Friday, March 28, 2008

Another day passes...

... and still no word from NSF. This is driving me nuts. Every time I get an email I think, "Ok, this could be it!" and it's something from Facebook or Barack Obama. I doubt they'll send out notifications over the weekend, so I'll put the butterflies in my stomach on hold until Monday morning when I open up my laptop and anxiously scan my inbox.

I had a very productive day today. Last night before falling asleep I finished the major revisions for my permits and send them to Sam. He suggested only minor revisions which I'll finish over the weekend. The hardest writing for that is over. My big task of the day was to get an eye exam. I hadn't been to the eye doctor in 3 or 4 years, and I desperately needed more contacts. The eye doctor was great (another young, handsome, charismatic doctor) and my eyes are fine in spite of the fact that I wore the same pair of two-week disposable contacts for, um, like 12 months. He said I shouldn't really do that though (duh).

On my way home I had to run a few errands. I left my cell phone in my hospital bed when we checked out on Sunday and so I had to get a new phone. We ordered it used on Amazon on Monday and it came today before I left for my appointment, so I stopped on my way home to get a new SIM card. All of my errands worked out perfectly, especially the buses. I had great bus luck today. I took 6 buses today and hardly waited for any of them, especially the last 5.

When I got home I baked a cake for Jon's birthday and surprised him when he got home. I felt bad that we hadn't really had a celebration for his birthday with my appendectomy and all. My recovery is going excellently. I have no pain and only minor discomfort if I reach up high or bump my stomach. Walking to school next week is not going to be a problem (I'm not allowed to ride my bike until I get the ok in my follow up next Friday).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

End of the funding season

Today I sent off my last grant of the season! Last Friday I submitted Grant F and today I sent off Grant G! These last two are the ones I am least optimistic about. There are no more firm grant deadlines that I foresee until September. Now it's just waiting, as I've only heard from Grant A.

I do have one more grant to submit before then, but it doesn't have a deadline. Grant C was only a pre-application, and I still have to submit the full application. I also have to write a mock DDIG proposal for class.

I just got lots of comments back from Sam about my permit forms. This is the big task ahead of me that I had planned to finish much earlier in the week. The bulk of it is there but I have to fill in lots of details. If I plan to do it during my Ph.D., it pretty much has to be in here. My goal is to get this done today. I think I can do it. No, I can do. I will do it. I want to be finished with this.

I am feeling so much better today. I can walk normally without much discomfort. I went outside for the first time since Sunday to mail Grant G.

No word from NSF, which is I know what most of my recent visitors are interested in. It could be any moment now...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I e-filed my taxes in January before I received my 1098-T forms in the mail. I've been thinking that I screwed up my taxes and will have to file a 1040-X so I haven't done anything yet with the refund I received. While putting off doing real work today I decided to get out the forms and actually investigate my blunder. To my delight, I don't think I made a mistake after all!

Now I can think about what I should do with my refund. When I first filed I mentioned here that my return is actually more than I paid in taxes. Should it go in my IRA or should I keep it in ING savings?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Urgh. Blah.

That's how I feel. I took a shower today which was much more exhausting than I thought it would be. While in the shower I discovered a HUGE bruise on my arm from one of the three painful shots they gave me after surgery to prevent blood clots. On the bright side, I don't think the scars from my appendectomy will be very noticeable once they heal.

I have a lot of writing to do today and I just can't seem to get my head into it. This stuff is really time sensitive or I wouldn't be worrying about it. I had planned to be working on these things at my desk in my office with few distractions and instead I'm practically horizontal in bed trying to write a problem statement while listening to the building construction next door and the ice cream truck tune (yes, I suppose spring is here). I can think of so many things I'd rather be doing than trying to write while recovering from appendicitis. Ahhhhhh!!!!!

Monday, March 24, 2008

University health care

In short, I had a laparoscopic appendectomy on Saturday night and spent the whole weekend in the hospital. I don't owe a cent, and now I'm at home recovering. Thankfully, my student health insurance covered everything 100% (except the taxi rides). I am so thankful that I didn't have to worry about the cost of my tests, hospital room, or surgery. I am all in favor of universal health care because no one should have to worry about their ability to pay for necessary hospital expenses.

If you want the details of my appendectomy adventure, read on.

