My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Skills Development: Introduction to MATLAB

Another skills development course I followed over the past week or so was Introduction to MATLAB. Since the beginning of the year my supervisor had suggested that I should look into MATLAB since it may prove to be very useful. I had attended another course before this called ‘DIY with MATLAB for the Computer-Shy Scientist’. However, unfortunately, it did not prove to be too useful, mainly as I am not as computer shy as THAT!

The course was split over three days, with a two hour theory lesson in the morning and a two-hour practical session in the afternoon. I went to the course with the MATLAB skills I learnt in the previous course (i.e. close to none :P), and with some programming background with Pascal from when I did my computer studies O’level some 7 years ago! (and an awful course in Pascal at university).

A first warning I would probably say to anyone who wants to learn MATLAB is probably that before hand it may be good to brush up a bit on their mathematics…nothing major, and not much in depth, but having an idea of how matrices work would certainly help. Luckily I still remembered how those worked from my secondary school mathematics, so I was fine (hence, you see that you don’t need in depth knowledge to help you through if I remember it ;)). Also, some background in programming of course does help. It is not essential, of course, but knowing a bit of Pascal and how programming languages work, and how some things like variables, loops etc work certainly made my life easier!

So what did I think of the course? I liked the way the lecturer presented the aspects of programming within the context of a problem. So every lecture started out with a problem he described which we would solve by the end, and during the lecture he then interweaved between pure MATLAB skills, and how these could be applied to the problem. This meant that besides getting some programming skills we were also exposed to ways we can actually use this to solve a problem in a coherent way.

Another thing I liked was the practical sessions. At first I was a bit surprised that they just gave us a sheet of work to do, and let us work on our own (I was expecting it to be the more boring way of the demonstrator explaining how to solve the problems, and us just listening). This however meant that we could all work at our own pace, and actually get to grips with the problems. This is the only way to actually learn I believe…by trying the problems yourselves rather than hearing someone drone on and on about how to solve them. Nevertheless, it would be good if we were also offered some kind of solution guidelines for what we didn’t work out in the class, and even to have some way of knowing that what we were doing was actually right. But otherwise, a great course I think! I liked the way it was organised, though maybe as some people suggested, it would be nice if, similar to as available for other languages and programmes, a drop-in services was available to help with any problems.

So far I don’t have anymore courses booked for the next few weeks…they do stop a bit over the summer holidays…but am looking forward to more in Autumn!

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