Full scale review of postgraduate requirements


Wow, it has been a very hectic month or so with various activities. I can’t believe we’re into June already!

I have some good news to announce. I am very pleased to announce that on Tuesday a motion I put to Kent Union Council was passed almost unanimously. This will mandate Kent Union’s President to hold a full-scale review of postgraduate requirements across the University of Kent.

There have been some concerns among postgraduates about matters from opening hours outside of term-time of various facilities, including the library, study spaces, the campus shop and availability of staff in various services across campus. Nobody would expect the university to run it like there are 20,000+ students on campus during the holidays. What is needed however is a good balance between the requirements of postgraduates and what the university can offer.

This review should ensure that ALL postgraduates are consulted in the process. My great concern is how there has been a great divide between the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Kent Union currently. Attending the Union Council, it was very evident there are only two representatives for postgraduates across the whole of the university. To me, this is not justified and our voice is not being heard sufficiently on issues. I can entirely understand the frustrations of the GSA and accept their decision to withdraw from the Union. After all, if they are not getting what they need from Kent Union, then why not go it alone?

Still, I call for Kent Union to take postgraduate matters seriously, so I hope this is a step in the positive direction. My feeling is that due to lack of representation, issues such as postgraduate funding, demonstrating, accommodation, out-of-term facilities and general postgraduate matters across union services are not entirely understood.

My hope is that the full-scale review will take on board the issues all postgraduates have and ensure a working plan towards tackling the sorts of problems we have. There are matters which are so very different to undergraduates, in particular the situation with funding. I am very glad that despite there not being a sufficient voice in the Union Council for this issue, I was able to put my arguments across and secure the much-needed support to ensure this motion was passed.

Let our voices be heard!

Are student unions a waste of time?

politics, university

From Kent Union:

On 19 Jan 2012, at 12:01, Elections wrote:

  • You can be a leader of a ten million pound plus organisation
  • You can be a political leader of an organisation that makes positive change for almost 20,000 people
  • You can be one of approximately 700 out of 300,000 students who leave University each year who can say they have hands-on strategic, political and financial experience of running a charitable organisation

As long as you are a current University of Kent student who hasn’t opted out of being a member of Kent Union then you can run to be one of the five leaders of Kent Union for the 2012/13 academic year. It doesn’t matter if you’re involvement to date has been voting – we have a number of support mechanisms in place to offer you all the support you need to run an excellent campaign.

The role is full time, you get an annual allowance of circa £18,000, training and support from the organisation in helping you meet your own personal objectives as well as helping you gain useful skills for prospective employees and the opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience. You will gain skills that other people may not obtain for decades.

For more information about the roles or to put yourself forward go to: www.kentunion.co.uk/elections before the 16 February 2012 5pm.

Or come join us for some Coffee & Cake at one of the below Interested Candidates Meeting:

  • Friday 20th January @ Woody’s, 12pm to 2pm
  • Tuesday 24th January @ Woolf College Common Room, 5pm to 7pm
  • Monday 30th January @ Rutherford Bar, 12pm to 2pm
  • Friday 8th February @ The Library Café, 1pm to 3pm

Also if you know someone who you think could be good at one of the roles we’ll email them. Just let us know who they are at: http://www.kentunion.co.uk/elections/recommend/

If you have any questions then please contact the Kent Union Elections Team at elections@kent.ac.uk

 — To stop receiving messages from Elections by email, click the link below. You can still read the message in the Message Centre, and change your preferences in the Contact Options area.



My response:

Dear Kent Union,

When will you stop flooding my inbox with annoying e-mails?

How about becoming a candidate, you ask? Why should I bother? Well…

Nationwide, on average, only 12% of students vote in student union elections. If only we could abolish these absurd institutions and use the money more usefully instead– perhaps for scholarships for smart applicants. Kent Union “makes a positive change for almost 20,000 people” you say? I think you really need to get over your egos.

The fact that so few people vote should tell us that frankly, most students are HAPPY. They’re not persecuted. They don’t get abused. They might be a bit miserable about the level of work, but that’s it.

The general standard of political commentary on the Kent Union website is so bad that even *I* could do better (and I am a scientist). It reads like a B-grade A Level politics. 12%, though? Hardly a mandate.

