Hello Planetary Pals,
This week’s blog post will be about my personal experiences and lessons learned while working on the Impact Earth Database (https://impact.uwo.ca/map). Over the summers of 2019 and 2020, I worked with Dr. Osinski’s team on this undertaking to identify, categorize, and catalog all terrestrial impact craters (over 200 confirmed). Over the two summers, I was responsible for curating the data for 44 craters. I worked on the back-end, searching up and compiling all the necessary data which would later be displayed on the website. We worked to edit a large spreadsheet that listed each crater. For each entry, we needed to scan all the scientific literature and pick out important features that would be used to describe the crater. For instance, if we would search the literature for the types of shock metamorphism each crater demonstrated, what the crater morphologies and dimensions were, the age of the crater, which impactites have been observed there, whether the crater show evidence of hydrothermal alteration, and whether the crater has any associated economic deposits. For each piece of evidence, we would also be sure to cite the papers that asserted those claims.
The result will be the creation of an intuitive website that is useful for both academics and non-academics. For laypeople, it can serve to educate about their local environment, and can draw people to these scientifically interesting sites. The website also features many pages geared towards scientific outreach for these people as well. It is also intended to be a condensed resource that can be used by researchers. The database will show all the previously described features for each craters. For instance, one will be able to easily view which shock features have been found and which are not present at a particular crater. Putting this information in one place, will save these people time, and they can easily view which papers are of relevance to them.
On the short term, I learned a fair bit about impact cratering, its processes, terminology, and importance. However, ultimately, the skills that I gained along the way will likely prove to be much more useful to me as I progress through my graduate degree. I have picked up several skills from working on the database, and there was ample opportunity to hone these over time to something that is tailored to my needs and style.
One important skill that I learned was how to locate papers. Whereas previously Google searches were the main tool in my toolbox, I learned to access several databases when searching for articles. I developed an order to the databases I would progress through one at a time. With the crater name as my search query, I would first exhaust the papers in GeoRef, as this provided the majority of relevant papers. Next, I would search through the Web of Science Database. This database gives a wider range of topics, so it required much more weeding out of non-relevant papers. Lastly, I would search using Google Scholar to catch any remaining articles. Familiarizing myself with these databases informs my current techniques of tracking down important papers for my literature review.
Another important aspect that I have learned from working on Impact Earth is file management. The hundreds of papers I had to save equate to a few gigabytes of data. With so many papers, it becomes essential to properly organize them in order to avoid total chaos. The most logical way to organize the papers is to group them by crater, and this is the strategy that worked out best for the circumstances. The problem with creating an organized archive is that it can become easy to overdo it. Early on, I played around with not only organizing by crater, but also doing subcategories based on the subjects and relevant information. For instance, there would be separate folders for papers that where was focused on shock metamorphism and those that regarded explorational geophysics. It becomes too convoluted and time intensive, detracting from the main purpose. While my research is still in it’s infancy, the system that I have developed ot store my thesis material is a division between papers describing methodology/proof of concept, and those that are focused on the science of my topic specifically. As well, Mendeley was used while working on Impact Earth as another way to track and organize files, and I plan to use it during my time as a graduate student.
During both summers, Impact Earth was not my only task, and I needed to find a balance between my other objectives. For the first summer, I did not go out of my way to plan when I should work on each task. Instead, I flippantly decided what I should work on, deciding in the moment what I felt like working on. While this may seem unorganized, the result was actually not so bad, and I did complete most of the goals of both Impact Earth and my other tasks. But it also leaves the nagging thought that perhaps if I had more structure, I could have accomplished more. During this past summer, again I worked on Impact Earth and another project. I quickly found out that this unstructured schedule that had seemingly worked out previously was extremely inefficient, especially while working from home. The distractions were too plentiful, and I realized that a firm, but fluid schedule was needed. I first tried to divide the week into full days where I would work only on Impact Earth, and other days where I would work on my other project. This strategy was not ideal, so instead I began working on each task for half of each day. Even this was still too vague and led to easy frustration and loss of concentration. I realized that I needed to structure my day based on even smaller tasks. I took my ever-changing weekly goals and broke them into smaller digestible actions. This strategy worked out the best for my lifestyle and is the way that I structure my workday now.
Perhaps the most applicable thing that I developed was my own style of reading scientific articles. Before I joined the IE team, I had no strategy when approaching scientific articles. For the first few craters I was investigating, I read the papers from top to bottom. Not only is this an exhausting technique, it is also sometimes a waste of effort. Spending too much time on every paper is a recipe for wasted time. With half of my job being a marathon of literature review, a strategy quickly emerged. I found that reading the abstract, introduction, and conclusions of each paper was far more effective. From there, it quickly becomes evident whether a paper contains valuable information. Given the nature of the work, I rarely needed to read a paper in its entirety, a difference between the method I developed for Impact Earth, and the one required for researching my research topic. It has been nice to see the exact same style of reading that I had independently developed be suggested in my graduate seminar courses.
Overall, the skills obtained while working on Impact Earth are personally much more important than leaning about cratering itself. I had time to try different techniques, and to fail, but in the end, I found a set of skills that works well for me.