Back on solid ground (for now)

Work-life balance 5

Finally, my life is starting to bear some semblance of normalcy after an absolutely crazy few months! I’ll try not to overdo it, but here are some of the highlights, as well as what I’m up to at the minute:

I’m going to be a Doctor…
…of philosophy that is. And not until around 2021, but I can finally say that my PhD is confirmed and I’m so excited to get started this September. I’m going to be working with Dr Ian Donohue at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. We’ll be studying the effects of global change on ecological stability, which is a very topical, popular and important area of ecology at the minute. I’ve always been interested in the way our activities impact whole ecosystems rather than just single species in isolation, so this PhD sounds like the perfect opportunity to explore this in detail. Even better, I’ll get to use a range of approaches to address these questions, including a combination of lab work, field work, theory, simulations and meta-analysis, so I’ll develop a wide range of skills too!

The money for the first year is coming from a Trinity College Dublin scholarship which I’m so pleased to have been awarded, and I’m working on developing a collaborative project with Evan Economo (my advisor back in Okinawa). This would allow me to go back to OIST to work with him again, which would be exciting for both of us and for Ian too as we foster this new international collaboration. It’s all still in the planning stages for now though, so will keep updating as I know more.

One of the main reasons I’ve been so fortunate these past few months and had all these opportunities is because my paper was accepted by Methods in Ecology and Evolution (You can read my methods.blog post about our work here, or the full original article here or on ResearchGate here). I was over the moon when I heard; it feels so good to finally have some of my hard work recognised and in an internationally-recognised scientific journal too! It still doesn’t feel completely real, and I certainly don’t feel like I 100% deserve all this, which brings me to my second point.

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Sakura in bloom in Ueno, Tokyo. I spent my last day in Japan sitting under the cherry blossom eating mochi and watching the ebb and flow of the world’s largest metropolis. Magical.

The curse of many early-career scientists: imposter syndrome
There I was, standing on a stage in a leading research institute in India, telling an audience of ecologists and conservation biologists about my work. I felt like I didn’t belong and had no idea how I ended up there. Then a question from an audience member tripped me mid-way through, and I felt everything fall apart for a brief moment. I remember panicking to answer what I thought was an infallible question that tore a hole through my work and made me question how we ever got published in the first place. I stumbled and struggled to answer for what felt like an eternity before admitting that I didn’t know the answer, and moving on. I felt like everyone saw me as I saw myself; a fraud posing as an ecologist. But I kept on going, and I think won the audience back towards the end.

The thing about imposter syndrome is that everyone gets it at some stage or to some degree. Nobody feels like their work matches the work of peers, colleagues and senior scientists, and it’s as though it never will. This is normal. When people question details of your work, it isn’t because they’re trying to pick holes in it (but see this great post on conference etiquette by Dani Rabaiotti and Jeff Clements); it’s because they’re interested in your approach or are trying to get a clearer picture of how your work contributes to the existing knowledge in the field. Hard questions are not (usually) criticisms of your work, they’re just asking for clarification or detail and it’s your job to give people the details that perhaps your talk was missing.

I was very lucky to get to visit India (such a beautiful and bustling country!) and meet researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, and I was lucky to get to tell a variety of researchers at OIST about my work in a seminar there too. Although I still feel like I don’t deserve any of this, at least I know our work passed the scrutiny of peer-review; so, at least 3 specialists felt it was suitable for publication. Even if I’m convinced they’re the only 3 researchers in the world that might like our work, maybe that’s good enough.

 

 

Returning to Leeds
It was a bit weird coming back to Leeds as a non-student. I’m here as a ‘visiting researcher’ in Amanda Bretman’s group since one of our reviewers asked for more lab work on our social learning experiment. So that means more playing around in the lab with guppies, watching them swim around mazes and shining lights on them. I’m enjoying catching up with old friends and colleagues, and like living in Leeds – it’s a student city first and foremost, and I like being around so many other students and young professionals.

But I’m still working hard. When I’m not in the lab, I’m writing or analysing data. I have several projects to try and tie-up before I begin my PhD, so I’m currently working on getting those written and at submitted by September. I even managed to submit 3 manuscripts over the past 3 weeks: one for the acoustic ecology project at OIST, one was a wrapped and polished version of the digital learning audit I conducted last summer, and the third was a smaller paper on the impacts of habitat fragmentation and logging on ants in Kenya.

 

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I’m back in Leeds!

 

Science Wins
1. PhD offer accepted
2. Paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution
3. 3 more manuscripts submitted

Sciences Losses:
1. Unexpected but necessary lab work means more watching fish
2. Some funding difficulties with the PhD (but things are finally looking up)

What’s next?
While my manuscripts are in review, I’ve turned my attention to the other OIST collaborative project I was working on in Okinawa. I’m trying to determine the degree to which different components of biodiversity are affected by island size, distance and energy in a standard island biogeography study of birds in the Ryukyu archipelago, Japan. The difficulty is breaking down these communities into trophic groups to see the degree to which different subsets of communities respond equally/unequally to island properties. This should keep me occupied for the next couple of weeks at least!

Until next time,
Sam

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