Meet emerging research star: Carlos Mora

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Carlos and his youngest daughter, Estela.

Back in March 2019, I received an email out of the blue regarding a researcher in the Canary Islands, Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora, looking to recruit a mentor.

Specifically, Carlos wanted help writing a fellowship proposal to conduct Engineering Education Research on social responsibility, and he had contacted a Special Interest Group I work with as a member of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). This particular group studies Educational Research Methods and I’d mentioned at a meeting in 2018 that I was looking to help/host prospective fellows in Engineering Education Research.

Because Carlos was proposing a topic I have been studying for Engineers without Borders UK, I jumped at the chance to help. I emailed him right away and we set to work.

Carlos emailed me a copy of a proposal he’d previously submitted, and as I’ve successfully secured the funding under this scheme twice before, I reverted with more feedback and strategic advice.

Carlos and I worked tirelessly from March until the deadline for our target program in mid-September.

It was a grueling process, but Carlos is extremely hard-working. I must say that Carlos enthusiastically accepted every ounce of critique that I and my colleagues doled out, and he used it to improve his plans and ideas. The ability to welcome criticism is rare but so very important. It’s one of the most important skills I learned in architecture school! Carlos has it, too!

To make sure Carlos had the best chance to win funding, I assembled a team of superstar researchers and advisors. Their job: to poke holes in all his arguments and make sure the content was in the right places (ie, the places the evaluators will expect to find them while they are scoring his work).

I was elated with the results. In all, I believe we have an excellent chance of receiving funding to conduct research together–I as his mentor/supervisor/PI and he as a full-time research fellow working aside me at TU Dublin, hopefully starting in August 2020.

The text of the proposal is exceptional. The scientific merit is clear, the work plan is strong, the planned secondment is second to none, and the early-stage researcher has shown outstanding promise. He has a dedicated mentor by his side–one who is working hard to build her own research record and raise the visibility and credibility of EER globally.

Since we submitted in mid-September, Carlos has already secured some financial support from his own university to start some of the work.

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Visiting London’s Carnaby Street with the Mora family

Though al that is exciting, we are currently in the no-mans-land called the grant evaluation period. Researchers work for months on end to craft a research proposal. They send it off with the greatest of hope in their hearts. And then they wait and wait, and wait–often at least half a year–to hear back.

Typical success rates for the program we’ve requested run 9-14%.

What to do while waiting? Celebrate!

After we got the proposal submitted, Carlos brought his family up to London from the Canaries to meet me. Carlos and I held a work meeting on the first day of their stay.

This was the first trip off their Islands for the Mora kids, and I was delighted to be part of their big adventure. (The whole family has been getting excited about the possibility of spending a couple years in Dublin! They came to London this time since it’s where I am currently working.)

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Pre-dinner photo shoot. Beautiful food!

I planned one of the four days of their visit, and, as usual, I packed too much in. We all did new things–I’d never eaten Ramen before but Celia said it would be “a dream come true” so we all agreed!

Our lively chatter silenced when the food arrived for dinner.

We soon unanimously agreed again: we will be eating Ramen together again in Dublin ASAP. It was delicious!

The photo album below starts with a photo from the Canaries and another taken at the airport–Carlos sends me family updates regularly and it’s fun seeing the kids grow!

 

 

 

Wedding Weekend with Nigerian-British Flair

Engagement photo of Folashade and Damilola.

My beautiful and intelligent colleague, Dr. Folashade Olayinka (who I traveled to Johannesburg with 1.5 years ago to teach a Master Class) decided to marry her beloved Dr. Damilola Olaniyi last weekend, so on Saturday, November 9, 2019, I headed for the Putney Bridge tube bright and early. It was a cold day, but bright and full of energy.

My own beloved Aongus walked me to the station. Even though the invite was just for one, he wanted to set me off on the right course for the weekend.

At Liverpool Street Station, I met up with my best Plus-None, Dr. Inês Direito, and we head off for Chelmsford by train, excited for a new adventure.

When we arrived in Chelmsford, our room wasn’t quite ready at The County Hotel, but we found space to change into wedding attire–with “Colours of the day” specified as “Emerald Green & Gold” we did our best not to clash!

We taxied from the Hotel over to All Saints Church on Church Lane, Writtle, Chelmsford CM1 3EN, UK for the Church of England ceremony, held in a historic venue and officiated by a pastor who delivered an informative lesson on love, and in quite an interesting way.

