Warming up

This week I have been working on manuscript editing, but I only got through step 1 and 2 of the plan I put out last week. On the up side though, I have made progress on most of my projects so my progress is not frozen, things are warming up!

Over the past few months, I have had a hard time finding good metaphors about my research (I have tied comparing P to oil, and thought about talking about cities like the human body, but from a science perspective I don’t like how they take the subtle and key differences way); I read a really wonderful blog on the periodic table last week and the post talked about N and P (some of my favorite elements as you might imagine) and I might have found a little way around a metaphor. Starting with the periodic table and working my way up in scale from there (instead of really creating a metaphor that encompasses all of my research) inspired me to alter my 1 minute science speech. In our Liber Ero training we started doing these in the fall, and I have been tweaking mine every since. Actually I submitted my new little speech to “3 minutes to change the world” contest. If I am selected as a finalist I will try and combine my thesis in 1 minute with my narration+dance section of my Nuit Blanche piece.

Speaking of La Nuit Blanche, it is only a few days a way and here is a little teaser of what I will be presenting and a little publicity (and here as well).

The whole team working on the Nuit Blanche piece!!! Photo by Adrienne Surprenant

The whole team working on the Nuit Blanche piece!!! Photo by Adrienne Surprenant

I also came across an article about how good data visualization is essential to communicate to policy-makers and the public (and even ensure that as scientists we fully explore datasets) and we must better use visualization tools to get our message across while minimizing bias that can come with creating visualizations. I know the authors were not talking about dance but I think in some cases it could be an interesting visualization.Video’s are also a good way to explain complex problems (here is an example about local food systems). Science communication at music festivals might also be good.

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Writing is a tool for thinking (as we know but sometimes like to forget)

Last week plans for 2014 became clearer, and my main job is to write. I knew that already but setting thesis submission dates an all that jazz really make it clear.

I am working on a number of drafts, including one (and another to come) on my work this summer in Montreal. Although I tried hard to have a good outline, and tried to apply as much fo “writing science” as a could, not surprisingly I fell short. It isn’t really falling short of course because many drafts are always necessary to create a good manuscript, but of course we all want to make that process go a little faster and make our mentors (and ourselves proud).

In the next version some of my figures and questions need to move to supplemental material in order to make a shorter and tighter story line.

Although I know I am so lucky to get such great feedback and I know I can make the manuscript so much stronger, I always have a moment of discouragement and disappointment when I get comments back. I think “darn it, I thought I did better this time, or I don’t think I can make it happen”. My new objective is to shorten the amount of time I feel those negative emotions and become more mentally resilient.

I have also come up with a plan to try to slowdown and make it easier to be mindful about my next draft. I didn’t “come up” with it per say, I am integrating some techniques my advisor suggested with some my friends did, and what I learnt Switch about trying to actually make change real. Specifically I tried to think of instances where I was able to edit successfully, and they tried to break that down into manageable steps and small goals.

My plan:

  • Make the big revisions (the cuts and other low hanging fruit) on the computer
  • Print the draft out
  • Read out loud and make notes with a pen
  • Transfer pen corrections to the computer (which should also serve a 3rd round of revision)
  • Read through the whole thing
  • If there are structure or story problems go to pen and paper

And in other science communication news:

In the process of getting my thesis done, I will need to give a seminar talk. I have read (and shared on the blog) some great resources about making better presentations. I made a draft ppt this week and definitely realize that I haven’t integrated all the lessons I want to yet. I read this great post on presentations and it has renewed my inspiration to create a second (and hopefully better) draft of my talk.

My dance piece is only one and a half weeks away and things are getting real. This week in rehearsal we had a photographer amongst us to start capturing what we are doing (both for promotional materials and for documentation of the process and of the piece itself). This was also the 1st time we had people in the studio seeing the work. It was stressful but does make it feel like the project is real. Trying to combine dance, narration, props, video, and have a cohesive story (and in my case scientifically accurate one) is no small feat (and here is a successful example I think). I am looking forward to being able to compare the live vs video versions of the piece on how it may change the way the message is experienced.

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Ad for Art Souterrain in the metro (I can’t believe I am part of it!)

(I also gave a radio interview this week about my research on phosphorus and urban agriculture in Montreal in french and promoted the dance piece. I think it went relatively well although I noticed that when I am nervous I say “en fin de compte” a lot, aka “in summary” or “in the end” in french and I will try and work on this for the next round of interviews (hopefully once the papers are published).)

Science communication: Not so linear

My friend Sandra (who has said wise things before) was chatting online with me and she asked me if I was being:

the princess of productivity, the duchess of drafts, or the master of meetings

I don’t think I was doing that at the particular moment I received the message, but I must say it made me want to be those things. I have continued to focus on writing-up my Montreal UA and P cycling paper (I am doing the draft step now), and but mostly have been the aristocrat of the arts, busy planning the last preparation phase for my “side project”.

I can’t believe the art-science dance piece is going to be presented at La Nuit Blanche in 16 days (on March 1st).  I have gotten permission and printed out poster versions of infographics about P in diet and food waste. I have firmed-up plans about serving apples at the performance and confirmed two new participants (an actress to do the story narration, and a videographer to document the process and the show). We are also starting the promotion campaign and thus I am trying to spread the word and possibly get some interviews before the show. I am amazed at how much time and energy and coordination science communication and an artistic creation are taking, but I think I am learning some valuable skills that translate well to even my academic writing and management skills. I read this post on science communication and the author refers to my advisor and some of the training I have done with her which was great to see. It was especially nice to see the importance of the story in science communication highlighted because that is what I am trying to do at La Nuit Blanche; a story through text, music, movement, and taste. I am both excited and nervous to have this piece come to fruition after many years of thinking and planning.

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Promo post cards for the event!

Even though I have tried to incorporate what I have learnt about science communication from my Liber Ero training, I realized that my little P story might still not be accessible to all. At rehearsal on Wednesday, many of the dancers asked me “Hey would you mind actually explaining what is phosphorus and what this whole piece is about?”. This is after about 4 months of rehearsal and them dancing and hearing my little story about P hundreds of times. My heart dropped! I was mortified that my story didn’t seem to stand on its own, but I was also happy that they wanted to know more.

I of course took the time to explain in different ways. And I realized that even though my story doesn’t contain any big words, it does rely on concepts of abstraction that I take for granted. One of the dancers asked me “but what does P look like? When you say it moves from China to Canada in soybeans, where is the P?” This isn’t something I intuitively thought I needed to explain, because to me, saying that it is in living beings like plants was enough. I realized that for scientists, when we try to be general, we communicate in terms of theory and abstract ideas that as a group we share (and when we say “I will get down to the details” we will then talk about data and numbers and stuff). In dance it is the opposite. The common ground that everyone shares are the specific steps and movements, the “getting down into the details” is where the abstraction and feeling comes in.

I think for the piece at la Nuit Blanche things will be ok because we are not just presenting the dance, I am there to discuss the material, and i am now making a little one page summary for everyone involved in the project.

I definitely have new insights for when I do my next art-science project. It isn’t a linear process!