Campaign against jargon!

jargonBy Claire

It has come time for me to start thinking about writing up some of my modelling results. In preparation, I am going back through the literature to get an idea of the layout of a model paper, and the types of things I need to address.

Having read almost exclusively paleo proxy papers for the last few months, I was completely unprepared for the mental assault that reading modelling papers would cause.

Why can’t people just say what they mean?! Continue reading “Campaign against jargon!”

If we never landed on the Moon, where are the samples from?

Figure 1: The good old “But the flag moved so there must be atmosphere” argument.
Figure 1: The good old “But the flag moved so there must be atmosphere” argument.

By Thomas

To get one thing straight from the beginning: What I don`t want to do in this post is to discuss different Moon hoax theories, and the “evidence” for them (e.g. Fig. 1), as well as the arguments that were laid out to counter these Moon hoax claims. There are enough websites and videos out there already dealing with that matter. For those who are interested in that, this video might be a good one to start with.

What I want to do is the following gedankenexperiment: If the Moon landings were faked, were do the samples come from?

What do I mean by samples?

According to the Lunar Sourcebook (HEIKEN et al., 1991) the six Apollo missions that landed successful on the Moon brought back 2196 samples, which by 1989 were split up into 78,000 subsamples. This splitting allows NASA, apart from doing there one research on the samples, to send subsamples to researchers all over the world and let them study the samples. That means the rocks were and are intensely studied. How intense? Well if you want to get an idea about that you can browse a bit through the Lunar Sample Compendium. There you find summed up the relevant information gathered over the years on each sample. Of course not all samples are studied to the same extent. You`ll find samples like the impact melt 14310, which has a two and a half site reference list alone, or samples like 14425, which has “only” nine references. As it is a glass sphere – 0.8 cm in diameter – that is still quite impressive. All in all, there is a lot of information available about the samples.

I guess, on this basis I can assume everyone agrees that these samples exist?

No, because the bastards at NASA faked all the research on the samples and all the people who supposedly worked on the samples all over the world are part of the cover-up of the Moon hoax!”

Please. Do yourself a favour. Take a long walk in the park to get some air.

Okay, back to the topic. If we accept the existence of the Apollo samples the interesting question arising is:

Where are they from?

Well there are two answers to that question:

1.)  They are from the Moon.

2.)  They are not.

On the first option: Under the assumption for our gedankenexperiment that the Moon landings were a hoax, how do we get the samples to Earth?

Continue reading “If we never landed on the Moon, where are the samples from?”

How to catch a foram on Catalina Island!

By Kate H (guest blogger)

Catalina Island is a foraminiferal hub, located 35 km south-southwest off the coast of LA, California. The island is pretty spectacular to take in, it consists of metamorphic schists intruded and overlain by volcanics, all uplifted from the seafloor. At first the island was first used for smuggling, hunting and gold digging but then was developed into a tourist (and later scientific) destination by William Wrigley Jr (founder of the gum).

Catalina Island is ideal for culturing foraminifera as the continental shelves are quite narrow and drop off steeply into the ocean basin. This means that we can quickly and easily reach the deep water habitat that the planktonic forams love to live in.

A typical day ‘at work’ on the island involves blue water scuba diving for planktonic foraminifers at 5-10 meters depth. When forams are alive with their spines they are very easy to see compared to the shells most people are used to seeing in sediment cores.

Foram finders hard at work - picture thanks to Bärbel Hönisch!
Foram finders hard at work – picture thanks to Bärbel Hönisch!

Continue reading “How to catch a foram on Catalina Island!”

Why look at the monsoon?

monsoon-bike_1449924cBy Claire

My PhD topic involves recreating the Indo-Australian monsoon rainfall over the last 40,000 years using stalagmites from caves. Now, I know that’s a bit of a mouthful and when I tell people that’s what i’m doing I often get met with blank stares and the inevitable question, “what does that mean?”

At the moment I’m putting together a draft paper and yesterday I needed to write my, “conclusions and implications” paragraph. This meant that I actually had to think about what the implications of looking at the past monsoon actually has.

In my musings, I thought that I might try and connect the dots between my paleo-monsoon (i.e. “past” monsoon) record, and the present day monsoon system. In order to do that, I needed to better acquaint myself with the modern monsoon system, and I actually realised that what I’m studying could (if you squint) have real world implications.  Continue reading “Why look at the monsoon?”

