Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So long and thanks for all the thesis: science is a team effort

I submitted my PhD just over a couple of weeks ago (YAY!), have done my final seminar, and now waiting for the examination. It has been a long time in the making, and I am chuffed that I am getting closer to the end of the journey.

Whilst many people say a PhD is something you do alone, in many ways it really is a team effort. Good science is the culmination of many people, many collaborators, and many supporters. Whilst one person may take the lead, there are many people on the front line in the science and behind the scenes that are integral to the outcomes. Contributors to science may include: supervisors and specialists in the field providing advice and direction, funders, industry requiring research, technicians, statisticians, research institution staff, peer reviewers, support and love from friends and family. Everyone who is involved in a researchers life is important in some way. Whether it is a positive (encouragement from someone at a conference) or negative (a harrowing paper review) experience, everyone is important in enabling a robust scientific outcome. And with examination and further peer review of my work, it will only improve more :)

And because my PhD is group effort, there are many people I need to thank. Each of these people helped me in some way, and provided a way for me to discover something new in soil science. Whether it was through patience, guidance, chocolate, fun, statistics, soil chemistry, or a shoulder to cry on, these people really made all the difference in a 'team effort' for research and discovery!

These are the amazing people who helped me along my PhD Journey:


Immense gratitude to my supervisors Ben Macdonald (CSIRO), Richard Greene (ANU), Ian White (ANU), and John Field (ANU), each of whom helped and guided me in a different way.

This project would not have been possible without Barrick (Cowal) Gold Mine and associated research partners. Particular thanks goes out to Garry Pearson, Richard Savage, David McKenzie and Mal Carnegie and The Environmental Review panel for ongoing support, interest and flexibility.

This thesis would have been much less ‘interesting’ without Lorna Fitzsimons. I appreciate all her time, energy, assistance, and most importantly, her support.

My love of statistics has gone from 0 to 100% with the assistance of Emlyn Williams.

Plant Services and Steven Dempsey were not only bemused that plants did actually grow in my soil, they were also amazing with glasshouse access and maintenance.

Critical access to the Southern Cross University laboratories, editing and advice would have never happened without the understanding of Vanessa Wong.

The endless reviewing would not have been possible without Jane Aiken, Andy Scott, Eric Crasswell, Ram Dalal (mid-term review) and anonymous reviewers. Particular thanks to my editing brother-in-law, Fergus Gratton.

There were many supportive academics on my path, but those who stand out the most include: the UWA Team (Andy Fourie and Mark Tibbett) for believing in me, guidance and support; Clive Kirkby for help with microbiology methods; Robin Tennant-Wood; Rob Loch; David Tongway; and anyone who answered my emails and phone calls.

Thank you to Fenner School staff. Malcolm Gill is particularly appreciated for his role as my mentor. Support from Steve Dovers, Geoff Cary, Sue Holzknecht, Janette Lindesay, Suzanne Mendes was most appreciated. Cathy Gray, Piers Bairstow, Di Jackobasch, Kevin Mahoney, Tony Ngudu and Clive Hilliker are simply amazing. Chris McElhinny will always be remembered as an inspiration and mentor.

Chats, never-ending support, morning and afternoon tea, and walks would not have been possible without my fellow PhD friends: Nathan Weber, Zoe Read, Kevin Jeanes, Daniela Carnovale, Eriita Jones, Brenda Moon, Marwan El Hassan, Kiri Whan, Jie-Lian Beh, Baihua Fu, Sarah Goldin, Melissa  Lovell and Carola Kuramotto. I want to say a special thank you to Andi Halliday, Lyndsey Vivian and Helen King who were always there, no matter what.  I am overwhelmed to have met so many amazing people.

Thank you to my patient friends, especially: Ainslee French, Bron Jones, Annie Sanderson, Kim Foster, Andrew Hicks, Ed Wright, Jola Samoc, Cheney Brew, Graham London, Matt Fussell, Greg Leves, Julie Osmond, Jenna Thornton and Shumin Lin.

My lab pain was reduced with thanks to: Andrew Higgins, Alice McRorie, Todd Bertwell, Lachlan James, Jo Seng, Liz Warden, Eddy Collett and Hannah Selmes. Bianca Bauer and Sarah Hill also got to have fun with my soils.

My family have all been incredibly supportive. My wonderful parents-in-law, Lianne and Alastair, have always been enthusiastic and interested. My sister understands this journey more than anyone, and I have valued her support immensely - coffee at The Gods was the best, Alli. A source of calm was from my Mum, who is always good at grounding me. Angus, you always managed to stay positive, accepting and supportive of the whole journey. Thank you.