Tell me, what DO student unions do that couldn’t be done just as effectively by either:

a) The university

b) Volunteer students?

I could even forgive the Unions in all the stupidity I described, if they didn’t insist on talking as if they REPRESENTED the students.

Whatever silly child is supposedly in charge of the Union here for this year certainly doesn’t speak for me. I don’t care about him/her, or what she does. They are welcome to give me their opinion, but I’ll probably reject it– frankly, I imagine I know more than them and can make a better decision. Arrogance, perhaps, but at least it’s my choice to be. Speaking for myself, you see.

You can’t claim to represent a group when only 12% of the group voted and perhaps half of them voted for you. 6% of a group supporting you does not give you the right to speak on the behalf of the group.

Frankly, I don’t see that there’s a need for student politicians. I CERTAINLY don’t see that there’s a need to pay some of them more than £18K/year. (Some) workers need unions… but students? Why on Earth do students need unions? A student is a cross between a schoolchild and a customer. Students unions should NOT have full-time employees. The wages of officers is outrageous, and is a complete waste of money. Each one of those officers, who sit around all year doing precisely shag all, costs far more than a PhD student for a full year’s stipend. Ridiculous! If people want to play around at pretend politics, and cry or moan about non-issues, then it should be on a purely voluntary basis.

There is no possible way in which a person can exaggerate when it comes to describing the magnitude of my dislike towards Kent Union. My thoughts towards it and its employees are unpleasant.

Two typical examples of non-issues:

1: The ‘Coke ban’. The union actually allowed a movement to be voted upon in an attempt to ban coka cola on campus (this actually got through, at one university – I don’t recall which, but I’d seen it with my own eyes). This would mean no coka cola products at all could be served on campus. Why? Because crazy hippies felt that coke is evil. Enough said, People actually get PAID a WAGE to deal with these issues. Why?

2: The worst I’ve ever heard of – the ‘gender non-specific toilet’. Kent Union paid for the installation of a gender non-specific toilet in the night club. What is this thing, you ask? It’s an extra toilet with neither a male or female label, for those on campus who wish not to be identified as being either male or female, as they don’t like to be labelled. Yes. I am serious. What is it used for? Well, it’s a disabled toilet in a night club, so, naturally, it was a waste of money because it’s simply used by people who want to sneak off and have a quicky in the toilet.

I wouldn’t mind Student Unions as much if they actually seemed to have any power as a Union. Certainly at Leicester, it seemed that the SU would automatically cave to anything the University itself said, might just as well have been part of the University itself.

If you had an “Abolish the Union and use the money for scholarships” box, I’d be all for ticking that. I’m sure many people would also be behind that.

Sure, I accept there’s a need to manage student feedback to courses, and so on, but course representatives exist for that (and, frankly, what students think of a course is mostly irrelevant). I accept there is a need to arrange entertainment and whatnot, for those that want it. There are plenty of club social secretaries who do that work as a volunteer basis, though. No need for a paid job there.

Campaigning for equal rights for <>? Well, it tends to be student NEWSPAPERS and not politicians that do the most of that.

Helping new students settle in? That’s all easily possible to do with volunteers. “Anyone willing to wear a brightly coloured T-shirt and help the new kids settle in?”. Job done.

There *is* a need for course representatives and social secretaries and whatnot. Fine. If you have them, you might as well elect them. Fine. It’s just a glorified “Form Captain” or “Head Girl” anyway. I’m just saying that that is the LIMIT of what student bodies need to do.

Beyond that, they’re just an excuse for irritation self-righteous cretins who enjoy the sound of their own voices far too much to feel self-important about things that don’t really matter– and do it by wasting money that could directly go to far better causes: Scholarships to ensure the worst-off can get through university.

So, please, please stop acting all self-important. Stop sending e-mails about non-issues. Do something constructive and start REPRESENTING your students. You say “We are the voice of all students at the University of Kent; we represent our members to the University, the communities in which they live and to wider society through our membership of the national student movement.” Start acting on this! 12% is hardly a significant percentage to claim you represent “all” students. Start to show you have some balls, assert your power as a Union and show you are using OUR money wisely.

Ryan Laird

I await Kent Union’s response.

