Sunday, 12 July 2009

On the ground in my new location, ready to begin the next adventure

I arrived in Europe on Wednesday, after three weeks of travel, during which I visited with friends and family in seven different US locations on my way here from Australia. This vacation was very much a whirl-wind adventure, trying to see as many different people as I could manage during the time allotted and still have some quality time with people at each stop. I didn’t get to see everyone I might have liked to have seen, but I very much enjoyed the time with the folks I did get to see. During the final two and a half weeks of my mad rush to complete my thesis before boarding that plane to commence my journey I gave up any attempt to read my 1000 words a day of geologic literature. There may have been some days in that period where I did read that many words in the course of looking at the literature in order to reference things as I was writing, but if so, I did not make a note of it in my 1000-words-a-day spreadsheet, I simply did the work as quickly as I could and kept going. Given the hectic, sleep-deprived schedule necessary to complete such a project on a firm deadline like that, it is no surprise that I didn’t re-commence reading my 1000 words a day as soon as the thesis was submitted. Instead I hopped on the plane and then dove into having an active social life (for the first time in months) from the moment my feet hit the ground on the other side. I did start to feel guilty about half way through my vacation about not working on anything related to my research, and started reading my 1000 words a day again. This lasted all of two days before I moved on to the next location and was so busy having fun with friends and family that I quit again. Good habits may be easy to form through regular practice, but they are just as easily discarded by taking some time off, making it difficult to pick them back up again.

The first couple of days at my destination have been devoted to paperwork essential to my getting paid for the work I will be doing (e.g. obtaining a local official number so that taxes may be withheld from my earnings, obtaining a bank account, and turning in forms with these numbers to the university) and moving into the room the university provided me. Somehow, I was kept busy enough that I didn’t even think about starting up my 1000 words a day again. Then, on Friday, my boss gave me a stack of journal articles (in paper) to read, with instructions to make copies and return his copies to him. Not wanting to waste paper, I spent a couple of hours downloading as many as I could obtain in pdf format via University library web pages (16 out of 20!). By the time I was done it was time to attend a BBQ that one of my colleagues on my research team was hosting, so I didn’t make time to actually read any of these articles (though they have all be entered into EndNote and into my “to do” list, with notes as to when they were added and why they are on the list.

So it was not until Saturday, fully four days after arriving at my new job that I actually begun reading my 1000 words a day. Perhaps it was a result of taking the time off, but it felt amazingly good to be reading again! I started with an old journal article, chosen at random from the pile, which contains background information which will be useful for the experiments I shall be undertaking over the course of the next year and a half. I got as far as the first couple of pages, and saw the sketches my boss had added to the margins of table 1, showing the changing tie lines associated with different mineral assemblages, and I recalled the conversation we’d had when he gave me the papers, wherein I explained that I while I was very comfortable with the rectangle diagrams I’d generated for my thesis, showing pressure on one axis and temperature on the other, and which minerals are stable in which P/T zones, I wasn’t terribly comfortable with the triangle diagrams which are so common in metamorphic petrology, which show different chemical compositions on each point, and minerals are plotted within (or, sometimes outside of) the triangles, not having done anything with them for my PhD project.

When he heard that he handed me a textbook from 1979, Petrogenesis of Metamorphic Rocks by Helmut Winkler. This is not a book I’d seen before, presumably having been of the wrong age, or possibly on the wrong continent for it to have been required reading when I was taking classes. Remembering the text book, I set aside the journal article, and lost a happy hour or more skimming over the intro chapters and then focusing on the chapter on Graphical Representation of Metamorphic Mineral Parageneses. I don’t know if this book is more clearly written than ones I’d seen hitherto, or if I’ve simply finally read enough articles and other text books to “get it”, but the triangle diagrams are making much more sense this time. Or, perhaps it is the approach I used this time. Rather than simply reading over the words on the page quickly, I actually took the time to draw my own triangles and attempted to plot the locations of the minerals myself, before looking at the diagram in the book to see if I’d done it right. This method takes *much* longer than just reading the chapter (indeed, I’ve got a fair bit more reading to do before I’ll finish this chapter), but I think that the quality of what I’m getting out of the chapter is worth the extra effort. If I understand my job description correctly, I’ll be generating such diagrams from my experiments, and while these days there are computer programs to do this for me, it is important to understand what they are doing, so that I will be able to notice if a data entry error results in a diagram that doesn’t show what I thought I was plotting.

1 comment:

Kiri said...

How very diligent you are! It sounds like you make the reading really work for you, rather than just ticking off a word count (like push-ups). Good luck with the ternary diagrams!