1.0 / by Callum Lamont

Well here we go. First official post. Better make it a good one.. For those not in the loop, I'm leaving Melbourne behind to begin my PhD in London. This has been in the works for quite some time but I suppose it finally feels like my trip (new life?) has begun. Currently somewhere in the air between Melbourne and Dubai, I've started typing this with my legs stretched out at what is 3:44am back in home. This post will probably be completed over the next 24-48 hrs so expect the writing quality to wax and wane with my sleep deprivation/jet lag.

 

As one would expect when uprooting their life and moving to a new city, the last week has been pretty chock-a-block, with two mates down from Sydney to catchup with, Christmas, The Boxing Day Test, final good byes to family and friends, as well as last minute preparations for my flight. A slight delay in departure means I might not get into London before sundown (i.e. 4pm). And by the time this is up it will surely be 2016. For now I can only speculate what the rest of 2015 holds... Mostly transit by the looks of it though. This may not have been the most ideal time to start this blog as not much has actually happened yet. Sat in airport, sat in plane. But with so much free time I figured I might as well. I reckon then I can use the rest of this as a bit of a Q&A about this decision to move to the UK. 

 

Why a PhD

I have friends who could not be happier to have finished school or uni. That is a feeling I can't totally appreciate, as I've always enjoyed learning. That is to say I've always enjoyed learning about things I'm interested in. Even since finishing uni I find myself reading articles and completing online courses, as I get bored just hanging around watching TV (unless we're talking about The Wire). While there is a certain attraction to taking what I've learnt and making some decent money with it, I don't feel that it's right for me.. just yet... When applying for grad jobs I couldn't help shake the feeling of being a bit of a sell out. The feeling might also have been attributed to me applying to companies I wasn't particularly interested in, nor thought were doing much good for the world (I'm looking at you Big Oil). But the idea which really persuaded  me was that there are so many interesting things waiting to be discovered and developed, and I'd love to get up close to the action while I afford the salary sacrifice

 

What field and work are you doing

An area which I has been a growing interest of mine over the past few years is neuroprosthetics. This includes everything from hearing aids to bionic eyes and nerve stimulators. I naturally came across this in my studies as it involves a strong crossover between materials science and engineering and biomedicine. It also came up a bit in my meanderings on the internet as the Australian Prof. Graeme Clark had a large part in the invention of the cochlear implant. The immediate response I get from my mates when I mention this field is "oh.. like cyborgs", which when I mention the applications of my project doesn't sound too far from the truth. 

 

The group I'm working in largely focuses on neural interfaces which can communicate with peripheral nervous system. These differ in many respects to those that interact with the central nervous system (i.e brain), of which their are already a few commercial examples, meaning there are many advancements still to be made. The possibility to stimulate and record signals from these nerves offer a whole range of potential uses. The most exciting, and most science fictiony, is to use one's native motor signals to control an external prosthetic limb (very cool for amputees).

 

Why the UK

The real question here is why not Australia. Don't get me wrong, I love Australia. I love the miserable Melbourne winters, the brutal heat of the summers, the snobbery of the coffee and our perfected banknotes (take notice England). However, graduates of my degree, and I'm sure many others, have been disappointed by the slim pickings on offer for those eager to get into anything science and techy in Australia. The small amount of high end manufacturing is dominated by SMEs with seemingly little investment into ongoing R&D. Now this in no way makes it impossible to get a job at one of these places, however I would have to imagine it reduces the chances for a freshly minted graduate in comparison to one with a decade of experience stuffed into their CV. 

 

So why not Australia? Because I would very well likely have to get a job overseas anyway following the completion of my PhD. Also, why the heck/hell not? I have nothing tying me to Melbourne at the moment and have a lot of good friends already living in Europe. I'm all for making new experiences and actively oppose following the path of least resistance. 

 

That's about it for the Q&A and for post 1.0! I'll try keeping this updated on a semi-regular basis. Maybe once a week, or per interesting event. In the meantime, feel free to have a peruse around the rest of the venue.