Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Post 65: Atmospheric Rivers and the West Coast!

At some point in the last year I learned about atmospheric rivers, or the thin bands of warm tropical air that stream from the tropics up to brush the West Coast. Due to their warmth, they hold a lot of water, and are primarily responsible for some of the major precipitation events we get on the coast.

For quite some time, I thought that one of the colloquial terms for atmospheric rivers—pineapple express—was interchangeable with the more general term, but I was totally wrong! Pineapple express is reserved for especially those atmospheric rivers that we get on the West Coast, because the warm air comes up from Hawai'i, where pineapples are grown! How neat is that? (Not to mention, pretty cute!) 

So, all of this became relevant for me earlier in November where we had some significant rain and wind events, and then over the past few days I was surprised by how warm (almost tropical) the weather began to feel, and so out of curiosity I did a bit of internet searching around, and came across the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Automated Atmospheric River Detection tool (AARD). It is the coolest!

Here's a screen capture of what is currently happening, and explaining the very warm but pouring, pouring rain we're having! 

The current and 1-day forecasted atmospheric rivers from NOAA's Automated Atmospheric River Detection tool.
While I'm certain that Washington and parts of Oregon are getting even more rain (the warmer the colour (red, yellow, magenta), the more rain is coming down, and the cooler the colour (green, blue), the less intense it is, the southern tip of Vancouver Island is definitely in the 3cm band. The y-axis across measures the latitudes, and the left x-axis on the graph measures the longitude, while the right x-axis gives you the anticipated cm of precipitation (usually rain).

The righthand graphs seem to show wind circulation patterns, and I do not understand the middle Binned by Latitude graph, apologies. 

The above images are static presentations of what the model outputs are. Of course, air circulation and wind movements are constantly changing. We probably have some kind of interesting interaction of high and low pressure systems between our westerlies winds at this latitude, and the tropical trade winds, but for a quick look at these air circulation patterns in motion, check out the Atmospheric River (AR) Animation Loop on the right hand side of NOAA's main page on ARs.

As someone who likes to know what's going on, having stumbled upon NOAA's AARD was a real highlight in the past few days for me. It's helped to connect my real-time observations about the weather with my conceptual understanding of atmospheric rivers, and this is wonderful to me.

Productive and fun breaks from thesis writing are to be encouraged, and my excitement about this extra-curricular learning definitely helps keep up my energy for writing! 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Post 64: Voting Continued, and Academic Program Review

Today was the first of four days that a temporary Elections Canada office was set up on campus, and I was excited to give it a go to vote. I had registered online, and knew which candidate I was voting for, so with ID in tow, I headed towards the SUB.

I was happy to see nice bright yellow signage inside, though from the entrance I took to get into the SUB, I headed down the hallway and didn't realize until 2 meters from the door that it was the entrance designated for folks with handicaps. So, turned back, and walked around to the other side with stairs. I got in line, and after a couple minutes, was told that there was about a 45 minute wait to vote.
Getting into the spirit of the election, one stop sign at a time.
BUT -- it's worth it to participate in democracy. I was so pleased to hear some of the snippets of conversation in the line of students before and behind me. Friends were voting together; registered and non-registered students were voting; first-time voters were voting; former students that I TA'd were voting; and other graduate students were voting!! So exciting!! And I was very pleased to hear that it had been a steady stream of students all day.

I truly hope that my Martlet article helped to bring out some more students. The location of the SUB is incredibly convenient, and I'm very happy with how this increases the accessibility for students to participate in voting. The Elections Canada staff were efficient and friendly, and despite the long wait, I thoroughly enjoyed my voting experience. While I wasn't allowed to take a photo of my special ballot after it was sealed in the envelopes (no cell phone use inside the voting office), I did see this after departing from the SUB:

Right on the lawn outside the SUB. 
So. I won't tell you how to vote, but I do encourage you strongly to vote. Bring a friend, and a book. You can probably get some review or reading done while you wait. :)

*******
Flowers on my way to the bus. 
Academically speaking, this afternoon also had me participating in a very new event. We had an Academic Program Review take place for the School of Environmental Studies, wherein half an hour was set aside for graduate students to provide feedback to a committee listening for constructive criticism of the School. This kind of review happens only once every seven years.

We were visited by Barbara Hawkins (Chair of Biology at UVic), Ingrid Stefanovic (Dean, Faculty of the Environment at SFU), and Steve Murphy (Chair, Environment and Resource Studies, at Waterloo). What an amicable bunch! We began by highlighting a few positives of the program, which by and large included a general agreement about the strong community built especially through undergrad at UVic (for those who experienced it), and the willingness of faculty to support and nurture students through their academic training and pursuit of knowledge.

Constructive criticism was varied, including identifying the love/curse aspect of an interdisciplinary department: the fact that labs can be run quite differently, that the different departmental streams (ethnoecology, ecological restoration, ecology, and political ecology) can be quite fractured and lack engagement, and that there aren't enough PhDs on the social sciences side. As well, that in-house course offerings for electives at the graduate level are lacking a bit, as well as a clear delineation about what those courses should be. 

It was really good for me to hear others' insights and experiences in the program to date. We were a range of PhD and first to fourth year master's students. It was definitely an interesting process (if a very short one!) to be a part of. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Post 63: First Lab Meeting, and New Grad Students!

We had our first lab meeting this afternoon, and it was lovely to have everyone gathered in the same room after really, four months apart!

(Quick sidenote: In the last 10 minutes I have seen a hummingbird, a woodpecker, black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, and they are so cute!! I love this office space, right near Mystic Vale!!)

Kristen and Mary were out for an excellent field season gathering data, and Tanya was in the Galapagos for a research project unrelated to her thesis work; Hyeone was in England for a conference and workshop for a month, and we have two new students in the group, Julie and Jemma! Welcome to them both!! It is exciting to meet new students to the program.

