Friday, November 26, 2010

Half baked paper

Its done. I pressed the email send button containing a half baked paper to my supervisor. I decided it was better to send something than nothing at all. The date was here and I failed to reach a completed paper. I have a special friend (also a Mum PhD student) who inspired me to just hand in whatever I've done. Its great to have mates in similar situations, or should I say crazy enough to attempt a PhD whilst raising three very young kids. So now I'm drinking a beer whilst the kids are swimming with the hubby looking forward to socialising for the whole entire weekend.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Source: PhD Comics

I'm ment to be handing in a draft paper at the end of this week to my supervisor. Geez it woud be great to hit the due date. Its close yet still so far. Evil statistics I'll blame, then again maybe its just procrastination.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sling shot inventions

I peeped out the front door to see what all the laughter was at 8:25am yesterday. The boys had created a dog-tug-o-war using ochie straps, tyre tubes, ropes, a stick and the front gate. Luckily they warned Isaac to stand back before they set off the sling-shot. Hmmm better to not look really. So I kept making lunches then peeked again. This time the sling-shot device had been converted to a pulley system to haul the metal scooter up the basketball ring. Such team work, impressive knots and simple science. Our tally of no broken bones or stitches somehow stayed intact. Two boys caught the school bus and Isaac made it to preschool.

I struggled with study procrastination yesterday. My mate from CSIRO suggested productive procrastination where you avoid what you don’t want to do and work on fun stuff. It worked a treat. I checked out erosion photos for my paper which really brought the whole enthusiasm back. The full day of study was stolen by school transition for Isaac. It got me thinking about converting to full-time study next year. Isaac reckons he’s catching the school bus on his first day of school next year. The third child is so independent, or does that really mean stubborn ; )   Stubbornness, the key to finishing this PhD.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PhD Family Leave

It’s like hitting a brick wall. All I want is to not be paid over the Christmas school holidays for eight weeks so I can care for my kids adequately.  I need to use the annual four weeks recreation leave for a break from the PhD entirely, not to care for kids. I don't choose to take this break at Christmas. Successful time management to complete a PhD involves taking recreation leave to avoid burnout. But as a parent I’m expected to use annual leave for childcare over school holidays. How does four weeks divide into the eleven-twelve weeks holidays over the school term?

Liam, Kai and Sol at Evans Head

I’d like to reduce my work load over the holidays so I don't get the mother guilt of failing to juggle both home and work. I'll still be studying where possible as I want to finish this PhD. I am not paid enough to put three kids in care so I can study. I get the odd chance to cram in some study when family or friends look after them during school holidays. I can't rely on this kind gesture so really I can't work to full capacity on the PhD over school holidays. Isn't it simple, take leave.

Taking leave means I have no access to the library. As I'm writing up the thesis I'm constantly using the library for journals etc. But no, they want us to take leave and actually leave the thesis behind. Just like I mother 24/7, I study 24/7 and I can’t leave it behind. I don't want to take 10 years to finish this study. My supervisor and the post graduate supervisor were understanding of the issue and at the last review were going to follow it up. Hopefully they can topple the brick wall, but don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile as I ring around the postgraduate centre and the library the answer continues to be “you would be on leave so there is no access to the library or insurance cover for field work”.

In the past during Christmas holidays I’ve luckily had numerous productive sessions on the PhD when family has looked after the kids. Not the same productiveness as during term time but at least a step forward. So I relaxed and accepted the four weeks annual leave will cover the pitfall in time. As I often did field work during this time I kept the PhD clock ticking to be safe and covered. But now I’m not doing field work, I’m writing up and would like to stop the clock to prevent the associated guilt of failing to do both well. I want to parent well and do the PhD a little to keep it progressing over the school holidays. Is it really too hard to create a leave that stops the pay and the clock but not the library access.

