Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017, what a year.

A break from the lab for a conference trip, Amsterdam

This post marks a 4 month reunion with my blog. Crack out the champagne, tea bags, or coffee granules to celebrate. It feels invigorating to have the inspiration of writing again; flowing through my fingertips at the right timing - the last day of 2017. What a year it has been. A year of triumphs, tests, tribulations, and trust - 2017 has been a defining year in my life.

Butterflies of life, after reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

As someone who likes to write and enjoys the process of stringing words together to make a daisy chain of, what I hope are, meaningful sentences - one could not possibly believe that I did not write at all over these last 4 months!

I have been writing, a lot! Writing forms, logging in my PhD book, drafting conference papers, journals, thank you post-it notes, job applications, and I have been working on a very special writing project over the festive period. So, even now as I write this I ask myself:

         If I was quite content with writing away from blogging for almost half a year, why come back? Why come back to a hobby that it seems evident I can live without?

Well, because this blog for me is more than just detailing the present. It is wrapping up the past into a parcel of hindsight to remind myself of the lessons going through adulthood and an STEM career brings.
The main reason I started this blog was to detail my life through engineering and technology, to show others interested in the field what a life could be like. Also, it was to widen a perception of the personalities, backgrounds, and interests of people within STEM have. Lastly, it acts as a viral diary to capture all the life lessons I have learnt through this journey, one day to look back on and maybe even pass down. So, this blog will always be relevant. It is a timeless venture, unbounded by trends. It is as important as self-reflection, self-perception, and personal growth for me.

Wandering through London museums

London catch-up at Coppa Club

I was a Science judge for a local Primary school this summer! A week before my PhD transfer viva

2017 is the year I found the bellow of my voice. The feeling that makes you believe yourself when you speak. That feeling of knowing that you can articulate to make others understand an honest version of yourself. This has been manifested through passing my transfer viva, discussing about visions of the wearables/electronic textiles field with technical interviewers, and even having conversations I did not want to have because it required a strength I was not sure I possessed yet. Certainly, this year has made my confidence feel more durable.



Sixth Form reunion in Greenwich, London

With regards to my research, 2017 has been a year of wisdom and growth. PhD life is not just about researching and experimenting novel concepts and systems. Additionally, what is paramount in the PhD experience are the moments where you need to persevere emotionally and physically through perceived and actual barriers. I realise now that doing a PhD has made me 21.999% less an optimistic person (haha) in that with most ventures I make these days there is a slight fog of "This will not work because of X". Those moments of doubt, nonetheless annoying, are incredibly helpful. Engineering wise, it has made me plan my work with the intention to maximise success and reduce failure. It has encouraged me to reach out, and pick the brains of individuals I can learn from before beginning a plan of action.
I am now in a position that I can publish work, the penultimate prototype of my work is completed, and I have built a network of reliable, intelligent, and helpful people - all through using doubt to highlight what I want to accomplish and encourage me to accomplish.




Snapshots of my conference trip to Barcelona

Towards the end of 2017, I have really been enjoying the process of living life. Friends that know me realise that I am an in-depth planner. I like to know all my options and mentally prepare myself for scenarios that may arise from an outcome. Yet, I realise now that in some respects this removes the magic of life. By not allowing life to unfold and always having a tight grip it removes the fun of suspense. That is not to say that thinking about the future and how scenarios can unravel is not a good thing. At times, it has saved me from going through options that had no positive outcome. What I do understand is that it is good to define the structure of a desire, goal, or outcome but not knowing how it will actually come to be is absolutely fine. That is what time is for, and be aware that inspiration and information can come from unlikely sources.

Finding refuge in Bristol

One year older

Dinner party invite

A place to have great conversation and a cosy sit down

Appreciating the sunset ambience between assignments

Wandering through the streets of Brighton

There have been many moments in 2017 where I seemed certain I should take a decision to achieve a goal but life did not turn out that way. Like the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) talk I was meant to give but had to retract my intention. I ended up turning down an IBM research internship I wanted at the time, but other priorities surfaced that I had to complete. Both were very, very, hard decisions to make but with hindsight the best decisions. Making hard decisions become easier, I have learnt, when you trust your judgement and know what you need.

Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), London

Display of innovative technology, IET

A gift for the Master's student I helped supervise this summer

2017 has also made me realise that the magic of life is not dead. There have been stepping stones I had to leap on before I could land on pastures of value that I could truly appreciate. For the first time in a long time, I am actually enjoying leaping on those stepping stones instead of hopping onto them with reluctance. The more I paid attention during the turbulent or energy-demanding times, the more knowledgeable I was when it was time to demonstrate the lessons I was supposed to learn. In a social sense, this meant people flowing in and out of my life who taught me how to communicate my inner thoughts, how to communicate needs, how to know when to give and when to stop, and how to recognise individuals you can rely on.

Guy Fawkes Night

Appreciating jazz in the evenings

Language Exchange evenings

A different kind of lab life

Lastly, 2017 had taught me that life can be unpredictability fleeting. That stability can crumble beneath you and you need to find the courage, bravery, and will-power to say that the life that I lead is still worth seeing what happens. I am surrounded by those I cherish who have been through this, currently going through this. We need to cherish the one chance we have to live. That means living through the experience we want to experience, not holding back on how big we want to dream, not diluting the excitement we have to achieve, and truly showing how much you appreciate and adore those around you.

Banksy's commentary on Brexit, Bristol

Bristol views

A Clos Maggoire festive experience

Christmas 2017 arrives

 In 2018, I want to be opportunistic in all areas of my life. This means spotting an amazing feat when you see it, and saying yes wholeheartedly to it. It means making a commitment to yourself to uphold the standards you want in life but admitting that you do not know everything that you want or need. It means relishing in the magic in what we cannot see, but feel the impact of its impression.

I might as well re-name this blog 'Find Courage' as this year I really had to demonstrate what I thought courage meant to me. I had to find the courage within myself multiple times when I was to fearful of doing so. Looking back on 2017, I am glad I embraced vulnerability and strength. I shall now take the courage through to 2018.


Take Courage,

Olivia


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Growth Spurt.

Sometimes, to get things done elements of life that you love can be sacrificed, or neglected. Blogging, writing, photography, filming are some of my favourite pasttimes - I have both sacrificed and neglected them. Why? The last four-five (okay, realistically a year and a half) months have been emotionally and energetically torturous upon me and mainly due to my handling of my PhD research work and other things in my PhD experience. Having time to reflect on things, passing my transfer viva examination, and finally having a good night's sleep, I have gotten to a healthy headspace to write about what life lessons I learnt through this period.

There are lots of things I can say over what has happened. In summary, I did not treat myself the best I could have, and allowed myself to experience things which I could have avoided. Nonetheless, with lessons learnt, forgiveness given, and wisdom gained I feel I have paved the way for others so that anyone who experiences what I went through has a better time dealing with it. Resolving the issue, I can handle anything similar in the future or offer a friendly ear and advice for others who may experience such circumstances soon. As a result, I will not delve into specifics but I was seriously questioning if staying on my PhD course would be the best for my well-being. How I overcame the tribulations can be explained through the following:




Anger to Embracing the Circumstance - Feeling anger is a state of mind I rarely get to. Over the years I have developed a very high threshold for such emotion, such that I can usually retain a calm frame of mind and emotionally let go of things that will have little importance in the bigger perspective. However, when the small things make you sweat over the bigger perspective and you feel a loss of control panic converts into anger and frustration. How I got over the anger was realising that I actually was angry. Being in denial of how you really feel can be disastrous as it can be emotionally confusing and is actually self-manipulative. Being honest with how you feel and being aware that it is only as temporary as you allow it to be - is the first step of moving forward to a solution. For me, I had to be aware that I was frustrated over the circumstances I was in. I needed to seek advice from a selective few to make informed decisions in order to not suffer in silence. I had to be willing to accept that there are some elements to life I have yet to experience. Additionally, what I was angry about was in some sense fear of not knowing how to handle the new, sensitive circumstance I was in.