On my way home on Friday evening I started having general abdominal pain. It got progressively worse until I started feeling nauseated, then felt like I was going to black out, then I vomited most of what I'd eaten for dinner. About an hour and half later I threw up the rest of my dinner. I felt better after the second round because the general pain went away, but it became localized on my lower right. I had a fever of 100° F. It could've been food poisoning, but the pain on my lower right was classic appendicitis, so we went to sleep prepared to go to the ER in the middle of the night if it got worse. I found that sleeping on my right side made the pain go away so I slept all night.

When I woke up on Saturday (Jon's birthday), the pain was still there so we made an appointment at the student health center to see a doctor at 9:15 am. After an hearing my symptoms and pressing on my abdomen she sent me to the ER saying it was likely to be "appendicitis or an ovarian cyst." We didn't have to wait terribly long in the waiting room before I was admitted and given a room in the ER. We spent the next 9 hours there while they took urine samples, blood, gave me an IV, did a pelvic exam, and took a CAT scan. I didn't have a fever or a high white blood cell count (both signs of infection that usually go along with appendicitis), so they spent a long time ruling out other possibilities such as ovarian cysts or torsion. I had no pain as long as I wasn't moving. Walking hurt, as did using my lower abdominal muscles, and obviously all the pressing they did.

I finally had a CAT scan about 5 pm which revealed conclusively that my appendix was inflamed. I had mild appendicitis. Did you even know you can have mild appendicitis? You learn something new every day. I had classic symptoms of appendicitis but it was in the early stages of infection so it wasn't at the point of bursting and being life-threatening. Thus, I waited about 5 more hours for surgery as they only had one team of anesthesiologists that night and they first had to deal with a much more critical patient. After about 9 hours in my room in the ER, they gave me a real hospital room which was quite nice. We watched "The Sound of Music" and the beginning of "Big" before they took me to surgery.

I was quite calm about the whole surgery thing. I had my wisdom teeth removed but that was the only surgery I'd ever had. Still, I trusted the doctors completely since they do appendectomies almost every day. I think I would have been much more stressed out by the surgery if I felt really shitty, but since I didn't have a fever or pain as long as I didn't move I was able to make interesting lighthearted conversation with the various doctors I met. One of them who Jon named "Dr. McHandsome" has relatives in RFC so we talked about that for a while. Dr. McHandsome was such a stereotypical thirty-something, tall, dark-haired, scruffy faced, handsome ER resident that he looks like he stepped right out of a TV show.

Laparoscopic appendectomies are the least invasive kind. They make three small incisions and go in with a camera and some instruments and pull the appendix out through one of the three holes. They said the surgery itself would only take about 45 minutes (I'm not sure how long mine actually took). I asked the anesthesiologist when I would wake up after the surgery and he said I'd wake up right away. They started me on an IV with something that knocked me out before I got in the operating room and I have only a vague image of being in the OR.

When I woke up, it was to the sound of a nurse on the phone calling for someone to come pick me up from the recovery room. I saw that the clock said 1:45 and I kind of freaked out because the doctor told me I'd wake up right away and that the surgery should only take 45 minutes I went into surgery around 10:45! Then I was out of it until the nurse called again for someone to come pick me up. During this time poor Jon was waiting in my hospital room all worried because it had been nearly 4 hours since I left and no one would tell him how the surgery went or why I wasn't back. Finally he convinced the nurse to go with him to go pick me up from recovery since the person who was supposed to move me obviously wasn't available. I remember hearing his voice and being glad that I was going back to my room but I was terribly annoyed that I hadn't woken up right after the surgery like my anesthesiologist told me I would. I remembered from getting my wisdom teeth removed that some people wake up from anesthesia very emotional, so I rationalized to myself that I was in a terrible mood from that. My throat was also very dry from the breathing tube they put in during surgery (which I don't remember) but I wasn't allowed to drink anything yet. I didn't want to talk to anyone except Jon so I half-pretended to be asleep (I was mostly asleep so I didn't have to pretend much) and presented my arms as necessary for vitals and mostly just frowned. Jon translated for me when I needed to talk. They gave me morphine and I think Jon and I fell asleep in my hospital room around 3 am.

