Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How I am spending my time

I have mentioned previously that I keep a log of how I spend my time. When I was doing my PhD the interesting question was what percentage of my time was spent on “uni work”, and how was I spending the rest of my time? That way I could look at the graphs and easily decide what I should change if I wasn’t happy with my progress. I have maintained those logs since finishing that degree, and even made use of the data when applying for my visa to move to Sweden—the abrupt increase in the amount of time spent doing “social” activities when I met my partner was part of the documentation that we really do have a relationship with one another.

However, comparing “uni work” to all of the other aspects of my life is not the full story. This morning I was struck with the inspiration that I should also track what sorts of “uni work” I am doing. Since it has only been one month since I started my new job it seemed like a good time to set up the spreadsheet to calculate that, too. I have created five broad categories into which all of my “uni work” tasks fit. I then compared the data in my descriptive log of what tasks I accomplish each day (e.g. “revised figure 2.5 to show____”, or “received a copy of my hire paperwork from HR and filed in in folder ____”) with my numeric log showing how many hours in each day were spent on uni work, and have estimated the split for each day since this job began. In addition, I also calculated my time for most of October, since I did my job interview, began reading the literature my boss gave me as background reading for this project then, and attended two different short courses during that month.

Setting up the spread sheet and doing those estimates took all morning, but since that was 58 days’ worth of data that means that I spent less than 4 minutes a day on this project. Now that the spreadsheet is set up it should be even easier to keep it up to date by entering in the new data, and I think that I can easily spare 4 minutes a day for the return of seeing the distribution of how I am spending my time. This will be particularly useful as my boss told me that the teaching component of my work should only be 10 to 20% of my time, and this way I will know if I am falling under, meeting or exceeding this target.

The categories I chose are:

* Research: which has three sub categories, the first of which is my current job (3D geochemical modelling of ore deposits in northern Scandinavia), the second and third are finishing up the papers based on my PhD and last post-doc positions.

* Learn: reading literature, attending courses, attending conferences, talks, and seminars, studying Swedish, etc.

* Teach: teaching classes, teaching prep, meetings about teaching, etc.

* Admin: administrative tasks, filing, computer maintenance issues (install programs and hardware, backup, etc.), paperwork, work-related travel, funding applications, updating logs, cleaning/organizing the office, meetings on any of these sorts of topics, etc.

* Netwk: networking, updating resume, updating LinkedIn and Academia.edu, interviews, public outreach, job applications (when this contract draws to a close), etc.

For the month of October I worked a total of 82.6 hours (which all counts as bonus time, as my job had not yet started). Of that time 68% was spent on “learn”-related tasks, 31% was “admin”, and 1% was “netwk”. There is still nearly half a work day left for November, but the month is close enough to done to report that my time this month has been split roughly:

38.9% research (10.5% this job, 20.5% last job, and 7.9% PhD research)

31.5% admin

12.5% learn

17.1% netwrk

0% teach

Assuming 8 hour work days, no work on Sat or Sunday, and only 4 hours for the one Friday in November which was a half-day holiday I should have worked 172 hours on this job so far this year. However, because I started work-related tasks back in October I am already up to 233.4 hours, or 135.7% of the hours I need.

Combining the data for October and November gives:

32.1% learn

31.4% admin

25.1% research (6.8% this job, 13.2% last job, and 5.1% PhD research)

11.3% netwrk

0% teach

It will be interesting to watch how the balance between the categories shifts each month.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Well, that changes everything. Perhaps.

I have heard it said that sometimes the most exciting moments in science are when you look at something and say “that’s odd!”. I had one of those moments today. I have been working on the paper from my post-doc research this week, and the main focus of my work has been the figures. I now have very good, clearly labelled BSE images of every sample analysed and am starting to reference them in the text of the paper. The process consists of saying things like “Garnet ranges in texture from thick rims overgrowing seeds to a spray of very small grains” and then adding parenthetical notes behind each type pointing to figures that show each sort. In the process I also listed those samples which have no garnet at all, with reference to their photos.

