Today was the first day of O week at QUT, a time when the relative calm of the summer break is disturbed by an influx of 17 year olds and university-run activities that always seem to generate a lot of noise. Is it possible to be a grumpy old man a week shy of 29?
I received an email from my supervisor this morning asking if I could take over from one of the other PhD students in our group who had fallen ill last week and not recovered in time for a presentation this morning. The presentation, scheduled for 9am, was to be the first of the inaugural Nanotechnology and Molecular Science HDR (Higher Degree Research, i.e. Doctoral and Masters students) symposium.
I’ve been moaning quietly, since starting my PhD in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, that the physics discipline had nothing like the School of Mathematics’ Postgrad Day. I really like Postgrad Day as it’s a good way to see what the other postgrad students are working on, what the research foci are within the school, and for students to improve their public speaking skills by delivering their research to a room of their peers and the other researchers in the school in an environment which is much more supportive than any conference is likely to be.
The NMS HDR symposium brought together a number of students and staff from optics, aerosol science, nanomaterials, biotechnology, forensics and other fields within the discipline and allows them to see, perhaps for the first time, the research that others around them are doing. Even though my lab, ILAQH, is part of the Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, the distance between us and the remainder of IHBI is probably greater than just the physical distance between the two campuses. We do not seem to be particularly engaged with the culture of the remainder of IHBI and it’s very rare that our group will make the trek across to Kelvin Grove to see a presentation that is a short elevator ride away from the bulk of the IHBI membership.
I have really only been to IHBI a few times. The two most recent appearances have been for the IHBI Olympics (a week of activities where research domains compete against each other in fun activities such as Iron Chef and photo scavenger hunt) in 2011 where I performed as part of the Health and Human Wellbeing domain’s talent quest entry, a four person improvisation troupe called “Ha ha… what?”, and to present the work that the PhD students of the UPTECH project had been working on (where we killed half an hour of time before the presentations by playing impro warm-up games).
Continuing in this spirit of improvising in front of scientists, I spoke to the NMS HDR symposium at 45 minutes’ notice and in an eight minute talk managed to touch on the key points of the UPTECH project, explaining a small fraction of the science and discussing the richness of the dataset, the questions it will allow us to answer, and the diverse range of people we have involved in the project. I was told by one of the research staff in our group afterwards that it was refreshing to see a talk with no slides and that they were impressed at the quality of a talk that contained such a small amount of preparation and wondered whether I could give a presentation without speaking.
Professor Dennis Arnold, the organiser of the symposium, is now based on the same floor as me; he is one of a handful of people on our floor who are not members of ILAQH. I asked him if he thought the day was a success and he was very positive. I sincerely hope that the NMS HDR symposium continues next year and well into the future, as a way to foster interest across the traditional divide of physics vs chemistry.
I had to duck out of the symposium early to attend a meeting about one of the new units in the revamped Bachelor of Science degree. Dr Sama Low Choy, one of my supervisors, has asked me to run one of the collaborative workshops in the new quantitative methods unit (she says it’s because of my impro skills). Today was one of the planning days where we got to grips with the structure of the unit, the way the workshops are to be run and how what we are doing is significantly different to anything we’ve done before. I’ll write more about it later, such as after my first tutorial, but it’s very exciting to see QUT break with tradition and make this unit happen.
Through case studies with data sets relevant to their discipline, students will learn about quantitative methods in mathematics and statistics. We are ditching t tests, removing the need for statistical tables, adding structure to the group work to ensure people don’t get to ride on the effort of others and teaching R and MATLAB in a first year unit that only supposes Maths B. I’m really excited that we’re teaching first year students how to use software that is free (well, at least R is) and far more powerful than Microsoft Excel. One of the problems with MAB101, the old unit, was that the computation was done in Minitab, a piece of software that I’ve never known any researcher to use. One of the workshop leaders said that they want to go back and do undergrad again knowing that this unit now exists; I don’t blame them.
This will definitely be an exciting year for me, academically. A new course with new units, new facilities in the Science and Engineering Centre, new collaboration opportunities and the chance to pick somewhere new to move to at the end of the year.