Nurses came in a 6 am and 8 am to take my vitals, and then a surgeon came in at 9:15 to tell me I could drink water. My bad mood finally started to lift around 10 am when I got my throat moistened enough to talk relatively normally. Overall I felt a lot worse than I had the day before. My abdominal muscles were really sore (and still are today). Oddly, I am somehow compensating with my neck and so my neck is really sore as well. Mariya came to visit me in the afternoon and brought me flowers which was lovely. Every beloved hospital patient leaves with flowers, right? I had liquid Easter lunch and liquid Easter dinner in the hospital (broth, jello, sherbert, juice) and went home shortly after dinner. Today I finally get to eat real food. I haven't digested any real food since about 4 pm Friday.

I have to make a follow up appointment for next week. Until then, I'm not supposed to do much. I definitely can't ride my bike, so I might be taking more taxis than usual. I'm not supposed to do any heavy lifting (no more than two gallons of milk) for 6 weeks. That means I should get the all-clear just in time to start field work in May.

I had big plans for what I was going to accomplish this week, but I'm going to take it easy. Whatever I get done, I get done. Jon is home from work today to help me out and run errands for me (eg. I think we left my cell phone at the hospital). We'll celebrate his birthday next weekend when we're NOT in the ER all day.

I hope all of my readers had a better weekend than I did!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What if I don't get the NSF GRF?

Good question. A friend and classmate asked me this on Friday, which reminded me that I should really think about my alternatives.

Let's start with why the GRF will make my life better. My field work is in another country, so I have to be gone for several weeks or months at a time to do my research. I am presently supported as a TA, and being a RA is not an option for me. Therefore, if I want to get a paycheck, I have to teach or get a fellowship. Teaching obviously requires that I be on campus and not at my field site.

If I receive the GRF this year, I can start getting paid by that this summer and I won't have to teach. That means I'll be free to spend up to 3 months at Nyota and still be able to pay rent in Big City (Jon will still be here so I'm not putting my things in storage). For most of my field work beyond my initial trip this summer, I'll need to be at Nyota during our winter. The GRF will give me the flexibility to do that because I won't have to teach.

What if I don't get it? Well, that makes life a lot harder. I'll have to teach this summer, which means I'll have 6 weeks max to be at Nyota. If I didn't teach this summer I would have to make ends meet without getting paid at all in June, July, and August. As for future field seasons, perhaps I'll have to change my system so that I could do most of my field work in our summer instead of our winter. I would definitely apply for the EPA STAR fellowship which would give me greater flexibility for field research starting in my 3rd year (for three years, like the GRF). However, I'd really like to be able to get seriously under way with fieldwork before my third year so let's hope I get the GRF!

I noticed I have been getting lots of hits to my posts about the NSF GRFP recently, which I suspect are in anticipation of the award announcements. Last year I was notified on March 26, so I suspect the announcements will be made next week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mathematical modeling & Me

This semester I have been working on modifying a published model for Chip's class. What does that mean? Basically, I'm taking a generalized model and adding/removing/adjusting the parameters to make the model fit the plant system we're working on. The system is one in which the other person I'm working with will do her research. I'm not as invested in this project as I am in the other things I have going on this semester, but I find the process of developing this model both useful and fascinating.

Today we had another meeting with Chip to discuss the progress. We're making baby steps in the right direction. We're just about to analyze its stability in the most simple form. Then we can add more species and parameters. Chip has been walking us through the process and clearly describing what we need to do at each step. I really appreciate this because my grasp of the concepts and tools is a bit tenuous. The ease with which Chip understands, develops, and analyzes models is fascinating and still somewhat mysterious to me. When we sit in those meetings with him, though, I am so amazed at how much I've learned in the past year, so I'd like to describe my evolving relationship with calculus.

While I was applying to grad school, I rediscovered why they always emphasize in school that calculus is critical for science- not even ecologists are outside the applications of calculus (I know now that they're right in the thick of it!). One of my weaknesses was (is) math. Many of the people I was interested in working with do a fair amount of ecological modeling of which I had basically zero experience and a very limited understanding. Although part of me just wanted to ignore the deficit and try to get around without it, I knew that it would be in my best interest to put mathphobia aside and work on my weakness.

The opportunity to do just that appeared when a friend told me about EcoMath Camp. I applied, was accepted (did they actually see my B- in calc I?), and found myself to be a small fish in a not-so-big pond of much larger, albeit friendly, fish. It was incredibly challenging for me since my one semester of calculus was so many years ago, but I was able to learn a tremendous amount at my level. EcoMath Camp gave me the confidence to take and survive Chip's population ecology class last fall. Chip's encouragement of relatively mathematically-deficient students like myself combined with his incredible teaching style are why I am in his game theory class this semester.

