Thursday, May 2, 2013

Starting PhD Studies

As of yesterday, I have officially started on my next big adventure. For the next few years, I will be an official member of the HCI Lab at the University of Canterbury working towards a PhD in Computer Science!

It's certainly taken a while. For the first time in over two years (and perhaps ever), I've been able to enjoy a long and relaxed summer break. Amazingly, the weather came along to the party, and we had a long, dry, and warm summer this year. This was perfect weather for a nice summer break, free from any real looming commitments casting a shadow in the near distance, and able to spend time decompressing from a very hectic past two years (including indulging in reading/entertainment binges, mulling over various issues/passions, and generally trying to return to having a somewhat decent/healthier lifestyle again).

However, all good things have to come to an end, and as summer finally started to wane, several setbacks and delays conspired to drag things out. First up, there was that incident in January involving a a warm starry night, a hedgehog, mosquito(s), and a painful and swollen leg from mosquito-bite allergies (there were four nasty bites up my left leg - one near the ankle on the outside, two up the shin on the same side, and a large patch on the inner thigh just above the knee - which worked collectively to itch, burn, and painfully tug and pull with every movement, making walking nearly impossible). More recently, there was a nasty cold, a malware attack, a brush with a week-long recurring episode of norovirus/food-poisoning, and a few paperwork processing delays. It's as if most of the ills which I'd thankfully managed to dodge for the past 2-3 years had all ganged up to haunt me all in one go!

Even now, it's not completely over yet... After years of urging from my dentist, I finally went to a dental surgeon to have my wisdom teeth checked out. Contrary to what I thought walking in, all but one of the buggers had actually erupted already. The top two were out - I thought they were still missing, but apparently not... maybe that's what caused those few weeks over the past 2 years where I got deep, dull, headaches, and my gums hurt badly. Of the bottom two, the one which had come up was actually only covered by a flap of gum instead of jutting out sideways as I'd thought. But it is perhaps the final one, the one missing in action that was to prove to be the most problematic of them all: from the fancy panoramic xray they took, the damned bugger could be clearly seen lying on its side, completely horizontal, tooth end butting the roots of the other teeth, and root end prodding what I was told was a nerve. Ouch! Damned wisdom teeth! As it stands, I'm booked in to have them yanked (well, according to the good dentist, the top two can probably be just yanked out, but the bottom two will be "cut into 4 pieces and extracted") at the start of June - I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to this (both the actual sitting in the chair with mouth open and semi drowsy, nor the recovery process afterwards). Damned wisdom teeth!


In the meantime, I've also been busy tutoring some undergraduate classes in the department. It's been quite interesting making the jump from being a student to teaching (though in some ways, the transition has been softened a bit by years of trying to provide assistance over the the BlenderArtists forums and also here on this blog).

For many years I've been a bit nervous about doing any face-to-face teaching, as I worried about being asked some questions by some of the more curious/bullish students out there that not only did I not know the answer to, but which I feared I probably would have never even thought of in the first place! In certain respects, a certain amount of this type of fear - something that everyone will have experienced prior to exams of various sorts, and also familiar to anyone who has to give any public performances of any sort - is beneficial and perhaps even necessary, as it can act as a driving force to motivate ourselves to be better prepared in order to avoid potential embarrassment down the track (by working on any weaknesses, but also by expanding your viewpoint/perspective to try to cover potential problems you wouldn't have anticipated). In some respects, this type of fear can also be debilitating and harmful. For example, the type of stomach-clenching, chill-inducing, hand-quivering, let-me-find-a-dark-corner-to-curl-up-into-a-ball feelings that arise before performing is not something that you really want to experience too often in your life, especially not on a near-regular basis - it's often hard to tell how many more rounds of this sort of torture your body can stand when facing down an "incident" like this.

Admittedly, the first session ended up being a bit of a "baptism by fire". Although in retrospect it could have gone a bit smoother, that session turned out to be a very valuable experience, and acted much like a "McDonalds Theory" (or in Pixar/startup parlance, "fail early, fail often"). Let's just say that, although I still believe that if you're teaching, you should be fairly good/knowledgeable about what you're teaching, I've since come to accept that omniscience about what you're teaching is perhaps not as important sometimes as being able to effectively troubleshoot the situation without introducing additional confusion.

During the "induction" session, it was mentioned that this would be quite a valuable experience. Having been doing this for a few weeks now, I can finally attest to the truth of this. Examples of unexpected bonuses from doing this include:
   * Getting to spend a few hours each week essentially observing people using computers, where they are grappling with new/unfamiliar software and trying to get to grips with it, trying to hunt down specific files and folders in obscure system locations or locations of their own choosing, and managing their tools. Somewhat unexpectedly, these sessions are turning out to be a goldmine as sources of informal inspiration and insight for my research work.
    * Being able to predict quite accurately just how much of a lab the class will be able to get through, and even finally being able to effectively anticipate some of the most likely causes of confusion (case in point, this week's lab)
    * Basically being forced to be quicker on my feet to provide more timely and concise resolutions to problems that crop up
    * And finally, perhaps the biggest thing - actually enjoying the experience of doing this, once the initial nerves wear off :)

No comments:

Post a Comment