Travels, a monkey gif and an achievement unlocked.

by Anthony D. Cliffe

Hey guys,

How are you all doing? Thought I’d check in with you readers and update you on life. Long-time no blog but I feel like I open all of my blogs that way lately! I am working on trying to get more regular blogs out. I am planning however to do a special edition dedication blog soon which I’m excited about. Every so often I do one of those special edition blogs and more often than not they tend to be some of my favourite pieces. The dedication special edition blogs have been dedicated from family to PhD friends and to individuals. The next one will be very fitting and worthy of one. So check back in a few weeks’ time for that one! In the meantime please do leave a comment or get in touch via social media if you have any topics you’d like to see me write about. Some of my old blogs have come about from suggestions from you guys so please, fire away.

So my last blog was about me fulfilling a lifelong dream and goal of finally getting a pilot’s licence Hard work gets you your dream… eventually. Granted it wasn’t the one I ever thought I would get but hey, beggars can’t be choosers right? So that was where I was basking in the glow of self-achievement and feeling the immense amount of stress and pressure flow out of me. That sense of achievement and elation quickly faded in all honesty as I’ve spent the past two weeks and probably the next two, writing an operations manual for my UAV operations. It’s as boring and as dry to write as it is eating plain Rivita. 88 pages of policy, specifications and procedures have been written so far. It’s as exciting as it sounds. Yet, I am grateful to be doing it in a way as it means I’m in a position to write one. Only qualified pilots get to so, so I shouldn’t complain too much. Plus, every time I pull on my RPAS pilots high Vis jacket, I look down at those silver RPAS pilots wings pinned to my chest and smile. A symbol of a great deal of hard work.

The week following that flight exam didn’t allow me much time to bask in said glory however. It was a busy week in work, the big graduate school conference was that week. As one friend put it to me on WhatsApp “Tony, do you ever stop?”. As a PhD student you’ll attend many conferences related to your field and some are more important than others. The graduate school one in University is one of the key conferences of the year. They’re paying you a lot of money to do your research so you do have to show up and show what you’ve done to keep everyone happy. Our PhD family is very well established but it’s nice to see what other PhD students are up to in the University. Usually at conferences I’d give a presentation but for this one was just a poster and I was pretty happy with my poster! I bent the rules a little, it wasn’t what should I say … academic. Yet, why stick to boring rules anyway?! I think with some modifications that poster could do well in future events.

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My poster

I didn’t win the top £300 prize but that’s no surprise. Unless you’re curing cancer or doing some hard science PhD you never get a look in. I’m certainly not saying that my poster would have been a worthy winner, it was probably too left field despite many positive comments from others that day. It’s just that social science, education type research or posters, never win. There is an ever present bias in research against such subjects and that won’t change any time soon.  Kudos to the winner and all but there are some great sport or social science research that goes on and they had some amazing posters to reflect that but alas, I’m not the judge so. The day wasn’t a complete waste, in fact it was one of the funniest days I’ve had in a long, long, time! Conferences like that can be dull at times and I always try to make them fun by saying a joke here or there. They’re just too much of an easy target for my sarcastic comments.  Little did I know a simple office monkey gif would have me and Katie laughing for hours like we were back in school. I’m sure you’ve all been there, serious situation you’re not meant to laugh, yet you cannot help it. I had my head almost between my knees while biting my tongue trying not to laugh.

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The gif that has so much meaning to it 😀

It was the final of the three minute thesis challenge but I spent the whole hour trying not to look Katie in the eye and trying to stop my head from exploding from holding my laughter in. In fact, I’m actually laughing as I type this! I haven’t laughed and had tears in my eyes from laughing for ages that day! Some friendships and relationships are defined by either pictures, a song or moments, I think that gif will be forever synonymous with our friendship. While having an important Skype meeting in the office for the journal I’m an editor for, she sent me the same Gif and again, trying to keep a straight face on a Skype call took every ounce of self-control! I hate you ha-ha!  I also walked through a chair and nearly fell up the stairs that day of the conference and had cake which made my tongue blue. Such a random but fun day.

