Beginning my journey to nowhere

I have been gifted with a rare opportunity.

The next step in my life is what I’m calling my ‘Journey to nowhere’. (#JourneyToNowhere on Twitter and Instagram)

My PhD left has me quite mentally and physically drained. I wanted to do the best damn job possible, and sadly that comes at a cost sometimes. I wouldn’t advocate making this sort of sacrifice to anyone (see my previous post about mental health and your PhD), it was a decision I made myself.

It took me about 3.5 years into my PhD to recognise that I had achieved what I wanted, and done as much as was possible with my time. I’ve got quite  a successful social media presence, have campaigned relentlessly for ‘open science’ practices, have written a dinosaur book for kids, and have 5 more which I’m consulting on now as a result. I’ve become a freelance science writer for venues like Discover Magazine, and have published 11 research papers at the end. I’ve been invited to lead numerous workshops, give talks, and attend a variety conferences around the world. I don’t know how you measure the success of a PhD, but these seem like decent indicators if anything.

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Decided to start keeping a notebook for the adventures 🙂

But at the end of it all, I have sacrificed relationships, and some times other aspects of my social life for this, so there has been a cost. And one which I don’t regret, but would not wish upon anyone, unless they thought deeply about it and recognised that this is the pathway for them. My ethos was always ‘work hard, play harder’, and the experiences of both have been unforgettable. But after several years of burning as bright as possible, I’m a bit out of fuel and need some time to recover.

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Leicester Town Hall. Doesn’t look bad, but smells a bit dodgy..

My plan is to start at home, in Leicester. From there, to London for my PhD viva (eek!), then Budapest to explore, then Utah for a conference, Brussels for a keynote talk about Open Communication, London for a panel discussion on the future of peer review, Washington DC for OpenCon, Berlin for our OpenCon Satellite event, and then December-January in Thailand. After that it’s still a bit open, but chances are I’ll explore Cambodia and Vietnam alone for a bit, depending on visa things. I will be using these experiences to grow as much as possible in a personal and professional capacity.

So with this blog, I don’t know what’s going to happen either. I don’t want it to become another wanky ‘look how awesome traveling is’ blog, but if I do have some useful realisations or learning moments, I might share them if I believe they can help others a little. I recognise that the opportunity I’ve been granted is a rare privilege too – I’ve managed to save up enough cash to travel a bit (after being utterly skint for 10 years as a student..), and am lucky enough to have a flexible job that allows this. I’ll still be working for ScienceOpen on the way and hopefully freelance science writing/consulting, so am not completely disassociating myself from that part of life (also money is good).

It’s gonna be tough and bumpy along the way. I have no expectations of what will come, who I’ll meet, or what will happen at the end. All I know is that it’s needed, a rare opportunity that I have to embrace, and whatever happens I’ll emerge stronger and ready to take on the next big phase of life! I’ll see some of you on the journey too 🙂

Note: I realise that a lot of information about the potential catalyst for this has been shared by certain parties (*epic side eye*) around on various social media platforms. All I ask is that if you have seen these posts that you reserve any possible judgements until you have spoken directly with me, and I will be more than happy to answer any questions. I’m quite loathe to share sensitive personal information in public, and would rather keep it that way.

Citations, altmetrics, and the impact factor

Metrics, metrics, everywhere. Not a day goes by in academia without some new metric being designed to measure research assessment, or a complaint about how crap another metric is. There are soooo many studies out there that look at things like how open access influences citation rates or altmetrics, or what the relationship between altmetrics and citations is.

But most of these are large-scale, so don’t really mean anything to the individual researcher. So I decided to have a look at the impact factors, citations, and Altmetric scores for each of my papers (not that many..) just to see what sort of relationships existed between them for any on a personal level.

Where’s the data from? Well, that part’s easy. The Internet.

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Partially sane; roads – many; and time

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/2013/07/12/partially-sage-roads-many-time/

So I hit the 9 month barrier for my PhD the other day. Where ze hell did all that time go??

Well, you can actually see if you want – I’ve uploaded the 9 month report to Figshare, excluding the preliminary results (which are beginning to look awesome btw). You can find it here: http://figshare.com/articles/9_month_PhD_report/738023, where it’s already had almost 200 hits. Figshare is so awesome it hurts.

Summary points:

  • The primary task is to assess biodiversity patterns over the Jurassic/Cretaceous interval
  • Primary data collection for this is now complete, and some preliminary stats run on it to account for imperfections in the fossil record
  • There is a hell of a lot to do

I’m actually in Munich at the moment, working on alternative route to assessing this first point. I’m using a method called ‘phylogenetic diversity’, which essentially maps evolutionary trees onto time (stratigraphy), and you can interpolate where you know species should be but haven’t been found, based on their evolutionary relationships and artificially inflate diversity through time. I’m doing this for about 500 species atm, so it’s taking a lot of time, but looking pretty awesome atm – stay tuned! 🙂

Oh, the title? Not a clue – I’ve only had one coffee. PhD research is tough – you work long hours, do difficult work, and get paid a pittance, so times it can be a bit much, but it’s totally worth it; there are many paths the research could take; and thyme, never enough thyme..

Anyway, have a flick through and let me know what you think! If you think there’s something I’m missing, or an avenue in particular you’d like me to explore, drop a comment here (this is funded by UK taxpayers’ cashmoney after all) 🙂

Dwarf crocodiles in Munich

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/2013/04/04/dwarf-crocodiles-in-munich/

My PhD consists of two parts. The first is investigating the dynamics of biodiversity across the Jurassic/Cretaceous interval about 145 million years ago. I want to see if when we consider the biases of the fossil record whether there was a ‘hidden’ mass extinction, and what were the ecological, physiological or environmental factors that correspond to this. This involves looking at turtles, birds, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles and any other tetrapod group at the time – that’s anything with four feet, flippers or wings (see previous post for an update on all this jazz).

Evolutionary relationships of major tetrapod groups – many extinct, and many still with us today! Source.

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Panic mode, initiated?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/2013/03/29/panic-mode-initiated/

It’s been 6 months now, and a while since I updated y’all with what it’s like in the world of a PhD-palaeontologist. In case you missed it, my intention was to open up PhD life and research a bit to expose what it’s like beyond the simple production of research papers. Which is probably a good thing, as I don’t have any papers out yet. Setting the cultural default within academia to open is something I’m quite in to, and I guess this is my little contribution to that.

So it’s been a few months since I last posted in this series. During that time, PhD life has been both a feast and a whirlwind of writing, reading, data collection, blogging, socialising, teaching, and most importantly, learning.

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