Books about PhDs

I was wondering whether anyone has any recommendations for books about getting/doing a PhD. I am now reading The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research and it is very good, so I’d happily recommend it – it is one of those books that helps you see the underlying order in what appears to be the chaos going on around you.

For my domain of study Writing for Computer Science: The Art of effective Communication is also essential reading.

How to be a successful PhD student

Diagram of the gown, hood and bonnet used in g...
Diagram of the gown, hood and bonnet used in graduation/presentation ceremonies of Ph.Ds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is buy a soft backed note book.

Well, there is a bit of presumption going on here. I am not a successful PhD student as ultimately that is a binary thing: a successful PhD student is one who gets the doctorate. I have not even begun an experiment yet.

But I do feel like I am making progress like never before because of the soft-backed notebooks in my life.

To explain further I will use an analogy. When you are expecting your first child everyone says “it will change your life”. It is said so frequently it becomes boring and you think, every time you are told it – “as if I didn’t know”.

But when you have your first child you realise very quickly  just why everyone said that same thing to you – because it will change your life. They didn’t tell you enough of how deep and fundamental that change is.

So when you start your PhD everyone says “takes notes as you go along” and you think “of course”. But you don’t do it properly. You mix your notes up with everything else in this or that notebook and then months later you come back and think “what does that paper say again – these notes are a mess”.

And then you realise that you must have the notebook with you every time you read a paper and that notebook is your most important possession. And then you start to get it right…

Why operating system research matters

Se below
Image via Wikipedia

By 2020 home computing devices in the UK will be consuming around 7 Terra Watt Hours (TWh) of electricity every year: it was just 1 TWh in 1990.

Consumer electronic devices, all of which will be running some software and many of which will have what can loosely be described as an operating system, will be eating a massive 22 TWh, almost double where they were in 1990.

Essentially this rise of the computing machines more than matches the falls in electricity use that come from technological improvements in domestic lighting and refrigeration over this time.

Hardware improvements – more MIPS per Watt – plainly are not enough to control the growth of computing-driven power consumption.

Operating systems research has been seriously neglected in our universities in recent years (and I do not just mean in the UK): maybe that ought to be reconsidered and urgently.

How systems order their storage accesses, how they handle virtual memory, sequence their access to the network, and many more questions besides have a big impact on computing power use. And, at 29 TWh, just a 1% saving would lighten domestic bills by about £30 million. And that excludes the positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

(There is a Guadian article about this but I cannot see it on their website yet – when I can I’ll link to it.)

University of Hertfordshire

University of Hertfordshire. This building hou...
Image via Wikipedia

I went to the University of Hertfordshire’s postgraduate open day today – a couple of strange feelings about the trip for political reasons – the one previous time I had been on the campus was when I had a not every pleasant encounter with the Revolutionary Socialist League/Militant Tendency controlled student Labour club of what was then Hatfield Polytechnic at the very end of 1987, and on the way there I suddenly realised I was walking down the same street where I had spent the afternoon “knocking up” for Labour on 1 May 1997.

But my trip today was nothing to do with politics: I was simply checking them out as a potential PhD institution. It was a long way to go for a five-minute conversation, though it was still worth it as it clarified for me that I should concentrate my efforts on getting the MSc project done and not worry about a PhD just yet.

I was quite impressed by the university, though, for a few reasons. Firstly, most of the main campus is built in a particular civic style popular in Britain in the late 1940s, early 1950s: low rise vernacular brick and glass I am going to call it as I don’t know any better. It’s a style I like because to me it suggests optimism and endeavour and public spirit after the huge financial and other hardships of the war – a war in which Britain’s willingness to sacrifice its finances was absolutely fundamental to the global victory over fascism and militarism.

Secondly, because they told a good tale of how they believe they are the best of the “new universities” and that they have backed up that claim by investing significantly in their infrastructure – they also said they run the largest university bus service in the world: so the Chinese are not beating Britain on every superlative yet!