A summer school in Mathematical Philosophy in Munich, Germany

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In late July I’ve made my way up to Munich, Germany to attend a summer school for female students interested in Mathematical Philosophy – an area of philosophy that includes the philosophy of logic, the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of language. My primary academic interests lie in the last one – specifically in the overlap of Philosophy and Psychology within the topic of language – hence my decision to apply for the summer school. Apart from deepening my knowledge of these complex topics, that are not well covered by courses on offer at Edinburgh University, I was hoping that this course would motivate me to finish my pilot study in experimental philosophy of language in time to present it at the summer school.

Both before and as the summer school progressed, I was worried that my existing (very rusty) knowledge of logic and mathematics might be insufficient to keep up with the lecture streams efficiently. Furthermore, I was nervous about presenting my own work for the first time. As it turned out, I did struggle to comprehend a lot of mathematical concepts that were taught to us, while other participants, who were all mostly postgrads specialized in logic, seemed to be faring better than me, at least from what I could tell. However, when it came to more language-related topics, as well as probability-related topics (which I’ve covered in some of the psychology courses back home), I faired quite well compared to the rest. While I felt a bit overwhelmed and incompetent at the start of the week, I started to feel more secure and able as time went by. This started to manifest itself at the point when we were to choose which of the three lecture streams (roughly corresponding to the three aforementioned topics of the summer school) we were going to continue with. I chose the one that I was most interested in – namely the topic of counterfactual conditionals, which then gave me the chance to go deep into the subject without having to worry about the more technical topics that I was less comfortable with. My presentation also went well, despite my being nervous, and the part that I was the most scared of before, namely the Q&A, ended up being the part I enjoyed the most. Overall, I’ve received valuable feedback and I’ve successfully stepped out of my comfort zone.

In the end, I was glad to have done a bit of everything, and even though I cannot say I’ve fully grasped some of the topics, the summer school has nonetheless taught me the basics and given me a bit of a feel for mathematical philosophy. Importantly, however, I’ve also learned that philosophy of mathematics and logic, specifically, aren’t topics that I’d want to go into much further. This has, in turn, strengthened my research interests even more surely in the direction of language, for which I am very grateful.

Altitude Medicine in Bolivia (APEX 5)

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Day 1 – Touchdown at 3,640m in the sprawling city of La Paz, Bolivia

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Day 3 – Acclimatisation in full flow: battling through the altitude sickness to visit ‘moon valley’

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Day 4 – Learning how to image our own eyes before we ascend Huayna Potosi

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Day 5 – Group picture before the 7-day altitude expedition begins!

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Day 5 – The journey up led us to some remote and beautiful places

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Day 5 – Home for the next week at 4,800m – cosy!

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Day 6 – Night 1 survived and spirits are high

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Day 6 – Blood samples taken, processed and frozen for later analysis

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Day 7 – A day off research for the whole team by the lake, the best place to chill (literally)

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Day 8 – A second day off for climbing adventures with our adopted dogs

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Day 9 – The centre of the Milky Way visible in the Andean nights

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Day 11 – Final research day: Rebecca and Sarah pipetting blood platelet samples

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Day 11 – Research finished! The final samples frozen in liquid nitrogen ready for their trip back to Edinburgh

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Expedition over!: The team visit the Bolivian salt flats, the experience of a lifetime

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Wrapping up the trip with a compulsory visit to the breathtaking Machu Picchu

Volunteering at a children’s summer camp in Mongolia

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Last year I was lucky to become a part of the University of Edinburgh Society Project Mongolia. This led to me and three other adventurous souls embarking on a long journey to Tsoglog Summer camp, situated around 3 hours south from the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.

I wish I could avoid the cliché explanation of why I wanted to do participate but, unfortunately, it is impossible – travelling and volunteering at the same time sounded like a perfect summer activity. What attracted me even more is that Mongolia is located in a whole different continent and it is not a typical tourist destination. I have to admit that my knowledge of it was limited to Chinggis Khaan and Mongolian gers. So experiencing the culture and history myself, not through the eye of a tourist guide, was much more valuable.

