Lessons Learned from My Master’s, Part 3: Writing

When I started my master’s degree I had envisioned 3 experiments, each taking up a chapter. My plan was to write up the results of the first experiment while performing the second and so on until I had the bulk of my thesis written. It seemed easy, but it did not turn out that way! The combination of the traveling required to do some of my analyses, and a rocky start to a few of my first experiments resulted in the axing of my seemingly straightforward writing plan before I could begin. Rather than my nicely timed data flow, I ended up having a massive data set that came in all at once, which left me with lots of writing all piled up at the end of my time as a student.

Although it did not go as planned, I still learned a lot about managing a huge writing task. I figured out some things that kept me writing even when I had no data yet, and also discovered some strategies later on that I wish I had enacted right from the beginning. So without further ado, here are some ways to keep on top of things, even when it doesn’t end up going as planned!

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Manuscript Accepted!

I am pleased to announce that Chapter 2 of my master’s thesis has been accepted for publication in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. It will be published in a special issue dedicated to the application of hydrogen isotopes as environmental recorders sometime soon! The title of the paper is Variable δD Values Among Major Biochemicals in Plants: Implications for Environmental Studies. I will post a link to the special issue once it is available.

Lessons Learned from My Master’s, Part 2: Good Weekly Habits

Last installment, I touched on 3 ways to improve data organization. Today’s theme is “good weekly habits”.

I always found my weeks filled up quickly in graduate school. There were always experiments to set up and execute, results to analyze, and don’t forget your coursework! However, there are a few things you can do that demand less immediate attention, but have big pay offs in the long run. Attending seminars and other departmental gatherings, keeping up on the literature, and making sure you’re on track are all things that are easy to put off, but you shouldn’t let them fall by the wayside.

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Lessons Learned from My Master’s, Part 1: Organizing Big Research Projects

One of the big reasons I wanted to complete a Master’s program rather than embarking on a Ph.D. immediately after my undergraduate studies was to get a handle on managing big projects. Everything in an undergraduate program is necessarily limited in scope to either one or two terms, and you don’t have to be particularly organized to get through that amount of time.

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Geological/Scientific Drawing

I saw these links posted on Reddit (/r/geology), and wanted to post them here for future reference. Here are some great resources for geological and other science illustration:

Geologic Map Patterns for Canvas (R), Illustrator (R) and Freehand (R) , from Andreas Plesch and the USGS

Integration and Application Network (IAN) symbol library, which contains 2604 science/ecology symbols (vector format), including lots of geologic environments.


Our paper is out now! It is available here (open access until the end of this year).

I also have some e-prints to distribute if you aren’t affiliated with an institution with a subscription to Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies. Just send me an email requesting one.

Our paper provides high-resolution records of the carbon and sulphur isotope signatures from Aptian sediments recovered during Leg 123 of the Ocean Drilling Program, and discusses potential mechanisms that could cause the perturbations that are observed in those signatures.

Here’s the reference:

DeBond, N., Oakes, R.L., Paytan, A. and Wortmann, U.G. (2012). Early Aptian carbon and sulphur isotope signatures at ODP Site 765. Isotopes in Environmental & Health Studies 48(1) 180-194. DOI: 10.1080/10256016.2012.659732

It feels good to share the results of a project with a wider community!

Insights into the Scientific Process

Electron Café's Scientific Process Rage Comic My suprvisor posted Electron Café’s Scientific Process Rage Comic in our meeting room by the door just before Christmas, and I wanted to share it here. I think it is a very accurate depiction of what science is like – other than the deleted calibration curves (there have been no Melvins in the lab groups I’ve been in so far!), I can definitely say I’ve been at every point along the flow chart! It is always nice to see someone put your experience into words!

In addition to giving those that work in science a much needed chuckle, this image also brings up an important point: we do not teach the true scientific process to young students, and those that do not become scientists end up with a permanent misconception about ‘how science works’.

Science is usually presented to the public as the upper panel. Schools ask students to make a hypothesis about something obvious and test it using a procedure they are given to find the ‘right answer’. The next step is usually to ask them to discuss what ‘sources of error’ could affect such a ‘right answer’, and usually involve human reaction times and imprecise markings on whatever instrument you used to do your measurement. Even if they are asked to consider what they would do better next time to improve their observation (critical in the scientific process), the procedure is usually designed to be pretty decent in the first place which makes that question hard to answer, or worse, pointless.

Science should be presented as the lower panel to students much earlier than what happens now in many classrooms. Sharing and explaining this image (or a PG version) is a good start, already taken by many educators! At least some of the time students should be given the materials carry out an experiment, a goal, and the required time to develop their own procedure, test it, and then improve on it. It would be even better if at least once or twice early on, students are asked to work on a problem with no guaranteed outcome – in groups or individually. Science fair projects are a great opportunity for that. However, that requires a dedicated teacher who is willing to guide students through a real investigation. So how about it? If you’re a science educator, what do you think is the best way to teach the scientific process?

Manuscript accepted!

Exciting news! I’ve been working on a manuscript with my supervisor from undergrad, and it has been accepted for publication! The title is: Early Aptian carbon and sulphur isotope signatures at ODP Site 765, and it will be published in Isotopes in Environmental & Health Studies. It will be my first scientific publication, with hopefully many more to come.