Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Post 75: BC's Climate Leadership Plan -- Get Involved!

As graduate students it's far too easy to get lost in the bubble of campus. Depending on your research, you might not even be compelled to leave campus, find ways to connect with policy, find ways to connect with the wider community. So, it's exciting when an opportunity to get involved does appear!

One such is the the Province of British Columbia's Climate Leadership Plan! This plan is now in its second phase, which means that from now until March 25th, you can download and read their "Consultation Guide" and then participate in either their online survey or email them at

Valentine's novelty tulips spreading their lovely petals and morphing as February continues to pass. 
The focus for the Climate Leadership Plan is for those participating—citizens, professionals, the young and elderly, voters, taxpayers, students—to provide feedback on what actions the Province can take to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and continue to find ways to participate in the emerging low carbon economies. BC was a leader in Canada with our revenue-neutral Carbon Tax, and I think that with the Alberta provincial government having recently released a bold and generally well-received Climate Leadership Plan, our provincial government is trying to keep its leadership position.
If you have some time, consider taking part! This is our future, and I know I look for ways to get involved in the governance and general direction of government more broadly, being someone who isn't satisfied with the idea that voting for our provincial government once every four years is an adequate level of participation in a modern democracy. 

Sometimes the best things in life are as simple as a mug of tea, especially when it's one made
by a friend's super-talented mother. Thank you Harriet (and Jenna)!!!
Little bit of extra perspective:

A while ago I sent an email out to a few of my peers, curious about some of their 'best' thesis advice or lessons learned along the way. Here are a couple of their tips:

From Jordan, putting the thesis experience in perspective: "The only thing I can think of is something [my supervisor] told me in my first year: A master's is about learning to ask the right questions. I remember his advice being particularly helpful at the time because it offset the immense expectations I'd built up in my head about having to find all the answers in a single thesis project."

From Emily: Annotate the heck out of documents and articles the first time you read them! A master's takes a long time to finish, and the things you read early on in your degree are not things that you remember reading when you're in your second year, starting to write up your research. You go back, and feel like you're reading everything for the first time. Do yourself a favour, and make meticulous notes only ONCE!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Post 74: Graduate Student Opportunities at UVic

I'm blessed with a particularly active department that has seen a significant rise in the number of graduate students admitted in the last few years. With that have come several new faculty members, and a larger capacity to undertake various events. The seminar series that for my cohort's first year was optional has become a mandatory class component that regularly draws guests from other departments. Taking a leadership and organizational role to get it organized has been capably managed and supported by several different graduate students in my department, and it's really great to see.

Spring flowers on the front porch! Love the colours!
There are always lots of different ways to get different experiences other than simply attending class and doing research, and I think it's a good idea to explore different facets of academia to see if it's a good fit for you if you want to continue on as a graduate student, or in academia in general. Also, life experience! It's valuable, and as you work through different challenges you get to know more about yourself, even if it's as simple as Teaching is a lot harder than I expected or I need to work on my time management more!

Last year I saw an opportunity to join on as a graduate student representative to sit on UVic's Ethics Review committee. There are always emails looking for graduate students from across departments to sit on various university committee such as for the Senate, the Board of Governors, Excellence in Teaching Awards, Academic Accommodation and Accessibility for Students with a Disability, Childcare Advisory and many, many others. The Graduate Student's Society provides a good overview here. 

These lovely Chionodoxa luciliae have popped up in my neighbourhood the last few days!
There are also other ways to get involved. Did you attend a conference that you really loved? Talk to the conference organizers. There are usually things that you can do, even if it's as simple as talking up the conference among your colleagues back at your university. I attended the Northwest Climate Conference this past November (see my review post here) and after observing that there weren't many Canadians in attendance, and talking to one of the main conference organizers, I found myself stuttering to respond to an invitation to join the Steering Committee to work to get wider attendance. I haven't taken that on because I'm working on finishing my thesis, but it may be something I find I'm able to put energy into later in the year. I took on the logistics coordination role for CONFORWest 2014 (which I wrote about here), and developed a friendship with a colleague that I deeply respect and admire, and whose friendship I value greatly. 

