Category Archives: General

General

SystemModeler....

I've had SystemModeler for a while, but struggled to get on with it.  I guess the issue that I've had with it is that there are very few learning resources and tutorials around to help cut your teeth.  Mathematica has been around for years, so there are endless resources that are suited to the individuals preferred method of learning, from PDF's, Stack Exchange, and even Lynda.com now has a video based learning method for the basics.  Given that even simple models have dozens of flags that can be plotted and graphed and that certain flanges aren't enabled by standard, I've waited until I've had a few minutes spare to start tinkering.

Today I've been fiddling about with a mass and two springs with dampers, what I've been trying to do (and failed) is to make both supports displace over a given time period to push a displacement through the system to see what effect spring stiffness and damping have on the system, eventually this will be scaled up to a chain of springs of about 40-50 elements and used to model a structural system but this is my validation model.

Screenshot 2014-09-10 17.55.26

I've not worked out how to give the supports a nudge (something that we do when modelling in ANSYS) so I've cheated a bit by essentially shortening the left hand spring to give a similar effect and then watched to see how the system has damped down. Parameter settings below for the spring/damper system.

Screenshot 2014-09-10 18.33.22

By specifying the spring length as 1m, then setting the nominal value for it as 0.5m to start with it gives the system a nudge to start it bouncing.  I'm sure there's another more elegant way of achieving this but I'll have to figure it out over the next few days.

Screenshot 2014-09-10 18.19.11

I'll keep tinkering over the coming days, to try and refine the process.   Hopefully I can find some more learning materials or a decent community... something comparable to the Mathematica StackExchange community would be ideal.

If anyone's come across a decent text or resource I'd love to hear about it.

General

No More Heroes...

I studied for my Civil Engineering degree a long time ago and did a sandwich degree at what was an old school polytechnic.  When I was on my year in industry I was dragged along (slightly reluctantly) to a technical meeting at Warwick University to listen to a chap called Heinz Isler.

Up until this point I'd never heard of Heinz Isler, but after sitting through his lecture for an hour I was utterly spellbound listening to his thought process and the shear creativity and quite frankly maverick nature of how he achieved his engineering structural forms.  This was the first time I'd seen structural engineering really become exciting and not be slavish to design codes or afraid of being bold.  This was my first time being inspired by a structural engineer and feeling that even if I lived for 12 lifetimes I could never be as good as this guy in front of me... and actually not feeling in the least bit bad about it, the guy before me was an utter genius.

 

IMG_1497

Creative Commons Image courtesy of Trevor.Patt on Flickr.

After graduation I went to work for a lightweight structures company and when I eventually (and reluctantly) left so that I could gain some traditional engineering experience I was given a book called 'An Engineer Imagines' all about Peter Rice.  Again to my shame, this was the first time I'd heard about Peter Rice and reading through his autobiography I was in awe at how far ahead of his time he was, refusing to take the tried and tested path and instead developing innovative solutions.

Unfortunately both of these engineering heroes of mine are now dead... with my only engineering hero Frei Otto, remaining alive.  There are lots of good engineers out there and I'm sure that they inspire and lead their respective fields.... and whilst I have a few academics who I'm in awe of in my research field, I can't say that I have any engineering heroes of the same ilk as Isler, Rice, and Otto left anymore.

Perhaps that golden age of engineering has gone?  Where new techniques could be implemented and tested through modelling?  But I would have hoped that with the power behind geometrical computational models nowadays that perhaps this technology and power could be combined with the artisan skills of the past to create some genuinely beautiful and inspiring structures.

If Isler can create massive spanning thin concrete shells through freezing his wife's bed linen, then surely we could be doing something even more mindblowing with the computational power that is now at our fingertips...

Who are the engineering heroes of tomorrow I wonder? Will they have the same passion and ability as those from the past or will they be limited as the world becomes a far more commercial place and less experimental?  Are the talented engineers being driven out of the technical aspects of the design process to become managers and is this damaging the market?

General

Speed...

I'd never really given speed a lot of thought when coding my Mathematica notebooks, but after recently attending a seminar I think it's something I need to spend some time thinking about.  My sheets are normally fairly trivial in comparison to some of the large banking house notebooks that run, but what I was interested to hear was that some of the sheets being run take over 6 hours from the other delegates.  That's a long time to wait to see if your numbers are rubbish.

Also what was interesting was that the presenter spends a lot of his time making other people's code work faster, essentially that's the core of his consultancy business.  Some speed improvements were up to 912% faster.

