Long Time, No See! The Woeful Strains of Academia

*The wind howled and rattled against the cold and dark window pain… Suddenly… LIFE*

Hello everyone who so happens to tremble and fumble along to me own little bloggy/science page… Thing? I know it’s been an awfully long time since my last post, but there have been reasons. The most obvious one is that I’ve been busy with my studies. And finding the time, has been hard (admittedly, I…Err…Forgot as well).

So, considering we’ve been turning to dust here on the internet. What have you been doing exactly?

Well, long story short I have just been “working”. Research can be slow, painstakingly so. For the most part I have been working hard in reducing, cleaning and analysing my data. Followed by collating it all so I don’t forget or lose what I’ve just been doing. Not only that, but there has been a lot of programming to try and fit in. As well as that I’ve been doing lots of writing, endless writing of what essentially is a massive dissertation, or a really long essay.

Wait, wait, wait… Programming? I thought you were an Astronomer?

Yes, well I might have mentioned this before if you can remember?… Well, Astronomy heavily relies on computers, and not only that but the amount of data we have is, well, a **** load. We want to be able to have programs that can help us to reduce and analyse the data quickly with minimal error. So, we therefore have to make little programs to these things for us. This allows us to get to the fun bit of interpreting the data without too much faff. We are full of surprises aren’t we!

All of this writing, it sounds pretty intense. What were you writing exactly, and why?

Ahhh! Well, I had been writing what’s called at the Open University a “Probation Report”. Now, since I am doing an M.Phil there is no real “probation” as such like there would be with a Ph.D student. However admin wise I still have to show something to the University that I have been doing work, and not just wasting my days playing tiddlywinks. It kind of makes sense really. Also it’s allowed me to consolidate my information and data into one document. Which has made my thinking less vagarious!

Wow… This is making my head hurt with all of these different things you have to do. What are you doing now?

Currently I am just busy ‘doing the science!’. That is, getting as much science as I can out of all of this data as humanly possible. All this while knowing I’ll have to submit my work formally into a bound thesis at some point over the next few months. To say I’m friggin’ scared is putting it mildly. Mainly for the viva voce exam where I defend my work. Essentially an oral exam where I have to confirm that I am the person whom has written the thesis, and knows what I am talking about.

Glad I’m not stuffed into your shoes!… So, doing anything else?

Well, as well as my main ‘academic’ life I’m also doing many other things. For one example I’m learning German, which finding the time for at times has been tricky. However I have enrolled myself onto the Goethe Institut A1 exam for beginners. I am doing this to gain another skill, but also because my girlfriend is German. So, it would be perfect to talk amongst English people who most likely will not understand what we’re talking about. Haha! I’ve also been helping out with some of the undergraduate modules, mostly acting as a ‘guide’ for students accessing and using our Radio Telescope here on the OU campus. Remotely controlled from the students’ homes. It’s fun and interesting work to do!

Been rather busy haven’t you? Oh well, what next after this M.Phil of yours?

Aha! Yes, well you can’t blame one for trying to be as resourceful as possible with gaining experience. But yes! After the M.Phil I hope to continue my studies on towards a funded Ph.D, as of this moment in time I’m looking up potential places to apply to. So Exeter, the OU, Liverpool, maybe oxbridge etc. In short, we’ll see how it goes :-). Can’t be picky, but I also have to be happy.

Anyway, I must dash off and wander off to ‘do the science’. But it’s been lovely to catch up with you all again. I promise I will not be so much of a stranger in the future.

Catch you all later astrogeeks!


Organising The Unorganised; The Difficulties In Preparing For Enrolment (MPhil Adventures)

Hello fellow astrogeeks,

Well, what a weird few weeks it has been since accepting my degree, aside from that  usually being a joyous celebratory occasion, it was somewhat quickly followed by annoyances, phone calls and (unbelievably slow) emails.

Oh dear, have you accidentally invented something spectacular and top secret with all the world’s governments after you?

Nothing that far-fetched and earth-shattering (sadly…?), but this is one of those moments when you realise as well as progressing academically up the ladder, you’re also progressing up the responsibility one as well. Now this isn’t something that overly troubles me, I’m quite happy to Organise myself and my life to be able to do things I want to do etc. But what I object to, I’m afraid, is the doubtful and questioning nature of all the businesses and services you try to procure in order to have somewhere to sleep, organise finances, bills etc.

You sound pedantic.

That’s probably because I am, and the first port of call for most new students in the UK, whether they are undergraduates or postgraduates, is to open a student bank account; valleys of grinning idiots trying to grab your custom with either freebies or thousands of pounds in interest free overdraft facilities. The bank I was with overflowed with insolence, to the point where they placed a doubtful judgement on my character; probably done inadvertently, but slander is slander no matter if intended or mild.

What did you do to break their nose, metaphorically speaking?