Trusting the process and being prepared to sticking up for the life you want - My blog is evidence that life has a funny way of stringing seemingly separate occurrences into a meaningful goal or experience. Therefore, whatever you feel angry or sad about can offer a helpful or even soothing realisation if you are calm enough to listen. With my situation, especially regarding my research, I had to consider the consequences of my decisions. For that, I had to think about the future my research can have. My research was larger than my problem, and in some sense is larger than myself. Although my well-being is important, part of me thought it was unfair to not allow my research impact to fully blossom. Therefore, I had to be patient with myself, rest, calm my mind, and allow myself to be fine with not understanding everything. I understood that I was frustrated, angry, and did not want to be so. I also understood that my situation could change, and I later realised that in order to change my situation I had to overcome areas of growth that I had not completely addressed in my adult years: effective communication and being emotionally vulnerable. I had to muster as much courage as I have ever used in order to conquer the tasks set before me to resolve my problems. I knew the life that I wanted, an improved version of my circumstance was within my reach. I just had to accept that I was in my own way of happiness and I needed to not allow anyone to deny me the life that I wanted. I learnt that you need to stick up for yourself, your beliefs, and uphold standards/expectations of others. However, doing so with effectively communicating how you feel and what you want in such a way that the receiver wants to help you. Part of adulting, apparently.




"I care what they will think of me." to Rediscovering Myself - Before I say anything, I consider how it will affect and be received by the other person. Life has taught me to treat people kindly, be patient, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to let them know how great they are because sometimes it can be too late. To lift up others as I know how it feels to be stamped down. However, there are some people in life that will take such traits for granted. They can do so. I have learnt that it will only affect me if I continue to allow myself to be aware of it. If someone treats me less than what I am worth, it does not value my self-worth. That is their problem and not a reflection on who I am as a person. I cannot allow negative feelings as a response to someone's behaviour to turn me into a bitter, cold, resentful, distant individual. A person who does not trust others. At the same time, I will not become naive. In life, I think that in times of struggle, pressure, and emotionally high resistance are opportunities of a growth spurt. These times present lessons you have to learn for reasons you may not understand now. Lessons which causes you to wake up, sit up, and grow up.  





This growth spurt into adulthood was painful. I am still learning. Though I believe I came through it a better person with a better standard for myself and others. What annoyed me and tried to pull me down is irrelevant compared to my personal and professional success. These times have made me realise who are important in my life and who I want to keep in it. It made me realise that naivety is not a trait worth keeping on to, but can have its grip loosened by gaining wisdom and higher self-respect. Yes, growing pains hurt but all I acknowledge is the growth spurt. A growth spurt into the more communicative, vocal, and improved self-value person I am now.

In terms of my decision, well, let just say that I have plenty of more courage to take. I will be doing so by following my research through, as I deserve to attain it. 


Take Courage,

Olivia



Thursday, 1 June 2017

2017 goal: Experiences > Things.

Experience your expanded sense of the world for the remainder of 2016. (Incredible photo by Fabio Zingg)


How is your 2017 going?

We are halfway into the year...!! I can still remember watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny until midnight, dancing to Christine and Queens' performance on the night, and frantically looking for the remote to switch the news channel to watch the annual New Year's fireworks from London. For me, 2017 was welcomed in with great company and a glass of bubbly in hand. Surely, this was a good omen for 2017. Seems like it!

This blogpost was inspired by a suggestion that Eventbrite had for me - yes, the largest self-service ticketing platform company. With its mission statement, 'Bringing the world together with live experiences' you can tell that this company is ambitious. Ambitious in showing people that you can find happiness through experiences and not only through discovering a 90% sale at their favourite shopping outlet. Showing people they, indeed, can get that dopamine rush not only through purchasing materialistic objects, but through sharing time with friends in a new setting. Making people realise, that their perspective of the world can get that little bit wider through wonderful experiences that can be organised, planned, and managed through their site.Thanks Eventbrite for getting in touch! It has given me an opportunity to reflect over the last 6 months of 2017 and see what else I want to experience this year!

Last year, I made a conscious effort to stop buying clothes and nick-nacks and instead make more effort in not only taking part in new experiences but collecting memories from them. In fact, in 2015 every day I wrote on a piece of paper what happened that day and if I learnt any life lessons. I then dated that piece of paper and put it in a jar, with the intention that on New Years Eve I would empty the jar of 365 pieces of paper and go review my year that way. It was a fantastic experience, and I recommend anyone at least once to do that in their lifetime. On January 1st, 2017 I compiled some pictures and inspirational words which depicted what I wanted to accomplish this year and experiences I wanted to go through. A bucket list, vision board, mood board - call it what you will!

