Sunday, 31 May 2015

May Review

There were no massive events in May, but there have been a few nice things scattered through it. School fair day, one chess tournament, two awards ceremonies, a spot on the radio and a meeting.

I already covered the first of May in my April review, but to recap it was the final day of Positive Mental Health Week in my school so we had a fair day outside, with ice cream and chess and games. It was fabulous. 

Posting this photo again because I really love it.


I then reflected on what I'd learned at Evolve Biomed, finished up my world series with an interview with a French girl and expressed my support for the Marriage referendum. I talked about the benefits and disadvantages of sharing my life on the internet, and then published a post covering the Head Girl campaigns in my school.

It came as a big surprise to me when that post caused controversy. I was pulled out by my Year Head and Vice-Principal to talk, because apparently some people had been offended by the honest portrayal. I've adjusted the post and written more at the bottom, but that whole thing was a strange experience. 

I thought up my dreams in life and gave advice on how to succeed at science fairs. 

Then, finally, some things started happening in real life. 

On Thursday the 14th, I had my first external chess tournament against a local school. I was Board 7, i.e. the seventh best player on the school team, but it was still cool and I really enjoyed winning my first and only tournament game so far. The same day, we voted for the Head Girl. I voted Sarah #1, and she won the following day at Prizegiving!

Friday the 15th was always going to be a great day because there were two awards ceremonies on the same day: school Prizegiving and an awards ceremony for Drogheda Young Innovators.

I (and my sister) did very well in Prizegiving, coming out with, well, a lot.


Immediately after that, the Young Scientist students left for the Mill for the Drogheda Young Innovators ceremony. All of us won our category, and I won the overall prize! 




Then on Wednesday the 20th, I was invited to speak on local radio about winning Drogheda Young Innovators alongside Breanndán, who helps run the competition. 

Embedded image permalink


I then did a blog post about all my work experience and what I've learned from it. I've had three consecutive weekends where I didn't leave the house, so there's not too much else to add, apart from the meeting. Lately, I've been thinking about Sentinus an awful lot. It's happening in less than a month.  

My school exams went from the 25th to the 28th (the English exam on Friday was cancelled because a teacher died). On Monday the 25th, after my History exam, my teacher and I went to a meeting in St. James' hospital about continuing my research. That was great. I then had Irish and French exams (both okay), Chemistry exam (great), Physics exam (great) and Maths exam (not so great). Then on Friday the 29th, I took part in the senior students' guard of honour in the funeral procession. On Saturday 30th, I had a lovely day in town with Jerry. 



I blogged some exam tips, reviewed Fifth Year, and talked about the pros and cons of long summer holidays, the pros and cons of blogging daily, and my experience of the iPad on its one-month anniversary. I also got some interviews lined up with the wonderful Sinéad Burke of minniemelange.com and the Digital Youth Council, so I'll be working on writing those interviews soon.

It's the 30th as I write this and I don't see myself doing too much out and about tomorrow, hopefully getting some work done on my research, on the interviews and reading. 

Pretty good month. Not too eventful, so I guess it was a nice break. Would like some excitement in June, though - some things that'll be happening then include my trip to Intellectual Ventures HQ and Sentinus Young Innovators. 




Saturday, 30 May 2015

Town with Jerry

Today was great, and I'm probably the most relaxed I've been this year since January - despite not getting anything done. This was, I think, the first Saturday in weeks I left the house and had a social life, as my friend Jerry came down to see me.



Also, I made an effort with my clothes and appearance for once, though I still didn't wear any makeup. Have a look:

Working that style blogger look. Dress from my sister, jacket from the wardrobe, flower band from Claire's, tights probably from Penneys. 

I wasn't sure exactly where I'd be meeting Jerry, so I was reading peacefully in Waterstones when my brother said they'd seen Jerry. So I turned around and Jerry was sitting behind me. He sneaks up on me all the time, it's hilarious. I do get lost in books. 

We didn't really have a plan in mind (y'know, teenage loitering), so we went to some charity shops (Jerry bought me a copy of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which I've heard good things about) and to Dealz to stock up on junk. 

Bit more wandering, then we went to Boomerang (the youth café). I got hot chocolate and we both got chips. He lamented my awful ketchup technique. We then spent ages having a really interesting conversation about North Korea and nukes and neutrality and General Mao and Communism and America's military and assassinations and the Chinese education system and more. I knew very very little about all this, so I asked all the naive questions and learned a lot. I absolutely love it when people have skills or understand things I don't and are willing to teach me, it dramatically increases my respect for them and it's just so much fun.



We then walked to the Laurence Centre (this meant we had visited all three of my town's big ionad siopadóireachta) and went to the SVP where I'd gotten a really good deal on like twelve books before (twelve books for a fiver!). I bought Delirium by Lauren Oliver there for €1. I've been waiting to buy it for so long, although now it's just adding to my massive To-Be-Read (TBR) list. I'm currently reading The Most Human Human by Brian Christian, which is about AI. 




We then found a bench and I started teaching Jerry ukulele. He picked up the chords really fast and is doing fine with strumming, although he stresses too much about it. If you're reading this, Jerry, relax. You're doing really well. Also, learn songs. 

The last thing we did was go up to the roof of Scotch Hall. I don't know if you're meant to do that, but the door wasn't really locked so we just went up and walked around for a while.


Jerry took this when I wasn't looking. No idea what my bag is doing.


I saw Jerry off and came home, and have just done some aikido with Dad, had garlic bread and watched part of a movie on Netflix with my brothers. 

Quite mundane, I suppose, but it's been a really nice day. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Pros and Cons of Long Summer Holidays

Pro #1: Freedom

I think this is the point of summer holidays – months where you can do whatever you want.

Con #1: Lack of Structure

The routine of school (get up at seven, breakfast, uniform, school, home around four, homework, activities, bed) can get tiring, but it’s a really useful structure, and I sometimes feel at a loss when summer starts. I need to get a lot of projects running stat to compensate for not having to do homework or studying. Plans for this summer include my research, this blog, maybe some writing and business stuff. I’ll flesh that out in a later post.

