Wednesday 4 December 2013

PhD preparations in full swing

A way too spiky Polacanthus, with no sacral shield to boot.
I mean, we've known the dinosaur had one since 1881. Get a grip!

With less than a month to go before I start my Phd in earnest I am organising myself for the coming years of research. I already have a reasonable system of filing and directory structure that I've adapted from the methods I use in my day job as a motion graphics designer and 3D animator. I am used to handling large amounts of data (projects can run into hundreds of gigs for a large animation) and lots of footage is generated which means I need to keep track of exactly which versions I'm working on at any one point, and this has the potential to become very confusing if not careful. As I will be working on 3D data this system can be readily adapted to research, and I can use a similar system for writing and research.

Being self-funded also presents many challenges and I will have to choose activities such as visits to collections and meetings very carefully, and plan well ahead. Funding is going to be tight, and I could have called this blog 'Doing a PhD on a shoestring' as every penny will have to be watched and accounted for. This is not as bad as it sounds, as funding for the first couple of years is in place much of the software I use to earn a living shall be used in the course of research. The real issue will be affording hardware, and for the time being Im going to have to make do with what Ive got.

Part-time study needs to be reconciled with the day job and by necessity will be subordinate to paying work. I have no grants and no sponsorship and so need to keep working; l will be looking into both of these funding resources though, although part of me feels perhaps grants would be better off going to young researchers. I don't have the luxury of a permanent office in my institution and I will be studying from home most of the time although Im set up for this already (my institution, the University of Southampton is actually 200 miles away from where I live).

Even though I am working and studying at the same time I can turn this to my advantage. I will be creating a crossover between work and research which means I shall use the skills developed in either, in both. As much if my day job involves scientific visualisation I will be able to communicate more clearly with my customers as a consequence of being immersed in scientific method. Clients will appreciate having an artist that is also a scientist working for them, helping them to communicate.

Conversely, the years I have spent working in the cut and thrust of the commercial world should hold me in good stead when doing research. The work ethic is a given; I routinely work on high-pressure projects with tight deadlines and for very long hours in extensive stretches, so the volume of work isn't intimidating (yet). More important are the skills I have acquired using complex software for scientific visualisation and animation, and these will be put to good use and expanded upon in my research. Also, I will be looking at how some of the methodologies of the commercial world might be used in science outreach, for instance when assessing how the best delivery systems for 3D meshes and other data, including the re-use of data and assets generated during research and making the presentation of this data engaging whilst retaining scientific integrity. These will be part of the palaeontology outreach solutions I will be working on.

Another step closer to the mountain.