Preparation for the Summer School (Azores, Portugal)

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In my typical fashion I had completely filled up my schedule for my entire summer. I had and expedition in Japan on the 10th of June, traveling through Scotland from 2nd of September to the 15th, and in-between holidays in Portugal and Geneva.  As a result of my concurrent activities, I was relatively underprepared for this summer school. However, it seems inappropriate to go into detail now so please refer to the Daily Diary section and Lessons Taken Away. I would have liked to present the iChip data from either Iceland or Japan, but unfortunately this was not possible. In the confusion caused by continuous travel, I was convinced that a poster was mandatory. Therefore I decided that I only had one remaining option: use slides from my UROPS presentation to create a poster.

Daily Diary

The trip started with a moment of anxiety, I received an email from my Honors project supervisor that there were major issues with proposal the morning I left. However, I decided that is was simply too late the implement the changes that he suggested. At the airport in Terceira I received a warm greeting from one of the co-organizers and got the chance to meet the majority of the summer school participants, who had arrived on the same flight from Lisbon.

On the first full day of the summer school, we were instructed to put up our posters and I was made aware that posters NOT compulsory, so considering how off-topic my poster was I was hesitant about putting up poster. In the evening I stumbled upon a conference in Edinburgh June 2017, which is perfectly relevant for my poster.

After a day of lectures, we had the opportunity of going on an excursion.   On the excursion, we absorbed the overall atmosphere of Azores and how what we are learning is relevant to the islands, volcanism, and life origins.  We visited two different lava caves to get impression of artificial lighting caves that we will soon be able to contrast with non-touristy caves. Additionally, we made a stopover at a cheese factory and traditional Azorian restaurant for a meal.

The next day was a series of talks by Karl Stetter. He is a worldwide expert in culturing difficult-to-culture microbes. I learned lots from his lectures and subsequent conversations, feel that his advice will prove invaluable in honors project. The next speaker was Diana Northup from the University of New Mexico. Her talks were very engaging and made me consider doing my PhD with her as my supervisor.

In preparation for the sampling day, I needed to go shopping for a torch because forgot to bring one to the summer school. Sampling day was very exciting. Because our group was very efficient we had the opportunity to visit both the caves that were part of the summer school program. I also realized as part of this summer school that Caves may not be an ideal sampling site for a PhD or postdoctoral as I’m not the correct dimensions or very comfortable in tight space.

After the sampling day, it was back to a very interesting series of lectures on the connection between volcanism, plate tectonics, and life. These lectures were followed by an equally interesting open discussion on how important plate tectonics are for the existence of life.  The next excursion gave us a view of a broad range of volcanic features which was very cool because I remember seeing similar features when traveling through Scotland. The next set of lectures were redundant, but it was nice to have some free time as the program is becoming more flexible. For me the practical portion wasn’t relevant for me and therefore I felt disappointed by this portion of the course.

The next two days were spent preparing for our proposal of how we should take the project forward. We spent a considerable portion of the day working through the slides, but unfortunately the team I was in didn’t gel very well. The summer school ended on a high as I talked to Jessica and Lurdes and set up the MAFIC project for next year.

Lessons Learned

  1. Make better use of Outlook calendar, get more efficient and tightly pack things into the (summer) schedule
  2. Buy more equipment for future field studies and summer school, such as kneepads, good durable gloves, more field pants, and helmet with headlight
  3. Make checklist for all the things that you might need for a field excursion or summer school weeks in advance, add things and take things off as you think of them

Conference in Hong Kong

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I attended the 3rd Mount Carmel conference, an international forum on religion and society in Hong Kong during the mid-August. The theme of this annual meeting is “Traditional Values in the Secular Age: an inquiry from cross-disciplinary perspectives”, and which attracts nearly one hundred scholars from the disciplines of theology, philosophy, sciences and cultural studies. Co-sponsored by the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Alliance Bible Seminary, this conference has become one of the most significant academic events in the field. As an invited speaker, I presented a paper entitled “Beyond the Politics of Redemption: Tradition-based Visions of Responsibility in the Thought of Karl Barth and Mou Zongsan”, which discovers two distinct moral accounts of responsibility for democratic governance from a cross-cultural perspective.

The whole conference consists of two sections in a chronological order. The first section was an internal roundtable discussion among academic experts, focusing on the emerging issues and challenges in the research of religious traditions and secular values in contemporary society. In the forms of keynote speech and collective discussion, participants engaged in intensive dialogues among each other and undertake intellectual and ethical reflections on the issue. The second section took a form of public forum which was open to the public audience. In this section, scholars drew attention to the conflicting understandings and applications of religious traditions in concrete situations such as family, media, and social service. It was hoped that, through an in-depth conversation between the experts and the general public, new academic and practical agenda could emerge as possible solutions.

