Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Writing and misc

Today I told myself I couldn't leave school until I wrote the introduction for my review paper (or at least one single-spaced page of it). I left at 9:30 pm, which sadly means I was at school for 14 hours. Oh well. I really really really want to get this review paper done (again) and do it well. I think the introduction is the hardest part of the paper for me because my last draft was really unfocused. I had to think really hard about how to structure it this time, and I think I might be on to something. I also found some cool new (to me) literature to incorporate.

For most of today I worked on my proposal that is due tomorrow. I substantially modified an earlier proposal and I still have a few small changes to make to it tonight. I like to finish things, set them aside for a while (even if only a few hours) and re-read it before submission. I also have to prepare my game theory presentation for tomorrow. I've been meaning to write more about this. Maybe tomorrow I will.

I also managed to write some emails about various pre-trip logistical questions I'd like to sort out, which includes determining my eligibility for next year's NSF GRF. More on that later too.

In exciting personal life news, Jon and I are now ant farmers :-) The much-anticipated ants arrived the other day and are making tunnels like crazy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

don't 4th graders know that plants can't grow in the dark?

Apparently some of my undergrads still think it's a question worth investigating.

Anyways... I'm ready for this semester to be over. I've got four major assignments to finish, two labs to teach, and two exams to proctor. Meanwhile, I have to finish making plans to my trip to Nyota. Thankfully I'm finished with grading.

Right now I'm procrastinating. I should be working on the proposal for my required class. After writing 6 proposals already this semester I thought this one would be a piece of cake. Perhaps I'm making this harder than it should be.

On a completely separate note, it has recently become clear to me that my cohort of students in my program is not in any way a unified social group. I kind of thought we were at the beginning of the semester (more or less). There are some unfortunate social dynamics surrounding my lab and I've tried not to get involved in it but I think it has affected me and my relationship with other people in my cohort nonetheless. I'm a little bit disappointed by this realization.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Musings on grading, teaching, and stuff

Our washer has been broken for 6 weeks now. Thankfully, my friend took me to the laundromat today and I washed nearly everything we own. I am so glad to have clean clothes again!

This weekend has been much busier with social engagements than I'd anticipated or hoped. I spent all day yesterday at a bridal shower which included watching my friend open obscenely expensive gifts for 2 hours. I think she'll have to register for more stuff for the wedding because she already got it all! Really, how many place settings and wine glasses do you need?

So, I haven't done nearly as much work this weekend as I need to. I just started the mountain of grading, which includes group lab reports. Students get really excited about this idea because it means less work for them, but it also means lower scores for the good students since everyone in the group gets the same grade. What in the world do I do if the student who wrote the introduction plagiarized word for word from wikipedia? Is it fair to punish the whole group for that? This person also failed to cite any resources in the text, although they did list them in the bibliography. You know how I knew they'd plagiarized? The paragraph had underlined words, like links. Really dumb. I probably would not have noticed otherwise.

My other dilemma is that I disagree with one of the course instructors about the other assignment I have to grade this week. I didn't really like the structure of the assignment to begin with, and modified the instructions slightly for my students. I talked with many of my students at length about this assignment and I think some of them put a lot of work into it. Now I'm supposed to simply give them a grade but not return them to the students because the course instructor needs to submit their assignments for a grant. I know that most students at the end of the semester probably wouldn't do more than glance at comments anyways, but I feel like it belittles their work to not comment on it and return it to them. I could at least return photocopies with my comments or something.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good kind of day

Lots of good things happened today. First I presented a poster of my proposed research in our required class. I hadn't actually prepared what I wanted to say, so I stumbled over my words a bit more than I would've liked, but I think my classmates were generally interested in the topic and they asked good questions. Some hard questions that I didn't have the answers to (What's your control? Why don't you exclude all of the critters and see what happens then?). It was good to receive feedback from people who don't spend all their time thinking about critters and/or their impacts. Their questions and suggestions will be useful for writing my proposal which is due next week.

