Is spring ever coming?

Like the weather today (see picture below), I wonder if I will ever start really working on making my work blossom. It seems so far away, even though the season is right! I have started all pieces to my thesis, but I am struggling to make real progress and turn parts in. In some ways I know we all tend to leave the hardest pieces for last  and that is why it takes a while. But, I must admit, I think I am mentally putting serious “digging in” off because I don’t know what is coming next, and I want to stay where I am because I am lucky to work with great people. I am only 5 months away from giving in my thesis and I know I need to seriously be moving my butt, but I feel paralyzed. I am trying to break tasks up in to smaller and smaller chunks, hoping that constant progress will get me to the finish line, but I don’t always succeed. Tomorrow is another day though and I will start bright and early and try and make some serious progress on another manuscript.


In more inspiring news, I am in the process of working on a series of posts on the ecosystem process nutrient cycling in cities and this video by Ensia does a really great job doing a general view of it at the very beginning (and then getting in to the circular economy). I have also came across a few good examples (not related to my work however) of using visualization and art in the science of understanding human impacts on the environment (a multimedia presentation on the great barrier reef, a study of past sunset paintings to understand the atmosphere, and using old trophy fishing pictures to study changing baselines (with one of my old advisors!)).

A friend shared another resource for preparing good talks. I already have a small list of sources (in this post) to help me improve posters and presentation, but this new source is a pretty nice one-stop shop. I will be presenting an 8 minute talk next week on the process of my interdisciplinary collaboration in the Substance P + Atomic #15, and I will also be giving my practice final seminar talk to my lab so I am happy I came across this resource to help me review my power points and structure of my talks.

Shaping papers and plans

This week hasn’t been an amazing success on the writing front, but I have still been reading, discussing, and trying to shape manuscript and post-doc writing plans through figures, outlines, a few new data sources.

I read two interesting articles on The Nature of cities blog, both which continued to fuel the shaping of possible post-doc project proposals (and how I can shape my current work to feed into these future goals). The first talked about cities as mines, and cities vulnerable to non-urban resource extraction. Of course a lot of what I do is trying to understand how we can use cities as P sources (mines), and also the role of cities in managing P in the larger food system to minimize extraction. It was particularly interesting to find out that a new mining project in New York state might affect Montrealers because we are at the end of the watershed. My interest in nesting urban dynamics into larger temporal and spatial scales, and my desire to conduct cross-city comparisons was definitely strengthened. The second post was about using simulation models to engage the public, and creating models the incorporate technological, organizational, and social solutions to local context variable to create future scenarios and visioning about urban P sustainability has been in my mind since my Master’s degree. I haven’t had the time (and have yet to develop the full skill set I think I need) during my PhD, but reading the blog post reinvigorated my determination to apply for money to do such a project with collaborators.

Although I think I have some exciting ideas for a few future projects, my ability to get funding or a job in Canada seem limited under the current government administration and the changes in budget and legislation priorities. Although I have obviously been following the cuts and changes to anything having to do with environmental, social, or basic science research, it was wonderful to see it put together in a presentation and panel discussion featuring Evidence for Democracy and the author of The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada. It was good to hear and I still have hope that I will be able to contribute to science in Canada to move toward sustainable resource use and cities (and I think that working with municipal governments is one way I can do that with my research in the more immediate future!).

In the midst of explaining the ins and out of P cycling as part of the performance at La Nuit Blanche. Photo credit: Alexis Aubin

In the midst of explaining the ins and out of P cycling as part of the performance at La Nuit Blanche. Photo credit: Alexis Aubin

On a side note, the video of the dance performance at La Nuit Blanche isvdone! Although I love that it was bilingual for the Montreal context, the video (as is anyways) isn’t as useful to bringing the project outside of the city. Still, it does feel good to have the project documented. And although I didn’t get a spot for the 3 minutes to change the world contest, I have decided not to let that discourage me from trying to share this project again (I have now applied to a small conference that I hope might be interested in the piece but also the process of creation).

