Tutoring

I’ve been lucky enough to land a little bit of employment at my university as a tutor for a course my supervisor teaches. It’s a final year course in PID control, focusing on understanding what PID control is and how to tune controllers. The fact that it’s a final year course feels pretty cool – these students are one year below where I am; they’re all about my age as well.

So far I’ve done two sessions and I’m really enjoying it so far. Helping students understand things has always been something I love. A few of the students are really keen learners and asking questions beyond what they need to know for the course. They remind me a bit of me, always wanting to know more, and always wanting to understand what they’re doing rather than just getting the grades.

I feel like I’m really lucky to have gotten this position. My supervisor must have faith in me, because it’s unusual for a first year PhD student to be doing tutoring. Often it’s not recommended since the PhD student should be spending their time on their topic. I think my supervisor saw that I’m very dedicated throughout my final year project and trusts that I won’t let myself become complacent.

I really look forward to these tutorial sessions – they’re a lot of fun. And not only do the students learn, I learn too. There have been some things I didn’t pick up when I did the course that I’ve learned now. Not only that, I’m growing as a person. I’m being put in a position where I have to be a “leader” rather than a “follower”, and that’s really weird to me. I’ve always been someone who prefers being told what to do, then doing it. I’ve never really been confident, especially in front of new people. However, the past 6 months I’ve undergone many positive changes in my life, including more confidence. I feel much more comfortable talking to these new faces than I ever would have thought. The journey isn’t over yet, though. I want to continue making improvements and growing as a person. I think this tutoring stuff is going to help a lot with that!

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The first 45 days

I’ve been doing this stuff for about a month and a half now. The first few weeks were really confusing – I had no idea what I was meant to be doing or what was expected of me. I didn’t even really know what topic I should have been researching. I spent a lot of time over the first few weeks feeling like I had done nothing, even though I had spent about 40 hours a week there. Because of this, the first few meetings with my supervisors felt very awkward because I didn’t really have anything to say. I feel like I should have asked heaps of questions but I didn’t really know what I should have asked – I didn’t know what I didn’t know..?

After about a month, I felt as if I had settled in much more, and felt much more comfortable. I had read some papers on topics in the same area as what I want to research, and better yet, I had understood most of them! The supervisor meetings have been much better – I have been regularly bringing papers with me and discussing them and what the authors had done, how they did it, the significance of their work, etc.

Lately I’ve been working mostly on understanding magnetic fields. It turns out that the shape of a magnet has a huge effect on its maths. The equations to solve for a magnetic field are really difficult to solve and often require maths I’ve never seen before (even though I have a degree in maths).

I’ve managed to solve the equations for a magnetic field around a cuboid magnet. I found some papers discussing this and have managed to match my equations to theirs – this was a really interesting experience, trying to manipulate my equations to match others. I had heaps of issues with complex numbers, which made me doubt my equations. But I had a really strong hunch that the complex numbers would all cancel out and become purely real. After a lot of frustration and thinking, I managed to prove they were purely real, and then I managed to match my equations to those from the authors.

The next thing I moved on to was looking at triangular prism magnets. These are much much much more difficult than cuboids. I’ve been working on them for a few weeks now, and still haven’t managed to solve those integrals. I can see a bit of evidence that the authors of this paper have used computer-assistance, which makes me feel a bit more comfortable. Soon I want to learn Mathematica, which should help me solve some of these more difficult equations.

For now I might give up on triangular prisms and head more into the direction of ring magnets. These require elliptic integrals, which I’ve never seen before. This just means more learning and experimenting, which is something I’ve always been good at. There has been a lot of literature on ring magnets, so I have quite a lot of resources to help me learn and understand!

Hello World

I’m James and I’ve just finished two undergrad degrees and have just started a PhD. I did a bachelor of mathematical and computer sciences (majoring in applied maths) and a bachelor of engineering (majoring in mechatronics). I just scraped in with first class honours and managed to obtain a scholarship to do a PhD.

I’ve always had an interest in vibration isolation, and I’ve been exposed to magnets quite a lot in the last year due to my final year project in my undergrad. These two things, along with my love for maths, made for an obvious decision on my topic. I’ll be looking into vibration isolation using magnets. This could lead into magnetic levitation, or could be something more simple but effective (a perfect engineering solution is something as simple as possible that does its purpose). Whatever I end up doing, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it and hopefully open up a new world of vibration isolation.

This blog is mainly for me to lodge “diary entries” throughout my research so I can look back on it. I want this to represent my learning, whether it be through knowledge gained, or through growing as a person. I’d love to look back at this post in about three years, as a Doctor, and smile. I have no idea where my life is going right now but I’m pretty excited.