Sunday, March 29, 2009

What motivates us?

Last week I attended a PhD students' workshop. The final part of the workshop was dedicated to discussing motivation and supervision issues. The simple question was: what motivates you to work on your PhD (or, for older guys, on your research)?

The results were diverse. For some young people, starting a PhD had been "the easy, lazy choice" to earn an income - no need to go through the trouble of finding "a real job" and the possibility to continue the lifestyle of a student for a few more years. A few students were also motivated by the feeling that their research is important.

However, the most interesting replies came from senior scientists. A well-known male scientist said that the driving factor for his research was pure interest in his research question - the social framework was less important. A well-known female scientist, on the other hand, argued that group synergy and an inspiring atmosphere created by her colleagues (or students) was a key factor driving her research.

I am certainly not trying to suggest that men are always interested in technical details and women in other people and social issues. Nevertheless, the contrast between the answers was clear and has, in my mind, fundamental consequences in the way our research team is currently run.

What motivates me? A dynamic group. The chance to work with sharp, kind or inspiring people. To be honest, the research theme is less important than the social framework. Many, many research questions are important enough to deserve my attention - as long as I work on a diverse team.

I would never have started working in research if I had not been offered a chance to work in an international environment with people having different backgrounds (both professionally and culturally). When I entered university, my goal was to be back in the tropics or mild climates of my school years by the age of 25. I was not aiming for a PhD, only for an MSc. Well, here I am, still in the North and with a PhD and more than 25 years of my life completed. And I would not be here, if it had not been for the international MODIS LAI campaign I was employed to work in as an undergraduate student nine years back in June 2000.

So, what am I trying to say? I think supervisors should not only offer interesting measurements or research questions to their students, but also go through the small trouble of organizing social contacts or providing an international framework. In the end, that might prove to be the most important thing in attracting the attention and dedication of many students. For me it was.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A conference trip to Israel

I spent last week in Tel-Aviv attending an imaging spectroscopy workshop organized by the European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories, Tel-Aviv University and the Israel Space Agency.

At first I wasn't too eager to travel to Israel, but in the end the trip was a success. The conference was perhaps a bit too sensor-oriented for me - imaging spectroscopy applications, especially concerning vegetation, received less attention than I had hoped for. On the other hand, I did learn about new hyperspectral missions, enjoyed excellent Israeli food, followed discussions on whether we should call it "imaging spectroscopy" or "hyperspectral remote sensing", and also got a few new references to articles I need to look up. The workshop also included spectral measurements in Maktesh Ramon in southern Israel and an excursion to (and bathing in) the Dead Sea.

The next conferences for me this year will probably be the annual Finnish-Estonian vegetation remote sensing workshop in Tartu (in May?) and the MultiTemp meeting in Connecticut in July. Lots of work to be done before them..

The Maktesh Ramon imaging spectroscopy calibration site.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Springtime optimism

The beginning of this year has passed very quickly for me. I haven't had an inspiration to continue our blog until now. So, here it is: an update of the past few months.

I returned from my four-month research visit to Australia in December and had problems coping with the cold and short days of my native country. In addition to that, December has always been the shortest month at work for me: just a couple of seminars, an office Christmas party and then the holidays. It was no surprise that my research didn't really progress during December. I was, of course, full of optimism and sure that things would start advancing once the year 2009 arrives.

January always brings about perhaps the toughest time of the year: proposal writing time. This year, it was my job to write two and assist preparing a third funding proposal. I've learned the routine of writing proposals, but it still feels tough planning the work of others - it is easier applying funding to support my own work.

In February, I spent a week in Helsinki planning this year's scientific agenda with Pola, Janne and Matti. We are planning to find a new MSc student to work with seasonal LAI and/or phenology issues. There was also a lot of discussion on using (national) forest inventory data to create a LUT for boreal forests using forest reflectance models. Things are not supposed to be easy, but (at least for me) it was good to realize how many problematic steps are involved with the project...

Anyway, once the proposals were submitted (well in advance this year! :) ), I started to think of more scientific activities. I've attempted something I'm not so familiar with: forest albedo simulations. It has been motivating to do something different for a change. However, I don't know yet how things will turn out and if I get any useful results. I'm also hoping to do some work with spectral invariants and hyperspectral data later during the spring.

I guess the best thing about this winter-spring was realizing that (for once!) I don't have any old, unfinished projects still hanging around and reminding me of their existence every now then. I'm still surprised that I actually managed to finish in time everything I had planned for 2008. As we say in Finnish, I don't have 'to pull a sleigh full of rocks behind me' for the next couple of months. I'm feeling quite optimistic at work :)
PS. I'm also being quite optimistic when I call the season outside my window spring. We've just experienced a snow storm and there have been cuts in the heat supply - it is quite cold even indoors.