Project Launch!

After almost two years of planning, I am utterly excited to introduce you all to the Edible Gardens project!disc_edible-gardens-logo-small

Many people across Australia grow some of their own food. In fact in South Australia, 59% of households do so (Wise, 2014). As most of us now live in urban areas, this food production is taking place in cities, towns and suburbs. Urban agriculture is any form of urban food production from growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, to even keeping urban livestock such as chickens, fish or bees

Have you ever wondered how much food your garden actually produces each year? Or how much water, time and money went into producing that food? The Edible Gardens project wants to find out.

The project is currently open to all South Australian home, community and school gardeners. Feel free to share this with anyone you know living in South Australia who produces urban food.

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“Preparation” is the word

The first step was to take stock. According to the University of South Australia I have four years to design my research, collect sufficient data, analyse it, write it all up and then publish / present / submit a thesis.

So boy did I make plans. I started with:

  • A four year budget with price ranges
  • A Gantt Chart timeline complete with contingencies
  • Drafts for every step of the project, estimating and imaging as best I could what each of those steps would entail. This way, even though I may not look at some of those drafts again for another six months – by the time that particular step came along I already had an idea of what I needed to do
  • Draft promotional posters with various taglines to suit different types of gardeners
  • A list of what participants would get from taking part in this project
  • Another list on what the value of this project was for different interested parties, e.g. local Councils or the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board

Even with all this preparation I have still experienced delays and mishaps amounting to approximately 6-8 months. Happily, I’ve been told that this is considered both standard and reasonable for most PhD projects.

Yet there is still the unexpected…

There were two things I underestimated at the beginning of my PhD. The first was the reciprocal nature of citizen science. The Edible Gardens project is supported by the Discovery Circle – an Australian citizen science initiative working to better connect people with nature. Citizen science involves opening a project to contribution by interested public. Some projects open their entire process from design, data collection, analysis and reporting. A more typical approach is engaging people in the data collection phase of the research. The data collected and all the results are usually freely available to the public.

This meant my project had to be engaging and interactive enough to keep people’s interest. It needed a whole web interface for registering gardens, searching through the list of participating gardens, entering data, viewing results and a way to compare the results of different participants.

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The second underestimation was the sheer amount of work, time and talking I would have to do to promote the project. We designed postcards (easy to distribute, display and take home), clever Facebook posts, guest blog posts and numerous versions of short blurbs. I’ve visited community centres, Council offices, libraries, community gardens, gardening groups, markets and events. Sometimes I feel like a tv with only one channel.

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Chatting to Stephen at the Seed Freedom Food Festival. Photo by the talented David Cann.

Why it’s worth it

Since making the project open to the public (about 3 weeks ago) we have had 140 survey responses from all around Metropolitan Adelaide and from some gardeners as far away as Mount Gambier, the Yorke Peninsula and Port Lincoln.

Of these 140 people, 95 of them have volunteered to collect data on their own gardens and 73 of them are keen to attend a focus group on the social value of growing your own food. I love response rates like this.

Now it’s back to work – to infinity and beyond!


If you’re interested in finding out more about the Edible Gardens project visit the webpage at: http://www.discoverycircle.org.au/projects/edible-gardens/

 

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Award Nomination?!

It turns out that not only does WordPress make blogging pretty simple, but also that the WordPress blogging community are pretty damn supportive.

Amazingly enough people are reading, liking and even following a science communication blog – THIS science communication blog to be exact.

Thanks Jonny from sci.casual  and The Biology Yak for nominating me!

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The rules attached to this award are that you have to:

  • Show the award on your blog
  • Thank the person that nominated you
  • Share 7 different facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 blogs of your choice
  • Link your nominees and let them know of your nomination

So here a little about about me:

  1. I do “real” science too. I have a Bachelor of Sustainable Environments, an Honours degree in Environmental Science and am currently working through a PhD in Environmental Science… can you see a trend?
  2. My current research is all about urban food production (urban agriculture). I’m actually about to launch the Edible Gardens project (more on this soon) where people can sign up to collect data on their own gardens! The project will investigate both the social value and the productive capability of urban food gardens.
  3. “Quiero aprender Espanol” – I want to learn spanish. Or several languages, that would be cool too. Duolingo has been helping.
  4. I love art and at various times can be found painting, drawing, embroidering, sewing, planting things in patterns and collecting (artistic) junk.
  5. I was a complete daydreamer, reader and tree climber as a kid…. not a lot has really changed – I just tend to pack waaaay more into my days.
  6. I want to help change the world. For this I blame my parents, who always told me that I could and would… funny how it seemed like such a simple easy idea as a kid!
  7. Living on Mars would be incredible. But I also know I would miss some pretty important things – like feeling wind, and rain, and being able to go outside when ever I want without having to put on a big ole’ spacesuit.