Of course I had my concerns before and during the trip. Taking part in this kind of projects is an experience that cannot be compared to anything you learn at school or university because it helps you obtain vital life skills. First of all, just going alone for a month in an unknown country requires a lot of organization and managing skills even before being physically there. Since this was the first time that I had to sort out everything completely on my own, even the thought that something was wrong would get me panicked. Being in a country completely different from mine and not knowing the language is a real challenge. But this made my time there even more exciting because I have to find my way to handle things or I could miss my train or stay hungry. Most importantly, I was responsible for a huge number of kids – had to teach them English, play games with them, go to the river with them, make sure they have a great time at camp and keep them safe. All those responsibilities helped me improve my focusing, teaching and decision making skills and my ability to stay calm in emergency situations. It was the first time that I was in the role of the teacher and not of the kid who is being instructed and taken care of, which, I have to admit, feels very good but also comes with many responsibilities.

I am very thankful for and appreciative of the funding the Principal Go Abroad Grant provided for me in order to fulfill this dream of mine.

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Scottish student attending summer school in Salzburg

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Thanks to the PGAF’s generous funding, I was able to participate in European Private Law Summer School, based in the University of Salzburg, Austria. From this experience, I benefitted academically, socially and culturally, as well as represented the University and Scotland. Finance was certainly my biggest concern in participating in the trip, and so I am very grateful to the PGAF for this grant.

Being interested in private and comparative law, this Summer School proved to be a valuable learning opportunity. The school was intense, yet offered a unique opportunity to explore over 25 legal systems, with lectures and workshops led by legal experts from these jurisdictions – not only from Europe, but beyond. The busy schedule allowed me not only to learn about the basics of each system, but delve deeper into their intricacies and compare them to Scotland, as well as discuss current areas under debate and reform. I was struck by the variety of approaches towards identical legal problems, such as for transfer of moveable property. This view of alternative perspectives allowed me to think more critically about my own legal system, and highlight any potential areas for review.

Lectures were held not only by leading academics, but also by a number of guest speakers: big names within the global legal sphere. This included: EU Commissioner, Johannes Hahn; Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas; and US Supreme Court Judge, Justice Kennedy. The chance to meet and chat with these individuals, and listen to their rousing and inspirational speeches is an experience I will not forget.
However, the summer school also provided an academic and social forum for students, lecturers and panellists to exchange views and ask questions, as well network and socialise with peers from around the world. Through asking questions and engaging in discussions, every interaction received inputs from minds of different perspectives. The school thus provided a forum for a diverse array of legal-minded individuals to come together, and I am certain that I have made legal contacts – and good friends – for many years to come.

The University of Salzburg and its law faculty was an outstanding institution in which to study. The city, with its cultural and historical significance, made the perfect setting for such an internationally-minded program. The trip allowed me to discover another culture, with my free time enjoyed exploring Salzburg and practicing my German. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even wandering through the city was an opportunity absorb its rich history. The tuition fee also included an excursion to Festung Hohensalzburg – Salzburg’s fortress – which was another opportune chance to learn about the history and culture of the beautiful city in which I was studying.
Given the costs of tuition, accommodation and flights, among other expenses, this trip would not have been financially obtainable for me without help. The experience however was thoroughly enriching on many levels, and I am incredibly grateful to the PGAF for making this possible.

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Conference in California

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For my Go Abroad experience I went to a conference at Stanford University to represent the University of Edinburgh.

The International Association for Computing and Philosophy invited me to their annual meeting to present one of my papers on a theoretical issue with artificial neural networks. I am currently reading for a master’s degree in philosophy of cognitive science. I was keen to attend this conference to boast about Edinburgh’s characteristic way of doing philosophy. We do philosophy that is informed by cutting edge science. We aim to both move philosophical debates forward, and to contribute to the science itself. This has led to a blossoming of philosophy of cognitive science research here at Edinburgh. By presenting my research, I aimed to emphasise the value of this approach to doing philosophy.

Also, Public speaking and presentation skills are central to academic research, and I had never before presented my ideas outside of my peer group. This conference offered the opportunity to share my thoughts with some of the top experts in the field.
Not sure of how successful I would be, I submitted my paper. 2 months later I received an email that triggered an eruption of both dread and excitement: I had been invited to present at the conference.