Pro #2: Motivation

For a lot of people, summer is something to look forward to to get you through the year. I don’t think this is a particularly healthy attitude (ideally you should love what you do daily) but it’s definitely real.

Con #2: Forgetting Everything

There’s some actual science done on this, but it’s pretty obvious. When you’re off school for three months, you forget a huge amount of what you’ve learned – which is probably what the majority of revision in 6th year is for. After I did my History exam week, I put down my books and rejoiced at not having to look at History for three months. I’m so going to kick myself for that next year.

To offset this, I might do some revision over the summer. Depends how busy I am.

Pro #3: Variety

I think it’s good that the year is broken up into summer and not-summer (and smaller breaks for Christmas and Easter). It introduces variety and seasons into life.

Con #3: Boredom

Summer does drag on. Once it gets into the third month, especially if you don’t have much on, you get bored. There’s nothing you have to do, no deadlines, so you sit around and watch TV and then feel awful. I heard once that the point of summer holidays is to do nothing for so long that you actually want to go back to school.

Pro #4: Potential

Summers, when done right, are extremely memorable. We take routine school days for granted, and I feel like people appreciate life more in summer. There’s just so much you can do in one summer, especially with a pinch of serendipity.

Con #4: Not Seeing Friends
I have groups of friends both inside and outside school, but I very rarely see my school friends outside. There are people I talk to 5/7 days a week in the school year, sit with them at lunch, share the goss, and then don’t see for months at a time during the summer. It’s a relationship of convenience, I guess. Then there are people I see only during the summer, i.e. the majority of people in CTYI (although some close friends have transcended that and we meet up throughout the year – of course).



I tried to come up with an equal number of points for each side, but I am of course happy to be on summer break. Like I said, I’m going to write about my summer plans here in the next couple of days. But first, a day or two of taking it easy. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Exam Tips by Elle

I like that title. It's like a fragrance.

So yeah, I just finished my summer exams today so why not give you the tips and tricks I've picked up from doing exams. I have to say I'm pretty great at test-taking, so here's how to bullshit your way to an A. 

Don't leave any blanks. This applies if you're in a system that doesn't deduct marks for wrong answers, like in Ireland. Seems pretty obvious, but I've seen so many people freak out when they don't know an answer and leave a blank. Remember, you can't get marks if you have nothing written down. At least write down some relevant formulae if it's a STEM subject and make attempt marks work for you.

Think about what the examiner wants to hear. Most questions have an agenda or slant to them, that'll be nice and easy for the examiner to correct. And there'll often be a clue to that in the question. This can tell you how best to structure History or English essays, or what approach is easiest to take for Maths or Physics. 

But don't take this too far. Especially with the languages, you still want to have some originality. So do use the above tip as a guideline, then think about how you can subvert that expectation in an understandable way. 

Rewrite the question. This works well for me, at least. In Maths, I rewrite the sum as physically writing it out gets me thinking about it. In Physics and Chemistry, I write down the information using symbols to get rid of all the distracting fluff, making it easier to plug quantities into formulae and figure out which direction to go. 

Draw diagrams. This one has been drilled into me by my Physics teacher, although I still often don't bother to do it for homework. Especially in Maths, Chemistry and Physics (and maybe Biology), it really helps to draw a diagram so you can see if your answer looks realistic i.e. roughly right. Even with languages, it can help to represent your information graphically, like in a spider diagram, because it's a less laborious way of mapping out connections between ideas. 

Bring a highlighter. I don't know if this applies to everyone, but I find highlighters useful in exams. Mainly to highlight my answer hidden near the bottom of chaotic Maths workings, but also to highlight relevant parts of Irish and French comprehensions. Highlighters are also cheerful, which is always good.

Have a positive mindset. You're starting out with 100% and only losing marks as you go along by not answering parts. That's how I think of it. If you just listen and ask questions i.e. be engaged in class, you'll know tons anyway. 

Study strategically. I know it's tempting to just study the things you like, and I'm totally guilty of that. But there are guides all over the internet telling you what comes up often, so pay attention to those. But remember: don't rely on predictions. 

Love the subject. I know this one may not be easy, but you're going to do a lot better if you actually enjoy the subject (duh). I studied Chemistry a lot, but it didn't really feel like studying or hard work because I enjoyed it. Not much help during the actual exam though.

I don't like the idea of doing subjects for points. Do something you're enthusiastic about, and don't learn for the exam. 

Do not learn things off. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like Chemistry definitions. But on the whole, do not learn things off. Especially don't learn essays off. I heard of people doing that for Irish and English and it's the stupidest possible approach I could think of towards the essay questions, apart from leaving them blank. Why would you open yourself up to the possibility of pulling a blank on the day? Why add that extra stress? This is the worst form of cramming, and you're much better off investing time e.g. by reading to improve at English. With science, read as much around the subject as you have to until you understand the topic and can explain it to yourself. Don't just take what the teacher or book say for granted - keep asking questions until you're satisfied.

Be flexible. The point of understanding topics and not having learned off essays or answers is that you can be flexible rather than rigid in exams. Tricky exam questions like to ask questions from new angles, and since you can't cover everything you have to be able to adapt.

Enlist help. Study groups tend to break down, but please don't be afraid to ask people for help with questions you can't do - friends or teachers. Odds are you can help your friends with something in return. We all have strengths and weaknesses. 

So there you go. I think that explains my exam philosophy pretty well. Good luck to everyone in your Junior and Leaving Certs. 



Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Review of Fifth Year

I have one day left of Fifth Year, which is crazy. We got the news today that our English exam and thus last day have been cancelled for the funeral, so I'm just going to review Fifth Year now and tomorrow I'll talk about my plans for the summer. I won't go through everything that happened because I'm saving that for my 2015 Review, so I'll just discuss how I found Fifth.

Anyway, enough introduction. 

I'll be honest, I had a hard time settling into Fifth Year. It's a huge step up from both TY and 3rd Year. It struck me on the first day that I had every class every day, which had never happened before. So few chances to delay homework. 

