Telling the story of P cycling and UA in Montreal (process)

I feel like a turtle making this manuscript, slow but steady at the moment

I feel like a turtle making this manuscript, slow but steady at the moment

Since starting data analysis I have been thinking about what the story I want to tell to scientists and participants. I have mentioned it before (here, and here), but now it is getting serious. Writing a paper is hard (as we all know). I have published a few manuscripts and I am lucky to have great collaborators, but I still struggle with the process and always looking for productive ways to get from the idea, to the data, to a successful paper that will be citied. I have tried to pull from what I learnt in writing class in my master’s, the writing science book I have mentioned a few times, my past manuscripts and my mentors this time around. Here are the broad strokes of the steps I have (and are still in the midst) of taking which seem to be working OK:

1. Made a presentation for friends :I made a powerpoint of all my main questions and results and my interpretation and gave a presentation to my labmates. This gave me an opportunity to sit down and force mylself to transform all my excel spreadsheets into key points and graphs, and get some feedback on what they found interesting, unclear, underexploited or perhaps not well presented.

2. Refinement and better representations: Based on the feedback on my first presentation I made some changes. This version was inspired by some of the feedback during my run with labmates, but actually I think mostly from my own critiques and ideas after giving the presentation to them.

3. Made a presentation to committee: I then presented this new and improved version for my thesis committee members. This version included a few new analyses, more refined visualizations, and fewer main messages, and specific questions I had about moving forward (most importantly doing one or 2 papers, if results and messages matched questions, and if there were other analyses or results that would be key to add). I also hope that directly working in presentation mode will help me construct a talk I want to give at the 4th Sustainable Phosphorus Summit in September in Montpellier.

After these 3 steps I came across this post about academic writing that was really nice because it validated a little of what I had done, I am at that stage that I want to make my story and the post gives steps (I love lists!!!)

4. New analyses and creation of main messages: My advisor and committee member had some specific analyses they thought would add to the story, so I ran them (as explained in a past post). I then went back and forth with my advisor distilling the main messages that we really wanted in the publication (so the key story points to then develop text around).

5. Outlines: At this point I am going back and forth on outlines to organize the story pieces. My outlines include section headings and a note or sentence for each paragraph and a list of all the tables and figures I think should be there (and which sections they are associated with). At this stage we have also started to come up with possible venues for the manuscript.

6. Drafts: After we agree on an outline I will start drafting (although I have already drafted a the methods and results sections when I was analyzing the data just to make sure I was keeping track of what I was doing). Based on past experiences, sometimes drafting is not a linear process. Sometimes it takes the “full’ written-out version to see something isn’t quite right, even if you try and take out some of the writing and re-writing while adding new analyses and figures with the outline process. This means that after a draft I might still end up going through steps 1 though 5 again.

I recently came across another blog post that gave me a little guidance in the manuscript writing process (and a little motivation to move forward). The commentary on a study about academic productivity and getting published puts forth the idea that there are many steps to publication (each one a hurdle) but that one just needs to be OK (not amazing) at all of them to be productive (but this also means can’t be great at one and suck at the other steps and think you will get papers out).

Refining my results and thinking about the academic story has of course made me think about the story I want to share with stakeholders that participated, but also about communication with the larger public. I have been asked to talk about my UA and P research on a local radio station in February so the time is now! I also want to be prepared with material and ideas for media outlets for when the paper(s) are published. Through a listserv, I recently came across two interesting platforms that focus on cities: the guardian and the 100resilientcities project.


Kauai vacation (but still thinking about P)

I am on vacation on the island of Kaua’i at the moment, but phosphorus and agricultural production are never far from my mind. Because the Hawaian islands are so far from the mainland (it was a 6 hour flight from Vancouver to Lihue), imported things are expensive, and that includes food. The up-side from being far and south is that they have a tropical climate where things can grow delicious tropical fruits and veggies year-round. I would also assume that fertilizers are not cheap, and waste management needs to be good as to not contaminate the beautiful natural wildlife (and thus could perhaps explain some of the composting and mulching recycling P on farms).

a field at the farm I was staying at

a field at the farm I was staying a

some of the bounty I collected on the farm

some of the bounty I collected on the farm

picking some citrus on the farm

picking some citrus on the farm

I stayed at a little cottage on the North shore of the island for 3 days on an organic farm where instead of a B&B where you get breakfast you get to pick all the fresh produce you want while you are there. This time of year there is a lot of citrus, but we also got fresh avocado, bananas, kale, swiss chard, lettuces, cilantro, beets, bok choi, and thai basil. There were also chickens, ducks, and rabbits on site and lots of compost!

I visited a coffee plantation where all the waste was reused on the fields after processing of the coffee beans for export and composted.  I also visited a small cacao farm (the highlight of my trip so far!) called Steelgrass where they also grew their own vanilla (which they sell but also use in making their chocolate), had lovely bees that made award winning honey from mostly palm flowers, and had many fruit trees on the property. On that farm all the unused parts of the plants were also left on the soil as fertilizing mulch as well as a key part of the chocolate-making process as cacao flowers are pollinated by nats that need decomposing material.

coffee plant

coffee plant

composting toilet on the cacao farm (yay for P recycling!)

composting toilet on the cacao farm (yay for P recycling!)

cacao pods

cacao pods

I visited two farmers’ markets, one in Hanalei and the other in Kapa’a, and it was amazing to see how many people come to buy their produce. The one in Kapa’a especially, where the vendors (which seem to be both farmers and people who have big gardens) sell directly from the back of their trucks and there was actually a traffic jam 15 minutes after the market started because of so many people coming and going. I got to buy some local tasty treats I had never had including fresh coconut (where you drink out of it directly), soursop, jackfruit, longons, rambutan, and passionfruit. It was lovely to see a the popularity of the market!

farmer's market in Kapa'a

farmer’s market in Kapa’a

farmer's market in Hanalei

farmer’s market in Hanalei

Putting survey in comparison to the whole island

IMG_3639I haven’t written in the past month because I have “simply” continued to analyze my data. After presenting my preliminary results to my committee last week, I have made a few notable steps forward though:

  1. I have estimated the total area of UA by management type on the island so that I can get an idea of how much my survey covered, and also make a P budget that represents the estimated total UA. I was very reticent to make any attempt at a total UA estimation because I didn’t want to be putting “bad” numbers out there. After my committee meeting it became clear that such a calculation was necessary though. I used city of Montreal data, some public consultation and Montreal UA group data, and then supplemented with US survey information on vegetable gardens and I think the assumptions are a reasonable starting point to start a discussion and put my results into a quantitative perspective.
  2. I have done some statistics on the P balance of different UA management types and substrate types, in addition to the whole food-system and UA system P budgets.
  3. I have also played around with some possible future scenarios based on my data and expanding recycling and efficiency practices.

On the art-science front, we are continuing rehearsals for the March 1st presentation and I came across a nice article supporting the art-science nexus.The show is coming up so fast and we need to start doing more outreach (and I need to learn my narrative by heart, make the label and signs for the presentation, and buy a lot of apples!).

I also wanted to share an important link so that citizens can give feedback on the Government of Canada’s science and technology research plan (which I think is lacking in basic science, environmental, sustainability, agriculture, and other resource management research). This is such an important issue considering the current administration has not been supporting of science in general, and certainly not environmental research, cutting over 2000 government researchers in the past 5 years.