Looking back through the photos and words I compiled together for myself in early January 2017, turns out that I have lived through some of them as experiences already:

Eltham Palace, London
To look round Eltham Palace has been on my bucket list for a number of years now. It is an art deco building in London, and part of the English Heritage collection of buildings that the public are able to visit. What captivates me most about photos of Eltham Palace is the symmetry and the upmost craftmenship around the building. Whether it be the curvature of the walls, to the sleek, almost ocean-liner elements of the interior design. Though, another goal of mine has been to save money. So, balancing the desire to look around Eltham Palace with actually paying to go there has resulted with me not going there yet. However, imagine my surprise when two TV shows that I watched this year featured Eltham Palace! Netflix's 'The Crown' and Channel 4's 'Grand Designs' both filmed scenes within Eltham Palace. So, although I have yet to visit there and experience the beauty of the place in person, watching tour footage of the Eltham Palace through television has satisfied some eagerness to see more of what the interiors look like. My, what a stunning place. Worth a visit though!

Modern Makeover!
When I first found this photo, I was attracted to the ethereal colour scheme and the beautiful simplicity it has. I really appreciate how everything in that living room had its own place of existing. Nothing seems out of order, and it feels like being in such an environment would be really aesthetically pleasing but also relaxing. How this came to be in 2017 was organising a modern makeover of the flat I am living in! My flatmate is moving out, another is moving in, and to mark the new chapter I fancied a more upscale-looking style of interiors. I have only looked at this photo properly now, but things in this picture are very similar to what I have done. Although the colour scheme I have focus on gold and cream, the intention to play with texture and scale are very prevalent in my design choices. As in the picture, 'imagination' is very important when organising a new space and should not be thought of lightly. Being open to different styles of furniture and design choices is essential, as you may learn that you surprisingly like them! I may not be Sophie Paterson (who I also learnt about this year, she does amazing work) in regards to interior design, but give me time!

Before:




After (sneak peek):




I will probably write a blogpost with the full redecoration at a later date!
New friends, new memories.

Whoever said 'I do not need anymore friends' obviously was not telling the whole truth. Who said too much of a great thing is bad? Sure, if you have 1000+ friends on Facebook, keeping track of everyone would sure be a pickle outside the realms of social media. Yet, I think we all have different types of friends and they bring out particular sides of us for the better. Certainly, I have realised, that as I get older and more self-assured I gravitate particular personalities who become my friends and that companionship serves us both as we live through a similar time of our lives. You may notice, that your friends whom you went to school with as a teenager may be different to those you partied and studied with at University. It is a part of growing up. The friends we keep around us are a reflection of who we are as people. As my Dad says, 'Show me your friends and you show me who you are'. With that, at the start of 2017 I felt like I wanted to bring in new people into my life. I felt there was more for me to learn about from others from different backgrounds, and also I felt like 2017 was really going to be a coming-of-age year for me. Via Instagram (here and here) I have documented experiences making new friends and it has been such a positive addition to my life meeting such vibrant and sociable people during my PhD. Starting a PhD can be daunting. I imagine for those starting a graduate job and the reality of working in a company kicks you in the gut (too much? Okay, maybe a 'tickle in the tummy' like the butterflies in your stomach feeling...) you realise - "Wait, so I need to make new friends? How do I do that?"

For me, I had to think back all the to nursery school (also called kindergarten) and try and remember how I made friends. Now, making new friends as a new PhD student I did not have crayons, the game of tag, or bonding with what I had in my lunchbox as a good starting point of conversation. What I did have was knowledge of events happening on campus, and the courage to put myself in unfamiliar and potentially unnerving situations (going to an event alone) and hopefully meeting someone there who I clicked with. Funnily enough, I went to a particular event on my University campus by booking via Eventbrite. If I had not gone to that event, my social life would not have been as enriched and brilliant as it is now. I met one of my new friends at a weekly PhD gathering in a cafe on campus, another whilst I was visiting IBM, another new collection of friends I made was by going out for dinner in a large group of friends of friends. Of course, I could not forget my 'friendship veterans' - spending time with friends who have been in my life for over 5 years occurred when I went to a friends' engagement party. I met old friends whilst at a start-up technology event at the Houses of Parliament, and even when I was on a panel talking about what it is like being a Women in Science as many of my friends were talking with me!