The next trick is to nominate 15 other blogs for this award. I think I follow at least 15 blogs… ah well here are my favourites:

Emily, Stephanie, Anna and guests (@wildlifesnpits) If you’re interested in seeing some amazing wildlife photos, in addition to reading great posts on conservation, communication and new research then this is a blog for you.

Yanhao and Harvey (@thenexusscience) – just reading their About page made me laugh. They write about some very cool and complicated (made not complicated) topics.

Heather (@heatherstuffnthings) – besides having a brilliant post about how you (yes you) can better keep up to date with science communication research, she also writes about public understanding and the impacts of public perception.

Dr Kirsty MacLeod (@kjmacleod) – She has a photo of herself with a Meerkat on her head (Do I really need to convince you anymore?). Read all about her fieldwork, research travels, publications and (@realscientists) connections.

Matt Shipman (@sciencecommunicationbreakdown) – Matt writes both about the science of science communication, and the practice of science communication. I greatly appreciate the distinction.

Meandering Matt (@bordersandbackpacks) – thanks Matt for letting me vicariously travel through your posts! Brilliant photos, stories and reviews.

The South African Young Academy of Science (@SAYASblog) – They have a collective page for the most recent posts from winners of their 2016 contest to find the best PhD bloggers in South Africa. Read away!

Natalie (@butwhy) – I love the idea of questioning everything. “Why?” is the simplest and most powerful question out there. (Don’t worry Natalie I know you’ve already been nominated for this!)

Matteo (@matteofarinella) – Here is a wonderful comic journal with some of the best illustrations. I wish all science infographics could look like these amazing images.

So thanks to everyone who follows/reads/occasionally likes this blog – it is a wonderful feeling to try to contribute to a topic and know that someone is listening.

Cheers! – Georgia the Urban Ag. Scientist

P.S Both my grandmothers in the featured image thank you too.

Confronting the 3 Minute Thesis

I finally sat down after the first School of NBE round of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) and thought, “Well I tried but I don’t think I’m getting through.”

This was because I have never been so overwhelmingly nervous during a presentation ever before in my life. At one point I even remember thinking, “If I just lie down right here on the ground… will everyone just go away and leave me alone?”

So thank goodness I did better than I thought I did.

The 3MT was developed by the University of Queensland and has been running since 2008. It’s a deceptively simple concept:

Can you take your 4 (or 5 or 6 or even 7 years!) of PhD research and explain it to a non-expert audience in under 3 minutes? Oh and you’re only allowed one slide behind you, with no moving parts or sounds. Sounds like a reasonable challenge yes?

In that first school round I came second (which I was not expecting at all).

Three weeks later in the Division round, the presentations were part of an all day Division Information Day. This means it was held in a large sunken lecture room with more than 100 academics coming and going throughout the day.

Again I was very nervous. But thank goodness I was still slightly less nervous than the last time. I tried to set myself up to succeed by leaving the room about three presentations before my own, and using some of the warm ups and voice exercises I learnt in voice training. By the time I returned to the lecture hall – it was time for me to present.

As I was slightly calmer I was able to use my hands to gesture more, I was able to smile more and even move around a little. However I still stumbled on some words and when trying to move on to the next part or my talk.

The others who were also presenting did mostly really well. Everyone stayed within the three minute mark. Some had brilliant voice projection, and some were a little hard to hear in this large padded room. Most of them moved around while they spoke, and used hand gestures to great effect.

What I took away from this was that not only should you practice a lot, but you really should try to practice in front of as many people as you can muster. With only three minutes to present, you don’t have any time to relax into your talk once you get going. You need to start already relaxed.

For anyone interested in watching the 3MT Final Round for the University of South Australia, it’s on Wednesday the 17th of August from 10-12 at the City West Campus. Good luck to all the presenters!


And does has anyone had a similar experience with the 3MT? Or do you have any ideas or suggestions for how to begin a talk calm, instead of having to calm down during your talk? Let me know!

A WISE Event: All the Career Possibilities

One brisk Monday night, a large roomful of women gathered in the silver mirrored SAHMRI building to hear from three amazing women / successful scientists who have trodden a wide range of career pathways and ended up in jobs very different to those they first imagined.

The first speaker was Dr Kate Gridley, now a Research Coordinator in the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Check out Dr Gridley’s homepage at – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kate.Gridley

Dr Gridley started with showing us the difference between her assumed career path once she had finished studying, to the path she actually took – winding in and out of different positions.

