Saturday, 6 August 2016

Migration and a new website!

It's been very quiet here - I've been working on a brand new website. I have migrated my blog there and will be no longer posting here - so pop over to my new site and bookmark it if you want to keep up to date.

There are still plenty of things to work out on the new site, but I'd love your feedback! The site is here:

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Getting PhDing back on track!

I'm planning on posting some fairly regular work updates. I will paint you a picture of what I've been up to over the last few months.

When I got back from fieldwork in November I had two options:

(i) either write up my analyses from the first year as a manuscript and have Chapter 2 of my thesis fairly completed  (which would be sooo great!),
(ii) or start a new bunch of analyses for Chapter 3 (exciting, but lots of work too).

I decided to carry out a quick preliminary analysis for Chapter 3, before writing up the early work. I wanted to do just enough to inform the write up - and then focus on the manuscript before diving fully into the new set of analyses.

I did the analysis and got a result that made little sense. It baffled me. I got in touch with my PI - the results baffled her too. We spent the next few days digging through the data... We found some errors. Those issues needed to be fixed before any more analyses could be carried out - so Chapter 3 needed to wait. They needed to be ironed out so that I can be sure that the results from analyses for Chapter 2 are trustworthy enough to be published.

I have spent November, December and January troubleshooting and checking the dataset issues. In January I have also started learning Bayesian stats and the MCMCglmm package, which I will use to carry out my inbreeding depression and survival analyses for Chapter 3. I am slowly getting to the point where I can start doing analyses again, although some troubleshooting and model comparisons to test robustness are still necessary.

I'm also sorting out my schedule, as the old one went down the drain when I dropped everything to focus on troubleshooting. I need a new timeline for the PhD to accommodate the few months of troubleshooting and the time needed to re-do models for Chapter 2.

So there you have it - for the time being you can expect to hear about R, stats, MCMCglmm, data issues, scheduling, timelines, as well as restoring balance and getting back on track with reading and writing. I am also looking for a field assistant for the next field season and hoping to acquire data for two further chapters of my thesis. Oh, and I am sorting out a placement so that I can do some more public engagement + I'm putting some materials together for a science festival.

Getting PhDing back on track!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Blogging plans

I want to step up my blogging game, I think going back to regular writing practice would be beneficial. Till now I relied on slightly bigger events - such as conferences, courses and teaching. I regarded those as more worthy of mentioning, but sometimes it feels like there aren't enough of those - and then the habit of blogging quietly dies as I wait and wait for something "big" to happen.

This made me think.

(a) Since last field season photos of wildlife took over a tiny bit. There aren't enough "big" events to balance out all the in-between fieldwork posts, but that doesn't seem like a reason good enough to stop sharing the wildlife stories - they get me to blog, and lets face it, isn't Oz wildlife fascinating?

(b) PhD isn't just about those "big" events. It's mostly a series of tiny-tiny tasks. Tedious ones, repetitive ones, problematic ones, confusing ones... A series of solving problems, smaller and bigger. It's a lot of reading, writing, coding, analysing... A lot of thinking. One step forward, two steps back. How come I am omitting this, when this is the essence of my PhD? Isn't that just silly?

Moving forward the general plan is:

  • Keep up with the in-between fieldwork posts, giving you a glimpse into the beautiful Australian wildlife and showing that even when it seems like there is no time to do anything outside of work one should at least try. I will try to get those out every other Thursday.
  • Keep summarising and reflecting on those "big" events. It's nice to have a record of those, even if I only get around to writing up a selection of what I go to.
  • Do more "occasional" posts on workflow, tools, habits... Like this one on my writing tools. Do smaller ones, but more often? I wonder if that would be of interest to anyone.
  • Write some general work updates, to show you what my PhDing actually involves. The day-to-day work is not particularly glamorous, but I like it most of the time. It can be frustrating, but solving problems is also very rewarding. I sometimes spend a whole week troubleshooting, so I am thinking of trying to do those every two weeks - maybe aiming for the weeks when I don't post wildlife photos.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Come work with me!