As a student of Christian ethics, my scholarly ministry is focused on the evangelization of mainstream intellectuals and college students. This conference, therefore, provides a good opportunity to prepare myself for an academic career in the future. Specifically, it helps me explore the dynamism between religion and society, and identify possible approaches of intellectual movements of evangelism. Moreover, this activity is also important for me to formulate a clearer vision of my own spiritual and practical life. By engaging in personal communications with exemplary scholars and intellectuals, I look forward to enriching my experiences and broaden my horizons, and thus preparing myself for a life-long witness in the scholarly ministry.

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Paris Conference: Turns me into a storyteller – Sarnali Basak

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Every student has gone through the same challenging path during the dissertation period like I did. Lots of reading, attending meetings and discussions, coding and validating the results, and so on. As an informatics student, I needed to gather up-to-date related work which could give me useful hints as to how to model my own research work. I felt lucky, because that time I got the chance to attend the International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC), 2016, in Paris for a week, which was solely related to my subject of research. The conference was a full package of workshops, tutorial sessions, and valuable speech of the scholars from different universities all over the world. I was very much interested in joining the event, and taking part in the interactive learning sessions. It was a really practical and competent platform for my research works, and it later helped me a lot in my dissertation. In addition, it was a great experience to get to know such a vibrant city like Paris for the first time.

However, before stepping outside the UK towards France, I had to think about several issues such as my personal safety at the new location, using public transport at night, calculating my budget, avoiding crime situations etc. I managed to take care about all these, and came back with an wonderful experience. Coming from a far away country, I was always curious to know more about the locals and the culture of Paris. I managed to attend several social events such as cocktail parties and the Casparo opera, talk to renowned professors and researchers, as well as to visit the famous City hall, Hotel de Ville by the invitation of the honorable Mayor. Of course, I did not forget to see the majestic night view of the Eiffel tower either. My entire journey was excellent. No doubt, this international experience assisted me to enhance my personal and academic skills, and to make valuable connections around the world.

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City hall, Hotel De Ville,Paris, France (Clicked in June, 2016)

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Honorable deputy mayor was giving speech, Hotel de Ville, Paris (Clicked in June, 2016)

Internships in Washington D.C.

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In April of 2016, I accepted a position with the US Marine Corps, working as an analyst preparing briefings. However, due to an administrative complication I was unable to assume my duties, and I was told I would have to wait until my paperwork was processed.

Yet when I accepted the paid Marine Corps internship, I had rejected an unpaid offer in a US Senator’s office and I was left without an internship. I therefore started looking for temporary work to bide my time until my paperwork made its way through the bureaucracy of the United States Department of Defence.

One of the original aspects of my proposal for the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund was the incredible number and variety of educational events in the Washington, D.C. area. So, once I received my grant, I purchased a ‘SmartTrip’ public transportation card and a student membership to ‘LinkTank’, a networking and event platform that compiles think tank events in the DC area into a single calendar and began attending events.

At university, I focus on International Security, and as such the first event I attended was the ‘Defense One Tech Summit’. The summit was an all day affair, and included events ranging from an exhibition of new software to help service-members deal with PTSD, to a speech by the US Secretary of Defence. At the Summit, I met Geoff Orazem, the managing partner of Eastern Foundry, a start-up accelerator for government contractors. I had emailed Geoff earlier in the week to determine whether or not his company was hiring interns, and though I hadn’t received a reply, I was able to secure an internship through speaking with him.

However, I was still eager to find something related to my degree. I eventually secured an internship at the American Council of Life Insurers, where I worked in the international policy department performing international legal research regarding the implications of cross-border data regulations.

At Eastern Foundry, I planned a curriculum focused on providing online business education to small businesses and businesses new to the government contracting. At ACLI, I created a reference matrix for laws governing data protection and cross border data transfers in over 40 countries, a project which was picked up by the US Chamber of Commerce. Finally, I was able to attend more than 20 think tank events across the area, collecting information, asking questions, and interacting with members of the government as part of my dissertation research.

My initial summer experience was unbelievably humbling. After being rejected from nearly 15 internship programmes, I was finally accepted by two—and neither worked out due to circumstances beyond my control. However, I learned a hard lesson about the power of perseverance, and was able to gain valuable experience and build relationships with professionals in a variety of fields which have since paid off immensely.

I cannot thank the University enough for both the education they have provided and the funding to make this trip possible.

‘Summer in the City’ (New York)

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I was lucky to have the opportunity to undertake a five week legal internship in New York City, at a civil rights law firm. I looked forward to the internship throughout my final year at university. Thinking about all the fun I would have and what it would be like to ‘live in the City’ made all the hard work of fourth year worth it! However, the invaluable experience did not come without hard work to prepare for it (difficulties in finding accommodation, visa considerations etc.) and even with this all organised, by the time came to get on the flight, I had a few worries about what it truly meant to be a New Yorker for the summer.