Aside from the usual opportunity of getting teaching and marking experience through TAing, there are usually some research assistant opportunities, too. Talk to your supervisor and other professors in your department, as well as your graduate student advisor, as they likely have the beat on who's looking for a bit of research support. 

I loved the aesthetic of the leaves on this mystery neighbourhood bush! Fascinating!
And, there might also be some other closer-to-home opportunities like taking leadership on organizing your lab meetings. I did this last year, and it was a lot of fun! These kinds of administrative duties will likely colour our experiences, but they can also be productive breaks from data crunching and thesis writing.

If you are a teaching assistant on campus, consider volunteering with our union, CUPE 4163. There is endless energy and effort that can be poured into the union, which supports us in a lot of (often invisible) ways, from bargaining for our working conditions, providing arbitration support for graduate students with various grievances, to providing some travel funding for conferences. I took on a position as the Recording Secretary for a year, and have now shifted to a less demanding position as Alternate Trustee. We checked through the finance documentation in the fall, and that was me done for the 2015-2016 year. And it was a great experience! Currently, for example, they are in bargaining with UVic, and there's lots of help they could use with that! They also always have our Collective Agreement on their website, if you need to look something up. 

As always, I emphasize prioritizing your work, your health, and your needs, but if you have a bit of extra time, there are lots of ways to get both a wider experience in the university community, and be a part of building a richer community within your graduate experience. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Post 73: Sometimes You Just Need to be a Science Nerd!

This will be one of my super-enthusiastic, pro-science, pro-art nerdy posts: writer Will Sabel Courtney at The Drive wrote about these amazing retro-style space travel posters that NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory came out with last year. And they are stunning!! I've included some of my favourites as part of the photos for this post! We need these things on grey rainy days when we're trying to remember what we get excited about. Amazing science posters will work for me!
The dwarf planet, Ceres.
It's one thing to be able to do science really well, and it's another when you cross the boundary into another medium (art) to inspire or kindle enthusiasm for an interesting idea, too, and these space posters do exactly that! Culturally, the universe, outer space, and space travel have since before the 1972 Apollo 16 mission to the moon inspired people's ideas about what it means to be human, how we conceive of ourselves and our places in the universe, how we make meaning, and whether there's life in other places in the universe.
Kepler 16b!
These poster situate the human being in various interesting and playful ways in the cosmic landscape. Who knows how long it may be until we visit the ice sheets of Europa (one of Jupiter's moons) or springboard off Ceres before heading deeper into the solar system towards Jupiter, or have fun teaching kids about shadow-puppets on the first circumbinary planet (a planet orbiting two stars!) Kepler 16b, but it is definitely fun to imagine!
Lilies and tulips. :)
And as per the usual weather in Victoria, it's been a rainy and grey day, and I've been taking solace from my very bright Valentine's day flowers! Cheers to bright bouquets! I bought the yellow novelty tulips myself! Here's a photo so anyone dealing with the rainy day blues can have a quick pick-me-up, too! :) The semi-positive part of the wet weather is the motivation to stay indoors and do work, though I did make a point of suiting up and taking myself for a quick walk through the neighbourhood today to drop some postcards off at the mailbox. Stretching my legs felt good, and the fresh air was wonderful. It felt even better than the sun salutations (yoga) that I did later this evening.

More novelty tulips. Thank you, Thrifty's.
And now on to more thesis writing! :)

Monday, 8 February 2016

Post 72: Northwest Climate Conference 2015 -- An Overdue Review

This past November I attended the Northwest Climate Conference 2015 (formerly the Pacific Northwest Climate Conference), held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a very cute little town that I hadn't visited since childhood on a trip with my grandparents. I attended in my capacity as a research assistant at Royal Roads under Dr. Johanna Wolf, a contract I've had for the past year. Excitingly, she was invited to speak as one of the closing keynote panelists, and I think her talk went really well! A significant number of the talks from the conference are available with this link here.

