Monthly Archives: December 2010

Start of the Thesis Writing Process … pg 1, v.00

After months and months of waiting for a break, busying myself with papers, course work, thesis, and doing other fun grad student activities, I found myself flying home on Christmas Eve. It had been way too long since the last time I rolled around the house in PJs all day, ate belly full of food every meal, and slept in every morning.

But the truth is, although I’ve been craving such a break for months, it didn’t take me too long before I start to miss the packed to-do lists, deadlines marked and highlighted on the calendar,  and the quiet sound of the machines humming away in the lab that magically boosts the effects of coffee. Signs of a workaholic? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s (that) bad for you.

After two days of eating lots, being pampered by my family, and resting my brain with various sources of entertainment, I decided that it’s time to get some work done.

On the third day, I attempted to work from home – it never works well, and didn’t work well this time until every member of my family had gone to bed. Upon the continuation of unsatisfactory productivity levels at home, I now find myself at a small coffee shop in the small city of Guelph, Ontario. And, to my surprise, the first thing that I wanted to do was ….

… to start writing my thesis.

‘Wow’, I thought to myself, ‘I am actually starting to write my thesis!’.

I did want to follow the recommendations from my supervisors and start writing it early on. But with immediate deadlines and higher priority tasks on the to-do list, the writing process never got started, until now.

There seems to be a few things to keep in mind before and during the thesis writing process.

First, there’s pages and pages of ‘thesis formatting’ related information on the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FoGS) website. They’re very helpful, but also very long. It covers stuff from the font type, to font size, to font colour… i.e., detailed.

There’s sixteen different things that need to appear in the proper order of the completed thesis. A huge list of references will have to be put together in a proper order and format – which can be more than just painful if you don’t already use helpful reference management software such as Mendeley(freeware) and RefWorks(free for UBC students).

With all these formatting requirements in mind, I am first tempted to write the thesis in LaTex. The FoGS website provides a handy dandy LaTeX files you can use to automatically format the thesis to FoGS’ satisfaction. And with the help of references that can be put in the .bib format, you don’t need to worry about cleaning up tens (hopefully not hundreds?) of references in the final thesis later. In addition, if you’ve already published or written papers for conferences or journals in LaTeX, integrating the contents (including figures, tables, and references) into the thesis is just a matter of copy and paste; and the formatting will be taken care of.

But LaTeX writing is not so good for getting feedback from your supervisors and having them track changes – which Word does a pretty good job of. Is there a Word template for UBC thesis? Not that I know of. But that would be pretty helpful for non-LaTeX users, eh?

So I’ve decided to ignore the formatting requirements for now, write each chapter separately in MS Word, get feedback on the contents from my supervisors with the convenient track-changes features in MS Word, and then convert it into LaTex chapter by chapter for easier formatting of the overall thesis.

I will have to check the Vista website later though (currently out of service due to maintenance) and check out if there’s any helpful info on thesis writing from the Mech Eng Department.

Meanwhile, here’s an appropriate phD comics on the very topic….

New Year Resolutions

With the new year coming, people are starting to talk about their resolutions for the next year. A lot of my friends have graduated and are working which makes many of their goals completely different than mine. Making a plan to save for an apartment, crazy vacation, etc aren’t really things I’m able to do right now. But along those lines, at this point in my life I feel like I want my goals to include more than just school plans. And this is where the subject of this post comes from.

School at any level can pretty easily dominate a lot of your time, focus, and energy. However, when you get to the graduate level, you’ve been in school for so long that it is really important to look at other areas of your life, and make sure you’re making at least some progress there as well. I don’t want to graduate at 26 and feel like I’ve just graduated from high school in terms of all other areas of my life, and herein lies the importance of non-academic goal setting.

