As part of my blog catch up, here’s a much delayed post on my experiences publishing my first paper, earlier this year!
Any one who works in science will tell you that the currency of science, your worth, more so than any qualification, is your scientific publication record. “Publish or perish” they say as you wonder yet again how you’re going to fit in paper writing along side doing your research, finishing your thesis, teaching etc before you run out of money or sanity.
If, like me, you did a 3 year honours and a year taught masters, as is common in the UK, chances are you may only have one (if not no) paper to your name when you start a PhD – usually a reflection of your lack of independent research experience.
I’ve rectified that lack of experience during my PhD. I look back and I can remember when I applied for my PhD and was thinking “how can I write a proposal, I don’t even know enough about oceanography to know what questions I would need to ask?!”. Now the prospect of starting a new project excites me, I have so many questions I could ask, new topics I’m keen to work on. But until recently that much desired moment of seeing my name in print on a scientific paper had eluded me.
I think mainly it’s taken so long due to a lack of confidence in my own subject knowledge. Most of my colleagues had done 2 year research masters in remote sensing/optical fields before coming to their PhD. With my rudimentary knowledge of optics gained from working with ocean colour data products during my masters, I felt a little out of my depth for most of the first year of my PhD. Things picked up in the second year. With my knowledge base growing rapidly, I was asked to contribute to a couple of projects, including some data analysis for a paper and book chapter. With guidance from colleagues I began to see what it took to get your work to a publishable standard. By the end of my second year, despite submitting several pieces as a co-author, I still had not seen my name in print. The concept of trying to apply for postdoc work without a single publication, let alone a first author one was terrifying.
A second delay, I think, came from my research itself. I’ve been developing methods – more specifically, algorithms – to apply to ocean colour data (literally the colour of the ocean, for more info see here). The problem with this is that there’s often an end goal. In my case, I wanted to derive some information on phytoplankton (tiny plant-like organisms which live in the sea) to an acceptable accuracy. It’s not really the same approach as much of science – where you set a question (hypothesis), test it and report what data shows. I’ll freely admit it seems that publishing negative results, the “we don’t know”/”it didn’t work” answers in science is hard and I think in an ideal world this would be easier, if only to save postgraduate research students wasted time! The good news is, the difficulties I had with getting my methods to work, and explaining why in some cases they didn’t, has ultimately improved my understanding of my subject and lead to me finally publishing my first paper!
My approach had initially been to develop some algorithms to look at the size of phytoplankton in South Africa’s coastal waters – the Benguela upwelling region in particular, using ocean colour. Eventually I found myself more involved in a fundamental question: to what extent can we look at cell size using ocean colour data? Encouragement and support from colleagues and my supervisor assured me that this was a worthwhile question and with their help I reworked my research strategy. Combining modelling and in situ data measurements to develop and test our method proved very interesting and has given us a new structure to investigate a whole range of questions about ocean colour.
My paper was submitted to Optics Express; an open access, online publication. The review process was quick, with two reviewers responding with a few weeks of my submission. The first response was encouraging. It contained a lot of constructive criticism, which meant some work for me, particularly on making the figures clearer and simpler – something I had really struggled with. Ultimately this reviewer made it a much better paper, picking up on points I probably couldn’t have, after being so close to the work for so long. It seemed to me that this is how science should work. I felt they’d paid attention, engaged with the work as a concept and offered well thought through comments and words of encouragement. I don’t know who they are, but I’m grateful to them for not only for helping improve my work but also for providing an example of the type of reviewer I want to be. The second reviewer…well, luckily I had a glass of wine in my hand when I read their comments, and a supervisor who tends to read his emails at night to calm my mild panic! After re-reading the second review the next day I realised that this reviewer seemed to have misunderstood the paper and so I set about a) making my findings and their importance abundantly clear in the manuscript and b) carefully refuting their broad comments with all the knowledge I had. Rather than feeling downtrodden, as I might have expected given my previous lack of confidence, I was determined.
By the end of the review process, when my response and the paper were accepted, I felt something I’d not really felt at all in the PhD process – pride in my work. Meanwhile, two more co-authored papers and a book chapter have been accepted and I’ve got one more paper submitted and two in progress. I feel like an actual scientist now and it’s nice. It was particularly fortuitous that his happened in January as I began the final push to finalise and submit my thesis.
Some things I’ve learnt from this and will carry forward:
- Thinking about publications as an end goal. Whilst I can look back now and be happy that I got to freely follow ideas and develop knowledge during my PhD, in future I want to balance this curiosity with asking questions that should be more easily turned into publications.
