GeoLog

Jobs

GeoSciences Column: Improving together – science writing and football

GeoSciences Column: Improving together – science writing and football

Writing is something that those pursuing a career in academia are expected to be good at. It is a requirement of the job, yet it is a skill few get any formal training in and simply rely on the old saying that practice makes perfect. But what if there is another way? Mathew Stiller-Reeve is a co-founder of ClimateSnack, a writing group organization, which aims to tackle the problem. In today’s post Mathew considers how the workings of a football team might reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project.

The premise behind the ClimateSnack project is simple: We need to improve our writing in science. But many young researchers do not have access to good training initiatives, especially not continuous ones. So, maybe we should just mobilize ourselves; we can mobilize ourselves by starting writing groups and working together to improve. In ClimateSnack, early career scientists (ECS) start writing groups at their home institute. Participants write short popular science articles (usually 400-500 words), read them aloud, get feedback, and publish online. Several ClimateSnack writing groups sprouted up all over the world, however, only a few truly blossomed. What made some groups work and some not? We analyzed the answer to this question in our new paper. The style of a peer-review paper didn’t allow us to make fancy, lengthy analogies. But on GeoLog, I feel safe using football as an analogy to explain the workings of a writing group, and maybe infuse some of my own personal opinions too.

Football is a team sport, but you can play football completely alone and still become an expert. You can see this when you watch football freestylers (like Indi Cowie in the video) do their incredible tricks. Most of these tricksters likely play football with a whole team, but they don’t have to. The same applies to science writing and communication. You can become an expert in these skills by yourself, and some people prefer this. But for ECS’s who like to work together, ClimateSnack would give them the opportunity to improve as part of a team: a writing group.

But what was needed for the teams to work successfully? And what did we learn from the teams that disbanded after a few training sessions?

Successful football teams have good leadership, and in particular good captains. Good captains bring out the best in their players, encourage them when things get hard and manage conflict. These elements were reflected in the ClimateSnack writing groups. The strong leaders guided the groups and encouraged participants to contribute in sensitive ways. However, strong leaders don’t stick around forever. Just as other football clubs often buy captains, writing group leaders also moved on; they finished PhDs and got jobs far, far away. New captains needed to be found, but this was always a challenge.

Can the workings of a football team reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project? Credit: Syaza , distributed via gify.

Can the workings of a football team reflect the successes of the writing groups that started in the ClimateSnack project? Credit: Syaza , distributed via gify.

I am absolutely not saying that the leaders of the disbanded other groups were poor captains! Even a potentially good captain cannot lead a team if he/she doesn’t know the rules of the game. If the rules are not clear then the whole team cannot play properly together. They need to know where the goal is; they need to understand the game’s objectives. And this is where the ClimateSnack management team (where I am most to blame!) was shortsighted. We failed to properly communicate the objectives and aims of a ClimateSnack writing group and the writing process we suggested.

Even if a football team knows the rules and has a good captain, they won’t get far if morale is low, or if the players haven’t got time to train or turn up for matches. We noticed that a lot of the motivation within writing groups was linked to socializing. Just as some amateur football teams might go to the pub after training, one successful writing group planned their meetings just before the Department coffee break so everyone could socialize after the hard work was done.

What other elements need to be in place for a football team to work?

The right number of players is an absolute necessity. Most people have seen how a football team struggles after a couple of players have been sent off. You may have also heard about players going to other clubs if they don’t get to play enough matches. The ClimateSnack group meetings also faced challenges with the number of participants. One group had so many participants to start with that it became difficult to manage. It is difficult for everyone to get something out of a peer feedback discussion if too many are involved.  In this instance, participants lost interest and numbers decreased steadily and finally to a level where too few attended and the group disbanded. In our Bergen group, we always find that the best discussions happen with 4-6 people at the meetings. If we get far more than this in the future, then we will likely split into smaller discussion groups which work more effectively.

Effective writing groups demand some kind of time commitment from the participants. Good writing requires practice, just like football. Football players often train several times a week. With ClimateSnack, we did not have the luxury of asking the members for this level of commitment. Students are already under pressure from a variety of different sources. They need to complete mandatory courses, collect data, attend conferences, and work as teaching assistants. People who play football have a passion for the game and make time for it. Unfortunately, few young researchers have a passion for writing (cards on the table: I was exactly the same. It took a lot of time before I started enjoying writing). Therefore, something voluntary like a writing group will often fall by the wayside when to-do lists are being compiled.