After the conference, it was back off on my travels again for my birthday and a stag do. This time, Tony Travels took me to Berlin for my best friend, well actually he’s more my like the brother I never had, stag do. New country and new city ticked off the list. It was a great few days seeing the sites, an amazing car museum, watching a Bundesliga game in the Olympic stadium and playing darts in a bar full of monkeys…don’t ask.

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A random Berlin bar with monkeys…everywhere. 

Still not entirely over being hustled by the 70 year old Wolfgang and his groupies who just so happened to be Berlin champions. Little did we know. It was like the blitz all over again, we were battered by the Germans that night!

It was really cool to go to Berlin but they weren’t that accommodating to English folks. Especially not a group of lads. Would I visit Berlin again? Possibly but it’s not on the list for a while. I got to see most of the sights and it was amazing to see the Berlin wall etc. but I do feel there are better European cities that are out there that are friendlier. Very little war jokes either which was very un-Top Gear like. Although, I did have to laugh as we walked through a Berlin park at night with a group of 20 young German lads walking in front of us and one of us said “Help yourselves everybody, there’s no fighter escort!”. I appreciate 98% of you won’t get that famous quote from the Battle of Britain but I did. One thing I will say though however is how embarrassing Brits abroad are. That flight out to Berlin full of Stag and Hen do parties was a disgrace. Someone actually pissed themselves on the plane. Yes, we were on a stag do but the Groom doesn’t drink so we had a very cultural Stag do with museums and football games and sightseeing, not being pissed off our faces like those on the plane where going to be like. No wonder the Germans hate us! At least the flight back was nice and quiet and I’m still getting stick for being the only one with priority queue ticket and then us all being put on the same bus, thus rendering my priority ticket and absolute waste of money much to the amusement of the rest of the stag party. Hummppphhh.

It was fun to spend another birthday out of the country. Last year it was my final day in North West Canada that I spent my 24th birthday and this year my 25th was spent in the heart of Berlin. Not sure if I’m making this a habit but it is kinda’ cool trying to turn a year older in a new country each year. My goal this year was to go away every month in 2017. I failed that goal in January by not going away but have gone away every month since. It makes for one hell of a blog at the end of the year I’m sure! My trips have been:

  • Ireland in Feb by myself
  • Amsterdam with Emma in March
  • Then it was back to Ireland for a cycling holiday this time with Shaun in April
  • Berlin in May with Luke and the stag party
  • In June me and Shaun are off to the Isle of Man for the Road cycling national championships

As July approaches I have no plans sadly but maybe that’s a good thing for the planet and my bank balance. I’m sure my carbon footprint could do with a rest but I’m still potentially going around the country visiting old Uni friends in July. So the rest of my year’s plans look like this so far, with maybe a conference to throw in to that mix too!

  • August I’m off to Prague with the wonderful PhD ladies Laura and Katie
  • September off to Iceland for a solo adventure which bleeds into
  • A solo October adventure in Canada
  • and finally currently trying to plan a European trip somewhere with Karen in November followed by Amsterdam again but this time in December with Rochene! I’m really enjoying these travels and its great having so many different travel companions along the way! I feel a bit like the Doctor ha-ha.

I seriously advise if you can to try and get away for a few days a month. It works great for your productivity and you get to explore these places with awesome people! I am grateful that I can be in a position with the job I do, to be able to travel when I want to. I’m certainly trying to make the most of that freedom while I can!

The month has been after the exciting start, rather more mundane.  The PhD has plodded along with not a great deal to do other than tiny bits here and there. University is winding down for the summer and I’m spending more and more time outside burning in the sun at lunch which is nice! Our PhD family finally moved into our own new big office! So now it really does feel like a sitcom! Room 105.