I believe the mean age of Australian PhD students is 34*. You can safely assume many of these students will become parents. Let’s look after our kids and the sanity of the parents by creating a study/work family friendly university.
* Becoming Doctor Mum

Friday, November 12, 2010

Producing our own food

One of our commitments to the sustainability program was to produce our own food. Naturally this meant just some of our food. We get eggs from our chooks (chickens for those none Australian’s), grow vegetables and fruit. We also avoid a lot of processed food in favour of home cooking. This partially came about from Liam reacting to colours, flavours and additives but also because home cooked food tastes better.  

Meet our fabulous feathery friends the chooks. They lay gorgeous eggs and create great compost for the garden. I love the sounds they make and the entertainment they give the kids. Did you know a chook can jump on the trampoline? I’m at war with them when they dig up the strawberry patch or poo on my washing. Generally they earn their keep in our quest to produce our own food. Sol built the pen from second hand materials obtained from Coasties shed at Corrimal. Eggs mean omelettes, pavlova, lemon meringue pie, ice-cream, soufflĂ© and so much more. We just need some pigs to create the bacon Yum Yum

Vege Garden
We tried to grow vegies with limited success. There was too much shade so we moved into the neighbour’s yard. They have eight large garden beds in lovely sunshine that they can no longer walk to. We now have spinach, lettuce, broccoli and lots of seasonal vegies. The weeds do take over but in-between we find our food. The snails seem to score much of our produce but we just wash them off or feed them to the chooks. Parsley is now a weed which is great for casseroles, seasoning and tabouli. Gardening is great exercise and the kids love being outside climbing trees or helping us plant. Of course we need to ban the Wii to get them outside…

Heirloom Tomatoes
The local deer ate our first vege crop which was so sad. Thanks to a home-made floppy fence they are leaving us in peace now. What was very sad was our lovely neighbour gave us his heirloom tomato seeds he had been growing for about 40 years. He brought them out with him from England but recently became too ill to grow them. Alas the deer ate all the seedlings and we didn’t save any of the seeds. I felt terrible, a huge failure.

Fruit trees
We planted a lime tree as part of the challenge. Yumbo kaffir lime leaves for thai curries. We also planted an orange tree but it has suffered with the deer. Now the fence is up there is growth on the tree. Hopefully it will fruit in the future. The banana tree has given us no fruit yet but the lemon tree is a winner.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Green Challenge

For those who knew Sol and I as kids we have always been green. We even studied environmental geography at uni. But truthfully along came our own kids and we got lazy. It's so much easier to open up a packet than to walk into the vege garden and pick some lovely fresh vegetable,  or is it easier...

Just over two years ago we joined the Illawarra Sustainable Challenge committing to

1) Producing our own food
2) Educating our kids and the neighbourhood
3) Creating a wonderful backyard habitat for natives 

Over the next week I'll blog about how we went in the one year challenge and beyond

Back in 2008 in the challenge application I wrote
"The garden needs conversion to natives and the creation of an edible patch without the deer and local wildlife taking over. We recently tried raising chickens for compost and eggs but all six disappeared over the weekend. Our chook pen needs better fencing. We have just one car, walk to work and the kids catch the bus to school. We generally use the push mower to maintain our lawns."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bushfire CRC

Tomorrow I’m off to Sydney to present at the Stakeholder Council for the Bushfire CRC

I’ve been asked to give a short talk about what the CRC did for me as a student, the benefits of being a student with them and to reflect on my time as a student.

Where to begin…

Background for none CRC people
The Bushfire CRC’s mission is to enhance the management of the bushfire risk to the community in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner. Initially in 2003 they were funded through the Australian Government’s CRC combined with substantial partner resources. An extension has been acquired to 2013 to address the key issues raised by recent major fires. Back when I applied in 2004 the CRC advertised research opportunities for students hoping to produce the next generation of fire researchers.

So here’s the current draft of my brief talk

My PhD topic is about the effect of fire on sediment movement in the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia.

For a moment I might rewind you back in time a bit.