Maths was hard at first, too. Early in the year, the teacher gave us this big "fire-and-brimstone" talk about how hard it is and how we should all drop to Pass, but three classes of us went into Honours nonetheless. There's only one left after a lot of streaming. I love it now, but for the first month or so I couldn't do the homework at all, would understand it when we corrected it in class and then wouldn't understand the next night's homework and the cycle would repeat. It was a relief when that stopped. 

That's from someone who got an A1 in JC Maths. The pace definitely picks up.

Things were also different socially. I went from having 8 classes a day with one tightly-knit TY class to having having maybe two or three classes with any one person at maximum. Our form classes totally changed, so that I know only a couple of people in mine. I hang out in a completely different group at lunch because I've drifted from people. It's okay, but weird.

There were a lot of positive things socially, though. I made plenty of new friends this year and gained a lot of people I consider mentees - people younger than me in chess and Young Scientist. 

This year, I got even better acquainted with the school. I did of course get to know it well in TY (it happens when you're in the AV room at 4 a.m., or when you have to smuggle in pizza for Yearbook), but again with Young Scientist I spent most of Christmas break in school, eating in the staff room. I also lost any residual fear of authority I had after that break. 

I love the subject choices. While it bit me with History, I absolutely adore having Physics and Chemistry as full subjects. And it's really interesting to see other people's wide variety of interests. I have one friend who does both Art and Music, and another who does Chemistry and Economics - and then there are people who do Accounting or Home Ec or any of those subjects I hadn't even considered. Fascinating.

You have to study. I didn't study for my Junior Cert, apart from a week or two doing Maths before the exams and a little Music. In fairness, I did work hard during Second Year. But still, I did very little in 3rd Year and still got 8 As. That's a lot harder in 5th Year - you do have to study. I didn't until the parent-teacher meeting, when they made me. I had been getting As, Bs and the odd C, but with work I can get As and the odd B. I like how there's no stigma attached to studying now. It's not uncool anymore because it just has to be done. 

I adore being a senior. We were already whiteshirts in TY so we got to use the senior line and other privileges, but it's gotten even better now. Teachers aren't afraid to swear the odd time or talk straight with us, and they take us seriously and trust us (usually). I think that's a mark of a good teacher, being able to adjust your teaching for different levels. Some can't and are still too authoritarian. We also get responsibility, which can be nice.

I'm not quite ready to think about being a Sixth Year. I'm sure it will intensify the good things mentioned here, but as a teacher told me in my first week of school, "6th Year is a year of blood, sweat and tears." I hate how the teachers go on about how much pressure we'll be under - I think there'd actually be less pressure if they just stopped saying that.

Anyway, I'll try to get a bit organised before then (investing in some hardbacks instead of loose sheets would be a start) and make a good stab at it. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

My Nightmare of a ToDo list

I'm afraid today's post is just going to be me going on about how tired I am, neatly framed by complaining about my monstrous to-do list. And really, I am so tired. Two exams in one day (5 hours in total), plus project stuff, plus stuff for other projects, plus wow I'm not being very clear here, am I?

Let's get to the frame aka crutch.




So here's my To-Do list. I wasn't given the paper for my second exam today until really late, so I spent the time making the list much more intricate than usual. 1, 2 and 3 say how difficult I estimate the task to be (e.g. doing an exam paper is a 3, sending an email I've already written is a 1). The checkboxes really add to the feeling of satisfaction, and it's even better if I write down the time I completed the task but I don't always do that. I also made an order just to focus me because I was feeling overwhelmed. I didn't fully stick to it, but it helped, I think. C means the task requires using a computer, and I try to keep an eye on those so I don't get sucked into the Procrastination Machine. 

1. Irish exam

Hey, it may have been mandatory, but I was still going to write it down. I wanted that sense of accomplishment. I mean, what's the point of putting effort into something if I don't get to do that satisfying little tick? 

Then again, I didn't actually put that much effort in because I was exhausted and starving (so much so that I kept writing "luncht" instead of "lucht" - on three separate occasions). 

2. Transfer money

This is to pay for CTYI with money I earned writing. And oh man is it a pain in the neck.

3. Find/get new registration form

This is for school next year. I've lost the form with three days left to go before summer. Good job, me.

4. Group human problems, write causes, solutions

A few days ago, I made a list of the biggest problems I think face humanity today, and today I came up with causes and possible solutions for them. I know that sounds odd, but I didn't give my imagination any constraints and it was an interesting exercise, going after the causes instead of the symptoms. For example, one of the causes of "War" I wrote was "Borders", so the solution is to eliminate countries. A lot of them are more reasonable than that, but I wasn't going to introduce any constraints this early on.

5. Email AJ methods + reagents

This is for my research.

6. Blog post

Tada!

7. Brush hair

I know it's odd to write it down, but I'll forget otherwise.

8. Email Breanndán

Breanndán's from the Mill and I wanted his feedback on an idea I had. I'm getting less anxious when sending important emails, at last.

9. Write account of yesterday's meeting in Young Scientist notebook

Have to keep track of things, and that's my lab notebook.

10. Study chemistry (especially historical chemists and experiments)

I have not done this although I should, since I have a chemistry exam tomorrow morning. I'm just so tired. I did so some study in the past few weeks though, so hopefully I'll get through it okay (i.e. with an A2). Oh, wishful thinking.

11. Get medical form ready to send

This is for CTYI, and I've lost it. Sigh.

12. Send email about paper

I had a query about something I read in a journal article for my research. I emailed one of the authors, and to my surprise he responded almost immediately. He did pass me on, but it was still great. 

13. Study physics

I did this while waiting for my French exam paper, and only because I had nothing else useful with me. I just read through my notes, not taking much in.

14. Ask in office about cheque(s)

I won some money, but it has not appeared. Apparently I have to prove I won it, so I'm bringing in the proof tomorrow and hopefully I'll get it then.