– Co-authors: Very few people publish papers on their own. I think choosing co-authors well can make life much easier. I’m lucky to have an awesome supervisor and a couple of close colleagues who have collaborated on this and now other papers too.
– Reviewers are people too. I don’t know who reviewed my paper and why they responded the way they did, for better or worse. I do know that I put in a lot of work and thought a lot about my research before I submitted my paper. I think knowing when comments are constructive and should cause concern, and when comments are unnecessary/biased/wrong or even cruel etc isn’t easy and I imagine many young scientists like me will take negative or critical comments to heart. With this in mind, I intend to a) not take any comments too personally without assessing their context and b) make sure when I review papers that I provide constructive feedback without unnecessarily negative and cruel commentary.
As I mentioned, my paper is open access so anyone can read it and it’s available online here.
I also found this great piece on being a good reviewer, which I will definitely be when I get the chance to be on the other side of peer review.
What have your experiences of the peer review process been? Please feel free to comment below :)
I start too many blog posts with an apology for delayed posts, so I won’t this time. I’ve handed in my PhD thesis! Four years of hard work has resulted in a 216 page document, printed and off to the examiners (and a monster party, but more on that later!)
Until my results arrive, I’m taking some time to do some of the other things I enjoy doing, including writing this blog. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few updates on what I’ve been up to over the last 6 months, including publishing my first paper (and a few others), dealing with programming problems, finishing my thesis (and celebrating with an awesome canapé party) and coordinating a schools science programme.
On Saturday I got a well deserved break from science to overindulge my foodie whims after I was invited to the launch of the Societi Bistro “Tour through Italy”. I have big love for Societi and it’s sister restaurant, The Brasserie mainly because of their executive chef, Stéfan Marais, who you may remember from my recent post on some sustainable seafood events I’d attended. Stef is a long term supporter of WWF SASSI, an initiative close to my heart as a marine scientist. He is also passionate about free range meats and supporting local producers, so all round is a bit of a winner. And he’s not half bad behind the stove too!
The Tour through Italy has been running for a number of years now and consists of 10 special 3 course menus over 10 weeks, with each taking inspiration from a different region of Italy. It’s been a long held ambition of mine to take a food inspired road trip through Italy and as that particular pilgrimage is unlikely to happen in the near future, saturdays launch was a perfect stop gap.
We got to try a dish from each of the menus, paired with a local but Italian inspired wine, which has been picked to compliment the menu each week. We also got a lovely goodie bag, which was filled with gifts as the afternoon progressed; including wine, all the ingredients for Spaghetti alla Puttanesca and some great vouchers for discounts on Richard Bosman charcuterie and wine tasting at Spice Route – a place I’ve been keen to try for a while.
First up was Cape Fish (for the launch – green listed tuna) with caponata. This was one of our favourite dishes and will feature on the Region 1 Sicilia menu. It was served with Terro del Capo Pinot Grigio, which we loved and also got to take a bottle home. Other highlights from the menus, which will come over the next ten weeks included Cozze alla Tarantina (mussels with tomato, white wine, garlic and chilli – Region 3 Puglia), with a flat roof manor Pinot Grigio and Tiramisu, with De Grendel Pinot Gris (Region 10 – Veneto & Fruili, Venezia Guilia).
I was excited to see one of my favourite recent vineyard finds represented on the Tour through Italy menus. The Idiom Collection first impressed me during a brief stop at Peregrine farmstall, where a taster of their zinfandel is a very clear rosemary scented memory. We chatted extensively to them at Taste of Cape Town, and left with a Barbera, Zinfandel and SMV blend for our collection. Idiom are the wine of choice for weeks 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Tour and on Saturday the zinfandel was paired beautifully with a spaghetti all’ aglio olio e peperoncino (a delightfully simple pasta with olive oil, chilli and garlic – Region 5 Molise, Abruzzo and Marche) and the sangiovese accompanied a Bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak with lemon – Region 8 Tuscany and Liguria), braaied there and then with Stef as braai master.
I was also delighted to learn that Idiom have some great value blends, the Rosso di Stellenbosch was particularly good and was paired with a stunning charcuterie selection courtesy of Richard Bosman (Region 7 Emilia – Romagna). The Steenberg Nebbiolo was another wine highlight although I was too full by this point (I blame the Bistecca) to indulge in the Chocolate and Hazelnut gelato it was paired with (Region 9 North West Italy).