Leaves on the Galloping Goose!
With the first meeting comes plans and ideas for what we want to do when we meet for the rest of the semester. We had a couple volunteers to send out draft articles or other writing material to share and discuss among the group, including myself (Gulp! I am already nervous about it, but am also excited to share and receive feedback about my current thesis writing for my Findings Chapter, in which I'm reintegrating earlier work that I did during this project trying to lay out the conceptual component of my thesis, where I'm connecting the dots between the novel ecosystems concept and the mountain pine beetle as an excellent case study of the concept applied, with a few case specific factors about insects (as animals) in novel ecosystems; I realized that there has been very little written on this so far...; and, then the second component of the chapter is being able to situate the empirical findings from the interviews I conducted with scientists for the thesis as well; there is a lot going on in this chapter...). This should be good. I have another two weeks to get a draft of the manuscript ready to go, and I think it should be doable.

Otherwise, it feels nice to check in with colleagues, hear about renovation plans for the building; hear about grant writing in progress and what the new research projects are going to be about, or what skills others will bring to the lab group. Definitely feeling very positive about the start of the semester!


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Post 62: When Student Life and Real Life Collide: Voting in the Federal Election

I've been feeling a lot of anticipation, stress, excitement, etc. about the upcoming federal election, and being quite an introvert, and having too much on my plate as is, I decided to do the one thing that I comfortably feel I can contribute: write an article for the school newspaper (The Martlet) about encouraging students to vote, expressing what's at stake, and addressing some of the unique factors affecting the student vote.

The two age categories that students predominantly fall into had the lowest voter participation rates in the country during the last federal election: 18-25 year-olds were at 38.8.1%, while the 25-35 year-olds rate of participation was 45.1% (according to Elections Canada).

To me, that means that the concerns, issues, and vision of the future that people my age have are not represented at the federal stage, and indeed, when I look at a number of the policies, goals, and record of the country, I don't see what I value there, whether it has to do with addressing the gender wage gap, coming up with a comprehensive strategy to address climate change mitigation and preparing to adapt to the climate changes that the current emissions scenario has us committed to (In 2013, Canada won the "Lifetime Unachievement Fossil Award" for it's incredibly uncooperative, and unhelpful, and deliberately counter-productive role in international climate change negotiations, which is so disgraceful), decriminalizing marijuana, addressing the high cost of pharmaceuticals in Canada, developing a national clean-tech and renewable energy strategy, having a National Science Adviser and more... there are so many issues that I care about that I don't see being worked on or addressed!

A golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica) in my neighbourhood. Lovely splash of colour!
Anyways. I am putting out a big call to friends and their networks: please vote, and get your friends to, too. We comprise 20% of the nation's population, and we can have a significant impact to the vote this time. We need to vote. And -- for the first time, all opposition parties have proposals for proportional representation on their platforms! It's become clear to me that first-past-the-post is an electoral system that belongs in the dinosaur age, and I am very excited to see electoral reform on the national stage. We are one of few modern democracies that still use first-past-the-post.... Citizens for Public Justice put out a great brief of this issue here, and I wanted to include these bits from their conclusion:

"Canada inherited its first-past-the-post electoral system from Great Britain over 200 years ago, at a time when significant sections of the Canadian population, including women, Aboriginal people, and non-property owners, were disenfranchised. Throughout the first half of the 19th century and for 50 years after Confederation, the strengths of our electoral system were evident: it fostered competition between two major parties and provided the successful party with a strong, albeit artificial, legislative majority. Territory, embodied in the direct link between the Member of Parliament and his (for they were all men) constituents, was the most important aspect of a citizen's political identity and the pre-eminent feature of prevailing notions of representation.


Canada's political, cultural, and economic reality has vastly changed; the current electoral system no longer responds to 21st century Canadian democratic values. Many Canadians desire an electoral system that better reflects the society in which they live—one that includes a broader diversity of ideas and is more representative of Canadian society. For these reasons, the Commission recommends adding an element of proportionality to our electoral system."
We need a new system.

So after writing that article (I'll keep you posted on what happens with it...) here's something else I've just seen that I'm really excited about (and with any luck, I'll be able to still include it in the article):

Voting Buddies!

A group of students at UVic are targeting specifically students and younger voters with this campaign: one student to find a voting buddy, and share it on Twitter with @votingbuddy, or submit your photo to Tumblr with #votingbuddy. Tag three other people, and grow the voting buddy movement. This is so wonderful! Voting should be fun, should be done with a sense of community, and it helps when others are involved. Love it!!

A screenshot from their website - so great! (http://votingbuddies.tumblr.com/)
Now go out and vote, and take a friend!

PS. Elections Canada is still the best resource to go to for your voting information. See them here. And then, since they aren't able to promote the vote themselves, due to the legislation in the Conservative Fair Elections Act, please help them share their info by Tweeting it, if you Tweet!


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Post 61: Staying Healthy Amid Change!

Fall is in the crisp evening air already (everything seems about 2 weeks early in the province this year, from edible fruits like raspberries, blackberries, and apples, to the leaves changing colour!); how quickly the seasons can change!

The activity around my office has been picking up, whether it's runners dashing by on the Alumni Chip Trail, colleagues returning from field work and populating their offices here, or the bustle of my phone delivering text messages from friends saying "Are you back?!" (Haha, I've been back from my travelling for a while now, but have been keeping a low profile to keep working!)

Everyday as more students dot the landscape on campus, as the campus tour guides mosey their groups across different paths and lawn patches, it's also a good reminder that there are that many more germs on door handles and on the bus, so wash your hands! Sleep well! Eat well! Regularity in schedule is also probably not a bad thing, in terms of heading to bed at a reasonable hour, and heading up to work at about the same time. We're into the home stretch now!

My fourth chapter is finally starting to fill in a pleasant way. It's becoming a bit easier to look at its organization, what else is still missing, and to think constructively about the chapter as a whole. Two days ago I spent 2 hours with a colleague learning how to use Adobe Illustrator so we could graphically put to vision the image of my chapter themes. That was very exciting, and I appreciate her help immensely.

My new cat-friend, Mingus!
As a grad student, it's been immensely rewarding to build these relationships with like-minded people—colleagues who are generous with their time, their compassion and passion, and commitment to learning and self-improvement. There's definitely a lot I love about being in this vibrant, productive learning space.