A football team celebrates together after scoring a goal!

A football team celebrates together after scoring a goal! ( Lewes Ladies 2 BHA 1 4 May 2014. 645 , credit: James Boyes distributed via a href=” https://www.flickr.com/”> flickr).

Some ClimateSnack teams started scoring goals! ClimateSnack participants have published over 100 articles online, some of which articles have appeared in newspapers here in Norway. Many participants feel that their writing has improved. Some participants have even started receiving better peer reviews for their scientific publications. Other participants have also used their new network to organize science communication workshops. Even if many writing groups didn’t find a footing, for some people the concept worked really well. And many people have made good friends!

Just like with many football teams, they are more likely to score more goals if they have generous sponsors. Football clubs need to buy kits, pay for pitch maintenance and travel to play other teams. A writing group project like ClimateSnack ideally needs some funding to let new ideas flourish and allow different groups to interact and learn from each other. The ClimateSnack founders had big ambitions to create an international online community where ECS would interact and peer-review each other’s articles across borders. We secured some funding to update the website, but never to implement the kind of things needed to properly promote an international community.

Despite the challanges we encountered, we have seen that writing groups can be a really effective way to learn writing skills together (like ours in Bergen in the photo). Maybe they are so effective that universities should consider implementing them in curricula for all students at all levels. With this in mind, I’ll indulge with a final football-related analogy. When I was a child, we had to play football at school. I didn’t like it! However, now I appreciate that I got fit and healthier, and I learned skills that I could apply to other sports in the process. You see the link to learning basic writing skills?

Indeed, if you think about it, I could have applied the football team analogy to any aspect of research education: We can learn anything alone, but it can be more enjoyable and rewarding if we learn together. However, I think the analogy works well with communication. After all, this is the part of the research process where we really have to put ourselves out there, we have to receive feedback, debate our results, and defend our conclusions, often in open forums. These are all elements at the forefront of writing group dynamics.

Read more about the highs and lows of our ClimateSnack project in our paper in the recent HESS/NHESS special issue on Effective Science Communication and Education in Hydrology and Natural Hazards.

By Mathew Stiller-Reeve, co-founder of ClimateSnack and researcher at Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway

Reference

Stiller-Reeve, M. A., Heuzé, C., Ball, W. T., White, R. H., Messori, G., van der Wiel, K., Medhaug, I., Eckes, A. H., O’Callaghan, A., Newland, M. J., Williams, S. R., Kasoar, M., Wittmeier, H. E., and Kumer, V.: Improving together: better science writing through peer learning, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 2965-2973, doi:10.5194/hess-20-2965-2016, 2016.

Who do you think most deserves the title of the Mother of Geology?

Who do you think most deserves the title of the Mother of Geology?

Much ink is spilled hailing the work of the early fathers of geology – and rightly so! James Hutton is the mind behind the theory of uniformitarianism, which underpins almost every aspect of geology and argues that processes operating at present operated in the same manner over geological time, while Sir Charles Lyell furthered the idea of geological time. William Smith, the coal miner and canal builder, who produced the first geological map certainly makes the cut as a key figure in the history of geological sciences, as does Alfred Wegener, whose initially contested theory of continental drift forms the basis of how we understand the Earth today.

Equally deserving of attention, but often overlooked, are the women who have made ground-breaking advances to the understanding of the Earth. But who the title of Mother of Geology should go to is up for debate, and we want your help to settle it!

In the style of our network blogger, Matt Herod, we’ve prepared a poll for you to cast your votes! We’ve picked five leading ladies of the geoscience to feature here, but they should only serve as inspiration. There are many others who have contributed significantly to advancing the study of the planet, so please add their names and why you think they are deserving of the title of Mother of Geology, in the comment section below.

We found it particularly hard to find more about women in geology in non-English speaking country, so if you know of women in France, Germany, Spain, etc. who made important contributions to the field, please let us know!

Mary Anning (1799–1847)

Credited to 'Mr. Grey' in Crispin Tickell's book 'Mary Anning of Lyme Regis' (1996).

Mary Anning. Credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996).