We’re hoping to go to Societi later this week for the Sicilia menu (available from Wednesday) and I’m particularly keen to try the Salami di Fichi gelato (fig, almond and walnut ‘salami’ crumbled in to gelato) from region 5. You can check out all the menus for the next 10 weeks here. Thanks to all at Societi and the event sponsors for a delicious afternoon.
This year has been a pretty tough one so far. I’ve had my first paper accepted (and endured the peer review process for the first time – more on that later) and written 4 of my 7 thesis chapters. I’ve also converted my satellite data processing code to run on a high performance computing system. This might not mean much to those of you not working in that kind of research…but imagine trying to translate an English A Level maths text book in to French when you don’t know French, and only knowing if you’ve done a good job when some French kids you’ve never met pass an A Level exam. That’s kinda how it feels.
It’s been a stressful few months, but I’m starting to have better days where I can see things coming together and get a few twinges of pride looking at my now quite substantial thesis document. And as of today 10 years of satellite data are being processed to provide entirely new data for marine scientists interested in the Benguela – I’m pretty stoked about that :)
So last night I managed to get back in the kitchen, inspired to respond to a call from one of my favourite organisations – WWF SASSI to share some favourite sustainable seafood recipes. We’ve been joined by a new Italian housemate this year; she’s cooked some amazing Italian recipes and bought me a beautiful book on Italian cuisine. Drawing on flavours from a few of my favourite Italian dishes – Panzanella, caponata, bruschetta and stuffed peppers, I created this little dish.
Polenta dusted calamari with a warm pepper salad
For 2 quite large portions…
For the calamari:
250g calamari (I used rings, but tubes and steaks will probably work fine too)
1/2 cup (125g) of flour
1/2 cup (125g) of polenta
Salt and lots of pepper (you can add a dash of cayenne if you like spice)
Frying oil of choice for shallow frying
For the warm salad:
8 tbsp of precooked rice (good for using up the leftovers)
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 bell peppers or 4-6 smaller peppers (we are getting beautiful little peppers at spar at the moment)
Half a lemon
A handful of basil
A handful of parsley
2 tbsp of capers (some green olives would be delicious too)
A little olive oil for cooking with (save the good stuff for dressing)
To serve: balsamic drizzle and some good extra virgin olive oil
First prepare your warm salad. Cut your peppers in half/in to pieces – it’s really just a matter of presentation. Arrange on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in a hot oven (around 180 degrees celsius) for 20 mins or so until soft and slightly charred at the edges.
In a frying pan, soften the onions and garlic and add the rice. Add the tomatoes to soften slightly. Leave aside and move on to the calamari.
Make sure your calamari pieces are at room temperature, pat dry/drain to remove any excess liquid. Beat the egg and coat the calamari, making sure to drain any excess liquid again, else you will end up with clumps of coating. Mix the flour, polenta and seasoning in a bowl and toss the calamari in this mix to coat. Frying in hot oil for 4-5 mins until crispy. Drain to remove any excess oil.
Briefly reheat your frying pan with the rice mix and add the juice of half a lemon, capers/olives and chopped herbs (you want to keep these flavours fresh and not cook them too much). Arrange the roasted peppers and rice mix on a plate, top with the calamari rings. Finally, add a drizzle of balsamic and extra virgin olive oil to serve.
This would be great with a chenin blanc or lightly wooded chardonnay…though we had it with our favourite everyday craft beer – Bostons Whale Tale ale.
Nothing makes me happier than when my two great loves of marine science and food come together. Ok maybe wine, wine makes me pretty happy too! So I was understandably very excited to be invited to the recent WWF Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) trailblazer awards at Harbour House, with wine supplied by Biodiversity and Wine Initiative partners.
I’ve been a long time supporter of SASSI, because of my love of the sea and of great sustainable food. Support for SASSI has lead to me explaining the dire state of our global fisheries resources and how to make more sustainable choices in the desert, at local markets and even on stage! As a result of this great initiative, I’ve made a commitment to only cook with green listed seafood – the most sustainable choice that you can make (made easy thanks to a lot of research from SASSI).
I don’t find this a particularly hard promise to keep, after all there are many great options available here in SA, and they fit really well in with my student budget. But I’m not trying to please the global market that visits Cape Town every time I step in to the kitchen. Now in their second year, the SASSI trailblazer awards were initiated to celebrate chefs who make the same promise I have; to only use green listed fish, and to champion sourcing and consumption of sustainable seafood by suppliers and customers alike.