I'm proud of myself for being able to understand and develop my own model, because this is something I could not have imagined a year ago. I usually know which questions to ask now which is a huge step in the right direction. But, I feel like my comprehension of the 'big picture' is ahead of my mathematical tool kit to actually create the big picture. Today I wrestled for an hour with a derivative that took Chip 3 minutes. I know, he has decades more experience with this, but still.

I think my insecurity with calculus goes way back to 7th grade. My mom (hi mom) has worked in elementary and middle school math education for my entire life. In 4th grade I spent a short time in the accelerated math class but went back to the regular one out of frustration with long division. I did well in the regular math class until junior high. My mom thought it would be good for me to take Geometry in 8th grade, and that I could do Algebra I over the summer at home with her help. Well, I vaguely remember reading about parabolas in the back yard that summer but I didn't do anywhere near as much work as I would've for a normal class.

[Mom- I don't want you to think I blame you for my math insecurity-not at all. A whole combination of factors in high school made my math experience worse when it had the potential to be much better. You have always encouraged me in math and I would not have been accepted to EcoMath Camp if you hadn't helped me improve my essay, so you have been a great positive role model. I also think I'm good at spatial reasoning thanks to those base 10 blocks.]

My shaky foundation in Algebra I became apparent during Algebra II in my freshman year of HS. I had the heaviest possible course load and a flighty teacher who put me to sleep every afternoon (my first case of classroom narcolepsy). I struggled with the quadratic formula and dropped from the honors math track to the regular math track in the middle of the year. I stayed in the regular track so I was 1-2 years younger than most of the students in those classes. I took AP Statistics my junior year and didn't take math at all my senior year. I took one semester of calculus in college, in which I got a B- thanks to help from Jon. Then I spent the next few years hardly thinking about calculus, until I landed back in a classroom last summer with a room full of mathematically gifted undergrads.

So why did I just tell you a brief history of my relationship with math? I'm not exceptionally mathematically talented and I may never be able to do complicated derivatives in 3 minutes, but I am willing to try. You should be too. Especially if it's not your strength, pursue it. Find a great teacher, friend, or tutor, and look for ways that the tools can be applied to ecological problems. Applications are the glue that make the math stick instead of abstractly floating around in your brain without an anchor. I want to encourage everyone who is considering a degree in ecology to take more math. Don't be mathphobic! You can do it, and you will use it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

No work weekend

This weekend one of my friends from Small Friendly College came to visit on short notice (she called on Wednesday). I didn't have huge plans for working like I did the past two weekends (eg. here), but if she hadn't been here I probably would've spent most of today doing various academic things. I'm really glad that she visited because we had a great time, especially last night when two other SFC friends came over. I love my SFC friends- they're all doing such interesting things and it's fun to catch up on the latest gossip of our classmates' adventures. I also find it fascinating to see how the SFC-effect has played out in our lives. But I digress.

I haven't done any work this weekend. We were out on the town yesterday afternoon exploring Big City, had four people over for dinner last night and ate and drank until 2:30 am, slept in late today, and went to Big Natural History Museum this afternoon (where we randomly ran into another SFC classmate- it's a small world). My friend left at 4:30, and I stopped at the grocery for some food and pharmacy to get passport photos taken on the way home. Then Jon and I watched Sicko (and most of the extras), and now here I am posting to my blog. I might read an article for Herb's class in bed, or perhaps I'll start a new book I got on Bookmooch.

Do I feel bad about not working this weekend? Not really. I know it's not worth fretting over. I spent too many years of my life in high school and college (mostly HS, really) being stressed out about work instead of actually working. Besides, I have few scheduled events on Mondays. But, it does mean that I have quite a bit to accomplish tomorrow. Such as:

-work on a mathematical model for Chip before our Monday afternoon meeting
-yet another grant (this is F) that is due on Friday
-read articles for Herb's class
-read for lab meeting
-renew my passport (arg, this might get its own post soon)
-come up with teaching evaluation questions to get feedback from my students about my teaching
-create a broad outline of my Ph.D. so that I can acquire the necessary permits for my field work this summer (I probably should've had this done last Friday)

Eek. Tomorrow is going to be busy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grading hours

For the past three weeks I've been keeping track of how much time I spend on teaching. Here is my first post describing my teaching time in lighter weeks.