Beautiful clouds on the flight down.
Overall, the conference was great. I heard Bill Geer, the recently retired Climate Change Initiative Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, deliver a talk on his travels through the Pacific Northwest to engage with hunting groups and associations—folks who can be a bit more politically conservative—to look at the observations they had already made about population shifts and range changes for many of the species they regularly engage with during the hunting season. This led to making some connections about the impacts of climate change where they hadn't, perhaps, before been made, and this is fantastic!

Overall, a nice component of the project was that it did connect practitioners and scientists, and I was really happy to see a group of high school students in attendance from the local school because of a really intrepid teacher. In retrospect, I have also been amazed by the seeming united front that some of the state governments and the federal government presence showed at the conference. We have nothing like that here in Canada, and the variability of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments' approaches and progress on adaptation is apparent very quickly. In the research project that we took to the conference, for example, I recall one local decision-maker highlight that at a recent meeting (Fall 2015), one of the mayors of a municipality with a significant amount of coastline had leaned in to ask this person if they had been thinking about sea level rise for their municipality, implying that he never had. This decision-maker was shocked that this municipality's main man hadn't thought about this issue before! 

Loved this little sand spit in I saw somewhere in the Puget Sound area as we got
near Seattle! It looks like a dinosaur to me!
While I skipped the Tools Cafe and opted for a short break from the conference instead, I did attend the Adaptation Speed-Dating event that took place at lunch time on the second day, offering a recommendation for how like-minded groups can communicate (not a new email or list-serve or newsletter, please, but tap into existing communications networks, and make connections among them). The crammed full schedule of the conference was certainly something to note: it was go go go, and after two and a half days I was exhausted! Definitely way to go on cramming a lot of stuff into a few days, because my brain was certainly filled to the brim with the new people I'd met, and the research I was hearing about, but sometimes I wonder if there isn't a better way to take in information at a conference.... 

In many ways, the logistics were fantastic: the size of the conference (no more than ~320 participants a day) made it fairly easy to find colleagues and speakers that really made me sit up straight and pay attention during their talks. And/or find people I recognized from the conference when I attended two or three years ago. On the note of colleagues, however: myself, Dr. Wolf, and Stephen Sobie, the Regional Climate Impacts Analyst at the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (UVic) were the only Canadians in attendance! I spoke with a few of the organizers about this, and realized that there was a very big opportunity to extend invitations to a much wider group of my Canadian peers and colleagues who would be interested in attending, and an invitation to help do so for the next conference. Take note: those of you interested in climate change, mitigation, and adaptation issues: they don't stop at the 49th Parallel, and look for the 2016 Northwest Climate Conference held in either Seattle, Washington.
I took this as a friendly reminder that yes, my country (The North Pole) is not that far away. :)
There were certainly a number of themes that resonated from when I attended the conference 3 years ago. This year, as in the past, there was much discussion about precipitation and responses to climate. The running hypothesis and projections seem to point to there not being significant differences in precipitation amounts in a warmed climate for the Pacific Northwest, though the form of the precipitation will likely change, and this will have significant downstream impacts. On a few different occasions: "Rain is good, but snow is better!" was stated, and it began to sound a bit like a conference slogan.

Unlike rain, snow extends the seasonality of moisture because of the length of time that snow can last into the year from when it first falls. Rain falls and needs to go somewhere, or be used at once. It has an immediate effect on local hydrologic cycles, while snow has a more prolonged effect. Snow takes longer to melt, and lasts into the spring and early summer, which has directly relationships to timing of peak and low stream flows, and the availability of water for cities, animals, and ecosystems. Snow is a central component of the water cycles in the northwestern states (and British Columbia, too!), and its worrisome that we are seeing snowpack decline, as Phil Mote and colleagues first presented in their 2005 paper "Declining mountain snowpack in western North America."

My first real frost of the year! It came decorating these leaves with beautiful sparkles!
Probably one of the best talks I went to wasn't actually a talk: it was a hands on, adaptation mini-workshop that was hosted by the Climate Impacts Group (CIG), which led us through four key stages of an adaptation planning process for projects that we had on the go. It is the same one that they use with clients to think through various aspects of adaptation. It was very very good.