15. Send choir diary

Choir teacher asked for the choir diary, which I'm supposed to have been keeping throughout the year. It's quite ... sparse. At least it's sent now.

16. Do French exam

I was given the exam only 25 minutes before school ended (it's supposed to be 2.5 hours), so I finished it at home. And no, I didn't cheat. That would be counterproductive.

I've done 13/16 things, leaving out the study and finding those forms because I can't. What an insight into my uber-exciting life, right?

_____________________________________________

I'm not going to talk about the death for fear of cheapening it, but my condolences to everyone who knew her. 


Monday, 25 May 2015

First Summer Exam and Second Meeting

I'm tired, so this might be short. I was very nervous about today because I had both my first summer exam (my least favourite subject, History) and a meeting with a professor to discuss the future of my research project (which I need to stop calling a Young Scientist project). 

I'm wary of talking too much about the meeting at this sensitive stage, but it went well and they were very enthusiastic, which was encouraging. I left school after History, having rescheduled the French exam to tomorrow, and M.O.R. drove me to the train station, we got the train together and then a Luas to the hospital where the group is based. Meeting complete, we did that in reverse and she dropped me home. On the way, we discussed a lot of things. She has so many stories to tell, it's great.

It feels really good to be making progress on the project. I've a good bit of work to do, but I don't mind that. I just hate indecision and being stuck. So this is good. 

The History exam was okay. I wasn't the biggest fan of the titles given, but they were doable. We had to do one essay each from the Ireland 1870-1914 and America post-WW2 sections, plus another from a section of our choice within those. I did one on Ireland (about steps taken for Home Rule between 1870 and 1886) and two on America (about the extent to which the American economy experienced boom and decline between 1945 and 1989, and about why the US lost the Vietnam war and the significance of the Moon landing). I was very satisfied with how I tied Vietnam and the moon landing together, I had a very fancy and dramatic introduction.

My essays were relatively short (all between 3 and 4 pages each) but in fairness, I had 3 of them to write in 150 minutes. I used three booklets. All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with how it went. I'm almost glad I didn't get many of the titles I wanted, because now I know I can deal with the harder ones. I don't know what grade I got, but I could reasonably get the A.

So today's been a success. I should really study for my French and Irish exams tomorrow, but that's unlikely to happen. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

One Month of the iPad

On Friday the 24th of April, exactly one month ago, I won an iPad mini from the Dept. of Education. You can read about the awards ceremony for that here, but this post is about my experience of the iPad.

Here's a picture of one of its screens, to get us started.



I really love that it's Mini. At first, I thought a Mini wouldn't be as good as a full-sized iPad, but this suits me perfectly. It was just the right size to carry around with me at Evolve Biomed, for example: it doesn't quite fit in one hand, but it's easily light enough to carry around while livetweeting.

I got addicted scarily fast. Remember, I've only had this iPad for one month, and yet it's rarely out of my reach. I bring it to school just so I can use it at lunch time, when it's technically not forbidden. Especially now that my laptop is barely usable thanks to its narcolepsy, it's the last thing I see before I go to sleep. 

I really appreciate the apps. I'm big into apps now, especially Twitter and Medium. Before this, the only app-capable device I had was the iPod, which is shattered and hopelessly behind on updates - it can't go any further than iOS 6.1, which means I couldn't get Dropbox, Skype, Hangouts and a lot of other popular apps. I play Spotify an awful lot now.

I love how up-to-date it is. Maybe a strange comment, but things on the iPad are pretty effortless. It can just do things, almost always, without  having to wonder whether it can handle the next update. It's a smart device, and just seems intuitive. 

It's pretty, but not stunning. I remember being amazed by the beauty of the tablet I won a year ago. That one was a Samsung Galaxy Tab and it was gorgeous. Image quality was just phenomenal, especially when it woke up onto the homescreen. I could just be jaded by now, but I didn't have that same astonishment with the iPad. It's still very pretty though, don't get me wrong.

There are some things it can't do. The iPad can't, for instance, use Codecademy (or rather, allow me to use Codecademy on it). I think that's because Apple devices don't have Flash, but that's a definite limitation. It's also a pain to type on (which was the case with the Galaxy Tab too), so I may consider investing in a keyboard for it. When I have to type something long, I have to go back to my narcoleptic laptop (three seconds after I wrote "narcoleptic laptop", the laptop killed itself. Twice. Suitable). The browser also isn't great, but I'm not sure how that could be fixed. 

In summary, I wouldn't have bought it with my own money, but I do love it. I think I always do that with any new technology I get, just start to identify with and love it. But this one is very handy. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Pros and Cons of Blogging Daily

This post is probably a little poorly-timed because I didn't blog yesterday, but on the whole I do blog daily so let's just go with the premise.

Just before I get into the post, I want to mention that votes are being counted as I write this in the Marriage Equality referendum in Ireland, and the Yes side is winning by a wide margin. Thanks so much to everyone who voted for the first time, everyone who came from overseas to vote, to the old people who weren't as prejudiced as we assumed, and to everyone else who voted for equality. I'm not one for nationalism, but today I'm very proud to be Irish - the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Pro #1: Routine

When I didn't blog daily, I blogged monthly. Literally - I had about one post per month in September, October and November. There's not much point having a blog like that unless your posts are really landmark. Those posts were jam-packed, yes, but they're not much good for me as I look back because they just don't contain enough information to jog my memory. I decided in early December to blog daily (which was a crazy decision, considering how stressed I was about Young Scientist at the time) and have kept up with that pretty well so far. 

In short: blogging daily is the best way to ensure I blog at all, because it forces me to keep to a schedule. Even if I want to soften it later, at least I've trained myself to do it now.

Con #1: Lower-Quality Content

I do try to avoid this, of course, but the truth is that truly stellar posts can take days or even weeks to write, especially if you're researching them. I've had a few posts that I feel I could really do more justice to if I spent another day writing, but I couldn't because that would mean missing a day. Also, if there's a day where I don't really have anything in particular to blog about, I end up writing a post that isn't great.