‘Hello Misters’ and welcome to Sulawesi!

Our homestead
Our homestead

By Ali

(Ali is currently on a plane returning from fieldwork in Indonesia, carried out as part of her PhD. Fieldwork involved collecting stalagmites from caves in Sulawesi to ship back to ANU for palaeoclimate analysis).

After months of planning, paperwork, bureaucracy, vaccinations, gear sorting, a crash course in bahasa Indonesia, applying for various visas, and booking all types of transportation… it happened. We made it to southwest Sulawesi, Indonesia for 3+ weeks of fieldwork.  There are few ways to top research that places you in a lush, dramatic karst landscape, spattered with rice paddies, bamboo houses, and fluttering butterflies. Even Alfred Wallace found himself exploring this beautiful region, in search of that perfect butterfly and the key to evolution.

View looking out of Liang Liang cave
View looking out of Liang Liang cave

Westerners are not a common occurrence in southwest, Sulawesi. We made quite the spectacle everywhere we went, often towering a couple feet above the locals and covered in mud. We were ALWAYS greeted with a “hello mister” and asked to pose for countless photos. A little baffling and un-nerving at times, especially when asked for a photo opt when you’re washing your hair outside. It’s all in good-humour though and puts quite the spin on being a tourist. Continue reading “‘Hello Misters’ and welcome to Sulawesi!”

When things stall…

Michael Leunig
Michael Leunig

By Claire

First thing I need to make really clear, is that I love my PhD. I love what I’m researching and I love the people I am working with. Up until this point, I have been really lucky. My PhD has been a breeze. You hear all the time about people who come to loathe the research they are doing a couple of years in to it. I am not one of those people. I am one of the lucky ones who have coasted through so far. I still enjoy what I am researching and I enjoy coming in to work each day.

That is until now.  Continue reading “When things stall…”

Dance your PhD contest!

By Claire

I was looking for something science-related to post about today, and I came across this in my weekly “Science Alert” email (Therefore this counts as science…)

It turns out that Science Magazine sponsors a competition titled, “Dance your PhD“, where PhD students (or graduates) are invited to choreograph an interpretive dance that helps to explain your PhD topic!

Next time you’re asked what you’re studying, why not break out in to an interpretive dance?! It would save a lot of trouble in the long run…

But how to go about it? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

If you’re interested in entering, you need to film your PhD interpretive dance and upload the video to All the rules can be found at this website. You have until the 1st October to get your entry in.

To get you started, here is the winner from last year…

Write that journal article in 7 days

Peer-Review-Cartoon2By Claire

I have spent the afternoon at a seminar titled, “Write that journal article in 7 days”, put together by the Research Skills and Training Centre at ANU and wanted to share some of the wisdom I’ve soaked in. The seminar was presented by Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. The Thesis Whisperer and hopefully will yield at least one journal article over the next few months (I have at least three that I really should be writing up now!).

The article writing process is spread out over seven days, with quite manageable chunks to do on each day.

(As a caveat to the “7 days” promise, you need to already have data etc ready to go and at least some preliminary ideas on what the article will be about)

The presentation can be viewed online via the Thesis Whisperer blogsite, but here is my interpretation of the process. Continue reading “Write that journal article in 7 days”

PhD Golden Rule #1: Backup your work!!!

I really feel for this poor guy.
I really feel for this poor guy.

By Claire

Now before anyone starts to panic, it’s ok. I haven’t lost anything. But I was reminded of the importance of backing up your thesis work when I saw this twitter post via Linkedin (shown to the right).

This post feeds into a paranoia I have that somehow my PhD thesis and data are going to go missing. At the moment, I am carrying my laptop with me everyday to and from work. My laptop contains my academic life, all my data, all my readings, all my reports. Everything. I am paranoid that it will get dropped, or damaged while I am moving it around, or I’ll be mugged on the way home one night (because we all know that’s what happens to tourists in New York…) Continue reading “PhD Golden Rule #1: Backup your work!!!”

Too many papers!!

stack-of-papersBy Claire

No matter how many papers I read, the pile of literature that I “should” read never seems to get smaller. I am currently preparing for a trip overseas to collaborate with some palaeoclimate modellers. In preparation, I need to read the papers of these collaborators to make sure I’m familiar with their work. I thought I had read most of their papers. Turns out, I haven’t.