Skill unlocked: Public Speaking.

2017 has been a year where I have learnt to be comfortable speaking in front of a large number of people and pretending that I am not as nervous as I truly am. Public speaking can be so daunting. I think it is the anticipated fear of all eyes being on you. When you are on stage, perhaps the fear creeps in and taps you o the shoulder are the very thought that the audience is expecting you to entertain them intellectually - that is a lot of responsibility! Yet, you get better with practice and with each completion of a public speaking job I have, the wobbling of my voice reduces earlier into my set. This year, I have spoken on a panel talking about my experience as PhD student to prospective PhD students joining my University Department, I have also completed the Women in Science Panel talk aforementioned, and recently completed an industry talk at an Engineering Workshop about my PhD achievements in my research thus far. With each public speaking role I have completed this year, first comes nerves then comes control. I am getting better, and there is room for improvement, but I am enjoying the experience more and more.

I love it when electronics work...
2017 is a big year for me work-wise. I plan to finish my PhD in three years. So, I need to do the bulk of my practical work and get it working reliably by the end of this year so I can start writing up my final thesis. For this, I need working, reliable circuits that can be made in large numbers. Last year a large portion of my time was spent trying to make circuits work. In January, I said 2017 was going to be a year where my newly designed circuits would show how reliable they were. This is what compelled me to collect this photo as a goal - an electronic system that can be demonstrable. Now, so far I have a developed a new circuit for my PhD (I have made new two sensor circuits now). One time, I got its functionality working as expected and captured on video! Now, not so much! It is the oddest thing. I build the replica of the circuit that was once working, and now it defies me!! Okay, melodramatic, but I am truly stumped as to what exactly is going on. Still, I trust my struggle. Eventually, when I get my second circuit design to work reliably, I would need to get the same circuit scaled up in quantity, and this is what my summer will be all about. I am going to help my PhD supervisor to supervise a Master's student and I have tasked her to complete one subsystem of my novel electronic design. It should be a learning experience moderating a technical person, I have mentored writers when I was an editor for a academic magazine at school, but have yet to mentor an engineer. 2017 is the year!


Now, onto some key bucket list items of 2017 I have yet to tick off!
There ain't no party like a Boat Ball par-tayyy.... ohhh....
At the start of 2017, I imagined myself being on a boat on the River Thames, dancing the night away... a good choice of an experience to live through, right? Well, irrespective of place, I wanted 2017 to be the year where I attended another Boat Ball formal again. The last time I attended a Boat Ball formal was in my undergraduate, and it was three years ago for the University Extreme Sports Society. I was part of ('snowboarder-ish). My University released the news a week ago that a Postgraduate Boat Ball formal is taking place this summer! I am so excited, I have a dress already selected from my wardrobe and I actually got this dress from a boutique in Delft when I visited my University friend Samiksha. The lovely dress has been tucked at the back of my wardrobe on a hanger since, like all my other formal clothes (I really need to find a gala and a garden party to attend so I can wear particular dresses haha). With all this suppressed enthusiasm for all things formal, I am going to go all out. I have my rose-gold accessories at the ready, the dress, the shoes, the coat, now just decision about make-up...



I see you...

One of my favourite hobbies is photography and film-making. I look at photography sites, watch YouTube videos, and even get inspiration from magazine editorials on how I can improve my cinematography, shot angles, and getting more topic inspirations. I would like to get better, and doing so with others who share the same interest would be a lot of fun. I am fortunate to say that I have friends who could be described as professional photographers and videographers. Looking at their work always inspired me to get better at my craft. To be reflective on my efforts and see areas of opportunity to grow. Time to time, I look back at my YouTube channel videos. There is both praise and honest criticism to learn the skills I can improve on. Doing group photography and filming projects, where I am not just the photographer but also in front of the lens, would be really great experience to cherish. Being able to savour old memories by looking at photos of film means you can relive it. It is a reality I would really like to come true by the end of this year. Whether it is purely hobby, or semi-professional, I would like to experience what it is like. Even video presenting and doing voice-overs for shows are some things I have considered! Having a camera buddy or several could be part of this coming through. Where we can learn from each other, impart my opinions on how we can all improve but also share compliments on what we are doing well. We can lift each other up to become better at appreciating and showcasing photography and film. That reminds me, I hope to upload new videos onto my YouTube channel this year with some topics related to my PhD life. It has been a long time since I have uploaded, but thankfully I have had some inspiration so I am truly happy with the thought of film-making again.