The bulk of my nerves were stemming from the thought of delivering my painstakingly thought over ideas in public. It felt like a very vulnerable position to be in. What if I’d made a silly mistake that nobody had noticed yet? Wouldn’t the whole paper be useless? Of course, this wasn’t likely. My paper had been through several well-trained pairs of eyes before being accepted. But putting our projects out into the world and giving them lives of their own often leads to a little anxiety.

I prepared my presentation and hopped onto a plane. I spent a couple of days in San Francisco to get over the jet lag and I was lucky enough to be there during the LGBT+ pride festivities. It was a wonderful and colourful celebration of LGBT+ identity. It also showed San Francisco to be a remarkably open and accepting city.

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The conference consisted of symposia and several talks. The attendees were very diverse, consisting of international professional philosophers and computer scientists, employees of Silicon Valley tech firms and local entrepreneurs. This was a brilliant environment for gaining vastly different perspective on important problems I the field.

My presentation was on the final day of the conference. I had practiced multiple times, and was already friendly with many of the other attendees so my nerves had subsided. I delivered my talk and had a great discussion and Q&A session after that provided me valuable advice for improving my research.

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In all, my experience further solidified my belief that cross disciplinary research and communication is vitally important. I also learned that everybody was there for the same reason: to engage with new research. Do submit to academic conferences, and don’t be nervous!

Applying my Arabic Language Skills in Cairo, Egypt

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This summer I studied Arabic in Cairo, Egypt for three months, following which, I used my GoAbroad funding so that I could stay after my course to volunteer and put my Arabic skills to use. I volunteered at Refuge Egypt in Cairo, where I taught an introductory French course to refugees from the Sudan. Prior to beginning my volunteer placement, I was worried that I would struggle to communicate effectively in Arabic. I was also worried because I have very little experience teaching and I wanted to ensure that the course that I was offering was useful for the students. However, I found that after having studied a language all summer, I was able to utilize some of the strategies that I saw my Arabic teachers use to teach me and apply them to the teaching of French. I was also happy that I could put to use the years that I spent studying French through high school and my undergraduate degree in Canada.

This volunteer experience pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding about life in Egypt. After having spent my summer being surrounded by other students, my experience volunteering allowed me to meet and interact with individuals from other backgrounds and to learn about the difficulties that refugees face when fleeing their countries of origin. This was also a great opportunity to put my skills to use by explaining key grammar and vocabulary concepts in Arabic. While at the same time, I was challenged because I had to constantly be code switching between English, French, and Arabic.

I am deeply thankful that I volunteered because it helped me to better understand the lives of refugees living in countries of transit like Egypt. It also re-affirmed my interest in working with refugees when I return to Canada after graduating from my postgraduate programme at the University of Edinburgh. It helped me to see that all the work I had put into learning Arabic was paying off, even though it had been difficult when I first started out. I was incredibly humbled by the students in my class, as most of them were in their twenties and thirties, around the same age as me. They were all amazingly driven and attentive students, determined to learn French, which for many of them was their third or fourth language.

I would like to return to Egypt next summer to volunteer with the same organization and to further advance my Arabic. The GoAbroad fund allowed me to gain more experience towards my future career and to apply the knowledge and skills that I have gained thus far through my studies in Edinburgh.

Darien: Land of the Forgotten

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Global Brigades is an international organization that empowers communities to meet their health and economic goals through the help of university volunteers and local teams. In October of 2016, the first Human Rights Chapter was established within the University of Edinburgh University.

From Friday the 23rd to Friday the 30th of June, I travelled with eleven other of my peers twelve to the Darien Province of rural Panama. We took part in a week of human rights work with local Latino and Indigenous communities. Over the course of the week, we shadowed two Panamanian lawyers in providing pro bono legal clinics to community members at the local primary school and following up divorce and marriage cases chosen from the legal clinics of previous brigades. As a group we also benefited from talks given by the mayor of the local township, a local social worker and psychologist, and the members of a community bank that had been set up through Global Brigades educating on micro-finance and capitalisation. At the end of the week, we also worked with the children of the local school in an anti-bullying awareness lesson.

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