GeoLog

Outreach

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.

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

Conference posters: Most scientists spend tens (if not hundreds) of working hours perfecting their conference poster. There’s not just the science to think about, but also the design, the flow, the images, the language… The list is endless. Once complete, you print it, roll it up and feed it into the protective poster tube. Then you travel to the conference venue, whereupon you ‘compete’ with other scientist trying to stand-out from the crowd and entice fellow attendees to stop by your presentation, if only for a few minutes.

And then it is over, almost as quickly as it started. You pack up your poster to take back to your institution, to languish amongst the pile of other posters in a corner of your office. Best case scenario, you’ll revisit the electronic version when presenting on the same subject again and rework some elements. In all likelihood, the few hours of glory in the poster hall will be the climax of hours of hard work!

What if you could breathe a longer life into your poster? One which would mean you’ll reach audiences you never expected, while transforming your work into a brand new, useful product?

Today we speak to Sandra de Vries, a former master student, who also crafts posters into wearable garments, breathing a new lease of life into your scientific findings.

It all starts with a textile poster – where your presentation is printed on fabric as opposed to paper – which Sandra then turns into anything from a tie, to a tote bag, through to a skirt! The designs come complete with QR Codes, which people can scan to access the original presentation.

First, could you introduce yourself and tell our readers a little more about your background.

Hi, everybody! As a water ambassador during my studies, and currently working as project developer for the Valorisation Program Deltatechnology and Water, my interest for the water sector has been growing for a couple of years now. That brought me to my new job, where I just started working as IHP-HWRP Committee Secretary.

I take special interest in supporting and increasing innovative solutions in the water sector and creating awareness for the importance of water (on a national as well as international level) for which I helped set up the initiative Team Helder Water. I like to tackle challenges by being creative and enthusiastic about the solutions possible.

During my Water Management master at the Delft University of Technology I conducted research in the Mara River Basin – Kenia, Jakarta – Indonesia, and Ostional – Nicaragua. I conducted this research in cooperation with UNESCO-IHE, Deltares, and the research institute CIRA in Managua – Nicaragua, respectively. Living, travelling, and working abroad has created an interest of discovering other cultures and working together with them on challenging and global issues.

Repost is your initiative to turn textile posters into useable items. How did you come up with this original idea?

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

It actually all comes back to my time as an EGU conference assistant, during EGU2014 and 2015. For my work in the poster areas we were asked to remove all left-behind posters every evening. These are quite a few, and surprisingly, some posters turned out to be printed on textile instead of paper. After the first evening of throwing away perfectly nice posters that were only used for two effective hours, I discussed with a friend the waste of material, time, but especially effort. As I had been designing and making  clothes of my own for a couple of years, I started joking about keeping some of the textile versions. “I could make a dress out of it and perhaps a beach bag for you!”, I exclaimed to my friend. So at the end of the next day, instead of throwing away the textile posters, I started collecting them. Beautiful pieces of research, all of them!

In the year after EGU2014 I did what I promised my friend, and chose two posters to become a beach bag and a dress. Again, in 2015 I joined as an assistant, and this time it was even better, I was working at the hydrology poster area. This gave me an even better possibility to collect textile posters, which often showed topics of my own interest! And during the Delft hydrology dinner in Vienna (every year organised by the division), I wore the dress made out of a poster from EGU2014. This resulted in really enthusiastic reactions, which only increased my own enthusiasm for the idea. After EGU2015 I created a couple of aprons which were used during the hydrology fieldwork of my master, and a pencil skirt for my own thesis defence. Of course with all topics matching that of my own thesis. And finally, I created the tie, a present for my supervisor Prof. Hubert Savenije.

Is the process of turning the posters into clothing items difficult? What does the process involve?

As you might imagine, posters are printed on a textile that is best compared to canvas. This is pretty stiff fabric, and for sure not everything can be made out of it. The first dress I made is actually the best example for this. I was not incredibly satisfied because the inflexible fabric did not allow for a nice fit. I also broke many a needle in my sewing machine, since the fabric is often thicker than normal fabric. So the product-possibilities depend on the type of fabric, and the thickness of the textile posters have thus far influenced my product choices.