Hailing from the coastal town of Lyme Regis in the UK, Mary was born to Richard Anning, a carpenter with an interest in fossil collecting. On the family’s doorstep were the fossil-rich cliffs of the Jurassic coast. The chalky rocks provided a life-line to Mary, her brother and mother, when her father died eleven years after Mary was born. Upon his death, Richard left the family with significant debt, so Mary and her brother turned to fossil-collecting and selling to make a living.

Mary had a keen eye for anatomy and was an expert fossil collector. She and her brother are responsible for the discovery of the first Ichthyosaurs specimen, as well as the first plesiosaur.

When Mary started making her fossil discoveries in the early 1800s, geology was a burgeoning science. Her discoveries contributed to a better understanding of the evolution of life and palaeontology.

Mary’s influence is even more noteworthy given that she was living at a time when science was very much a man’s profession. Although the fossils Mary discovered where exhibited and discussed at the Geological Society of London, she wasn’t allowed to become a member of the recently formed union and she wasn’t always given full credit for her scientific discoveries.

Charlotte Murchinson (1788–1869)

Roderick and Charlotte Murchinson made a formidable team. A true champion of science, and geology in particular, Charlotte, ignited and fuelled her husband’s pursuit of a career in science after resigning his post as an Army officer.

Roderick Murchinson’s seminal work on establishing the first geologic sequence of Early Paleozoic strata would have not arisen had it not been for his wife’s encouragement. With Roderick, Charlotte travelled the length and breadth of Britain and Europe (along with notable friend Sir Charles Lylle), collecting fossils (one of the couple’s trips took them to Lyme Regis where they met and worked with Mary Anning, who later became a trusted friend) and studying the geology of the old continent.  Roderick’s first paper, presented at the Geological Society in 1825 is thought to have been co-written by Charlotte.

Not only was Charlotte a champion for the sciences, but she was a believer in gender equality. When Charles Lylle refused women to take part in his lectures at Kings Collage London, at her insistence he changed his views.

Florence Bascom (1862–1945)

By Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis - Creator/Photographer: Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis Medium: Black and white photographic print. Persistent Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection: Science Service Records, 1902-1965 (Record Unit 7091)

By Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis – Creator/Photographer: Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis. Persistent Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection: Science Service Records, 1902-1965 (Record Unit 7091)

Talk about a life of firsts: Florence Bascom, an expert in crystallography, mineralogy, and petrography, was the first woman hired by the U.S Geological Survey (back in 1896); she was the first woman to be elected to the Geological Society of America (GSA) Council (in 1924) and was the GSA’s first woman officer (she served as vice-president in 1930).

Florence’s PhD thesis (she undertook her studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen during lectures so the male student’s wouldn’t know she was there!), was ground-breaking because she identified, for the first time, that rocks previously thought to be sediments were, in fact, metamorphosed lavas. She made important contributions to the understanding of the geology of the Appalachian Mountains and mapped swathes of the U.S.

Perhaps influenced by her experience as a woman in a male dominated world, she lectured actively and went to set-up the geology department at Bryn Mawr College, the first college where women could pursue PhDs, and which became an important 20th century training centre for female geologist.

Inge Lehmann (1888-1993)

There are few things that scream notoriety as when a coveted Google Doodle is made in your honour. It’s hardly surprising that Google made such a tribute to Inge Lehmann, on the 127th Anniversary of her birth, on 13th May 2015.

The Google Doodle celebrating Inge Lehmann's 127th birthday.

The Google Doodle celebrating Inge Lehmann’s 127th birthday.

A Danish seismologist born in 1888, Inge experienced her first earthquake as a teenager. She studied maths, physics and chemistry at Oslo and Cambridge Universities and went on to become an assistant to geodesist Niels Erik Nørlund. While installing seismological observatories across Denmark and Greenland, Inge became increasingly interested in seismology, which she largely taught herself. The data she collected allowed her to study how seismic waves travel through the Earth. Inge postulated that the Earth’s core wasn’t a single molten layer, as previously thought, but that an inner core, with properties different to the outer core, exists.

But as a talented scientist, Inge’s contribution to the geosciences doesn’t end there. Her second major discovery came in the late 1950s and is named after her: the Lehmann Discontinuity is a region in the Earth’s mantle at ca. 220 km where seismic waves travelling through the planet speed up abruptly.

