Thursday, 26 March 2009

Apologies yet again

I must apologise for disappearing for weeks!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or by other means will know that I've had a major PhD crisis, nearly quit, but was brought back to my senses by my supervisor who came to visit me for a few days. Initially I was so distressed I couldn't sleep or eat, let alone write a blog entry. And then when my supervisor arrived, it was five 12 - 14hr days of work and birding. I've also been far away from civilisation, with a really bad internet connection (that is costing me dear, but I can't bring myself to terminate).

Okay, excuses over. I am now back home for a couple of days as my trusty BirdLife Cyprus car requires a service, so I have full speed internet and am able to blog at ease. Even without the internet, microblogging on Twitter has been possible and am really enjoying it, and i hope my tweets aren't a nuisance to those of you who follow them!! With immense patience, I've also been able to upload photos on Facebook. I have been using a new camera, which I love, but haven't really figured out yet, so essentially I'm showing off the auto setting! I have developed an interest in flowers now. I think it's because they're bright and in my face.

The Cyprus countryside is just so beautiful right now! I haven't seen Cyprus this green in years! I am really enjoying being out. But not so much at dawn when it's freezing or when it's raining and windy. The weather is just bipolar. And it means that all the birds are hiding.

The other exciting thing is that I am looking for a volunteer field assistant. I already have lots of applicants, but very few of them know anything about birds. I'm also worried about being able to find someone who I can get along with 24hrs a day for extended periods of time. It's going to be interesting.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Smells of Spring

The weather has been improving, which is lovely news. The swallows have properly settled in and are bringing their friends and family along. I saw lots of kestrels hunting in cereal fields, and also a Crested Lark (pic). Lovely stuff.

The project proposal has been completed. At least, this latest draft is. So far the comments have been encouraging. I had a good chat with one of my supervisors over the phone, and he said that he's very pleased with the document. We talked about the one major question that remains to be sorted out: how to delimit the "landscape". The problem is that when you stand in the countryside and look around, the topography determines how far you can see. As well as making a qualitative description of the landscape (e.g. cereal fields with scattered olive groves and remnants of scrub), I want to quantify landscape, in terms of heterogeneity (some sort of measure of how diverse the mosaic is), and this means that I need to have an estimate of the area that I am quantifying over. This is tricky, because my maps are at too low a resolution to be able to make meaningful intrapolations from them about what's on the ground. Anyway, I'm still waiting for thoughts from my main supervisor, who is the methodological genius, on this matter, as well as on the proposal in general. So far he said that the new structure is great, but hasn't read it properly yet.

Re-writing this proposal so that it is clear enough and detailed enough to be understood by someone who is not involved in the project at all has been an experience. And all experiences are useful, and hence good, whether they were pleasant or not. Looking at this proposal now, it is nearly at the stage where it permits me to stop thinking, and just go ahead and collect the data. It was the same when I was deciding on the methods for my MSc research project. It was horribly stressful and hard going, until the methods were settled and then I just went out and got on with things without having to do too much thinking (especially after the first few sites are surveyed and I got the hang of it). Of course, this stage is immediately followed by further stress and frustration in the statistical analysis. I don't mind the stats as much as some people seem to, but it still involves wracking nerves.

But that comes later on. For now, I can say that I have learnt two main lessons from this experience: 1. The "why" before the "how". Actions must fit into the context and not the other way around. 2. Precision in uncertainty. There is no room for vague statements; everything must be explicit, including the gaps.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Slow going

Just a quick one this morning as I need to get back to work and finish my project proposal today. This document has brought me so much grief, but I have little hope of putting it behind me any time soon, as every time I think I'm done it turns out my supervisors are not happy with it. It's horrible to hear someone tell you they thought your last draft was excellent but now that they read it properly "it doesn't say much, does it", especially when you put in your best efforts for that last draft. I'm never going to believe anything he tells me about my work now. New best efforts are being put into this draft, after avoiding facing it for two weeks.

Because of my avoidance tactics I have done very little in the way of practicing my field methods and looking for sites. This is particularly tragic because my main supervisor is coming to spend five days with me in the field, and I'm going to have to have something to show him. My main worries at the moment (apart from bird identification - the only thing that can help me in that department is practice) are getting to know Cyprus (I will get lost repeatedly. And I wish I didn't have to.) and being able to look at landscapes and see the processes behind them.

P.S. My neighbourhood is crawling with blackcaps.