As the stresses of the semester pick up again (the summer can be quite relaxed, and certainly less regimented without weekly lab meetings, though I anticipate those will start up again soon), it's important to stay active, get lots of sleep, and keep on top of building good habits.

In order to do that for myself, I have started using two different apps. Runkeeper was recommended to me by my current housemate. I use it to keep track of my exercise, whether running or cycling, and it's great! It fits well for my competitive nature, as I try to beat my pace times, and see how I perform on different routes. I love 5-6km runs, so this is a great tool for helping me keep track of the distance, too. AND, helpfully, it keeps setting me reminders for when I want to be doing exercise, in case I forget what day I wanted to keep active on (my schedule does have some week to week shifts).

I've also started to use Habitica, with which you role play a little pixelated character, and get gold and mana for keeping up on your healthy habits, all of which are personalized. I have both work and exercise related goals in there, some as small as holding a plank for 2 minutes, or getting 2 sets of 10 pushups completed at some point during the day. Or, a Pomodoro for thesis writing. It is great.

We need to stay healthy in order to maintain productivity paces and work, and I'm trying a couple of different things to help get and stay there. So far so good!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Post 60: Writing is a Constant Act of Courage, and of Failing

Sometimes random traverses on the Internet can be awfully rewarding when the traverse yields something that speaks to exactly the problem that you're dealing with. And I felt that way when I stumbled on to this really short interview recording with The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of their staff writers. Several parts of the interview really resonated with me, and have stuck with me weeks after I first watched it earlier in August, so here's the blog post for it, because if it's stayed with me this long, it might be useful for you to hear his words briefly, too.

While he's describing his process and experience of creative writing, a lot of what he says really speaks to my experience of thesis and academic writing, too. Coates discusses the need for persistence in writing. He states that he believes that "writing is an act of courage—it's almost an act of physical courage." Considering how much anxiety I sometimes have when I sit in front of my computer, thinking about how much I continue to fail when I'm trying to describe the figures and images and connections that I see in my mind, but seeing how little of that fails to emerge in my writing. So I have to keep at it. This project is important to me, and bigger than me, and it deserves to be written.

Coates continues on to say: "You never really get—I never really get, to that perfect thing that was in my head, so I always consider the entire process about failure... and I really think that's the main reason why more people don't write."

Ta-Nehisi Coates screenshot from the interview segment.
He also emphasizes the importance of revision, which is a lesson that I took away from the writing program at the end of my undergrad. Writing is a lot of work. It can be really rewarding, but it is A LOT of work. I will be glad to wrap up this degree for sure. So for now, it's one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, revising and revising and writing and writing and revising and revising. The process needs to continue.

And of course, I have the support of my supervisor and my committee member to provide helpful feedback and revision directions as needed, so I can trust that process, too.

And a lovely photo of late summer crocuses that surprised me in the field near my office on campus:


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Post 59: Going home to see new family! (And of course a summer hike!)

My niece was born on 11 July this year, and I was away for the birth. But after some hectoring and reissued invitations to come home to see Sophie, I arranged for a quick trip home.

It was a great trip!

Me and Sophie! She was just under a month old here. 
Sophie is a cutie, and as someone who doesn't have many friends with newborns, she's one of the first babies that I've spent time with. I'm amazed by her vulnerability. The fact that she can't get anywhere on her own. That she sleeps A LOT. That she eats and goes to the washroom, and is so dependent on my brother and her mother for everything. It's amazing to me how these little beings develop and eventually become fully grown adults. What a fascinating process of learning. And there is SO much to learn!

When I was there, it was noted that she now had a range of sight that allowed her to focus on people or things about 2 feet away (aside from something more general and undefined like light). ISN'T THAT JUST AMAZING!? :D

She is pretty neat, and I'm a little bit sad that I won't be able to spend that much time around her as she figures out some of these other things, like locomotion, and temperature regulation (she was always very hot, such that when I held her, I would be sweating within minutes, too!), and her voice!

My sister had two friends visiting as well, and we went up a local favourite, Meadow Mountain. Here are a few fun panoramas that I took, learning how to use that function on my phone:

Gorgeous wildflowers, including the long red maturing seed pods of dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum L.) and the bright flash of red of a Castilleja species! (L)

 My parent's dog Laika, super excited and slobbering over the backseat. Her ears are pushed over by the ceiling. (R)
Smoke moving into the valley above Kootenay Lake from the Cascade Mountain fire. 

Meadow Mountain! Looking East and south. 

Meadow mountain looking west and north. Beautiful bright green larches can always be found on the north side here. 
 It was a great short visit home, and I miss the mountain dearly, especially when it's so easy to get up into them.

Seeing the smoke of the fires in the above photos, however, does mean my thoughts go out to the folks in especially the Okanagan, Rock Creek, and Oliver, who have lost homes, properties, or livestock due to the fires there. Stay safe! And many thanks to the many fire fighters and support staff working hard to keep our communities safe this summer.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Post 58: Summer reading, etc., Selections

It's always fun to have a reading list going with a number of books and articles that satisfy the curious drive to learn that many of us in grad school have, though certainly we aren't the only ones with bottomless curiosity.

My Reading List continually morphs with my moods, sense of obligation, curiosity, and interest. A recent pruning deleted Cynthia Flood short stories and replaced it with Paulo Friere "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", and I placed CP Boyko's "Psychology and Other Stories" on the list for a thorough re-read.

I am a fairly panoramic reader, and enjoy creative non-fiction, academic research papers and books, a splash of poetry, all mixed with a good dose of fiction and short stories.

This post is a short selection of passages that have stuck with me from the past few weeks, some for their wisdom, others for their insight, and other for their composition. I'll let them stand against and beside each other as is, and hope that some of them will strike you as interesting enough to follow up on.
Another beautiful evening sunset in Victoria. 
From Neil Smith's (1984) "Uneven development: Nature, capital, and the production of space:"

In the first chapter 'The ideology of nature'

"The subject of nature, real and conceptual, threads through the entire fabric of western thought. If it is a mammoth task to summarize the development of the major concepts of nature up to Kant, it would be a similarly mammoth task to do the same for the last two centuries. For during this time, social relation with nature has undergone an unprecedented transformation. Parallel to this, many old conceptions of nature have been fossilized as museum pieces while other comparatively obscure concepts have risen rapidly to prominence. It is in this short period that the dualism inherent in Kant has crystallized into the backbone of the bourgeois ideology of nature. Given the immensity of the task we cannot trace the detailed historical development of the ideology in this chapter. Instead we will simply illustrate this ideology by examining two particular modes of experiencing and conceptualizing nature: the scientific and what we shall call, for want of a better description, the poetic. No pretence is made to completeness; in each case the treatment is very selective since the point is to illustrate rather than definitely prove the bourgeois ideology of nature. Finally, we shall examine the marxist treatment of nature, the major alternative to the bourgeois conception" (pg. 13).

