Busy bee

Last week I gave my final seminar presentation to my department, presenting the results of 3 of my 4 thesis chapters. As mentioned previously I had given a practice talk to my lab, which was very helpful. In addition, I gave 2 other practice talks to friends which allowed me to further refine both the slides and my speech (talking slower and keeping closer to a simple story that matched the slides without any tangents). I think the final result was pretty good.

Over the past two weeks I have been a busy bee. I have been splitting my time between trying to write a research proposal for a post-doc, editing and incorporating feedback into my Montreal P budget manuscript, still writing a draft of my Montreal “facilitators & barriers to recycling” manuscript, and trying to incorporate feedback on my urban P framework manuscript. As one might expect, progress is thus slow on all of them. I am finding the proposal writing particularly challenging. I haven’t written a proposal in a few years, and this one isn’t about my existing core knowledge about P (it is actually about N).

I am trying to use my writing tool-box developed since my Master’s degree (see previous blog posts, and taking these writing tips into consideration as well). I am finding the balance between needing/wanting to read relevant literature that I am not yet familiar withs vs. actually free-writing and getting a draft of the proposal done. This experience is making me realize that I have definitely started to fall into a confort zone with the general P sustainability literature (I have the basics and I add to it with google scholar alerts, feedly updates, and punctuated searches). I am really excited about delving into strongly connected, but less familiar, territory, although I am a little surprised at how scary it is (I love new research questions and I guess I thought enthusiasm would out-weight fear, but this really isn’t the case here).

days are getting longer and I am trying to take advantage of the longer days to be more productive, kind of like this tree.

days are getting longer and I am trying to take advantage of the longer days to be more productive, kind of like this tree.

Art-science side note: Scientists (or curious innovators and thinkers if we don’t want to call them formal scientists) have long worn a double hat as artists (I am thinking of Leonardo Da Vinci). Apparently this double hat also applied to Beatrix Potter, who documented the fauna and flora around here as a naturalist (including fungi), and used that same talent to write and illustrate children’s books.And speaking of children, I saw a cool website (that does open access science) through the twitter grape-vine, where one can find great projects/activities to do with kids of all ages to understand and investigate the environment around us.

Through the mudd

Spring is here, snow is melting, and the ground is muddy!IMG_3157


This week, I must admit, I don’t have much to report. I am kind of just moving forward, through the mud, trying to get manuscripts moving forward, slowly but surely.

My second chapter on the context within which Montreal P recycling (or not recycling) happens, is proving to be very difficult to write. I have a story to tell, I am clear on the story, but I need to organize it and support it with the right structure (applying the right framework) and building blocks (diverse data sources and literature support) and that is proving very difficult. Thankfully my story is relevant and really echoed by people I meet. I have actually had the chance to meet with three different people who are not involved in research about P, but rather the waste management and/or food production systems and sustainability in and around Montreal. They all connected with how I presented my analysis of the current situation and were interested in my suggestions for moving forward. Still, I need a big push to make the actual manuscript come together, talking and hypothesizing isn’t enough.

I also spotted a post on Urban Agriculture (with a contribution from a friend of mine) that reflects the diversity of situations, perspectives and the importance of definitions. I think my work fills a small niche in the midst of all of the UA discussion, and I also think I try to be careful not to oversell it.

I am also continuing to look at post-doc opportunities, and thus thinking about proposal writing, and also about teaching philosophy. I haven’t really written a research proposal in a while, and certainly not about anything outside of phosphorus. I am excited to expand my research horizon (I have always been interested in the interactions between many resources and priorities in sustainable agriculture and sustainable cities so now is the time to actually look at those interacting things), but I am also feeling scared about actually taking-on subjects I am more unfamiliar with. I know I have the tools to get the information I need to write a proposal, but the task still feels overwhelming.

“Oh my gosh, how will I be sure I have really reviewed the appropriate literature?, Are these really interesting questions? How do I balance writing my manuscripts and researching this new proposal topic?”