This year a bunch of new chefs have been added to the trailblazer ranks, joining some of my favourite chefs and restaurants in what I would consider a must list for restaurants to visit in Cape Town. This years trail blazers are:
- Christiaan Campbell (Delaire Graff Estate Restaurant, Stellenbosch)
– Gregory Czarnecki (The Restaurant at Waterkloof, Somerset West)
– Franck Dangereux (The Food Barn, Noordhoek)
– Geoffrey Murray (Conrad Pezula Resort, Knysna)
– Christo Pretorius (Twelve Apostles Hotel, Cape Town)
– Ryan Shell (Haute Cabriere Restaurant, Franschhoek)
– Leigh Trout (Birds, Cape Town)
– Kobus van der Merwe (Oep ve Koep Kitchen, Paternoster)
The evening was great fun, with delicious food, amazing wine (my favourite Hamilton-Russell Chardonnay was a feature!) and many opportunities for networking. I caught up with some food blogger friends and discussed everything from rockets to school water quality projects with adventurer Ray Chaplin. All in all a fantastic evening and I would like to send a big thank you to WWF SASSI and everyone involved for the invite, I will definitely be visiting some of the trailblazers soon!
The trailblazer awards were followed this week by another opportunity to learn about cooking sustainable seafood at the annual Taste of Cape Town event. This year my good friend and SASSI manager, Janine Basson (you may remember her from my Women in Science feature) teamed up with one of last years trailblazer chefs Stefan Marais in the Pick n Pay Chef’s theatre. Stef is the chef at one of my favourite restaurants, The Brasserie and at Cape Town favourite, Societi Bistro. For Taste, he cooked up a delicious yellowtail fishcake with thai flavours, whilst Janine shared the SASSI message with a full audience. The fish cakes were delicious, and I particularly liked the use of papaya in a salad to accompany the fish. Stef had some great tips for the audience – use chunky bits of yellowtail to get the most flavour in your fish cakes and use local olive oil, you’ll get the best flavour and value for money! I will definitely be trying Stefs fishcake recipe for myself.
For more information on SASSI and their seafood lists (red, orange and green like a robot – it couldn’t be simpler) check out their website, SMS the name of a fish (0794998795) or download their app (available for android, blackberry and iOS)!
For great ideas on cooking with sustainable fish, check out these great recipes by local chefs, or have a look through my “Plenty more fish in the sea” tag here.
I’m currently in the UK having been awarded a fellowship grant to do some collaborative research at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. I’ll be in the UK for three months, so I have plenty of time to find some foodie gems!
Tanners was probably my first fine dining experience. My family hosted a beautiful celebration there for my 21st birthday and the Tanner brothers are now frequent features on food programmes in the UK. My mum decided to randomly book us in to attend their first Winemaker dinner last week and I was more than happy to make the journey from Southampton to Plymouth for the occasion.
The winemaker in question was Matt Thompson of Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Living in South Africa, I’ve had relatively minimal exposure to New Zealand wines, with the exception of a few Pinot Noirs and Bens insistence that even he could enjoy a Chardonnay from NZ. Coincidentally though I had tried the Pioneers Block Pinot Noir from St Clair a few weeks ago, in Oxford. At the time I’d found it really lovely, though a little underwhelming, possibly as we’d just given all our attention to a bottle of the Chard Farm Pinot Noir without any food distraction. Anyway, I’ve mostly been in to white wine lately (blame the stunning South African summers), particularly Sauvignon Blanc, which our local Constantia wine region is famous for. As a Sauv. Blanc fan I’ve obviously heard about the success of this varietal in Marlborough, so I was excited to try St Clairs and compare with my South African experiences.
Each course (of 7) was paired with a different wine from St Clair. We started off with a glass of the 2011 Omaka Reserve Chardonnay in the courtyard. I should mention that Tanners is located in the gorgeous, grade 1 listed, Prysten House (built around 1490) on Plymouths Barbican – a suitably glamourous setting.
Paired with the Chardonnay was a selection of canapés including a squid ragout, fishcake with parsley mayonnaise and a cauliflower and cucumber shot. These little nibbles paired fantastically with the Chardonnay, which is definitely another of my favourite varietals. Flavours were a mix of the classical citrus, oakey and butterscotch flavours, though I found this wine less buttery than I would typically go for in a chard, nonetheless – delicious…I had two glasses, which I would later come to regret somewhat as our glasses were generously filled all evening!