*****

From Robert Boice's (1990) "Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing:"

Chapter One: Why Professors Don't Write

Perfectionism

"Traditionally, perfectionism stands as a major and separate cause of writing problems. No wonder. All of us, at one time or another, have experience the urge to keep reworking material until it seems perfect. All of us, at some level, would like to be seen as excellent writers.

"Some writers let perfectionism thoroughly block them; their ideas and papers never do reach acceptable levels of perfection, they can never do enough revising or rechecking, they even develop obsessive concerns with detail. At their worst, perfectionists are not only unproductive as writers. They are also elitists and snobs who assume that most published writing lacks merit or quality and that their writing, should they decide to finish and share it, would rise above the commonplace.

"In a way, perfectionism overlaps with fears of failure. Perfectionism practiced pathologically, as a morbid fear of making mistakes and of being exposed as mediocre, is little more than a fear of failure that inhibits writing" (pg. 10).

These have popped up on campus as does and fawns have filled the lawns. :)
*****

From David Sedaris' (2000) book "Me talk pretty one day".

The piece: Nutcracker.com

"It was my father's dream that one day the people of the world would be connected to one another through a network of blocky, refrigerator-size computers, much like those he was helping develop at IBM. He envisioned families of the future gathered around their mammoth terminals, ordering groceries and paying their taxes from the comfort of their own homes. A person could compose music, design a dog-house, and ... something more, something even better. 'A person could... he could...'

"When predicting this utopia, he would eventually reach a point where words failed him. His eyes would widen and sparkle at the thought of this indescribable something more. 'I mean, my God,' he'd say, 'just think about it.'

"My sisters and I preferred not to. I didn't know about them, but I was hoping the people of the world might be united by something more interesting, like drugs or an armed struggle against the undead. Unfortunately, my father's team won, so computers it is. My only regret is that this had to happen during my lifetime" (pgs 142-143).

*****

From Bruno Latour's (2005) "Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory"

From Part 1, First Source of Uncertainty: No Group, Only Group Formation

"If someone pointed out to me that words like 'group', 'grouping', and 'actor' are meaningless, I would answer, "Quite right." The word 'group' is so empty that it sets neither the size nor the content. It could be applied to a planet as well as to an individual; to Microsoft as well as to my family; to plants as well as to baboons. This is exactly why I have chosen it" (pg. 29).

*****

From Joseph Boyden's "The Orenda"

"I stoke the fire with more wood and lift my robe to my shoulders. You would understand, dear one, what I need right now. After all, we made the promise to each other that if one were to die too young, the other, after appropriate mourning, should feel free to take care of physical needs. It's time to pay Gosling a visit.

"No light yet, and the snow blows sideways, building high against the west side of the longhouses, helping to insulate them from the lake's wind. This is the time when our people go to the dream world most deeply, and normally I'd be there too. But I awoke to Gosling's image in my head, and I knew she beckoned me. She lives alone near the southern palisades, and no one dares build a home near her. She is the only one in a community of thousands to live alone" (pg. 25).

This made me double-take: the helicopter seeds of a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) look very much like a
 resting moth on the trunk of this tree. 
I am very aware that my current reading selections above contain all male authors; most of the time I make an effort to read literature written from women, too! It does happen that right now I am not in the middle of one of those.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Post 57: Productive Breaks, Field Trips, and Environmental Activism/Advocacy - Visitng the T'Sou-Ke First Nations' Solar Community

Being a graduate student also means choosing the right kind of breaks from thesis work. This past weekend I had the great fortune of participating in a Western Wilderness Committee organized field trip to one of the T'Sou-Ke First Nations villages out in Sooke. Their award-winning Solar Community has drawn widespread attention, and I heard the tour guide Andrew Moore present on the project several months ago when he lectured on campus. It was great to see an organized event that provided transportation (I still do not own a car), and that allowed us to visit this inspiring project. It was an event that wrapped up the Western Wilderness Committee's Salish Sea Tour.

A group of about 20 of us left downtown Victoria in the midday heat of early Sunday afternoon on the bright green Community Action Bus, pictured below. I haven't been on school bus transportation for years!
Loading into the Community Action Bus! With that bright green, we can't be missed!
Inside the bus! I'm on the left, three seats back, with glasses and one of the big smiles. (Photo credit: Torrance Coste)
Between the scrolled down windows to cut the heat, the rattling of various loose metal parts (as is so common on busses, and brought out my nostalgia!), and the loudness of the animated chatter from a dozen different conversations floating throughout the bus, it was a great ride out.

We arrived at the T'Sou-Ke village site a bit early, and after participatory songs led by the talented Luke Wallace and laughter and feeling the place out from the cover of shade, Chief Gordon Planes came to welcome us, and regale us with stories of place and people. It was beautiful! I learned a lot in about 20 minutes about how rooted to those shores and that inlet and the midden in front of us he and his people were; his observations of changing animal behaviours (deer, mostly), and landscape changes (middens and shore burial sites eroding to expose the bones of ancestors that need to be reburied with special ceremonial burials), his knowledge, his connection to neighbouring First Nations, both on Vancouver Island and his relatives on the US side of the Straight, and his generosity in sharing all of this! It was really wonderful.


Chief Gordon Planes welcoming us and telling us stories of when he was in the Boy Scouts! (Photo Credit: Torrance Coste) 
After a welcome prayer and song, Chief Planes introduced Andrew Moore, who took us on the Solar Tour, as he had to go and greet relatives that were coming up from a huge paddle into Beecher Bay, where there was going to be a very large feast held for them on Monday.

