Friday, 31 January 2014

Prelude to the Good Stuff

So I thought I'd start with a short introduction: an explanation, really, of why this blog. For one thing, this thought has been on my mind for a while: I am very lucky. Lucky to be in graduate school; lucky to have great funding (PICS 2 year master's fellowship, and SSHRC master's funding); so lucky to have a supportive supervisor, colleagues, a great workspace—the whole shebang; and a pretty awesome family to which I don't think I've communicated very well what I do at school here.

I hope also to use this blog as a way of keeping track of the many lessons and great advice tips I come across; already there has been a whole bunch of learning throughout this master's degree so far, and it's far from over. A few highlights:
- having not done an honour's thesis in undergrad, learning to widen my perspective on what a big research project looks like and how to design, undertake, and (hopefully soon) bring it home.
- that it gets a little bit lonelier to specialize: friends move away, start getting married, investing in long-term relationships, first-houses, and following their own dreams, wherever they take them
- and that I now, TA-ing my third class, really love to teach. This, after learning to cope with my fear of public speaking (somewhat) so that I can get into a creative space and thinking about teaching concepts and strategies like 'flipping the classroom' and being, in short, an effective educator.
- I really care about critical and clear reasoning, and improving my own skills in all such related areas, as I realize this will not only be useful for completing my master's and excelling in academia, but also for life in general.
- and I also really love the local and native plants, and the West Coast and Canada's most biodiverse province, so it's always a good time to share photos and give a taste of what really fills my world (expect photos of flowers and native flora strewn throughout the posts.)

I have also learned that there are an innumerable number of ways in which I have come to see the limits of my understanding. I think this is the doorway of breaking down the Dunning-Kroeger Effect, where through digging into my current project (more to come shortly), I have become the kid who climbed the generously-grassed hill (entered grad school), and has flopped onto my stomach to shimmy to the cliff-edge and see just how vast the ocean of knowledge is, and that by looking at my little square on that cliff-ledge, I have come to realize that I know so, so, so very little.

So, in part, this blog is for me, and in part, I hope this blog can become a useful tool for other grad students out there -  a small handshake to say that yes, you deserve to be where you are, and a head shake that no, you are not alone in your questioning, your insecurities, and the feeling (pressure) that you 'aren't getting enough done' (an idea that I feel I have really been struggling with recently). In part, I hope this may also become a sort of check-in point for my supervisor, as well, as I try to meet deadlines and finish up with this program. I also hope that this can be a touch-stone for my family, so that I can better share with them what I'm up to all the time.

So, for a quick summary of my research project (coincidentally, this is the summary of my research that I submitted to the SSHRC Storyteller's competition this afternoon):

Climate Change, The Mountain Pine Beetle, and Scientists: Understanding Rapid Ecological Change

For some, climate change means rising sea levels or a greater chance for the incidence of a 100-year flood. For British Columbia and its neighboring provinces, global warming, combined with historical forestry and fire suppression activities, has meant more climate suitable habitat, no more -40°C temperatures to kill over-wintering beetle larvae, resulting in an unprecedented mountain pine beetle outbreak over the past 15+ years.

                          Outside Vanderhoof, BC: 15 years post mountain pine beetle landscape. 

The mountain pine beetle is a tiny insect, about the size of a matchstick-head. Not a great flier, it relies on pheromones (chemicals) to communicate with other beetles, including when to swarm a healthy lodgepole pine (its preferred host). This tiny beetle is responsible for reddening mountainsides and valleys with millions of dead trees. It has now travelled higher up mountains, as far north in latitude as the Northwest Territories, and has marked jack pine tree-trunks with pitch tubes as far east as Saskatchewan. In other words, the mountain pine beetle is no longer simply a ‘BC problem.’ This insect has very much become the climate change poster-child of Canada.

My SSHRC research investigates how this incidence of rapid ecological change affects scientists’—our experts’— perceptions and understandings of these environmental shifts: what do they mean, and what can we learn from it? How does having an unprecedented event in both scale and geographic extent like the spread of the mountain pine beetle change their perspectives on ecological relationships, their ideas for the future, and the practice of science? What can the mountain pine beetle tell us about how research is done in Canada, and is there a ’best way’ to allocate resources made available by such a crisis? My research will feature their voices and ideas about our changing landscapes.  

Currently, I'm neck-deep in finishing transcribing my interviews that are the empirical basis of my research, and should be analyzing the transcripts I'm producing by mid-February.

                            Outside Vanderhoof: a forest regenerating, 15 years after the mountain pine beetle. 

I'm a Teaching Assistant for ES 341, which focuses on giving students a grounding in ecological restoration. I'm also an aspiring writer, and in my spare time volunteer for The Malahat Review, the Arbutus Review, and occasionally submit articles to The Martlet, UVic's student-run publication.

I am a community-oriented gal, and also enjoy organizing events that I think enrich and contribute positively to society. Two events I'm helping organize are coming up in quick succession: CONFORWest 2014 and a Clothing Swap.

Needless to say, I really do like to keep busy, and feel like I'm contributing to positive change in my communities as they vary by scale locally, municipally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. I am very fortunate in my position that I can contribute to all the environmental, social justice, and political causes I care about. In this way, this blog will be a skip through all the adventures that grad school and life really is: including writing stories, communicating science, undertaking research, learning, and offering lessons learned from my experiences and research. Join me as I bumble my way through this rocket ride.

It's the end of January (and coincidentally a good friend's birthday—Happy Birthday C!). Tip 1 that seems impossible to avoid to continually bump into: start early. If there's a deadline you know about, plan your time well. Unlike MattyB, we can't step back in time, so we'd better make the best of the current few minutes!

Copyright 2014 Heike Lettrari.

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