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The Nyamapfenes, Abel and Tari, with Inês and me at the church.

Our colleague Dr. Abel Nyamapfene had already arrived with his lovely wife, Tari.

Inês and I had a ball getting to know her. Considering we arrived at 12:20 and the bride marched down the aisle at 1:40, we had ample time to get to know each other–and I assure you we had a delightful time doing that in such a lovely and lively setting. I look forward to seeing Tari again some day.

During the ceremony, from my seat along the outer wall of the side nave, I was able to see the exchange of vows. I had never realized quite how much Neo-Gothic columns limit paritioners’ viewing angles. Thanks to my colleague Dr. Fiona Truscott, and the book she lent me on English architecture, “A Lust for Windowsills” by Harry Mount, I was able to discern that this church is, specifically, “perpendicular Gothic“. A nice treat to be in such a space for a celebration of marriage! I recognized the last song and happily sang along, despite being chronically out-of-tune.

Hylands House, the reception venue. (Photo copied from the couple’s wedding page.)

The reception was held at the beautiful and elegant Hylands House on London Road, Writtle, Chelmsford CM2 8WQ, UK.

 

Graduation pic of Dami and Shade. Doctors of Engineering!

At the reception, we learned many things, and we got to watch video of the wedding ceremony the couple had in Nigeria (prior to this ceremony here in England). Incidentally, the newlyweds were both born here in Britain, of parents born in Nigeria. They have lived here all their lives, but visit Nigeria frequently. I sometimes say Shade is the most British person I know!

During the toasts, we learned that Shade was born at University College London (UCL) Hospital, on the campus where she and I worked together until she moved to Queen Mary University of London. She completed all her higher education degrees at UCL. Her new husband, Dami, also earned his doctorate in engineering at UCL. In fact, the two met at UCL in 2011. Their subjects are slightly different, however, as Shade has a doctorate in Chemical engineer, while I believe Dami’s doctorate is in aeronautical engineering.

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The newlyweds

During the meal, Inês and I had the pleasure of sharing a table with the PhD supervisor for each of the two. Shade’s supervisor, Professor/Dr. Eva Sorenson had attended the SEFI 2018 conference with Inês and me in Copenhagen and I sat beside her at the gala of that event, just after she’d been recognized with the biggest award of the conference. I’m getting used to siting among the stars!

Both supervisors got specific call-outs from the couple and the family during toasts–how cool! It looks like you can make a real difference in someone’s life as their PhD supervisor. I hope that’s me someday. (My first PhD supervisee just passed the final threshold before his PhD viva, slated for August 2020–very excited about all that!)

Following dinner, a grand Nigerian buffet, we enjoyed cake and some dancing.

Eventually we headed by taxi for the hotel for some Zs.

 

 

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With Emanuela and family!

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

After a quick walk to the station and an easy train trip back to London, I made my way back to Putney to meet up with Aongus, who’d had to work Sunday, morning until noon.

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Flowers!

I arrived at the flat first, and when Aongus arrived he brought a lovely bouquet for me! I was delighted to find I’d been missed by this incredible man. It’s a pleasure to be surrounded with so much love and support.

Thanks so very much to Shade and Dami for including Inês and me in this–the biggest day of your lives. You make a lovely couple and you seem so comfortable and happy together. Your families seem so warm and supportive, and it looks like they provide great models for healthy interactions and long-lasting love. Your ceremony was beautiful and touching. The bridal party was full of vitality and was beautifully attired (love those bridesmaid dresses!). The toasts were heartfelt. The venues were such a pleasure to experience. The dancing, rituals, and outfits had a distinctly Nigerian flair that was a treat to behold.

It was all so beautiful and festive! And we were so lucky to be there!

#DaSh2019, 9.11.19

Learning London: Celebrating St. Patrick

We’ve had a lovely St. Patrick’s weekend here in central London.

Yesterday, we visited the National Portrait Gallery to see “Only Human” by photographer Martin Parr. After lunch at Chipotle, some gelato and hot chocolate to honour my dad, and a quick break at The Courthouse Hotel, we got to the Photographers’ Gallery for the last hour (for free entry!) to view a show I’d found don Time Out and another to boot.

We ended Saturday at Backyard Comedy with four hilarious comedians.

Our Art Fund pass and memberships with Tate and Backyard are really paying off!

