It’s very clearly autumn now at Silwood. The leaves may not have all changed colours yet, but it’s increasingly cool, blustery and wet outside. I am very much a summer person, so am never thrilled by the approach of colder weather. This year though, the change of the seasons has meant a huge alteration in my work schedule. Until the end of September I was doing field work nearly every day – collecting data on soil moisture, CO2 flux, vegetation composition and much more. On the rare days I wasn’t in the field, I was in the lab processing soil samples to look at nutrient levels, invertebrates and microbial communities. This sort of data collection ended in September, so since the start of October I’ve mostly been sitting in front of a computer, entering and analysing data.
It’s great to be able to start thinking about the results of all the effort I put in over the summer, but it has been a tough transition back to office work. I’m sure anyone who has done field work will recognise the symptoms. First, there is relief that a long, challenging field season has ended – finally you can relax a little, no more early mornings, no more standing in a field in the rain, and even the opportunity for a day off! However, after the relief passes, the monotony begins. It took the better part of three weeks just to enter the data I collected into spreadsheets. I’ve now got to try to remember the statistical methods I learned back in February and have barely considered since.
There’s also the strange feeling of sitting still for a whole day. At first I found it very hard to concentrate, my body expecting much more physical activity, and a plethora of distractions available. When you’re in the field or lab, you’re too focused on the work at hand to worry about who said what on facebook, whether there would be cake at coffee time, or anything else for that matter. Now, the whole of the internet is in front of me and it takes a lot of effort not to compulsively check the BBC news website, follow arguments about GM crops on twitter, or indeed spend all afternoon tweaking my new blog.
For all of that though, this really is the exciting part of research. The field work is the fun bit (yes, even when it rains and you’re stressed about whether you’ll be able to get all the data you need), but the analysis is when you actually get to see if anything interesting has come from all of your hard work. With a fair amount of help, I’ve just finished analysing a set of data that will be the foundation for one chapter of my thesis and, hopefully, a paper as well. There’s still a lot more analysis to go even for that one chapter, but it’s an great feeling nonetheless.
As the mornings get darker and the nights draw in, I’ll be found huddled over my computer attempting to extract meaning from sheets of numbers. Sometimes it will be tedious, frequently it will be frustrating, but hopefully the thought of finding something exciting will pull me through until spring.