Monday, October 25, 2010

Weeknote #23 (w/e 24/10/10)

Most of last week was spent at a meeting of our EU BACTOCOM project. It was the turn of the University of Cantabria partner to host the six-monthly get-together, which was held in the beautiful city of Santander. It was my first visit to this particular part of Spain, and the scenery on the drive from Bilbao was nothing short of spectacular. Despite the unavoidable absence of a few key members of the team, we had a very productive meeting, and I think we're in a strong position to drive the project forward in the coming months.

While I was away we "sold" the remaining few tickets for our Manchester Science festival event. I'm absolutely delighted that we'll have a capacity crowd for what is sure to be a fascinating evening.

I'll be appearing as one of the guest scientists at another MSF event, the Teawitter Four Science party. Should be a nice relaxed end to a wonderful Festival.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weeknote #22 (w/e 17/10/10)

It's been four months since I resolved to adopt the Getting Things Done system of personal organization, so I thought that now might be a good time to share what insights I might have to offer. What follows is a set of observations on and personal "hacks" of the system; these are, of course, purely specific to me, but others might find them useful.

1. I'm not finding the idea of a set of "tickler" folders particularly helpful, and haven't really adopted this part of the system.

2. All of my lists are stored as individual text files; I have the following, labelled, by convention, with the "@" sign: @_nextactions (the underscore means it appears at the beginning of any alphabetical list), @PROJECTS (the "master list" of ongoing activities), @someday (a "wish list" of things to do if and when I ever get time), @errands (short jobs like dropping off dry cleaning), @calls (phone calls to make), @waitingfor (obvious), @agenda_x (where x is one of two people I have working with me), and @weeknote (where I dump ideas for this weekly post).

3. I've tried to keep my _@nextactions list to items that need to be done right now. In order to achieve this, I preface each item in the list with a capitalized "tag", corresponding to the project it represents. This allows me to quickly ascertain the high-priority jobs (see later discussion on contexts). So, for example, the first three lines of my current action list are:

WELLCOME: Edit draft 4a
COBRA: Presentation for Brussels
MSF: Mail speakers with agenda

In order to keep track of next actions without necessarily adding them to my immediate action list, I append them with a "=" to the end of the entry in my @PROJECTS list. So, one project without an immediate action in my @_nextactions list might read:

INTER: Paper with Naomi on inter-disciplinary science = edit draft

4. All of these files are kept in a "GTD" directory within my Dropbox folder. Dropbox is absolutely essential to my implementation of GTD, since it allows me to check and update from wherever I am. I have it running seamlessly on a Mac (home), Linux box (work and netbook) and phone (Android). It just works. If you sign up via this link, I get extra free space. Keeping everything in plain text means that editing is trivial, whichever platform I'm running on.

5. Because of the availability of my files wherever I am, I find that I don't really make much use of contexts, as such. I'm generally always at a computer when working, so this breaks down the distinctions that are outlined in the book (the exception to this is while travelling, when I prefer to read material, rather than actively work on it). The project-tags in the next actions list allow me to prioritise easily, whereas having a separate list for errands means that I can easily check for jobs when I'm out and about.

And that's where I am so far with GTD. I'm sure my implementation is far from optimal, but it works for me.

In other news, reservations are flooding in for our forthcoming Manchester Science Festival Artificial Life event. We're almost at capacity, with over a week to go, so please book your (free) ticket soon in order to avoid disappointment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weeknote #21 (w/e/ 10/10/10)

I've been a little remiss in terms of weeknote updates. Last week was mainly spent getting into a reasonably high teaching gear for the new term. I have a few good project students this year, so I'm hopeful that we can continue the trend of working on papers together.

Last Monday I spent an enjoyable evening at the Wilmslow Guild, giving a lecture on synthetic biology as part of their Science Matters series. The turnout was good (over fifty people), and I was asked some incisive questions. I was rather flustered on arrival, however, as I only just made it, due to the "navigation" software on my new phone insisting that I was actually driving around Wimbledon (London!), instead of getting increasingly worried in Cheshire. Do not trust the navigation software on the Samsung Galaxy Europa (it's an absolutely lovely little phone otherwise).

Speaking of all things to do with public engagement, we've finalised the line-up for our forthcoming event at the Manchester Science Festival, and it's absolutely cracking. We have Ron Weiss, one of the leaders in the field of synthetic biology coming from MIT in the US, Maureen O'Malley from Exeter, who works at the intersection of the humanities and life sciences, and Steve Yearley from Edinburgh, who's the Director of the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum.

The event is titled Artificial Life: Promises and Pitfalls, and full details are available on the website.

The Novel Computation Group lab is now full to capacity, with the arrival of the final Ph.D. student in the current "batch". We also have a new post-doc working on our NIB DNA hash-pooling project, are interviewing this week for a BACTOCOM post-doc, and have two new undergraduate students joining us for the duration of their projects.