We were encouraged to tweet (#nwclimate2015) about the conference and while we were there—which was a fantastic idea, and made me think of the positive attention that Canadian researcher Catherine Scott received around Halloween this past year, live-tweeting with grace and humour about the spider sex she was gathering data of in her lab—but to avoid major roaming fees on my cell, I'd left it at home. That made me brainstorm about how to make something like that more accessible for international attendees like me. Maybe guidelines ahead of time about tweeting abroad (using the wireless network) or having a cell-phone share or something like that from a general account for the conference? (My sincere apologies if I am revealing my lack of technological understanding here.) :) But I really appreciated the encouragement to extend the impact of the conference and interest in it through social media while I was there.

Mudgy the Moose; Millie the Mouse is, unfortunately, not easy to see in the dark!
Aside from the intellectual party that the conference was (I really enjoy learning about what research is currently being done and really on the edge of pushing our boundaries of knowledge), it was also a great way to explore a different city in the Pacific Northwest. I went for a lovely two midnight walks along the World's Longest Boardwalk, which extended as a floating boardwalk around their main boat dock area, and met the a few of the local Mudgy the Moose (shown above) and Millie the Mouse statues in town, which mark their walking trails. Overall, it was a great trip, and I hope I can attend next year's conference again.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Post 71: Grad School and Migraines

Yesterday I lost about three quarters of my productive work time to a migraine. It's the first in the month of February that I've had, and it was only the second day of the month. Living with a chronic health issue is never easy, and I admire anyone who does so immensely. Especially if they are attending grad school like me. It's take me a while to be honest with myself about my migraines and their relationship to my work—they have more of an impact than I was willing to admit at first. Grad school is one of those places where 'working the hardest' is implicitly a good thing. Obviously everyone works hard, but I recall thinking back to first year, where I was frequently the only or last person in my lab, and I felt good about that. It appealed to my sense of responsibility, and my idea of what a 'good graduate student' was all about. My perspectives on this have certainly shifted over the past 3.5 years.
Those are some wonderful January snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) in the backyard! 

Little bit of a backgrounder for those unfamiliar with migraines. Migraines are very different from the more common and ubiquitous 'headache'. As the Mayo clinic writes, a primary headache (a standalone event without an underlying other medical issue to cause a it, which is a secondary headache) is characterized by three main types, the most common of which are tension headaches, followed by migraine headaches and cluster headaches. A migraine has specific triggers, the most common of which include sleep irregularities, stress, alcohol (esp. red wine), missing a meal, strong cheeses, strong scents, significant fluctuations in the barometric pressure (more obviously seen as rapid localized weather changes). There are quite a few others, and I've mentioned the triggers that I'm particularly sensitive to.

With my migraines, I often have not only the head pain (which can be focused on one side of my forehead, behind my eyes, or simply as a generalized head pain), but also nausea, light sensitivity (photophobia), sound sensitivity (phonophobia), and sensitivity to touch. You may have heard descriptions from people who get migraines along the lines of "I get a migraine, and just shut myself into my room with the curtains pulled, lights off, and no stimulation." That's what a full-blown migraine can do.

For treatment, headaches can go away on their own, in the case of mild ones, or at least they can be very successfully treated with ibuprofen, the effectiveness of which has been shown to improve with caffeine as well. Ibuprofen does nothing for migraines.

Cute wooden owl in a Vancouver neighbourhood I passed on an early January friend visit! 
I have a very specific migraine medication that I've been taking for about two years now, and it is wonderful. I no longer lose whole days to migraines and migraine pain, though I have found that my migraines have changed in nature quite a bit. If I'm able to catch the migraine before it really takes off, then the medication usually does a good job of relieving the migraine within an hour. If the migraine's already well under way, like the one that I had yesterday, then I'm not so lucky and it takes anywhere from 1.5-3 hours to go away, and I need to really relax and take it easy.

What I've found trickiest is recognizing that the symptoms I'm experiencing are an oncoming migraine and not just a headache. The migraine medication that I use has a little bit of a price tag, at about $8.50 per pill. The name-brand one I used to use had a much higher cost at about $20+ per pill. So I'm not inclined to make the decision to take one lightly, considering the frequency of my tension/regular ibuprofen-curable headaches I'm prone to as well.

