Wet season snails sorted…. now for the ‘to do’ list

Around the same time last year, I celebrated the completion of the counting and identification of my Christmas Island land snail dry season collection with writing a blog (and probably a beer) and, you guessed it, I’ve just finished sorting my wet season collection. If you’ll recall, a few month ago I presented some trends in the data from the majority of sites but now it’s all done! With these data in the computer, it’s no longer time for ‘preliminary results’ but rather Results, as well as making significant movements on the manuscript for this work.

I surveyed 28 sites from the Christmas Island plateau forest (7 replicates of 4 treatments), using a total of 112 timed quadrat searches for arboreal snails and 224 0.06m2 litter quadrats for terrestrial snails. I collected a total of 15,131 individual snail representing 21 species. Three common species made up 81% of total individuals, the exotic terrestrials Georissa sp.and G. williamsi and the native arboreal Japonia walaceii. No species were absent from the sites that were recorded during the dry season collection however, one extra species was recorded, the exotic Bradybaena similaris.


Where the magic happens #1: My lab desk. This is where I have sat and looked down a microscope on and off for the last few months as I’ve made my way through identifying and counting my land snail collections

‘To do’ List

In a philosophical sense, one can complete a PhD as fast or slow as one feels. In another, more accurate, financial sense, one has three and a half to four years to complete a PhD! Therefore, it is very important these days not only to be writing as you go but actually publishing (or at least submitting manuscripts) as you go so that you can put that thesis together in a timely manner. Gone are the days where you can spend 3 years collecting data without even beginning to think about analysis or writing.


Where the magic happens #2: My office desk. As you can see this work-space is a clean and organised location where I can smash out manuscript after manuscript.

I have recently ticked past my 18 month point and, due to my hand injury, have already extended my time somewhat by becoming a part-time student. If (as I plan to) go back to full time enrolment when I head back to Christmas Island for another wet season, I would have extended my scholarship to October 2014 which will almost account for 4 years since my commencement date. When I told some fellow grad-students around the department of my plans to go part-time the response was almost uniformly, “That’s a great idea, I wish I had of done that.” There will inevitably be chunks of time in anyone’s PhD that ends up being useless due to following some line of research that doesn’t work out (or the like), and having a period of part-time enrolment somewhere in the middle of your project really mitigates that  impact. However, a university will not just drop you down to a part-time student without reason and for as much as I’m promoting it, due to my injury I completely lost the time I am gaining from my altered enrollment.

One of the reasons students may find it so difficult to complete a PhD is the absence of hard deadlines. Unlike undergrad and honours years where failure to complete a task by a due date was met with severe penalties, the many years of a PhD are driven my ‘self-imposed’ deadlines with no real ramifications if they are not achieved. I question whether even the most disciplined student that set’s a due date for a piece of work would self-impose any sort of punishment for failure to achieve? It is with that in mind that I once again create some deadlines for myself and entrust the avid reader of this blog to hold me to them. The various aspects of my research currently high on the ‘to-do’ list are as follows:

  • Leptospermum manuscript(s): For almost 12 months now I’ve been sitting on a manuscript for my honours research due to one author not committing the time to properly review it. I also have data from a seedbank experiment as part of this work that is not a great piece of research on its own but could be written as a short note in Ecological Management and Restoration as its focus is on recolonisation potential from the seedbank  following management action. Time allocated for: 2 weeks
  • Frontiers Concept manuscript: Since starting this PhD Pete and I have been discussing and formulating the ideas for a review paper defining the concept of secondary invasion. Over the last weeks a descent plan has been formulated and I have spent heaps of time discussing the aspects of the concept with other members of the department. Papers have been read so really the last hurdle is to begin drafting properly. For writing a proper first draft and subsequent editing, time allocated: 10 weeks
  • Christmas Island time: From this Thursday I’ll be on Christmas Island for a couple of weeks to catch out on a few things I didn’t finish last trip. Time allocated: 3 weeks
  • Data analysis: Following the Christmas Island trip I would have a data required to write a manuscript about the characteristics of the land snail community in response to the ant-scale mutualism and can complete statistical analysis. Time allocated: 5 weeks
  • Snail response manuscript: Following data analysis I will be able to complete the writing of the manuscript related to that line of research. Depending on focus (general responses of the community vs invasive species specific responses) it will we drafted for submission in Biological Invasions or a more general ecological journal along the lines of Austral Ecology. Time allocated: 5 weeks
  • ESA presentation: I have submitted an abstract and am planning to present aspects of this research at the Ecological Society of Australia annual conference in December this year. I need to put together a 12 minute talk for the conference. Time allocated: 1 week

These are my plans prior to going back to Christmas Island following the ESA conference (most likely departing on Thursday 13 December). By estimation, I have allocated 26 weeks of work to complete in just 15 weeks. All these aspects of my research will be running concurrently and therefore this workload will probably not be unachievable. I should definitely aim to have various manuscripts completed by the end of October to allow time for co-authors to edit prior to December starting and everyone going on holidays. In that case, I suggest the self-imposed deadlines of:

  • Friday, 28 September: Leptospermum manuscript(s) (for submission)
  • Friday, 26 October: Frontiers manuscript (First draft)
  • Friday, 23 November: Snails pattern of invasion manuscript (First draft – mostly complete)
  • Friday, 30 November: ESA presentation

But as mentioned above, will I really adhere to my self-imposed deadlines or is this whole post just another procrastination distracting me from actually completing these works??



2 responses to “Wet season snails sorted…. now for the ‘to do’ list

  1. That is a nice list you have going there Luke. I wish I had of made one early in my PhD. I think that by telling the world (me and a handful of friends and researchers) that you have such deadlines is a great strategy. Good luck with it. Let’s see if you can be one of the first to buck the PhD duration trend and get this thing submitted in <4 years..

  2. Good luck Luke, I might forward your blog to some of my students to focus their minds. I can see you forging a new career as an inspirational role model for organised, focused PhD students everywhere ! Best wishes Ian

    PS. The day you get your Leptospermum paper published is the day I’ll start citing it. Get it out!

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