I know this inner monologue isn’t the most rational. Really researchers are always juggling these issues, and it many ways this is what makes research so much fun; always asking new questions and furthering knowledge. But still, this doesn’t make me less scared.

In terms of teaching philosophy, I know that I want to encourage critical thinking, systems thinking, and balance basic knowledge, project learning, and discussion. There are many ways to do all that, and I know that one can’t just take advice or existing materials and frameworks “as is”. One must adapt so that it matches one’s personality and style, and grow from there. I read a little on the One Class at a Time model at Cornell which has many positives. What actually got me reading the article were the very first lines about dreaming of math. This is something I experienced a lot at the end of high school, and through college, and it was so nice to see I was not the only one! I like the idea of being fully engaged with material. But on the other hand, I am a system thinker, and I love to make connections between classes and between material I see in many classes (and honestly between my personal life and reading, and the work I do). I like to see connections. I have yet to write a formal teaching philosophy statement, but i am banking material to draw upon.

Sap flowing

The week started off great with a lab trip to the sugar shack! It was cold, but we got to enjoy the wonderful product of a peri-urban spring ecosystem service, maple syrup! That same day I read another great post on Nature of Cities talking about the importance of sustainability on the urban rural continuum so it was fitting to be off the island and thinking about service provisioning at the regional scale.
Like those maple trees, I feel like my sap (let’s say its my creative juices and productivity) is starting to flow a little more freely this week.

IMG_0053I gave a presentation on the interdiciplinary process of creating my dance piece of phosphorus (I also found a art-science performance piece on climate change, flooding, and every-day actions called Holoscenes, and there is a piece in the McGill reporter about my dance piece and how there will be a webisode about it on Tele-Quebec’s La Fabirque Culturelle platform (no date on when it will come online though)). It was my first time formally presenting about the dance process. It went well, but I want to make the presentation tighter and more punchy. I have great visuals so I want the story and narration to match that.

I also did a practice talk for my final seminar presentation that will happen in two weeks (the final seminar talk is a 25 minute presentation in front of the department about your PhD research, so it is in many ways a practice defense talk). I am very lucky to have an engaged lab that gives us all the opportunity to work on presentations. Practice is so key to giving good talks! (I have actually been trying to apply my own advise about drafting and redrafting papers to presentations by reading my presentation speech out loud a lot more to find bugs). My labmates’ feedback was really interesting. I tried building my talk around advise for giving good presentation saying that the ppt should mostly be images and very few words (and those words should be the key message and not “outline” type stuff). Consensus in the lab though was that I needed more text and illustrated system diagrams for it to be easier to follow the story as a whole, while knowing what comprised every chapter. It think I probably took the good presentation advise a little too far, especially that I am a really really fast talker. As such, not having any cues on slides makes it hard for me to take a pause (I just go on and on), and doesn’t give the audience an anchor  to come back to if they misted a bit of what I said. The good news is, I really love making system diagrams. The “bad” news is, I need to practice a lot more to test my new slides and make sure I actually do use tools to slow down. I am going to try and make sure that a completely walk people through my P budgets, conceptual framework, and system diagrams step by step to make me slow down. This means the slides I put up will be a little more complex, but if I can bring the audience with me, by slowly making the story clear, then the presentation as a whole will not seem too complex.

On the writing front, all three manuscripts have made some progress, but in different ways. I shared one with a colleague for a friendly review. I wrote a “first” draft (it is actually probably the 100th draft, but I was going from an outline, not revising text so I will call it a first draft), which I will be going over with a colleague tonight. And last, but not least, I have been working on refining and adding numbers and new data sources to the key table of my third manuscript (including citing an exciting new plan from Montreal (Plan de développement d’un système alimentaire équitable et durable de la collectivité montréalaise) that launched Monday that I think could support better P use and more P recycling in the city). I thought that this table was basically done months ago, but by working on the paper outline, I realized it wasn’t complete (for what I want to do with it now anyways). Always an iterative process (especially when you are working on a manuscript where the very thing you are studying is changing from week to week, and new information comes out)!