Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ieronymidou et al. (in prep.)

How is it nearly February already?!
And why does it feel like Christmas holidays never happened?

Last term was really tough.
It started off with a not so great experience at the BES Annual Meeting, swiftly followed by a thesis plan. It was quite useful to look at how we can package all these data into self-contained chapters/papers. I am always amazed at how brilliant my supervisors are at deciding which are the best and most important questions to ask of the data, and what the most appropriate spin is, and also which journals to target! I'd never been exposed to this side of research before, and it seems to me that experience is everything.

We identified one particular little topic as the best one to start with. On paper, it looked like a sweet little piece of analysis that would be neat and simple, and thus the perfect chapter to start on to hone my skills.

It turns out, that what should've taken a few weeks, took me three months. My goodness it was hard going! The toughest thing about it was the repetition. Having to do the same analysis over and over again, every time making a tiny correction in the variables or in the model, and at the end of every round discovering that another little bit needs to be changed. It's sooooo monotonous. I remember when I was helping out a PhD student of my BSc supervisor and I asked him what it was like doing a PhD, he replied: "It's OK. You really struggle to keep motivated though." I think I never really knew what he meant until I had to do this analysis.

It is really hard to keep motivated. Especially when you spend six months painstakingly collecting data in the field, and then you come back and try to decipher what the data are telling you, but no matter how hard you try and how closely you look, the data just aren't giving you any clear results. And my case isn't the worst: a colleague spent about 12 months in the field data-collecting, and he failed to find the pattern underpinning his thesis concept! He made it work, though. I admire him for not collapsing into a heap, which is what I would do.

They say all results are significant. Yeah, ok, you may claim that, but no editor in their right mind is going to publish a paper that says: "We tried x, y and z, and no matter how we massaged the data, we still have no idea what the message is". I think the idea is to find the message. That's the approach we took, and my manuscript says: "We can't explain everything, and the results aren't that simple to interprete, but it is quite evident that x and y are fundamentally very different".

Yes, you read correctly: I have a manuscript. A DRAFT manuscript. Soon to be returned with all sorts of horrendous comments from my supervisors, to be sure! But hopefully I won't need to do any more damn stats on it! And then we can submit it, and if we're lucky we won't get rejected outright, and if all goes well then maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to say: Ieronymidou et al. (in press).

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