This is where the “that’s odd” moment came in. For one of the samples my table of results shows that it has garnet, and that I have five good analyses of it. However, the photo of that sample shows that there is no garnet at all, unless you count the seeds of a vastly different garnet composition that were included in each experiment to give the new garnet an easy place to start growing. Clearly something is wrong here, so I checked the data file and determined that the five garnet analyses we have for this sample were done by my predecessor in this project years before I arrived. In my own records I also have three analyses of garnet seeds from this sample. Comparing his data with my own shows that the garnet analyses he did are clearly *not* the seeds—for this sample the seeds are grossular garnet (the calcium end member) but the garnet he analysed are iron-rich with only a little Mg and Ca. Sorting all of the garnet data for all of the samples shows that his analyses for this particular sample fall nicely in the middle of the pack in terms of composition.

So what is going on? I can think of a couple of logical possibilities off the top of my head. One (kind of obvious one) is that I somehow analysed the wrong sample myself and the photo I have is not the sample I think it is. Another is that I did analyse the correct sample but there is something wrong with his data. A part of me hopes that it is the latter—not just because of vanity and the hopes that I did everything perfectly, but more because it would clear up a problem that has been bothering me with my results since I first obtained the data.

I ran my experiments at three different temperatures: 600, 625, and 650 C. For the two higher temps garnet was present for every pressure I tried. For 600 C, on the other hand, I found no garnet at all in any of the metapelite runs, but it was present in 3 of the 4 metagreywacke runs. Now, had those three been adjacent to one another I wouldn’t have complained. But they weren’t. Instead I had garnet present at 2.2 GPa, garnet absent at 2.5 GPa, and present again at 2.65 and 2.8 GPa. This makes it difficult to draw pretty diagrams. How much nicer they look when a phase is absent for one half and present for the other half of the diagram.

So now I sit and eagerly await a reply from my erstwhile boss to the email I just sent him. Depending on how he replies I will have work to do changing the write up to match the new situation—do I get to delete the analyses of garnet for this sample that he did, and write the paper with a story that makes sense to me, or will I need to beg him to find the real sample and put it into the microprobe and take new BSE images and do an analysis or three to confirm that the composition my predecessor saw all those years ago are correct, or…?

Friday, November 18, 2011

November writing challenge update

Back at the end of October I put my hand up to participate in a science writing challenge for the month of November by finishing up two papers that really should have been written long since. On 1 November I started my new job, and didn’t write at all that first week as I focused on the 1001 tasks necessary to starting a new job, including moving into my office, rearranging the office furniture to suit my working needs, meeting my new colleagues, obtaining employee cards, library cards, etc.

Early in week two my office computer arrived, and another two potential writing days were lost installing programs and generally making the computer ready to use. However, on Thursday and Friday of that week I actually sat down and finished up the current draft of the paper based on my PhD research. The previous version I had done (while back in Australia in July) was good in terms of presenting the basic facts of what was done and what the results were, but I had been kind of sketchy in the discussion and conclusions section. (I think that is a common failing on my part that I should work on—I am totally comfortable reporting facts, and I am totally comfortable with editing a previously existing discussion/conclusion section, but actually confessing what *I* think is relevant or important about those facts? That is getting kind of personal.)

Be that as it may, since it was necessary to finish the paper I somehow found the necessary motivation/inspiration to just write it—I went back to my PhD thesis, looked at the points covered in that section there, and chose which ones to address here. Not only did I write it all down, in many cases the version in this paper is much clearer and more eloquent than what I had typed when finishing up the degree. Spending a couple of years thinking about other areas of geology actually helped give me some new insights on that project.

