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When is it possible to retain your own voice when writing?

27 November 2017

When is it possible to retain your own voice when writing?

Should one use “I” or “we” when writing a scientific paper? Although there was a tradition not to use first-person pronouns when writing scientific articles, this has fallen by the wayside in recent years as the use of I or we makes writing simpler for writers and readers. Use “I” if you are the sole author (or in your thesis) and “we” for two or more authors.

You will regularly see “I” or “we” being used in the last paragraph of the introduction and the first paragraph of the discussion. It’s also quite common to use this in the methods section. The reason why these sections have “I” or “we” is quite obvious, as it allows you to place your own voice on actions and decisions. After all, it is your aim and hypothesis for your study, so you should own it. Using first-person pronouns also allow you to be more concise, and there are some great examples here where you can see what happens when you don’t use them.

The first use of “I” or “we” at the end of the introduction is powerful. Up to that point, the reader has read four or five paragraphs of logical arguments outlining the background information that makes up the reasoning for your study. Using the first-person pronoun now makes the reader sit up as they have you communicating directly with them what you aimed to do. But that power is lost with repetition. So if you were to continuously use it throughout the methodology, the reader may get tired of reading a string of statements stating that you did this, then you did that, and so on. The power of using “I” or “we” is to use it sparingly to boost clarity.

Does writing “I” or “we” help people to understand who you are?

Actually, all of your writing will do this. As long as you are using your own words (and not plagiarising), your writing is likely to be unique to you and hence recognisable as you. It never ceases to amaze me that it is possible to convey the same information in so many different ways. Your way will likely change with time and experience, but remain yours throughout your writing life. If you keep writing, people will be able to recognise your distinct style.

  Lab  Writing

Frogs go astro

16 November 2017

Meeting of astrophysics and frogs

It was great to meet up with physicists Ninan Sajeeth Philip (St. Thomas College) and Ashish Mahabal (CalTech). Although our 'big data' is not nearly as big as theirs, it'll be great to explore how our areas of research overlap. 

Looking forward to getting your great minds working on our little frog problems!

  Lab  meetings

What if your lifespan was linked to the weather?

15 November 2017

Live for the day—or maybe longer depending on the weather! 

Blue whales live for more than 100 years, while adult mayflies may come and go in a day. Our own lifespan has increased by nearly 10 years over the past generation. We are used to a world where the life expectancy of animals is expected to vary by a few years, but what if your lifespan was linked to the weather? Researchers from University of Cape Town, South African National Biodiversity Institute, and Stellenbosch University have discovered a frog whose likelihood of survival appears to be linked to the amount of winter rainfall in South Africa’s biodiverse fynbos biome.

Rose’s mountain toadlet comes out every winter to breed, but the amount of time the males spend waiting in puddles for females to arrive influences life-expectancy of these tiny toadlets. At only 20-30 mm long, these voiceless toadlets are easily overlooked, but the researchers, Francois Becker, John Measey, Krystal Tolley, and Res Altwegg, undertook a mark-recapture study over 7 years, to reach the finding that whether toadlets live long (4+ years), or just one year, depends on the weather.

Surprisingly, ‘good weather’ for frogs (wet winters) was found to reduce survival as animals are thought to spend more time out in the open, while ‘bad weather’ (drier winters) means they abandon the breeding site quicker, resulting in these toadlets living to try again another winter.

The correlation between survival and winter rainfall is truly remarkable, but the exact mechanism determining survival needs more work, and time is running out. The latest IUCN assessment is that this species is Critically Endangered and with climate in the area changing, it could be that changes in the winter rainfall regime could add to existing threats for this special species.

While this is the first known example of a vertebrate with extreme changes in survival that appear to be weather dependent, it may simply be due to a lack of sufficient research on the world’s smaller animal species. The researchers suggest that this kind of weather induced longevity change may be far more common than we are aware, prompting more concern about how changes to the climate may affect wildlife.

Read more about it here at American Naturalist

  Frogs

CIB Annual Research Meeting - Natasha takes a prize

10 November 2017

The 13th Annual Research Meeting of the CIB - Congratulations Natasha!

The 13th Annual Research Meeting of the CIB took place at Stellenbosch University Thursday and Friday.

Presentations were made by Nitya, Natasha and Marike.

From top right:

1. The judges receive their thank you presents from Dave Richardson: Piero Genovesi, Laura Meyerson, Petr Pyšek & Tim Blackburn.

2. Marike answers a question from the audience (and who was part of the winning pod)

3. Natasha gives the talk that won her best runner up for a PhD presentation

4. Nitya wows the audience with the size of his bullfrog. 

Well done to the whole lab who put on a magnificent set of froggy presentations. Especially well done to Natasha!

  aSCR  Frogs  Lab  meetings  prizes  Xenopus

"Aquatic" Xenopus move all over the place and up to 2.4 km overland!

10 November 2017

Xenopus not so aquatic

A new paper using the data from Andre's MSc project shows that African clawed frogs move large distances overland (up to 2.4 km). The 3 year study found that 5% of frogs moved between 8 ponds in the study area of Kleinmond. This amount of movement may be so much that these frogs can no longer be considered a metapopulation. 

We got the top slot on the PeerJ website (again!). 

The really surprising result is the amount of movement between sites, and the animals that were moving. We found no evidence of the smallest size classes of frogs moving between ponds. This would turn the dispersal paradigm on its head for this species. For most pond breeding frogs, it is the metamorphs and juveniles which are responsible for most of the dispersal within a population. This may not happen for X. laevis as smaller animals are so much more susecptible to dessication. The study isn't over and we will be following up on this idea in years to come. 

De Villiers FA, Measey J. (2017Overland movement in African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis): empirical dispersal data from within their native rangePeerJ 5:e4039 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4039

Read the article here

Thanks to @Xen_Ben for the blog title!

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus
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