Arrival · Orientation · Research

Day 12: Plots and repairs

Monday is the day that the Michaelmas term begins…. although some sources claim it began on Sunday and others say it does on Tuesday. In any case, I treated this as the first proper day of my PhD, though it will be starting off very slowly.

It was a casual morning, and activities began in earnest at midday, when I joined on to the punt lessons being run by Darwin College. For me, this was just an excuse to go punting. Around 15-20 other new students wanted to punt as well, so we took one boat amongst 3-4 people plus an experienced student. Our boat had various skill levels, ranging from complete novice through to advanced beginner. One by one, each of us improved our technique, for example, dropping the pole close to the boat instead of far from the boat to avoid going in circles, and the finer points of steering. At one point, the pole was lost in the water, and we had to paddle to retrieve it.

Once I returned to my room, it was time to pack things up and head off to the department. I packed by bag, and rode off down the road to the Cavendish. I arrived, found my office which today was populated with my new office-mates, and signed a form agreeing to the terms-of-use of the IT systems. From there, I proceeded to do some basic set-up: logging on to my desktop computer for the first time, installing some required software (e.g. Mozilla Thunderbird), and configuring everything I needed. At one point, it seemed kind of ironic that I was setting up my Linux desktop while listening to music on my Apple iPhone with my Windows laptop open on my desk.

I spent the afternoon on my laptop responding to a comment left by one of my collaborators from last year. We are about to publish a paper on my project, but there was one data point of slight concern that needed to be addressed. To demonstrate what was going on, I ran a little extra code and generated a neat gif (the legend is wrong):


I finished after hours, so walked out of the deserted corridors. Unlike back home, where every door can be opened out of hours, at least from the inside, here there was only one (except in emergencies), which I troubled a little to find. I collected my bike, but realised it was dusk. There was still a bit of light about, so I turned on my tail light, but my front light had no batteries. I needed to improvise, so I used my phone’s torchlight as a make-shift front light. The ride home was mostly on dedicated bike path, so it wasn’t much of an issue. Instead of going back to Darwin along Queen’s Road, I decided to ride along the bike path to the side of it. At first this was okay, but the latter half was a rough surface. About halfway along, I stopped suddenly because my bike started to clank with every wheel turn. I inspected closely, and the support that held my front mudguard in place had come loose. There was a bracket with two bolts that fixed to the front fork, and one of the bolts was missing. It was now going dark, so I took my phone torch and scoured the ground along the trail behind me. Twenty metres or so back, I found a small, silver bolt, so I raced back to my bike to try and put it back. Unfortunately, it needed a nut and a small plastic bracket as well. Disheartened, I traced my steps again, carefully looking across the rough surface, to no avail. I returned back to my bike, and was just about to give up when a cursory glance revealed the small black plastic bracket. Nearby too was the nut. Joyed, I raced back to my bike and attempted to fix it. It wasn’t tight, but it would do for the moment.

Time wasted, I returned to Darwin, and parked my bike at the college and raced up for dinner. After, I went to the porter’s lodge to borrow a screwdriver to fasten the bolt completely. Satisfied with my repair, I dropped the bike back at my room, and returned to the college for the Clubs and Societies Fair.

Whereas back home, clubs and societies sit at stalls for many long hours over the course of half a week outside on large grassed areas, here all of the clubs and societies of Darwin cram into the dining hall on narrow tables for one hour and everybody visits in a signing up free-for-all. I had pre-read the welcome guide, and so was efficient in visiting the stalls that I wanted. I put my name down against the cricket and (association) football clubs, the science society, the bike repair group and the May Ball committee. From here I wandered further around the hall, chatting to other people I had met who were less decisive about their choice. During the back half of the hour, I also registered interest with the punt club, though I didn’t have the cash on hand to pay the full dues (one of the only clubs which has fees), and I also expressed interest with the Cambridge Union, who I am reserved about but seem interesting.

After the fair, I went down to the DarBar to relax and share stories about which societies we had all put our name down for, and which ones we were going to follow through with. There was a rather mixed bag, ranging from rock-climbing to salsa dancing. I went home earlier than usual, knowing that in the morning, health and safety seminars would await.

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