Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Post 69: Writing, Writing, and More Writing, and Getting Healthy

Spring in Victoria has sprung once again, and I found myself walking towards James Bay this afternoon, startled to see the first pink blushes on a cherry tree. It's the end of January, and some of the eager-beaver cherry trees are bursting with blossoms already. The snowdrops have been out for several weeks, and the crocuses are, I'm sure, not going to be far behind. 

Dusk approaching in James Bay, walking along Beach Drive.
I felt a little bit invincible when I got my first flu shot at the end of November, and I have been proven wrong once again. I suppose it's good to be reminded of my human-ness once in a while. A week and a half ago I got strep throat, which came as a surprise: I thought that it would have been much more painful in my throat, but aside from the inflames tonsil on one side of my neck, I really noticed the aching and the infection seemed to really stress out my whole body, so I had more headaches and migraines than usual. Let me say that I was able to be a somewhat engaged human being with the help of a lot of ibuprofen. BUT -- it certainly was not productive to engage with my thesis, so I find myself a week later, starting at the calendar once again, with a finally cleared head.

Getting back into writing is hard, and I've had to find creative ways to trick myself into it. Mornings are still the most productive writing times, and getting in a good morning of writing is key for keeping up momentum, so it was really really good to meet up with my friend Karen Monday morning and get in a those much-needed AM hours. Because I am liable to find myself distractions and other things to do, I tell myself I only have 20 minutes to write right now, and so I need to do it, quickly. Once I get over that initial hurdle of 20 minutes, which disappear faster than I can blink, I can usually sink into a good writing session, and my brain does seem to get tired after 2 hours or so. Not to mention that my stomach gets hungry.

The Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) have none of their usual deep green foliage at this time of year. 
At this point in the degree, it's also a bit odd to feel quite disconnected from campus. I live a 50 minute commute away from UVic, and especially still kind of recovering from strep throat and needing lots of sleep, I find that I am disinclined to make the bus-trek to school. I have lab meetings every Thursday morning, and while the seminar series (which does look very good) has started up again for Wednesdays, my reality is that I work two part-time jobs (family-business help and a research contract I've had for a year), and I am trying to stay on top of my fitness goals, and keep healthy.

Now that I'm down to the last few days of antibiotics and I am truly feeling better, I have been getting more excited about the local MEC Run series. They have a few races over the next few months, and it might be a good idea to register for the 5K at the end of March. I will have motivation to pick up my running again, and run my 2nd race in Victoria before my 28th birthday. Yay!

Birds on a wire! There were twice as many sitting in a row, but they became shy
and flew away as I pulled out my camera.
With the brighter days and longer daylight, I find it so easy to fall in love with the world as it wakes up again from the brief winter sleep we have in Victoria. We've been brushed by another atmospheric river today and for the next day, and it's been a balmy 11 degrees today. Wahoo for spring and daylight, and more thesis writing!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Post 68: Transferrable Skills as a Graduate Student

Looking forward to the summer approaching, and what I hope will be the end of my thesis, has me thinking about applying for jobs and work post-program. There are quite a lot of skills we pick up as graduate students during our programs, and this post will cover a few of them. Later in the semester when things get serious, or after I'm done, and I visit the Career Counselling to update my CV and Resume, I may write a follow-up post, as I'm certain they will have other recommendations that I haven't thought of. Their expertise is in thinking about job and transferrable skills, whereas mine is not. 

We teach. We research. We write. There are at more than three transferrable skills in those three short sentences. Let's pull them apart.

Teaching involves time management, student engagement, presentation delivery, punctuality, consistent attendance and classroom leadership, and generally, marking and evaluation. Perhaps even the ability to have difficult conversations with people, depending on whether students approached you, disconcerted about grades or their performance in the class or tutorial or lab. 

Sunset from my airplane as we drifted into Vancouver at the end of my Christmas Break, late December.

Undertaking research involves a number of components. I'll write from the qualitative data perspective, but among those, a thesis involves reading, organizing, and collating relevant literature, summarizing and analyzing content, undertaking data analysis and reporting and project management for the whole thing. Then there are also conference and lab poster and oral presentations. Managing relationships with colleagues and your supervisor. Undertaking work with supervision. Perhaps there are also lab coordinating duties.

Sunset in Victoria, Odgen Point. 
And of course all the writing (a thesis is like a big report). Editing. Revising. Polishing a professional document. 

What are some of the things I'm missing in here? I'm sure there are quite a few, but these are the ones that are top of mind for me tonight.