So a 6 hour sheets would potentially run in less than 30 seconds.  Which is a hell of a lot faster and lets you run various scenarios in a day rather than one a day.

One simple thing that I took away from all of this is if I'm only interested in numerical results rather than symbolic, then I need to think carefully about the level of precision I require.

For example using the /AbsoluteTiming flag you can do a simple test to see the difference that the level of precision makes.  By simply adding a decimal point to the number 2 it will convert to machine level precision.

Gives a timing of 0.283438 seconds on my machine.  Simply adding a decimal place to the number 2 gives a significant speed jump.

Gives a timing of 0.000293 seconds, which is a massive shift in computation time.

Something to consider.

General

Annual report...

Last year I created an annual report to help me reflect on the year and determine what it is that I need to keep the same, change, eliminate, or get counselling from to recover.  I found it a really helpful process so I'm going to try and make it an annual event even though I'm a little late with it this year.

1 What are your biggest accomplishments this year?

Last year I've achieved quite a few things that I wanted to, plus a few nice surprises.

  • I was nominated for an NUS teaching award by one of my students, this means an awful lot to me as it shows I'm appreciated and genuinely making a difference.  Plus I got a mug and some free food!
  • I won the Vice Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award.
  • I passed my interim assessment on my PhD, although I'm still not sure how.
  • We moved into our new family home and got ourselves established after a much harder build than we expected.
  • I turned 40... quite a few of my friends I grew up with never made it this far. I feel blessed.

2 What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned this year?

I'm a dreadful communicator.  I can sing, dance, argue the point about the most complex of subjects, but I'm rubbish at talking about how I'm feeling, particularly if I'm feeling negative, tired, upset, or worried.  I've plenty of friends who'd let me bash their ears if needed, but I choose not to, I bottle it up, burn out, creak along until I fall over.

177:365 - FBE...

I've been surrounded a lot by serious illness this year, from close family, friends, work colleagues, students... and I've got to admit it's been pretty scary.  There's been times where I've genuinely feared for those I hold dearest and panicked that there's about to be a big hole in my life, I need to let these people know more often how much they mean to me, I've learned that life is fragile and precious.

3 With a grade, how satisfied are you with how you spent the year? Why?

I'd struggle to give this a universal grade.  I'm made up with the new house, it's given us a lot of space and we can have friends round for parties and food which has helped us strengthen relationships with friends and have visitors stay for catch ups, this has really contributed to life quality in a positive way.  The glass is definitely half full...

148:365 - Glass half empty?..

As always there are parts of work I love, parts I'd prefer to have surgically removed, but I attended graduation for the first time last year and I really enjoyed seeing my students graduate, which bearing in mind I didn't want to go to my own graduation is quite something.  It was also nice that we went for a few beers with our students afterwards and I think they liked seeing that we're human too... we think a lot of our students, but sometimes feel we have to maintain a bit of distance.  I'm not sure we've got the balance always right.

I think on the whole I'd give the year a B, because I need to gain more balance between home and work and find some collaborators for my research to work with, but on the whole I'm satisfied.

4 What do you want to accomplish next year, such that it’s your best year ever?

  • I want to learn to relax.
  • I want to make progress on my PhD and I want to build a team around my research.
  • I want to survive my chairmanship with the IStructE in one piece.
  • I want to be more anarchic and chaotic in my thinking and behaviour, I want to challenge convention.
  • I want to surround myself with more brilliant people, to collaborate, contribute, relish....
  • I want to grow.

5 What new habits to cultivate that will help you to achieve your goals in Q4?

I hope to identify better places to work, either through sharing an office space with someone, getting a study buddy to work with or perhaps just working from home more often with a colleague/friend.  I really want to immerse myself in research the coming year, but would work better if I had someone to immerse myself with in the topic.

I intend to chill out a little more, I work far too many hours on too many different roles this sometimes results in me spreading myself too thinly.   More concerts, more beer, more silliness, more doing nothing from time to time...

Untitled

Once my chairmanship is up with the IStructE I am seriously considering walking away from several positions to free up time.  I've learned enough about roles to support/coach/mentor future graduates and I've no intention of pushing for a senior position.  I would like to become a Fellow of the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering, but I can't see that happening as I'm not linked to either institution and you're nominated for membership.

I will be more anarchic, I'm intending that this will be my last full calendar year as an academic (I plan to leave in 18 months time) and so before I leave I will challenge the system and try and leave a positive mark.  However, if I build a good research team around me with PhD students I genuinely could see me extending my timescale, or sharing myself between academia and an industrial role.  I will try my hardest to not become a passenger, I will be different, I will make a difference...

