Hello! Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been pretty busy with various work-related things lately so haven’t had much opportunity to sit down and write this because, well, I’ve been sitting down writing. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been doing in the past few weeks:
A Royal Visit and zoology meeting
I met royalty! On 14th November, Prince Akishino, son of the current Emperor of Japan came to OIST to open the Joint Meeting of the 22nd International Congress of Zoology and the 87th meeting of the Zoological Society of Japan (read about it here). Our group was honoured to host Prince Akishino for a quick visit, where Prof. Economo explained the work that goes on in our lab. The Prince asked several informed questions and seemed genuinely interested, likely because he has a background in zoology. Then he introduced himself to the rest of the Economo group, and I even shook his hand (after much bowing of course!)
This was followed by the full congress of zoology, of which I attended several plenary talks and a session on global change. It was great to hear about all the zoological work going on around the world, but particularly with a focus on Asian research; I attended the Asian Young Zoologist’s session, my favourite of the conference. It was inspiring to hear about the work that other early-career scientists are doing and to see these researchers given such a spotlight.
A trip to the Capital
The congress of zoology wasn’t the only conference I attended in November. I was kindly invited to the commemorative symposium for the 32nd international prize for Biology, awarded this year to community ecologist Stephen Hubbell and hosted by the University of Tokyo and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. I won’t say much about it here because one of my colleagues and I are writing a commentary piece separately that will give some details of all the interesting talks we heard throughout the day, but safe to say I had a really great time! It was so cool to hear talks from leaders in a field so closely linked to my own interests – the Biology of Biodiversity – plus, I always love visiting Tokyo. I particularly enjoyed hearing talks on the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning debate and hearing Prof. Akira Mori speak. I was already familiar with his work on response diversity and functional redundancy in ecosystems, particularly, his excellent review paper on that topic (Mori et al. 2013).
OIST Science Festa 2016
It wasn’t only scientists I’ve spoken to in the past month, though. OIST also held their annual ‘Science Festa’ which saw ~5,000 members of the public descend on campus for an interactive day showcasing the science that goes on here. As part of that, I produced a poster and spoke to the public about our work and the importance of studying biodiversity in Okinawa. It felt like a flashback to my work as a Student Ambassador for the Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds. They even similarly provided a polo shirt – although I get to keep this one!
OKEON is online
Elsewhere in the lab, our website for the OKEON project has gone live HERE! So, now is the time to check out what my research is all about and how it fits in with the wider community of Okinawa. The OKEON project encompasses a lot of the research going on in the lab, but my work is currently focused on weather data and acoustic diversity in collaboration with Nick Friedman. The website is meant to give a general overview of what the project involves, and as research continues and various projects develop, the website will continue to grow, so watch this space.
Not just work…
Why is my work-life balance so good at the minute? So far, it sounds like all I’ve done is work. That isn’t strictly true. What with visiting Tokyo and getting to wander around Ueno after the conference, a group meal with some visiting professors in our lab, and recently a joint lab meeting with Professors Tsuji and Tatsuta (an ex-Leeds post-doc, small world!) turned izakaya meal and drink; emphasis on the drink – Japanese izakayas are renowned for hosting business groups who go for a casual drink that gets less casual as the night goes on. We also had a quiet bonfire on the beach (read: went to bed at 9am), an advantage of living on a subtropical island. Sometimes, I need to take a moment to remind myself that I’m actually here, achieving my childhood dream of living and working in Japan. The bonfire was one of those moments. Atmosphere, friends, location. I’m pretty lucky.
Oh, and I went to Taiwan! We were based in Taipei which felt pretty different to the other big Asian cities I’ve visited so far. It felt darker somehow, but just as lively and intriguing. It was definitely a food holiday: amazing dumplings with chicken soup inside, and so much street food from night-markets. I even tried snake: as a stir-fry it was nice (if a little chewy), but the snake blood, venom and bile that accompanied the stir-fry in shot glasses left a lot to be desired…
We even got out the city and ventured into the beautiful misty hills of Jiufen, thought to be the place that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful film, Spirited Away. I can see why that rumour persists (I’ve no idea how true it is), because the cramped street markets with a myriad of sounds, smells and tastes – yes we did more eating! The mist and rain added to the atmosphere with people sheltering under the canopy of rickety roofs and plastic covers, and the ‘view’ stretching only as far as the nearest fog-coated rolling hill. Definitely reminiscent of the market town in Spirited Away. On the topic of films, we also watched Kubo and the Two Strings by Tim Burton, another beautiful but eerie Japanese-inspired film. Worth a watch!
Yet more of my friends have left. That’s the price of being an intern here I guess. People come and go, but even as they leave, at least I I’m making a network of places all over the world that I can one day travel to under the guise of visiting old friends.
1. Conference Attendance – Getting to attend 2 conferences in the space of a few weeks was a great opportunity. Especially as they were free.
2. Speedy Manuscript Feedback – My manuscript which was submitted a couple of weeks ago was returned in 2 weeks with reviewer comments. The manuscript was rejected with the opportunity to resubmit, but the reviewer comments were far from damning, so I think we’re still in with a chance.
3. Advances in R graphics – I’m finally getting better at using R for semi-complex graphs and figures. I’ve been visualising the OKEON acoustic data and we’re starting to progress towards a manuscript now.
1. Slow paper – I’m having to put a paper on hold temporarily while I work on other things. I like having lots of things to do, but something often has to take the back burner.
2. Slow weeks in the office – I’m still suffering a bit from the ‘I don’t have anything to show for my time here’ guilt. I’ve been here over 1/3 of my time now and I still feel like most weeks I’m not accomplishing as much as I should be. I’m probably going to have to step it up a bit after Christmas to get things back on track.
Christmas! It doesn’t really feel very festive here with sunny 22 degree days and a beautiful ocean view 24/7, but Christmas is nearly upon us. How did that happen?! My Mum is coming to visit for the Christmas period and we’re going to the mainland in time for New Year’s Eve in Tokyo. I’m also considering spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, but need to finalise some plans to know for sure. Apart from that, I’ll be tying up the acoustic work so we can start writing up in the new year hopefully. I’m replying to reviewers on my recently returned manuscript, and hope to get that resubmitted by the end of the month. I’ll also be continuing to work on the commentary for the Tokyo conference, which acts like a mini review, and I’ll be starting to look at my work at Leeds which aimed to audit blended learning, as we’re hoping to turn that into a manuscript pretty soon.
Until next time,