This is a guest post written by Peter Collings who is the Commodore of Glasgow University Sailing Club, and a final year PhD Student in the Systems, Power and Energy research group at the School of Engineering.
I have been sailing since I was a small child in a borrowed wetsuit, pushed five-to-a-boat into Dublin Bay. I won’t say I was instantly hooked, but after almost 20 years of competing across Ireland, the UK and Europe, there was no way that I would think about giving up the sport when I came to Glasgow to do my PhD. Everything I had ever read or heard about postgraduate study had told me that it was going to be tough, and that a good work-life balance would be the key to keeping my sanity over the next four years, and luckily I ended up with a supervisor who agreed with that.
I was fortunate enough to make the Seconds as a helm in my first year at Glasgow and to use the old cliché, my team have been like my family ever since. There have been times when I’ve had to use a lot of willpower to stay in and work on crucial papers, the fact that most of my annual leave for the past half-decade has been spent sailing in West Kirby, Grafham Water and Loch Ore. There was one memorable occasion where I tried to do some fairly advanced coding after being tempted out for a “quiet few drinks” with my team-mates, following this it took me almost a week to fix the damage I managed to do to my computer model!
In spite of that, being part of the club has unquestionably had a huge positive impact on my research. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve solved a problem that had been driving me insane, simply by putting it completely out of my mind and spending a day on the water. My long-suffering string of crews have lent a sympathetic ear whenever I have been struggling with my workload, or during my year-long, infinitely frustrating search for pinhole leaks in my experimental rig. I’d like to think that this wasn’t only because their only way of escaping from my complaints would have been a long-cold swim to shore!
Against all advice and my own better judgement, I also decided to join the sailing club committee, first as Dinghy Team Captain in my second year, then Bosun, before being elected Commodore at the start of this year. I was probably as surprised as anyone to discover that this actually worked well. The fact that PhD work doesn’t necessarily line up with exams means that I can share the workload of running the club with the committee, passing on some jobs to them when I’m struggling with deadlines, and taking up some of their responsibilities during exam time. I also found it quite therapeutic when research was moving slowly to move on to Sailing Club activities, where organising a training session or fixing a damaged boat could give some instant gratification and sense of having achieved something.
The sailing club has over the past few years been everything from a reward to myself, to my main social outlet, to a welcome distraction from the pressures of research. I am now writing up my thesis, and the end of my PhD is looming. I have a feeling that filling the hole that the sailing club is going to leave in my timetable is going to be a lot harder than getting my foot on the academic ladder.