Posts Tagged postdoc
It seems inevitable when settling down in a new town that you make comparisons between new home and the old.
There are some very obvious similarities between Southampton and Eindhoven. Each one is a town of around 200,000, of which about 10% are students. Each has two universities. TU/e, my employer, celebrates its 55th year in 2011, while the University of Southampton was celebrating 50 years when I started back in 2002.
I work at a beautifully-landscaped engineering-centric campus university, which is split in two by a river. I live in a country where everyone (pretty much) speaks English, and popular topics of conversation include the weather and train delays.
So what’s different?
Although I feel very at home here, and although the Netherlands isn’t hugely culturally different to the UK, it does mark a real change. Despite surface similarities such as the weather, the food, and use of English, it can and does feel very foreign. English is a second language; I don’t recognise items on supermarket shelves; I’m still learning about the public transport system.
Food and drink are an interesting area. I have encountered ‘karnemelk,’ which I innocently bought, assuming it to be some variety of standard milk – it is not. It is a strange buttermilk, very sour and not something you’d find in the UK. A Brit might use it for cooking, but they also drink it here! They drink their tea black (of course), and I have started to as well: it’s easier than trying to coax milk from bemused vendors. I am thrilled by the availability (and price) of olives, and even the most basic canteen at the university has a wonderful selection of breads, cheeses and hams.
There are still other things:
* I’m still astounded by how tiny the breakfast cereal selection is in large supermarkets. It’s perfectly adequate for my needs, but in the UK the cereals would easily get ten times the shelf space in a shop of that size.
* Some public toilets provide soap in powder form.
* Supermarket bags are very thin and impractical, though of course they sell heavy-duty ones you can reuse.
* It appears to be relatively normal for people to build their own homes in this country, although apparently the practice is more common in Belgium.
* People eat early here, at six or seven. (Edit: I mean eating out, here. People often book restaurants for 6pm, while in the UK I struggle to convince people to book earlier than 8pm.)
This week, I attended an induction for international employees. It was thoughtfully put together. Amongst other things, it included some work with Hofstede profiles. Interestingly, one of the biggest differences between the Dutch and UK profiles concerns communication: apparently, the Dutch tend to ‘low context communication’ – that is, being direct (or honest, or blunt – depending on which connotations you’d prefer). By contrast, we Brits are all about ‘high context communication’ – being indirect (or polite, or failing to say a damned thing – choose your connotations!).
Really, most of the people I’m working with are of other nationalities again (currently, most of my interactions are with some chaps from Belgium, Serbia and Greece), so I haven’t had intense contact with someone of Dutch origin… but it’s all helpful information.
I’m getting a lot from all of this. Living abroad makes me question assumptions I didn’t even know I had, from small preconceptions (surely a shopping basket can’t have wheels!) through to broader awareness of my own cultural context.
Actually, it was done two and a half weeks ago. ‘It’ being my thesis…
Things have been rather busy since then. Christmas happened, not to mention New Year, and now I am suddenly living in the Netherlands!
As I wrote in October, the reason why I was writing my thesis with such urgency at the end of last year was to get it submitted before I began my work at TU/e. Well, it took two months of very hard work (six-day weeks, ten-hour days)… but I did it.
I submitted on 22nd December, and had my last day at IBM on 23rd December. Then I rested for just over a week, before moving to Eindhoven on 2nd January!
My first week went incredibly quickly: a lot was spent on admin (both relating to the job and to the house move), but I also kicked off some comms work for the DESIRE conference and prepared some slides — I’m presenting a summary of my doctoral work to my colleagues next week. Hopefully this will help us direct my efforts in a useful manner over the year ahead.
My arrival was well-timed in that the undergraduate and masters students were showcasing their work in a design exhibition this week. This was a wonderful opportunity to get a feel for the themes and priorities within the department: areas covered by the students included playful interactions, wearable senses, emotions and automobility. As I observed on Twitter, as a computer scientist, I’m used to software and abstractions, but these students have built embodied artefacts. As a mini taster, I offer the following images: two projects — interactive ‘flowers’ and a mixed-materials superhero outfit; a physical and digital kit to support personal reflection.
My new position is in the User Centered Engineering group within the Department of Industrial Design. One week in feels rather early to be reflecting, but I can say without hesitation that I’ve received a very warm welcome, and that I’m excited about the research areas which are open to me.