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Blog by: Steve

Salford, Greater Manchester. Studying a PhD in Computer Science

Summertime and Summer Schools

So it’s that time of the year again when all of the undergrads migrate home for the summer and all the postgrads get to take advantage of our quite substantial travel grants (especially in Computer Science).

As a PhD student you have the opportunity to attend a plethora of summer schools, which are advanced lecture courses upon some specific topic which is related to your research. They present the perfect opportunity to network with the people working in your area, enhance your knowledge on your subject and as an added bonus happen to be placed in some pretty exotic locations.

I’ve just returned from two back-to-back summer schools in Barcelona (Spain) and Fiuggi (Italy). The first one, PUMPS, was about how to programme graphics cards (or GPGPUs if you’re a techie) and the second one, ACACES, was focused on Computer Architecture and Parallel Programming.

Both were truly amazing experiences, I learnt an awful lot, met some pretty high profile researches and made a bunch of friends. Hopefully I’ll get to go again next year!

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Young Entrepreneur of the Year

So it’s been an absolutely crazy few months for me. I’ve been carrying out my PhD research by day, but by night I’ve been working on my startup company.

The company is called Collide, and we’re making a mobile application which automatically tells you when your friends are nearby and suggests places in your local area where you can both hang out.

As you might know from my previous posts, I’ve been involved with the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE), which is a student run organisation (with help from several high profile business gurus). CUE operates a series of competitions designed to help students create their own successful business with some amazing prizes on offer including legal advice, co-working space membership and of course cash.

I was lucky enough to win the ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ award, which is the first year this award has been given out – so naturally I was pretty shocked.

I’m continuing to work on the app during all of the my free time and I’m trying to get this out so you guys can use it during freshers week to find all the best parties and help you stay in contact with all of your friends.

If you’re interested please sign up to the mailing list so I can let you know as soon as we release it:

Cheers :-)

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The Footlights

So a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on a set of tickets for the Footlights. This time it featured close to 20 cast members performing a series of comedy sketches, think Monty Python (who happen to be ex-footlights) or the Fast Show.

The show went on for about 2 hours and was truly amazing, and highly recommended to anyone who likes standup or slapstick comedy. It’s especially brilliant as you get to see some of the future super stars of comedy before they get big and famous, at which point you can gloat to your friends about how you saw them first.

All this amazing comedy for only £6! Now that’s what I call getting a cheap laugh…

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Town Vs. Gown Boxing

A few weeks ago I was luckily enough to attend a pretty epic night of boxing. The town vs. gown events pits local sports clubs (the town) versus the best the university has to offer (the gown). £15 got you a ticket for a 13-fight showcase highlighting some of best amateur boxers around. The university prides itself on its varied and very active sports programmes, and boxing is no exception.

The gown’s triumphed over the town, winning 12 out of 13 fights. Everyone had a great time and the Cambridge Guild Hall where the event was being held was packed out. It was a fantastic night with a brilliant atmosphere and highlights yet another reason for why Cambridge is a great place to be a student!

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London’s Tech City UK

Due to our involvement with the SVc2UK competition we were invited to attend London’s Tech City UK conference. It was a one-day event profiling all the hottest new startups and had a vast array of fantastically knowledgeable speakers, all handing out advice on how to get you’re fledgling startup into a multi-million pound tech-beast.

The event itself was held in the very swanky and new Ravensbourne college in Greenwich – literally (not figuratively) next-door to the O2 stadium. We spent the day in various talks, discussions and meetings with super high-profile business gurus (such as the founder of LinkedIn).

As we we’re the winners of the Cambridge appathon we also got invited to the after-event dinner at the Science Museum, which was a really great experience. A three course meal sat next to Stephenson’s rocket was a bit of a surreal experience. But in any case, the food and company were excellent!

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Entrepreneur is not a dirty word…

In my last post I wrote about the Silicon Valley comes to the UK event, where lots of high-profile CEOs and Venture Capitalists from the US descending upon the UK to encourage people to get involved with startups.

Now if you’re a techy like me you kind of get put off from getting involved with ‘business’. You see it as a bit stuffy, unexciting and a little boring, and in a large corporation you probably wouldn’t be far wrong. However startups are completely different. In a startup the mind-set is on creating something that you’re passionate about – which anyone can do! And as you go you learn more about the business side of things.