Pro #2: Truer-to-Life

If I'm only posting occasionally, I'm going to be giving a very edited version of my life, just posting about the awards ceremonies or amazing days. I feel like you get a much better picture of me as a person when you can see what my normal days are like too. I've definitely had some backlash from being honest here, but it's important to me to express myself. 

I'm sure I'll find some of this cringey when I'm older, but at least it won't be faux-cringey. I like authenticity.

Con #2: Hide good posts

Blogging daily means there's a frequent influx of new posts drowning out old ones. If someone happens to come onto my blog's homepage, they'll have to scroll to get to the best posts. If I blogged less often, the posts I'm most proud of could stay at the top of the page for longer. 


Pro #3: Build Audience

Blogging daily (or at least on a set schedule) builds a routine for my readers too. People aren't going to frequent a blog that's only sporadically updated, because there's no point. If they know they'll find something new every time they come, they're much more likely to become loyal readers. At least, that's been my experience.

Con #3: Hassle

Let's face it, it's not easy to blog daily - especially when you're like me, whose blog posts are usually anywhere from 500-2000 words long. That takes an hour to write, though it depends whether it's a descriptive account of my day (faster) or an opinion piece (slower). I have a lot of other demands on my time including school and research, so this isn't exactly a trivial pursuit. Blog posts don't write themselves, I have to sit down and put work into it.

Pro #4: Writing Experience

Writing any blog posts (unless they're extremely photo-heavy) is good writing experience, but blogging daily really helps with working on deadline. I used to write 1,000 words of fiction a day and that was good, but it could be total trash whereas this has to be better because the world can see it. Handy for freelancing and school. 

Con #4: Annoying

I don't know if anyone else thinks this, but I do worry that my daily blog-related Tweet annoys people and might make them less likely to click on it. It doesn't seem to have had too much of an impact yet, though. 

Conclusion

Those are some quick pros and cons of blogging daily. I have "Blog 90%+ of days until July 1st" as one of my goals, so I'm going to do that. Afterwards, though, I might blog every two or three days. I think by now I've established the habit. Anyway, we'll see.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Work Experience

Here's the lowdown on what it's like to do work experience in physics at UCD, astrophysics in Trinity, Biochemistry in DCU, journalism in The Irish Times, nanotech in AMBER (Trinity) and a commercial lab. As you can tell, I got a lot out of TY.

These are listed in chronological order. 

Biochemistry at DCU (October/November 2013)

This was my first work experience session in TY, so I was disorganized and had to grab something last minute. I ended up attending college lectures in DCU in a Biochemistry class. It was their first year, so I already understood what they were talking about (enzymes). I was there for a week, i.e. three days of the course, but that only ended up being two days because the lecturer didn't turn up one of the days.

It was alright, and I'm looking forward to college. I hope there's not too much of that introductory stuff though. 

I was accepted for work experience at IBM, but sadly couldn't get transport so that was out the window. If anyone's done the TY programme there, let me know how you got on in the comments or on Twitter.

UCD Physics

I applied to this one time and completely forgot it, only for my science teacher to make an announcement saying a mysterious someone had applied for the UCD TY Physics programme and been accepted. I went just in case so it must have been me.

Anyway, this one was amazing, I loved it. Five days in UCD (which has a wonderful science department), doing loads of different things. I'm sure I'm leaving lots of things out, but some elements I loved were the talks (loads, including past winner of Young Scientist and CERN scientist, and Tony Scott, founder of YS). We got talks on particle physics, vision, radioactivity, lots of things. Spectacularly interesting, I took loads of notes. 

We also did trips, including visits to Blackrock Clinic and an important space observatory (unfortunately, the telescopes were down for repair that day and it was raining. We had biscuits and hot chocolate instead). 

My favourite trip was to Blackrock Clinic, where we got to go down to the basement and learn about radioisotope tracers and go into the room with the cyclotron. Very cool. We made rockets and did experiments with superconductors using liquid nitrogen. Also, every morning at break we had biscuits in a cosy room at the university. 

Bonus: I made some really good friends. Shoutout to Niamh, Grainne and Andrew!

The Irish Times (February 2014)

I did a week here. To get work experience at The Irish Times, you need a contact there and/or an exceptional application. I had a distant contact. 

Like UCD Physics, this one wasn't really actual work experience, it was more a programme. We spent time in all the departments, including Editorial, Finance, IT, Marketing, MyHome.ie and Advertising. It was very cool. The computers had a little room all to themselves that the guy said had been designed to suit the computers, so it was cold etc. he also taught us about video game development. In Advertising we learned about prices for companies to place ads in The Irish Times in different sizes and locations. 

Finance was actually more interesting than I thought it would be, and I was the only one who could guess how much the CPM on the Irish Times website ad banner was (yay blogging). We came up with ideas for some things and had our work make it into the magazine. At one point, I and a few others went out with a journalist to doorstep Ruairi Quinn, I.e. Grab him coming out the door for a sound bite. I feel sorry for publicists. It was cool though, and I think the resulting article was on the front page the next day. It was an event about cyber bullying. 

We had to present a feature article we'd written at the end of the week. We also attended a board meeting of the journalists.

Bonus: free tea and copies of newspaper, cool people, boyfriend, that game of chess on the last day, fancy name cards and fancy lobby and generally fancy everything, view of the city from the seventh floor cafeteria.

I had a wonderful time, although I did get thoroughly lost and soaked getting there and back. 

Fitz Scientific Labs (February 2014)

This was my second and last school-mandated term of work experience. I chose a local analytical chemistry lab and worked there for two weeks. This was my only work experience where I was really working and doing the everyday jobs rather than being treated specially and shown around. It was awesome. Over the two weeks, I did a lot of dilutions, colorimetry, measuring various things very very precisely, sorting chemicals, washing and washing and washing, and generally being a lab technician. I loved it and was endlessly fascinated. The work was quite repetitive, so I think if I'd been there for more than a month I wouldn't have been so excited, but it was amazing for a few weeks. Love. I learned a lot of basic lab skills that were really handy and got a start on my YS project. 

