Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A "Plan A"

Counting, digging, walking and identifying make up our days out at Druridge Bay. We are fortunate; the Bay lures visitors for its wide open sweep and skies but we get to go there to work. Counting, digging, walking and identifying can be a distraction though, so I have days out there with no other purpose than tuning into the colours and sounds. Or summer ice cream cones from Cresswell Shop. Being out in the field in winter is more of a struggle, padded with thermal vests, jumpers, more jumpers, windproof jackets, hats, fingerless gloves, three layers of socks, hi-vis jacket, emergency whistle and nursing an electronic water conductivity probe up my jumper to keep the battery alive. Still, that is better than fretting in the office over all the emails that pile up as soon as your turn your back. Somewhere in between the days out under a baleful midwinter sun and days in with the less lovely PC screen glow lies the struggle with research plans. One of science's tasks is to make some sense of the world, to piece  together the blizzard of seemingly unique examples and conjure the underlying rhythms and structure. Ecology has a hard time doing this because we work with such contingent places and creatures. The natural world is a slippery stage. Scott and Pete are putting together their postgraduate project proposals; an important discipline. I'm keen to get students to write down questions, to doodle plans. It is no good telling me that you understand it in your head but can't actually find the words. What do research plans look like? Here is Scott's. I like the struggle of colours, lines and words as we wrestle the ideas to the ground. It is all too easy to get lost in the day to day of lab processing and field sampling and forget the overall goals. All postgraduates should be given a packet of multicoloured felt tip pens to help them remember.

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