Perth Research Bazaar

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being one of 75 researchers selected to attend the inaugural Perth Research Bazaar.

Unix and Coffee

Coding? Just add coffee…

This three-day event offered researchers of all levels and disciplines an intensive introduction to some commonly-used programming software.  We were taught the basics of Unix, Python, R, GitHub, LaTeX, NVivo, and D3 from every-day users of these tools, who were all-too-happy to share their secret tips.  So despite my “imposter syndrome” feelings about coding, I had a really great time and left feeling more confident about programming than I believed possible.

One of my favourite things about #PerthResBaz was how the group interacted through Twitter.  On the first day alone, I think I spoke with more attendees over social media than I did in person!  It allowed us to network with other Perth researchers and provided the opportunity to share our knowledge of different research tools, whilst also keeping up a running commentary on proceedings for those unable to attend.

Given this, I’ve created a Storify summary using tweets from across the three days, broken down to reflect the different sessions and software utilised by the conference.

These events are spreading throughout the world.  This year Research Bazaars were held in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Vancouver, Oklahoma and beyond!  So if you ever get the chance, I thoroughly recommend participating.  Better yet, why not bring it to your own institution?  See the main Research Bazaar website for more details.

If this sounds too big, how about hosting a regular Hacky Hour?  These casual meetings generally involve researchers meeting up at a bar or coffee shop to help trouble-shoot each others code.  So if you feel like you need help with your programming (that you could be of assistance to someone else!), look for a Hacky Hour near you!  For those of you in Perth, there is one at Curtin University – follow @CUHackyHour on Twitter for updates!

 

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Discovering Conservation

Discover Conservation_Sarah InterviewA couple of weeks ago I had a very fun interview with James Borrell, a conservation biologist with a passion for science communication.  Apart from studying the genetics of trees, James is also the founder of Discover Conservation – a website which aims to tell the stories of field scientists and, by doing so, inspire an appreciation for conservation in people around the world.

My interview with Discover Conservation discussed my PhD research on bottlenose and snubfin dolphins in Western Australia, but also touched on my “science story” and how I got where I am today.  It finishes off with some of my advice for young conservationists, particularly those currently trying to find work experience.

Interested in more information?  Read the full article here!

And the winner of the 3-Minute-Thesis competition is…

3MT Trans-Tasman Competition 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

…  Sarah Marley from Curtin University

When I heard those words, my heart stopped.  I did the “shocked-actress-wins-award” face.  I hugged my friends sitting on either side.  I repeatedly gasped “oh my goodness“.  I may have even made a rather embarrassing Oscar-worthy acceptance speech.  Now over a week later and I am still riding the high 🙂

View the talk below:

Now let’s back up a bit.

The 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition was developed by the University of Queensland back in 2008.  It was intended to be an exercise in communication for graduate students, giving them just three minutes to explain their PhD to a generalist audience.  Since then, the competition has expanded to universities around the world.

I’ve known about this competition for a couple of years now, after seeing various friends compete to present their own PhD at other universities.  I couldn’t wait to become a student myself and give it a go!  So when Curtin University emailed around to announce that registration was open for the 2014 competition I immediately sat down, wrote my talk in 20mins, and started practicing!

The Curtin heats were a couple of months ago, where I surprised myself by not only making it through to the Curtin Final top ten but also by winning my heat.  “A great start,” I thought.  “Now back to fieldwork!” as I prepared for the second trip up to the Kimberleys.  A few weeks later, I made the special one-night-only trip back from Broome to Perth for the Curtin Final, and won both the Final and the People’s Choice award!  Certainly justified the trip down!

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

But the Trans-Tasman Competition was the hardest yet.  I was competing with winners, so you can imagine that the standard of talks was extremely high!  Most amazing of all was the team spirit – everyone was so nice to each other!  After every presentation, the speaker would return to the “green room” amid cheers and high fives from their opposition 🙂  It was a great vibe!

Then it was time to give my talk…

Not a stutter in sight!  Quite different to a couple of years ago...

Not a stutter in sight! Quite different to 4 yrs ago…

As I stepped on stage, I felt such a buzz.  I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to talk about it always gets me excited!  Quite a far cry from four years ago, when I could barely give a short talk to a group of friends without blushing and stuttering my way through the presentation.  So I felt a certain glow of accomplishment at having enjoyed something that just a few years would have terrified me!

From a happy glow to radiating surprise, I was ecstatic to be chosen as winner of the 3MT – but the whole experience was a delight!  From the thrill of presenting to the team spirit backstage to the happiness of making new friends, the whole 3MT journey has been a blast.  If you ever have the opportunity to take part I would thoroughly encourage you to do so!  Even if you’re not confident of your presenting skills, just ask yourself – when will you get a better opportunity to try?

But work on your potential acceptance speech beforehand, and practice your photo face:

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer.  Sorry James...

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer. Sorry James…

Now all that is left is for me to thank my partner, my friends, my family, my university, the organisers, the sponsors, the judges, the competitors, the audience, the backstage staff, my high school science teacher, my pets…

Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?

What made you happy today?

Perhaps you enjoyed a conversation with a friend, or had a really good work-out, or treated yourself to a cheeky tea and cake combo this avro!

Or maybe you are sitting there thinking back through your day and nothing springs to mind…  In which case, this could be the challenge you didn’t even know you were waiting for!