Happy New Year!

Kindle, phd, random, rantings, reading, travel, university

Well, it is that time again. Another year, another time where one can reflect and look back at a year passed.

For me, I will gladly leave 2011. It sure wasn’t the best of years. If anything, it has been the hardest year of my life. I haven’t said this publicly here – I have been getting to terms with it myself, but many friends will be aware that in December 2010 my father passed away. It really isn’t appropriate to discuss it too much here, but as you can imagine, it has been very hard. I am an only child, my mother also has a difficult condition and I have felt the weight on my shoulders.

This past year, I really have felt my life has been a great roller-coaster. I have faced some really difficult personal challenges. Knowing what is best under these circumstances has been really hard. I have struggled with my PhD which didn’t really get going afterwards through various circumstances. I have found myself torn in many ways, which is hard to explain to anybody who doesn’t know me well enough. So much of this past year has been so very personal, but even those who know me I’m not sure understand fully the pain I have felt. Only now are things starting to turn around for the better, although the future remains uncertain. My biggest challenge will be getting through financial barriers which is my greatest worry.

I’d like to think that through my bad experiences I have become a stronger person. Who knows? I sure have had to be defiant in my ambitions. I have been made to see life a little differently, but that has taken a number of months to work through and even now, I ponder. Perhaps my confidence has been knocked, but 2012 is a new year. I have been considering challenges I should work towards; namely, a first author paper. I plan to focus much, much more on my work which is the ambition towards my intended career path.

I am aware I have put on a few pounds over this past year and have become rather inactive. I have already started this “Couch to 5k” running plan to help get back into shape. I intend to keep track of my progress using a website I heard called Runkeeper where one can post their activities in a sort of Fitness “diary”. The great thing is, it lets you map your movements using an app on your mobile phone. That tells you the distance, time, range of elevation, average pace and route map of your activities.

This month, I am cutting alcohol from my diet totally (except possibly, Burns’ Night for some Scotch Whisky). I am not a massive drinker, but perhaps I was drinking more frequently last year.

I’m monitoring what I eat in a food diary and I am recording my weight every day in an attempt to lose weight.

I joined the university mountaineering club after a friend/work colleague encouraged me to join. I haven’t taken it so seriously as I ought to have done but I plan to attend at least once a week no matter what. I plan to go to the upcoming Pennines trip in a couple of weeks’ time.

I am a little embarrassed to say this but I have never been to a big live concert. Anyone who knows me should know I’m not into massive crowds. I have a ticket to see Dream Theater next month which I am really looking forward to. I hope to see a symphonic metal band, Delain, in May. It would be awesome if I could get to Ruisrock in Finland. I really want to see Nightwish who are set to be playing there. Many of the bands I like either have released or will release an album before the festival, most of whom are Scandinavian/Nordic.  I’ll try to write a separate blog about that. I will be seeing the comedian, Jimmy Carr in a week, which should be fun, so a few things to look forward to.

I have no real travel plans at the moment. My focus has to be work which has suffered this past year. I’d like to visit Italy some day. I enjoy Italian wine, food, coffee and cars. I’m also very curious about exploring Roman history, as well as the astronomer Galileo Gailei. With uncertainty about the Euro, we’ll see about that for the moment.

I’m enjoying things a bit more at the moment. I think what was much-needed was the Christmas break, the first proper break I had all year. It sure was great to see old friends and family who I hadn’t seen for a long while. I know I felt exhausted about everything that happened over the past year. It is good to be back though. I’m looking to a better 2012.

Term hasn’t yet started, so university is very quiet currently although that is all set to change this weekend. Postgraduate demonstrating will in part keep me busy. I’m enjoying my new Kindle I received at Christmas. I love that there are so many free e-books out there – so many great classics. I now have at my leisure: the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, the Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection, Thomas Hardy’s Complete Fiction – plus so many more. In fact, I have so much reading material at the moment, it is phenomenal. I had a £50 book token, so I also have a number of great books there such as Phillip Pulman’s “His Dark Materials” which I am itching to read.

Currently, I am reading “The Time Traveler’s Wife” which proved to be an interesting film. I am already finding though that Henry and Clare’s story in the novel is much more fascinating. Niffeneger really brings to life to her characters in the novel, compared to the film which seems to lose an element of that. The film always seemed as though it could have been better.

