Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Apply for TEDxWaterloo 2012 - Check!

I just applied to TEDxWaterloo, a local affiliate of TED talks that presents speakers from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, revealing a new perspective, an adventure, an innovation, an inspiration! In the application, they asked about current involvement in the community and why I wanted to attend TEDx and I ended up writing about the podcast and my research, so I thought it would be fitting to repost that here. I often write about the difficulties and proceedings of creating a podcast and conducting the research that I sometimes forget to write about how much I enjoy it. I do enjoy it!
I'm a Knowledge Integration student which means that my life consists of jumping between disciplines, trying to come up with new ideas with a bunch of different people, and mostly studying hard, learning hard, and playing hard. I am also an advocate for northern research, being a northern researcher myself - I just got my first publication for my work on arctic ponds, wuhoo!!! Being an advocate means promoting research in the arctic and subarctic, so I am creating an audio podcast - Quirk and Quarks-esque or RadioLab-esque - to tell the world about the amazing research going on at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre near Churchill, Manitoba which showcases the noticeable effects of climate change on all sorts of organisms, from migratory birds to invertebrates! Only in northern research can we say, yea, look, climate change IS happening and it is truly harming northern-adapted organisms. The research I'm promoting is also unique because it is student run, either by grad students working on the edge of existing knowledge of the species or high school students getting their feet wet for the first time while working on long term monitoring projects. This is important stuff, and important to continue studying, which is why I'm a northern research advocate!

The rest of the time (when I'm not playing in water and sediment or interviewing and editing for the podcast) I am busy trying to get the most out of my undergraduate education - so much to learn, so little time! And the best part about learning is that it can occur in any context, it doesn't have to be from a textbook or a professor's lecture, it can be impromptu discussion in a coffee shop, an observation of changing seasons on a walk, or during the mingling of strangers after hearing an inspirational speech on the transformations of jazz or the power of light to create innovating technology at an event such as, dare I say it, TEDxWaterloo!! I live for these interactions with strangers from different backgrounds, whose biases colour their lens of the world and when placed in discussion with people with different biases allows everyone to see the whole spectrum of illumination. It is my fourth and final year at UWaterloo, after which I will enter into the "real world" and have to grow up and I want to be reminded that growing up doesn't mean conforming, it means continually learning, pushing the boundaries and fighting for what you believe in. I want to be inspired.
Apply to TEDxWaterloo for March 21 - deadline is Jan 27 so hurry up! - And I hope to see you there!

Do something nerdy - be a citizen scientist!

Darlene Cavalier - Science Cheerleader

 DISCOVER magazine posted an article about an active community in citizen science. The article features the creator, Darlene Cavalier, of a website,,  that promotes the involvement of normal people in real discovery, real science! The website has its origins as a database, but since expanding to become the citizen science hub where everyday non-scientists can join in the research of scientists!

The citizen science group that I was most aware of from Churchill was EarthWatch which does a lot of hands on research work all over the world to help scientists with more of the long term monitoring types of sciences, such as dendrochronology (remember this post from the summer?) and wetland monitoring. 

It's a great way to get involved with science, especially if you have a different background. It's also a great vacation idea or weekend out idea! So get out there, be a citizen scientist!

Thanks LeeAnn for passing this on!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Month 9 of Project

I am back in Southern Ontario, having left the beautiful landscape of Churchill on August 25 after the grand opening of the new building for the CNSC. I returned from a pleasant 20C to grueling 30C, watched the season change a second time, this time in the south, from a hot summer again to a golden brown fall to a warm, drippy winter. Over the past 4 months after being airlifted out of Manitoba, I have continued work on both of my projects, the microcosm experiment and the podcast. And I feel it is time to revive this blog and see the projects through to completion!

Microcosm Update: Many statistics have been calculated, many conclusions have been drawn, and many more questions emerged with much more to discuss around the topics of arctic pond ecosystems, the role of bacteria in the benthic mats during nutrient uptake, separate responses to nutrient additions for the water column community and the benthic community, the hindsight problems methods that I wish I could have changed (why didn't I take pH readings of the microcosms?), the question of accurate representation of lake conditions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I wrote a preliminary report and presented to the Waterloo/Laurier group on the findings for an Independent Studies course which will be shaped, poked, and prodded, this term, into a publishable journal article. The data consists of the levels of the added nutrients in the water column, the chlorophyll a response from the phytoplankton and from the benthic community and an analysis of other pigments which needs to be completed this term using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Because the data will be published, I can't release it here, but I can discuss some of the broader questions (which I began this section with).

Stay tuned for further discussion!

Podcast Update: Avioyak (remember the buzzing in ears?), my obsession and creative outlet, is slowly coming to life along with the voices of the scientists I have not directly spoken with for several months! Two episodes, the one featuring Anne and Lisa's work with semi-palmated plovers and the one featuring Vanya's work with yellow warblers, are nearly complete. Remaining are the episodes on the Hudsonian godwit, zooplankton, and long term wetland monitoring. March 9, 2012 - Look out for the release!

In October and November, I ran a series of surveys asking CNSC visitors to listen to an episode, give me their overall impression of the style, and answer some factual questions to see if they learned anything. I never anticipated conducting a survey to be so difficult. Of course, the logistics, the hard deadlines, and the analysis are difficult, but that is not what I am referring to. Conducting a survey about the design of my own creative outlet, my brainchild, my art that contains my personal opinions about how science should be presented to the public and what I think is creative and fun, is truly difficult because of the critical feedback where listeners just didn't necessarily get it. The purpose of the survey was to learn about what the target audience might not "get" or what they think should be improved and, in design theory, this is exactly what designers are supposed to do. But in practice, I am so close to the project that it is very difficult not to take the comments personally even when I know the comments are constructive criticism.

Constructive criticism. Constructive: focus on the constructive because a lot of the comments really could help in the construction/conceptualization/development of the next episode, such as maintaining level sound quality, slowing down the narration, having distinct sections etc. Unfortunately, it is hard not to continually hear the criticism of my ideas and my art, the heartbreak of not being understood as I am sure so many artists and creatives have encountered. So to my future self and to others who are putting their creative selves on display, and especially for those that are honestly seeking the constructive criticism of others:

"Creativity takes courage."
- Henri Matisse
"Do what you feel in your heart to be right,
for you'll be criticized anyway."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"To escape criticism - do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
- Elbert Hubbard
By far, the biggest challenge was getting over the criticism which I willingly asked for! But tears were not shed in vain! The podcast and I am stronger for it and I am doing something, saying something and being something!

As the podcast develops this term, I will keep you updated and I am sure keep you informed of the latest rants of the media/science/Churchill obsessed producer. Until then... the latest wintery welcome by Kat.