They don’t call it the City of Dreaming Spires for nothing.

I am so incredibly lucky to have lived here for almost 4 years!

I went on a tour of Auschwitz today. During the one hour drive to the camp we watched a documentary in the tour van. It was of 100% uncut, uncensored footage of the liberation of Auschwitz. This was undoubtedly the most disturbing film I have ever watched. It showed the hopeless and lifeless expressions of the prisoners, standing in the compound littered with decaying bodies everywhere, as the Soviets entered. It showed the Soviet doctors doing autopsies on the small bodies of babies and children who had starved to death. It showed the medical examination of victims whom had endured drug and medical experimentation. One man had been intentionally infected with leprosy so German pharmaceutical companies could test new drugs on him. It showed men that were castrated and children that had been poisoned. I have never in my life felt physically sick while watching something, and yet there I was, unable to hold down my coffee.

We then arrived at Auschwitz.

These are some photos from the day.

All the prisoners at Auschwitz arrived by train and were immediately ‘sorted’. The elderly, the sick and disabled, pregnant women and all children under age 13 were sent directly to the gas chamber and all others to the work camp. The gate into Auschwitz reads ‘Work for your freedom’ in German, almost there to taunt the prisoners, as this was clearly not true. The grey wall with the flowers was where shooting executions happened. Notice the windows of the building beside are boarded up. This was so the prisoners couldn’t watch. There was also a gallows, which stands at the end of the hallway in one of my photos. Hangings were done publicly, as a warning to others. If someone escaped, ten people from their bunker were executed as a warning to not attempt escape. 900 people managed to escape but 650 of those were later caught and then killed, usually by starvation.

The sheer vastness of this camp was astonishing. There were 60 bunkers for the men alone, each housing several thousand men. Only the first line of them still stand, as you can see in the photo, but the chimneys of the others still remain behind and off into the distance. A testament to the camps size. It was estimated that the work camp housed as many as 150,000 people at one time.

The first photo is of a bunker. People slept on all three levels. There was no heat, no open windows or latrines. They were infested by rats and plagued by countless diseases. The rest of these photos are mainly of the gas chamber and piles of belongings left behind by the victims. The photo with the flowers is a gas chamber. The hole in the roof is where the cans of gas were dropped into, killing people within about 30 minutes. The piles of empty gas cans were found after the camp was liberated. The bodies were then burned in the brick ovens. The last photo is of the memorial plaque near one of the gas chambers (there were 4).  

It was a deeply sad day. Though I am glad I went to see this for myself. It’s important we never forget, and I encourage you to also visit if you get a chance. Here is a quote from the Auschwitz/Birkenau info pamphlet:

"Auschwitz is forever a painful expression of the world’s bad conscience. The remains of the Nazi death camp reminds us of the darkest moments in human history."

Rainy Bike Tour Around Berlin!

Sites included Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, Hitler’s Bunker (where he committed suicide), the place where the big book burning happened, the Luftwaffe Ministry, the Victory Column, the Reichstag, Bebelplatz and the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’. 

The Berlin Wall

Athens, Greece!

The CBC aired my interview last night so if you’re in Canada you can probably access this link. It comes on around  37:25. I haven’t been able to watch it myself so comments appreciated.

Enjoy!

Hi! I'm Astrid and I found your blog one day when I googled "oxford exam carnations". Your blog was so great that I ended up reading the whole thing, which took me two months since I'm a 4th year political science student and papers and stuff. I'm also from Alberta, which made reading your blog even cooler and I just wanted to say congrats on winning your competition! Really inspiring!

Hi Astrid,

Thanks for your message. It’s a pleasure to connect with a fellow Alberta girl. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my blog… more adventures to come! Good luck with the rest of your studies!

All the best, Tam

Adventures in Rome!

Hi! Congratulations on winning the GIC and becoming a Ph.D in the same week! I'm Keith, a 4th year medical student from HK and I previously attended FutureMed 2013 (organised by SU as well) which was awesome. Hope you'll enjoy the GSP this year. Stackz is a great idea and it has huge potential to change the academic landscape. It would be great if I can add you to my professional network on LinkedIn, so I may contribute some ideas or more to Stackz?

Hi Keith!

Thanks for your message. Yes, please add me on LinkedIn. I look forward to hearing more from you and good luck in med school!

tamara.etmannski@gmail.com
All the best,
Tam

Read more about my idea and the other competitors of the Canadian Global Impact Competition here.