I am trying to preoccupy myself much more with those things I really enjoy and that enable me to enjoy life. At the same time, I aim to be more healthy and active. I’m looking forward to a trip to the Pennines with the University Mountaineering Club which will be in a couple of weeks time.

2011 really got me down big time, but I feel I am finally escaping the “hole” I felt I was in. “Things can only get better.” – which leaves me with this, remembering the classic hit song by D:Ream (whose keyboard player was British Particle Physicist, Prof. Brian Cox)

To New Horizons (….and I don’t mean the mission to Pluto!)

astronomy, phd, travel, university
So, finally I have a bit of time to blog since about the past couple of months. I can finally sit, think, and write about the past few months or so.My PhD is taking over my life, not that I’m complaining. I have been really enjoying it. I’ve been working through my datasets and soon I will be able to start my photometry. I have had to put that aside for the time being though due to report writing, a literature review and oh yeah, a trip to the United States, to California where I spent a fair time working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a couple of nights observing at Mount Palomar. 😀 I spent my time in preparation for that, determining which comets are best observed for the time we need and generating finder charts for those. My job is pretty much leading to take hold of data from a large programme called SEPPCoN (Survey of the Ensemble Physical Properties of Cometary Nuclei) which will form the bulk of my thesis and this observing run was part of that. So work has been rather busy but exciting. There will be more on my trip to America to follow in a separate blog. I have so many photos which I have already posted on Picasa and via Facebook but I really have so much to tell about this. 😀

It is now getting a little strange I don’t have exams any more! My housemates are all preparing for theirs. Is it weird to miss them? Maybe. I suppose it’s the thought of having been examined for the last 11 years or so and now for the first time I’m not. By no means am I complaining! 🙂 I have more than enough work! I guess now I really feel that I am really starting my PhD. America has given me a thirst for travelling across the continents and living the dreams I have had for many years; seeing the world, observing the universe and exploring different cultures. As I’m starting to write about my work I feel the pieces drawing together and that I am really along the road rather than at the very start of it.

I was delighted to have been short-listed for a Sir Arthur Clarke Award last month. They are extremely well respected in the space science community. Unfortunately I didn’t win the award but nonetheless it was a fantastic honour to have been nominated for the student award. www.kent.ac.uk/news/stories/spaceoscar/2010 It was a great shame I couldn’t make the UK Space Conference where the awards ceremony marks its culmination. Kudos to Áron Kidsi though for winning – it was well deserved!

Home is good. I’m kind of sad to have to leave as I explained in a previous blog. http://rjmlaird.blogspot.com/2010/01/time-sure-goes-quickly-when-youre.html I’ve secured a room in Woolf College for next year (although I do wish the university would tell you what room you have!) I will however need to find somewhere to leave between the end of June and September! I am told that you can’t apply to campus accommodation until the start of June, despite even offering a deposit for somewhere on campus for peace of mind I have somewhere. I am reassured however that there will be somewhere but I am still not happy about this. Considering things are settling down (a little) after my trip from the US, a few phone calls might be in order! Grr, how I hate bureaucracy sometimes!

From one trip to another…albeit a slightly shorter one. I am looking forward to seeing a friend in Copenhagen for a weekend trip. It is almost going to be a flying visit. Then in August I plan to see my good friends Ania and Alex in Romania…I miss you guys! Before that there is a chance I am off to Chile to the European Southern Observatory (depending on funding) as part of my research and much closer to home, I am thinking on a related topic I might be going to Belfast in Northern Ireland for a meeting in June; we’ll see. These next few months or will involve a fair bit of travelling which I am really looking forward to. (Well that’s if we’re not grounded to volcanoes and such like ;p )!

Canterbury seems to be coming alive more which is pretty cool. As the weather is improving and the nights are later some of the attractions are running now such as the boat rides and the ghost tours which I am looking forward to doing at some point. I should really visit the seaside by Dover and Whitstable although I guess having lived at one most of my life the attraction has sort of worn off. As I’m gradually getting (back) into photography, I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the white cliffs lit by the summer sunshine.