206:365 - Feeling blue...

6 What are your immediate next steps to achieve these goals?

I will make more time to spend time with the family, this year we started playing board games with the kids and going out for walks.  I just need to try and protect more time to head out with my wife.

Last year I said I'd start growing plants and baking with the kids.... the baking part took off and I learned a few basic recipes and even taught my daughter how to use the electric whisk.  I need to do more of this.

Untitled

I will grow, with purpose, focus, and a mohawk...

 

General

Difference...

Since moving into academia three years ago, I don't think that a week goes by when one of my students doesn't humble me or make me appreciate just how lucky I am.  A few of my students recently have commented that I treat them as equals and peers and they like this.  But in all honesty I don't think I make a conscious effort to, I just enjoy working with people who are enthusiastic about my subjects, regardless of if they're a student, engineer, lecturer, layman, or even a professor.... well maybe not a professor, everyone has limits.  I just enjoy working with people who are prepared to step through the gate and share with me...
221:365 - Plas Newydd...
Last week a student asked me to proof read their personal statement for a PhD application and the words they'd written about the support I'd given them and how much of a difference it made to their outlook on education stopped me dead in my tracks.  I'm rarely lost for words, but it took me a minute or two to compose myself, even though I know the student is grateful for all the help they receive, seeing it in writing was humbling and almost gave me a bit of a wobble.  What I didn't realise is that two years ago they'd have happily walked away from their degree if they'd been offered a job, but with a little support and the right topic for their dissertation, they now enjoy their subject enough to want to take on a PhD in the same area.

This week we've had one of our current students talk to 40 prospective students about how his level of maths skills upon leaving school meant that they couldn't understand simple fractions, but through the support of the foundation degree and the additional Math-Scope sessions we run they now regularly score in the 80's and 90's in maths phase tests at degree level.  They were brimming with praise and pride about what they have achieved, and quite rightly so.  One of the mum's even offered to adopt him she thought he was so inspirational...

And that's before all of the trials and tribulations that some of the students face to simply allow them to attend the course, fund the course, keep up to speed with the work.  Personally I don't think I'd have the resolve to deal with some of the issues that these students take on at my age, let alone in my early twenties.  I am in awe at their get up and go attitude and it's the perfect tonic for when I need to give myself the 'man up princess' pep talk.

For all the crap that comes with life as an academic, it's these special people and moments that make it all totally worthwhile, it's this that keeps me teaching in all honesty and it's the pride I feel for my students that has stopped me jumping back to industry on several occasions.  Because the secret is; the lecturers probably learn just as much from the students as they do from us.

If you're thinking of becoming an academic, brace yourself to be humbled regularly and get used to the odd damp eye.  There are a lot of very special and amazing students out there, all you have to do is remember that they're people too.

General

Mathematica Valentines...

Sharing the love through Mathematica... even equations can be beautiful.

How to plot a love heart using maths.

 

 

Taken from here.

General Teaching

Inspiration...

Whilst I've been in academia for about 2 and a half years now, I've only just seen off my second batch of first years and attended my first graduation (after much cajoling by a few final years).  Having a significant birthday approaching I've been thinking a great deal about what am I going to do for the next few years until retirement, I enjoy the teaching a lot and working on dissertations gives me tremendous pleasure, but I miss designing buildings is the dilemma that I've been having.  But there's one aspect I'd not really considered when I moved to academia, and that's that I genuinely love learning and essentially I'm getting paid to learn... not as well paid as I would be as a consultant, but I get a lot of time to be very self-indulgent and learn new skills.

056:365 - The Crescent...

I try hard to not be the kind of lecturer that I had to endure when I was doing my degree and typically put anywhere between 5 and 12 hours of preparation behind every hour of lecture that I deliver.  I'm not saying that my lecturers weren't prepared, they certainly knew their stuff, but they were really dry and tedious in their delivery and at times it felt a little like they were padding.  I had hoped to at least inspire a few of the engineers of the future and hopefully I've done that by combining my industry background with my enthusiasm, but what I hadn't counted on was that my students would inspire me and teach me all sorts of things about the world and myself.