My old nickname given to me by the RFS (Rural Fire Service) was the 18 year old with a degree. At the time I was in my 20’s and working for NSW National Parks as a fire technical officer.  I was great with a computer especially GIS, average with a rakehoe and in RFS terms young in experience, especially when it came to ICS planning roles. National Parks would hold fire manager workshops where scientist would come along and teach us the latest greatest stuff. I’d sit there and wonder why they wouldn’t give me a yes/no answer that was needed for policy development, rather they would provide a wishy washy answer with lots of limitations. I was lucky to be invited to Project Vesta as a visiting research scientist which was an exceptional view into fire science.

10 years later married with two kids and three interstate moves the Bushfire CRC provided the inspiration to start a PhD. I’d always wanted to understand how and what the researchers were on about so I applied. First I obtained the APA to secure funding then the Bushfire CRC offered project support of $15,000.  Later they also proved a top-up for one year. As I’m mostly part-time top-ups are not available to students. So I come for a bargain price of $25,000 plus conference expenses. In return I have provided six years of my attention to the topic of erosion post-fire.

I was gutted the CRC would not give me a top-up as I was pregnant and intended to study part-time. I knew full well that I could not study a PhD fulltime, nurture an embryo, give birth, raise three kids, support my hubby and keep a functioning home. I honestly thought the CRC scholarship could be as flexible as the Commonwealth Government APA. I was wrong. I found this info out too late. I was already 8 months into my part-time PhD and committed. So I cried for three days, kissed $30,000 goodbye and went the road of a poor student. My hard feelings towards to CRC have softened as their support has been wonderful.

The real benefit of being a student with the CRC was the conferences and the other students. OK access to researchers and end-users was also helpful. At the conferences we would talk and chat, share stories as to how well (or not) the PhDs were going. We’d watch each other present and help each other out. We learnt how fire science is such a broad topic and learnt about different approaches to research. We would hear the gossip about stakeholders and the power of the media. We had access to courses and support from staff within the CRC.

I’ve attended and presented at three international conferences all in different disciplines. Access to numerous disciplines has been essential due to my multidisciplinary approach to the topic I’m studying.  Obtaining access to managed land such as SA Water was easier being associated with the Bushfire CRC. Companies such as Maptek were happy to trial their laser scanners and funding bodies were supportive for new ideas. After the recent major fires Melbourne Water sought information and invited me to present online to an audience of over 60 people regarding managing water quality post wildfire. The CRC was a stepping stone to additional opportunities.  

The Bushfire CRC has worked hard at promoting our work via conference posters, fire notes and a dedicated web site to each student.  Numerous fire managers from different states in Australia approached me at conference regarding information in my posters. They wanted more info and more research to be done. A buzz for me this year was the Darwin conference. The crocodiles were a novelty but what really stood out was a chat I had with an end-user contact. It led to an invite to attend a workshop for the Burnt Area Assessment Team in Canberra. The buzz was seeing the usefulness of my studies and staff appreciating my involvement. We need more research done on erosion post-fire.

In contrast without the Bushfire CRC it would have been an isolating experience studying fire research. I’m sure my outcomes are greatly enhanced by the CRC involvement and support. I’m looking forward to the old nickname changing from an 18 year old with a degree to the Mum with a PhD or better still the fire manager with an understanding of both research and management.

I have five minutes to say all that above. I’ll remove the red writing about the short straw being a Mum studying a PhD. I’d love to say it but it’s not really the right forum. At least I’ve written it somewhere now.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MS Sydney to the Gong

She is someone's MUM
She is someone's WIFE
She is someone's SISTER
She is someone's Friend
She has MS
Three times as many women have MS
The average age of diagnosis is 30
There is no known cause or cure

Last night lying in bed wondering if my legs would peddle over 90km to finish the MS bike ride I read about MS and discovered the above information.

As a kid I read for the MS read-a-thon. My own kids have participated in MS read-a-thon. No one I know has MS so I've really never though much about the actual condition.

