; if I don’t come from the usual Aero./Mech. background, then I’m not restricted in problem solving by the current tried and tested methods. I have somewhat of an outside perspective, am flexible and can think outside of the box or tackle a challenge using a different approach that would have otherwise not been thought of.

I had two interviews and both went well. I broke the ice in the first by mentioning my meeting only minutes before with a researcher while I was waiting to enter who was recently in the news for his space-related Kickstarter project – this got the conversation started and things naturally progressed from there. In the second, I really can’t think of how I started but I did start speaking before I even sat down. Probably about the hot weather and how suits are very restricting in such circumstances.

I had conducted some research into my supervisors before the interviews to show some dedication and managed to use this by referring to collaborative papers with other institutions – they took it well and were pleasantly surprised. It’s a definite advantage to research your supervisor’s background; degrees, current research and areas of interest.

Things on the immediate to-do list when I get to Guildford:

  • Get a bicycle
  • Explore the countryside
  • Explore the town
  • Explore the university campus

Things on the immediate to-do list at Uni:

  • Enjoy Induction Week
  • Join; badminton, tennis, snooker/pool, clay pigeon, golf, rock climbing and gardening clubs
  • Settle into the department i.e. meet people and my new desk
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