Week 3: March 8-14
Heavy grading week (lab reports)
15 hours spend on grading, class prep, student correspondence, and student meetings outside of office hours
6 hours in the classroom
3 hours on TA meetings & office hours
Total: 24 hours

Thankfully this week is not a typical one. I only have to grade lab reports four times during the semester. It makes that week really busy, but I think it's ok considering that I usually only spend 12-14 hours and my position is 50% (20 hours). To the other TAs out there, how much time do you spend teaching?

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

At least I didn't get another stack to grade this week like Cecilia did!


In the past week I've had three (possibly four) instances of cheating or plagiarism among my students. Drives me nuts. And of course if I caught them, they were doing it in the least savvy way possible. Imagine all the ones I don't catch. Ai!

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Writing about writing

Most of today was consumed with writing, talking about writing, or thinking about writing. My lab group gave comments on my review paper today. On Sunday while I was working on updating my review with new literature before sending it to the lab it became clear to me that I lost the big picture somewhere along the way. The organization just didn't make sense to me anymore. Nearly all of the discussion about my review centered on organization, which is what I expected and hoped for. Herb spent quite a while trying to explain how I should restructure my review. I still don't entirely grasp it, but his advice generally is:

-Ask a question worth answering
-Describe what is needed to answer the question
-Explain how the literature answers your questions (or not)
-Describe what research is still needed to answer the question (this gives people something to do)

I tried to frame my review around questions for this draft, but it didn't work like Herb describes/envisions it. I feel like I'm missing a piece of the puzzle in the process of conceptualizing my paper. I don't mean related to my topic, but related to what Herb is telling me to do. I think I just need to keep talking to him throughout the process and I think I'll know when I "get it."

Herb stressed today that it is difficult to write a meaningful and significant review that people actually care about. He thinks I can do it, which is encouraging (he said, "Once you know what to write, you write well- you just have to figure out what you want to say first!"). My next plan is to make a very thorough outline and discuss it with Herb, then start over with writing process. I think the review needs a fresh start with a new structure in order for me to progress.

I think the process of working on this review has been tremendously helpful in familiarizing me with the relevant literature and helping me to identify wide-open questions that interest me. I'm glad that I had to write it for class last semester, and I'm even more glad that I'm developing it further for Herb's class this semester. Working on something like this as a class assignment creates deadlines that might not otherwise be realized.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I'm working on grant E this week. The proposal for this grant is much broader and less methodological than all of the other grants I've written so far. I worked on it a bit yesterday, but especially after lab meeting I felt like I needed to think long and hard about the big picture before I started writing again. So, I found a big board where I could draw the big picture and I spent about 45 minutes staring at the board and slowly outlining the important points I needed to address in the proposal. Then I started over on the proposal. I think this method worked. It took me 2 hours to write one single-spaced page, but I think it's a good one.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My body isn't on DST

Last night I forgot to turn on my alarm (I did set it) and couldn't fall asleep until 2 am. Consequently, I woke up at 11 am today. Yikes! Thankfully, I have nothing until noon on Mondays, and I made it to school at 11:35. I love living close to school. Still, I got a late start on the day which is not what I'd planned. Even when I don't have anything until later I try to get to school by 9 am.

Today I had a TA meeting, a pop quiz to administer, a meeting with Chip, and a meeting with the campus computer people to resolve a printing issue. As a result, I didn't have any length of time to think and work for more than 20 minutes until 4:20 this afternoon. Again, not what I'd planned.

I'm working on yet another funding application this week. I think I'm going to start lettering them for your comprehension. This is grant E. I thought I could kill two birds with one stone and use my proposal from grant D, but it turns out they want something less technical so I'm starting from scratch. I'm having a hard time switching gears to talk about the broader societal impacts of my research.

There are several things I've been meaning to blog about but haven't gathered all the thoughts in one place. Soon I want to write a post about Chip and his teaching. Ok, time to try to sleep. I've got to get on DST.

More on teaching and grading

I told myself I couldn't post to my blog until I finished grading the lab reports for one of my sections. Mission accomplished!

I must say I'm pleased overall with their progress. I gave them lots of feedback on their first lab reports and sent them a brief email outlining common errors (eg. lack of numbers/titles on figures and tables) and basic expectations (eg. clearly state the hypotheses). I think these things really helped because many of my students showed considerable improvement in those areas.