So here is my list of NON academic goals for 2011:

  1. Start a travel fund. With TA and other positions available to graduate students, it is possible to stay on the positive side of your bank account. In the past, I have generally just thrown anything extra into a savings account and tried to forget about it, but I want to spend some of it now! I’m going to try to save $150 a month and get out of town once a term. There are quite a few places locally that I haven’t been to in a while like Victoria, Whistler, Seattle, and in the summer there is lots of camping and other things to do.
  2. Max of 7 hours of TV a week. This may even sound like a lot of TV for most people, but I love watching TV! Over the past couple of years though, it’s maybe gotten a little ridiculous. I keep up with…almost everything, and I actually look forward to going home and plunking myself down in front of my friend the TV. The downside is that somehow an entire can magically disappear. There are a lot of other things I would like to do in the evenings besides TV, so hopefully chilling it on the all-eveningers will help me get started on those other things.
  3. Take a picture everyday. Ok, this is a bit of a weird one, but I NEVER take pictures. I have maybe 5 pictures from 2010 (including the Olympics!) and it makes it easy to forget some of the cool stuff that’s happened. What I think about be kind of awesome, would be to get a photo album with 365 slots in it, and fill it with one picture from each day. AND with me cooling it on the TV, I might even go out and do stuff worth taking pictures of! I wonder if I can get the camera in my phone to overlay the date in the corner of the pictures. That would make organizing them a lot easier!
  4. Cook something completely new once a month. Fairly self-explanatory; cooking can be really fun, and trying to make new things will hopefully re-interest me and get me out of my currently somewhat bland rut.
  5. Go Snowshoeing. I’ve always wanted to and never had. Mountain Equipment Co-op does daily rentals for $12-15. Maybe I could make it a MEGA trip!

Grad students’ fortunes…

It’s that time of the year. As people start to struggle to find parking lots in shopping malls, and the store managers busily put on Christmas carols to attract more customers, grad students stay quietly tucked away in labs. Last couple of weeks have been very hectic for me, as I tried to do my class project for Dr. Nagamune’s MECH 522 course (Advanced Controls). I felt like I was back in undergrad trying desperately to finish programming a real-time OS in time for submission. I slept on the cold floors of empty classrooms accompanied by piles of empty pizza boxes that loosely held onto leftover pizza crumbs.

Being cocky, I started working on the project super late. We were given about a month to work on the project, but I couldn’t decide on a cool project that merged the class contents with my thesis project. So I hesitated for a few weeks, until I realized that I had a week left. From then on, it was just a relay of late nighters for me and many of my classmates who also happened to be my labmates.

Coffee, of course, is the liquid of life at times like this. In one of those nights, I was sat in the lab staring at an empty coffee cup trying to figure out how many cups of coffee I had drank that day. To my mild surprise, what I stared at didn’t lead to a conclusive answer to the “how many cups of coffee…” question, but rather lead me to believe that coffee cups lids (that of the picture is McDonald’s) look strangely like a robot’s head. Crazy, don’t you think? I thought so. I thought that I’ve been doing research in robotics for so long that I am totally losing it – everything looks like robots now. But doesn’t it?

Well, whether I am losing it or not, I have no option. I am passionate about the field, and can’t help it but to continue being in this field.

Then, Friday came along, and MEGA held the usual coffee social. With the generously donations from the department, we had fortune cookies with coffee which turned out to be quite interesting.

I had been reading lots of papers, doing lots of extra stuff to make my class project fancy and awesome. But what’s all the bells and whistles for, if you can’t even get the most basic thing working? Anyway, the fortune cookies were totally relevant to the project I had been working on. Kind of scary. The first one said “There is a tendency to carry activities too far”. Yup, totally what happened with the project. Can’t deny that…. And then the second one said “Give your undivided attention to things that are basic”… yup… also agree… gotta get the basics down before dreaming about the bells and whistles.

Anyways, I thought it was really funny how fortune cookies for grad students seem so fitting. Or am I interpreting it wrong? I probably am… I mean, the first one ‘carrying activities too far’ could mean some other activities other than things like class projects. It could be fun event planning, or sports or … you know…

Well, Kristy got a funky one though. Hers said “You will master any feelings of inadequacy you may be having”. Hmm… I wonder what that means… But anywho, thank you Jen and Heather for letting us take the fortune cookies for the coffee social. It was a lot of fun! 🙂

Kristy opens her fortune (cookie)!!

A fortune cookie of wisdom - it knew exactly what went wrong with my class project