To spite them, I decided to switch to another Bank, however I initially just encountered even more of the same problem with my old bank. Anyway, in the end I decided to go to a more local version of the bank I was switching to, whom sorted me out swiftly and were extremely friendly too. In the end, after 2 accounts being opened by accident and access to the online facilities going wayward, I finally managed to open a student bank account.

Sounds like a faff, did you encounter more problems?

Oh yes, after sorting out the banking situation came sorting out accommodation, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy anyway but obviously the first step was trying to find other people to share with. Firstly, the rental market near Milton Keynes ins’t that great to begin with, and this isn’t helped by the fact that the Open University doesn’t have any undergraduate students roaming the town. After a few emails between other students within the department starting this October I finally managed to find another person to share the brunt of rental costs, after that then came the onslaught of endless searching for two bedroom accommodation, which isn’t easy.

Did you and your new friend manage to find some accommodation?

Yes, we did, a rather nice and modern flat, unfurnished but with the ‘white goods’, a term which seems rather dated now as not many appliances are really ‘white’ anymore. But the troubles then started, mainly due to incomes, despite my fellow astrochemist having a tax-free stipend to his name, it wasn’t considered enough and I sadly didn’t have another secure income (yet). But, my dad acting as a guarantor came to the rescue, in order to make the landlord happy a certain total of income required from the tenants, and this was met combined with the guarantor. Sorted? Nope, they were still placing doubt on our ability to pay the rent, so after more emailing and phone calling we finally came to an agreement on paying six months rent up-front, something which helps myself in the long run with fewer outgoings per month. So, in the end it was a win-win situation for all parties.

So as you can see, this journey easily affects you in more ways than just the academic challenges and struggles I’ll no doubtingly face, and everything seems far more uncertain and ambiguous when you enter postgraduate life. So, if you’re a fresher undergraduate student, feel lucky in knowing UCAS helps you with setting up student accounts and you have some easily accessible accommodation with minimal fuss in the halls of residence. But, just remember that in subsequent years, it will not always be so straightforward and easy, something will always drag your legs down and slow your pace.

Anyway, hope this somewhat helps anyone who happens to empathise my struggles over the last couple of weeks.



Astronomy, The Final (First?) Frontier…

Hello fellow fellow astrogeeks,

Now, you may be wondering “ermm, who are you again?”, which is completely understandable since I have just basically disappeared completely from my own blog page. Well, I now want to change that now I have more free time, yes you heard me correctly, I now have more free time!

So, ermm, what have you been up to these past 8/9 months or so, backpacking?

Sadly no, nothing anywhere near quite as exciting or fanciful as that, although I’ve been doing something far more interesting. “What’s that?”, I hear you cry, well it’s me being busy finishing my undergraduate degree with the Open University, with my last module, SM358-The Quantum World, completed in early June my OU journey (at undergraduate level at least) is now at an end. So now all I have to do is wait for my final module result so I can obtain my degree and its classification, so fingers crossed for the oncoming results this late July. However, I also obtained results from modules I completed last year in September/October and I luckily got fairly okay passes in those with one being for my project/dissertation with the conspicuous and rather convoluted title, ‘Highly Collimated Molecular Outflows Emanating from YSOs: Their Components and the Underlying Driving Wind’. If you’re interested in reading my project/dissertation/literary review, then please feel free to read it below. Be warned, it’s not a work of art nor by any means comprehensive, but hopefully the science will be to your liking as I found it rather exciting, especially the interdisciplinary mix of Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry in there.

Project is down here:


Project is up there:

That’s great, but what’s next, going off to finally get yourself a ‘proper job’?

In all honesty what exactly is a, ‘proper job’, in my opinion there is no such thing so go off and do whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled, even if that’s sweeping the roads. Anyway, without going too far off topic there, I’ll be venturing off to Milton Keynes to study Full-Time at the OU, so in reality my OU journey hasn’t actually come to an end, as the famous saying goes ” as another door closes, another one opens”, regardless on who or what is metaphorically closing the door this is true generally in life.

Oh dear, Astronomy again?

Yes, it’s Astronomy (hardly going to be Psychology now was it ;-)) and my first step into postgraduate life will be studying for a research degree, an MPhil to be precise, and I’ve even been given the nifty thesis title of: ‘Data Mining for Extragalatic AstroChemistry’. No beating about the bush here, I’m literally ‘mining’ data, most likely from the Japanese AKARI telescope; a charming space-based Telescope analysing pretty much the entire infrared range. Another factor is that the satellite was decommissioned in late 2011 due to electrical failure, and we still have tonnes of data most likely untouched, so this is where slavery comes in… I’m joking of course, It’s a thrilling time to be involved in all areas of Astronomy, lets hope lack of resources won’t halt progress!

Anyway, that’s it for my ramblings today, I’ll be blogging away on as many things as I can… I might add a little section on postgrad study if people want that sort of thing? Let me know in the poll below.

Take care astrogeeks

Yours, The ObAstro