Having been fortunate to work with engineers, architects, and clients who have really been brave and pushed the boundaries of my abilities with the result that we've created some truly fantastic buildings together, I foolishly thought that all of this experience meant that as the lecturer the ability to inspire was my sole domain, but I'm frequently humbled and inspired by my students.  I'll comfortably pull 17 hour days when I've a bee in my bonnet and can sustain this pace for several months at a go, but I've students who put my work ethic and self-discipline to shame.

002:365 - My brain hurts...

The beauty of teaching classes far in excess of a hundred students (many of whom are international) is that they come with a multitude and wealth of experience and perspectives.  Each of them are complex individuals with differing opinions and backgrounds and in all honesty I'd never really encountered this level of diversity in industry.  Each week I'm humbled and gain new perspectives from the students, some of whom have faced more adversity than I ever could have imagined and yet still manage to achieve impressive results and retain their ability to be great humans.  Something that perhaps I've lost track of at times during my career, but that hopefully I'm regaining as the days tick by.

When I joined academia, I had a clear exit strategy... 3 years and then exit back to industry.  It's not that clear cut any longer though, I was prepared to be the lecturer... but I don't think I was prepared to become the student and I'm discovering that I've still so much to learn that I may just have to hang around a little while longer than I had planned.

General Teaching

Critical thinking...

One of the biggest challenges that I face as a lecturer is helping the students to develop their critical thinking skills, especially with regards problem solving as this is one of the key skills an engineer should possess.

It's a fundamental skill for a practicing engineer to not only problem solve, but to critically review the problem and reconstruct it so that only the important parts are focused upon.  Essentially honing in on the nub of the problem.

I'm a fan of using stories in lectures and I used to work with an Italian engineer who unfortunately died last year and he had a plethora of stories and anecdotes that he paraded out whenever the occasion arose.  One of his numerous stories that sticks in my mind and that I think I'll start using in my lectures about critical thinking involves three construction professionals on a train ride to Scotland for the first time.

35:52.5 - Scarborough Flyer...

There is an Architect, a Project Manager, and an Engineer on a train together and as they cross the border into Scotland for the first time on a train racing through the countryside they spot a brown cow in a field.

The Architect, being the first to spot the cow, declares that clearly all Scottish cows are brown, the Project Manager who feels that he clearly has the organisational skills to rationalise this observation and thinks that the architect hasn't been critical enough, decides to correct the Architect and notes that in reality what the Architect has actually observed is that in Scotland there is a field which has brown cows.

The Engineer meanwhile has been listening intently to this discussion and decides to correct them both by sharing his observation, that in fact there is in Scotland, a field, that contains a cow, one side of which is brown.

General

10,000...

I've been doing my PhD for a while now and in all honesty it goes through fits and starts with regards its progress, but on the whole I think that it's getting there more or less.  I follow quite a few different people of on Twitter who are on a similar journey and often take a quick run through the #phdchat channel although because of a commitment on a Weds night with the British Red Cross I can never join the conversation.

British Red Cross...

I've seen a few comments over the past few months that a PhD is about 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration... but it surely can't be that straightforward, can it?  Since I graduated all those years ago I've usually kept a trio of books on the go at any one time, each one from a different genre: fiction, self improvement, and a technical book.  The self improvement book that I'm reading at the minute is called 'Outliers' and is all about those over achievers that sit far and beyond the datum of us mere mortals, but interestingly there are a few things in the book that have really got me thinking about this 90:10 statement.

One of the points raised in the book is that on average it takes about 10,000 hours to get really good at something, whether it's playing the piano, ice hockey, or other activities.  This got me thinking about how much effort it is going to take me to finish my PhD, given that it takes about 4 years on average for a student to complete their PhD and most students work insanely hard at the end which I guess makes for a 50 hour week averaged out over the duration (including time for noodling stuff over and reflection) and that most people take a couple of weeks off a year for a holiday this gives a rough idea of how long it should take a typical PhD student.  After all gaining your PhD is essentially demonstrating that you know an awful lot about a very focused topic.

\Large \underbrace {50}_{Hours/Week} \times \underbrace {50}_{Weeks} \times \underbrace 4_{Years} = 10,000{\text{ }}hours

So the amount of effort seems to match pretty neatly on my guesstimated figures, but what about the 10% inspiration part?  It's argued by Gladwell that once a persons IQ is over a certain point, say 130 or so then they're deemed to be 'capable enough' to be a contended for a Nobel prize or a reasonable University education, in fact just as many people win with an IQ of 130 or so as compared to the ultra intelligent folk who have IQ's of 200+.  Now clearly if you have a huge IQ, then the chances are you going to find it easier to grasp particle physics than say someone with a lower IQ, but this doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to come up with that 10% inspiration easier.  Now I'm never going to aim as high as a Nobel prize, but certainly completing my PhD would be great!

