PhD Milestones

ESA's Gaia spacecraft launching on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana (19 Dec 2013). Credit: ESA

ESA’s Gaia spacecraft launching on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana (19 Dec 2013). Credit: ESA

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here. That’s partly due to being incredibly busy in December and partly due to doing very little over Christmas & New Year.

But since the last post I have reached a few milestones in my PhD:

  • First MSSL Christmas Lunch
  • First rocket launch watched at MSSL
    • ESA’s Gaia spacecraft was successfully launched on 19 Dec from French Guiana (see photo)
  • First term completed. Which makes me one ninth through my entire PhD…
  • First presentation on my research area (at ISSI)
  • First STFC-based outreach
    • Helping with an STFC Roadshow called ‘Seeing the Universe’ during a BBC Stargazing event at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • First (and second!) successful development of Python code to do something useful (and relevant)
    • The first was using it to plot graphs
    • The second was extracting, reformatting and manipulating data from one software program (Cloudy) so another can use it (SPEX)

There’s one more milestone coming up quickly and that is my first Panel Meeting. After three months of being a PhD student you meet your Panel for the first time. This consists of your two supervisors (primary and secondary) and a Panel Chair. The Panel Chair is a member of MSSL staff from a different research area. My first Panel Meeting is on Monday morning. I believe this is mostly just to make sure I’ve met the Panel and they know a little about what I’ve done so far, so I am preparing a 10 minute presentation. Every student also gets the chance to speak to the rest of the Panel without their supervisors present, just in case they feel there are any issues to be raised.

"Python" - XKCD Comic #353

“Python” – XKCD Comic #353

The most important Panel Meeting will be 15 months after I began this PhD, as that is the one where the Panel decide if the student is working well enough to be ‘upgraded’ from the MPhil programme to the full PhD programme. Every PhD student is officially registered as an MPhil student until this point. If you do not pass this meeting then you must write up any research you’ve done and you can gain an MPhil qualification but are not put forward for a PhD. If you do pass this meeting then you are able to continue researching until the end of your PhD and submit a full PhD thesis for examination.

This upgrade process is still about a year away for me but my meeting on Monday is the first chance I get to speak in front of my Panel. I’m not exactly nervous about it but I do want to make a good impression.

Helpfully I have been having a successful last week or so, and am especially pleased with my progress in Python. It’s not been a completely smooth journey but I feel like I’m really getting to grips with the way Python works (and how to Google for relevant tips online!).

Confidence and excitement about my PhD research is pretty high right now. I feel a little like I’m flying, like the cartoon above. I’m sure I will crash land soon enough, but for now I’m enjoying the view!

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