Trinity Astrophysics

This was only one day long and was another programme. It occurred during fits so I took a day off for it. The same poor teacher had to run around looking for me to tell me I got accepted. Anyway, it was pretty good. We went up onto the roof and looked through the telescope, and catalogued sunspots. 

I think I would've preferred to do the Nanoscience option, considering my project. 

I saw Eric Finch's Powers of 10 lecture here, I think, possibly for the second time because it might've been at UCD too. It's a famous lecture, going from astrophysics to nanotech and beyond. 

AMBER - Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (November 2014)

Although this was a TY programme, I actually did it in fifth year. I was in the institute anyway working on my project so they just invited me along. This was really great, although I didn't get the full benefit from it because I only attended some parts (for instance, I skipped the Powers of 10 lecture and the Maker workshop because I was working in the lab). We toured labs at AMBER and CRANN, got a very cool lecture from this woman about graphene and did lots of trips. I loved the trips to RCSI and especially St. James' Hospital. We went to the Tissue Engineering labs at RCSI and got lectures and tours there, which were awesome. I loved going to St. James', because we toured the basement labs and there I met AJ and Laura Kickham, who are part of a research group I'll hopefully be working with on my project in future. AJ had been to CTYI too, which was awesome. We also had a commercialisation talk, among others. 

Great experience. 

Conclusion

Most of my work experience wasn't real work experience, but it was still fantastic and gave me a lot of valuable contacts and experience. Definitely one of the best parts of TY. My advice is to take whatever work experience you can get, even if it's outside your school's official dates, because this is more important and your school will probably understand. 




Wednesday, 20 May 2015

On the Radio (15 Minutes of Fame)

My principal pulled me out of Chemistry yesterday afternoon to show me an email she'd received saying I was wanted on LMFM Radio to talk about 'your recent achievement' i.e. winning Drogheda Young Innovators last Friday. I'd be interviewed alongside someone from the Mill, which hosted the competition. I was definitely nervous about simplifying my work for the layman and speaking live on radio, but I said yes and went back to Chemistry. Last night, I quickly wrote down what I was going to say in response to some common questions. 

Then today I had to find someone to come with me, as. the Vice-Principal would be giving me a lift to the radio station. I brought Tierney but the VP took a while, so I was late. When I got there, the presenter told me I was on air in two minutes and to come straight through. They'd feared I wouldn't  turn up.  

Apparently the guy from the Mill, Brendan, was glad I did, because he didn't know how to explain my project himself. I sat down in the recording room and was told to take off my coat and settle down. There was music playing so we weren't on air.  I folded my hands on the desk to stop me disgusting and kept glancing over at Tierney. I know it's not that big of a deal, but I was nervous. It was my first time, after all. 

The presenter talked to Brendan first about the aims of the mill and entrepreneurship in the area. Then he introduced me as 'Ellen' and said I was in TY, neither of which were right. As I said on Twitter, I'll consider myself a success when people get my name right first time. He asked me about my project and I think I explained it pretty well. He then asked some questions I hadn't anticipated, like why I entered the competition (I blathered on for a bit about how I did it last year and then complimented the competition a lot). He asked where I was going next, and he didn't seem satisfied with my answer but oh well. Tierney said afterwards it seemed like I wasn't nervous at all, so thanks Tierney, you're the best. 

The interview lasted literally fifteen minutes, which was funny. Afterwards they took some photos of me and Brendan, which they then Tweeted. 



The Mill also Tweeted something very nice, so thanks guys. Glad I succeeded on that count. 




During the interview, Brendan said he hopes I can follow in Anna's footsteps and represent Ireland in America. I'd love that. Strange to hear it phrased like that though. After the photos, Brendan dropped us back to the school and we put the boards back. The cheques will arrive tomorrow, apparently.

In conclusion. I'm relieved. That radio interview went fine, and for once it's something I'm not worried about. Cheers to all the LMFM crew. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Women in STEM

This is another one of those posts where I try to work out my opinions on something I'm conflicted about. Looks like you're in for a fun ride - if, that is, I can get rid of this headache.

So, a few things have led me to blog about this, finding out about the Intel Women in STEM college scholarship being the main one. I started looking up stuff about affirmative action and the information available was very unclear, so hopefully I'm right in what I think it is - going easy on disadvantaged groups in terms of college admissions etc. Giving them some leeway.

Now, it's a pity I can't find that speech I wrote for Soroptimists, because that laid out my opinion on a similar issue (gender quotas in business and politics). I was staunchly against the motion, and I'm against this as well. 

Disclaimer for the Tumblr people: yes, I'm privileged in some ways (white, cis, able) so it's easier for me to refuse affirmative action than it would be for some other people. And let's face it, I'm going to apply for the scholarship because my selfishness/pragmatism beats my idealism up behind the bikeshed, but here's how I feel about artificial advantages for women. 

In short, insulted. 

I personally have this weird aversion to being unfairly helped. I'm exceedingly preoccupied with both justice and independence, and absolutely hate feeling vulnerable, so I refuse to be victimized. 

Essentially, my opinion is - and this spans across a lot of the gender gap thing and other problems for women - is that yes, it probably is harder for women. But that means we just have to work harder and quit moaning. I plan to be so colossally rich that I escape this typical wage situation and become entirely financially independent, just so you know. Wage gap solved (well, for me). 

This is terribly structured. I'll probably fix it up at some point.

I'm not sure how I feel about the disproportionate amount of boys in STEM courses and careers. I hear all this stuff about how it's an unwelcoming environment for women, but eventually I do start wondering if women just aren't (on average) suited for STEM. I know many of us are, but I mean as a whole. I know this sounds sacrilegious and awful, but I don't want to ignore any possibilities just because I'm so biased (you know, since I am a woman/girl). "Girls are being discouraged" just doesn't hold water for me. I know everyone is different (I hate all these disclaimers), but i can't imagine letting people whose opinions I don't care about influence whether or not I do something I love. Again, boys have it easier, but we all know girls are tougher anyway. Hard work never killed anyone (that's a total lie, have you never heard of Marathon?). Let's all be Hermiones.