Marie Tharp (1920-2006)

That the sea-floor of the Atlantic Ocean is traversed, from north to south by a spreading ridge is a well-established notion. That tectonic plates pull apart and come together along boundaries across the globe, as first suggested by Alfred Wegener, underpins our current understanding of the Earth. But prior to the 1960s and 1970s Wegener’s theory of continental drift was hotly debated and viewed with scepticism.

Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp with the 1977 World Ocean’s Map. Credit: Marie Tharp maps, distributed via Flickr.

Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp with the 1977 World Ocean’s Map. Credit: Marie Tharp maps, distributed via Flickr.

In the wake of the Second World War, in 1952, in the then under resourced department of Columbia University, Marie Tharp, a young scientist originally from Ypsilanti (Michigan), poured over soundings of the Atlantic Ocean. Her task was to map the depth of the ocean.

By 1977, Marie and her boss, geophysicist Bruce Heezen, had carefully mapped the topography of the ocean floor, revealing features, such as the until then unknown, Mid-Atlantic ridge, which would confirm, without a doubt, that the planet is covered by a thin (on a global scale) skin of crust which floats atop the Earth’s molten mantle.

Their map would go on to pave the way for future scientists who now knew the ocean floors weren’t vast pools of mud. Despite beginning her career at Columbia as a secretary to Bruce, Marie’s role in producing the beautiful world ocean’s map propelled her into the oceanography history books.

Over to you! Who do you think the title of the Mother of Geology should go to? We ran a twitter poll last week, asking this very question, and the title, undisputedly, went to Mary Anning. Do you agree?

By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer

 

All references to produce this post are linked to directly from the text.

EGU, the European Geosciences Union, is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit international union of scientists with over 12,500 members from all over the world. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting over 11,000 scientists from all over the world.

This text was edited on 1 Septmember 2016 to correct the spelling of Weger. With thanks to Torbjörn Larsson for spotting the typo.

 

Finding Funding: a how to guide to applying for research grants

Finding Funding: a how to guide to applying for research grants

Drafting your first grant proposal can be daunting. Grant writing improves with experience, so how do early career scientists compete on an equal footing with those who are more established?

At this year’s General Assembly we tackled this very question at the Finding Funding (SC46)  short course. Grant Allen, an atmospheric scientist, who has plenty of experience in applying for funding  spoke about the key steps to building confidence in your research ideas, how to frame those ideas into a clear grant application for reviewers and funding agencies, and how to structure your proposals to make sure your proposal fits the goals of the organisation you are applying to.

Grant has authored a book, entitled “Effective Science Communication”, which contains detailed chapters on grant writing, as well as other aspects of science communication from conference presentations to dealing with the media. Keep an eye out for this this summer. It will be released as an e-book by the Institute of Physics, UK.

It is all about confidence

There is no doubt that your first grant application will be daunting, not least because so much of your career can hang in the balance while you prepare it and because it is so far removed from anything you may have done before. Start by accepting it is outside your comfort zone and most importantly: be confident in yourself and your research ideas.

An investment in you

It may be counterintuitive but funding bodies are looking to fund you and your potential as a future research leader, almost as much ) as they are looking to invest in a great research idea (especially in the case of research fellowships).

That’s why your application should showcase you as a great potential researcher. This means highlighting your track record as a way to demonstrate your future potential. Show reviewers what skills and experience you already have and show that you can look forward and think of your career beyond the project by establishing partnerships and knowledge exchange opportunities throughout the duration of the grant.

The funding procedure

typical porcedure

The typical funding procedure. Credit: Grant Allen

Each funding body has its own application structure, so we won’t go into too much detail here. It is worthwhile spending some time, before you put pen to paper, getting to grips with the stages involved in the process. The funder’s handbook is usually a good place to start.

A typical procedure will be orchestrated by the funding body, who will bring in reviewers to rate your proposal in the first stage of the application process. You may get the opportunity to rebut the reviewers’ comments before a final decision is made on whether your proposal is to continue on in the selection process (more detail on this, as well as dos and don’ts of rebuttals in Grant’s slides). Should you be successful, you may  go on to present your research idea and yourself to a panel or committee who will make the final decision on who gets the award.

Writing your proposal

Remember reviewers will read upwards of 40 proposals at a time, so put yourself in their shoes – make reading your proposal easy!

Overall, you should aim to keep things simple, logical and concise. Start off with the bigger picture using general language, and slowly build up a narrative as you guide the reviewer through the application by giving greater detail about the approach. It helps to remind the reviewer about the key points throughout and to structure each subsection clearly with a start, middle and end.

