Review of the year 2016 and outlook for 2017

2016 was the first year of my post-doctoral studies at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, at Lund University. Although there wasn’t a big change from my PhD studies in terms of work environment, the format of my work changed. Instead of having 4 years to do a project, I had one year to write the papers I wanted to write, AND to apply for funding for the coming years. The structure that I had when doing my PhD, with a work plan to be handed in every year and regular supervising meetings was all gone, and now I was completely in charge of the structure. In the beginning of the year, I asked myself how much can really be accomplished in a year. Especially since I was working 75% of full time. And yes, I know it’s difficult and some would say naive to try to stick to a percentage when you, as a post doc, are really just trying to improve your CV, but I have a life beyond academia and I needed those 25% for that.

So, what can be done in a year, working at 75%, i.e. 4 days per week?

To start off, I received Alfortska Priset (an award) for my PhD thesis, distributed by the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography (SSAG). This was really encouraging and helped cure a bit of my impostor syndrome (that was saying “it passed, but it wasn’t much more than that”). Although not a 2016 accomplishment, definitely a highlight!

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Best Physical Geography Dissertation in 2016 – how about that?

I have been working on three scientific articles during 2016. Actually four, but one of them was a remnant of my PhD and just needed to get accepted for publication, but the other three were the main work I did for 2016. Two of them were started late 2015/early 2016 (depending on what definition you use), and the third was actually started several years ago (the kind of paper that is not really any of the author’s top priority, that gets worked on when there’s time). These are the working titles of the articles (if anyone is curious):

  1. Differences in resource management affects drought vulnerability across the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey
  2. How conflict affects land use: Agricultural activity in areas seized by the Islamic State
  3. The future of food in conflict geographies: agricultural and rural development in Iraqi Kurdistan, manuscript

Paper 1 has been conditionally accepted by a (good) journal, so currently we are revising it according to reviewers input (which is a whole lot of work). Paper 2 is submitted and under review. This is probably the most hot topic I’ve ever worked on, and some similar studies have already been published. Paper 3 is the slow going paper that is a result of my field work in 2013. It has some really interesting results, but it’s looking at agriculture from several different (disciplinary) perspectives, and is therefore quite difficult to synthesize. It’s ALMOST done, just need a little more polishing… But all in all I’m happy about having almost three papers done in a year (compare it with 4 years to write 4 papers for your PhD). Also, I published an article about virtual water and food security in the Middle East and beyond on YourMiddleEast.com.

I have also been part of three research grant applications:

  1. International Post Doc from the Swedish Research Council (3 years)
  2. Project Grant for Development Research
  3. Theme application from the Pufendorf Institute at Lund University (8 months)

None of them was really successful in the sense of getting the grant, but for the Theme application we were awarded with a small grant for a study group on environmental issues in post-conflict societies. My international post doc grant got rejected but the overall feedback was positive, so I will give it another shot in 2017. The development research grant was also an interesting project, but the grant was probably for more “experienced” researchers. I haven’t gotten any feedback on that yet, but I think our interdisciplinary topic was maybe not in line with the grant’s theme. Applying for grants is hard, especially when your projects have multiple disciplines and therefore don’t really fit into the traditional disciplinary grant calls, and they can’t really compete with those methodologically advanced ones either.

My post doc position included a bit of teaching also, so I’ve given some lectures and seminars on the environment in the Middle East. Teaching, when you have good time to prepare, is always useful for me because it helps me formulate the ideas I work with in a comprehensive way. I’ve also presented my work at a workshop in Berlin in May, and at a public seminar at the Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait in December. I’ll try to write a post about my visit to Kuwait later on.

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Ad for the Kuwait Environmental Protection Society at the airport (Photo cred: Spyros Sofos)

A very rewarding but time consuming activity of fall 2016 was my participation in the Open Networked Learning course which is an online course for teachers who wants to learn about learning using digital tools. I highly recommend it, it was a great experience and I learned a lot that will be useful beyond my teaching. For that course we were required to start a blog, which unfortunately took so much of my blogging time that I couldn’t keep this one up. But have a look at http://onlgeography.wordpress.com/ and tell me if you like it! I might keep blogging about teaching related ideas over there.

For 2017 my goals are:

  • To get the remaining three papers published
  • To attend a conference on “Crisis and Conflict in the Agrarian World: An Evolving Dialectic” in Paris and write a paper for the conference proceedings
  • To write a paper on drought and how it’s defined and portrayed in the context of conflict, present it at a conference and get it published
  • To apply again for International Post Doc and for an Advanced Study Group
  • Give several popular science talks about climate and conflict in South Sweden
  • To blog about interesting research on population and environment in the Middle East

When I look at this list it looks very short, but I know it will expand and that one point will become seven, so I’m not worried about having too little to do. Better to set a smaller goal and do it really well rather than writing a long list and not being able to go through with it.

Happy New Research Year!

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Also Kuwait

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2 thoughts on “Review of the year 2016 and outlook for 2017

  1. Well done you, both for the post and for last year’s achievements! Having seen you through the ONL course I’m glad to hear you’re saving 25% for something beyond working life – if you’re opting for sustainability in your life situation this is a good idea. A bit curious what you do – any chance we’ll swop secret hobbies anytime soon😉? Wish you all the best for the new year!

    • Thanks Lotta! I really think it’s important to have something other than work to do, and to let people know that it’s possible 🙂 Many academics only talk about how much they worked over the weekend and in the evenings, and I find that unhealthy because it makes me stressed and thinking “perhaps I’m not doing enough”. And what is enough anyway?

      I have a 8 year old horse (icelandic) so I try to spend time with him. I’ve taken that interest to a new level of nerdy so now I’m studying ethology (animal behavior) at 25% pace online from Linköpings Universitet in order to become a better horse/animal person. It’s a lot of fun 🙂 I think we briefly talked about this during PBL group introductions, that you had horses too?

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