I got my paper back from Herb's class (this one). I wasn't thrilled with it when I turned it in, but I got an excellent grade and he wants to post it as an example! This made me happy.

This evening I went to the museum to schmooze with some rich museum supporters, and received the excellent news that my proposal for Grant E will be funded! Yay! Leo told me my proposal was ranked highly for scientific merit so it was likely to be funded, but it's great to know now for sure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

This week I'm going to encourage my students to recycle by giving them postage-paid envelopes to send their old cell phones and other small electronics to be recycled. This week's lab is topical because we're talking about loss of biodiversity. I think almost every student will have something to recycle, and I hope it will encourage them to think about the life cycle of the products they buy and the impact their production and disposal has on biodiversity.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The last place you look

I had to find my yellow fever vaccination card tonight. Of course things are always in the last place you look, but often it seems like you find them in the last possible place you could look.

Tonight we literally took apart the office to find my yellow fever card because tomorrow I have a doctor's appointment to get ready to go, and if I can't find the card I might have to get re-vaccinated. Jon's makeshift desk is mostly supported by five boxes full of books and miscellaneous papers. I knew the the card had to be somewhere in one of those five boxes. The first four boxes had nothing even remotely close. As soon as I opened the fifth box, I had a feeling it would be in there. This box contained various letters, photos, notebooks, and miscellany from the three big trips I did during college. The last time I needed my yellow fever card was when I studied abroad in college, so I had a hunch it was in there somewhere. I cursed when I got to the bottom of the box because I still hadn't found it. But then as I started putting things back in, I realized there was an envelope I hadn't checked yet. Lo and behold- there is was among ticket stubs, receipts, and business cards.

Replacing my yellow fever card is one less thing I have to do before I leave in less than three weeks. I thought I'd been vaccinated for nearly everything you can be vaccinated for (except, ironically, HPV and the flu), but I realized last week that I'm due again for tetanus and typhoid. I imagined those things would last forever when I got them in college.

Visas, forms, more red tape

Right now I have to complete two seemingly insignificant lines on my visa application, but I'm waiting to hear back from Sam about what to put on them. I really wanted to get this out today but it looks like it will have to be first thing tomorrow morning instead. Arg!

Today I learned that it is cheaper to get a money order from the Post Office than to get it from my bank, even though I am a bank customer. How annoying that I learned that after I paid my bank $5 when the P.O. charges $1.05. (Obviously I am very frugal because I care about that extra $3.95).

I had to fill out some paperwork today for the advance of funds I'll get to cover my travel expenses. They are giving me an advance even though the university hasn't received the funds yet from Grant B. It's all very complicated. International field work takes a lot of logistical planning with substantial lead time. I think I've done a pretty good job staying on top of things but I haven't been perfect.

I think I'm hungry. I'm kind of cranky and just want to go home but I'm waiting to hear from Sam. On the bright side, today is a beautiful day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

NSF GRF eligibility

I finally sat down to read the eligibility details again to see if I'll be able to apply next year. Here's the relevant section taken from the program solicition from last year (emphasis mine):
  • Applicants must have completed no more than twelve months of full-time graduate study or its equivalent by the August 31st prior to the program submission deadline.
  • All post-baccalaureate, graduate-level study in an NSF-supported field counts toward the allowed twelve months of completed graduate study. This includes all Masters's and Ph.D. programs in these disciplines.
  • Applicants who have completed part-time graduate study must have completed no more than twenty-four (24) semester hours or its equivalent by August 31st prior to the program submission deadline.
  • Research-oriented work experience in an academic or similar environment that is closely related to the current or proposed program of graduate study may be considered as equivalent to graduate coursework for eligibility purposes. A combination of relevant work experience and coursework may render an applicant ineligible.
So here's what it comes down to for me. In summer 2007, I participated in EcoMath Camp which gave me a handful of 400-level credits. I transfered these credits to UBC last year. As a result, by this August 31 I will have completed more than one year of "graduate study" rendering me ineligible. This sucks.

My friend who got this a few years ago was able to apply in her second year even though she started doing research the summer before, but she did significantly change her field after that summer research. I really haven't.

