The end of the beginning

Getting our holiday cheer on at the house (my bike helmet is there for scale).
Getting our holiday cheer on at the house (my bike helmet is there for scale).
At Aldi this morning. Christmas jumpers are definitely a thing here.
At Aldi this morning. Christmas jumpers are definitely a thing here.

This week has been dominated by work. It was the last week I was supposed to be able to use the electromagnet (we only have one room-temperature electromagnet for doing ferromagnetic resonance measurements at the moment, so several other people wanted to use it), and although I theoretically could have stretched it out for a few more days…I really wanted to just get the data and let other people use it. Plus, apparently a theorist collaborator is coming to visit in the middle of next week, and I therefore have to have a significant chunk of the data analysis done by Tuesday morning (I found this out on Thursday evening…that was fun). I’m hoping this means I’ll have a bit less work to do when I’m home, but it’s been a little overwhelming to spend 12+ hours a day in the lab multiple days in a row.

Cover slide for my talk (skyrmions not actually included). Image from: http://www.frm2.tum.de
Cover slide for my talk (skyrmions not actually included). Image from: http://www.frm2.tum.de

On top of that, I gave an MCR academic seminar on Wednesday. I started with a brief introduction to what condensed matter physics is (since it has a lot of historical connections to Cambridge) and then talked a little bit about my experimental setup and the concept of spin-orbit torque. I think it went okay, although I think the fact that I didn’t do a full practice run-through beforehand showed. Eventually, video should be uploaded here. I’d encourage you to check out the other seminars on the site as well! All the ones I went to were really interesting.

Photo from one of the bridges during our race. (Pretend some of our oars aren't slightly out of time.)
Photo from one of the bridges. (Pretend some of our oars aren’t slightly out of time.)
Love the range of race faces in this photo.
Love the range of race faces in this photo.

The big deal other than work this week was rowing; specifically, we had our last race of the term, the 2.7k Fairbairn Cup! It was a bit cold (so far the worst part of boat races is that fact that you have to do a lot of sitting around beforehand while the division marshals and afterward when you’re waiting for everyone to finish so you can row back), but fortunately not really raining this time. More importantly, I think we rowed really well! It felt much smoother and more balanced than any other outing we’ve done; apparently going fast helps keep the boat level, but I think we also had really good focus together. We ended up coming in 7th out of all the NW1 boats, which is pretty cool! The best part of the race was overtaking the boat in front of us (Christ’s II). It was really motivating to hear the shouting from the bank party about how close we were to them, and then watching them get further and further away as we rowed past.

Waiting at the bank after our race. The guy in the pink blazer is an old Churchill College Boat Club stalwart named Trevor, and he is really cool.
Waiting at the bank after our race. The guy in the pink blazer is an old Churchill College Boat Club stalwart named Trevor, and he is really cool.
Group photo of NW1 (minus one, who had a supervision to go to) in front of the Churchill boathouse after Fairbairns.
Group photo of NW1 (minus one, who had a supervision to go to) in front of the Churchill boathouse after Fairbairns.

Just as we’ve starting rowing well together, the novice boats are getting broken up because we’re no longer novices next term! I have no idea whether I’ll end up in the first or second women’s boat…I’d guess second, because I don’t pull quite as hard as most of the other girls in my boat (disadvantages of being short…), but I wouldn’t mind that so much, as there would be a bit less time commitment. Half of us in NW1 actually had an outing today with some of the senior women to get a feel for rowing in a non-novice boat, and it was really nice (though very cold!). I could actually think about how to change my technique to apply power more effectively, rather that just worrying about the timing and balance (though we had to work on that as well). To celebrate the end of the term, there was the (in)famous Boat Club Dinner tonight, which I was persuaded to attend. The MCR Guest Night (a formal/party in which you are encouraged to bring as many guests as possible) was happening at the same time, so afterward I spent some time listening to the Churchill Jazz Band and at the “silent disco” (everybody gets headphones that play different channels of music and dances to whatever they want, but there’s no music outside of the headphones). Not my usual Saturday night, but pretty fun.