I hear girls in my class talking about their weddings and what kind of ring they want and what the Kardashians do and sure, they can do whatever they want, it's their life, but I'm in an all-girls school and there are so few people interested in science. There's also the fact that my school doesn't offer Engineering or Tech Graphics, which is another problem altogether. 

(This writing is remarkably tangential, but I'm tired.)

Back to affirmative action. It's just so condescending, and quite simply unfair. I'm mostly avoiding race because I don't have experience there, but I've read articles saying that in America black and Latino students can get in on much lower scores than white kids, and Asian kids are held to even higher standards. I mean, that's literally racism, holding different races to different standards. Aren't you literally just saying you think black and Latino people are less capable then?

I know, I know, the justification is that maybe they grew up in a poor area or something similar - to get back to gender, that they were discouraged from pursuing STEM - but you really haven't earned your place if accomodations were made for you based on something you can't control but that you can adapt for. 

Life isn't fair, deal with it. 

Again, I'm still going to take advantage of the relative lack of women for my own selfish purposes, but if you really must compensate, please find a way to do it that doesn't feel like the benevolent hand of the patriarchy forcibly laying out a space for us. Independent women my ass, if that's the case.

I suppose the real question is, do the ends justify the means? That's one I can't definitively answer. More women in STEM is a good thing, and I'm alright with prizes etc. that are only open to women (because I'm annoyed about the lack of female Professors, that sort of thing) but the term "Women in STEM" is really starting to irk me.

If you really accepted us in STEM, you wouldn't constantly have to point to us as tokens like "look how diverse we are!". I'd rather by respected on the basis of my achievements. 

So, in the end, I can't really blame initiatives to help women in STEM. They have noble ideals. I could say "I just wish they didn't have to exist", but that would be ducking out. I think people should stop treating women in STEM like an exotic species and work on getting the hell out of the way because I'm coming.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Unheroic Age

“We live in an unheroic age...” Write a speech against or in favour of this quote.
- My English homework.

Compared to the ancient societies of our world, and indeed to those prior to the twentieth century, our society certainly lacks clear heroes and idols. However, I don’t believe that we live in an “unheroic age” - in fact, exactly the opposite: we are living in an age of more heroes than ever before. The difference is that now, rather than worshipping a few divine-seeming idols, we are positively surrounded by little heroes.

A “little hero” could be anyone, and that’s often the point. They are us, people we identify with, people who exemplify the American Dream. Our culture’s heroes are celebrities, but not necessarily the traditional kind. Through work or talent or luck, they exalt themselves above us and allow us to follow in their footsteps. We don’t really care about morals; we care about novelty, anything to distract us from our comfortable, monotonous lives.

So we propel the man who found a stolen iPhone to China-wide fame, we watch people dance with their cats, we obsess over Twitter trends, we invite titles for ourselves. Our heroes are little because they have to be. Inexorable technological progress and the movement of time wipe feats away faster than ever before. Thanks to the internet and instantaneous worldwide communication, legends cannot survive. In ancient times, heroic tales were told through myth and legend, and endured centuries gradually evolving with the society. The person didn’t matter so much as the story. Things have drastically changed. We can now fact-check almost anything at the touch of a button, and we no longer learn from scrolls or oral stories. We learn from an interactive medium, the internet, that we shape even as it shapes us. From fifty decades of fame, to fifteen minutes, to today’s fifteen seconds: there are so many of us in the world, so much happening, that we cannot all give attention to any one person or thing.

We couldn’t have an Isaac Newton today. Instead, we have legions of everyday scientists working in times. Individual heroes like Einstein or the aforementioned Newton have been made impossible by the advanced state of science. Everything is fragmented. Fields have their own heroes, their own seminal writers. You don’t know who made the field of bioinformatics possible and I don’t know the profound impact Russian writers have had on Eastern European literary tradition, to give a hypothetical example. In short, we lack unity. 

In the late 1960s, we found in the space race something we could all care about. This was humanity’s great frontier, leaving our planet - but even then, all the everyday heroes were there unnoticed in the constrol room while we focused on Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins. The human mind can’t understand scale, because it works in story. We needed a focal point, and the three astronauts of Apollo 11 became that point. 

Now, we don't have even that. The last manned Moon mission occurred in 1973 and people don't care about regular trips to the ISS. In response, we crowdsource inspiration. It reduces the pressure on idols of old, and disperses responsibility. 

There was more to the essay, but it's dark so I'm not typing it up. If you want more, just ask. I'm still working on a decent blog post about affirmative action.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sraith Pictiúr

I really need to study for my Irish orals tomorrow, so this post is going to be in Irish. Deal.

The website won't let me download the actual pictures, so I'm just going to title them and go from there.

Bua sa chomórtas Raidió

Bhi Liam ina shuí ina seomra codlata ag léamh nuair a chuala sé fógra faoi chomórtas ar an Raidió. Bhí an ceist éasca, agus bhí dhá thicéad do cheolchoirm U2 ar fáil. Ba bhreá le Liam U2; bhí postéar U2 ar a bhalla. 

Bhí an freagra aige. Sheol sé téacs chuig an stáisiún chomp tapaigh is a bhí sé ábalta ach níorbh a fhios aige an raibh sé tapa go leor.

Bhí sé ag léamh arís nuair a chuala sé a hainm ón raidió. Bhí sé fógraithe mar bhuaiteoir na chomórtais (I made up that phrase). Bhí áthas an domhain air.

Díreach, sheol sé téacs chuig a chara Sinéad. D'inis sé an deascéal di agus thug sé cuireadh di dul leis go dtí an ceolchoirm.

Ceolchoirm den scoth a bhí ann. Chaith siad an oíche ag damhsa agus ag canadh, agus bhí a lán spraoi acu. Ba bhreá leo an ceol. 

Tar éis an ceolchoirm, d'ith siad borgaire agus thosaigh said ag caint faoin gceolchoirm. Cheap Liam go raith an amhrán nua go hiontach. Dúirt Sinéad "go raibh maith agat" dó.