In this, my third week on my job I have continued to split my time between needful tasks for this project (doing background meeting, arranging a trip to the mining company with whom I will be working, obtaining a card to let me use the uni gym (free to employees during business hours), etc.) and finishing up previous papers. Since I had sent a copy of the PhD paper to my erstwhile advisor in Tasmania on Friday that meant I could focus on working on the paper from the experimental post doc position I finished last December.

This week I have managed to do some editing of the text and make major progress on a set of figures that should have been done long since: BSE images of every experiment, annotated to label the mineral phases present.

Why hadn’t I created such images previously? Because I documented each microprobe session in CorelDraw. My standard operating procedure was to look at the sample, determine a region to work on, take a picture, transfer it to my personal computer, open it in CorelDraw, and create a new layer for the day’s session in which I would make colour-coded circles superimposed over the picture at the locations for each analysis point. I would give each circle a name that matched the name recorded in the microprobe (such as RC1-NMg1 for the first garnet analysis on sample #RC1-NM). Repeat for each analysis, taking additional photos as needed.

This works very well for recording things, and one can easily go back and compare the results with the appearance of the phase analysed. However, the layers can get confusing for those samples with multiple microprobe sessions (due to the difficulties in getting good results for some phases).

The new, improved, pdf images I am creating for each sample make things much easier—they are all labelled with the pressure and temperature of the experiment, which bulk composition was used, and which phases are present. The phases are colour coded to indicate the quality of the data—if they are in bold print I had five or more good analyses of that phase for that sample which agree. If they are in normal print there were three to five good analyses, if they are in red there were two (or fewer) good analyses, and if the red text has a question mark next to it I know that the phase is present, but it was too small to get a clean analysis so I do not actually know the composition of the phase. Having this information right there with the photo of the sample is very helpful. It is also pretty easy to see why the red text is in red in most cases—those phases really are smaller or too amorphous to get good readings—one can see that in the photo, too.

There is still a week and a half left in November—I think I may be able to finish compiling these images today, so there is a chance that I will be able to complete all of the other tasks necessary for this project before the month ends. However, even if I do not complete this goal, I still thank Anne for having inspired me to set it—I am certain that I would have found plenty of tasks to keep me busy instead of writing these older papers if I had not stated publically that I would do it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Intriguing distractions

One of the things I have been reading in the process of learning the things I need to know for my new job is the book "Description of regional geological and geophysical maps of the Skellefte District and surrounding areas" A comment in the introduction caught my eye "Application of geophysical methods in metal exploration started more than three centuries ago in Sweden. Magnetic methods were in use as early as 1640.".

Sadly, the paragraph did not list a source for this information. However I see that one of the editors of the book is my boss, so I have emailed him to ask if he happens to know of the source. I did see a couple of books from the 1800's cited in the bibliography, so perhaps one of them could be the source. It looks like our library might have them, but they are in Swedish. While my language learning has gotten good enough to easily read children's books and books that I have read before in English, I fear that I am not up to trying to track down obscure references to magnetic methods which were in use in the 1640's. So instead I will make note of it here—perhaps next year I will be fluent enough to chase up that information, if my boss doesn't have a useful reply (he is traveling now—he has been at a conference all week).

Ok, back to real work, the clock is ticking…

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taking up the gauntlet

Anne, over at Highly Allochthonous, has set a challenge for herself, and the rest of us—get those papers we have been meaning to write finished up and ready to submit during November. The timing is perfect. While I have had, in theory, 10 months with nothing to do but write up the results of my research, in reality I enjoyed my time of unemployment by doing non science adventures with my new love. But my life of leisure is at an end, starting with tomorrow, 1 November, I am employed once again.

I know from experience that starting a new job can make it difficult to finish up papers from the last project, but they tell me that it could be 10 days before I get a computer in my office and I won't have the meeting to get the data from the mining companies until some as-yet-to-be-determined date, which is a grand excuse to seriously sit down and catch up on those last few tasks to finish up the two papers that have been in progress for longer than they should have been. Stay tuned for updates on progress towards this goal…