As part of my PGCAP course I was interested to see how different people learned and one thing that I thought was interesting was a test for multiple intelligences as I really connected with the idea that different people will excel at different types of activities, but how can you argue that a musical genius is any less intelligent than a physics genius? Surely they have similar genius qualities, but they're subtly different... My results for the multiple intelligences test are below which show I'm spread over a few different strands, but clearly I can barely hum a decent tune.  If you would like to see how you're intelligences are distributed then you could take the test here.

Learning

Personally I think that the 10% inspiration part is going to be easier for the sort of person who likes to think of new uses for existing things, or indeed someone who can noodle over and think creatively and abstractly and I'm remaining hopeful that my experience designing buildings and other structures will be useful in thinking creatively on my PhD.

There is an interesting test that can be taken called the divergence test, this test asks candidates to think of different uses for a common everyday item such as a brick for example.  Creative sorts should be able to come up with all sorts of examples that are beyond the every day uses of this item... some people will list that they could build a house with it and a BBQ and then run out of ideas, a creative sort would be able to list all sorts of madcap ideas from weighing down the corners of your duvet, to using it in a smash and grab, to leaving a car supported whilst you steal the wheels.  I tend to fare pretty well on these sorts of tests and I'm one of the few that's still writing ideas down as the time runs out and I'm hopeful that it's this creative thinking that is going to help me draw upon the 10% inspiration part of my PhD.  The downside is though that I frequently go off on madcap related and unrelated tangents whilst I'm in this kind of thought process, so the biggest risk for me completing my PhD will be focusing on the task in hand I think.

References:

Gladwell, M. (2009). Outliers: The story of success. London: Penguin.

 

General

Self improvement...

I've decided to take a few minutes to sit back and reflect on the past year, with the intention of creating a plan to make this coming year slightly more pleasurable and not as stressful.  To do this I've been reading up and running through a few blogs of other souls that are far more organised and driven than myself.  One blog article that I found particularly useful resides on the Personal Excellence website and in particular this article which I have taken the six questions from that I've used in the article below.  This is highly self indulgent as a read, but it's intended more for my own benefit to try and construct my thoughts clearly about the year ahead.

1 What are your biggest accomplishments this year?

Last year I managed to pass my PGCAP course with an excellent grade and this entitled me to join the FHEA. I really enjoyed learning again, particularly in a creative manner which is something that I’ve never experienced before.

I began learning Mathematica and wrote a useful set of scripts looking at the behaviour of cable-chain arches towards my PhD. This has opened up a new found respect for maths and made me appreciate just how undervalued I’d allowed it to become in my life.

For the IStructE I co-ordinated what I feel is a varied and interesting programme of technical lectures for the regional branch and contributed to the new IStructE structural behaviour exam.

Through the course of the year we’d made massive progress on constructing our new house for our family to live in. I’m really looking forward to the building work to be completed, in part because I think it will open an exciting chapter in our family’s life and also because I’m hoping that the associated stress of building it will end.
Week 32 - Front-1667

This year I’ve managed to draft several journal articles for submission and created a video lecture for inclusion within a maths MOOC. This is an entirely new experience for me, I’m used to writing large design reports and can do this standing on my head, but structuring my thoughts and ideas in an academic writing style is a new challenge.

We finally seem to have found a medicine that is working for my son's illness, whilst this comes with several risks including liver damage, the reduction of recurring MRSA infections that we've had the past 3 months cannot be underestimated or over valued.

2 What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned this year?

I’ve learned that I can be inspiring and terrifying in equal measure when I get a bee in my bonnet about something, I need to channel this passion more often, it’s infectious.

Adjusting to life as an academic is proving to be an ongoing challenge and one that I need to develop a strategy for if I’m to be half as productive as I know I can be. I’m still not convinced that I’m the sort of animal that responds well to the bureaucracy that life in the public sector seems to breed and I think this will be the year that determines how long I decide to stay in academia.

I am very unhealthy in what I eat and how I behave, combined with the stressful year I’ve had, this is having a very negative effect on my health and general demeanour.

I've lacked focus at times, this is probably because I take on too many responsibilities and don’t structure my time as smartly as I could.

