Category Archives: summer schools

The First Week-end

As it is not the first time I am in Oxford, the novelty of being here has worn off quite quickly. So I am looking into filling up my week-ends with other activities then just the touristy ones (which I am saving for when Jesper is visiting me). As a consequence, I will spend one week-end in London, one in Edinburgh and half of another in Manchester. I am looking forward to all of them.

However I decided to stay in Oxford this week-end as I didn’t want to miss the first social activities. After a failed attempt to join a run for cancer research, we settled for meeting in the main park today. The guys played some sort of football with a volley ball (ingenious, right?) while most of the girls and some of the lazy guys where watching the game while sitting on the grass. Due to the amazing weather we had, I ended up freezing so I suggested we go for some warm drink. Even though only 13 of us went for a drink, we still had some difficulties finding a place that could fit us all.

So me not leaving Oxford paid off! And it wasn’t just because of the park meeting we had, but also due to an amazing Saturday I had yesterday. Credit for that goes to James. He suggested we meet and cook something together. As he likes to experiment with food (he has a nice blog on cooking), he thought it would be interesting to make éclairs and confectionery candy (rhubarb and custard). It was very interesting to try cooking things which people normally don’t make at home. And I have to say we ended up with some nice products! We finished they day with some Romanian dinner that I prepared.



The Summer School

I’ve been in Oxford for a week now and I am starting to realize that my summer will probably look like a very sad and wet spring/autumn. To be honest I didn’t think I could leave Aarhus and go somewhere more south where the weather is worse. In Romanian we have the perfect phrase for it: din lac in puț.

As this is the second time I am in Oxford and the reason behind it is very similar (attending the summer school), I cannot help but compare how things were two years ago and how they are now. Of course my experience is slightly different, as back then I came here to work on a project, and now I am supposed to supervise two. But I think the main difference is given by the size of the group of people involved: last time we were 12 students and now there are 36. This makes it much harder to organize social events and it also makes it more difficult to get to know everybody. I think that, inevitably, the group will be divided in two or more subgroups. Nevertheless, we still managed to go (all together) to a pub on Monday and another one yesterday. I got to chat with a few of the students and I really like the fact that the group is so well mixed: there is somebody from almost every corner of the world (Canada, US, Central America, Europe, South Africa, India, Eastern Asia).

Apart from the weather, there has been one thing that hasn’t been going too well. From my previous experience I knew it would be so much easier to use a bike while here. So I asked James to find one for me, and he did. I used it just fine for a day and a half until I managed to break the key lock in two. My attempts to unlock it haven’t been successful so I hope that soon I will be able to cut the lock somehow… otherwise, I will be stuck without a bike.

Next stop: Copenhagen

This has been a very productive summer. I started with a one week summer school in Italy, carried on with a six week summer scholarship for working on a project in Oxford which is now being followed by a one week PhD course in Copenhagen. The downside of this is that I get no vacation and no time to see my family and friends because lectures in Aarhus start next Monday. The good part is that I also get ECTS so I have to take less courses during the year.

I arrived in Copenhagen on Saturday. The very nice weather that Danish people had this summer suddenly changed to torrential rain and floods… I guess this is the luck I have now.

Apart from having classes from 9 to 17 everyday, drinking more coffee then ever (I never thought I will drink more than one cup a day) and getting to know Copenhagen University a bit (which honestly, didn’t really impress me – I like the one in Aarhus better), nothing much happened. Maybe the small party we will have on Friday after the end of the course will give me more things to tell you about.

Plant Sciences and BBQ

The summer school I am attending in Oxford is organized by the Statistics Department, but the Plant Sciences Department was kind enough to allow us to work in one of their computer rooms. Therefore we also drink our daily coffee in their common room. I think the lady that sells the coffee already knows all of us. She invited us last week for a barbecue that took place yesterday in the common room and the small garden next to it. We all got tickets for it, that were just 1 pound each (so basically we had free food and drinks) and headed for the common room, once more, yesterday at 16.00.

Barbecue… and nice company

There are 12 students attending the summer school in Oxford, including myself. A few are from Denmark, one of my flat mates (Rita) is from Hungary, there are three Asian people and I think that the rest are from England. We are divided in four groups consisting of three persons, each being responsible for a project that we are supposed to finish during the six week period (out of which one already passed).

My group mates are two English guys that have been in Oxford for a few years now, so they know the place quit well. Therefore they had a very good initiative yesterday: we have been invited for a barbecue next to the river. It was really nice to go sit on the grass, eat some proper food (I must admit that since I came here, apart from the lunch that I normally have at Linacre College, I didn’t really have any cooked food) and get to know the others a bit better.

We had to bring our own food and Rita prepared some really nice salad for us. It was a huge success and some of the girls, including myself, asked for the recipe. We also fooled around a bit with an American football ball. It wasn’t that easy to throw it, nor to catch it. I also think that my hand might be too small for it. My arm ended up hurting a bit in the end, I am not used to using it that much.

After the barbecue and a bath in the river (I only sat on the side, watching the boys fighting), some of us went to a pub to have a drink. I also got to taste the English apple cider. It doesn’t taste anything like what I’ve been drinking in Denmark. It’s more wine-like and it looked pretty unfiltered to me. I must admit that I wasn’t very happy with it. I like the sweet girlish one more.

But I think that we had a nice time together yesterday and I got to enjoy quite a lot one of the benefits of summer schools: meeting new people!

Let’s go punting!

