Monthly Archives: April 2011

Summer Months for a Grad Student

So, it’s been a while since my last post, and there are reasons for this.

First, I don’t know where April went. Really. Someone please tell me where it went, because I don’t remember it. I think the world owes me a month of time before telling me that May is just around the corner. Why am I freaked out about May? One of my supervisors reminded me of this during our usual biweekly meeting.

“Are you still planning to graduate by the end of August?” he said. It was to be a gentle reminder, but I freaked out.

I mean… do you know what May really means?

To master’s students, like myself, who plan to graduate by the end of the summer, the month of May announces the start of the last summer as a master’s student. The last four sunny months of your stay here (unless you are going on to do your PhD at UBC as well).

Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that the last summer months of your stay at UBC would be as beautiful and gorgeous as what Vancouver summer makes things sound. It could actually be quite a painful sunny months for some because… if you are like me, you have a thesis to write.

For those who are still working on their projects, still have experiments to run, equipments to purchase, things to put together etc., the four sunny months will not be so sunny on your skin. You will most likely be indoors in your labs working away on your thesis project.

For those of you who are done with the technical work, and just need to write out what you’ve done for the past 1 year and 8 months, good for you. Really. I totally applaud you, because…

I wish I were you.

I wish that I could join you at a sunshine filled coffee shop that overlooks to the waters, or a beautiful park/garden, and type away my thesis with you….

But I can’t. At least, not yet.

I should have known better last summer.

Last summer, about this time, I was happily gearing up my project, keeping busy, and voluntarily staying at the lab for extended periods of time thinking: “Now that the courses are done and over with, I can finally focus on my thesis project!”

I was excited. There was a deadline for a paper to be submitted by the end of August, and I was happy to be working toward it. Now that I think about it, I was working on three different projects that summer, and worked on three different papers… why… why…?!!

Bad decision on my part.

Planning ahead, and expecting that this year’s summer would be filled with thesis wrap-ups and writing process, I should have spent the last summer out there, enjoying the sun, the weather, the forests and the trees and … everything the summer in Vancouver freely offers you, in addition to the abundance of Vitamin D everywhere outdoors.

Now, I don’t have much of an option. I started outlining my thesis (yes, I threw out the first few bits of the thesis I wrote last Winter and starting fresh), and am giving myself two weeks to finish writing/editing/beautifying it in August.

This was last summer. I worked on the same robot for the past year... wow.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do work, only to enjoy the beautiful and absolutely attractive summer in Vancouver. I am saying that a healthier balance (a bit more of play than work) is recommended for those who need to charge up their Vitamin D batteries on your skin in order to healthily work through the rainy winter weather at your labs. I am also saying that it’s a perfect time to get to know your labmates or lab neighbours a bit better by easily enjoying outdoor activities together.

Second, I finally launched an online survey to collect data for my human-robot interaction thesis work. Man, did it take long. Because my study is so interdisciplinary (go figure, I am launching an online survey to do engineering research), I have been needing to read lots of literature outside of engineering, and to ask for people’s help/expertise in every which way.

Collecting data, and analysing it will conclude 2/3 of my entire thesis project. That’s right. I have another 1/3 to go… but that’s ok… I think… I… I think I can get it done. It took me a bit more than half a year to finish the first 1/3, then a bit more than half a year again to finish the second 1/3, which makes me think that it would take at least half a year for me to finish my last 1/3. But that would push me over the August 31st thesis submission deadline.

I am just going to keep telling myself that I can do it. Hopefully, or eventually, I will get it done and surprise myself.

Anyway, if anyone has <20 minutes and feels at least a bit of sympathy for a graduate student who just finished planning out a super work-filled summery months in Vancouver, please watch a few embedded robot moving videos and let me know what you think by filling out the following survey.

Did you click it?

Did you complete the survey?


Big hugs to you, oh you, my beloved participant! I hope you have an epic summer!

“Graduate Pathways to Success” Workshop

Hello Readers!