There are a lot of resources available to students at UVic who are completing their programs and starting to think ahead towards work, or post-degree options. To carry on and work on a PhD, or enter the workforce, or take some time off and travel, I would still recommend a visit with the Career Services folks. They've been very helpful for me in the past, and do everything from polishing a CV and Resume to interview practice. To anyone in this boat, good luck! I wish you well! :)

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Post 67: Keeping up Momentum: Perseverance and the Long Haul

At the end of November I found myself in chilly Cochrane, Alberta—there for a work trip with my sister and our long-time family friend Renee. During the trip I made use of a couple of things: the very cold weather to motivate my evening walks to become evening runs (it was so chilly that after 2 kms of a steady jog I was finally warm!), so I think that I ran my chilliest runs at -9C, I think, and -3C respectively. Brr! I'm trying to keep that in mind as I motivate myself to stay on top of healthy habits and getting some movement into the day. With the shorter daylight and cooler temperatures, I've certainly done a lot more walking than keeping up on my running goals.

The spire of one of the many churches in or near downtown Victoria.
That trip I had also made a date with my friend and colleague Cat, who recently defended her thesis in September! (Yay!) And it was such a lovely visit! She is in a really really great place now. She's recuperated from the thesis experience, and stated that she took about a month where she just felt like the immense effort it took to finish writing and defending the thesis meant she really only felt like doing the basics for a while: eating, sleeping, walking, yoga, and taking it easy. I remember how hard she worked during the summer months, and I was amazed at how quickly she as able to write and get her thesis together, and she did a really get job in the end, but I'm not surprised that she took the well-earned and needed break after such intense and sustained output.

Which is what gets me to the gist of this post: thesis projects are longer and more intense than (likely) anything that most students have worked on to date. They do NOT require the same skills that perhaps got students through undergrad: you cannot write a thesis with binge-writing habits that may have helped to complete papers in undergrad. I won't say that this is what I have been doing, because it isn't, but my process has certainly evolved into trying to build good writing habits that keep me sustained over a longer haul, because it is a long haul to write a thesis or dissertation.

January frost out in View Royal. Gorgeous!
As my supervisor recommended for me several months ago: write for a few hours, right in the morning, every day if possible. It's amazing how much can get done with consistency. I would also say that writing every day keeps up the momentum, engagement with the thesis, and just a general sense of encouragement for seeing continued progress being made. I'm trying to keep that in mind as I juggle a chronic health issue (migraines), and two part-time jobs.

Onwards and upwards! Cheers to healthy writing habits with stretches and standing up every so often, and making time for exercise despite working too much. Happy writing to everyone else working on theses and dissertations!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Post 66: Post-Election Contemplation

The passing of the federal election in October brought a big relief for me: the end of a decade of anti-science legislation and crippling funding cuts, a lack of respect for evidence, and was a step forward for gender equality in Cabinet, which I hope, will role model what we want to see in other areas of society as well. As Prime Minister Trudeau stated, "It's 2015."

We really badly needed a turn around of Canada's role at the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, France this fall. And I am relatively happy with Canada's role in the negotiations, and holding that the globe should not cross 1.5 degrees Celsius in average warming, though as we know, Canada is warming faster than other countries, and there are big limits to setting global goals for rising temperatures. Canada and the US still took home a Fossil of the Day Award for not refusing to discuss Loss and Damage within the negotiations, and I have very mixed feelings about that.

Our beautiful Parliament buildings during my favourite time of day!
Loss and Damage refers to the circumstances where the Marshall Islands or some of the other Pacific Islands have already experienced loss and damage because of climate change. As with the Marshall Islands, they are projected to disappear completely because of sea level rise. The ground that cultures have lived on and developed on, and inherited from forefathers is set to disappear, and they need to be compensated for that somehow. Louise Metivier, Canada's chief negotiator, didn't rule out that it wasn't important to talk about, but that it should be dealt with outside of the agreement. Given the already complicated nature of the negotiations, I don't know how to assess the fairness of that assertion. It could be that there are already so many things within the negotiations, that to bring Loss and Damage into the agreement would bring extra complication, and certainly legal implications, but it is a serious matter, and the negotiations are where all countries are in one spot to discuss the effects of climate change, and what we want to avoid. As long as the discussion continues, because it needs to, I hope that Canada's stubborn instance on this one point isn't unnecessarily blockheaded.

There are a number of platform policies that I'm particularly excited about regarding especially the environment:

Phasing out subsidies for fossil fuel companies.
Modernizing the National Energy Board (though I'm certain this will be a challenge).
Investing in clean technology as alternatives to fossil fuels.
Using government capital to model the shift to renewable energy sources.
Review the environmental assessment process and update it.
Cancelling the Northern Gateway Project.
And re-examining the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Review process.

My January window with its view to the drooping heads of dying hydrangeas. Condensation when it's chilly out.
There are several others, too, and I'm grateful for the TrudeauMetre for keeping track of all the campaign promises and how the government is doing on fulfilling those promises.

In some ways we're facing more of the same, and some change. I'm interested in seeing how things will go in the next few months and coming year. Cheers to an interesting 2016 to come!