Sunday, 11 January 2015

Course: Quantifying the environment

The full title of the course was "Core and advanced environmental statistics training: Quantifying the environment – Part II" at the University of Glasgow. As a NERC funded student I could attend the course for free - thank you NERC!

It was a week long course, it was rather intense and it covered three areas: flexible regression methods, spatio-temporal modelling and functional data analysis (FDA). I was particularly interested in the spatial modelling as I might do a chapter on it for my PhD.

The course was very much aimed at statisticians and quite a bit of previous knowledge was assumed. For instance, on one of the days we had a set of lectures which were a condensed version of a 20 h long course for people doing Masters in statistics. As I have no real background in stats I found a lot of it rather hard. Keep in mind that I haven't attended Part I, maybe things would have been easier if I did.

What I found a bit suprising is that a lot of things we were doing were "at the edge of statistical knowledge and research". For some reason I have expected the field of statistics to be more advanced. This might sound silly, I guess, but I just never thought deeper about where our statistical knowledge is at. Now I know! It seems that some things I was planning to do might be harder than I thought, yet the majority of them should be doable, which is great. There were a couple of things that are not-so-doable yet, mainly due to lack of packages available - the knowledge is there, but there is no easy way to utilise it by an average non-statistician.

Yet despite the fact that the stats were hard, I found the course really informative. I think this was due to a clever delivery strategy. The lectures were clear and accompanies by practical sessions. All the R scripts for the practicals were provided. This way I could work through the material and focus on trying to understand it, instead of fighting with R. I think if I had to come up with R scripts by myself I would have been completely lost. Additionally, I have all the scripts for future reference and I can be sure that the code is decent and without errors.

All in all I'd recommend the course, but be prepared for a long week and quite a bit of work!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Resolutions, reminders, goals

It's the beginning of a new year, which means blogs and websites are flooded with new years resolutions. I don't really believe in new years resolutions and most of the ones that I came across were pretty silly (e.g. jumping off of the highest diving board at a swimming pool). If there is one list that everyone should read it's this one: Resolutions for a (Mentally) Healthier New Year.

I have a list. Not a list of resolutions, but a list of reminders.

I try to reassess my life on a fairly regular basis, a few times a year. Splitting it up means I can keep an eye on whether I'm doing OK and making progress. If something is not working I can start over and try another way of achieving the same result. It also helps me to keep the balance when my circumstances change - for instance, everything has been turned on its head when I started the PhD. I moved, I got even busier than before and I am already experiencing the infamous two body problem. But I can still look at my list and remind myself what I want my life to be like.

Anyhow, in the spirit of the new year I am going to post some of the things I have on the list.

Climb regularly. I need to fix my climbing schedule. I used to climb 2-3 times a week, but since the move in September I have been struggling to establish a proper climbing routine, so this needs correcting. I would like to climb at least once per week. Part of the problem is how far the wall is from my house/work.

Exercise regularly. This normally gets covered by climbing. Since distance is making it harder to climb I'm thinking of including some other activity - fitness classes, maybe pilates? I made plans to try a weekly "Body Balance" class with a friend.

Draw. When I was young I used to draw and paint quite a bit. I was never amazing at it, but it's one of those activities that can take your mind off of everything else. A while back I bought a graphics tablet and tried drawing/painting digitally (emulating natural media) in an attempt to get back into it but without the need to buy and store supplies (and without the mess too!). I need to work it into my schedule again.

Read (for pleasure). I used to read all the time. All the time. Not so much recently, at least not things unrelated to my work - I need to fix that! I love fiction and it would be a good break from biology-related reading. I am hugely impressed by what Eva achieved in 2014. She read over 90 books last year!

Socialise. I'm not naturally the most social person, I am perfectly happy by myself drawing, reading or going for a walk. Seeing that I have moved and know hardly anyone over here I am trying to make an effort and make some friends.

Meal plan. I used to do some meal planning with my partner and it worked really well, making shopping and cooking a lot easier and helping to reduce waste. Since I moved and started commuting regularly to see my partner my cooking has been rather ad hoc, as I don't spend all nights at my flat.

Culture. I want to take advantage of where I live - I'll make a list of things that need to be done in the city and start ticking them off.

Meditation. Try it. People seem to keep talking about it. Who knows, maybe I'll like it.

Cooking & Baking. Schedule time for some culinary fun. Maybe even sign up for a course to learn something new? Baking was my go-to de-stresser during undergrad exams. I always joked that opening a bakery was my Plan B. I want to get back into it; cookies and breads, here I come.

Blogging. I have been failing miserably at regular blogging and Twitter. I want to get back to it. I probably have to schedule it in or it won't happen.

I think it's pretty obvious that the main challenge since I started my PhD is time; some things don't happen as easily and naturally as they used to. I will have to actually schedule "me time" and relaxing activities in order to make sure that I keep at them instead of getting sucked into the vortex of pointless procrastination and hermit life. I will come up with strategies and actionable ways of achieving all of the above and staying on track. I will set little goals and review them regularly - weekly and monthly.

Work related plans?

Shut up & Write sessions! There are none in my department as far as I can tell, so I want to set up some. Hopefully I can find some folk who will be interested :] I also want to play some more with different types of working schedules.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Busy year ahead!

I'm looking forward to this year, but it looks like it will be a fairly busy one. I'm away for at least a week every month till foreseeable future! Courses, demonstrating, conferences, workshops, fieldwork - you name it, I'm doing it.

I'm excited, but also a bit apprehensive, as I've been struggling with my schedule a bit so far and this is likely to upset things. Hopefully I can figure out a way to deal with it.