Someone please kill me. That's only one of them, there are four or five more.

Tá sé in am tosú ag obair!

Chonaic Mamaí Seán a thuarisc scoile agus bhí fearg uirthi. Fuair sé D i nGaeilge agus i Stair. Ní raibh seo maith go leor. 

Thug sí cuairt dá sheomra codlata. Bhí sé ag imirt cluichí ríomhaire. Ní raibh sé ag déanamh aon staidéar ar bith. Thug sí amach dó.

Ansin, chuir sí glaoch ar an príomhoide. Bhí eagla ar Seán.

Bhuail an triúr acu le chéile in oifig na príomhoide agus rinne sé plean. Bhí ar Seán na rudái seo a déanamh chun feabhas a chur ar a obair. Ní raibh Seán sásta.

Rinne Seán a lán dul chun cinn. Thosaigh sé ag staidear go dian agus ní dhearna sé cur amú ama arís. Bhí a ríomhaire múchta agus bhí leabhair timpeall leis.

Nuair a tháinig an direadh tuairisc scoile, bhí deascéal inti. Bhí a mháthair sásta mar fuair sé A agus B. Lig sé osna faoiseamh as. 

Madra ar Strae

Fuair Liam téacs ó Síle. Bhí a madra imithe agus bhí sí trí chéile. Dúirt sé go raibh sé ar a mbealach di. 

Thug Liam barróg mór dí nuair a bhuail siad le chéile. Bhí sí ag caoineadh. D'inis sí dó cad a tharla agus rinne sé cupán tae di. Smaoineadh siad ar phlean chun an madra a fháil ar ais.

Chuir siad an scéal sna meain chumarsáide. Bhí fógra curtha amach ar an raidió agus ar an suíomh idirlíon Facebook. Chomh maith leis sin, sheol siad téacs chuig a chairde. Scríobh siad déan cur síos ar an madra, Jojo, agus d'fhág siad uimhir telefón. Cá raibh Jojo?

Chuaigh siad amach ar an sráid agus glaoigh siad ainm Jojo. Go tobann, chuala Síle a fón ag sonnadh sa póca.

Bhí nuacht maith ann. Bhí Jojo ag fear éigin. D'inis Síle an deascéal le Liam. 

Chonaic an fear Jojo san ionad siopadóireachta. Lean Jojo an fear nuair a bhí sé ag fágáil an áit. Bhí áthas an domhain ar Síle. Bhí áthas ar a tuismitheoirí freisin, ach dúirt siad go raibh uirthi bheith níos curamaí sa todhchaí. 

An Gaeilge - seoid luachmhar agus cuid dár gcultúr

Bhí Séan agus Liam ag siúl nuair a chonaic said siopa ceoil. Bhí fógra sa fhuinneog as Gaeilge. Ba mhaith leo sin. Shocraigh siad an Gaeilge a chur chun cinn. 

Chuaigh siad ar an idirlíon agus fuair siad eolas ar an nGaeltacht. 

Chuaigh siad go dti an Gaeltacht I rith an tsamhraidh agus bhi a lan spraoi acu. Bhuail siad le chairde nua agus chaith siad a lan ama ag damhsa, ag seinm ceoil agus ag canadh. D'imir siad sport nuair a bhi an ghrian ag scoilteadh na gcloch. 

Chomh math leis sin, d'usaid siad meain chumarsaide Gaeilge. D'eist siad ar Raidio na Gaeltachta agus d'fheach siad ar TG4. 

D'aithin an scoil a n-iarracht math an Gaeilge a chur chin cinn agus thug an priomhoide gradam doibh. 

Two more to go. I'm no longer putting fadas in, autocorrect hates Irish enough as it is. 

Tine sa Teach

Bhi Maire ag siul abhaile on diosco ag a haon a chlog ar maidin. Mi Nollaig a bhi ann, agus bhi se ag cur sneachta. Bhi Maire preachta leis an bhfuacht. Nuair a shroich si an teach, chuir si a lamha os comhair an tine. 

Bhi ocras uirthi agus chuaigh si isteach sa chistin. Thosaigh si ag cocaireacht scealloga ar an sorn. 

D'fhan si le na scealloga ar feadh tamaill, ach bhi si an-tuirseach. Ba bhrea uirthi dul ina lui ar feadh noimead amhain. Afach, thit si ina codladh. Thosaigh tine sa chistin. 

Dhuisigh tuismitheoiri Maire. Bhi an ait dubh le deatach. Chuir a hathair glaoch ar na seirbhisi eagandala agus duisigh a mathair i. 

Thainig an brigoid doitean gan mhoill agus mhuch siad an tine. Cuireadh Maire ar shintean. 

Dhuisigh Maire san ospideal. Bhi uirthi cupla la a caitheamh ann ach bheadh si ceart go leor. Afach, bhi an teach scriosta. 

Gadaiocht ar an Traein

D'fhag tuismitheori Sarah agus Aine iad sa staisiun traenach Corcaigh. Bhi siad ag dul go Gailleamh. I cant spell that word. 'Bi curamach' arsa a dtuismitheoiri. 

Shui siad sios ar an dtraein. Chuir Sarah a mala agus a sparan ar an mbord agus thog Aine a riomhaire amach. Thosaigh Sarah ag leamh. 

Bhi siad tuirseach, agus thit siad ina codladh. Ghoid an fear a bhi in aice leo an sparan agus d'fhag se. 

Nuair a dhuisigh siad, bhi an sparan imithe. Bhi iontas orthu. Cheap siad gur thit se ar an urlar, ach ni raibh se le feiceail i ngach aon ait. 

D'inis siad an sceal le cigire a bhi ann. Chuir an cigire glaoch ar na Gardai. Fuair na Gardai an fear agus thug siad an sparan ar ais ag Sarah. Lig si osna faoiseamh aisi. 


That was terrible, thank god it's over. Now the English essay, Physics,  study for French oral... i really can't be bothered