Dongyi Ma reflects on her year in the Connected Environments Lab
I am Mandy, a postgraduate student at UCL Bartlett, and my major is Connected Environments under CASA (Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis). In September this year, I officially entered CASA as a PhD student (MPhil/PhD for Advanced Spatial Analysis), and my focus is on making and building IoT sensor systems to measure and communicate Urban Heat Islands and urban microclimates for input into urban policy and climate planning. I am happy and lucky to be one of the first students of MSc Connected Environments, and here, I would like to share with you my recent study life and doctoral application experience. I hope it can be of some help to you.
Founded in 1826, University College London is the founding college of the University of London Union. In 1836, it abandoned the original name of the University of London and changed its name to University College London. UCL is generally considered to be the third oldest university in England after Oxford and Cambridge. UCL is located in the center of London, close to the British Museum and the British Library, with convenient transportation and elegant environment.
Connected Environments (CE) is a new major opened by CASA in 2021, in the Bartlett at UCL. It mainly focuses on the Internet of Things, data sensing, transmitting and visualization. The learning includes both hardware and software, we learn how to make and build the sensor devices, visualize the sensor data in 3D, deep learning of sensor data, and develop websites / apps. This year, there were 13 full-time students and 3 part-time students.
On the first day, the teacher said that 16 of us came from 16 completely different professional backgrounds. Amazing! Facts have proved that we did have many interesting interdisciplinary ideas and creative sparks in the group work of the past year. Quite different from the other program in CASA (MSc Urban Spatial Science), CE is more inclined towards hardware and application. We were taught in a small size of class, with a fixed location (CE lab) and fixed timetable (10 am-1 pm). For me, the experience here is quite like high school life.
CE moved in November 2022 to One Pool Street in Stratford, inside Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The building integrates classrooms and dormitories, which sounds quite convenient. You can apply for the One Pool dormitory on the UCL official website, about 254 pounds per week including all bills.
CE is taught at a fixed time and place, eight compulsory courses plus a dissertation project. This is the first time I have seen this kind of teaching method. We had four courses in term 1, four courses in term 2, and a dissertation in term 3.
The four courses of Term 1 are divided into two sessions (software and hardware module in parallel), one hardware course is taken on Monday and Wednesday, one software module is taken on Tuesday and Thursday. After 5 weeks, we could have one week off (reading week) in week 6, and then two new modules are opened. There is no exam for this major, we do coursework. Our grades are based on the final report and presentation and the completion of the hardware products. Compared with other majors that have exams, it may not be easy to get high scores, but the advantage is that the timeline is very long, you can spend more time thinking about what products to design, and then realize what you want to do bit by bit! Classes are held at the same place and at the same time every day, which saves a lot of time for misremembering class hours / finding the way.
The courses of CASA are very practical and interesting. Even though the program is very intense and may be difficult for students who have no programming foundation, I still believe it is worth doing and you won’t fail the module as long as you did your best, since teachers will teach us very patiently. Web Architecture module teaches us basically full-stack development from front-end to back-end database. In other modules, we learn to make Arduino-based sensor systems, Unity 3D metaverse game production, mobile app development and deep learning for sensor networks. The busiest is the first semester. When I arrived in a new country, I hadn’t had time to adapt to the new life. At the same time, the learning pace is so fast, and the intensity is very high. But trust yourself you can do it! And I am sure you will miss your life in term 1, when everyone is immersed in study, forgetting about anything else in the world. I can still remember that in term 1, my best friend and I live in the same student accommodation, every day we get up early to go to class and then go back to the student accommodation together at midnight, do homework together and starve in the middle of the afternoon, do group work together and debug together, really It is the most beautiful campus memory!
This year is very worthwhile, not only in this country, this city, and this university, but also in the knowledge learned and the precious friendship between classmates and teachers. For me, every day here is simple and pure. Although life is tense and fulfilling, although it is tiring, it is full of emotion and pride when I recall it. The MSc helps me to lay a solid foundation for my PhD study, and allow me to get adapt to life in London. The school, teachers, and classmates are beyond my imagination. They are knowledgeable, kind, and know everything. The teacher will teach knowledge in many fields and take you into the door. This is undoubtedly the best way to determine whether you are suitable for academics and which field you are willing to devote yourself to.
During my master’s degree, I do appreciate that every teacher respected my project idea, supported my every decision and provided all the help I needed. There are abundant teaching facilities in the laboratory, and the teachers almost replied by email in seconds. Responsive to every request, if you ask a question that the teacher does not know, there is a high probability that you will be led by him to ask other teachers. Every thought of the student has multiple teachers to give all-round, meticulous and thoughtful guidance. Like an old Chinese saying, talking to the professor one hour is better than ten years of reading by yourself!) The students are from all over the world with different ideas and everyone has completely different professional backgrounds. They are friendly and generous, and they can inspire each other and help each other to make progress together.
London is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. There are many new things to try if you have never been to a western society(museums / theatres / immersive performances). The living costs are not much higher than those in Beijing. Subway transportation is also very convenient. With a Schengen visa, you can go around European countries, most of them are within a 2-3 hours flight, and the air ticket is just 200 RMB if you buy the ticket in advance! You can even take the train from the school gate to Paris. It’s fun! Whether you come to study for a master’s degree for one year or to prepare for a PhD, I believed that the year with MSc CE, which belongs to you and London, will be the most memorable and beautiful year in your student life. From being ignorant at the beginning to gradually integrating into the romance and Britishness in the bones, life here is very exciting, you are welcome to come! London welcomes you, CASA welcomes you!