We learned a lot this weekend about being British, thanks in no small part to Martin Parr. Here’s a selection of photos from yesterday:

Today, we breakfasted beside Whitechapel Gallery, walked to the Tower of London, took the boat down to Embankment and walked to Tate Britain. We visited two photographers’ exhibitions–seeing the second half of photojournalist Don McCullin’s show (we hadn’t allotted enough time in our first visit). Then we took a double decker bus over to Trafalgar Square, enjoyed lunch at Thai Spice, and took in the last hour of the city-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day music festival.

While it feels surreal to sing Irish Republican songs in Trafalgar Square, particularly because it’s not considered entirely kosher to sing such songs in Dublin these days, we truly felt our love for Ireland by singing along–without having to love London any less!

Ireland’s Call by Phil Coulter 

Come the day and come the hour

Come the power and the glory

We have come to answer Our Country’s call

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Ireland, Ireland

Together standing tall

Shoulder to shoulder

We’ll answer Ireland’s call

From the mighty Glens of Antrim

From the rugged hills of Galway

From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Hearts of steel, and heads unbowing

Vowing never to be broken

We will fight, until We can fight no more

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

Aongus and I were making the most of our last day together for a while. I’m heading home to Virginia help my Dad who hasn’t been well.

We ended the day at the Blind Beggar, site of a notorious gang murder long ago (see the plaque for further explanation). I’d not been there before, despite it being just blocks from our London home.

Photos from today:

 

Directors of TU Dublin’s MSc in Transport + Mobility Visit UCL to Compare Notes

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When my colleagues at Technological University Dublin announced to me they were launching a new Master’s degree in Transport and Mobility (student handbook available here), I immediately invited them over to London to meet my supervisor, Professor Nick Tyler, who is a leading expert in transportation design, particularly where accessibility and mobility are concerned. He advises cities worldwide about their transportation systems, and in the Queen’s 2011 New Year’s Honours ceremony, Nick was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for Services to Technology. That followed an earlier appointment to OBE. As an American, I wasn’t quite sure what all this meant, but Wikipedia provided me a handy primer:

The five classes of appointment to the Order are, in descending order of precedence:

  • Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)
  • Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE)
  • Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)
  • Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
  • Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) –Quoted from Wikipedia,

Overall, I wanted my Dublin colleagues to learn about how Nick teaches his Master’s level module on their MSc topic, to see the research center he has built that is named PAMELA, and to encounter Nick’s epic personality and his can-do, ger-her-done spirit.

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Shannon Chance hosting TU Dublin’s Sinead Flavin, Roisin Murray, Lorraine D Arcy, and David O Connor

 

Four colleagues from TU Dublin took me up on the offer and traveled over to University College London this past Monday to meet with Nick and other world-leading researchers and experts in transportation, accessibility, and spatial planning.

The aim of the visit was for TU Dublin staff to get advice on starting their new degree program and to identify potential projects and research where they could collaborate in the future. The delegation from TU Dublin included:

David and Lorraine are co-chairs of the new MSc in Transport and Mobility.

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Meeting at the Bartlett with leaders of the Space Syntax group

All members of the visiting group are all involved with a new multidisciplinary part-time MSc in Transport and Mobility at TU Dublin which has a focus on sustainable transport. The first students started this January. All members of the group are Early Stage Researchers, most less than 6 years past earning their doctorates, despite having years of consultancy and teaching experience behind them.

The TU crew touched down at London Heathrow a little late due to extreme winds, but it was, nevertheless, an action-packed day!

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Meeting at the Bartlett School of Architecture with Professor Laura Vaughan who is Director of the Space Syntax Laboratory, and her research associates Professor Sophia PsarraDr. Ashley DhananiDr. Kayvan Karimi, and Ph.D.candidate Kimon Krenz.

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Meeting with experts from Civil, Environmental, and Geomatic Engineering at UCL

12:00

 

Meeting with transportation experts from UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geotechnical Engineering (CEGE) at the Chadwick Building to discuss Transport and Mobility. Attending from UCL were: Professor Emeritus Roger Mackett, Dr. Tom Cohen, Dr. Adriana Ortegon, and Visiting Professor Shannon Chance. Professor Mackett is an expert in how transportation affects public health–a topic near an dear to my heart and one I’ve published about.

13:20

Head up to Tuffnell Park to visit the PAMELA Lab.