When you reach the top of a mountain you always see another higher one to conquer.
So, about public speaking. What would be amazing this year if I can get my crowd to be larger, like in this photo. Metaphorically, I will probably feel like this in my PhD viva. Literally, if I can increase my audience size and get to a point where I can comfortably deliver a talk that would be a huge achievement. A sign of successfully being a better human being compared to last year. What could my topic be? Maybe my research, thoughts of being a millennial in STEM and what the future looks like for us, or maybe even the experience of being courageous in situations when it may appear easier to  not be. For the latter, there are numerous situations that I have dealt with this and I have documented them in this blog when I started University as a Electronic Engineering with Artificial Intelligence undergraduate. 

It's the final countdown *dramatic keyboard solo*

The second half of 2017, I will be having my transfer viva for my PhD. It will determine if I will graduate with just a Masters, or continue onto the PhD program. My goal is to get my Doctorate, so my mission is to dazzle my PhD supervisors and examiners so much that they ask me to stay on the PhD course and complete my research. I am not exactly sure which month I shall have my PhD viva, but if I had a preference, it would be when I have all my circuits working reliably and I can duplicate them with certainty that they all work. With this stage of my work, I would be in a very strong position to say to my examiners in the viva, that the hardware component of my PhD is complete and all that is left is to consult the textile side which can be completed by the end of 2017. Also, passing my transfer viva and having only the final tasks left to do should give me more than enough spare time to do some industry job applying! 

Appreciating the new view.

For the last six months of 2017, I would love to either treat myself or be treated with a holiday. I have not had a leisure holiday in a number of years because I have put work first. With work there is always something else to do or a meeting that always keeps you in the country. Then again, maybe my priority has been more on work then anything else. Nonetheless, by the end of the 2017 I would like to say that I treated myself to a lovely time abroad. Where the goal of the holiday is just to have fun, experiencing the new, and to live with a greater sense of content. If I had to pick anywhere, Italy has been on my bucket list ever since I was a teenager. Perhaps I can find time between supervising the Masters student and completing my PhD research to go abroad. With the intention to come back with my eyes having seen new pastures, my nose having a new love for the tantalising smells of foreign cuisines, my ears still hearing the melodies of new languages, and my skin glowing due to appreciate the sun without the medium of a laboratory window...


Even if you did not collect your 2017 goals into photos in January, you can start now! Open a folder on your computer and put pictures or quotes that inspire you inside it. Or, even save your phone or tablet background into a picture or quote that will epitomise what you want to experience by the end of 2017. On New Years Eve, look back on those that you saved and see if you ticked anything off your bucket list.

If you want to be absolutely sure you have thought of everything to put in your 'halfway 2017 bucket list' have a browse through Eventbrite's website. There, you can use tools to quickstart any motivation to make the remainder of your 2017 action-packed with new experiences. On their website, you can check out events which may inspire you to learn new topics, meet new people, or even to learn a skill you forgot you wanted to dedicate time to. There may be an experience just waiting for you to live through. Here are some helpful links:

https://www.eventbrite.com/
https://www.eventbrite.com/l/registration-online/

Also, why not form an experience from Eventbrite's mission statement - 'Bringing the world together with live experiences'? If there is an experience you want to live through by December 2016, take action - create, manage, and plan your own event based on that experience where lots of people can take part too. That way, you enrich your life and whilst enriching others' and befriending them in the process. Plus, another experience ticked off the halfway 2016 bucket list, a win-win situation!

Thanks again to Eventbrite for suggesting this blogpost idea to me. Writing this blogpost has reminded me that there are few key goals yet for me to accomplish. Perhaps in December 2017, I shall write a follow-up blogpost detailing if I have ticked off anything else on my bucket list! Until then...

Take courage,

Olivia