Angus Ferraro

A tiny soapbox for a climate researcher.

Don’t stick to the plan

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Plans are useless, but planning is everything.

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

I failed to take my own advice today. I wrote a substantial part of my thesis section on a climate model I am using without planning it. No outline, no concept map, nothing.

Sticking rigidly to the plan rarely works because you made your plan in your head and the real world doesn’t work the same as the one in there. That doesn’t mean planning is useless. Aspects of your plan might go awry, but it is unlikely to be entirely wrong. The plan helps formulate the problem clearly in your head and provide a path forward. You might deviate from the inital path, but it helps to have a few points of reference along the way (especially at the start).

In my defence, this section was a simple one. I was comparing the output from the IGCM‘s simulation of the present-day climate with observational and reanalysis data. I had already made all my figures; all I had to do was talk about them. Model assessment is rarely an exciting part of scientific writing. It is necessary, but there are no exciting results to present and discuss. This section answers the question ‘is the model alright?’. The answer is ‘yes, just about’.

In my thesis I have to be more rigorous than that, but the writing is more or less a simple description of the plots and a little discussion of whether the biases in the model are serious problems or not. I had put a little thought into this already and had a list of a few references I needed to include, so in a sense I had planned a little bit.

To write a detailed plan and concept map like I did for, say, the ethical and social subsection, would have been like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The ethical and social section was a foray into an area outside my expertise and was something which required a structured argument. The section on model assessment was comparatively simple to write. I noted this in advance and changed my plan accordingly. The section might need some proof-reading as a result, but in general the ‘Models & Methods’ section of any thesis is ‘menial’ work which doesn’t require too much difficult thought.


Author: Angus Ferraro

Trainee secondary physics teacher and former climate research scientist.

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