The problem I find with keeping up with the literature, is that even if I had read every relevant paper on my topic up to now, new papers are being published every week in more journals that I can list. Unless you manage to conduct a new literature sweep every week, even the most up-to-date reader will inevitably fall behind over time.  Continue reading “Too many papers!!”

F is for frustration

By Nick


When people describe the emotions related to the exertions of PhD-life, they often talk about mixtures of elation coupled with times of deep loathing for your project. Boredom during the first six months, and an ever increasing work-load there-on in – until you just feel swamped by the vast pile that is the “to-do” list. These are pretty extreme emotions and makes PhD life sound like a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Which of course isn’t exactly the case. What is less mentioned is just the constant undercurrent of frustration, a far more mild emotion, but a very, very persistent one.

PhD’s are really all about frustration, about how long it takes to do anything – twice as long for any lab-work, five times as long as it should to organise lab-work. Frustration with supervisors, too hands-on and demanding, too hands-off and no real help at all. Frustration with results – “what the hell do my results even mean” is a common cry of anguish for PhD students. And, for me, most constantly, frustration as to why my mass spectrometer won’t work – STILL.

Continue reading “F is for frustration”

Pointers for Proofreaders

By Malte (guest contributor)

I attended a short course on proofreading and editing this morning and thought I would share some insights. The reason I went to the class in the first place is that my midterm report, a massive piece of writing, is coming up and I really needed to get some practical hints and pointers for my proofreading. There is a lot of good reading on this topic already out there but I want to stress the following points:

(1)   Format comes first. Look at other theses in your area, journals, or even international style guides and decide early on what kind of format you want to use. Then build a template in your favourite software and stick to it.

(2)   Consistency is everything. This includes all the styles you use, your spelling (e.g. Australian English vs. US English), formatting and use of abbreviations. The only time it’s recommended not be consistent is if your writing is bad and flimsy. Don’t consistently write badly but stop and take a break. Even just opening a new document to start fresh and copy and pasting selected parts of your work can help quiet a lot.

(3)   Outline and prepare your chapters. This point can’t be stressed enough as it will greatly reduce the amount of confusion in your writing and will save you a lot of time. The way I do this is by writing my table of contents first and then adding 1-2 sentences per chapter that describe what I want to say and what I will use to develop the idea. This also gives you a framework if you stumble upon some great article that you want to include in your work but it doesn’t fit the current chapter you are working on.

(4)   Edit and proofread for one thing at a time. If you focus on one aspect during your proofreading and check the whole document you will be much faster and more consistent in your corrections. Work your way down starting with possible errors in titles, subtitles and figures, basically things everyone will notice but you. The search function in word is your best friend here. Personally I have to check all my documents for double and triple spaces between words as I tend to hit the space bar while thinking. Very   annoying.

(5)   Read the first and last sentence of your paragraphs. This will help you to get a feel for the structure of your writing. It sounds weird but I found it very helpful to check if the order of my paragraphs is working and allows for a natural development of the argument.

(6)   Read sentences out loud. I mean the actual sentence that you wrote at 2 am and not the one in your head. There can be a huge difference and it forces you to look at your text very carefully. It will make you sound like a crazy scientist. But that’s a plus right?

(7)   Leave time between your editing and proofreading. Reading your text 30 times a day won’t help and you will miss obvious mistakes. It is a much better and efficient strategy to leave your text alone for a few days or hand it to a friend so you can get a new perspective.

(8)   Practice your editing and proofreading on other peoples work. This is a great way of increasing your skills and to learn about what other people are doing. It also gives you that good feeling of accomplishing something without having to work on your own stuff that was supposed to be done weeks ago.

(9)   Use citation software. Not really news but if you have avoided it so far it’s better to start sooner than later. There are many alternatives out there so try out some different ones if you are unsure. Be very aware of databases crashes (backup!). Nothing worse then losing all your references a few days (hours…) before submission date.

(10) And finally: Writing is thinking. I often have to start writing before I truly understand some specific topic or argument. This writing is often very crude, but it turns out to provide a great resource to go back to during this whole midterm writing process. It is much easier to stitch together a literature review if you have already written about some of the articles you are going to use.

Overall the class was useful and surely motivated me to work more on my midterm. Of course I didn’t do that today. But before you raise your finger and point at me for procrastinating and talking about writing instead of getting anything done – so are you by reading this.

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