Today I just want to share with you two (new – granted this one is already 2 years old) services that aim to make voluntary or open work more visible and credible. Many researchers often do a lot of work that is not really valued or even accounted for in academic hiring processes or funding proposals. Such as for instance the very process of participating as a (voluntary) reviewer for a peer-reviewed journal. Those of you who have done such a review know that it is often a tremendous amount of work (to do it properly). At least for me it costs several hours of work on a day that I could in return spend on my work instead. I am not criticising peer-review here ( also because of a lack of alternatives), but I often wondered if there is a way to get credit for your past peer-reviews. And there actually is a way as I have just found out. Publons is a website that allows you create a free profile page, where you can list your past reviews. They have a mailing verification system in place and are in direct contact with journals to check if you have actually done a review or not. You don’t have to publish the contents of your review, but you obviously can decide to do so (for instance if it was a particular well written study or just love embracing the openness). Give it a try.
The other service I want to introduce is called Depsy and was just started today. It a website that promotes innovative and highly used scientific software for researchers by scanning github, citations, download rates and dependencies. Why is that helpful and very important? Consider for instance that you developed a piece of software, make it openly available and even provide a reference so that users can cite you. However your work might just be incorporated into others (such as the rgdal package that just wraps up access to the gdal and proj4 libraries) or is not cited due to pure convenience. For instance I really wonder if most of the users of ggplot2 in R ever called citation(“ggplot2”) and actually cited it in their work. Depsy is dedicating open-source projects their own page ( here for instance the one for ggplot2), which evaluate the overall impact of the software and how it has been (re)used since its release. Very cool and nice idea and I hope that this new service will finally provide credit for all those programmers out there so that maybe one day creating open-source scientific software will be properly valued.
For a long time I have been kinda reluctant to jump on the Smartphone/Touchscreen train, which might be due to the fact that I am rather conservative with regards to software. In the same way I choose my Linux distribution (Debian for the extra stability and often outdated , but proofed versions), I prefer to choose the tools surrounding me. Stability and function always meant a lot more to me than cultural trends or taste. Nevertheless in the last month I decided to purchase my first device with a touchscreen, a tablet running Android for my daily use and so that I do not have to take the notebook with me during every travel. I have never really used sth. like this before so please excuse the following over exaggerated praises as this whole world of using apps (as in application) is pretty new to me. In the short time I used my new tabet, I already managed to find some really useful apps, which I would like to share with you (feel free to recommend others):
Doing any kind of research usually requires you to read broadly and read a lot! Most of the time I stumble across new literature by reading blogs, tweets and following researchers who work on similar issues related to mine. Of course I occasionally check out different journal homepages as well and scroll down the list of abstracts from the latest issues. Working or being registered at a scientific institution enables you to read papers from all kinds of journals, not only those directly related to your main field of research. I promptly registered to many journals including some that are only in a very general way related to my field of study. In Browzine published new issues are highlighted with a red dot, so you can be sure never to miss a new paper from your favourite journal. In addition you can save any downloaded papers directly to your dropbox or mendeley account. Cons: Some opensource journals (peerJ) and preprint hosters (biorxiv) are missing? Also it seems as if not every institution has made a deal with the app publisher.
This one probably is not a new one to you. Evernote has been around for a while and simply does a splendid job of organizing your thoughts. You can drop whole websites, simple txt’s and pictures together to build your own little collection of paste-it posts. I usually also keep their web interface open on my desktop PC and all notes are synchronized with my mobile device.
If you are not running windows / evernote on your production machine, than usually you go with ether Zotero or mendeley as literature management software of your choice. I got used to mendeley and their nice plugin for Libreoffice, which enables to insert and manage references directly from mendeley. This really paid off when I noticed that there is also a mendeley app, which syncs with your mendeley account. Why is that useful? Well, I can for instance manage all my references and tons of pdfs on my PC, sync them to my mendeley account and then have them readily available for reading and commenting on my mobile device. Not to mention that it integrates quite well with other providers such as the mentioned above Browzine.
Excellent file browser which I really would like to have open all the time. You can browse all the files on your device (even the hidden once), social and remote service (like cloud hoster, ftp or network servers) are integrated. The ES File explorer is organized in windows, which enables you to switch quickly between for instance your dropbox and pictures. Very good discovery!