The lovely Andrew Moore in action, describing one of the solar installations behind me. 
Andrew showing us the second biggest solar panel installation, and how little maintenance they need!
One of the solar installations; the one with artwork on the right uses copper wiring to help heat hot water!
The T'Sou-Ke First Nation produces more power than they consume, and because they are linked to BC Hydro, they actually sell back their excess power production and currently make a profit with all this sunshine! In this relationship, BC Hydro essentially plays the role of a big battery, and it's my hope that this is the future of our utilities. Utilities are extremely important for making power accessible to the greatest number of people, much as we may sometimes gripe about them. (And even recognizing this basic function doesn't mean that we can't criticize utilities when we think they sometimes misstep or have problematic policies.) I absolutely, wholeheartedly, support the collective enterprise that they represent. At their root, utilities are supposed to be useful, and while I think there are some growing pains currently with shifting technologies and such, they and we will figure out what their role in the future will be.

The tour was meant to be a celebration of efforts to show what a decarbonized future could look like, and it was very fitting for that! I left with my head full of new terms (Watts and kilowatts and lead-acid batteries), a new sense of community, and encouragement for one of the numerous efforts to address climate change, develop energy sustainability, and build connections. What a great trip!

It was also a very good reminder of the hard-working people that engage in environmental activism through a variety of methods: music, presence, listening to the right people. On the bus ride a petition was passed around, and recent literature from the Western Wilderness Committee was shared. While I can't currently answer the call for solidarity and bring my body to the frontlines of the Unist'ot'en Camp right now, I can educate myself on solar energy and sign a petition. Democracy IS a muscle that needs to be exercised, and voting once every four years isn't enough. We all do our own piece, in our own way, taking care of what we can, and pushing ourselves a little bit, sometimes when others can support us to do so, or sometimes on our own. And isn't that a great thought for the journey of a thesis, as well?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Post 56: Garrett Richard's Co-Post on Different Types of Journal Articles

Not too long ago, I read journal articles fairly indiscriminately, and didn't pay too much attention to whether or not they were argumentative theory papers or delivering empirical research results or meta-analyses. Now, however, that distinction has become a lot more important as I'm trying to wrestle with my findings chapter and finding the best way to represent the important information that's emerged from my interviews. I will also add, however, that this distinction is important to keep in mind for whatever your current project is. As I mentioned in the previous post, about the importance of reading other theses, it can be incredibly useful and rewarding to have a guidepost or a model in mind for what the end product should be.

A stormy summer evening sunset! Fantastic energy in the clouds!
With journal articles that can be even more important, because different journals have different publishing styles, content guidelines, etc., that you need to know about if you're going to pitch your own article there. And from the other perspective, you should be doing some reading to find articles that you like/find inspiring or interesting that help you to set your aim nice and high.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd revisit an email that one of my favourite colleagues Garrett Richards wrote to me not long ago, answering my question about what different kinds of journal articles there are. This is his take on that. The content of that email is reproduced below, and I've added my own comments underneath. And, pictures throughout, as usual, are mine.

From Garrett:


Here are some examples of the different types of journal articles. They're not all from the same field, but hopefully you will find the subject matter of some of them interesting (of course, it's more important to pay attention to the basic structure, in terms of understanding the different types).

Type 1: Literature Review (e.g. Chambers 2003)This type simply goes over the literature in some field. The author will do categorization and framing, and point to emerging themes and areas for further work, but they generally aren't trying to make any argumentative points broader than that (just like a lit review in a class paper or thesis). Of course, most articles of other types have at least a small section that is literature review, but this kind is wholly a review. Uncommon.

Type 2: Argumentative (e.g. Sarewitz and Pielke Jr 2007)

This type will draw upon literature throughout, but it isn't 'reviewing' the literature as much as it is 'using' the literature to make some argument (e.g. maybe it's proposing a new theoretical framework based on previous work or gaps in that work). It will often draw on a case example (or several) to make the argument, but it won't have a methods section (probably the method used is a simple document review that isn't systematic enough to warrant a section describing it, just like we don't describe the process we go through to do a literature review). A lot like an essay. Common.


Great lunch spot in front of the building! 
Type 3: Supplemented (e.g. Hamann and Acutt 2003)
This type is basically an argumentative article, but the case example it uses to make its point is more methodologically rigorous (although sometimes it can be hard to tell - footnote 1 in this article makes it clear that interviews were used for data collection, but the actual text makes no mention of any methods, quotations, or interviewees). While a standard journal article (Type 4) will be primarily about the collected data, and secondarily about literature/argument, this kind is the other way around. A combination of types 2 and 4. I might have been able to find a better example (this one is close to being a type 2 with its invisible methods) but they are uncommon.

Type 4: Standard Original Research Article (e.g. Rietig 2014)
This type follows the standard intro-review/background-methods-results-discussion format, with the results and discussion getting more emphasis than the review/background. Almost certainly has a 'methods' section. Emphasis on methods can vary (some articles, unlike this one, flag their methods in the title and really play up the research itself over the implications/argument even more). Common.

Of course, not everything falls neatly into these types (and sometimes 
it's really hard to tell what the methods were or whether there were any 'methods' at all for a type 2 or 3). I think there are some articles that, instead of separating the literature/argument and the example(s) or case(s), they interweave them throughout the whole paper (and that could happen for type 2, 3, or 4). I've also seen lit review articles that have a very systematic methodology (e.g. meta-analysis/scientometrics), so those could count as type 1 or 4. I prefer having a certain structure/formula to aim for when I write an article/paper, but it seems like pretty much any construction will be acceptable somewhere, so whatever way you think best communicates your findings/ideas is probably the way to go.


Lovely Victoria evening sunset from my apartment. 
I think these 4 are very useful types of journal articles for graduate students to know about. editageInsights classifies 6 different types as: original research, review article, clinical case study, clinical trial, perspective, opinion, and commentary, and the book review, but this broadens the categorization to different fields. 

Raynor Memorial Libraries at Marquette University breaks down different categories and generalizations here, too, though I'm mostly interested in the social sciences. Their overview provides quick notes on different types of research, characteristics of research, they provide some recommended books on research, and highlight different types of scholarly articles. 