When I was in high-school, I went to quite a lot of mathematical contests and one of the benefits was me ending up with a lot of new friends. My mother was always pleased with this, saying “It is so nice that you have friends all over the country”. Being an international student, I now meet lots of people from other countries, and so she now says “Oh, it is so nice that you have friends all over the world!”.

And these friends can come in handy when you go some place new and you have no clue what’s to be seen and done there. Being lucky to have had very hard working students in my high-school class, I do have some friends in Oxford (but not due to the fact that I am now an international student). Two of them I saw on Sunday. And they gave me a good introduction to Oxford. One of the things I discovered that is pretty common is punting!

A punt is a special kind of boat. Before actually seeing one, I have been told that is a bit like a Venetian gondola just that it doesn’t look that fancy and it doesn’t have the ends in the same way. But I think the method of propelling is the same. Nevertheless it is fun. Of course, it is far more entertaining when you have someone else do the work for you, and you can just sit in there, enjoying the view and the company.

So my friend Andrei, who was the most experienced one, started punting. He did it very well and it didn’t really look like he had any kind of problems with it. At some point he asked me if I wanted to try. So I did. I will tell you the main ideas but beware: it is difficult. At least for me.

You first need enough strength to handle the pole, which I am not sure I have, but that’s something else. Second, you need to know how to move the pole. You have to put it vertically, next to the punt, and fix it into the bottom (and if it is muddy, well you might have problems my friend… it might get stuck there). Then you have to sort of push yourself into the pole and propel the punt forward, and take care that you don’t lose the pole meanwhile. Afterwards, you use it to steer which could be a pretty easy job if the pole would have been lighter (which is a bit weird though, because the pole is made so it can float… but it is pretty long). And then you go back to the start, you try your best to get the pole next to you and put it vertically. Basically, that is it. The rest is just practice!

As I already mentioned, the bottom can be a bit muddy and IF your pole gets stuck, the best idea is to leave it behind and not get dragged into the water by it. You also have a very small paddle (that doesn’t really have any effect anyway) to be able to move your punt around in case you loose your pole and you need to recover it. Luckily, we didn’t end up in that situation.

Anyhow, I still enjoyed it very much and I think you should go punting if you ever have the chance!

106 Woodstock Road

As I already mentioned, I am fond of summer schools. So I didn’t miss the chance of spending six weeks at one of the worlds best universities: Oxford!

I left Aarhus yesterday at noon and headed to England on a Ryanair flight. From that point on, I was impressed to realize how nice some people can be. On the flight I sat next to a Danish guy who’s been living in London for the past six years. We had a chat and he kindly offered to show me around, in case I find time to go see London too (which I definitely hope I will). I had to take a National Express bus from Stansted airport and I arrived in Oxford at 20. I think I managed to seem lost, looking very confused at my printed Google map (which didn’t have the street that I was on) when some other guy asked me if I need help. He showed me the way to Trinity College, where I had to pick up my key. After which I started heading towards my accommodation: 106 Woodstock Road.

It wasn’t fun. I found a place with lots of flats and knowing that I am living in a flat, I figured that it might be the right one… there were no numbers to be found! I decided that I have no clue where I am so I asked some man who was riding a bike if he can help me. He actually started riding ahead, to look for the right place. After a while he came back and told me he thought he found it (again, the number was missing). He helped me with my bag and took me to the right place. I was impressed how kind he was :)

So, here it is, Woodstock Road!

I am living in a flat that has three rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. I must admit that I think it is a bit expensive (120 pounds per week), especially since it… doesn’t look very nice. But maybe I am just picky. My flat mates are attending the same summer school as me so we took the time today to get to know each other better.

I expect to have interesting stories for you from infamously rainy England (luckily it didn’t rain yet) so stay tuned!

Belissima Italia

I think one of the things I like most about being a PhD student are the summer schools. You get to learn something new, you meet people, make friends or find possible partners for your projects. Oh, and of course, someone else pays for it.

This Sunday morning I just came back from Lipari, Italy, after a week summer school course in Statistical and Machine Learning Methods in Computational Biology. It was the first summer school that I ever attended and it won’t be the last for sure.

I think the bad part was that 3 speakers (out of 6) have been cancelled one week before the school started and so they didn’t have time to invite someone else. The very first question we got was: what is the probability of this happening, given that for 20 years, there were no cancellations? But overall I think it was a very good idea to go. And I hope that it will be very helpful in my future work.

Apart from spending the mornings and some of the afternoons in a conference room, I also got to visit small parts of beautiful Italy. The landscape there is absolutely amazing! And I think the most interesting was when I got to climb Stromboli and see a volcano in action. It was fabulous. I had to work for it, climbing for 3 hours and going down for one and a half. Some might say that this is nothing, but for me… it was. I got to see a second volcano too, with a very inspired name: Vulcano. This one is sulphuric so we didn’t witness proper explosions… But it was still nice, nonetheless. Even though I would have chosen a less smelly place if I could have.

I was very surprised to discover that out of 49 students attending this school, 14 were from Denmark. This makes me think that Denmark is becoming quite good in Bioinformatics and it makes me feel, once more, that I made a good choice coming here.

It was still nice to go back to Denmark though, but I would have liked to take the sun and warmth back with me… The return trip was very interesting, starting with a boat ride on Saturday at 7.30am from Lipari, followed by a bus trip, two flights and a train that arrived in Aarhus at 3.00am on Sunday. I wonder if there’s any kind of transportation that I did not use…

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