Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The road towards madness: Thesis Devlog part 1: "Get started fool!"

(In the vague hope of creating some kind of regularity in my writing, as well as to give myself some space where I could organise my thought, I decided to start a “Development-Blog” (or “Devlog” as it is called among us cool people) for my Thesis. I intend to write this once per month and I will present you what I have done so far and what I want to accomplish in the next few weeks. Watch as I make dumb mistake after dumb mistake and how the stress of this work will make me go insane as the year porgresses).

I’m sitting at my Thesis for quite some time by now. Well, “sitting” isn’t really the appropriate term. I circling around it, like a dog who isn’t sure if he should really lay down on the carpet or not. It goes without saying that this isn’t a really satisfying state of affairs, for three reasons:

1. This is the last thing I need to do to graduate from University.

2. I don’t have anything better to do.

3. I only have time until January 2013 to graduate before I have to re-do my Psychology-finals, which I already took in 2010.

So despite being more or less unprepared for the work that lies ahead of me, I decided to simply jump into the fray and hope for the best.
But before I start to tell you what kind of stuff I need to do, let me quickly tell you what exactly my Thesis is about.
The goal of my Thesis is to compare phylogenetic trees of the relationships between great Apes and Humans from different ontogenetic stages with each other. I want to do this mostly because it’s interesting to see how certain Traits are affected by ontogenetic processes and how those traits effect phylogenetic trees. Also this was the first Idea where none of my Professors told me that it is too big, too expensive, or just stupid.

So far my plans are to do this study with the following taxa:





You probably have noticed that there are no Gorillas in my species sample. That’s because my advisor told that it would probably be better for my results if I exclude them. As I tried to show a few months ago, there are some problems when it comes to the reliability of phylogenetic trees who try to resolve the relationships between Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Humans. Excluding the Gorillas from my sample helps me to avoid that this “trichotomy-problem” is somehow effecting my results.
I’m not very happy about this, since it also limits my possibilities of drawing more wider ranging conclusions from my thesis.
But fortunately, nobody is expecting me to make some kind of ground breaking work. all I have to make sure is that my study is well executed on a technical level and that I don’t make any factual mistakes.

What I need to organise right now is where I get my sample from, where I’m going to get my measuring tools from and how I’m going to pay for this stuff.

The first question fortunately is quite easy to answer, since there are some rather big collections at several museums in the german-speaking area. So far I plan to go to the Senckenberg-Museum in Frankfurt (which is right around the corner), the Museum of the Institute of anthropology of the University of Z├╝rich and the Museum of natural history in Berlin.
I hope that I’m able to collect all my data until June, but this means that I need to make sure I get access to those collections within the next few months.

The next point bothers me a little bit. I need to collect some osteometric data for my Thesis but funnily enough my Institute doesn’t seem to own the appropriate tools for these kind of work anymore. This strange because we still have rooms full of old skeletons where nobody knows where they’re from, but no means of analysing them in a proper manner.
Fortunately I think I know where I could get those tools from, but those things are fairly expensive, which brings me to the last problem.

Spending several weeks in different towns to have a look at primate skulls is a fun thing to do, but it costs money. I still need a place to sleep and something to eat from time to time. My initial plan was to apply for a grant which our biology department offers for students who are about to graduate. Unfortunately I needed a letter of recommendation from my advisor for this, something he refused to do because he wanted to see other projects to be supported. This grant would have been enough for me to ravel to each and every museum I desired without having to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills. I still get mad about this, although there’s really nothing a can do about this. Instead I decided to apply for a different grant, which doesn’t need the approval of my advisor, I still need to the application for this and I hope I’m able to do this by the end of this week. As an alternative route I took a side very boring side job and try to save as much money as I can. Luckily enough, my Institute will still pay for the stuff I directly need to do my work e.g. those expensive measuring tools, computer programs etc.

Essentially I was able to sort out most of the aforementioned points, the only thing I need to do right now, is to get going. The most important thing right now is to fix the time when I have to visit the different collections as well as to find out if there are really no tools in this Institute. I also try to get my application for this grant ready and I hope I can give you some more information on that sometime later this week.
I think that’s it for now, let’s just hope things will go as planned (which they probably won’t).