Friday, August 15, 2014

State of the Blog (2013-2014)

 A cropped version of Jerusha Lederman's artwork that appeared in ScienceNOW. This artwork was originally commissioned by CRESS for the cover of GRL which accompanied my article on Comet Siding spring. This is the first time my work has ever been given the cover of a publication!

Those of you out there (if indeed anyone is left!) may have noticed the substantial downtick in blogging over the last year or so. Instead of the more typical every other week activity, this space has essentially gone dark with two exceptions. While one of those exceptions, describing how to make a petrographic microscope from easily obtained materials, has proven to be rather popular there is no arguing for a relative lack of published activity in this space.

Largely this is the result of two factors. The first, discussed when I got this job back in 2012 and finished up my first term, is that in some ways I feel a bit more constrained than I once did.

The second and more important is that the fraction of my brain available for dreaming up posting topics has decreased. The most surprising thing to me about being a professor is in how many directions you are simultaneously being pulled. Between applications, collaborations, committee work, teaching, administration and keeping on top of the projects and division of labor between students my thoughts tend more towards the temporal these days. That means that my prime creative hours - on the bus into York and in that time before my colleagues and students arrive at work - are now largely spent putting out fires via email or trying to get ahead of the deluge.

While you may interpret that as unfortunate, it is par for the course in this job, and it does have an upside in terms of spurts of increased productivity. For instance, by using my teaching release this year, I have been able to put together 8 solid months of research-focused work (I joke that for me, summer started in January!). The results speak for themselves - 6 first-author papers submitted so far since the start of the year, with, as of today, three of them either published or in press. Considering that the "typical" guideline output for a planetary scientist is about 2 such papers per year and that my entire career to January totaled 8 first-author papers, I'm very happy with the way the last 8 months have proceeded research-wise.*

There have been other successes too. I executed my first CSA contract for the University and delivered some interesting results about the kinds of cameras one might want for lunar polar exploration. (Sadly, the project for which this deliverable was to be used was later mothballed.) I've also seen my lab grow substantially with the addition of new graduate students from ASU and Memorial and the successful graduation of my first grad student, the newly minted Dr. Francis, of whom I had a 33% supervisory share. We've also had a number of undergraduate students over the summer working on a variety of interesting projects, many of which may grow into papers of their own.

In the lab itself, we've got a new small goniometer set up for UV-transmission experiments which should allow us to do some nice follow up work collaborating with the folks at Western. As well, our cold finger should be delivered any day now which will permit our planetary simulation chamber to start up. This facility should be extremely useful in understanding processes on Mars and, with a little luck, we hope to apply what we learn to the results which will come back from Ceres and Pluto within the next year. Lastly, I'm very excited by the addition to our lab of our first postdoctoral fellow from Queen's University Belfast, starting this fall.

So in general, I've got to say that I'm looking forward to seeing what I'll have to write in my state of the blog post for next year. In the interim, while I can't promise more frequent posting, I'm hopeful that my return to the routine of teaching will help organize my time. This fall I'm teaching two courses at York and it will be my first time teaching something for the second time. I've been warned not to expect any time savings as compared to the first run through and I have decided to make some substantial changes to PHYS 3070: Planets and Planetary Systems** which should keep me busier than usual.

*For those interested in power-rankings amongst researchers my H-value is up three points this year and is now 9.
**In particular a coursepack textbook available from Canadian Scholar's Press

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