Canterbury is growing on me. Sure, there are a couple of things that would like to fall into place still, but I know they will. I know my situation is better than many others in the world – that is enough to make me feel thankful of where I am and what I am doing. I’m probably the most happy and content for the first time in quite a while now. I’m finally living my dream! 😀

The very start of the ‘Canterbury Tales’

ICYA2009, rantings, travel, university

I’m just sat in Starbucks at Stansted waiting endlessly for my flight to Krakow, Poland and I thought I’d share a little piece here.

So, things are finally nearly sorted it seems with the house. After weeks of dealing through a painsakingly tiring process of dealing with the letting agency I have moved in! Thank you Jatin for your tremendous help! The house I feel is lovely and modern. I think it’s a place I can finally relax, unlike being couped up in one room in halls with very basic facilities. My plan now very much is to keep work at work, and to relax at home. I have my room near enough how I want it. The kitchen is very modern and clean-feeling, and a great environment to cook in. The lounge has amazingly comfortable sofas. We have also a nice dining area/conservatory, so set away from the kitchen environment – nice to relax and enjoy food. The garden isn’t too bad, maybe needs a bit of work, but a great environment if we want to have a bbq.

The house is somewhere set rather residential, between the city and the university campus and quite conveniently near certain walkways and cycle routes. There is so much I can’t wait to do. I haven’t been in Canterbury long, but already I find the amazing culture it has with the advantage of being a short journey to Belgium or France; the history with the many museums and sites, the “Garden of England”, the proximity to both the coast and to London, and the range of comedy and theatre performances it hosts, in particular the Gulbenkian Theatre and cinema on campus which I am sure to attend regularly.

Most importantly I’m looking forward to the start of something new and challenging ahead, as much as I can’t help but be a little nervous at the enormity of the whole thing. As soon as I return from Krakow I am due to start. My supervisor is in the process of getting things ready for me. It’ll be so nice to have my own office space, as well as a new Macbook for conferences and observing trips. Already my supervisor is talking of submitting proposals, which as these run on 6 month cycles are due at the end of the month – one of the good reasons to start that bit earlier, to allow me to have a bit of an input if I can.

So for now things are largely on track for what I hope will be the start of many great Canterbury Tales.

A slight side….I shall be departing at 06.10am here to see my fellow young astronomers for our meet in Krakow. While I am there I hope to ‘tweet’ a bit, mainly during the conference with the tag “#ICYA09”, so you can follow me there – my username is “rjmlaird” like my blog. Stay tuned as I shall be writing, probably a more exciting piece here about the conference in the coming week or so. 😉

Summer update

phd, travel, university

Hi all,

Well it’s been a little while since I’ve blogged and with good reason. I’ve been rather busy sorting out the next stage of my life; a PhD in Canterbury at the Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, University of Kent.

I went to Canterbury a few weeks ago to sort a place to live. Quite a strenuous affair. It was much a case of making the most of my time there, making appointments to view properties, all-in-all packing everything in as much as possible. I can only thank my supervisor who provided me with access to internet while there which was invaluable to search for properties online, to get access to the Kent Uni student forums and hospitality. After around 12 viewings I’ve thankfully chosen somewhere and I can’t wait to settle in.

It’s been a little manic since, sorting out paperwork, chasing people up and preparing for the move. I look forward to moving to what I feel is a remarkable city; the culture, the history and atmosphere. I recall walking down the main high street and there was a lively mix of music, little market stands, creperies and many museums, all of which I am yet to explore in detail. Over the 3 years I will have in Canterbury I am positive I will have a great experience there. Soon I will move and have that all to soak up.

It is sad to leave Leicester behind however. There are many which I am sure to miss, though hopefully many I shall still see from time to time. We all are moving on and doing exciting things, but we shall be sure to meet again. In fact I have many pictures which I mean to add to Picasa/Facebook though have not had both the time or ability to do it from home. I hope to do it very soon though. In fact I keep meaning to get some photos printed, though other things seem to have taken priority.

Meanwhile I have been trying to make the most of what will probably be the final time of living at home – meeting up with friends mainly and catching up with old faces. It’s been nice just to relax a little before the next major step to hopefully be refreshed come the time I start.