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Meeting with Nick Tyler at the PAMELA lab

14:00

 

Start of Nick’s MSc class in Transportation Design “T19 Accessible Design”. Meet with Professor Tyler to learn about his teaching and research, which has been called “The London Lab With A Fake Tube Train” by Londonist magazine.

There were a number of additional experts my TU Dublin colleagues would like to have met with so, hopefully, they will return again soon.

 

Learning London: Enchanting Holland Park and Victorian House Museum

A couple of weekends ago, we visited Holland Park on both Saturday and Sunday. There was too much to see in the area for just one go. We had to spread it out. In fact, we’d also visited a weekend prior, bringing our 2019 total to three days.

In this blog, I’ll show you around the park and give you a peek inside one of the nearby Victorian house museums, 18 Stafford Terrace.

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On all three of our recent our visits to Holland Park, we were en route to the Design Museum. 

Walking Cards

In addition to using the handy walking cards pictures below, I also referenced my guidebooks and the internet to sketch out our trips.

Kyoto Japanese Garden

These beautifully designed and cultivated gardens boast a waterfall and a pride of peacocks.

Holland House

This house was greatly destroyed during the Second World War, but part of it lives on to delight the park’s visitors.

Belvedere Restaurant

There’s a lovely, posh restaurant in the park. We had a splurge.

18 Stafford Terrace

This is one of two Victorian house museums near Holland Park and the Design Museum. This one, on Stafford Terrace which runs parallel to Kensington Hight Street, was once home to an illustrator for Punch magazine, Edward L. Sambourne. It’s a lovely house filled with his artwork. It’s a delight to see how the stately homes on this terrace are laid out and lived in. This one is furnished in the “Aesthetic Movement.”

Learning London: Birthday Celebrations with Weekend Excursion to Oxford

Last week at UCL’s Engineering Front Office we celebrated birthdays, for my colleague Inês, and for me as well. A group of us had lunch out together on Wednesday and we also enjoyed lunch in the office together on several other days of the week.

It’s really not so bad getting old when you’re surrounded by loving friends! Even if they keep rubbing in my nearly-senior status….

At the end of the day, Friday, Aongus and I darted out of the city for a weekend away in historic and picturesque Oxford. This blog post recounts these birthday adventures using pictures.

Birthday Lunch at Sagar

On Wednesday, a group of us enjoyed a south-Indian lunch together at Sagar, which our lovely colleague, Sital Thanki, has introduced us to. In addition to a few photos of the birthday lunch, I show below some of the many kind cards and gifts I received from colleagues, friends, and family. The packages, calls from parents, and online messages I received from friends via Facebook and LinkedIn were also heartwarming.

Weekend in Oxford

As a birthday present, Aongus booked a weekend away in Oxford. We left London after work on Friday by bus (cheaper than the train, but with its own unique pitfalls). Overall, we enjoyed two nights in one of the world’s loveliest university cities before re-boarding a bus back to London.

Exploring the City

We ventured out briefly for dinner on Friday but focused on resting up for Saturday.

On Saturday morning, we wandered through the city fairly aimlessly. We wanted to see the high street areas, visit some of the shops, and get a feel for the University of Oxford.

Natural History Museum

On Saturday afternoon, we visited Oxford’s museum for Natural History, which I’d read about in one of Bill Bryson’s books. In addition to the exhibits on dinosaurs, mammals, birds, and insects, we also took in the special exhibit on bacteria. I’d need an extensive blog to tell you what I learned about bacteria, and I held off posting all the photos I took. But you’d be surprised to learn how bacteria created oxygen, photosynthesis, and cell-splitting that enabled human life to form.

Really amazing stuff!

Visiting this museum, you see the huge value that researchers add to our knowledge of everything in the physical world. Curious minds want to know! And many of these curious-minded people become life-long researchers–exploring the world to find answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, as well as questions we knew!

History of Science Museum

We narrowly missed the departure of the morning “Footprints” tour on Sunday, but we booked in for a later tour and headed into the History of Science Museum, originally a stockpile of curiosities, and now spread across three floors. My favorite parts covered sundials, photography, and penicillin–crucial research on penicillin was done at Oxford. Also fun were the measuring devices, calculating machines, and astronomical gadgets. Again, thank goodness for curious minds, figuring all this stuff out over time!

