Conferences are definitely a huge part of a PhD students’ life, but they are not the only reason we get to gallivant off to different cities and countries. Last week I was lucky enough to attend a week long summer school hosted by the University of Toronto (UOT), looking at all things cement chemistry based. Now, whilst I realise this might not be everybody’s cup of tea, I was pretty excited (if a little daunted) to be jetting off to Canada to engage in some top notch schooling! The course was organised by Professor Doug Hooton, who is a bit of a cement and concrete research rock star and has recently been honoured by RILEM for “Achievement in the Development of Canada” – quite the accolade. With my course schedule in hand and my notepad prepped I hopped on a flight from Manchester to Toronto, and after successfully finding my hotel I had an evening to explore before the course began.
A bright and breezy Monday morning greeted me as I found my way to the correct UOT building. This included not only wandering through the picturesque campus, but also navigating through the many, many graduating students – this university is huge! I successfully made it to the right place, and managed to befriend two fellow PhD students who had made the trip from Switzerland in the lobby. We were joined by about 30 students and industry professionals from places ranging from Denmark to Texas, with a whole host of folks from America and Canada.
Given the varied audience, the course covered a broad range of subjects with lectures from academics and industry workers giving a nice balance of current research to real world applications. We had a whistle stop tour of cement manufacture on day one, after which a ‘fieldtrip’ to the pub was in order to get to know each other a little better and to relax from first day overload!
Day two focussed on hydration of cement, crystal chemistry, microscopy, and microstructure for the most common cements used, whilst day three looked at sustainability of the industry as a whole and alternative cementing materials. The final two days were a mixture of history and new research, looking at typical problems that affect cement (or more specifically concrete structures) and what (if anything) can be done about them – or what research opportunities exist.
Overall the course was really fascinating, and the lectures and discussion were of a really high standard – although I suppose that was to be expected from an award winning co-ordinator who has essentially written the Canadian materials and testing standards. Even though some of the course material wasn’t directly relevant to my research, I’ve got some great ideas and some new found contacts which is always a huge benefit. Now I just have to complete the exam!
It wasn’t all work though, and sightseeing around the city was my entertainment for the evenings. I especially enjoyed wandering round (and eating) in Chinatown and we had a fun group outing to the baseball on Thursday, which despite several peoples best efforts I haven’t grasped the subtleties of. Friday was home time for most people – apart from me, that is, as I stayed on for a fun packed holiday!