Last night I thought about
I am someone's MUM
I am someone's WIFE
I am someone's SISTER
I am someone's Friend

I am woman and I'm in my 30's

This thought process made me connect a bit more with the disease.  I'm glad to help in a little way by riding. I wished I raised more money, where is that money tree when you need it. If you have some spare cash send it their way

Today I have sore legs, a bit of sunburn and some great memories. The ride is worth the effort and fun.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Isaac as a skeleton at the Keiraville playgroup twilight BBQ
Today I handed over the Keirville playgroup coordinator role at the AGM. Its been fun but its time to move on. Little Isaac starts SCHOOL next year so we won't be at playgroup for much longer. Its been great to share stories with other parents of vomit, sleepness nights, poo etc . Only a bunch of parents could really partake in such a conversation whilst drinking tea and eating gorgeous homemade morning tea. Made some great friends on the way.  A part of me is sad to be finishing, but there is also a part of me thats looking forward to a bit more free time to work on this monster PhD.

Kai and Liam wearing their gorgeous playgroup craft from St Helens in Adelaide

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Melbourne Cup

Its Melbourne Cup today and I had no idea. I'm buried in Rowena's world not knowing what's happening outside. Pre kids I was workng with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on cup day. We were based up in Townsville just 2606km away from the horse race. What fun the day was. Typical North Queenslanders embrace any excuse for a party. We wore hats and bet on fake horses pulled by rubber bands. Great day. We then moved away to Adelaide. Whilst working with South Australia Marine Planning the day was ruined by a boss claiming it was cruel to animals. So on to Wollongong post having three kids I've managed to  incorporate Melbourne Cup into craft at playgroup. Initiate the kids into betting early : ) Move forward to today and I didn't even realise it was on. I dream of dressing in a frock, drinking champagne with my Mummy friends eating prawns, chicken and salad giggling away. Maybe next year...


Monday, November 1, 2010

Ant mounds

I'm working on the intro for my prescribed burn paper and came across some work written by Cerda and Doerr (in press) The effect of ant mounds on overland flow and soil erodibility following a wildfire in eastern Spain. Ecohydrology

I have a soft spot for this topic due to my honours research. A severe fire occurred in the Blue Mountains back in 1994. At that stage I was studying “what is a beach” for my honours in Geomorphology. I loved surfing and really wanted to move into coastal geomorphology. After riding through and seeing the post fire lunar landscape my topic preference changed. At the time I lived in the Blue Mountains and decided to swap topics due to the fire being right on my doorstep. 

Cut a long story short the ant mounds were causing havoc with my study site stirring up the sediment and increasing the amount of erosion occurring. A staff member suggested I put petrol down the hole to fix the problem.  Luckily I ignored that suggestion and chose to separate the measurements to work out how much sediment the ants were adding. It was all done on a budget of $120. Prices were cheap as I was a crazy, enthusiastic student who could travel anywhere on a mountain bike. This was in the days prior to students using the internet for researching.

It was a fascinating project resulting in numerous publications thanks to my supervisor with a gift for writing. What has been intriguing is watching how science develops from a new idea. It has been a buzz watching the scientific community grab the research and run with it. According to ISI Web the paper now has 14 citations not including the new publication in press by Cerda and Doerr. I’ve created a graph showing the citation growth. I’m trying to master graphing in the latest version of excel. It’s so different to my old Office 2003 version. As for this graph will it keep going up or level out in the future?

Ant mounds at the sediment trap located at Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains


Cerda and Doerr (in press) The effect of ant mounds on overland flow and soil erodibility following a wildfire in eastern Spain. Ecohydrology

Dragovich D, Morris R (2002) Fire intensity, slopewash and bio-transfer of sediment in eucalypt forest, Australia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 27, 1309-1319

Morris R (1994) Soil erosion in the post-fire landscape. Honours, 89pp
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