Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Working on a PhD or Slave Labor

One of the oldest concepts of doing a PhD is that you need to "do your time". It's a tradition. Why should any professor want to let students get get through without doing what they had to put up with? However my supervisor's goal is to build an empire, unfortunately that needs to be done with labor, which means lot of students. Honestly, if I had known this I would have chosen a different advisor because I see a difference between doing your time and being cheap labor. To me "doing your time" means something is being learned that has to do with research, no matter how menial it is.
My supervisor has high hopes for himself. He wants buildings named after him, but to do that he needs prestige. How to build prestige better than fame. What if you don't have fame? Then you fake it. He holds multiple conferences throughout the year for the different research groups he is in charge of. With all the conferences he uses the PhD students to staff and run them. I have no problem helping with a conference that has to do with my research area but it helps no one for me to be filling envelopes for a conference that has nothing to do with my research. The PhD students are seen as cheap labor. Usually in exchange for this we get to network with the people at the conference but instead we are moving flags around to different entrances to save money and filling seats when he or donors give talks to make it look like there are more people attending the conference. I have not been able to talk to anyone other than other PhD students.
I by no means am saying that he expects only the students to do work. He is always working. Since so much of time was spent working on conferences doing normal research needed to be done during the holiday break. The problem was that my supervisor tasked me with creating an Intranet over the break instead of hiring an expert. He had chosen software to run that I was not familiar with and proved more complicated and time consuming. I used the entire break learning the software and building the site to his specifications. I ended up getting revisions to complete the next day on Christmas eve and New Year's eve at 11:45. I was able to launch the site after the break but at the expense of getting no research done.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chinese New Year 2012

I don't what the rules are that are used for what day Chinese new year but this year it came extra early. Since I was a warden this time around I wanted to try to include everyone more than last year. We had the same lion dance and food planned (and I made sure to have the chinese fortune cookies since the Chinese students had never heard of them.) My part that I volunteered to do as karaoke.
The warden (J.) in charge of hiring a marquee (tent) didn't do it in time so it couldn't be reserved. Instead we bought three pop-up gazebos and tied them together to the three I had bought for the welcome weekend. Since heaters usually came with the tent we had to use all of the emergency heaters we used when the boilers broke in student's flats. The problem being that it kept tripping the fuse. Even after all the heaters were turned off. So we traced it back to one of the hotplates was shorting out so that went into the trash. Unfortunately not before it shorted out the router we were using for the internet connection we were going to use for Karaoke. We found a different router but I could not get the Chinese language pack installed on my computer correctly. So the plan I came up with was T. would handle the Chinese side on her laptop and I would handle the English songs. We had both laptops setup and I could switch between them for the large screen for people to see. I got everything working right at the time we wanted to start doing karaoke. It went off without a hitch switching back and forth between Chinese and English songs, and of course everyone loved the lion dance.
At the end of the night I don't think 90% of the students even realized that we had hit any problems much less all of them. But the reality is that I had been running around the entire night putting out problems so much or running karaoke that the night was over and I didn't even get 15 minutes of socializing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

School Politics

There are those times where people do things that appear so stupid you hope they have malicious intent just so you can believe that people can't be that stupid. This is one of those times.
The student village that I live in is in danger of being shut down. Not because it doesn't make enough money, it is the only student hall that makes a profit. It's not because people don't want to live here, it gets the highest ratings every year out of all the halls. It is because people in charge do not want to admit they have made a mistake.
Years ago, without doing any research "Commercial services" decided to build new student halls. They call them grad pads because they are all private studio flats instead of shared halls. But to make them affordable they are tiny, made of cheap plastic looking material, and as many are crammed into a building as possible. Of course since they cut every corner the elevator does not work good and Internet is very flaky. The best part is that it costs £1000/month ($1500) to live in these shoe boxes. Obviously, they can't keep them filled even the first year it is open. They have another building being built right now to add to the vacancies.
So the current halls where the rent is half as much (it is further away) and has a waiting list is being shut down. Not because anyone is expecting students to fill in the spaces in the empty halls because of the price difference. It is because without this village showing how badly they blundered open grad students just look like they don't want to live in student halls instead of reality.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Earl of Sandwich

There is something that I have had to get used to since getting here, sandwiches are everywhere. Back in the US buying a sandwich from a convenience store and you're taking your life in your hands on how old it is. Here every convenience store, off-license (liquor store), and grocery store have them, and frankly with the sandwich getting its namesake from here I'm not surprised.
With all the competition there is a lot of niche differentiation so I have been having fun trying a lot of different types of variations that I would never think of. It is really amusing to go into a seedy off-license and buy a gourmet sandwich with the lettuce still crisp because the are delivered three times a day.
With Sandwiches being the main thing being sold for quick food (The deli counters here are much smaller at the grocery stores that have them) I have not been able to figure out why I don't see more people eating while walking. It was a habit that I have picked up while in New York City. Everyone did it there. But here, I don't see anyone. The weird thing though is that no one looks at me strange when I do it here so it's not like there are any cultural rules against it.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year

New Year's Eve and it was rainy. So instead of hanging out squished between sardines for hours we had a much lower key party with just a few friends instead. We played a game that one of my friends had got for Christmas. Long, involved and lots of rules. When midnight got close we got our friend to switch the computer to live TV and risk a £1000 fine so we could see the countdown and fireworks. It was pretty obvious that they had upped the budget this year for the fireworks.
I have found something funny in the first week of the new year. My commute has me walking through one of the richest neighborhoods in London. As people put the trees on the curb I have realized that I have yet to see one taller than 6 1/2 or 7 feet tall (2 meters). For this rich of a neighborhood in the US there wouldn't be a tree below 12 feet. I am just amused at how much more low key even celebrating Christmas is here.