UPDATE 2016-03-29: I have a couple of great applicants and I shall be choosing between those two. Currently waiting for a reference. Thank you everyone for your interest. Everyone who applied will be contacted shortly.


Yes. Literally. Come work with me on the superb fairy-wrens in Australia during my next field season - I need a field assistant.

The big picture

First the big picture. The field site is based in Canberra, so you are not cut off from civilisation, but it's not the most exciting city on the planet. It's going to be 2-3 months (with the upper limit of 3 months imposed by the visa restrictions). Start date mid-August or early-September 2016, this depends a bit on the weather conditions and how much training the person will need. It's paid and I'm working out if we have any budget for extra help, for instance with travel costs - I'd encourage people to apply for external grants though and I will be happy to provide assistance with that.

I need someone to help me out with behavioural observations and collection of field data, with focus on male courtship displays and individual identification.

What would you be expected to do?
The field assistant would spend a lot of time searching for birds, listening out for birds, watching birds, chasing birds, losing birds and finding birds again (hopefully). They will need to be able to spot and follow small birds through the bush, which - if you haven't tried it - is much harder than it sounds. Much, much harder. Good eyesight and hearing help.

While you are following a particular bird you also need to be able to spot and ID any other birds based on their colour band combination. Experience with binoculars helps here and you need to be able to tell the colours apart (and they are not always as clear as you might want them to be). Focus needs to be maintained during trials as it's very easy to miss birds - they are sneaky little buggers.

To consider...

Hopefully you can gauge from the above description that while this work can be really fun (you are outside bird watching after all!), it can also get a bit frustrating and tedious if you keep losing the bird and have to start over and over again. I need someone who can cope with that, someone enthusiastic and motivated, who won't get grumpy with me after a couple of hours - we will spend lots of time together and I really want this to be enjoyable and beneficial to both parties. You will of course get to meet the rest of the superb fairy-wren team and I am happy to introduce you to the folk I know at ANU, but you'd spend the majority of your time with me.

Decent level of general fitness is required too. While my field site is lovely (we have toilets, water fountains and even a cafe!), it is fairly big (~80 ha) and it is tiring to walk/run around the whole day. Some birds have fairly big territories and you might need to walk back and forwards several time while searching for the birds/following them. They don't tend to sit still much. Additionally, maintaining the high levels of focus during the trials will take their toll too.

Due to the timing/visa restrictions the time available for training will be limited - bird experience would be an advantage. It really helps if you know how to use binoculars, can spot and read colour bands on small birds and have a feel for what the bird might do next. Good peripheral vision does wonders for bird spotting. General field experience is crucial - you need to be sure you can do it, but also that you want to do it. And in order to know you want to do it, you must understand what it's like to do this type of work. If you don't like being outside, get impatient or tire very easily you will probably hate chasing after the fairy-wrens.

Get in touch

I this sounds like something you'd like to do, or if you have any questions you can get in touch with me through here or my Twitter or you can email me at A CV and a cover letter/email explaining why you'd like to work with me and telling me a little bit more about yourself and your experience, so I can gauge the fit would be sufficient for now. There is no hard deadline at the moment, as I want to find the right person for the job, but I'd like this sorted within 2 months, so if you think you'd be perfect for the job don't put it off for too long.

UPDATE: If you email me, I will email you back confirming I got your message. If you don't hear from me within a couple of working days, try again - your email might have gotten eaten by my spam filters. Please confirm that you are eligible for a visa.

Also, I was asked about the selection process. At the moment I am going to wait for a few applications. Then I will compare said applications. I will likely get in touch with some of the applicants to have a chat (Skype).

(If you need a deadline - I would suggest to email within the next two weeks, as this is likely to generate quite a bit of interest + you shouldn't need lots of time to assemble the "application".)