Blackwells Bookstore

To escape the cold–and take a little rest between the science museum and the planned walking tour–we stepped inside Blackwell’s Bookstore. A mindboggling collection indeed! It’s multiple floors and the basement sprawls far under Trinity College. Incidentally, at Oxford, the colleges are residential–they are where the students live, eat and sleep. Every student belongs to a college, and every student studies in a department.

Thankfully, Blackwell’s also features a coffee shop, which is optimal for a welcome and well-deserved rest.

Footprints Tour of Oxford

The Footprints company offers free walking tours as well as paid ones. To ensure we were part of a small group and could enter some Oxford sites where there are entry fees, I purchased tickets for the two-hour walking tour at £15 each. Although the plan seemed ideal, the weather turned ugly. Just before the tour started it got very cold, and shortly after the start, hail pounded down. The tour guide had to skip the first two sites and run straight into a library. Aongus was frozen solid by the tour’s end.

Divinity School

The large hall with its ornately carved stone ceiling at the Divinity School is featured in all sorts of films–from Harry Potter to the recent Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite. Our tour guide brought us inside for a stop off–and I was thrilled to see this space.

New College: squares, dining hall, chapel and cloister

Of the 38 colleges at Oxford, we peeked inside only a few–they have entrance fees, and what you are permitted to see varies from one to the next. I wasn’t sure how to manage all that without insider knowledge, so we hired a guide! There were only ten of us in the tour group.

Our tour guide brought us to her favorite, the New College. You’ll likely recognize the dining hall, which is featured in movies. Of note, the cloister and the tree in it appeared in Harry Potter, but the dining hall used in that series of films was custom built, a near replica of a hall on campus that has only three actual long tables for the students. As Hogwarts had four schools, they made the studio version a bit wider to accommodate the extra row. Most college dining halls at Oxford also have a high table where the privileged sit and eat superior food.

The chapel in the New College is exquisite, and we heard a bit of organ practice while seated in there. Many colleges destroyed their historic old chapels and replaced them with more modern ones. What a waste. This Gothic one is stellar, though the ornate end wall was a somewhat recent addition.

Bodleian Library

Perhaps the most iconic building at Oxford is the round Bodleian Library, a reading room for students. Turns out, a cylinder isn’t quite conducive to storing books. It’s better for studying, we hope!

Overall, Oxford has a massive collection of books. This library is second only in size to the British Library (a copy of everything published in the UK goes there, similar to the Library of Congress in the USA, which is the world’s largest library collection). Like these other two libraries, you can view books only on-site here–it’s not a lending library.

Famous Folks

Oxford provided inspiration for C. S. Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Hobbits. Although I must admit I know little of Harry Potter, I did read some Hobbit stories and all of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Near the end of our tour, we saw the door that inspired Lewis’ lion, witch, and wardrobe. We also saw the Oxford lamp post he made famous.

We also learned about some very destructive and badly behaved boys who attended Oxford (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and their political cronies). We learned about others who misbehaved in the town less aggressively (Bill Clinton) and we learned of people burned for political crimes on Broad Street, where our tour had started.

Look for the Footprints office there on Broad Street, near the shop Boswells of Oxford. Pick up some new luggage and an Ameribag while you’re there! It will take your mind off the stories of deviant behavior.

Learning London: At the lovely Bethnal Green library

img_5776Aongus and I stopped by the public library in Bethnal Green over the weekend since I wanted to show him its glorious architecture. It’s in the park we traverse en route to the Central Line Tube Station. The woodwork and the natural lighting in the reading rooms are superb.

And since Aongus selected a new thriller from the shelf, it freed the copy of “Brooklyn” he was carrying along in his bag. I dug it out of his bag on the Tube and read much of it in the course of over our weekend adventures. Granted, I normally read non-fiction since it’s much less addictive. Once I get started with a novel, I can’t put it down.

img_6125As such, I’m nearly finished reading the novel now. It is, as you probably recall from the contemporary motion picture by the same name, about a young Irish woman who boldly moves, alone, across the Atlantic to start a new life. I empathize with her experiences and I recognize many of the places she describes–both in Brooklyn and around Enniscorthy town and county Wexford, her original home. I’ve enjoyed both the book and the feature film but have learned more about Ireland form the book.

Aongus borrowed the paperback of “Brooklyn” from the Idea Store in Whitechapel–a modern edifice but also lovely. It was designed by architect Sir David Adjaye, who we learned much more about later in the weekend while visiting the Desing Museum. More on his exhibition in a future blog!