For their first reports I suggested to many students that they read their lab reports aloud to themselves to catch errors and unclear statements. I didn't have to write that on anyone's paper this time. For some of my students for whom English is not their first language, I recommended they ask a friend to proofread it. These suggestions seemed to help tremendously (or perhaps it was divine intervention) because overall the lab reports were much better. Some of my students make consistent grammatical errors (eg. then instead of than), but overall there were fewer. Oddly, one of my students wrote "well" every time they meant "while." I suppose they have never been told before that this is incorrect?

Sometime in the next two weeks I want to create my own teaching evaluations for the students to fill out. I still haven't seen my evaluations from last semester, so obviously the university's system isn't going to help me. I'm not sure exactly what to ask yet, but I haven't really sat down to think about it. Suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Time spent on teaching

I would've posted more this weekend but our internet has been a real PITA. It works intermittently and unpredictably. I hope it works long enough for me to write this post.

For the past two weeks I have been keeping track of my time spent on teaching using a program called WorkTimer. Here's the breakdown so far.

Week 1: Feb 23-29
This was a very light grading week (one small assignment for one section)
3 hours and 15 minutes on class prep, grading, student emails, and student meetings outside office hours.
6 hours in the classroom
3 hours in TA meetings & office hours
Total: 12 hours and 15 minutes

Week 2: March 1-7
Another relatively light grading week (one small assignment for both sections) because I didn't get to grading their lab reports.
4 hours and 15 minutes on class prep, grading, student emails, and student meetings outside office hours.
7 hours in the classroom
3 hours in TA meetings & office hours
Total: 14 hours and 15 minutes

So far this weekend I've spent over 4 hours on grading alone, so this week will have significantly more hours than the past two.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The importance of a good web page

One of my assignments this semester is to make a web page for myself. I think that all graduate students should have to do this. When I was searching for prospective departments and advisors, I did most (if not all) of my research based on web pages. I found it frustrating when a professor had a lab full of students but no links to student web pages. Grad student web pages are extremely useful for prospective students to find out who is in the department, what they're doing, and who they're working with. From the grad student perspective, it's a great way to put your interests "out there" even before you get published in your field. I mean, think about how long it can take from the time you conceptualize and design your project to the time you present or publish it? Having a web page (especially linked to your advisor) is a great way to advertise your existence in the field.

I'm looking forward to making my own web page. I haven't really ever had one (blogs definitely don't count), but I did maintain a site for a student organization while I was at SFC. I learned quite a bit from that experience about the process of using templates and organizing material within pages, but this time I'm starting from scratch. It's fun. I'm keeping my eyes out for grad student web pages that I really like. Here's an example of one that I think is attractive, classy, well-organized, and informative.

One of the biggest pitfalls in personal web pages seems to be their maintenance. I hope that I won't ever let mine get years out of date because it looks so careless to see something that says "Coming in spring 2006" nowadays. I learned from the web page work I did in college that it's important to use dates rather than referring only to seasons to reduce maintenance and keep information up to date (i.e. say, "I began graduate school in fall 2007" rather than "I started grad school last fall"). I know how easy it can be to let something like updating your web page get put permanently on the back burner, but your web page makes an impression. Why not make it a good one?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good news to start the week is a good thing

Our department recently completed a search for a new tenure-track position. I loved meeting all of the candidates and going to their seminars, especially since I expect that whomever is hired for the position will be on my committee. I think I was much more invested in this particular search than most other students in the department. I had a clear favorite candidate when the interviews were finished, and I found out this week that she is being offered the position! I really hope she accepts. Her research fits extremely well with my interests, and I think she gave the best seminar.

I also learned that I have more options than I thought I did for teaching (and thus financially supporting myself) this summer. At some point I need to go to my field site (Nyota) and start my research. If I receive the NSF GRF, I can start getting paid by it this summer (instead of fall) if I choose, which I would. [Note: my friend who received the GRF in 2004 did this, so I am crossing my fingers that I would also have that option- I don't know for sure] If I don't receive the GRF, I need to have a backup plan for how I will teach and do research halfway around the world. Yesterday I found out that I might be able to TA for Chip (one of the best teachers I've ever had) for the first part of the summer, and then be in Africa for the second part. Otherwise, I have to squeeze my whole field season into the first part of the summer so that I can teach for the second part. I just can't go three months without a paycheck when we still have to pay rent.

