Sunday 20 October 2013

Feeling like a Ph(rau)D

My first year as a part-time, post-grad 'research' student is drawing to a close, and I've just had my first 'Annual Progress Report' signed off by my research supervisor. He seemed quite happy with my progress and gave me a 'motivated and very capable' rating, which should go down well with the review committee (I will have a brief 'interview' session with them in early November to finalise the annual review). My supervisor also signed off that I had completed the 12-month's probation period, so I should have my candidature officially 'confirmed' once I get past the review committee interview. And after that is out of the way I'll start working on the application required to officially  'upgrade' my enrolment from the MSc(Research) degree to  PhD. Knowing that I'm working towards a PhD thesis due in 6-8 years time, rather than having a MSc thesis due 1-2 years from now, will make it easier to plan my literature and thesis writing schedule. Being a part-time research student is a s-l-o-w process ;)

Despite my supervisor saying that my research topics have turned out to be more difficult than he had anticipated, I still feel I haven't achieved very much this year (definitely not as much as I had intended). Although I've managed to learn how to 'drive' the Mt Wilson interferometry telescope array remotely from the lab at Sydney University, and have some tantalising preliminary results from my micro-quasar observations (which my supervisor says should be enough to publish a paper already), there is still a lot to learn about the nuances of optical stellar interferometry and the 'nuts and bolts' of the various data reduction and modelling software tools. I also feel that my maths and statistics (which were never my strongest subjects) are about 30 years out of date, and I haven't spent as much time 'brushing up' my calculus and basic physics knowledge this year as I had hoped. Oh well, I will have a couple of weeks over the Christmas/New Year period at home (while my office shuts down for the holidays), so I *might* be able to do some remedial background reading while lounging around the swimming pool. I also have to get my literature search more organised (so far I'm just browsing random papers that seem relevant), and allocate a fixed amount of time each week to read and critically summarise each paper, rather than just skimming through them and jotting down a few interesting factoids.

Next year I'll also have to enrol in one of the 'honours' level courses that have to be completed as part of a MSc/PhD at Sydney University. It's probably not a good idea to attempt my supervisor's Bayesian Statistics course until I've brushed up my maths and statistics a bit more ;) so I'm thinking of doing the History and Philosophy of Science honours course as my first elective. At least that was one of the subjects I got a high distinction for in my undergraduate degree thirty years ago, and although there is a lot of reading required, the assessment only involves four 1,500 word essays.

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