Road to Grad School: Final Call

It’s been a hectic, busy start to term, and now my graduate applications are well under way. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching them, and making sure that they are the right fit for me, but I still haven’t been able to narrow the list down much, if at all. We’ll put that down to the quality of the university, and not my indecisiveness!

Berkeley. I loved my brief visit, it’s a great place.

I had to take a trip to Birmingham in order to sit the GRE, which is pretty much an Americanised, more advanced version of the similarly-hated 11+ in the UK. It tests your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and essay writing skills, all within tight timing limits. As a dyslexic/dyspraxic, it’s not the ideal scenario for me at all, but I was still very pleased with 2/3 of my results, coming in far higher than I anticipated. Birmingham was beautiful on a crisp winter morning, the Bull Ring looking appropriately space-age in the sun. It was much colder up there than in Cornwall though! I spent some time in the shopping centre browsing expensive outdoor gear that I definitely couldn’t afford, before settling for my first taste of Five Guys- great food but incredibly overpriced.

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I heard a rumour that they like football a little bit at Penn State. Just a little.


The silver lining to the trip was that it let me visit my family back home, and take part in some of my brother’s birthday celebrations, something I regrettably haven’t been able to do for a long time. Studying in Cornwall is wonderful, believe me, but it’s a bloody long way from Warwickshire!

UC Santa Barbara. It might even look a bit better than Falmouth!

Catherine continues to do great at Michigan, having started teaching this term. Whilst her academic work speaks for itself, the attention to detail she puts into her lesson plans, and the amount of care she has for her students is incredible. If I can be half the conscientious teacher that she is, then I’ll be a happy person. The unexpected election of Trump has placed obvious pressures on her as a Women’s Studies scholar, and on her students (and JESUS CHRIST AMERICA WHY!!!). That the dean of Michigan gave a speech on the diag at night in front of hundreds of shocked, protesting students says it all. America has not come out of the election well at all, exposing and exacerbating deep running fractures within society at a time when the world is observing it very, very closely. This is similar in effect to Brexit over here, exposing a nasty undercurrent of xenophobia and prejudice that has bubbled to the surface through the cracks of society. I thought I had a reasonable understanding of American culture and society, but I evidently have much to learn.

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Good trees, University of Washington. Not quite Methuselah, but 9/10 would look at again.

Meanwhile, my objective is to get into the States onto a grad school program, with Trump’s Presidency presenting just another obstacle that I need to hurdle. Let’s just hope he decides to like Britain, otherwise immigration might be an interesting challenge.

My list of schools is diverse, but all have excellent departments, offer great opportunities and are nice places. I think I’d be a pretty good fit for all of them, but that is, of course, for them to determine.

University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beautiful with a capital B. Bet it’s cold in winter though!

In California we have UC Berkeley which speaks for itself, and then UC Santa Barbara that has an excellent remote sensing lab (VIPER), and appears to be California’s answer to Falmouth. In the beautiful Pacific Northwest we have the University of Washington, based in Seattle (Catherine’s home area). In the Midwest we have the obvious University of Michigan and Michigan State University, both places that I’ve visited and love. (Nb. I’ve even started to learn some of the Wolverine player names- You go, Jabrill Peppers!- Do I nearly sound like a functional American?). The University of Wisconsin-Madison is in a loosely similar area, has a beautiful location and a good department. Further east we have Penn State, a big school, and then the University of Maryland on the east coast, close to DC,  and with great links to organisations including NASA.

Jabrill Peppers doing whatever Jabrill Peppers does. He’s been mooted as a Heisman candidate this year, which whilst sounding like an unpleasant medical episode, is actually a pretty big deal.

Now that is 8 schools, which is probably too many, and I’m still trying to cut them down. Regardless, it’s a very strong list and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how things turn out. I’ll be applying to schemes in the UK in case it doesn’t work this time around, but I’m reasonably positive. I’m very fortunate to be in this position, and I’ve worked my backside off to get here.

Let’s just hope I get some offers!

PS. Obviously lots of people voted for Trump, and we have to respect that. That’s democracy. You never know, he might end up being a good President. But still… damn!