The four above are at least a pretty good start. Due to copyright, I'm unable to post the full articles here, but I've provided the full Bibliographic information below, so you can hunt down the articles Garrett mentioned yourself. Where possible, links are also provided above, but again, you need to get around the paywall, though you can still read the abstracts! 

***

Chambers, S. (2003). Deliberative democratic theory. Annual Review of Political Science 6: 307-326. doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.6.121901.085538

Hamann, R., & Acutt, N. (2010). How should civil society (and the government) respond to 'corporate social responsibility'? A critique of business motivations and the potential for partnerships. Development Southern Africa 20(2): 255-270. doi: 10.1080/03768350302956

Rietig, K. (2014). 'Neutral' experts? How input of scientific expertise matters in international environmental negotiations. Policy Science 47: 141-160. doi: 10.1007/s11077-013-9188-8. 

Sarewitz, D., & Pielke Jr., R. (2007). The neglected heart of science policy: reconciling supply of and demand for science. Environmental Science and Policy 10(1): 5-16. doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2006.10.001 


Friday, 10 July 2015

Post 55: The Value of Reading Others' Theses

So I'm in the fourth of five chapters of my thesis now, and I've just spent an hour going through my supervisor's previous student's thesis. SO VALUABLE! It's not the first time I've gone to others' theses as guides or models for what I would be writing next, but it's been so useful to return to these documents at various stages of the writing, and to get an idea of what I'm aiming for.

The thesis, a comparative case study of two remote mountainous parks, Mount Robson Provincial Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park and their corresponding management challenges in the face of landscape change, is well-written, is engaging, and does a really good job of bringing all of their research together (I'm talking about you, Jenna!). It's also filled with a wonderful array of photo pairs from historical landscape surveys that the Mountain Legacy Project specializes in, and their contemporary repeats that field crews with MLP undertake (and of which I was a part in 2012).

Our beautiful West Coast, from a beach walk earlier this spring!
In a monograph style thesis, each of the chapters functions very differently from the others, and I find in incredibly useful to see how the words and text align and are shaped in these different sections. And, by seeing work from previous master's students, it's possible to see what a completed thesis looks like under a certain professor. I have read through a few different theses, and the diversity of form is actually impressive. Undoubtedly there are similarities, but how various people take creative license to present different chapters, or their analysis information, or how they discuss their methods and methodologies—each of these can be quite different.

Another thesis I've been returning to is Ryan Hilperts,' also qualitative research on the Elwha River Dam Removal project in the Olympic Mountain Range of the state of Washington, USA. Her writing is particularly great, and I love the introductions and overviews she gives her chapters at the beginning, oftentimes with really great epigraphs at their beginnings as well, like this one, from John Mannon:

                "Social research is both a process and a product. Presumably, one informs the 
                 other...[and] the relationship between words and worlds is anything but easy 
                                                                    or transparent."

Ryan was the professor for the class I TAed this spring, and it was great to work with her in that capacity as well, and meet with her to ask about various aspects of qualitative research generally, too. I think it is so valuable to have that inter-graduate-generational learning happening, that I am almost sad our department doesn't have more near-finished grads/PhDs to speak with on a more regular basis.

Sometimes when I'm struggling for the right word choice, or the right set-up, it's so nice to be able to go see how someone else positioned their work, or set up their paragraph. This begins Ryan's Findings chapter: "This research was not a latitudinal or exhaustive study of all the perspectives in Port Angeles on the issue of community engagement. As such, in my findings and analysis, it is not my intention to categorize informants into “camps” of conceptual agreement." And my first thought is "Great start," and then I can constructively think about what my own limitations are, and what perspectives I do have, too.

It's hard not to have a great day's work when these guys are outside the window, giving the bushes a haircut.
There were four of them last week! This is life at the GSS!
One of the writing tips I've retained from early in the writing process is to read the folks whose writing you want to emulate, and for me that included early on Hugh Gusterson's “Nuclear rites: A weapons laboratory at the end of the cold war,” and now it's been great to go to other folks' theses, which are also much closer to the document I'm trying to write. It's also a great reminder that I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel with this document. :)

We can all use writing prompts and tips in different ways, and from one colleague who leaves her laptop alone and spends her time in a creative mess of papers, to me lugging mine to campus and back each day, unable to leave it alone for a day, we all find our own ways through making sense of our data, and learning how to write about it.

A couple of wise words of advice from Joan Bolker's "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day," too, on prioritizing the time to write:

"Engage those who care about you, and thus, about your finishing this project, on the side of your being ruthless. For example, if you are already teaching, ask your chair to remind you not to take on any extra committee assignments' ask your parent (real or imagined) to give you permission to have a messy apartment (or to come and mow the lawn). Ask your friends to remind you that when someone asks for a chunk of your time, you are free to say no immediately; if you're tempted to answer yes, though, learn to say instead, "I'll have to think about it and get back to you." And then do think about it, hard, and then think about how much you want and need to finish your dissertation. The only reason for saying yes to others' requests for your time is that there is an overwhelming reason for doing so" (pg. 87).

It's very helpful to go back to these texts and remind myself about the conditions I need to successfully write and finish up drafts. All very good at this point.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Post 54: Smithers, Weddings, Refocusing and Goal-Setting Again


I had the better part of last week trying to settle back down in Victoria and organizing myself before taking off for a wedding in Smithers. In part I succeeded: I found a rhythm in the bird calls outside my office on campus, caught smiles in my conversation with colleagues I haven't seen or been in touch with (it's nice to be missed!), and got lost for a couple of hours of writing in my fourth chapter again.

That feeling: losing sense of time as the focus requires ignoring everything else around, is addictive. I remember it well from undergrad paper and short-story writing. It's always the first 10 or 15 minutes of fidgety, uneasy mental calming that needs to happen in order to sink into the writing that's the hardest.

So I left last week on a high note, even as I was readying myself for a short trip—my first—to Smithers, BC, for a long-time friend's wedding.