I need to relax and make time to do more fun activities or I’m going to have a very short life.  I think I need to take a leaf out of my dog's book, he's a clever border collie, but only exerts just enough brain power to be devious... the rest of the time is spent plotting how to over throw the evil human dictators that limit how much time he can spend playing with his ball.

158:365 - Flame...

My wife appears to have endless patience, I wish I could be half the person she is... I've no idea how she keeps her cool at times.  She is a Jedi and I'm more of a Wookie... and I'm not used to losing at chess, you're supposed to let the Wookie win.

When I'm tired and worn out, I'm a miserable, evil bastard.  I would quite happily pull someone's arm out of the socket and beat them to death with the wet end at times.  It's a good job I have a modicum of self-restraint, but I could learn to be more patient and not allow myself to get so fatigued which will help keep the inner Wookie in check.

I've learned that life is short and nobody looks back on their life and thinks “I’m really pleased I spent all of those late nights writing those reports and slowly killing myself for an extra £2k a year”. I’ve had a great career as a structural engineer and contributed to changing the skylines of several cities around the world, but I’ve also had a few colleagues die young and suddenly this year and it’s given me a change in perspective relating to work and what constitutes a rich and fulfilling life.

That said I've learned that I don't have anywhere near as much disposable income as I had when I had a proper job and unfortunately my brain likes to buy things when it's stressed out.

3 With a grade, how satisfied are you with how you spent the year? Why?

I’d give this year a B, it’s been a good year in many respects, I’ve been very busy and accomplished lots of things, but it has been at the personal cost of my health and happiness leaving me absolutely exhausted by the end of the year.

4 What do you want to accomplish next year, such that it’s your best year ever?

I really want to make significant progress on my PhD and develop a well-rounded approach to structural analysis that I can script into Mathematica which I think could be very useful for my students.

Further develop my ideas and thoughts on teaching into a series of lectures and trial them ‘in the wild’. When I’ve discussed my approach and demonstrated the prototypes to other academics and publishers the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

I really want to take time and make our new house into a home, as silly as it sounds I want to do a few little projects with the kids now we have a decent sized garden and a greenhouse. Even if this is something simple such as growing some tomatoes and cucumbers or using the produce to do more baking and cooking with them.

186:365 - Sowing the seeds...

I would like to find an activity that we can do together as a family and do this regularly.

I need to improve my physical and mental well being over the course of this next year and I need to either improve my income back to the levels that I was used to or learn to rein in my spending over the coming year.

5 What new habits to cultivate that will help you to achieve your goals in Q4?

I need to be more structured about how I spend my time and energy. By being more structured I’m hopeful that I should be able to work less but remain as, if not more, productive. I also need to include times where I can just muck about and chill too if I’m to be anything close to approaching a human being again.

151:365 - Put yer feet up...

One piece of advice that I’ve come across is to walk… I love how on the 3MonthThesis site the first piece of advice given was every time that he felt he was becoming stressed or faced a problem he would put on his coat and walk. Previously he would fluff about on the internet, checking mails, twitter, etc… and this is what I find myself doing too, so this year I’m going to take his advice and just go for a walk every time I feel that I’ve gone off the rails a little bit.  I also think an activity such as Muay Thai that I used to love will help an awful lot, there's a lot to be said for pummelling a punching bag within an inch of its life, much better to do it this way than growling and snarling every time someone asks you a stupid question.

Part of being structured this year will be finding a good place to work and write. I have a sneaky suspicion that this will be the key to me being productive over the coming year or two on my PhD and it’s become very apparent that my office at work isn’t the best place for this to happen as I am frequently interrupted.  That said I lacked quality mentoring when I first moved to Manchester and I think the students appreciate having a 'proper' engineer that's actually designed quality buildings being their lecturer, I wouldn't want to lose the connection with the students as I genuinely enjoy watching them have their Aha! moment, it's all going to be about striking a balance.

To identify and deliver various activities to do as a family, this could be baking, growing stuff, walking, or any of a multitude of things that we all enjoy, but currently they happen a little too infrequently for my liking.  I think a good way to achieve this could be to let the kids pick an activity that we do together and no matter how silly it turns out to be, then that's what we do for an afternoon.

6 What are your immediate next steps to achieve these goals?

I need to create a schedule that can help me structure my time more effectively, this needs to happen at two or three levels: daily, weekly, and monthly initially so as to build a plan. I need to stick to this program quite strictly at first and then continue to improve and refine it until it becomes habit.

I need to go and buy some packets of seeds ready to start planting with the kids ready for our new greenhouse.

I need to put my walking boots on more often...