Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Watch

I thought it said in every tick:
I am so sick, so sick, so sick;
O Death, come quick, come quick, come quick.
-The Watch, by Frances Cornford.
 Time is ticking. By October 2016, my three years will be up. By February 2017, my visa and stipend will run out. I can sustain myself with part-time work if my stipend runs out, but to renew my visa I need to prove that I have money in the bank. Which I will not.

The last months of a PhD student's study can be hell, and it's usually harder for international students than it is for locals. Firstly, you have to take what data and results you have (usually a lot less than you were expecting), analyse it and write it up before going through cycle after cycle of edits and criticism. Secondly, your stipend runs out and you are expected to live off feral pigeons and non-toxic packaging material. You also have to pay university fees. Thirdly, you have to contemplate your extremely uncertain future (being qualified no longer means you will get a good job). Fourthly, you will be leaving your life and friends behind soon. Fifthly, you face deportation if your visa runs out before you're finished.

Nobody really tells you this when you're starting your PhD, but it doesn't take long to work it out.

I have every intention of finishing my thesis by October 2016. I'm also applying to become a resident, because I like New Zealand a lot and I'd love to secure a postdoc here (an unrealistic goal, but one worth shooting at). I love doing my PhD and haven't yet run into the exhausting stress that I am told will come. If this project was set to run for twenty years, I'd be so happy, and I'd probably want it to run for another twenty years after that because there is so much left to find out. But I only have till next year. I'm going to re-evaluate my timetable for the next 11 months so that I can fit everything in. This is what I have left to do:

  • Data collection
    • I recently got more funding (thanks to the Brian Mason Trust), so can do one more massive pitfall trapping effort in the winter to collect more males. They will be useful for my DNA versus morphology in species delimitation research. I also have four males from Quail Island to sequence.
    • I must visit Otago Museum to look at their extensive Cantuaria collection, and compare morphology with the specimens that I have collected.
    • Investigating ArcGIS layers to add more data about where Cantuaria populations are found.
  • Data analysis
    • I'm still fiddling with BEAST to get decent trees, but it's getting much easier.
    • I've started using SPLITSTREE to make phylogenetic networks and see whether there's any hybridisation going on.
    • Applying a molecular clock.
    • I haven't yet looked at GenGIS to start phylogeography research.
    • Generalised linear mixed model in R to analyse habitat selection data.
    • Delimit and describe species.
  • Writing
    • I need to get up to date with all my chapters!
    • When I have done all of the above, I can finish writing it up.
    • Then I need to send it to my friends to edit out stupid mistakes.
    • Then I need to send it to my supervisors to edit out mistakes.
    • Then it gets read by my assessors.
There are other important things that I need to be getting on with, too; I am also looking for (and nurturing) postdoc opportunities, and training falconers and falcons so that I can make some money and New Zealanders can learn the difference between a falcon (endangered) and a harrier hawk (not endangered in the slightest). I want people to care a bit more about the wildlife in this country, rather than just appear to care about it.

At some point, I also want to write a book on BEAST for beginners, written in English rather than computer language, but if you're reading this and want to steal my idea, please do - just make sure it's written for beginners and not people with a degree in advanced computer physics or whatever. I believe in a future world where first-year PhD students can understand what they are doing when they plug numbers into BEAST, and not be told "Of course you are getting a misconbobulated flatuole constant. You forgot to destatify the gayn trigger" or other such stuff which makes no sense to those of us with a biology background.

So I have a fair bit to do, which won't realistically get started in earnest before January. But I'll do what I can until then!

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