Monday, July 29, 2013

Happy Blogiversary!

Five years and one day ago, I published my first post here. So it's worth looking back at the last five years. How has this blog changed?

In the beginning, I had a ton of long posts. For the previous couple months, I'd been in the field, working on my thesis research. I was composing long posts in my head, often in response to other blogs I'd been reading or to issues I was having. So I had a huge backlog, and since I was separated from my sweetie, I had all sorts of time to compose.

After the first year, I had worked through my pent-up demand and was back to working overtime in the field. I gave up on the whole "one post each weekday" thing.

After the second year, I was discouraged about where I was and what I was doing, and my posting frequency went from every couple days to a few times a month, if I was lucky. I resolved to continue blogging here, but I didn't really get out of my doldrums for a while longer.

In the last year or so, I've been able to post more regularly. And I'm happy to report that I'm back to doing the more scientific stuff I love. So even though I had a tough time for a while, I'm optimistic for the next five years.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

travel serendipity

I was on my own for dinner in the middle of nowhere. The only option that wasn't fast food (or one fine-dining restaurant that was a little too fancy for the post fieldwork clothing I brought) was a dive - a basement tavern.

I was clearly the only person who didn't know everyone else in the room, and I felt like I'd need more tattoos (preferably on my neck) to really fit in. But, the food was good, and I had managed to get there during "$1 pint nite" and they had 2 local beers on tap that I had not tried before. And then a local blues band showed up and proved to have a surprisingly good slide guitar player.

I never write off the places where I do my fieldwork. Even if the primary landscape feature is a junkyard, there's often a hidden gem nearby...even if it's just dinner.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

the signs say...

This month's accretionary wedge is on geological/geographical signs.

I don't have any geological signs at hand, but one thing that we often encounter in the field are interesting "hazard" signs, such as this one:

Seriously, don't go for a swim. And, um, tsunami.

I don't usually end up going swimming (intentionally) during the course of fieldwork, but falling rocks and/or geologists are always a possibility. So here's an example from the Grand Canyon, complete with "ass over teakettle" graphic.

Friday, July 19, 2013

writing samples

I was catching up my bloglist reading this week, and I came across a discussion of writing samples in the comments for this post. In the environmental consulting biz, professional writing samples can be difficult to provide for a few reasons:

1. Your work (reports, analyses, etc) is owned/controlled by your client and may be confidential. Working drafts are especially sensitive because they are subject to being tweaked for all sorts of reasons and should never go out to third parties unless they've been fully vetted.

2. Reports aren't produced in a vacuum, and completed reports will have been reviewed and edited by others.

So what did I do when asked to provide writing samples? In my case, the requests were non-specific. I was intensely aware of the issues above, so I actually provided a couple of different things.

1. I had worked on several reports that became public documents. So I provided links to those documents (when I could find them online) and described what I had done, exactly. Maybe I provided all the analyses, or written the technical sections based on what others had done, or perhaps I had actually written the whole thing. The appearance (or lack thereof) of my name on the document had little to do with how much I'd done.

2. I'd written a peer-reviewed journal article. It had been passed back and forth between the authors, as we argued over text and massaged it into the strict page length/formatting requirements, in addition to addressing review comments. But in this case, I was first author and could be assumed to have done at least the bulk of the work.

3. My thesis was pretty much all mine, although it was reviewed by both my advisors. In my case, it was also easy to find online in all its glory.

I probably sent way too much stuff for writing samples. But I figured that more was better than less, and I was generally applying for positions that specified writing and analytical skills. If someone really wanted to ferret out how my writing actually was, they could compare the different reports or have me come in for an in-person writing test.

Now I'm curious to find out if they actually looked at any of those samples, or if they just matched the documents to what I put in my resume (yep, she did write her thesis on that topic) and called it a day...

Friday, July 12, 2013

field course requirements

My previous posts (here and here) discussed geology field studies course costs and alternatives, respectively. But all this discussion of field courses started me thinking: are field study courses still required, and should they be?

When I was poking around the internet, I looked at my undergrad and graduate field study requirements. My old undergraduate program doesn't appear to have a field study course requirement (which was definitely in place when I was there), although the website is not totally clear. The undergrad program at my grad school has multiple geology tracks, each of which requires at least one field method course.

As I mentioned a few months ago, I'm a strong believer in having students move beyond the textbooks and developing their own interpretations, whether it's by examining rock samples in a laboratory or trying to determine why the local landscape looks the way it does. Most geology courses have this to some degree. So is a specific field method course still needed?

I think it is. A good geology field study course will not only involve using standard equipment to do basic geologic fieldwork, but will also show how to present the data in a standard format. How do you fill out a logbook? What information do you need to show, and how much detail do you need to go into for each entry? How do you collect, import, and use coordinates from your GPS, and what are some of the common pitfalls in using and evaluating spatial data?