4 Amazing Drone Companies to Watch!

As more press releases emerge detailing the extent of Drone Strikes across the middle-east, from both RAF and USAF/CIA drones, it is more important than ever to show the other side of the drone industry- the side that is pioneering for better healthcare, better disaster response and better environmental protection through their efforts. Detailed below are 4 of the most exciting, inspirational companies and organisations that are taking the world by storm- or will be soon! 

Conservation Drones

Conservation Drones is a brilliant non-profit that leverages technical UAV expertise to assist various excellent ecology and biology projects across the world. This has involved practical data collection, such as working with the Ugalla Primate Project, part of the Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania, as well as training up organisations and individuals to make impacts themselves. Having operated in dozens of countries across the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Suriname, Indonesia to Nepal, Conservation Drones have amassed an incredible amount of knowledge on the use of UAVs in an ecological context.

Led by the notable Professor Serge Wich, of Liverpool John Moores University, Conservation Drones often use their airframes that they have developed themselves to achieve their goals in the field. From lightweight, rugged platforms ideal for carrying across the jungle, to big, long-range endurance platforms, this organisation is truly at the forefront of environmental UAV innovation and design. WWF DRONE.jpg


This is a new company, but believe me, you are going to hear ALL about them in the coming years. Launching fully in early 2017, EnviroDrone seems to offer something a little different, offering an end-user orientated approach to geospatial data collected by drones. Not only will they offer their own all in-one UAV system, integrated with multiple sensors, they also propose an in-house software solution, making the data more easily accessible to those who need it on the ground. EnviroDrone possibly heralds a different approach to ConservationDrones, offering a more commercial option in comparison to the latter’s relatively democratised approach. If it takes the difficulty out of geospatial data collection and analysis across environmental industries, it could be hitting a very valuable, untapped niche in the market- and are thus are well worth keeping an eye on during their launch year. Based in Canada, it is worth noting that they have collaborated with Conservation Drones in the recent past.

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Led by the impressive Dr. Patrick Meier, best known for his work on open-source disaster mapping, We Robotics is at the forefront of democratising geospatial technology across developing countries. Far from keeping UAV technology and skills in the hands of the privileged few in the west, WeRobotics uses ‘FlyingLabs’ to help scale the impacts of development, humanitarian and environmental projects. This involves the direct transfer of technology from partners including Parrot and DJI, as well as skills transfer through training sessions.

The Flying Labs are created with training and technology from We Robotics, collaborating together on initial operations with local organisations, providing initial impacts. The Flying Lab then takes up the torch after We Robotics leave, working on their own projects with local social and environmental-good organisations. Across developing and at-risk countries, the approach removes existing barriers to technology, and puts incredible geospatial technology in the hands of those who need it most.


I’m a big fan of Patrick Meier- he has some excellent Ted Talks as well as a great book (‘Digital Humanitarians’) that are all well worth a look if you are interested in this field.


In a similar ‘development’ vein, Zipline is the company that is seriously making waves in the global media. Raising some $25 million in venture capital, Zipline is starting operations in Rwanda this year, and is widely regarded as one of the great hopes on the drone industry. Why? Zipline could change everything we know about healthcare logistics.


Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills for a reason. It’s beautiful if unforgiving topography makes logistics by road especially challenging, and with healthcare, that can cost lives. Enter Zipline, using cost-effective drones to deliver blood samples, vaccinations and medicines to health centres across the country. Taking infrastructural issues out of the equation, Zipline really does represent a pioneering new concept in healthcare logistics that should have great value across the world.

Think of the number of nations with infrastructural gaps, poor road networks and major remote settlements- there are several in Central Africa alone, before you even consider the likes of Myanmar and Nepal. This is an incredible concept, my only worry being that they overstretch themselves too early. They say they are looking to expand into other countries this year already- I would want to ensure the success longevity of the Rwanda project first. This is a competitive field, however, and other companies will soon be snapping at their heels- and with $25 million in funding, one would assume they have done their due diligence. rwanda-1

(All images taken from respective websites, unless otherwise noted).