I wish I had realized sooner in the application process that I really need fellowship support to do my research because I can't be tied to teaching assistantships the entire time. I felt like I was so on top of my game, and I still got screwed. I really think that not getting the NSF GRF this year is going to add at least a year to my Ph.D. At least I can still apply for the EPA STAR and a Fulbright.

*sigh* I could keep whining about this but I have stuff to do.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I got the tickets

I'm going to Ukenzagapia this summer! I bought my tickets this evening. Now I just have to hope and pray that I get my permits in time. This trip might end up being entirely qualitative and observational, but at least I'll have a better sense of the natural history. I'll do the best I can with the time and permit constraints I have to work with. Maybe my Ph.D. will be 6 years instead of 5.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guest blogger on Economical Academic

I wrote a post as a guest blogger on at The Economical Academic about deciding to be car-free. Check it out! I've never been a guest blogger before.

In other news:
-The washer is still broken. You know what that means.
-I have to leave for Ukenzagapia (fictional African country where my field site is located) in three and a half weeks and I don't have tickets yet. I have a lot of planning to do.
-I rode my bike yesterday for the first time since my appendicitis! I also went running yesterday and went to a fitness class today. I really want to get back in decent shape before I go to Ukenzagapia.

My Austin report

I got back on Monday but I've been keeping up on other projects so this got put on the back burner. Mostly I'll just show you my trip in pictures.

This is the Whole Foods corporate headquarters. I have to admit that the fact that I wanted to visit it AND I took pictures of it makes me feel like a huge yuppie. But, we do a lot of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods and the place makes me happy rather than killing a little piece of my soul (i.e. WalMart)

On Saturday I visited a cave and saw MILLIONS of bats. That unimpressive looking cave holds millions of bats. No kidding. It was awesome.

We saw hawks and great horned owls hanging around to eat the bats. Look at all that flying food!

On Sunday my friend and I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You should check out their website because their pictures are nicer than mine. I learned about this place when I worked at Mid-Atlantic Field Station and I was excited to have the opportunity to visit. It's a beautiful place!

Did you know that agaves leave indentations on one leaf from another? I thought this was really cool. Click on the picture to see it bigger so you can see the impressions left by other leaves.

My friend lived near the Austin Greenbelt so we went for a walk through there. It's quite dry right now but when it rains the area in the picture below is a flowing river. We also went swimming at Barton Springs which is a public swimming pool! It's definitely the most unique swimming pool I've ever seen. I didn't get a picture of it because we went at night.
I had a great time in Austin. It was wonderful to escape from Big City for a weekend and spend time in a beautiful place with awesome green space. I wouldn't mind living there someday.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I wish I could say that this is how much money I earned in 2007, or how much I expect to earn in 2008, but sadly this is higher. This is how much my appendectomy cost.

Today I received a statement in the mail and just about fell over. It cost nearly $27,000 for me to have my appendix removed. #@*(%^@)#(!@)!!!!!!! Thankfully the "amount you owe" line says "$0.00" because my student health insurance covered everything. Imagine if it had been Jon instead of me? Or if I hadn't had health insurance? Would my bill be the same? I am completely baffled by how our health care system works.

My bill is itemized, and I'm going to type it out because I find it appalling and yet fascinating that I wracked up such high bills in so many categories in the 32 hours I was in the hospital.

Total of Room Charges $1,200.00
Pharmacy $208.50
Drugs/Generic $119.80
IV Solutions $550.20
Med/Surg Supplies $9,707.96
Laboratory $352.00
Lab/Chemistry $137.00
Lab/Hematology $220.00
Lab/Bact-Micro $368.00
Pathology $208.00
CT Scan $2956.00
Operating Room Services $5,935.00
Anesthesia $1,640.00
Emerg Room $1,233.00
Med-Sur Supp/Incdnt Rad $59.00
Drugs Specific $990.25
Recovery Room $859.00
Other Therapeutic Svcs $161.00