#100happydays

Did you find happiness in some yummy afternoon tea...

Did you find happiness in some yummy afternoon tea…

The first step to long-term happiness is finding small everyday things to be happy about.  Once you start to become more aware of the little things, they will soon add up!

The idea behind the #100happydays challenge is to take one picture each day of something that made you happy.  You can choose to post it on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram with the #100happydays hashtag, or email it into the foundation to avoid publicity, or even just keep it to yourself.  The hope is that by creating this daily ritual of stopping to share your happy moments, you will start becoming more mindful of the existence of such moments thus training yourself into the good habit of appreciating life.

Slipping into Neutral…

... or a really good workout ...

… or a really good workout …

Whenever I ask someone how their day is going, the general response is a half-shrug and an “alright”.  With our increasingly busy lives, hectic schedules, and constant rushing between activities it can be all too easy to slip into a groove.  Wake up, go to work, come home, have dinner, go to bed.  Same old, same old.

But is every day really the same?  Do you just go through the familiar motions without even a moment of happiness?  Or can you think of at least one moment today when you have a genuine smile?

If these questions are causing you any sense of doubt, perhaps it’s time to consider this challenge…

“But I don’t have time for this”

Just stop and think about this statement for a second:  you don’t have time to be happy?  Seriously?

... or maybe a care package from home?

… or maybe a care package from home?

I am pretty bad for schedule over-loading.  Between general PhD-ness, fieldwork, teaching, and general existence I find it pretty hard sometimes to keep on top of things (see an older post on the over-whale-ming side of PhD life).  Unfortunately, the first thing to suffer are the people around me, and before I know it the phrase “Sorry” is being text around several times a week along with time-related excuses.  And that is just for the locals – for my long-distance friends and family, it’s even harder as emails go weeks without a response.

This has been on my mind a lot, as my friend Janelle is submitting her PhD thesis today, and moving away from Perth next week.  We’re both aware that it’s going to become even harder to stay in touch over the coming months.  Janelle was one of the first friends I made in Australia, and I am really going to miss having her within convenient tea-and-whinging distance.  So when she suggested using the #100happydays idea as a way of keeping in touch, I was up for the challenge!

So how am I going?

See for yourself!  All my photos are available to see on my Instagram site.  I’m now up to day 20, a fifth of the way in, and even the Sceptical Scot in me can see it’s yielding results.  I’m really enjoying seeing what Janelle is up to, and having a smile over whatever has made her day!  Even though we’re in the same city, being in different universities makes day-to-day contact difficult.  But this means at least we can share the same emotion over the same event each day!

Even better, other friends are cashing in on the deal.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had several messages from people (both local regulars and far-away pals) saying how much they’ve enjoyed getting these snapshot glimpses into my life.  So I’m happy, Janelle’s happy, and our happiness is making other people happy.  Win!

… So I’ll ask you again.  What made YOU happy today? 🙂

The Virtual Scientist

In a survey from 2011, only 4% of Americans could name a living scientist.

Can you identify these scientists?

Can you identify these scientists?

Many people may be unable to name a living scientist.  But they certainly know where to go to find out more:  the internet.

With the words “just Google it” becoming an everyday phrase, the internet is now a place to find answers to all life’s little questions.  What was the footie score?  Where shall we go for dinner?  Which car should I buy?  It is a platform being rapidly utilised by retailers and advertising companies.  But it is also fulfilling an educational capacity, with material ranging from pre-school to post-doctoral level now widely available.

Interphobia

(yes it’s a real term – just Google it!)

Over the past couple of months, I have attended several talks encouraging scientists to fully utilise the online world.  The idea of creating an ‘online presence’ is a hot topic just now, yet many scientists and researchers are reluctant to participate.

The internet can be a scary place.  It is full of viruses, hackers, trolls and a whole range of people out to steal your money / identity / intellectual property.  It can also be ruthlessly subjected to ‘word of mouth’, with information being rapidly passed from one person to the next.  With the possibility of becoming the misquoted scientist, this can be terrifying for many researchers.

But the internet also offers substantial rewards.

Although environmental science is now being widely discussed in schools, most people over the age of 35 were never formally taught about climate change.  Rather, they have had to obtain their information from publically-accessible sources, such as newspapers, magazines, and social media.  The latter in particular is a rapidly increasing information source.  In fact, it offers the perfect opportunity to turn ‘word of mouth’ from a curse to a blessing!

How many of you check Facebook in the morning?  Have a quick look at Twitter on your break?  Perhaps you’re even one of the many who check social media before you even get out of bed?  If so many people are using social media, then why not scientists?!  The internet offers a much wider audience than previously available through academic publications, press releases or public seminars alone.

Why scientists should get online

Jo Hawkins, a digital marketing specialist, has written an excellent article giving 8 reasons why academics should invest in their online reputation.  In a nutshell, the use of online platforms are an excellent two-way street linking scientists and non-scientists.  Researchers have the opportunity to engage with the general public, contribute to education, and spread word of their research to a wide audience.  But in return, the general public get the chance to see ‘the person behind the labcoat’, easily find an accessible authority to question on topics of interest, and learn about lots of interesting projects happening around the world.  Win-win!

Science is all around us.  This week, try adding an extra dollop of it to your daily life and find at least one scientist to follow online.  Who knows what you may discover!