2016 – adventures in Scotland, Bulgaria and Australia

img_01592016 was the year I really fell in love with science, research, and academia. I’ve always been a big fan of universities, but in 2016  I found out I not only like going to uni, I also don’t really want to leave it anytime soon. Having a very positive honours year and getting to do awesome fieldwork and RA work afterwards made me even more sure that I want to do a PhD. 2016 was also the first year for which I didn’t have a set plan – mostly because I was too busy to make one – but also because I wanted to become better at adapting to uncertainty (e.g. where will I live next month?) and change. Although I often felt like nothing is happening, except models running and running, 2016 was actually full of meaningful, challenging, and inspiring experiences!

•   The year started off with my honours research project on the effect of agri-environment schemes on farmland birds in Northeastern Scotland – ah, I loved my project – that’s when I really got hooked on stats, R, and research in general.
•   I created and led Gardening Club at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh – we planted a garden (and harvested lots of vegetables!), which helped me miss my own garden a bit less. I took the pupils out for a farm visit, we played the board game I created to teach them about plant interactions, and at the end of the school year, I organised a school conference – my pupils gave their first ‘proper talks with presentations and all’. You can also download all my teaching materials for free here.
 •   I went back to Australia to conduct fieldwork on superb fairy-wren behaviour. The opportunity brought together another two loves of mine – Australia and birds. Ah, I miss Australia – amazing wildlife, blue skies (though it was very chilly in Canberra!), a welcoming and inspiring work environment. Check out Gabriela Hajduk’s website to learn more about the fairy-wren research.

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•   I moved out of Edinburgh, sent 7 boxes of books back to Bulgaria, donated all my other posessions… only to move back to Edinburgh 4 months later! Ooops, could have thought that through better, I sure wish I didn’t have to buy pans and bedding again!
•   But it has actually been great being back in Edinburgh – I am a research assistant / data manager with TeamShrub. I’m enjoying branching out of my birdy comfort zone and learning to do many cool new things – I’ve been processing drone data, counting tree rings, analysing data, and I even faced my fear of labs and prepared biomass samples for a C/N analysis.
•   We started Coding Club – a supportive peer-to-peer learning community to promote skills in statistics and programming. I was writing grant applications, setting up the website and writing many emails over the summer, and in November we launched Coding Club to a room full of students keen to master R. All of the workshop materials are available for free on our website, and you can follow us on Тwitter to keep up with our work.

•   I presented at my first big conference – the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting in Liverpool. I already shared how great it was back here, and I hope I get to attend more conferences in 2017.
•   Between being in Edinburgh and Canberra, I managed to squeeze in some time back home in Bulgaria – I tidied up my old village house, cleared the garden of (almost) all the weeds, built a small roof to go over the well, and assembled an wooden arch for my (future) roses to climb over. So even though the house roof is in terrible shape, I take comfort in knowing I have at least made small improvements – hopefully leading up to the big ones!
•   I went camping in Central Balkan NP and did two big hikes with my family – as much as I love going back to my village, it’s always exciting to see more of Bulgaria! I camped in Aus as well, so that just leaves Scotland – hard to gather the courage to camp in this weather though!
•   I missed speaking Bulgarian, writing in my Bulgarian blog, growing my own food, just walking around and picking fruit from trees, making cheese, canning, feeling free… missed all things Bulgarian, and yet, whenever I go back, I now feel a bit out of place there, too. Not in my village, where I get to live however I want a bit isolated from everything else, but as soon as I leave it, my opinions seem to bit ‘too Western’. Sometimes I’m scared I’ve become an inbetweener that doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.
•   I did sometimes felt (and still feel) overwhelmed by all the tasks I want to complete, but really, 2016 was a good year for which I am very thankful – it’s great to have a goal (more like 52483 goals, but oh well) and the opportunity to work towards it.

Here’s to more adventures in 2017! And more efficiency, too, it is in my blog title after all…

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