In any case, Aongus and I are very lucky to live near great libraries here in London!

Learning London: How office trivia aboard a double-deck tour landed me “The Language of Cities”

I’ve been spell bound all day by Dayan Sudjic’s 2016 book, “The Language of Cities.” I purchased the book after work yesterday to keep my knowledge of city-building fresh and up-to-date. I made that find at Waterstones, across the street from my office in Bloomsbury, and sealed the deal with a £10 gift card I won at Christmas.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve devoured every last page.

img_3672The Faculty if Engineering held a team-building event for Christmas, aboard a private double-decker bus that toured around the city of London. I got to know other members of our faculty as I sat with three people I didn’t previously know. Our table of four formed a team for the trivia contest, developed by our Dean’s personal assistant, the marvelous Maria Speight. Maria invented all the questions, having to do mostly with the sights we were passing. Excelling in this game required in-depth knowledge of the history of this fine city, which dates back to Roman times.

My team was fiercely competitive, and the two Brits in our team knew quite a lot about their city. I worried I couldn’t contribute; but I actually was able to help out.

I earned us a whopping nine points by knowing the name of every reindeer! In the end, there was a three-way tie. It took several rounds to break, but in the final round, I knew the winning answer. I had learned the population of London via my multiple visits to the city’s Building Centre. At the time the video at the Centre was made, there were about 8.8 million inhabitants. I extrapolated to today, guessing a current 8.9 mil, whereas Maria had an official count of 8.79…. Nevertheless, our answer was the closest and we won the top prize: Waterstones gift cards for our whole team!

What a great way to spend a day before Christmas, on a sunset tour of a glorious city, surrounded by passionate people who love their work in academia. I am truly blessed!

And now, I’ve soaked in every detail of Dayan Sudjic’s “The Language of Cities.”

The book calls me back to my days teaching “urban history and theory” to third-year architecture students at Hampton University, a module we provided students prior to their summer study abroad.

img_3706Sudjic’s book is full of insight, making fascinating new connections, so the synapses in my brain have been firing furiously today! Sudjic makes plenty of reference to the history and operation of London as well as cities around the world, and I am connecting the principles to places I’ve been.

Sincere thanks to the Dean and Faculty of Engineering at UCL and Ms. Maria Speight for helping get this book into my hands so I can learn more about the city we toured by double-deck bus!

The photo gallery below shows the bus-tour day as well as an informal night out for Christmas with engineering colleagues.

A Public Service Announcement to reduce colds this winter

In the interest of public health, I’m posting a blog to ask, beg, and plead that when you’re sick you STAY AT HOME.

There’s more than one way to tell a story. With a dozen possibilities, I’ve decided to present two. How would you tell this one? What do you make of it all? What would you do?

Empathetic to the carrier

Imagine you’d come to work on a Friday, feeling a bit, ill but coughing and sneezing so violently by the time you arrived at your desk that you couldn’t even settle in right away. You had to leave the office to compose yourself and find some tissues. You trudged through work all day because you were up against deadlines. “Maybe I should have stayed home,” you think, “but I’ve too much to do.” Unfortunately, your desk is adjacent to 23 others in a large open plan, and two colleagues are seated directly in front of you working diligently away. Their jobs don’t permit quite as much work-from-home as yours. They say nothing. On the other hand, another colleague who sits behind you gets up and moves. She’s now sitting in her team leader’s glass-enclosed office right beside your own desk. You see she’s bundled up in a winter coat and gloves—maybe the heat isn’t working in there. “Wonder why she moved in there when it’s cold?” By the end of the day, you decide to make a similar move, as there’s no one in the office’s large, shared conference room. You work in this big room for a couple hours and then you head out, happy to welcome the weekend. By Monday, you’re feeling quite a bit better, and completely fine to head to work.

Empathetic to the victims

I recently witnessed an appalling situation where a colleague came to work in a large open-plan office. Fortunately, only five other people were working in the open-plan portion of the office that day. Also, fortunately, at this university and in this faculty office, we are all very welcome to work from home.

693fe992-78ad-4ab9-a508-2d2cbeec7624-1By the late afternoon, the sick one had moved into a conference room to work, but it was too late.

Unfortunately, within days, the two who face that colleague were very sick.

Why were my colleagues willing to submit themselves to these germs? It appears they didn’t want to seem impolite. (Very British, I think, and not the best choice in this case, in my opinion.)