The (dimly lit) Fellows Dining Room, where Boat Club Dinner was held. Fancy!
The (dimly lit) Fellows Dining Room, where Boat Club Dinner was held. Fancy!
A small example of Cambridge formal shenanigans: if somebody puts a dime in your dessert before you put your fork in it, you "have" to eat it without using your hands.
A small example of Cambridge formal shenanigans: if somebody puts a dime in your dessert before you put your fork in it, you “have” to eat it without using your hands.
NW1 won the David Frost Cup (for best novice boat)...although it was implied that this was because we had the largest fraction of our crew show up to the dinner...
NW1 won the David Frost Cup (for best novice boat)…although it was implied that this was because we had the largest fraction of our crew show up to the dinner…
The theme of Guest Night was "Around the World in 80 Days," hence my housemate Meng's costume.
The theme of Guest Night was “Around the World in 80 Days,” hence my housemate Meng’s costume.
Constance monocles it up for Guest Night.
Constance monocles it up for Guest Night.

Before my outing, I made a brief stop at the Mill Road Winter Fair, which had a parade that I practically ran into the front of. I think one of the people wearing the big chain is the mayor of Cambridge (ah, England and your medieval traditions). There was some youth dance/marching band group doing a performance behind them, which was cool, and more musicians were spread out along the road. Some arts and crafts-type stalls were also present, though I was in a bit of a hurry to make it to the boathouse on time and didn’t have a lot of time to peruse their wares.

The entrance to the winter fair.
The entrance to the Winter Fair.
The front of the parade, which I just about walked into.
The front of the parade, which I just about walked into.
I'm not sure exactly what group this was, but they were pretty well-coordinated and their costumes were great!
I’m not sure exactly what group this was, but they were pretty well-coordinated and their costumes were great!

Mostly, however, it seemed to consist of food stalls of delicious things I couldn’t eat :(.  I did find a big hippie food store (and I mean that with great affection) that carries spelt flour, steel cut oats, spelt pasta (which I’ve never seen before!) and lots of other cool things. It’s pretty far out of my way, and quite a lot more expensive than Aldi, but I might make a trip down there sometime next year.

This guy didn't seem to actually be affiliated with a performance group...he was just walking around the Winter Fair with a normally-dressed woman and child.
This guy didn’t seem to actually be affiliated with a performance group…he was just walking around the Winter Fair with a normally-dressed woman and child.

Looking ahead: I’m going home in less than two weeks! As much as I like it here, I’m really excited to be back in SLC, however briefly. It will be nice to see my family in person instead of just over Skype, and I’m looking forward to doing some holiday baking and cooking :), and hopefully taking some stress off my mom in the process. There’s a ski race at Soldier Hollow (the first Wasatch Citizen Series race of the season, a 10k classic) the day after I fly in…not sure if I’ll be up for racing, as I’ll be probably quite tired and also won’t have set foot on skis at all beforehand, but I’m planning to go up with the family, get a good ski in, and see some of my skier friends!

The Salvation Army has entire bands instead of bellringers here. Wonder if that actually helps them raise money...
The Salvation Army has entire bands instead of bellringers here. Wonder if that actually helps them raise money…

The end of Michaelmas Term (oh yeah, the Cambridge terms have funny names…next term is Lent Term, then Easter Term) and my little vacation feels like it marks the end of my “novice” time at Cambridge.  I basically know my way around the town, I’ve got experimental data, I’ve done a term’s worth of demonstrating, and generally settled in. At the same time, there’s a lot to learn and experience here; in some ways, I’ve barely scratched the surface. For example, I learned at the Mill Road Winter Fair today that there are way more interesting restaurants in Cambridge than I’d heard of: Korean, Turkish, Pakistani, Caribbean, you name it, and that’s just on one street. I’ve not been as social as I would like (a combination of my thrifty/cheapskate, workaholic, and introvert tendencies), so hopefully I can break out of that next term, if not in the coming weeks.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

-Winston Churchill, 9 Nov 1942

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