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A day in the life: Dr Anna Young

Ever wanted to read a Fellow’s diary?

Dr Anna Young, Maudslay-Butler Research Fellow at Pembroke College, works in the Department of Engineering. Here she shares a day in her life:

Wednesday 5th March 2015

Emmett6.30am I am woken by a combination of my alarm clock (Emmet from the Lego Movie) and the Today programme. An hour or so later, I’m up and ready to cycle to West Cambridge.

8.00am Arrive at the lab. Last week was spent testing a model tidal turbine at a facility in France, so my main task at the moment is processing the data from that and preparing for the next test in a few weeks’ time. Today my postdoc and I are working out how to improve our control system. Annoyingly, my undergraduate Electronics supervisor was right – whichever branch of engineering you go into, you’ll need electronics!

9.30am Data analysis. We have a hard drive full of measurements from the turbine tests, and the next task is to write a script to analyse the data (again, basic programming is something all engineers need to be able to do). This task is quite straightforward, but making sense of the data is going to take a little longer. One of my fourth-year project students wants to talk to me about his work, so we go through his latest results and discuss what he should do next.

TEATIME. The lab runs on tea/coffee, and teatime officially happens at 11am and 4pm every day. This is a good chance for staff and students to talk informally about research – when you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall all morning, it’s often the case that you come to tea and find someone else has a piece of kit or a bit of code that will solve your problem. Other topics of conversation include: who owes everyone else cake, whether F1 is worth watching and when the new 3D printer will arrive.

11:30am Back to data analysis, punctuated by filling in an expense claim form and booking a hotel for some Chinese collaborators who will be visiting later this month. I send off the initial tidal turbine data to the rest of the team who were with me in France last week. The results look good and the device we were testing more or less behaved how we expected – a successful morning in my book (I’ve learnt that you rarely get the results you were expecting, but you’ll probably learn something from them).

12.40pm Leave the lab, via a conversation about who’s working from home tomorrow and how we’re going to get to Oxford for a meeting in two weeks’ time. Cycle to college for lunch and the Buildings Committee meeting, where we discuss the major overhaul of the College heating system that is due to take place this summer.


1.30pm Time for the first of 6 supervisions this afternoon, on Linear Algebra. The second year engineers have the joy of seeing me twice a week at the moment, as they’ve got double maths lectures. Linear Algebra is not their favourite topic because it’s fairly abstract, but gets applied in all sorts of different parts of Engineering from structural mechanics to image compression, so it’s useful to understand it. Supervisions can be very rewarding because there is an opportunity to prove to a student that they can in fact answer a question on a given topic, even if they come into the room thinking it’s totally impossible. The aim this afternoon is to de-mystify the ‘fundamental subspaces’ of a matrix.

6.30pm Supervisions over, hopefully some of the engineers now understand what a ‘left nullspace’ is and how to find it. Now it’s off to church for curry and Bible study. This evening we’re looking at 2 Timothy, which the apostle Paul wrote from prison. Tonight, we see that Paul was prepared to go suffer anything (including going to prison, and eventually dying) for telling people about Christianity. Why? Because, as he put it in another letter, he ‘consider[ed] everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:8).

10.00pm Tidal power research and Tripos papers put into perspective, it’s bedtime.

image_normalFor more details about Anna’s work on axial compressors and tidal power generation, see her departmental webpage.

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