About the process of doing a PhD and perhaps being an early-career researcher.

First journal article!

Well, sort of. My last post also listed two journal articles but I was a minor author on those, contributing a small part of the text and comments on the rest. This post is about my first article as lead author.

It’s called “Implementation of tidal turbines in MIKE 3 and Delft3D models of Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters”, and it describes work that myself and two groups at Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities did a few years ago, near the start of my PhD. Lots of people have represented tidal turbines in regional-scale flow models, but most of them have used academic codes that industry and investors won’t trust, or have modified trusted code – which itself tends to undermine that trust. Our aim for this work was to look at how tidal energy extraction can best be represented in two widely-used commerical modelling suites, without modifying their code. We also did some actual modelling, by way of example, and the results of that have been passed on to others in the project to use for ecological work.

In a small way this was perhaps a baptism by fire, in that I had to pull together work and writing done by people far senior to myself, add my own work on top of each, and try to construct a single coherent publication. Perhaps partly for this reason, coupled with my own inexperience, it had a long journey through review… but it’s out there now, and I’m glad it’s done!

If you have a subscription to Ocean & Coastal Management you can read the published version here; otherwise the “accepted version” (without journal formatting) is available at this finely crafted link.

Posted by simon in Publications, Reflective

Writing retreat

Closeup of a woman typing on a laptop with a notebook and a mobile phone next to her.

Photo: Public domain (CC0).

Last week myself and nine other researchers of various levels, from PhD to professor, drove ourselves to a moderately large country house in the middle of nowhere to write. All of us had a paper to produce; some were converting thesis chapters into journal articles, some (like me) had new and fully-outlined articles that they just needed to sit down and write, and others had less-clear ideas that they needed clear thinking time on.

Writing, and subsequently publishing, is probably the most important thing that most researchers do – at least in career terms – but it is never the most urgent. There are always other things demanding attention, and those things tend to have deadlines, while journal articles usually do not. As a result it can be hard to set aside time to get papers written. Setting aside a week for doing nothing else allowed people to protect their time and, at least as importantly, their thinking space, and there was a consensus among the group that this was a Good Thing.

During working hours we mostly wrote; at mealtimes and in the evenings we socialised, discussed our work, played giant Jenga, and bounced ideas. One biologist benefited greatly from this cross-fertilisation when she spoke to a policy expert and realised that her very specific, factual article about a protected area for a specific species raised an important policy issue that is much more widely applicable. Now she is planning to expand the focus of her paper and submit to a different (and more prestigious) journal.

I had a good time professionally and socially, and I had a productive time, and now I have a fully drafted paper that I need to fill in a few figures on and send off to co-authors. Woo!

Posted by simon in Reflective

November writing

Text scrawled across a colour chart reading "insert something profound here"

Photo: Flickr user maddiegascar95. Licensed CC-BY-SA 2.0.

It’s November, and that means that a number of my friends are starting on NaNoWriMo, a crazy scheme to write a novel in a month. I am not doing that, but I do have a lot that I need to write. So I’m setting myself a goal to write something every working day in November, and maybe a few other days as well.

I’m going to use a pretty broad definition of “writing” here. Outlining counts (this is a necessary part of my writing process). Reading my work and editing counts (this is not NaNoWriMo, I’m not simply trying to bash out wordcount). Reading papers, if not also accompanied by writing, does not count – endless reading when trying to write is a particular trap that I tend to fall into.

Next week I’m going on a “writing retreat”, where a group of researchers who have papers to write sequester themselves in the middle of nowhere for a few days to do that, with mutual support. The idea for me is to get a paper drafted without letting it spread and encroach too much on my thesis work. It also has the benefit of providing a deadline for being ready to write, and this week I’m putting a lot of effort into getting all of the data ready. Today’s “writing” task was outlining that paper (more precisely re-outlining it, as last week’s data didn’t show quite what was expected).

Things that I hope to write during November:

  • A summary of what I did in October. I find that writing these up monthly is really helpful for me.
  • The paper that the writing retreat is for.
  • Revision of another paper in line with reviewer comments.
  • Updating and refactoring the literature review for my thesis. Some of what I did a couple of years ago is no longer relevant as my subject has shifted, and other stuff is now needed. This is a bit open-ended, and is unlikely to be finished this month.
  • Maybe some more blog entries? They totally count 🙂

It’s likely that one of these will slip, but…. we’ll see.

Posted by simon in Reflective