Category Archives: PhD life

Reading habits

It’s the Christmas holidays and I’m trying to catch up on the stack of papers on my computer and desk labelled “To read”, among which is a few papers on how to develope good reading habits. One has ten simple rules for developing good reading habits, including trying to avoid a pile up of “to read” papers. From Méndez (2018):

  1. Develop the habit of reading on a daily basis. Alot time for reading.
  2. Read thoroughly to build a sound background understanding of your topic
  3. Do not ignore the pillars of your discipline; read the classics
  4. If you have to get familiar with a new topic, consider reading in chronological order
  5. Avoid narrow-mindedness by reading beyond your discipline
  6. Create a list of relevant journals (I immediately signed up for alerts for a lot of journals, though far from the 20+ suggested)
  7. Not all interesting stuff will appear in articles; read books (Yes! I love books, but often end up reading 5 at once, which gets confusing)
  8. Use a reference manager to keep track of your literature (I use Mendeley)
  9. Keep a long-term review for your own use as a way to remember what you read (This is actually a really good idea, hadn’t thought of that. Could be a spreadsheet for each topic and it might turn into a published review)
  10. Build your own library to make yourself independent and inspire others (Definitely working on this, I love books)

Change of research environment at the BRC

As part of your PhD at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, it is required that you do a change of research environment for 3-6 months. The idea is that you leave your comfort zone for a while and talk to scientists within your field from a different institution. It’s supposed to open your eyes to the fact that not all research institutions are the same and not everyone thinks like you do. Also, it is a great opportunity to expand your scientific network.

The hard part is figuring out where to go. Some students end up going to a different institution, but don’t really get the chance to interact with other researchers. They end up sitting in a corner, working alone on their own stuff. Others have really great experiences. That’s what I wanted: a great experience. I wanted to learn some new methods and join an active research group with frequent scientific discussions.

I’m now at the Biological Records Centre at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in a small town in Oxfordshire called Wallingford and I do believe I’ve come to the right place. For three months I will be working with Nick Isaac and his mixed team of PhD students, PostDocs and researchers.

They are developing an R package called sparta (Species Presence/Absence R Trends Analyses which I will be using to analyse a combined dataset on ants in Denmark from two natural history museums, a private collection and a citizen science project (The Ant Hunt, of course). I often get asked “How are ants doing? Are they declining like bees?” and this is exactly the question I hope to answer during my stay: Has there been any changes in occupancy of some of Denmarks most common ant species over the past 100/150 years and if so, what is driving these changes.

The BRC has been running since 1964 and provides a focus for the collation, management, dissemination and interpretation of species observations (biological records). As such, they work closely with volunteers and have extensive knowledge on dealing with citizen science datasets. Their 50 year anniversary booklet can be found here.

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