My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

PhD Upgrade :)

In the UK most PhD students are registered in the first instance for an MPhil degree, upgrading to full PhD status during their programme. Up to last year students in my department could upgrade any time after the first year. However, from this year all students have to upgrade at the end of the first year. So we were all given the date of upgrade and the documents we needed to submit. These included a document explaining your research, including your methodology, contribution to the field, background, as well as a chapter-by-chapter outline of your thesis, one of your best pieces of writing (I submitted a paper I am in the process of submitting), and the relevant sections of a research log book all UCL research students fill in at regular intervals. The last requirement was a presentation, which I had done a number of throughout the past year, including the monitoring meeting.

I realised about this requirement in August when we received an e-mail reminding us. Luckily I already had most of the research document done in bits and pieces during the year…the only thing I didn’t have was a chapter-by-chapter outline (hadn’t started thinking about THAT!). However, that was a pretty OK thing to do as I just got out the literature reviews I have been working on and put in their titles as sections and subsections, together with sections on forthcoming results and discussions. The next part, the piece of writing, I had quite a bit to choose from, and was in the process of writing the paper, so that was submitted.

All in all, working slowly over the weeks I got everything together. After a bit of rushing collecting papers from my two supervisors (one paper got lost somewhere in the internal mail system for around 4 days or so!), I had everything ready on Wednesday, and I submitted in preparation for Thursday (when I was involved in monitoring at St. Paul’s Cathedral).

Yesterday morning I received an e-mail from my supervisor telling me that I was approved for upgrade…YIPPEEE!…I am officially a PhD student now 😉 Now all’s that left is the tiny matter of getting the work done :P.

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Monitoring at St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Centre for Sustainable Heritage at UCL, where I am based for my PhD is right now carrying out an environmental monitoring campaign at St. Paul’s Cathedral, with a particular emphasis on the library within. The reason for this is that there are plans to increase access to this area of the cathedral. However, prior to this being put in action it is essential to understand better the environmental conditions in the area to ensure that the changes occurring are done in as sustainable a manner as possible.

The environmental monitoring campaign involves the monitoring of a number of parameters. The main parameters investigated are temperature and RH, traffic-generated pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, and the measurement of VOCs. So far I have been involved in the monitoring of VOCs. Having carried out a similar monitoring campaign at TNA for my PhD my supervisor asked me if I was interested in getting involved in this project at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was definitely up for it: the more projects I am involved in, the more experience and knowledge I gain…that’s never a bad thing. I carried out two VOCs monitoring schedules, one in spring and one in summer.

However, last week my supervisor asked me if I was willing to help out in some other monitoring, this time to measure the air ventilation exchange rate which was being carried out in collaboration with the building environment group in the department (the CSH is based within the faculty of the Built Environment). The monitoring process this time round involved the release of carbon dioxide into the library space and then measuring the rate of loss over time while changing the conditions (such as which doors are open) at known intervals, according to relevant standards. This would allow a better understanding of how different ways of managing the space in terms of people visiting would affect the environmental conditions.

As my supervisor had to be out of town attending a conference, it fell to me to organise the last bits and pieces for this monitoring. This mainly involved figuring out regulators for the carbon dioxide cylinders. The regulators we had in the centre were not appropriate for our requirements, which meant that we tried to obtain them from outside the department (and the university as it came). After a lot of calls, testings, trials and tribulations (OK I am exaggerating a bit here :P) we got our regulators, so that monitoring on Thursday proceeded smoothly.

It was the first time I was involved in something like this, and it was an interesting experience. It is always good to see people form different backgrounds (in this case it was people from conservation, chemistry, building environment) coming together to produce something together…the different insights brought into the discussions is always enlightening.

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