Last week I visited my cousin in Wales and my aunty visited too; nice to have a few days there and enjoy the glory of the countryside. In fact it was a good time to capture some of the Perseids from an almost light-pollution free part of the country, all the way up the mountains in the middle of the countryside. On I went to see my good friend Karen in Bath where we spent the weekend visiting sites in Cardiff and Bath. We visited Cardiff Bay and went to the Doctor Who exhibition (Annemarie, I know you’d have loved this!) amongst others, and saw the castle, museum and Millenium Stadium. In Bath we went inside the Abbey and visited the William Herschel Museum of Astronomy.

…So, much travelling!

And soon I shall be on my travels again. This time to Krakow in Poland for the International Conference for Young Astronomers. I look forward to seeing some old friends from the Paris conference, and to better connect us young astronomers around the world and with professional bodies, as is the aim of the conference. I’m sure in the coming weeks I shall be updating on this quite a lot. It is sure to be a great opportunity.

In the meantime I prepare for starting my PhD in Canterbury. I look forward to starting what seems a very interesting topic and one I am sure will present some great new science. I shall be starting on 21st September, which should prove an interesting and exciting experience.

For now however I bid good night.

It’s the final countdown!!! Dee dee doo doo, dee dee doo doo doo…!

personal, university
Well I’m coming to the end of my fourth and final year and I can’t quite believe it. I have just finished my exams which is a big relief now. I think it’s been a tough year, but enjoyable none-the-less. I think the projects have been the most enjoyable major difference, as much as they’ve been a lot of work. The style and format is very different to previous years, of course more work for one, but mainly that we have to present posters, give presentations and design a portfolio which probably have made the projects much harder than our previous years especially having little/no experience at these. Nonetheless I feel I accomplished these well and I hope I get a deserving grade. I’ve enjoyed in particular Directed Reading. I enjoy reading in general and I think it’s been an important experience for sorting through material which may or may not be relevant and condensing down the important bits into a logical structure – I think a major importance for a PhD (which I hope to do).

Having more coursework has thankfully meant we have had less exams to revise for which I feel makes the difference. The level however we needed to attain for these exams I think was much higher, as was to be expected from 4th year advancements last year. Overall though I believe they went fairly well overall. There was one hard exam that everyone felt was hard so I do hope there is some compensation for this, though I doubt any scaling will show how I feel the exam could have gone. I guess that is the way exams go sometime…. but hoorah, no more exams (at least for now)!

I’m almost counting down the days until graduation. I can’t quite believe it’s here. It’s been a very memorable 4 years. I remember 1st year and being summoned to a full-on 9.30-5.30 day, 4 days a week of lectures and afternoon practicals for most of the 1st term, though I guess in a sense that didn’t really change much. University life has been something amazing. I can’t quite believe it’s nearly 4 years since I was in the Coppice, part of Beaumont Hall then and before it was refurbished. A lot has happened since then. Even back then the current arrangement of the department was very different, especially upstairs on first floor and we didn’t have those comfy blue and black sofas. I think Pam will be the one person everyone remembers, the “mother” of the department, especially to the first years and making the department a friendly and welcoming place. Of course we’ll all remember those funny lectures and those funny habits and quotes of lecturers we will never forget. In 4 years the university library of course has changed to be more modern and I think I will always remember it’s construction. There will always be the memories of moments shared with friends, never forgotten; those drunken nights out, random things said to one another, silly incidences, parties and much more.

University has been an experience. Academically, Leicester has given me some great opportunities. I’ve been lucky to work in my department doing research for the past two years and through that have been fortunate to become co-author of several scientific papers. Also I’ve had hands-on experience with building a real satellite, worked amongst leading scientists of their field and forged amazing links in astronomy and space. Personally and socially I think the university experience has brought me out more as a person. Various experiences and circumstances have made me realise myself I feel, which I largely had not known.

Soon begins a new chapter in our lives and I hope it is a positive one for many. I have made some good friends over these years and I do hope I will stay in touch with many of these. Facebook, despite its idiosyncrasies in my view, for such purposes of staying in touch with people and finding lost friends I think is an amazing tool. I’m sure many people will go on and do amazing things and I’m sure there will be people we can look back on and remember during these good times, but also fondly during bad times as well.