Just yesterday I got news of another big achievement. I could get used to getting a new achievement unlocked every month! Two months ago I wrote a paper of the benefits and drawbacks to virtual field guides in geoscience in higher education. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my supervisors because I did it just as a little test. I submitted it fully expecting to be rejected. I mean, what PhD student who’s 8 months in writes a paper, let alone gets it published. So I was under no illusions that it would come back as a rejection which is why I submitted it. It has to be peer reviewed and when it’s rejected the reviewers will give me some constructive feedback which will help my writing style over all. So that’s why I submitted it. I was shocked to see it come back with major revisions but not a rejection. I was like oh wow…okay! The revisions weren’t actually that major. I spent about two weeks revising the paper and actually putting some effort into it! I sent the revisions off and found out yesterday that its going to be published in a very good educational Journal! I appreciate those not doing a PhD but that is massive news. It eclipses getting the pilot’s licence. Breaking that glass ceiling of getting your first published paper is huge. In this world, it’s publish or perish. It should keep the wolfs at bay for a year or so. It’s good to get a name for myself early on in my career and it’s great to see your hard work paying off. I’m aiming to get at least four published papers done before I come to do my viva. It’s very rare but not impossible to do. That’s one down in my first 8 months. That’s because your viva is there so that your Thesis and research is peer reviewed and in that hell 4 hours of a viva when the examiners ask you about your research and question why you’ve done this or that over the past three years its so that they can say yes, this person is an expert, their research is sound and has been checked by more than three academics. Now you can go forth and become a doctor. If you’ve got four papers published from your thesis before you enter your viva, you’re effectively immortal. Your work has already been peer reviewed because journal articles are peer reviewed by experts. So it’s almost impossible for them to fail you in your viva. Imagine it as in a game, each paper you publish is like collecting a token and when you get four you can use that as a cheat to help defeat the big boss at the final level. If you publish six then you don’t even have to do a viva! You get your doctorate via publication. Now that is rare and I’m not aiming for that because it hardly ever happens….seriously like ever.

In other events I’ve been house viewing with Katie the past few weeks and that’s been fun, it’s that anticipation of if the landlord is a murderer and has lulled us in with an advert just to kill unsuspecting victims. The first apartment I’m still so confused by, it was this big grand old hotel off Sefton Park, it had a vibe that it gave off the impression that people lived there but it felt like no one did or hadn’t for years. Very blink episode from Doctor Who. As an author that really got my creative juices flowing. Maybe I’ll write a short story next Halloween based on that place with its big gates and fallen trees in the driveway!

Of course we had the election take place and I won’t go into that in this blog because I feel my ranting would go on for days but I am so proud that my generation finally stood up and made a difference. Come on Jezza lad!

I also went to watch Wonder Woman with Vic the other day, I highly recommend that movie. In fact I’m going to actually state that it is the best super hero origin story of all time. Yep. It’s that good. It’s not the fact that the actress who plays Wonder Woman is an actual goddess either. In the movie it is said that she has been created from clay and sculptured by the gods. It’s hard to disagree that Gal Gadot hasn’t been sculptured by the gods. She actually comes close to dislodging my ultimate woman of Amy Adams. So close. But yeah despite her being an absolute babe, the way the movie shoots her it’s a breath of fresh air. As a guy of course you appreciate her beauty but as a character she is so much more than that and that’s what makes that movie so great. Other female superhero roles are so overly sexualized that it takes away their bad ass-ness. For example Black Widow. Yet the way the movie portrays wonder woman is when she’s on screen she’s feminine, strong, powerful and beautiful all at the same time and she’s one hell of a bad ass! I think it sets a precedence for how female leads should be portrayed in movies and that’s a good thing for everyone. So go and watch that movie!

So that’s a whistle stop tour of my month of May and early June. Keep an eye out on that special blog soon and remember to get in touch if there is a blog you’d want me to write about. I love hearing from you guys!

Until next time,

Toe