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An ecologist, a pedagogist and a statistician went to Kristiansand

There are a number of techniques to gauge your understanding of your own research. One is the renowned elevator pitch – can you communicate the core of your work to a stranger in the time that it takes an elevator to travel between the top and bottom of a building? This is an excellent means of answering the ‘why’ question – why is this interesting or relevant to the stranger sharing the elevator with you? It can be extremely hard to pull yourself out of the fine details and jargon, and place your work into a context that is meaningful for a non-specialist.

But the other and invariably more subtle indication is teaching. This is a true test of your understanding of basic concepts within your research field. It’s a win-win situation for both student and teacher. Last week, a number of pedagogists, statisticians and ecologists travelled to Kristiansand in Southern Norway to produce two films. Despite initial wishes to follow a ‘Game of Thrones’ plot, killing off our characters with savage enthusiasm and the occasional dragon appearance, we settled for a much gentler and more educational story line (or at least for the first episodes). Our goal in these first films is to introduce new biology undergraduates to basic statistical concepts. Both films begin with scenes in which it becomes clear that a greater statistical understanding would be advantageous (is the fish you just caught above or below the average size for that species?). The films then proceed to explain the statistical concept behind the question through a dialogue between a biologist and a wondering student.

 

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A subset of the BioSTATS team (photo: Lucas Jeno)

 

So far we’ve covered averages and variability, and we’re developing the script for our next film on statistical distributions. In the pipeline for next year are plans for films about standard error, t-tests, and Mann-Whitney U-tests. These films are part of the BioSTATS project within the Centre of Excellence in Biology Education at the University of Bergen. BioSTATS is a project designed to help students get a better grip on data handling and statistics, especially in the context of biological studies. The aim is to provide students with useful tutorials, videos and other materials adapted for all study levels from bachelor to doctorate.

The well-equipped studio in Kristiansand

The well-equipped studio in Kristiansand

 

It was a busy but rewarding week in Kristiansand. Using very advanced studio equipment, writing scripts and screen animations, developing clear accompanying datasets and, for some of us, acting, has been a creative experience for all of us. We learned a lot, and we hope the students will, too!

 

Francesca

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Welcome to FunCaB!

This spring, the University of Bergen in Norway advertised two PhD positions within the Ecological and Environmental Research Group. The topic: climate change effects on carbon and biodiversity dynamics in alpine areas. I couldn’t let such an opportunity slip by. However, like most PhD positions, one of the requirements was the completion of a Masters. Despite having another three months of Masters-thesis writing, I decided to apply. I was therefore very surprised to be invited for an interview, and absolutely delighted to be offered the job!

Two months and a Masters thesis later, I moved to Bergen to become one of two PhD students in the ‘FunCaB’ project. Inge Althuizen and I are attempting to disentangle the roles of plant Functional groups (ie. grasses, herbs, mosses) in mediating climate change effects on Carbon and Biodiversity dynamics in alpine ecosystems in western Norway. Alpine areas are important for providing crucial services including biodiversity, water, cultural and recreational services. We have seen that a century of warming has already caused many changes in mountain areas, from shrinking glaciers to shifting plant communities. Mountains are home to a quarter of the world’s population, and more than half rely on mountains directly or indirectly for the resources and services they provide. Climate change is most noticeable in mountains, so they effectively act as an early warning system for the lowlands. It is thus essential to monitor shifts in mountain regions. This project aims to disentangle how shifts in plant communities will affect carbon dynamics and biodiversity, and in turn ecosystem services, in mountain regions in Norway. More project details are available here and here.

Since June we have already completed our first season of fieldwork. This blog will document the progression of the project, with insights into our fieldwork campaigns, publications, and travels. We’ll also write from time to time about interesting topics in the news and academic field, and more generally about life as a PhD student.

 

Francesca