Of course, there are so many more people out there that supported me in some way. Whether it was Twitter #phdchat-ers, Thesis Whisperer, coffee with Deb, online resources, an email from someone giving me advice... it was all super amazing and essential to get to the end. Thank you, one and all :)

I hope to post my Final PhD seminar on soilduck soon :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Soil Scientist: Adrianna

Meet Adrianna Marchand:  traveller, social ecologist, systems thinker, hole digger, soil maven.

Why soils?  Well, this is a constant invigorated by my passion and wonder for a dynamic, complex habitat that is as resilient as it is fragile, especially in human hands.

How I came to be a soil scientist shares a path with the unconventional and is far more irregular than the unrelenting passion driving my love of regolith.  My soils background is as much scientific as creative, as much practical as philosophical and as much fun as serious.  Soils allow me a window to contemplate the vast and endless bigger picture of landscape complexity and soil science lets me organise my knowledge around this complexity.

Kayaking Kosciuszko National Park         [Photo 169]

I was born in the southern Wyżyna Śląska region of Poland.  Inherit of an extensive French lineage and via England, my family migrated to Australia in 1981 where I entered latter primary school to begin learning English.  Here was an important lesson in life (and soils) - to attune to more than that we depend upon, which in my case was a language that I was lacking.  As a result, I developed greater observational acuity and perceptual contexts.  Where I wasn’t learning to communicate I would spend hours in play.

Where?  In the dirt of course!  Digging through layers, scrutinising plant roots and discovering soil critters was joy.  It was not long before I realised that my childhood well intent, produced less than desirable effects and I was responsible for vacating the lives of a few soil critters by altering their soil environment.  The language was to come of course, and no trace of my heritage exists in my daily tongue, but these experiences were precursor to accommodating a systemic mind for later approach to learning about soils – and the joy never left of course.

Our success as human beings, as mine as a soil scientist, largely depends on an ability to observe and interact with my surroundings and fellow beings.  Cultivating acuity to observe variability is the cornerstone of our conditioning culturally as well as scientifically.  We are in effect programmed well to receive and communicate differences and to create categories.  When I speak about this I speak about that part of my job that allows me to quantify differences and populate these observations on an objective scale - to apply a language about soils at a common scientific platform.  I’m also quite keen to attune to anyone receiving information about soils from me, and the better I get my message across, the stronger the shared soil learning experience.  The latter exposes another motive for why I got into soil science, a challenge of common dialogue.

On our common language:  no unified theory for natural scientific classification exists.  Tension has always teetered between a quantifiable approach to a qualitative system.  Classification is relative, in that it is a product of the human mind and it has been punctuated by changes as recently as in our Australian Classification System and since Linnaeus and Aristotle.  The latter by many archetypes.  Because of my country of birth I will indulge in an example:  chernozem, solod, solonetz, rhendzina used in modern European soil classification originated from archetypal names used by peasant folk over ages in Poland.  Generally speaking, we are now very much in the territory of two different languages and one exists in scientific journals for soil scientists and one in agricultural extension between farmers.  Closing this gap occupies my motivation for both hard soil science and engagement at farm scale.  We’ll always have different lingo but we can do better to intersect the two.

Me with my “Chapple” local designed hydraulic soil corer     [Photo 118]

I’ve been lucky to work with a diverse group of people since being inspired by passionate soils educators spanning university lecturers to farmers.  Recently I started my own soil business, primarily aimed at assisting fellow soil practitioners and industry in a technical capacity in research and investigations and with soil sampling.  I have previously worked in technical roles in State government on part of a state wide (NSW) natural resources monitoring, evaluation and reporting program, on the precursor project to the subsequent development of a soil carbon benchmark matrix for central west NSW, and hydrogeological landscapes projects throughout a number of NSW catchments and local government areas encompassing frameworks for managing salinity and water sources.  Recently I’ve worked with a local Catchment Management Authority on a labile carbon test  and on a federally funded Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Carbon Farming Futures Project sampling soils.  Day to day I provide technical assistance to fellow soil scientists and state government and initiate collaborative projects.  What I greatly enjoy about my job today (is still), the inquisitive pursuit of digging holes.


Besides being out in the paddock, I really enjoy the education and communication aspect of my job. I’m dedicated to the improvement of language about soils and approach to education and effective improvement of soil health and the communities that reside there.   How and why I became a soil scientist and my own approach to soil is tempered by the people that surround me in my continued learning and my epistemological approach.  I am only as good a practitioner as the integrity of my networks, the questions I pose, genuine interconnections I make and of course the fun I can have on the job!

Local country around Cowra, New South Wales, Australia