So, I get a bit of brain fog as part of the onset of the migraine. I find it difficult to focus. I usually get a bit frustrated with myself at that point, because I get a bit antsy and have trouble staying with one task. Usually the nausea sets in prior to the actual head pain as well, and I really notice that I start to squint a lot, and the photophobia can set in relatively quickly, too. But the migraine affecting my decision-making is the darndest thing. Simple things become difficult. Remembering where I put my migraine medication, and grabbing a glass of water take a lot of effort, and it's then that I really feel like an extra hand is useful.

This is Mingus. He's been on this blog before. He is a sweetie.
Also, not getting stressed because I'm unable to work is a challenge, too. I had a set idea about what I wanted to get done for the day, and now that needs to shift because I might be out of commission for 3-8 hours. It is a little bit frustrating.

Airing some of this out at a recent thesis completion group meeting in the late fall made one of my colleagues mention that a friend of his completed her PhD despite suffering from migraines as well. He said that she just knew she would have about 4-7 unproductive days a month where she couldn't work, and she'd keep those aside, and keep track of them. That made it much easier for her to manage her migraines and the lost time, because they were accounted for in advance, and expected. So she didn't have the guilt that I usually associate with missing work. I've tried to be a little bit less self-critical about my migraines. I've had them since childhood, and while aspects of my grad school experience have seemingly exacerbated them, they're not going anywhere, so it's been very important to learn to manage them and triggers for them as best as possible. I have to keep going with them!

So it's taken me a while to figure out the kinds of work habits that are effective for living and working with migraines. Prioritizing my thesis as the first (or one of the first) things that gets attention in the morning has been critical to getting as much done as I have so far. My migraines usually set in in the afternoon, when they do come on. Mornings, I've been told, are some of the best times to write, and I definitely agree.

There are lots of barriers to completing grad school, and I am determined not to let this be one for me, especially since I am very close to finishing up with this project. If you are a grad student struggling with migraines or any other health issue, mental, physical, or otherwise, know that you can get the help you need to help you succeed and finish up this big project in your life!!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Post 70: Cultivating Urgency and Sticking with 20 Minutes

Spring has sprung in Victoria and I'm finally feeling much better: the strep throat is feeling like an already distant memory, the antibiotics are gone, and I've had a productive weekend of working, some socializing, biking around, and thesis writing.

Every night before I've gone to bed for the last three days, my journal entries have been filled with encouraging notes to myself: I can finish this thesis. I can do this. I've been reflecting on how to instil a sense of urgency, which I think I need in order to complete this project, and I think it's been working.

I had a very productive 3 hour writing/editing session with Karen yesterday, and today is following suit. I keep asking myself: what do I need to accomplish right now? What comment am I tracking down in which transcript? Who said what here? Which footnote needs to be filled?

This amazing hellebore! One of my favourite flowers, grown from seed by my friend Emma! 
I know I've written about this in the past, but I affirm once more that I find it debilitating to think too far into the future about timeline and finishing. All I can do it work on the sub-theme I have in front of me, the sentence, the punctuation, the quote. No, I shouldn't be checking my email. I need to look at the article this participant referenced here. No, I shouldn't be on Facebook. Right now, I need to make this a block quote.
The first cherry tree I've seen blooming in Victoria. This image from a few days ago,
across from the Parliament Buildings. 
I break up my time into 20 minute increments, and in between stretch and do a few pushups and squats. This feels sustainable. Break for lunch. Send a text. Otherwise, keep stewing on the chapter and its multiple moving parts, all working together now to form a very solid, well-organized draft. I am getting close to sending it off, and I'm starting to get excited about it. :)


Interesting quote from my brief literature scour again: this one from Bill Wilson, then Director of Industry, Trade, & Economic Research, at the Canadian Forestry Service, working at the Pacific Forestry Centre here in Victoria. From his concluding remarks in his 2002 article outlining the role of the federal government's Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative in responding to the mountain pine beetle's outbreak:

 "It has been a tough year for BC. Events bring to mind the riders of the apocalypse – pestilence, drought, fire, and floods."