Being someone who likes company, I was concerned about my first truly solo trip. They do say that despite the population nearing nine million, NYC can be one of the loneliest places to live. However, the flight proved the first opportunity to make friends and connections in the City. The lady who I sat next to happened to work in the civil rights field and as well as having lots of interesting tales of her exciting working life and showing interest in my internship, she also had some good tips on how to work the daunting subway system! She was kind enough to give me her business card and offered to help if I needed help over my placement. It seems that you never know where you will meet interesting people and eased my concern about being lonely for the summer.

With sound advice from my friend on the flight, I made it to my accommodation the New Yorker way; one train, one subway, two overweight suitcases and a lot of stairs! Having researched where to stay in NYC, I decided on a residence for women who intern in the city. Although seeming a bit of a ‘blast from the past’ with a no boys policy, it was a safe, affordable and fun place to stay. My experience at the residence demonstrated how important it is to find somewhere that will suit you to live, it gave me the opportunity to take part in social events and meet people, who similarly to me, wanted to make the most of their time in NYC.

Having settled in to my accommodation, the next event was starting work. I could not wait to get stuck in and gain experience in the civil rights field, something which I would not be able to do back home. I had been told that part of my role would include delivering documents across to some of the courts across the district. At first I found the sheer number of people travelling to work and the widely scattered courts intimidating. It is a little different to what now seems the more compact system in Scotland. However, after shadowing my supervisors for the first couple of court runs, I soon found it easy to find my way around and enjoyed getting to see all the different parts of New York along the way. One of the courts was beside the famous Yankee Stadium and so I could really do some sightseeing on the go!

I found that this ability to get manoeuvre my way around the busy city, made me more adventurous in my spare time. I The challenges I faced in NYC made me more independent and some of the highlights were things I had done myself including the runs across the Brooklyn Bridge and visits to the arts museums. I am extremely grateful for having had this taster of life living in the city and the experience has given me confidence that I am able to handle challenging situations. I am now left trying to think of my next excuse to go back!

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Engineering in Cambodia

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This summer I had an opportunity to travel to Cambodia and work with the local NGO, Community First, on developing and building aquaponics systems for the rural community in Siem Reap province. We started as a group of four engineering students who were involved in student-led society, Engineering for Change, and wanted to spend a part of our summer volunteering. Before going, we looked at the current aquaponics designs, came up with the ways how they could be improved, even tried to build one of our own here in Edinburgh. The main reason why we chose aquaponics development is the current situation in Cambodia where average diet in rural areas has led to many of its population suffering from malnutrition and diabetes. Some organisations within the country, such as Community First Initiative (CFI), are working to overcome this problem by developing more efficient and sustainable methods of farming that are completely organic and off-soil.

Before leaving, I was concerned about facing similar challenges to my previous journey to the program I attended in China, where I found out local community had a different understanding of the concept of personal space than mine. Also, travelling to a country where I could only communicate with the minority of population speaking in English. However, Cambodia proved me wrong, local people were very welcoming and understanding while most of the people tried their best to communicate, universal hand gestures and facial expressions helped a lot.

This trip was a lifetime experience that helped me to realise that I am privileged to have such an opportunity and made me reconsider some of my personal values. After meeting people from one of the poorest countries in the world, everyday worries and complaints, such as having no time to have coffee in the morning, became so meaningless in comparison to people’s problems of not being able to let their children attend school because of financial difficulties. In addition to this learning experience, I should not forget all the technical skills that I gained about aquaponic and water purification systems, design skills while making drawings for drainage systems and creating floor plans for the local school. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip and would definitely recommend something similar to everyone who might be questioning our everyday life style in relatively more developed countries.

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Getting the most out of China

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After a few days in the wonderful city of Chendgu, a second-tier city in South-West China, I came to realise that pandas are just the very start of what’s going on. I loved how easy-going the city was (in comparison to Beijing!) whilst working doing coaching, marketing and research.

My confidence grew enormously, and by the end of the month I was teaching in mandarin, running the day-to-day summer camp operations, and working on the company’s marketing presence. Having whole classes of young people look up to me as a role model made me appreciate how fortunate I am, and what a great responsibility my role had been. These children were captivated by stories of the UK, saying how they dream of studying back in the U.S. of U.k.

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In addition, during my time in Beijing I was able to visit museums, and talk to a wide spectrum of people, making progress with my dissertation. This experience has been invaluable in setting me up for me year abroad, giving me the foundation from which to build on during my third year abroad studies, and allowed me to adjust to the great jump in cultures.

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Not only did my language skills come on leaps and bounds, but I learnt far more about what running a business entails, having had a real hands-on approach with the company I was interned for. I wrote up information for the website, blogs and developed their long term marketing plan, as well as making numerous contacts (especially important in the Chinese business world).

I explored much of both Beijing and Chengdu, both by day and night, making a host of Chinese and international friends along the way. Till next time.

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