Do:

  • Use the present perfect: ‘although much work has been done’
  • Use constructive phrasing: a problem is in fact, a challenge
Writing tools. By Pete O'Shea via Flickr

Writing tools. By Pete O’Shea via Flickr

You’ll have heard this endlessly since you were an undergraduate, but it is never truer than in a grant proposal: a picture is worth a 1000 words. Include carefully chosen informative figures, which add value to the written content and make your proposal look good at the same time.

It is heart-breaking how many great proposals get thrown out by reviewers because the applicants don’t follow the formatting guidelines or text includes typos, spelling mistakes and/or poor grammar. Just as it pays to understand the application process in full, take the time to follow all the guidelines, no matter how fastidious they may seem.

And finally, remember that the majority of proposals are unsuccessful, especially the first time. Accept this, learn from any feedback you are given and be resilient and try, try again. It will be worth it in the end.

Budget

Writing your thesis/papers will have prepared you, at least to some extent, for authoring the proposal, but one area which presents a bigger challenge still is the budget of your project. Figuring out how much money you need to see your project through is no easy task, so it is worth asking for some help from a mentor, senior researcher or your faculties finance team to make sure you get it right.

Less is more? When it comes to preparing the budget for your project this doesn’t necessarily apply. In fact, don’t under resource your project. Proposals don’t fail if the bottom line is high, they fail if it isn’t justified or if the reviewers get the impression that your numbers are ‘too good to be true’. Use the resources you need, nothing less and nothing more.

Panel Interview

By Vector Open Stock - http://www.vectoropenstock.com/ [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Use the panel interview to shine and show the panel what makes you and your research unique, interesting and achievable. By Vector Open Stock –  CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The final stage of the application process (especially in the case of fellowships) will involve a panel interview, where you present your research idea and project to a funding committee. Use this opportunity to shine and show the panel what makes you and your research unique, interesting and achievable. The focus of your presentation should be fully, and solely, on the science. Details of the methodology and budgeting shouldn’t feature in your presentation, but do have some extra slides prepared on these topics should it come up in the subsequent Q&A.

Structure your slides carefully and anticipate questions by addressing issues that may have been thrown up by the reviewers of your proposal. While it may be tempting to cram in lots of information to your slides, the less is more approach certainly applies now. Stick to approximately one slide per minute and have no more than one take-home-message in each sheet. Finally, make sure you dedicate some time to explaining why you are the right person for the job and why the time and place are right for the project.

Do’s and Don’ts

You’ll find plenty more details on each of the topics covered above in the Grant’s slides, be sure to take a look at them and use the comments section of this post to share your tips for grant writing too. We’ll finish with a short selection of do’s and don’ts.

Do:

  • Be ambitious, passionate, clear and concise
  • Write for decisions makers – make sure there is enough detail without it being inaccessible for non-specialist-scientists
  • Stress how your research will contribute to solving economical, societal and/or cultural challenges
  • Follow the format guide
  • Get letters of support from project partners if you have any
  • Use your CV to prove your track record
  • Do ask for help!

Don’t

  • Your application shouldn’t be a simple extension of your supervisor’s current project (if you are a PhD or PDRA) – emphasise what is new.
  • Use negative or defensive language (in your proposal, rebuttal or presentation Q&A)
  • Treat the proposal as a paper
  • Be afraid to ask for help!

 

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

This blog post is based on the presentation by Grant Allen at the Short Course: Finding Funding (SC46) which took place at the 2016 EGU General Assembly in Vienna. The full presentation can be accessed here.

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

You can find the EGU Booth in Hall X2 on the Brown Level. This is the place to come if you’d like to meet members of EGU Council and Committees (Meet EGU) and find out more about EGU activities.

Here you can discover the EGU’s 17 open access journals, browse the EGU blogs (GeoLog, the EGU Blog Network and the EGU Division Blogs), catch up on the conference Twitter feed, and more! We will also be giving away beautiful geosciences postcards, which the EGU will post for you free of charge.

Beside the booth you’ll also find the finalists in the EGU Photo Contest, make sure you vote for your favourite images!  You’ll also find the Assembly Job Spot – be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a job in the geosciences, or someone to fill as spot in your research group.

If you have any questions about the EGU, or want to be more involved in the Union, come and ask us, we’re happy to help!

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: