Towards quantitative understanding and modelling of the global terrestrial N cycle

This was three days of workshop with some of the most interesting and informed people about Nitrogen – I learned a huge amount! Hosted by Beni Stocker and Colin Prentice, there was just a few global modellers – myself, Andy Wiltshire, Beni and Sonke Zaehle. The benefit for me, of course, was that so many people who did measurement work, could really talk about the nitty gritty of the real world, which is so difficult to get into our models in a meaningful way.

Beni has written up a summary of the meeting for New Phytologist, which gives a flavour of the breadth and depth of our discussions, but isn’t as fun as the science discussions we had over dinner. 🙂

Networking and Personal Interaction

You know a lot more about a stranger than you realise. And at first glance, people know a lot about you. That was my realisation after an exercise in the Networking and Personal Interaction workshop I attended.

We paired up with a stranger and were asked to describe the contents of our wardrobe. Very literally. My partner told me about his wardrobe: white and black t-shirts; jeans; that was almost all he told me. From that description, we were encouraged to make bold assumptions: was the person married? Where did they live? What were their hobbies? Which way do they vote?

It was hit and miss, of course. But what I was surprised by was that where my partner described me incorrectly, he actually described someone similar to me, me in a different life scenario almost. It reminded me – people make assumptions, put people and things in ‘boxes’ – not just because it’s economical to do so, but because it is frequently correct. Portraying yourself effectively as the person you want to be, is almost as important as being that person.

The Seven Secrets Of Highly Successful Researchers

It’s ironic really, to go on a course (distracting me from actually working) and be told to avoid distractions. However, I tend to think that a bit of help in re-focusing, evaluating my work scheme and planning can be worth the time spent obtaining said help. With that in mind I signed up for learning the Seven Secrets of highly Successful research students.

The most interesting thing that I got out of the course was that my weakest point is saying no to distractions. The obvious distractions – facebook, amazon, etc. – go without saying but more dangerous are the distractions that feel productive, that are work. For instance, I feel like answering emails is work – which to some extent it is. But when an email arrives and I check and answer it immediately, it interrupts my thought flow and eats more time than if I answered them all in one go. Similarly, teaching or preparing lectures is work but won’t get a paper or thesis written.

I need to remember that the thesis and the papers are the big things. Everything else needs to be fitted around them, not vice versa. Anything that isn’t directly contributing to something being published is a distraction. Necessary distractions very often but distractions none the less.

The result of this course is a new resolution: I’m going to set aside two hours every morning when I won’t allow distractions and I will work on content which will contribute directly to my next paper or my thesis. If the rest of the day gets eaten by distractions, at least I will have achieved something every day. A good theory; we will have to see how this plays out in practice.