Now it’s over two weeks later, and one of them is still out of work. The other is clearly struggling to recover and to make it through each day.

Early that day, I had closed myself off in a glass-enclosed room, where I worked with coat and gloves to avoid the flying germs. By some miracle, I escaped unharmed.

I’m not as reservedly polite as my colleagues, but, in this instance, I also did not go against cultural norms here to say, “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING?!?” Back in the USA, I surely would. And, as an architect, I’m comfortable openly critiquing the situation. I don’t want to go hunting around or making passive-aggressive gestures.

So, while I can’t change the past, just maybe I can help make other people’s future healthier.

To help others, I’m saying it loud and clear here:

Please, please don’t let this happen to others. Don’t expose colleagues and students to your infections and germs.

This is true everywhere, but is incredibly important in very densely populated areas, like London.

Learning London: Enjoying the (bus/fellowship/research) Journey

img_5651When you’re supervising a Ph.D. student, s/he usually comes to you for meetings. In my case, however, I travel over to LSBU twice a month to meet with my supervisee, Thomas, and his primary supervisor, Professor Shushma Patel. I’m doing this for several reasons:

  • It helps ensure Thomas gets effective advice that coincides. That helps since Thomas’ work and his conceptual thinking are very complex and we can work together to make sure all the parts fit together coherently.
  •  As part of my Marie Curie Fellowship, I’m also in training myself. As part of Work Package 4, Training, I’m supervising Thomas. This is an excellent way to build skills supervising students. Once Tomas successfully completes his Ph.D., I’ll be eligible to serve as a primary Ph.D. supervisor at TU Dublin and other institutions. This will surely make my applications for future funding more enticing to grantors, in cases where I’m proposing to “train” others in research.
  • In this case, I get to learn from Professor Patel, Thomas’ primary supervisor, who has impressive experience guiding doc students. I’m the second supervisor.
  • Meeting with Thomas and Shushma is loads of fun!

In advising Thomas, I get to draw from many aspects of my past experience–design creativity, environmental sustainability, engineering teamwork, and higher education (its organization and inner workings).

We usually spend about two hours in each meeting, as there are multiple facets to our work:

  • Most importantly, Thomas is writing a thesis (which in the United States we call a “dissertation”). It will include case studies of innovative engineering production. This is the central focus of our work.
  • Thomas is implementing his background research in designing and delivering The Great Challenge competition for the Design Museum, as I blogged about last week.
  • We’ve had an abstract accepted for a conference on product design education and we are developing it into a full paper, to submit in early March.

These meetings are delightful! We connect lots of synapses and we most definitely grow our brains while discussing complex inter-related issues.

img_5647-1The appetizer for the main-course meeting at LSBU each week is the trip there. I take a different route than I take to work daily and, on these days, I enjoy getting a bit of exercise. The fastest route to their campus is by way of the DLR, which is a 15-minute walk away from our flat

The cake-and-icing of the day? The double-decker-bus trip back to UCL! I love taking the London Bus from LSBU near Elephant and Castle, past Waterloo and the London Eye (the city’s giant Ferris wheel), across the Thames, over Strand Street, past Holburn Station and then straight north, through Bloomsbury, past Russel Square, to Tavistock Square. Then, it’s a short walk to the Engineering Front Building.

img_5672-1All parts of the journey are full of interesting sights!

Today on the big red bus, I got my very favorite seat–right above the bus driver, perched high above the street. The lovely sunlight today helped me overlook the bitter cold, and enticed me to snap even more photos than usual. You can see shots of the trip overall, with a frame-by-frame of some of my favorite areas.

I disembarked at Tavistock Square where a ceremony to commemorate Gandhi, held on the anniversary of his death, was concluding. The Square was magical and I felt Gandhi’s presence and the sense of peace he cherished–until I slipped on some black ice and nearly took a fall. Thankfully, I–or perhaps the spirit of Gandhi–caught me on the way down. I escaped injury.

img_5680Lessons of the day:

  • Completing a Ph.D. is a journey, best done with a collegial group of curious, knowledgeable, creative, and good-natured people.
  • A Fellowship also provides a gateway from the ordinary day-to-day routine and facilitates journey into the unknown.
  • There’s no better way to traverse the city on such a day than London Bus.
  • Seize the day and enjoy the journey. Make the very best of it you can.

AND:

BE THE CHANGE YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE WORLD! –Mahatma Gandhi