One of the apple treats we shared at the performance. I think a pi pie would have also been a great addition! Photo credit: Alexis Aubin

One of the apple treats we shared at the performance. I think a pi pie would have also been a great addition! Photo credit: Alexis Aubin


IMG_0026Greetings from the Orlando airport! Because of a winter storm I have been rerouted in the opposite direction of my final destination, and will arrive home 28 hours late. It has been a week of travel (unproductive on air planes) but productive in building collaborations and continued reflection on writing in many ways.

I was at a working meeting and had the opportunity to see a lot of friends and make some great new potential collaborators. In both formal and informal discussions I picked-up some tips for better writing. Some one recommended Publish & Flourish, and we discussed how often advisors should have to look at drafts. (Basically they shouldn’t be looking at every draft, we as students need to have self-revision mechanisms and friendly peer-reviews between submissions to our busy advisors). I was nervous and reflecting if I do enough in-between independent revisions in my writing, but I know that I am definitely doing more and more of it and will continue to. I also started to draft something of a cover-letter for post-doc applications and got some advise. In addition, I had some great conversations about effective group work and co-writing and, for now, I think I want to limit my near-future collaborations to 3-4 people at a time to be able submit manuscripts in a more timely manner and get group consensus.

IMG_0028Interestingly, one of the working groups at my meeting was looking at the intersection and relation of urban ecology and the humanities, including the arts. It really seems that art-science collaborations are more wide-spread than I thought and that they are being formalized in organizations and in their study in academia. Stockholm resilience center looks at art as a part of science communication, and I found a study about art-science collaboration as a study method and as a way to create sense of place.IMG_0027

On a negative note about my journey in science communication, I didn’t get picked for 3 minutes to change the world. I am still happy I applied because if you don’t apply to opportunities you can’t get them, but it is still very disappointing.

On a positive note (I like to finish on a positive note), I took a little break for all the science conferencing and went to the botanical gardens. There was a Chihuly exhibit and it contrasted for the Montreal one I saw in the fall. Definitely makes me want to flourish as both a scientist and an artist (pun intended with the spring blossoms in the garden!).


everything is a draft


La Nuit Blanche is behind us. It was an exhausting but very exciting night! I think it was an overall success, lots of people came, many of them knowing nothing about phosphorus, and lots of people asked questions. The piece seemed well received and the only “criticism” I received that night was that I should have danced. (I haven’t found any reviews yet but I did find an additional piece promoting the dance here) I know I should basque in the happy feeling of a project completed, but I am already thinking of how I can improve sections of it for the next opportunity to present science through dance (I am thinking of 3 minutes to change the world and how I can dance and do the narration, presenting in CEGEPS and contemplating the idea of doing a “pre-presentation” before showing the dance instead of leaving all the talking for the end, and i am thinking of how I could present it at science conferences to start dialogue around new research ideas). It seems to be a delicate balance in feeling satisfaction over ones accomplishments (and accepting things are never perfect), and viewing that small accomplishment as a draft for something better or something different, a stepping stone. 

nuit blanche 2014On sunday, only a few hours after finishing with the dance piece, I visited the Peter Doig exhibit at the Musee des Beaux Arts. I saw some nice parallels between his creative process and those of a scientist, again reminding me that everything can be a draft or part of a larger series of works. In this exhibit we saw not only the large-scale “finished” pieces but sketches and alternative smaller versions of the same paintings. In order to get to a final version, the series of drafts were not just about perfecting something, but really about exploring different parts of the painting and viewing the same landscape from different angles and different scales. I think we go through a similar process when asking questions and writing manuscripts (a whole career can be spent on refining a very small set of questions, exploring, and reexploring a problem). It was nice to be reminded that even in art, where as an spectator it can be easy to forget the work be hind a piece, often requires a lot of planning and exploration before a creation is ready for the world. Now back to my own manuscript that needs some refining and reexploring…..

I finished the other steps for reviewing my article late last week and ended up adding 2 additional steps before sending the manuscript to my advisor. I think that printing, reading, and retyping was a helpful exercise to help me slow down and find mistakes (or suboptimal writing), but it isn’t full proof. I added the following 2 steps to try and help myself a little more:

  • Start from the last sentence of the manuscript and read up. I have a tendency to skip words so I am trying to look at each sentence as a unit and make sure it is properly constructed.
  • Revisit topic sentences.