A refreshing end

Today marked the first day of a couple of weeks of more intense teaching. This means a lot of time on Zoom, and way too little time in the greenhouse or wherever I can escape my computer screen.

I started the day in style with an 8AM meeting from my home fofice, in which our student tutors informed us about the results of their mid-semester survey of student moods. For me, this survey was not so well-timed. I have just finished three weeks of lecturing in ecology in landscape planning, and the coming four weeks are meant to work on an ecological optimization of their previously made landscape plan. The timing of the survey (last week) was not ideal for positive results. Most students had not started working on their ecological planning, or given it much thought. Obviously, a common remark was that it was not fully clear yet what had to be done. That only made sense, because they were about to find out…

This was obvious – at least to me – because I continued my day at 9AM with a scheduled Zoom session with all the students, in which I discussed with them what they would have to do in the coming weeks. I am pretty sure that it was quite clear after this session what had to be done. Nevertheless, individual group sessions will follow to provide more specific feedback on group progress.

At 10AM, I had my next Zoom session, with two students I supervise on a small project in which they had to collect their own data related to artificial light at night. An interesting project, because one of the students is in China, and collected data there, while the other student is present here. I was worried that this long-distance supervision would be tricky and difficult, but I am very impressed with what these two students have done so far, and how they have treated and analyzed their data. The Zoom session took almost 1.5 hour, but considering the progress, my state of mind was still great.

At 11.30 I quickly grabbed an early lunch at home, put my son to bed, had a quick cup of coffee with my wife, and then had to race to the university to make it in time for a series of Zoom meetings between 1-3PM, this time with a subset of the groups I supervise for the landscape planning project described above. All groups of today made good progress, and it seemed to me that they all understood rather well what they were doing and in which direction they were taking their projects.

At 3PM, I was pretty overzoomed and overwhelmed. I went against my own advice and took a double espresso, to make things worse. Then I started a round of feedback on a manuscript methods section. For this I had to delve deep into my own archives, as I had performed a certain analysis for this project, but could not remember the exact details. Note to self – and maybe to others: Make a habit out of annotating R scripts so that you understand your thought patterns at the time of analysis. (I do this usually, but also too often forget it.) You might not be able to completely follow what you were thinking at the time of the analysis if you want to repeat or understand it a few months (or years) later. Annotating is – of course – annoying as fuck, but it will save you time in the long run and will improve the quality and reproducibility of your work. It’s a necessary evil. After 2.5 hours of digging through R scripts and email conversations I traced back my work and managed to reproduce the results exactly. A sigh of relief!

At 5PM it was time to go home. As if the day wasn’t overwhelming enough, of course the weather disagreed with my judgment, and pushed me to hang in there and work for half an hour more. A huge thunderstorm rolled in which included the heaviest downpours I have seen in a long time (they reminded me of heavy mid-day thunderstorms that caught us by surprise in the Mekong Delta in Laos in 2013). When after thirty minutes the rain only continued to get worse, I just decided not to give a damn. What’s the worst that could happen? I put my phone in a plastic bag and cycled (conquered?) 900 meters to home. I might as well have taken a cold shower with my clothes on. Even though you can hardly expect it with about six hours of Zoom calls in one day – at least the day had a refreshing ending.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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