Monday, December 20, 2010

My travels in 2010

I see that Silver Fox is playing a game wherein we recount the travelling we've done in the past year. That page links to others who have played as well. Since I love travel, and have done a fair bit recently, I thought I'd join in, but I'll start with December of last year, just because many of you have only just finished with this year's AGU:

December 2009: I flew to California for AGU, and while there visited with many friends who live in the area as well, then flew to Seattle for my mother's birthday, and then home to Alaska for the first time in many years.

2010:

January: I returned to Seattle for a few more days with family and friends there, then back to California for a few more days with friends there before returning home from a month-long holiday based around AGU.

February: Attended a short-course on Microstructures in Verbania, Italy

March: attended a Scientific Writing Workshop in Zurich, Switzerland

April: Petrology conference in Tolouse, France

May: EGU in Vienna, Austria

June: Meeting of my research team in Norway (Trondheim, road trip to Florø, and boat trip to Bergen, then train to Oslo for flight home). Also a non-geology road trip to Germany for a Medieval event.

July: two trips for Medieval Dance events, one in Germany, the other in Scotland.

August: Trip to Ireland to visit friends, to Budapest, Hungary for IMA.

September: Kinetics course in Vienna (went from IMA to Vienna, rather than going home in between), and the European Textile Forum in the Italian Alps, followed by the Italian geological society conference in

October: Back to the Italian Alps with my mother, and then we flew off to Finland to meet family there for the first time, then to Scotland for a job interview.

November: to Stockholm, Sweden for another Medieval Dance event.

December: to Cambridge, UK for another Medieval Dance event.

By my count that is 10 trips for geology meetings, conferences, short courses, or interviews, four for medieval dance events, one for medieval textiles, and six for strictly personal reasons. It is a good thing I like travel!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The most difficult stage of the writing process: what to include?

here are many things I love about being a scientist—doing research, whether it be in the field or the laboratory is just plain fun. Processing the data after gathering it can also be much fun as it is transformed into useful information and patterns start to emerge. However, my least favourite part of any research project is deciding what parts to share with the world in the form of a published paper. Why? Because I suffer from two conflicting tendencies—on the one hand I suffer from Too Much Information Syndrome, where I want to share with the reader *everything* I tried in the course of research and painstaking details about the manner in which some of the avenues of investigation failed to work and exactly why others were more effective. But on the other hand, I also suffer from the tendency to want to cut things too short—to neglect to mention the background information that I understand which is crucial for really grasping what it is that I have done and why it is significant. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the happy middle ground that leads to a published paper. Once I've managed to get past that somewhat daunting decision of what information to include, and what to leave out, the rest of the paper writing becomes a joy once again. It can be fun to craft the perfect sentence which conveys, in the most eloquent manner, the complex concepts that underpin the investigation. I enjoy the editing and revision portion of the process nearly as much as the data-gathering. Therefore, wish me luck as I go through all of the data generated (and still being generated) in my (nearly) 1.5 years as a post-doc (final experiment to be analyzed for the first time on Monday and Tuesday!) and try to determine what parts to share with the world, so that I may move on to the more fun parts of transforming the first draft of the prose into eloquence.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

motivation, 1000 a day, and winter holidays

A year and a half ago I was finishing up my PhD thesis, working really, really long hours and totally focused on the one goal: finish up before boarding that plane on my way to my first post-doc position. Many of my friends commented at how motivated I was, and I replied that plane tickets are a huge motivator.

Jump ahead to the present and I once again have plane tickets waiting for me at the end of the month, but this time they are taking me to visit friends in Scandinavia and enjoy some real winter weather while I keep applying for jobs. Since my friends will have jobs to go to during the days the prospect of not being quite finished with my current research isn't as worrisome as the prospect of not completing that thesis before boarding the plane to head to a job—I know that it will be possible to keep working, even once funding ends. As a result I have not been putting fort the same sort of concentrated effort I did a year and a half ago, but am instead permitting myself some distractions.

One of the biggest distractions, of course, is the need to continue to apply for all of those positions which sound interesting and related to any of the research I've done to date. Each of these applications takes time, and each has a deadline by which if I have not yet applied they will not consider me for the position. One of the other distractions has been my social life. I flew to Scandinavia on the last weekend of November, and to the UK on the first weekend of December. Both trips were to attend events focused on Medieval Dancing. I very much enjoyed both trips and got to renew some old friendships and make some new friends.

Prior to the first of those trips I had been wondering what to do about my 1000 a day—I had chosen to fly carry-on only, and wouldn't be bringing my computer—this means that I'd need to actually print out a pdf or bring a text book so that I'd have something with me to read from the geologic literature. Sadly, a couple of days before my trip I forgot to read my 1000, thus ending a streak of 321 days in a row. My record, by far, and I am pleased to have achieved it. But oh, wouldn't it have been nice to manage an entire year in a row of reading 1000 or more words from the geological literature?

I know how it happened that I forgot, too. Much the same way as the last time I broke a record-breaking streak. Step one: get into the habit of reading your 1000 right before bed for many weeks running. Step two, switch to reading during lunch for a week or three. Step three: encounter a particularly busy day, with no time to read your 1000 during lunch. Think about it a couple of times during the day that it still needs doing, but only while actively in the middle of another, important task. Finish up everything else for the day, do yoga, brush teeth, crawl into bed, and pick up some fiction. Read till you sleep, and don’t remember that the 1000 hadn't been done till you wake.

Having forgotten I then made a decision to take a hiatus from reading my 1000. I will start back up after the first of the year, but I am taking December off (I wound up taking off much of last December, too, as I traveled and visited friends and family after attending AGU). It is strangely freeing to have one fewer "must do" on my list each day. However, I strongly suspect that I will be very happy to start that task back up again with the New Year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Birthday blogging

I am currently enjoying the final month of my contract—this means trying to accomplish all of the "last things" that have to happen before this research becomes a published paper in between packing my things to go into storage, purchasing tickets for some post-contract travel, and applying for jobs so that I have somewhere to go when the travel phase ends. Needless to say, I haven't been making much time to post blogs, but since I've always taken a random approach to the timing of them anyway, perhaps no one will notice.

Today I get to celebrate my birthday week by playing with expensive toys—more time on the electron microprobe to generate yet more data. I am looking forward to it—there is much fun to be had looking at minerals in that much detail. At this point in my project I've got the routines down to convert the data into useable format, so should be able to have it incorporated with the preceding sessions before the weekend is over. Working on the weekend? You betcha—best way to assure that I am actually done (enough) with my research when the contract ends.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An alternate hypothesis for columnar jointing

Anyone who has ever taken a geology class has probably heard the explanation to explain columnar jointing in basaltic rocks—cracks that occur as the molten rock cools quickly due to its sudden emplacement in a much cooler setting than where it first melted. However, a friend of mine browsing the web today found a picture which shows another possibility for the long vertical lines that occur in cliffs of columnar jointed rock:



(The above image was found here.)