Passed!

I’m officially Dr Tamara R. Etmannski

I had my PhD defense on Friday and I passed with minor corrections. Horay!

I remember thinking about this day 4 years ago and dreading it. How could I face a panel of experts whose entire purpose is to punch holes through my thesis and force me to defend my argument? Sounds terrifying…

Surprisingly, heading into the examination was much less stress-filled than anticipated. After all, I am now ALSO an expert. Bring it on…

From the beginning, everyone was in good spirits. Even through the tougher criticisms, I didn’t feel attacked. It was an interesting exercise of sometimes taking on board the examiners views and expressing gratitude for their insights and other times disagreeing respectfully while backing up my argument. I don’t remember there being a point where I stopped smiling or broke into a sweat. Overall I felt my examiners were kind and very fair, and the experience will result in a better thesis, one more in-line with my voice.

A defense can take anywhere between 2-4 hours of questioning. It is usually a bad sign it it takes any longer. Mine ended up being 1 hour and 50 minutes. 

One of my best friends (and officemate), Kat, was waiting for me outside the exam room and I think she was surprised firstly at how short it was and also at how positive and at-ease I was when it ended. She surprised me with a little party in the office where my Teddy Hall family came and shared champagne and snacks. 

Because I finished much earlier than anticipated, it kind of caught everyone who was planning a party for me off guard. But it all worked out. A few bottles of champagne in, we shifted to the pub where I met up with more friends and I had a well deserved beer.

By 11pm I was cycling home in the warm air, wearing my ridiculous Oxford exam ‘sub-fusc’ (black ribbon/bow, suit), my  academic robe flowing in the wind, my Congrats balloon tied to my wrist floating behind me, and the BIGGEST smile on my face all the way home. What a day… what a week.

"Out of the Box"  The Global Impact Competition Award
Designed by: Paul Kalbfleisch with Art Under Us
"The Global Impact Competition Award is a visual abstract imagery and sculpture work called "Out of the Box".
While somewhat random in shape, the design symbolizes an unfolded box - the dismantling of traditional thinking. The interlocking imagery on the sculpture symbolizes new thinking… big curve impact and a new collaborative world. There is also symbolism in the juxtaposition between the straight lines of the dismantled traditional box and the new interlocking curves of innovative thinking.
Innovation is achieved by looking differently at the world around us. To drive this message home, the circular imagery is actually an enhanced photo of a bicycle rack shadow in the fresh evening snow.”
http://artunderus.tumblr.com/   Twitter: @PaulKalbfleisch
Thanks to Paul Kalbfleisch and his team for such an amazing piece that I am proud and honoured to add to my personal art collection. I will forever cherish it, as not only is it my trophy for winning the GIC, but what it symbolizes accurately reflects my vision and my approach to life generally. My deepest gratitude.  

"Out of the Box"  The Global Impact Competition Award

Designed by: Paul Kalbfleisch with Art Under Us

"The Global Impact Competition Award is a visual abstract imagery and sculpture work called "Out of the Box".

While somewhat random in shape, the design symbolizes an unfolded box - the dismantling of traditional thinking. The interlocking imagery on the sculpture symbolizes new thinking… big curve impact and a new collaborative world. There is also symbolism in the juxtaposition between the straight lines of the dismantled traditional box and the new interlocking curves of innovative thinking.

Innovation is achieved by looking differently at the world around us. To drive this message home, the circular imagery is actually an enhanced photo of a bicycle rack shadow in the fresh evening snow.”

http://artunderus.tumblr.com/   Twitter: @PaulKalbfleisch

Thanks to Paul Kalbfleisch and his team for such an amazing piece that I am proud and honoured to add to my personal art collection. I will forever cherish it, as not only is it my trophy for winning the GIC, but what it symbolizes accurately reflects my vision and my approach to life generally. My deepest gratitude.  

Canada’s Global Impact Competition

The last few days have been a whirlwind of nerves and excitement.