The next step is like designing any other piece of clothes or accessories. You need to design a 2D-pattern that shows you which pieces of fabric you need to create a 3D product. In case of clothing, which naturally should also fit a person, one needs to take into account different clothing sizes.

You include QR codes in all the items you make, why is it such a unique feature?

The extra highlight of our product, especially interesting for researchers, is indeed the QR-code attached to the product. This QR-code redirects to the original poster of the author. Imagine the extra publicity you can create for your work in this manner!

Cutting up the poster in order to REmake it, can create a loss of the information contained in the poster. By including the QR-code we ensure to REpost the work to anybody who might be interested by what is shown on the clothing or accessories.

Which items have you enjoyed creating the most and why?

I still remember the first time people saw the beach bag I made for my friend. Everybody was enthusiastic, envying her for her new bag. This was very surprising for me, I had not expected that others would like the idea as much as I enjoyed it.

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

I am most proud of the pencil skirt I made. When I started creating it, I was not even sure if it would work out, and I wanted it to be perfect to use it for my own thesis defence. Eventually, it turned out to be great, and so original that I was asked by people where I bought it!

What next for REpost? Do you plan on pursuing this as a business where anyone can purchase items you’ve made?

Yes, definitely! It started out as a nice fun hobby and project. Now, after having talked to many people, I believe this has more potential than just keeping it for myself. Together with my sister Maria, we are finding ways to increase production, incorporate the QR-code and bring this to a higher level. To make it easier for you in the future, we’re actually in contact with conference organizers  to incorporate this choice into the digital registration procedure.

If this sounds interesting to you as a poster-author and you’re planning to print on textile, contact us via our email address repost.poster@gmail.com or check our facebook page repost poster!

Going deeper underground – why do we want to know how rocks behave?

Going deeper underground – why do we want to know how rocks behave?

Imagine you find yourself standing atop a wooden box in the middle of your home town, on a rainy weekend day, with the sole aim of talking to passersby about your research work. It can be a rather daunting prospect! How do you decide what the take-home message of your work is: which single nugget of information do you want members of the public to take away after having spoken to you? Even more important still, how are you going to grab their attention in the first place? After all, they’ll be going about their business and not expecting to see you there, on top of your box, least of all talk to you about your work! But if you fancy the challenge, then read on, as Stephanie Zihms, the ECS Representative of the Earth Magnetism and Rock Physics Division, describes her experience doing just that!

Now in its 6th year Soapbox Science is spreading and I was selected to take part in the 1st Edinburgh event on July 24th on The Mound. The weather was typically Scottish but it didn’t seem to bother the crowds and it definitely did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 12 speakers.

I have done a range of different outreach events but I was particularly drawn to Soapbox Science because it specifically promotes female scientists and their work. It was great to meet the other scientists and to see the range of soapbox “performances” as well as the variety of props utilised to showcase each research topic.

Photo taken at the Soapbox Science event courtesy of Sarah Caldwell (smcneem)

Photo taken at the Soapbox Science event courtesy of Sarah Caldwell (smcneem)

The scary thing for this type of event is that you don’t know who might stop, listen & ask questions since we were standing on The Mound in Edinburgh – this also means that your  material has to be accessible and engaging to a wide audience.

Here is what I did to explain my research in geomechanics: Going deeper underground – why do we want to know how rocks behave?

I opted for a big PVC banner showing different heights & depths. With help from the audience I added a picture to each line to show what it represented. I used this banner to set the scene for the type of work I do. I’m a researcher in geomechanics – I want to understand why rocks deform the way they do and what part or component of the rock controls the deformation. The rocks I work with are related to a very deep oil field that lies under 2km of ocean and 5km of rocks. It would take me ~1 hour to run this. At this depth the pressure squeezing the rocks is very high – each square meter of rock experiences the pressure of 16 African elephants per km of depth. So at 5km depths that is 80 African Elephants per square meter.

Under these high pressures the slightest change in conditions e.g. through oil production affects the rocks and changes the distribution of this pressure onto the rocks. I want to understand how different rocks respond to these changes. I do this by collecting rock samples that are easy to get to e.g. from quarries. But they have to be similar to the ones found in the oil field of interest – we call this an analogue (or think of it as a sibling).