With James Tanner in the kitchen and Matt giving us a fantastic introduction to each wine, it was shaping up to be a wonderful evening. The second course was to be paired with the first of two Sauvignon Blancs, the 2011 Pioneer Block 18 ‘Snap Block’. With great excitement I took my first overly enthusiastic sniff of this wine and was met with a massive smack of passion fruit. I’ve never had a wine that smelt anything like this one. I’m usually averse to tropical fruit flavours in Sauvignons, preferring the crisp, green flavour often found in the cool climate Constantia Sauvignons that are my usual go to summer wine. So naturally I was a little apprehensive that, despite the amazing scent, I wouldn’t like this wine. I was totally wrong, though the passion fruit flavours continued in to the taste, there was none of the cloying sweetness I would usually associated with these tropical type Sauvignons. The wine had a wonderful acidity, with plenty of those green notes I love. This complimented our second dish of seared scallop, asparagus and lemon really well. Mum found the flavours a little contradictory – the sourness of the lemon vs the sweeter fruit flavours of the wine, but I really liked it, thinking the flavours of the dish were balanced by those of the wine. Matt was more than happy to take questions, so I felt I had to ask why, despite similar climate, the flavour and perfume of this wine were so different to those of Constantia. Matt explained that there is a lot of variation in geology throughout the farm and this may be responsible for these differences and indeed, the differences with our third wine…
The Wairau Reserve is made with grapes from a combination of vineyards, in contrast to the single vineyard ‘Snap Block’. This wine represents the best of each years Sauvignon Blanc harvest. It was more subtle than the previous wine, with the salty and chalky soils imparting less fruit and more fresh green flavours. I think this wine and the food paired with it were possibly my favourite course of the evening. I’ve never eaten bone marrow before, but crumbled over the top of a whipped goats cheese and complemented by sweet peas, made for a spectacularly simple yet incredible dish.
By now mum and I were well on the way to the far side of sobriety, and you can tell from my little notes made in the great little tasting book we were given with the meal. Next up, was a Pinot Gris Rose (2012), which I have to say is not my favourite varietal/style. However when paired with a line caught bass, with tomatoes, wild fennel pollen and creme fraiche, the pear/strawberry and creamy flavours of the wine really came out. Not a wine I would have on it’s own, but very pleasant with the food. The fish was cooked perfectly, I don’t normally eat fish skin, but this was so crispy and, with the pollen, really, really delicious.
Our fifth course was paired with the 2011 Block 14 ‘Doctors Creek’ Pinot Noir, which I had tried in Oxford a few weeks previous. To be honest, this tasted like a totally different wine this time! Much richer and powerful flavours than I remembered. Asking the Maitre d’, they had allowed this wine to breathe for several hours – which may have been our mistake before and something I will definitely bear in mind in future. The wine stood up really well to the rich rump of lamb and sweetbreads served with broad beans, turnips and pearl barley. This was a really classic dish, with lovely ingredients – particularly the delicious sweetbreads, though I did not like the dark sauce/puree it was served with, which was a little bitter.
A big plate of cheese arrived next, with such variety that mum and I in our slightly(!) tipsy state continually forgot which ones were which! The cheeses were mostly from around Devon and Cornwall and the soft Sharpham Elmhirst, Sharpham brie and nutty Haytor proved favourites with us. A second Pinot Noir accompanied the cheese – the Omaka Reserve 2009. Matt suggested this wine was a little young and could do with a few more years, I would agree, although delicious, it didn’t thrill me as much as the previous Pinot Noir.
Dessert was a very pretty little dish with Yuzu curd and sorbet, compressed mango and coconut meringue – paired with the Awatere Valley Reserve Noble Riesling 2009. The meringues were fantastic – the addition of the coconut was lovely and they were perfectly cooked – chewy in the middle. However neither mum or I liked the Yuzu which was quite sour/bitter – though this was tempered by both the sweet mango/meringue and the sweet wine. I struggle with dessert wines, I actually prefer to have them with savoury foods (at christmas we made chicken liver pate and pork belly and mincemeat chutney pies to go with our Vin de Constance), so perhaps I’m not best to judge this wine. I liked the flavours of honey and orange peel, but I think I would need to taste it again and give it some proper attention to get the best out of it.
A coffee, some cute petit fours and a pic with James Tanner ended our evening. On the whole I think this sort of event is great – it’s always good to be able to chat to people about wine, especially if you are fairly new to it all (like me) and can ask (perhaps dumb) questions. I’d highly recommend booking in if Tanners does another event like this.