From funding to sampling: A choose your own adventure story

After spending about 15 months developing a scientific proposal (a mere 160 pages) and going through several stages of reviews and evaluation committee visits, one warm day in June, you receive news that your project will be funded. After celebrating for a couple of minutes, it dawns on you that you will now have to do what you wrote in the proposal!

If you decide to escape to a remote Pacific island without telling anyone, go to your favourite travel website and book a one-way trip to Pitcairn Island.

But, if you decide to take on the challenge because scientific adventures are what you like, keep on reading.

After rereading your proposal, you focus on some key aspects. Your project aims to assess the health status of Canadian lakes. Amongst other things, you said you would sample 680 lakes across 11 ecozones in Canada for a wide variety of state-of-the-art variables (genomics, optics, trace levels of pesticides, etc.) and more typical lake variables (secchi depth, chlorophyll concentration, nutrients, etc.). Within five years, you will produce a web atlas of the health status of Canadian lakes.

You can still make an escape and lead a life of ease! (If you like landlocked places, Bhutan would be a good destination.)

But, if you’re thinking to yourself “easy peasy lemon squeezy”, just stop reading now – you’ll surely fail!

If you decide to continue even though nothing will be easy, keep on reading.

You first get in touch with a wise NSERC (see footnote 1) manager to make a plan. This plan goes as follows:  

1. Bring together a Board of Directors.

2. Hire a manager.

3. Find a chairperson for your Scientific Committee.

4. Hold the first annual meeting to review (with your 17 co-researchers and partner scientists) all aspects of the proposal, such as recommendations and remaining issues.

5. Meet with your new Board of Directors to approve budgets and get overall guidance on the project.

6. Hire key research assistants (a field coordinator, a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist and a database specialist). They will help students and also prepare the first field season.

7. Create the Lake Pulse website.

If you decide to trust the advice of your NSERC manager, keep reading. Be efficient because the field season is fast approaching!

Otherwise, if you’re looking for an escape, hiding out in Alert might be closer to home (but bring your tuque).

The first eight months mostly go according to plan. The biggest challenge is that the first annual meeting produced more questions than answers. The devil is in the details! You bring these questions to the new Scientific Committee, who then meet every few weeks for several months to work on them. Indeed, what seemed very clear and feasible in the proposal still requires a lot of decisions to execute properly (see footnote 2): what to sample; how to sample; where to sample; when to sample; how to ship, store and process the samples, etc.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “I hate meetings, I’m clearly more of an action hero,” we suggest that you start a monitoring program for a lake near you! We’re developing applications so that you can compare your lake data using our national lake database.

Now, it’s already the beginning of March, the field preparations are well underway and things are clearly coming together. Much work still remains to be done before the field season: hashing out every detail of the protocols; ordering materials; getting all the field gear ready; calibrating instruments; and training field teams.

Everyone is now confidently working towards this goal with a clear sense that this will work out. Rain or shine, come mid-July, five sampling teams will be out in the Canadian wilderness, cities, parks and agricultural lands to sample about 220 lakes!

To continue this adventure, subscribe to the Lake Pulse blog,
otherwise we recommend a night at the movies…

1.     NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, has funded the NSERC Canadian Lake Pulse Network – we affectionately call it Lake Pulse – and assigns a manager to large funded networks.

2.     If you want to hear more about these decisions, keep an eye on this blog.