Rock sample before it is placed into the Hoek Cell. Image Credit: Stephanie Zihms

Rock sample before it is placed into the Hoek Cell. Image Credit: Stephanie Zihms

In the lab at Heriot-Watt University I have an apparatus that lets me deform rocks under different conditions. The sample, usually a core sample (seeimage above) gets placed into a rubber sleeve before being placed into a stainless steel cell called a Hoek Cell. The space between the rubber sleeve and stainless stell cell is filled with oil that can be pressurised. That way the rock samples can be placed under different pressures that mimic the conditions at different depths. After this initial pressurisation the rock is squeezed in a press until it deforms. When the readings pass a peak value it indicates that the rock sample can’t withstand the squeeze pressure any longer and the test is stopped.

Unfortunatley we can’t see what happens to the rock during the squeezing process but we measure the sample before and after testing – we can also take a x-ray images of the entire sample. We do this with the sample before it is deformed and then again afterwards. This technique lets us see inside the rock – similar to having a x-ray in hospital to see if a bone is broken or not.

Using special computer software we can then look at different parts of the rock’s inside – I am particularly interested in the fractures that formed during the deformation and I’m working on ways to relate these observed features to the rock type, grain size and pore shape.

Why is this important? As I mentioned above I look at rocks related to an oil field – and the response of the rocks to oil production could hinder or help extraction. Oil companies are very interested in predicting the rock response to ensure it does not have a negative impact on oil production.

3D reconstruction of the rock sample using the x-ray images. Image Credit: Stephanie Zihms

3D reconstruction of the rock sample using the x-ray images. Image Credit: Stephanie Zihms

Additionally this research is also relevant to other areas: for example geothermal energy. One method of generating geothermal energy is by pumping water into a rock that is hotter than the surface to increase the water temperature. When this water then reaches the surface it can be used to generate electricity. Adding water into the rock also changes the pressure conditions. Another field is Carbon Capture & Storage – If we want to store CO2 securely and long-term into the subsurface e.g. in a disused gas field – understanding how rocks respond to changes in conditions firstly by removal of gas & secondly by filling the rocks with CO2 is important.

By Stephanie Zihms, Postdoctoral researcher and ECS Representative of the Earth Magnetism and Rock Physics Division.

This post was published under the original title:Going deeper underground – My Soapbox Science Edinburgh contribution, on Stephanie Zihms’ personal blog.

GeoEd: Career pathways and expectations in the geosciences – straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos.

GeoEd: Career pathways and expectations in the geosciences – straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos.

 ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ From a tender age, we are regularly asked that question, with answers ranging from the downright hilarious through to those kids who’ve got it all figured out. As we grow older the question of what career we want to pursue carries more weight and the outcome of our choices is scrutinised closely.  In today’s GeoEd column, Rhian Meara (a geography and geology lecturer at Swansea University), explores the notion that as young adults adapt to a changing working environment, it is ok to be unsure, to change your mind, and that pursuing the one-time holy grail, linear career path might no longer be a realistic expectation.

My role as a lecturer in the Geography Department at Swansea University includes participating in the university admissions process which includes organising and attending open and visit days, reading application forms and meeting with potential applicants and their parents. Time and time again, I’m asked about employability, work experience opportunities and career pathways – what sort of work will I get after graduation? What are the work experience opportunities? Should I go into post-graduate studies? Will the degree give me transferable skills? What if I choose not to work in the same field as my degree? Current and prospective students are under immense pressure to know what they want to do with their lives from an early age and often feel like failures if they don’t have a “plan”.  And as tuition fees continue to rise, the idea of having a post-graduation “plan” to justify the expense of higher education is becoming more and more important.

The inspiration for this post came after a recent school visit, where most of the students were 16 years old and had no idea what they wanted to study or even if they wanted to go to university. My colleague and I discussed these issues with the students and answered their questions. We explained our backgrounds, what we had studied and how we had gotten to where we are now. My colleague and I had been to the same high school and were now both lecturers at the same university, but our paths in between have been completely different.

Many of us grew up with the “straight line plan”. That is:

Finish school → Go to university (complete PG qualification) → Get a Career → Retire.

Where a university qualification should (in theory) guarantee you a job and a career in your chosen field until retirement. This plan or route is characteristic of our parents’ generation. My contemporaries and I came into play towards the end of the “straight line plan” era, we went to university with grand expectations of long term employment, careers and success in our chosen fields. However, the onset of the international banking crisis in the late 2000s, meant that despite our hard work, many of us found ourselves last in and first out. No job, no career, no funding. And so we began to think outside the box. We used our skills, knowledge, talents and contacts to develop our own jobs, our own careers and our own pathways. Some have carved out career pathways that have stayed relatively similar to the original straight line plan, while others have wiggled around a bit, gaining new skills and experiences from a wide range of opportunities. Being open to new ideas has allowed us to develop our own pathways and to succeed. Below are four examples of how career pathways have developed for my contemporaries and I.

Jo: the industrial straight linerhi_1

Jo is a classic straight liner. Jo graduated with a BSc in Applied and Environmental Geology and gained employment in the Hydrocarbon industry, where she has worked for the past ten years in geosteering. However, due to the current down turn in oil production, Jo has been made redundant. While Jo is investigating what to do next, she has been undertaking a part-time MSc and is open to the idea of moving sideways into a new field which would utilize the transferable skills she gained during her geosteering work.

Rhian: the academic wiggler

rhi_2

This is me! I am an academic wiggler! I initially followed a straight line career; I graduated with an MGeol in Geology and completed a PhD focussing on physical volcanology and geochemistry. I decided that academia wasn’t for me and wiggled sideways into science communication working for an international science festival both in Scotland and in the United Arab Emirates. While I loved the communication work, I felt I had to give academia one more chance and I went back to complete a one year post doc in tephrochronology. Although the post doc confirmed that a career in scientific research wasn’t for me, I discovered the teaching-focussed academic pathway where I could use my communication skills. I’ve now been teaching for four years. The figure above has a two way arrow between teaching and science communicating as I’m still involved with communication and do outreach, accessibility work and TV / radio work to promote my subject whenever possible. I have no major plans to leave my role in the near future, but academia can be a very fickle place. I am therefore continuing to develop my skills and interests to ensure that I am able to wiggle again should the need arise.

Laura: The wiggling communicator

rhi_3

Laura graduated with an MGeol in Geology and worked as an Environmental Consultant before returning to academia to complete a PhD in Geomagnetism. While completing her PhD, Laura began blogging about geosciences and her research and developed a passion for science communication and social media. Upon completion of her PhD, Laura gained employment at the European Geosciences Union as the Communications Officer, and is now responsible for managing and developing content for the EGU blogs, social media accounts, online forums and Early Career Researcher activities. Laura is a perfect example of how to use your interests, skills and passions to create new opportunities.

Kate: the chaotic accumulator

Kate is a chaotic accumulator, and I mean that in the best possible way. Kate is someone who tries everything and has developed a portfolio of transferable skills and interests from each experience.  Although slightly chaotic to the untrained eye, there are underlying themes in the figure above: Geography, Textiles and Education. Each job or qualification has built on one or more of those themes and in her current job as a university lecturer in Human Geography, Kate uses all three themes in her modules. There is an additional theme that does not show up on the figure: Language. Kate is a fluent Welsh speaker and in each position or qualification, the Welsh language has been central from museums to coaching to teaching to lecturing.rhi_4

And so in my future discussions with applicants and their parents, I will introduce the idea of straight lines, wiggles and all out chaos (although perhaps not in those exact words). I will explain that an undergraduate degree will train and prepare them, but that we should all be open to new opportunities and new experiences.

And as life becomes more complicated once again – the down turn in the oil industry, the impact of the UK leaving the EU, an overly qualified labour market – it’s becoming more important than ever for us all to adapt, to think outside the box, to wiggle.

By Rhian Meara, Geology & Geography Lecturer at Swansea University.

Follow

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

Join other followers: