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/

 

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!

Discovering Voice Training

Imagine being told to make gargoyle faces, to hum using different parts of your body, and to read Doctor Seuss tongue twisters aloud in a big empty room. This was my introduction to voice training.

The class was run by Ms Justene Knight, a Senior Consultant: Organisational Development, Human Resources at the University of South Australia. Standing before us she looked so comfortable and confident in her own body and voice – so it didn’t surprise me to learn that she had previously been an Actor.

We began by trying to pay more attention to our  bodies as we stood there. With two hands on our bellies we practised breathing into our stomachs instead of into our chests (where people normally tend to breathe from). To find tension in our bodies we swung arms, rolled ankles and shook our legs. Justene got us noticing how different subtle postures could shorten our breath. Things like standing on your toes, lifting your shoulders or even curling your toes up can impact how grounded you feel and how your breath comes out.

And try this for an exercise! To help shift your voice from the back of your throat or up in your head – Pinch your nose closed and say,

“Hello, my name is _______ and I do _____________ for work.” 

I bet you sounded pretty funny huh? Now try to do it and sound completely normal! No nasal sounding words at all ( I can get some words but not others).

Another great part was having to read a page from the Doctor Seuss story “Fox in Socks” aloud. We tried emphasising the consonants and then the vowels. We even mouthed the words without sound, and wow – that really makes you notice how much (or how little) your mouth moves when you speak. Apparently Australians are particularly bad at not opening or moving their mouths very much when we speak!

Some other tips Justene had for preparing for a talk or presentation were:

  • If you can, find somewhere private to warm up your body (shoulder rolls/ankle rolls etc.), to warm up your face (scrunch it up and then relax it or mouth the first few lines of your talk), and finally your voice (hum a tune).
  • Take a few slow deep breaths into your belly before you begin to speak.
  • “Acknowledge the room”. Now this was more about taking in the size of the room you’re in. So look at the back wall and take in all the space in the room. This will help you to automatically project your voice to fill the space, instead of only talking to the front row (or your shoes).
  • Too nervous to make eye contact? Look at their ears instead! Most people can’t tell.
  • And if you forget a word or a sentence in your talk, just take a slow breathe and move on. It happens to everyone.

But my favourite part of the class was Justene telling us that feeling nervous or scared is utterly normal and to be expected. No, it isn’t a comfortable feeling by any standards. But that energy can help you give a better, and more interesting presentation.

So thank you Justene Knight for the brilliant class. I never would have through that such simple things like posture, tension in your body, or warming up the muscles in your face could actually change the sound and reach of your voice. And for anyone wondering if they should give voice training a go – yes do!

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!

WOMADelaide 2016 Composting 101 Workshop

This March, I presented a workshop on composting at WOMADelaide 2016. It was a very big day that began early with dropping off all my props and gear, and finished with a rush of adrenaline in the late afternoon as I realised that it was all done. Nothing went wrong – in fact everything had gone right, and it was so much fun!

My workshop host was Deb Tribe, a fantastic presenter from 891 ABC radio. We met face to face only an hour before the workshop was due to start but she put me at ease straight away. Now, I’m used to presenting in front of a PowerPoint presentation. Usually without props, not much movement and no-one else doing any speaking.

This was very different!

The Speakers Corner stage dedicated to this year’s Planet Talks and workshops had so much infrastructure: couches and comfy chairs, trestle tables, side tables and plants all round the edges. When running through the workshop plan with Deb, she suggested we start sitting down and talking, then move over to the trestle table covered in all the composting examples, and finally move back to the couch to finish. And it wasn’t just me talking. This workshop was a conversation between Deb and I. A back and forth, with her asking questions to clarify things I was doing. To top it off we even had 3 volunteers up on stage to help build an example compost heap right then and there. The young boys that jumped up to volunteer all thought the smelly compost ingredients (like manure) were hilarious!

And it went brilliantly. I had a shock the first time I opened my mouth to talk and looking away from Deb realised that the place was full. It felt wonderful being able to read the audience, to watch their faces, bounce off their reactions and really have fun with it. We covered everything we meant to within the hour and even had time for questions – some of them really curious ones. Later on I was told that the workshop had been filmed and projected up onto a big screen up the hill where even more people had been camped out watching us.

I had the absolute best time and can’t wait for my next experience.

WOMADelaide 2016: Composting 101 workshop preparation.

I was recommended as someone who might be interested in running a workshop on compost at this years WOMADelaide festival in Adelaide. When asked I said, “Yeah, sure – why not?” after which I then went home and forgot about it. Two months later I started getting emails from WOMADelaide organisers informing me of fun details that I’d overlooked. Things like: this workshop needs to be interactive, can you write a description of it that we can advertise right now (!), it needs to go for 1 whole hour (!!) and you’ll be presenting on a stage in a tent in front of about 200 people (!!!)…. I could feel my panic levels rising.

So what have I done since then? Well I sat down and thought about how I was going to structure this workshop of mine… (Alright that’s not strictly accurate – first I freaked out and called my Dad, the business trainer, presenter and workshop runner extraordinaire). I explained that the topic was compost but that I had a free rein, except that I had to fill a whole hour. 

He very quickly got me to calm down and think about it. Yes, the time slot was 1 hour but what about time for questions? That would take at about 15 minutes. So really I only had to fill 45 minutes. And then what about introductions and people settling in? That would take at least another 5 minutes at the beginning. I concurred. So my actual time span to fill was only 40 minutes. He then said, “40 minutes? Oh that’s easy. That’s just talking about 4 topics or 4 different things for 10 minutes each. You can do that.”

It was that simple. He helped me to see that no matter how long the timespan of a workshop, presentation or speech is meant to be, all you need to do is break it down into its smaller (and much more manageable) parts.

From there it was just a matter of choosing what topics I wanted to cover in those 4 x 10 minute slots. Then to decide what I wanted to show people, what props to use and how to make it interactive. And then lots, and lots and lots of practise.

The workshop is this Sunday at 5pm. At least my compost is prepared and ready. Wish me luck!

https://www.womadelaide.com.au/program/the-planet-talks

WOMAD compost

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.