Leaving Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands; sunrise, approximately 5:35AM. 
A lot of the flight up was catching the views of the Coast Mountains and their melting glaciers. See the edges,
the height this long-tongued glacier used to have?
Smithers was incredible!!! I truly fell in love with this little northern city. It's a little bit sprawl-y, but with the wide open Bulkley Valley to inhabit, I can understand why development patterns took shape as they did. There is no pressure to condense, unlike in the steep mountain valleys of the Kootenays, where there is little flat space to build. My friend Rory and his parents Marj and John were fantastic hosts, showing me around town, and just generally making me feel very welcome. Staying with someone who really loves and knows their own city is probably the best way to quickly get a decent sense of it in such a short amount of time. I think this is why I don't make a good tourist-traveller in places I've never been to. I long for that sense of connection that's hard to find otherwise! I always feel like I'm on the outside of a museum, looking in at the colours and images and attractions, but there's a window in the way.

I went on a lovely half-day hike with a new friend, Lisa, who I'd met years ago through the bride, and it was really great to hike with someone whose pace was compatible with mine. We pushed ourselves really hard to get up into the alpine of the Babine Provincial Park, and we just made it before we had to turn around to try to meet the time constraint we were under. We snapped a few photos of alpine plants at the top, too! I was enchanted by the variety of colour and species of the Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) all the way up.

Heading to the trail parking lot, we bumped into this mottled little fox that had been playing on the dirt road. Here it is scampering off as we neared it. 
I also learned about the blue alpine geranium (Geranium sp.); the friend I stayed with lent me a field guide and we pulled it out a few times to find new plants.

The Geranium (L) and a yellow aster (Aster sp.)(R) with a little fly!

I love the crinkly white flowers of the Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), the fruit of which is one of my favourite berries.
View from the alpine we'd broken into. 

   
 One of the pale yellow Indian paintbrushes.                                             My hiking buddy, Lisa! 

And then the wedding took place at Camp Caledonia, right on Tyhee Lake. What a gorgeous spot! It was perfectly suited for the wedding, the weather cooperated, and I made several new friends. This will not be the first-and-last time that I will have visited.

Lake Tyhee! 
Lisa and I at the wedding. 
Academically, I also got some work done between the hike and playing cribbage and the wedding; I'd committed to writing a peer-review for an undergraduate paper that was submitted to The Arbutus Review. It felt great to sink into that for a few hours, reflect on what's working well, and where the paper could be improved. It was a very well-written paper, and a pleasure to read because of that, which made my job easier. Bonne chance! to the student; publishing is very fun!

Now it's back to breaking down the different chapter sections, laying out headings, and organizing themes, and ultimately, finishing a draft of this chapter in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Post 53: Back in Victoria!

Phew! It's been a very busy last month and a half for me. Travel to two conferences, covering my parents' vacation, and finishing up last week at the BC FoodPro West Conference with my sister, dad, and my family's Sales Representative Laura, was quite a feat!

Quick good news story: my parents have had a sourdough bread bakery (the Kaslo Sourdough Bakery) for about 23+ years now, and 2 years ago they started to produce sourdough pasta (Kaslo Sourdough Pasta, or KSP), which is amazing!!! The judges that evaluated the Innovation Award and Product of the Year must have thought so too, because KSP took the Innovation Award and got bronze for Product of the Year!!! Now I'm even more proud of them than I was before! The BCFPA had awesome videos of the nominees, and once they're up, I'll be able to share the one they made of KSP. My dad's voice sounds a little bit funny in the video because he was just getting it back after having tonsillitis! In any case, a SUPER BIG CONGRATS to them! They are so awesome. Here's us at the gala, post-award:

That's me on the left, my dad Silvio beside me, my sister Heidi in the blue dress, and Laura on the right!
(For those wondering why I'm in the photo, too: I am their sales representative here in Victoria, and sometimes do demos on the road for them, too.)

I am, however, glad to be back in Victoria and sinking my teeth into thesis work, and seeing my colleagues again. I have missed them, and there are some lovely changes around University House 4, too.

We have a picnic table!! I sat out on it yesterday doing some work already. Today it's a bit grey and clouded over, but maybe it'll still be a great lunch spot. :)

This morning I've already said hi to Mary, Mike, and Kristen, who came in yesterday to get some prep work and organizing done for Mary and Kristen's time in the field starting mid-July.

And after appreciating the lovely yellow blossoms of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in the front of the building, I was reminded just how different plants can look in one location and another!! Local climatic and environmental conditions obviously play a significant role in all of this. To illustrate my point:

Victoria's version of St. John's Wort: lush, succulent, huge flowers, big leaves. 

This gives a better picture of the full plant

Whereas in the Kootenays where I'm from, with it's much shorter growing season, I'm used to the St. John's Wort looking more like this: 

The scraggly, smaller flowered and leaved St. John's Wort of the Kootenays. 

I almost didn't believe that they were the same plant. BUT -- this reminds of the research project that I undertook with my group during the Redfish School of Change Field School that I participated in; at the time, we visited three different biogeoclimatic zones in BC: the one my hometown is a part of in the south-eastern corner of the province, the Interior Cedar Hemlock zone, the lower mainland's Coastal Western Hemlock, and on Vancouver Island here in Victoria, the Coastal Douglas Fir Zone. We tracked red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) in each of those zones, measuring some of the key physical features of the plant, and were startled to see a HUGE difference: in the Kootenays they were bushes, whereas on the Island they were trees! (We did not, unfortunately, have the capacity at the time to check out soil or water chemistry properties, so limited our research to the physical factors).

The St. John's Wort and red-osier dogwood are good examples that I'll keep in mind to share with students in the future on something like the plant walks that I have done for ES 341 or Ecological Restoration, or ES 200, the introductory course. As I tell them there: "Never trust a plant!"

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Post 52: Charlottetown, Climate Change, and the East Coast!


I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Climate Change in Culture Conference put on by the fantastic group at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPI). What a phenomenal conference!! And three cheers to Dr. John McIntyre and his co-star Jordan McIntyre -- it was a delight to be greeted in person, by name, at the conference registration table, and while I didn't see John's presentation, I was immensely intrigued by Jordan's, which covered "The 'Scandal' of Climate Science." 