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

List or Reminders Check

A year ago, in January, prompted by all the new year resolutions I shared my List of Reminders with you. Those aren't resolutions or goals, but more areas of my life to which I want to pay attention, which I want to keep in check. I return to it every few months to see how I'm doing - I probably should write about it here more often. A couple of examples below.

The areas are Climbing & Exercise, Drawing & Painting, Reading (for pleasure), Socialising & Culture, Meal planning + Cooking & Baking, Meditation, Blogging.


A couple of checks ago I felt like reading has taken a huge hit. I tried to establish a good routine of reading before bed, but I am one of those people who fall asleep as soon as they are vaguely horizontal, so I can only manage about 10 minutes before dozing off. That's better than nothing, I suppose, and what I found helpful is reading books that are split into small chapters (e.g. recently I read the first three books of the "A song of Ice and Fire" series and now I'm having a break from them and reading the "2001: A Space Odyssey"). I know a lot of people read when they commute, but it gives me headaches and I haven't figured out a better system than reading before bed.


I really would like to blog more regularly. I'm having trouble figuring out what to blog about though - I make a weekly "lab" journal and describe my work and progress there, so don't feel the need to do it here too. But maybe it would be of use to others? At the moment I'm thinking of trying a mix of my in-between fieldwork posts, general work update/progress posts and occasional posts on broader topics.

Drawing & Painting 

In November, while doing another check, I realised that I haven't drawn anything in ages. I think because I don't practice, the frustration of being rubbish at it was taking its toll and I kept putting it off and off. So I did a bit of research, signed up to lots of Fb painting groups and I figured I'd try watercolours. I since got a sketchbook, bought some supplies and signed up to an online watercolour school. It's not going half bad! Have a look at my pear*:

*Painting produced using an online video tutorial at Anna Mason’s Online School

Friday, 12 February 2016

We created a monster, a #wildbum monster

It started innocently enough. It always does.

Yesterday evening @AnneHilborn was posting photos of questionable quality - we all have those. Those where we tried and tried and the subject is not in focus, but instead a random bit of grass or a flower is chosen by the camera as "the most worthy" element.

I shared some of my blurry fairy-wren bum photos, I have tons of those. Anne liked them. I thought wait-a-minute I have a great bum-photo. A photo of a Musk duck displaying and showing off his bum to the ladies*

@Lee__Mc and Anne have joined with the hashtag. With their networks it didn't take long for the bums to start streaming in. Biologists love a good laugh and finally there is use for all those less-than-perfect shots. Moral of the story: always keep some bum photos to hand!

My first trending hashtag ever is #wildbum. Go me!

Have a look through #wildbum photos and pick your favourites. We have bums from all over the animal kingdom and the world - and new bums are still coming in! We have cute ones and colourful ones and spiky ones. Big and small, feathery and scaly. You name it. We have it. And it all started with one bum.

There are too many awesome bums out there, but if you need a few recommendations check those out:

Windy bum: ‏@dancingmonkey11
Disco bum: @nyuprimatology
Spiny bum: @LizMarchio
Shy bum: @am_anatiala
Arachnid bum: @Cataranea

What is your favourite #wildbum?


2016-02-12: BuzzFeed picked up #wildbum - here. I have seen similar text pop up in other places later.

2016-02-17: Huffington Post have been in touch about it too.
2016-02-21: Huffington Post on wildbum! click

* there are no ladies. This little guy is all alone on that lake. The Australian pelican does not seem to be persuaded by the bum-awesomeness.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

In-between fieldwork: Varied sittella

Varied sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera). Such a cool little fella! Three local birders and myself have sat down to have some food and we spotted this varied sittella and its nest. I'm happy I found the nest, it's rather well camouflaged.

The sittella was going back and forwards, I'm pretty sure it was feeding chicks. It would fly onto the branch above the nest and then hop along (while being upside down) towards the nest. It also removed something from the nest, something white, I think it might have been a faecal sac.