Summer seem to be full of complicated decisions for grad students. I won't bore you with the details of fees, health insurance, and gym access, but it's complicated. I'm going to solicit the advice of older, wiser, more experienced grad students.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Logo artwork courtesy of

Today Anne-Marie at Pondering Pikaia wrote a post about two interesting scientist instruction books she just read, which reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about Bookmooch.

Bookmooch is an online tool for connecting people who want books with the people who have them- worldwide! You pay for shipping to send you unwanted books to people who want them, and other people send books that you want to you! It's based on a point system. You get points for sending and listing books, and you use your points to get books from others. Everyone should check it out now and sign up.

I love books, and I don't usually part with them, but this site gave me a great excuse to go through my shelves and think about books that I didn't really need anymore. Books from classes I took (or even dropped) in college but kept the books because I thought I might want to read/reread them someday, but I actually haven't even thought about them in 6 years. Cookbooks I never used. Gift books that I've never read that can't fetch more than $2 on This is the way to make sure they go to people who really want to read them! I think I've sent about 10 books out on bookmooch, and I've received 3.

My reason for wanting to spread the word about Bookmooch is partly selfish, since I really want more people to sign up and list the books on my wishlist (eg. 1491; Guns, Germs, & Steel; Jane Goodall: The woman who redefined man; Omnivore's Dilemma; Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers...). Bookmooch emails you when books on your wishlist become available so that you can request it to be sent to you, but some books are so wishlisted (300+ people want it) that you've got to act quickly.

What are you waiting for? You must have at least a few books that could use a new home. Join now and start mooching!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Working in bed

I really like working in bed with my laptop. I discovered this while I was applying to grad school while we were traveling in RFC last year. I like spending a few (or several, as today) hours after I wake up in the morning working in bed. I woke up around 9 am this morning and finished my grant around 2 pm, then I made pancakes and got back in bed to eat them while posting to my blog. This grant took longer than I thought it would to finish today (my goal was noon), partly because I had to scramble to find a few more sources that I thought I had already nailed down. I think I found a better way to remotely access UBC's electronic library, which reminds me of something I've wanted to mention for a while.

It can be really difficult to apply to graduate school without remote access to a university's electronic library. If you are taking time off before undgrad and grad school (which I highly recommend), don't be afraid to use your friends in academia to get you articles that you would otherwise not have access to. Also, figure out how to remotely access your school's electronic database because you might have access for a while after you graduate. I just discovered in 2007 that I still have access via Small Friendly College. In fact, SFC has access to a journal I regularly use that UBC does not (why not? I have no idea) so I frequently take advantage of that connection.

In other news, I have so much work to do this weekend :-( I have 60 lab reports and problem sets to grade (I haven't started tackling them like I did last time), an essay to write for Herb, articles to read, and I should start on my comprehensive research plan for my Ph.D. (yeah, right). Jon has been at work all day today so I had lots of quiet time to finish that grant, but I don't think I'll do much more school work today. When I'm finished with this post I'm going to get up, get dressed, do a load of laundry, clean the kitchen, start the bread machine, and get ready for our friends to come over for dinner tonight. Ready, set, get out of bed!

Another one done

I just finished another grant application. This is my fourth grant application this year, not including the NSF GRFP. I have another one due in two weeks, and probably another one right after that. So far I have secured $1500 (my plane ticket) and I need about $10,000.

Yesterday Sam really grilled me about my international travel, experiences with culture shock, thoughts on poverty, ability to be strong and flexible, and my mental health. I know he just wants to make sure I'm capable of working at his field site, but it was a little intimidating. But, I think I did a good job of staying positive and strong rather than being intimidated by his questions. I know I can do this.

Then Sam described the painful process of getting permits to do the work I want to do to mentally prepare me for what to expect. There are three separate things I will need to get in-country before I can start my field work at Nyota, and I might have to spend three weeks in the capital city going to offices every day and being very firm but polite in order to get all of them. Geeze, that's practically my whole summer field season. On the bright side, I should only have to go through that lengthy process once, because thereafter it will be renewals which should only take a few days.

In order to start this lengthy permitting process, I need to write a clear, comprehensive plan of the type of research activities I'll be doing for my entire Ph.D. in 6-10 pages in the next two weeks. You see, it has to mention everything I might possibly do so that two years from now if someone says, "You don't have permission to do that with critters," I can point to the line in my permit application where I mentioned that possibility. Otherwise, I run the risk of having to go through the arduous process described above more than once. (Remember this is all in addition to my university's required animal protocols).