Bit of background (just in case this is new news for some): since September of last year I've been working part time as a research assistant for a climate change and adaptation project led by Dr. Johanna Wolf. Partly for experience, definitely for interest and concern, and partly for helping to keep me in Victoria while I finish up my mountain pine beetle thesis. 

Our project budget allows for sending us to a couple of conferences, and Charlottetown was the first that we went to to present some of our preliminary findings!! SO MUCH FUN! I really loved and appreciated the collaborative building of the presentation with Johanna as we prepared for the conference, even if it had us making edits after 9PM when we should be getting ready for bed after a long day of travel! :) But such is the nature of the work sometimes. 

One thing I did not expect: the challenge of the timezone difference! PEI is 4 hours ahead of BC. So when it's 10 PM in Charlottetown, it's 6PM in Kaslo. And my body was not able to adjust to a reasonable bedtime because my internal clock was not having it! So I had several nights of 2AM because I couldn't fall asleep. I ended up getting a chest cold after the conference that's still clearing up, and between the hours of sitting, perhaps not eating as much or as well as I usually do, and the stress and excitement of the conference, my immune system was down for a bit. Whammo: enter the chest cold! Ah well. It is definitely easier going west with the timezones than it is going east. 

The Parliamentary buildings in Charlottetown!
And for the first time I met an academic that I was super excited to meet -- Dr. Andrew Light! He was one of three keynote speakers. I had read some of his older work, and he was an author in the Novel Ecosystems textbook that I've had my nose in for about 2 years now.  A philosopher by trade, he's on leave to serve as a Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy on Climate Change in the US Department of State. The talk he gave really put into perspective for me what we can expect of the climate negotiations later this year in Paris later this year. I feel slightly less pessimistic about the prospect of countries getting their act together to address climate change (both mitigation and adaptation) in light of the heavy-weight institutional infrastructures that need moving in order to get that action going, before we're really committed to serious warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius. 

So much love for the colourful houses in PEI
The presentations were fantastic, the topics wide-ranging and interesting, and I definitely feel like my brain got stretch in a really pleasant way. What really struck me after listening to presentations for several days, was how different the presentation formats were. I'm not saying one was necessarily better than the other, but I was surprised by how many people read out their papers, as opposed to focused on standing-up-with-a-slideshow-and-presenting-their-material-that-way that I've come to expect. While all the presentations were quite good, I found the read-aloud presentations were more difficult to engage with, and lacked slides for some of the basic things such as the names of the people they were talking about. I suppose that is feedback that I'd give some of the presenters, especially because this was a multi-disciplinary conference, and as some with social science training, I found this to be a barrier to fully enjoying and maximizing my understanding and engagement with some of the presentations outside of my discipline. As well, I feel it would only be fair to acknowledge that I am a visual learner, too, and so am definitely someone who benefits from both seeing content and hearing it. 

Conference Field Trip!! 

We had one, and it was fantastic, and it really brought home for me how different climate change is affecting both the east and west coasts of Canada, and how much warmer the Atlantic ocean is than the Pacific. 

PEI is an island made mostly of softer materials: sand and limestone. It's already experience a fairly significant amount of shoreline erosion; one local and well-known story that Erin Taylor ( Department of Environment, Labour and Justice, Government of PEI) mentioned during her talk (fantastic panel on Climate Change, Land Use, and Planning on PEI) was of a resident who still pays about a dollar a year in property tax on the 99% flooded lot that he still owns, which has been in his family for a while. But it is gone! It's underwater! Only a corner of it remains. 

PEI and Charlottetown apparently had a significant scare with Hurricane Sandy a few years ago; early projections for the path of the hurricane had it set right for the middle of PEI, and the storm surges would have been massive! Hope Parnham (Dv8 Consulting), another presenter, shared that this is when the city really woke up to realizing how under-prepared it was to deal with some of the extreme events that Charlottetown can expect in a climate changed world. [[Sidenote: It's not that the numbers of hurricanes are increasing, but that their paths of travel are changing: they're heading further poleward, as seen with Sandy, and their intensity is increasing (thanks for the science brief PCIC!!). Sandy fortunately changed it's trajectory a bit, and was downscaled to a tropical storm by the time it hit Charlottetown.]] It was fortunate that Hope was able to pull together some of the recent work she and other had been doing to get some really quick progress done with the municipalities and government to think about and through what it meant to prepare for climate change. 

So with all of that in mind, we headed for a beach walk, led by the local climatologist Dr. Adam Fenech. We boarded the bus to Greenwich, and half an hour later, ended up at the North Shore of PEI! The beach looked like this, and it was spectacular: 

Warm winds, talks of bees and farmers with a fellow conference-goer on this red-sand beach; deee-lightful! 

The winds were warm, the company was excellent, and I really fell in love with the Island. I bumped into Dr. Roger Wheate from the University of Northern British Columbia who I'd met at the Thinking Mountains Conference in Jasper only 3 weeks earlier (so heartwarming! Many hugs!). I also bonded with Dr. Laurie Brinklow during that walk as well,  who kindly shared her book of poetry with me (I'm currently reading and enjoying it!). Hers was the first story I'd heard of someone from out west and in British Columbia that went east, stepped onto PEI, and said "This is home." I'm used to hearing stories happen the other way around! 

Charlottetown is a wonderful small city. I stayed in a hotel right on the harbour-front, could walk up the downtown main streets that there were, and in retrospect I'm amazed that it's a city of about 35,000! It didn't feel like it at all. And everyone was friendly and kind and helpful when I needed a hand with directions. The buildings are similar to what they are on the UVic campus: few tower about tree height, so everything feels nicely on an engaging human scale. 

The Charlottetown waterfront, though my view was slightly different, and sans the cruise ships. 
I definitely wish I'd had more time to explore and take in the city. Many thanks for the meals shared, conversations talked, and thoughtful engagement with a number of others at the conference. I almost got to meet everyone, and it was very, very rewarding to do so.

Short note: unfortunately my phone battery died, and as it was my main source of photo-taking, I will need to post some of the few photos I snapped later when I get the new battery mailed to me. The photos I used on this page are sourced thanks to the Internet!