Putting the wheels in motion

Phew! It’s been an interesting few weeks and I have learned that one thing a PhD needs is flexibility while at the same time being scientifically rigorous. Science doesn’t usually embrace flexibility, but planning the logistics of a field season require you to be flexible and adaptable. I’ve been walking an interesting line.

Flexible field scheduling

The Great Flood of 2013 changed things out there… a lot. Many back country bridges are washed out and several trails are now blocked by mudslides or have been washed away. Wetlands have formed in once dry areas and water levels are still really high. Not to mention the mosquito breeding ground that has only started to blossom! The damage caused to trails has affected this research in a couple of ways. I had to postpone the field season because many trails, and at first much of the Park, were closed. The basis of my question is around hikers and bears – no hikers, no question, so at first I was waiting to see when the Park would open and which trails would be hike-able. As it turns out, several of the trails that I would have been sampling are still not open and may not be open for the rest of this season, especially in the back country.

Setting up the remote camera on the Benchlands Trail in Canmore to test it out!

Setting up the remote camera on the Benchlands Trail in Canmore to test it out!

So I went back to my Excel spreadsheet and created a new sampling schedule with a start date two weeks later and with a slightly different trails list. No problem. I then went to the Benchlands in Canmore and put up one of my remote cameras to test it out. I started going through my checklists and making sure I had or was ordering all of the field equipment I need (cameras, batteries, SD cards, GPS units…).

Then, I found out my research permit with Parks Canada required some additional information before getting approved. Without a research permit, I can’t do research in the Park. Making the required changes therefore became priority number one last week.  I expected to have to make changes to the permit application before the final approval, so that’s done. I now expect the research permit to be approved in the coming week. Changes made to research permit. Check. Email in updated application to Parks Canada. Check. Sit and wait for research permit approval number. Check. Re-do field schedule with another 2 week delay to the start date. Check.All of these delays to my field season don’t really impact my data. I was planning June and July to be a mini-pilot season to test the remote cameras and the survey anyway. My real data collection will start August 16 and run until mid-October for this year. I basically end up with a shorter pilot time than I wanted, so everything better work out there… I’m sure it will smooth like clockwork! (Fingers crossed).

Mostly these delays have just been a little annoying. I’m tired of pushing a desk. I want to get out into the field and start collecting data. I want to play in the woods. So I have been working on accepting the things I can’t control and trying to keep productive while I wait for the time when I can get out there and start collecting data. It’s ok. It’s a good life lesson!

Finding inspiration in others

My frustration has led to a small decrease in motivation, I won’t lie. Not everyday in PhD land is the most productive day of your life and I’ve accepted that. This weekend though, I found some inspiration in my volunteers (thank you guys)! This past weekend I held a volunteer training session. From a research perspective, volunteer training sessions are required to discuss field safety (those risk averse committees at Universities LOVE these things), and to ensure consistency in data collection (every biologist out there can appreciate that). We spent the morning going over safety in bear country and what provisions are in place through the research project to ensure volunteer safety. After a delicious pot-luck lunch, we got to do the fun stuff and went into the woods to set up some remote cameras and then survey each other. It was great! Other than incurring 100,000 mosquito bites, setting up the remote cameras was fun and the survey testing was also great. A pleasant side-effect of a group training was giving all the volunteer a chance to meet each other and to spend some time building a team.

Testing out remote cameras with the volunteers at the Cave and Basin

Testing out remote cameras with the volunteers at the Cave and Basin

For me, the training session was helpful in getting outside input. I have spend the last few months reading, editing, reading, thinking, and editing my methodology and the survey.  All participants had great input and asked some very thought-provoking questions. Answering those questions was important for me to talk through the decisions I had previously made or consider changing details I hadn’t thought of. It was especially helpful to have some outside perspective on the wording in the survey. Volunteers also provided some great input on some of the logistics regarding equipment and things they needed to make their job easier and more clear. At the end of the day, I felt like I had got some invaluable input to incorporate in the project that will only make it better.

Talking through the research and sharing it with other got me all hyped up again. Seeing the enthusiasm in my volunteering team not only inspired me, but also reminded me why it’s important to involve my local community in this research in the first place. It’s going to be a great summer and I’ve got a great team of people to share it with. Thank you to all the volunteers who attended!

There is still room to volunteer to help deliver the visitor survey. If you want to be part of a great team and meet some great people, email me and let’s get you involved!

Having fun with the volunteers and trying out the gear. It works!!

Having fun with the volunteers and trying out the gear. It works!!

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