Seven steps toward preparing for Field Season 2007

December 26, 2006

Carmen Wong in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America has a nice article (pdf) on preparing for your first field season.  The advice is good for us veterans as well.  The big take home, start planning now–a lot of these things take time.

  1.  Apply early for your research permits
  2. Make contacts with the relevant organizations
  3. Understand your sampling scheme
  4. Be safe
  5. Treat your field assistants well
  6. Treat yourself well and remember your loved ones
  7. Prepare for the worst

Getting Things Done–getting started

December 26, 2006

turkeyAhh. I love this time of year. The turkey is digesting and will be a part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few days. So cooking is not a distraction. Its grazing time.

That week-ish period between Christmas and New Years is also a good time for taking stock and seeing where we’re going, and perhaps making some mid-course corrections. Toward that goal, we’ll be spending some time the next couple of weeks reviewing aspects of Getting Things Done–part philosophy, part lifehacks–toward the goal of increasing your effectiveness and decreasing anxiety. This is targeted at the graduate student in the sciences but the principles apply to almost anybody who is creative, semi-autonomously, for a living. If you want to jump ahead, and already know a fair bit about GTD, the 43 Folders forum is an excellent place to jump in the deep end of the pool of everything lifehackery. We’ll be taking it a bit more slowly.

As we discussed before, there are four basic skills to being an academic.

1) Creativity–the generation of lots of good ideas and then culling them down to the best ones.

2) Scholarship–becoming an expert in your chosen field and maintaining an up-to-date knowledge of your general field.

3) Communication–expressing complex ideas in writing and through presentations (i.e., teaching)

4) Time Management–making continuous progress toward all three while still nurturing your health and personal relationships.

One useful way of thinking about managing our goals is from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The four quadrats classify our daily tasks by their urgency and their importance to our goals (which presumably include the four goals of improving our creativity, scholarship, communication and time management).

Steven Covey’s Four Quadrats

  • Group I entails crises and deadline driven projects (grades are to be turned in three days after Finals)
  • Group II include your long-term incremental goals (like, for example, becoming more creative, a better scholar, and a better communicator!)
  • Group III are interruptions that you have to deal with (a colleague walks in to chat, your phone rings)
  • Group IV are all the busy work and pleasant time wasters.

Covey’s great insight is that we should maximize our time spent in Quadrat II by 1) eliminating as much as possible Quadrat IV; dealing quickly and deliberately with Quadrat III, and planning (a QII activity) so that we don’t face the urgent deadlines that throw everything out of kilter. Graduate school is all about Quadrat II–building and honing a skill set. How do we find time to do that? We continue tomorrow.

On the size of things–Universe Edition

December 26, 2006

One of the great challenges in communicating science is the problem of orders of magnitude. While it is relatively easy to picture 1:10, or 1:100 (I picture little squares of graph paper), once you get to 1:10,000 there is quite a bit of error. Yet in ecology we are tasked with, for example, understanding how populations of microbes interact with their host to cause disease. When that host is a vertebrate, we are dealing with scales of 1:1,000,000,000,000. The mind boggles.

Powers of Ten

Which is why it is so wonderful to see it done right. The classic in this genre is Philip and Phylis Morrison’s Powers of Ten. In a hundred or so pages, they travel from a view of 10^25 meters (basically empty space) down to 10-15 (one fermi), inside a proton. Biology pretty much spans the innards, from the scale of the biosphere (10^7) to the molecular (10^-9).  Their video is great–it has that 70’s Public television ambience.  Which is not to say its not fantastic.

Here is the Simpson‘s take on it.

Universal View

The latest entry in the “blow our minds and edify our intellects” competition is this Google video on the size of celestial bodies. From little ‘ole Mars up to W. Cephei.

I’d love to see a similar project capturing the diversity of life from prion to Blue whale. Let us know if something like that exists, or if there are other great “scale of science” visuals.