Yesterday I went to a Graduate Pathways to Success (GPS) workshop called Management Essentials for Leadership.  The GPS is a program administered through the Faculty of Graduate Studies that holds lots of events throughout the year that are designed to help graduate students gain skills in a variety of different areas.  All of their workshops are free, and often include *exciting* free breakfasts/lunches.  You can see a list of all the upcoming events at:

Overall I thought that workshop was pretty good.  There were a mix of students there from very diverse backgrounds, so it was fun to talk to people doing such different things.  In some ways, however, I think that actual learning may have been easier and more productive with groups that maybe had more similar backgrounds (though it would have been socially less interesting).  For example, quite a bit of time was spend on “SMART” goal setting and basic project planning which I have heard before many times.

There were a few things though that I thought were really good, or at least new to me.  The biggest was the “Four Levels of Listening” idea.  When you’re used to being in a school/technical environment, I think it can get easy to  jump into thinking of solutions to things people are talking about instead first really listening to the problem and making sure you understand it.  This concept is obviously not new, but the workshop offered some techniques to HELP you listen before you jump in to save the day.  It divided listening into 4 levels.

LEVEL 0 – the “least useful” type of listening where you immediately go to reassurance, denial, or advice giving.

LEVEL 1 – “fact finding.” In this step you ask the speaker for more information about the problem, and keep asking questions

LEVEL 2 – “paraphrase” Here you restate what the speaker has said to make sure you understand what they’re saying, and that they know you know what they’re saying

LEVEL 3 – “reflect and interpret implications”  where you begin to emotionally identify with the speaker and understand where they’re coming from.

So to use these steps as a leader, this is what you’re supposed to do.  You’re supposed to avoid level 0 altogether unless the speaker doesn’t have the skills to solve the problem they’re bringing to you.  This seemed strange to me, but the facilitator made a good point of “why would you waste your time helping someone solve a problem they know how to fix on their own?”  Its kind of a new way of looking at conversations in that you aren’t always supposed to be there to solve things, your there to help them get solved.  I don’t know, I thought it was cool and was quite the moment for me.

So, assuming the person is able to solve the problem on their own,  and only need help arriving at how to do it, you’re supposed to go through Levels 1 – 3.  He did a few examples with different workshop participants, and I can see how it could work.   I really like how what you say doesn’t influence the person, but still helps them out.

The workshop ran all day from 9am to 4pm, so it was a fairly big time commitment, but overall I was happy with what I got out of it. You should check some of them out!

Classes are over!

Hello Readers!

I know the other bloggers have already said it, but I want to too: CLASSES ARE OVER FOR THE TERM! This term was a doozie, but its almost done, minus one more project and a final.

As I have said in other posts, a lot of the courses I took this term were very project heavy which I have really enjoyed, and I want to talk about two of them in this post.

The first one is another computer science assignment.  For this project we were given a picture of a donkey, as below:

and were to fill in a program that would remove the donkey, and fill in the space with a specified texture (the grass) from the image.  As you can see, our programs did a pretty decent job.

If only you could make programs for real life. Concrete crack?

* Run wall through program *

Not anymore!

In this class, you really start to look at pictures totally differently, and there are SO many different ways they can be displayed; the way we look at them (typical colour picture) is just one way.  Its also fun to start to have an idea of how programs like photoshop do what they do.  I think I’m going to miss that class…minus the theory parts, but its fun to have something so hands on, and where the work you do for assignments actually DOES something.

Ok, on to a more engineering project.  I also took a controls course that was by far the most useful class I’m pretty sure any engineer could ever take.  If you come to UBC, you should absolutely take it too — its called MECH 520.  For one of our projects, we were give a miniature automotive light bulb (a C194 – if you’re interested), and were to build a hotwire anemometer to measures air flow rates from the change in resistance over the bulb filament.  And that’s pretty much all the instructions we were given.  That is what I liked about the class so much, everything was so open-ended, and you had a think a little bit.

I went the classy route and made mine out of cardboard and a balloon, but its always fun to actually BUILD something, instead of simply learning how something works.

The light bulb was so delicate that I was scared to try to over a very big range of flow rates. If you decide to make one, I would suggest getting one with a more…rugged filament.

Now that classes are wrapping up, I’m starting to get a little nervous about what’s next.  I’ve been in classes for so long, I’m so used to how they work and what I need to do to do well in them.  Starting on “research only” in a week or so will be so different! I hope it will be good and that everything will go well.

I hope everything is going well with you!