I spent every moment leading up to my pitch for the Canadian Global Impact Competition thinking about what I should say and how. I only had 6 minutes to explain the innovative idea, how it works, why it’s different, what problem it solves, why it’s important, how it will positively impact 1 million Canadians in 3-5 years and why I’m the person to make it happen. It was a tall order… stream-lining phrases, cutting my thoughts down to the bare bones while still conveying the right information with maximum effect. Tricky

It finally came time to head to the event and meet the other finalists. It was a talented and dynamic group. Here is the list with a description of their ideas: http://buildingabettertomorrow.ca/meet-the-finalists/

Check out the judges’ profiles: http://buildingabettertomorrow.ca/the-competition/meet-our-judges/

My first thought was that I’m facing some stiff competition; and rightfully so. How exciting…

The pre-pitch mingling event felt like it went on forever. Despite meeting loads of interesting people, I was distracted by the pressure building. The presentations finally began and before I knew it, I was standing in front of a crowd of about 150 people, microphone on, and listening to my name being announced. The timer loomed in front. I knew as soon as I started speaking it would start counting and the race to finish would begin.

“Hi, I’m Tam”

And the race began. From what I remember, I stuck to the mental script I had created for myself, generally. I remember stumbling over a few words, which is unusual for me, as I’m normally very comfortable giving lectures and presentations. This pitch mattered. My idea matters. Getting into the program really matters. No pressure.

I remember correcting myself at one point and pausing to take a deep breath to regain composure and focus. I looked at the judges.

Whoops, big mistake. All five of them sat in the front row, intently staring right back at me and hanging on my every word. Shoot. No pressure.

OK, new strategy: ignore the judges.

I remember feeling passionate about what I was saying. I remember the audience showing interest. I remember a fiery energy in the room.

I remember muddling up the thank-you slide, or skipping it totally.

After the timer reached 6 the judges had 5 more minutes to ask questions: This led to concerns about cross-generational integration, implementation strategy, potential obstacles, and revenue streams. The most memorable moment, from what I’ve been told by several people since, came in the second last question. The judge expressed genuine trepidation with the ‘Goliaths’ of the academic journal industry blocking this free, open-access movement.

I think in this moment, I let my disruptive nature get the better of me because I’m fairly certain that I didn’t even let him finish his sentence.

“But David won!” I interrupted. I really have no idea what else I said after, except that I was undeniably and unwaveringly confident that I, a blond girl from Calgary, will win the battle.

After the pitches were all done, everyone was ushered to the lobby where dessert was served while the judges made their decision. I remember feeling a small pang of regret for disrespecting that gentleman by interrupting him. I remember wondering if being a ‘shit-disturber’ was genetic. I mean, if living in the most formal, hierarchical space in the world for the last 4 years doesn’t beat it out of someone, it must be genetic, right? I worried that my slight outburst cost me the win. Or was I being too ‘British’ about it?

I nervously awaited the announcement, convinced the ‘dude with the iron fish’ had won it. As Jamie, the COO of Innovation Guelph took the microphone, I thought about how this is my moment to fake a smile like all the famous people do when they don’t win a Grammy.

Except I believe Jamie quoted me and said something about the winner being the blond from Calgary.

Shock

A genuine smile.

Joy.

I was quickly given the opportunity to make a speech. Whoa. Have you ever made an impromptu speech in front of 150 strangers?

Well put it this way: I KILLED it.

And in retrospect, I have no idea how. It was 3am UK time, and normally I can’t keep my eyes open passed midnight.

The rest of the night was a blur. I was given a cool trophy, loads of photos were taken, and dozens of congratulations offered. I gave a little interview for a radio station that I was told, went quite well. (It aired in the morning and I missed the broadcast.)

The following day I was interviewed on TV. Amanda Lang interviewed me for a segment on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange. It might air on Friday April 4 on the CBC at 7pm Ontario-time (5pm Calgary; Midnight Oxford), so tune in if you’re interested.

I’m writing this from the Toronto airport, as I’m on my way back to Oxford to defend my PhD tomorrow. I feel tired. Yet I’m content. I’m deeply honoured and humbled to have been picked to be Canada’s first GIC representative. I feel inspired by Innovation Guelph’s commitment to see this through and feel motivated to help in future years to see the GIC become a Canadian tradition. I’m grateful to have the support of the judges, to be Canadian and to have the opportunities I’ve had in life. I feel immensely excited about the future. And surprisingly, I’m not in any way nervous about my defense tomorrow.

Amanda Lang, the CBC reporter said something interesting to me today before the interview… I had mentioned that I was nervous, that I had no idea what to expect in the interview or what questions she was going to ask. She responded by saying, “Don’t worry. You’re the expert. You’ll be fine.” Ha. Well I don’t know if I’m expert in the realm of online open-publishing but I am DEFINITLY an expert on the topic of my PhD thesis.

So with that in mind, I’m having a nap. T-11 hours. Bring it on.