- Google calendar and mail
I tried almost every calender and mail app that is available in the google play store, but in the end I still stuck with the default google calendar and mail. The reasons: Ease of navigations, no annoying adds or popups which want to persuade you to buy a “pro” version and especially working sync with a wide range of accounts, contacts and events(!). Obviously the google apps have kinda of a homeplay game on android compared to other alternatives. Having the same kind of interface for the calendar on both the tablet and my personal computer was really, what made the deal in the end. Google mail also is quite easy to use and manage, especially for people like me with multiple mail accounts.
This one is really handy, especially for people who often get lost. It lets you access the popular openstreemap maps and navigate through it with your touchscreen. If you enable GPS you can see your current location and calculate the optimal route to your destination. Out of internet? No problem, the app lets you download and store whole geographic regions so that you can access openstreetmaps mapping and routing even while you are have no internet. Quite good if you are lost on the way to a conference and don’t want to use your precious bandwidth.
This one is an output from the Jetz lab at Yale university. You can use the application to find out the species that you just saw on your morning stroll around the park/coast/reserve. Based on species range maps it calculates the number of species, which can be potentially discovered in the current area. The little pictures also help a lot with the identification.
That´s it. But feel welcome to comment and suggest other nice (free) apps. I should explicitly mention that I am not related or employed by any of the apps´s providers.
And here are some news from my current field work that is part of my Thesis. After spending some quiet, but exiting days in Nairobi (maybe later more about that) I finally arrived in Wundanyi, Taita Hills, where a substantial part of my work will be conducted along the CHIESA transect. Suited in the coastel area in proximity to Mombasa the Taita Hills are renown for their extraordinary bird diversity and endemic species and as such are considered to be part of the Eastern Arc Mountains Diversity hotspot. The Taita hills encompass a variety of different land-use forms, but the majority of them surely are tropical homegardens as most of the “Taita” people are subsistence farmers growing crops in the highly fertile soil of the mountain slopes. Besides homegardens there are riverine forests in the valleys, shrubland vegetation in the lower altitudes, exotic tree plantations and of course the remaining indigenous forests remaining on the Taita hills mountain tops. Every last forest part is known well and was traditionally protected by the locals as part of their culture. However in the later centuries the remaining forest area became more and more scarcer and even during my visits in some of the forest fragments with the highest biodiversity value (Chawia, Ngangao) I saw frequent signs of fuelwood and timber extraction. Clearly a lack of funding for biodiversity protection seems to be the problem, but also an economic perspective and opportunities such as ecotourism might enhance locals perception if and how these last forest parts should be protected.
My work in the Taita hills is all about birds. Specifically I am conducting avian diversity and abundance assessments along an altitudinal transect encompassing a variety of different land-use systems. Although avian assessments have been conducted in Taita many times before, they were often restricted to the forest fragments and for instance didn’t look at the bird diversity in homegardens in different altitudes. The resulting data will just be used for my thesis as validation dataset, but I am hoping that it has maybe some value on its own as well. Initial results show that especially the homegarden in Taita support quite a high diversity of birds, which is even similar to levels in the remaining forest fragments (although the community is somewhat different and biotic homogenization is likely on-going).
It can be quite challenging to conduct avian research in tropical human-dominated landscapes. Not only do you have to arrange for transport to the specific transect areas and lodging (in my case provided by the University of Helsinki Research station in Wundanyi), but also account for the frequent interruption by children and farmers asking what you are doing. Furthermore it is not an easy task to count birds in for instance a maize or sugarcane plantation due to the limited accessibility and my intention not to damage the farmers crops. Most of the farmers however happily provide access to their land and are very interested in what kind of research this “Mzungu” is doing on their farm. From my own experience here I can tell that the Taita people are very kind and it is a pleasure to work with them on their land. They are very respectful and even walking around late at night or very early in the morning seems to be no problem here (in contrast to for instance Nairobi or Mombasa).
In the end my sampling goes on quite well and much better than I expected. Although it is technically raining season and long heavy rains can be expected every day, the mornings were exceptionally dry and weather was mostly favourable for ornithological research. Generally this time of the year in East Africa is especially interesting for bird assessments as many local bird species are in their breeding plumage and nesting, but also because European migrants are often still around or on their way back to Europe (for instance I saw and heard an European Willow Warbler some days ago). Lets see what else the next weeks will have for be in terms of avian diversity.
Everyone, including myself, usually searches through multiple sources for data and scientific studies. But most people usually search only keywords or ask the search engine questions in a sentence form, which is quite inefficient.
Google Scholar is by far one of the most popular open search engines for scientific journals and provides many options you can use to specify your query. Try it yourself.
The full version by Josh Caton is a really nice mashup on how to search in google scholar and beyond.
Take a look!