There are very few branches of geology which are not based on field data. And if you're going to evaluate that data, you need to understand some of the circumstances under which it was collected or at least be able to critically evaluate how reliable it actually is.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

geo field course options

In my previous post, I mentioned that I couldn't afford the fancier field study course offered by my college.

I did take care of my field study course requirement with a traditional course that involved a lot of primitive camping and bouncing across the landscape in woefully not-offroad-ready 15-passenger vans. In our case, we were using reserved college vans we'd driven out west. We spent most of the trip in arid, remote areas (likely because it's much easier for students to map geology where the land isn't buried under vegetation and "no trespassing" signs).

I did some poking around the internet, and there are a bunch of geology field study courses available for students who aren't able to attend their school's own courses. For example, course listings are available here, here, and here. The 4 to 6 week summer course appears to be standard, and although courses are available in more exotic areas (islands of Greece! Antarctica! New Zealand!), the cheaper ones will be the ones you can at least road-trip to.

Prerequisites and course rigor (both physical and intellectual) will vary widely. For my field course, the students were pretty much universally out of shape compared to the professors, who appeared to spend their free time running up and down mountains. So we did a lot of huffing and puffing after them. The expected timeframe for doing the courses will also vary by school. I did my field study course the summer after my freshman year - it had no hard prerequisites other than an intro geology course. Other field courses may have a long list of prerequisites or a focus on a particular area, such as geophysical or environmental sampling techniques.

So the final question is, do you need a field study course at all? That's for the next installment...

Monday, July 8, 2013

field course costs

One of my undergraduate course requirements was a field study course. The department had a traditional 6-week course in the summer every other year, but it also had a 3-week course in Europe that was quite a bit more expensive.

I did the 6-week course, which had a reasonable "course fee" (I recall it being around $300) and allowed us to stay (camp) in our dorm rooms for the first week. After that, the lodging ranged from dirt-cheap hotels to campgrounds with some degree of amenities to camping in the middle of nowhere. My school didn't charge tuition by the credit, so it didn't cost me anything more than that (plus food/laundry costs, which I'd need to pay for anyway).

I was initially curious about the European short course, which was paired with a normal-term half-credit course to make up a full credit. But the course was offered by the time I'd gotten cynical about the department, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go. The kicker, though, was that there was no way for me to afford it. There was some vague hand-waving about "additional financial aid", which I didn't think I would qualify for, and which sounded it was only for dire financial necessity. They also wanted commitments early in the process (like, a week after the initial informational meeting).

I was not an unusually (or even usually) disadvantaged student. I graduated with minimal debt that I paid off almost immediately. I hadn't really had my educational plans stymied by money before. But it made me think - if I skipped a field study course because of not just financial constraints, but because the people in charge blithely assumed that cost wasn't a factor, how many other people self-selected out of other field courses because of cost?

As I was writing this post, I got all fired up about field study course issues. So this week will be The Week of Field Studies. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 5, 2013

formatting tweaks

When I was going through my bloglist revisions in my previous post, I also fiddled with the layout.

I didn't want to have any significant changes, but after seeing a bunch of other blogs with my same basic blue/green layout, I tried to adjust the colors - only to find that it was nigh-impossible to adjust the background without completely changing everything else. Also, when I had finished, I realized that somehow the default font had changed to something...wider. And of all the options available, changing the default font didn't appear to be an option.

As I've mentioned last year, my goal has been to use a color scheme that's reasonably legible and not too high-contrast to minimize migraines. If some of my color changes (primarily font, since I couldn't find a way to adjust the background) result in something being hard to read, let me know and I'll adjust.

I like blogger for the most part - it's free and I do appreciate some of the google-based analytics. I still use statcounter occasionally (very occasionally), but that doesn't keep track of everything from when I first started posting. But I'm open to other hosting options that may have more flexibility but are still free to extremely cheap.

Monday, July 1, 2013

bloglist revisions

I've been holding onto a couple of blogs that appear to be defunct, or which have officially ended. So I'm taking the following off my bloglist:

A Gentleman's C - the first blog I followed regularly.

Isis the Scientist - this one is officially done, not "sorta done but I'll still keep posting".

And then I went poking through the geoblogosphere for more blogs:

It's good to appreciate the other parts of the natural world while I'm otherwise engaged - Diamictite has lots of lovely photos of flora and fauna.

Sciency Thoughts keeps track of all sorts of random science news ranging from landslides to meteor showers to new species discoveries.

JFleck at inkstain keeps track of water issues in the southwest. I've always wanted to work on water supply problems, but never lived in a place where I could get paid for studying them.

Finally, I'm adding Athene Donald's blog to replace the academic blogs I'm taking off.