For all you South Park underpants gnome fans, the plan is as follows:
Step 1: Build something cool (or be in the process of building something cool)
Step 2: ????????????
Step 3: Profit


Step 2 is usually obtain funding from an Angel Investor, VC or through a grant scheme, create a company and start expanding! And here in Cambridge you really get an immense amount of support (and money) to help you make your brilliant idea into a company – you just have to look at the success stories that Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) and Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club (CUTEC) have had!!!

After my team won the Cambridge appathon we’re working to finish our product and get it launched. Our idea started in a pub, prototyped in 24 hours and now we’re almost ready to launch – but more about that in a later post… ;-)

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Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge – Appathon

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be involved in #SVc2UK at the Cambridge Computer Lab. It was a 48 hour hackathon event, where students and business mentors form teams and try to produce a mobile app before 3pm on the Sunday! It was a fantastic event with Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Nokia, RedGate, the UK Government and Cambridge Entrepreneurs all turning and providing technical and business support and of course free pizza and the prizes!

This was a national event and competitions took place in Cambridge, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Southampton and Sheffield.

The winning teams were given free Amazon Kindles and get the opportunity to submit their app to the national competition. The winners of the nationals get to meet David Cameron and get flown over to San Francisco for a mobile developers conference…nice!

Check out the details here:

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The world-famous Cambridge Footlights!

Freshly back from their tour of the US – the footlights are back in town!

Student tickets are £5 and as you getting to see future super-star comedians – it’s well worth it! Previous footlights include Monty Python, Fry and Laurie and David Mitchell. Absolutely hilarious and I’m still laughing at some of the crazy characters they brought out (Swedish Masseuse was a notable mention)!

If you like your python-esqe comedy sketches definitely try and get your hands on a ticket – they’re usually sell-outs so make you sure you get one early!

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Fresher’s week is here again…

Well it’s that time of the year when the hordes of students return to Cambridge, the old mixed with the new… and of course that can only mean one thing – Fresher’s Week!

For those who don’t know, Fresher’s week is where the new students get introduced to life in Cambridge, there are literally hundreds events organised by societies, colleges and even university-wide events. One of the must-see events is the societies fair, it’s a two day event and you get given loads of freebies in exchange for signing up to some new societies. I’d encourage you to go along as you can meet some really interesting people!

My college organised a ‘Hostel Crawl’ for the MCR. This consisted of a roving house-party around the graduate accommodation in the college grounds. Each of the 5 destinations had a stall, which took on the theme of a specific nation which had some fun games and drinks, we had UK, USA, Mexico, Russia and Germany!

Along with all of the societies you can sign up for are the numerous sports teams. There are so many that all levels are accounted for! And of course, you could always give rowing a try…

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Balls are big and shiny…

So May week has been and gone and despite its name it takes place in June…

May week is the week after the final exams and contains insane amounts of parties, miniature riots and of course balls. Balls are extravagant black-tie events with unlimited supplies of food and drink and usually have a multitude of acts and entertainment on offer and attract some pretty big headline acts! They are usually themed and take place in the college, most (but not all) colleges have May Balls.

They usually begin at around 8pm and last until 6am. If you make it the whole night you get on the ‘survivors’ photo and are given breakfast.

I only managed to get to one ball this year, which at £50-£150 a ticket is probably a good thing! It seems a lot of cash but you get what you pay for. There are cheaper balls, but but you’re less likely to get an international super-star performing. I’ve heard that Dizzee Rascal and Bombay Bicycle Club have played in the past. Lady Gaga was also rumoured to be a target for one of the balls but they couldn’t agree a price with her agent.

The balls also have a long tradition of people breaking in. I’ve heard of break-ins by using scuba equipment, parachutes, climbing gear, tunneling and sneaking in with the bands…

The theme at my balls was ‘planets’ and as you can imagine each area of the ball was named after a different planet. Each area had a unique set of food, drinks and entertainment, which was anything from sumo-suits, live boxing, live music, carnival rides and casino tables…

Suffice to say everyone finds something to enjoy and goes home happy. The perfect way to wind down after exams!

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