The jump from hands on PhD research, to a more administerial position required a serious effort in translation. Mostly, the translation of all the skills Dr Gridley had honed during her PhD to be shown as applicable and valuable skills for non-research work. She spoke of learning to, “sell myself as an asset…” and, “remaining open to any options”.

Dr Gridley finished with asking us, the audience, to think more about our future career and to practice selling ourselves and our skills as transferable to any position.

Next we heard from Dr Kristin Alford, currently the Director of the Science Creativity Education (Sci. C. Ed.) Studio and part of the University of South Australia. The Sci.C.Ed. Studio is set to open in 2018 and will have a mixture of permanent and seasonal exhibits. To learn more about Sci.C.Ed check out their information page –  http://www.unisa.edu.au/science-creativity-education/

Dr Alford started off by comparing her current descriptive title of “A Futurist” with her incredibly technical PhD in Engineering Processes in QLD. The story of her career described incredible leaps from one position and field to the next, assisted by favourable impressions made on past colleagues, bosses and mentors. Dr Alford leapt into the field of science communication by becoming an advocate, communicator and educator for new nano-technology. She has also, until recently, been the licensee for TEDX Adelaide.

Dr Alford’s parting words were to never underestimate the value of your peers and that we should try to take every opportunity that comes our way, because… “how hard could it be?”

The final speaker for the night was Dr Ixchel Brennan, now a partner of Corporate Engagement and Development for UniSA Ventures at the University of South Australia. Follow the link to read her home page – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Ixchel.Brennan

She too began her education and career under very different circumstances. Dr Brennan completed a PhD in appetite and gut function and finished with the full success of many papers published, many conferences presented at, and plenty of career options. But although there were strong expectations for her to continue into an academic career, she felt this wasn’t for her.

Dr Brennan emphasised the importance of learning how to package your skills for varying contexts and careers. She spoke of the need to be able to effectively communicate your differentiated skill set, and that a PhD is so much more than just your research focus. It is also an intense crash course in all project management, communication and creative problem solving skills, so don’t sell yourself short.

Her final advice was to, “Resist the option of knowing what your dream job is”, as she had seen others do – because you never know what jobs will come along, or even what jobs will exist in the future.

From her own experiences, Dr Brennan told us some of the lessons she had learnt along the way:

  • Seek a mentor not form an academic position (they will give you a different perspective).
  • You do not always need to say “Yes” and your job doesn’t define who you are.
  • Be willing to work with people and in roles that push you outside your comfort zone. This is where you learn the most about yourself – what you’re good at and what you could improve.
  • Have confidence in your skills and your contribution.
  • Say “Thank you” and say it often.
  • Emotion does not equal weakness.
  • and finally, that “Authenticity will always shine through”.

It was a wonderful WISE event and I was so glad I attended. It was a relief to hear that these undeniably successful women had been through so many changes, upsets, choices and career transitions. I can’t speak for the other women who attended, but I for one am feeling much more hopeful and less stressed about where I might end up career-wise, after my PhD experience.


Thanks to all the event organisers, SAHMRI, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and Flinders University, and a particular thank you to the speakers – you were inspiring!

I recently completed my Confirmation of Candidature presentation.

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This is a presentation of your research proposal to a panel of academic markers (and hopefully some other interested people) to see whether they also think that your idea is realistic, rigorous and interesting. If all your markers pass you, you become an official PhD student – safe for the rest of your 3.5 years of research.

I was feeling both nervous and confident. Nervous because I was presenting to a panel of academic markers who would judge whether my research proposal was good enough to continue. I was also nervous as I wanted this presentation to contribute to my reputation as someone who is not only good at presenting, but also downright enjoys it. Due to this I had invited more people than strictly necessary to make a bit of a fun event about it.

I was confident for a few reasons. Firstly because I was presenting on a topic I knew – my own research. I also made sure that I knew all the requirements of the presentation: the time limit, and length of question time, all the aspects I had to cover (background, aim and objectives, methods and analysis).

I had practised a lot. I knew my slides, all the transitions and animations. I had my speech on palm cards even though I didn’t think I would need them. I had practised with the slide clicker and had presented twice to my supervisors to get their opinions and advice. You can practise in front of anyone, friends, family or peers.

I also went to an effort to make the experience a comfortable one. I got to the room first and set up my slideshow, turned on only some lights so the slides could be seen, and put on some soft friendly music. This way, when people starting coming in they didn’t stand around awkwardly. Instead they relaxed and chatted to others there until it was time to begin.

So how did it go? Really really well. I kept to time, didn’t need my palm cards and was marked highly. I get to continue as an official PhD student of UniSA and study the topic of my own choosing: urban agriculture.