Total Charges $26,904.71

I thought the charges would come to $10-12,000 which goes to show how clueless I am about the costs of hospitalization. Here is a Wall Street Journal article from 2003 about the discrepancy between what a hospital charges to an uninsured patient versus a large insurance company that has negotiated big discounts. We need national health care!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

One pair of underwear

Yes, things are getting desperate here. The mountain of laundry is spilling out of the closet all the way to the bed, and that's not all of it. After tomorrow I am down to one pair of clean underwear. I think this is the first time in my life that nearly all of my clothing is dirty (I estimate about 90-95% of it). This is particularly a milestone for running out of underwear. I own LOTS of underwear. I went on lots of Victoria's Secret buying crazes with friends in college and high school and I still have most of that underwear. I think last time I counted I had 45 or 50 pairs of underwear. That's right, I'm almost out. I've worn everything- even the ones that usually get avoided- all my everyday underwear, period underwear, boy shorts, camping underwear, lacy stuff, everything. We haven't done laundry in approximately 6 weeks. I've only got a handful of t shirts and a few tank tops, and I've been carefully re-wearing shirts all week.

Why so desperate? Well, right around the time I had my appendectomy three weeks ago, the washer in our building also broke. Since we are car-free and I'm not allowed to do any heavy lifting, a trip to the laundry mat just wasn't in the cards. It actually might have been reparied today, but we haven't been up to check this evening as we were out grocery shopping. Oh yeah, we hadn't done a serious grocery shopping trip in over 2 months so we were getting pretty desperate for food too.

I feel like my weekend started today after I turned in my paper for Herb's class. It was ok, but not great. I was working right down to the wire. I've done better. I'd rather focus on the review I'm working on, especially since I haven't actually worked on it in a month! Getting appendicitis really shot my plans for that.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for Austin, Texas for the weekend to visit a friend. Hopefully the washer is fixed so that Jon will be able to do some laundry while I'm gone. I think we'll have about 8 loads between all of our clothing, towels, and sheets. We've had a lot of people spend the night recently. Anyways, I probably won't post again until Monday when I get back. Maybe I'll post some pictures. This blog needs more pictures. Everyone loves pictures. I'll try to make a point of posting more. Austin, here I come!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Small Liberal Arts College Professors

Today I went to a seminar by guest professors and students from two SLACs (Small Liberal Arts Colleges) about their unique course structure. UBC is trying something different this year so they're looking for help from other institutions. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to go to the seminar because of this paper that's due tomorrow, but I'm glad I decided to go. It reminded me why I came to grad school.

You see, SLAC professors like these simply exude a love of teaching and interacting with students. They emphasized time and time again over the hour that they love their course structure because it allows them to get to know their students personally and engage with the material in greater depth. I came to grad school to become a SLAC professor. As an undergrad at SFC, I loved the sense of community and the closeness among my peers and professors. I would love to be in that kind of community again.

But, I haven't even been here a year yet and I find myself discouraged by the lack of encouragement and support for grad students to improve their teaching skills. This is part of the larger effect of being at a large research university that really only gives lip service to teaching instead of truly rewarding and encouraging it. I find myself falling into the same pattern as everyone else of caring more about my research than my teaching. I just don't have any role models here of the kind of professor I want to be. Chip is an amazing teacher and I definitely have a lot to learn from him, and I don't mean to say that there aren't great teachers here- there are. I suppose it's just not possible to have the same closeness of teachers and students here compared to at SFC. But really I'm frustrated that no one seems to care if I become a better teacher or not.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A page an hour

When I really sit down to write, I usually write about one double-spaced page per hour. I always write single-spaced though and double-space it at the end. I'm writing a paper for Herb's class that is due on Thursday. I'm not very excited about it and I can think of plenty of things I'd rather be doing, such as getting my legs waxed or doing my taxes.

I'm not leaving until I get at least one more single-spaced page written (so that's at least 2 hours at my speed). There's a possibility I'll sleep here tonight which would suck 'cause I want to take a shower but I also have to be back here really early in the morning to teach and I would get to sleep more if I just stayed here.

Ok, I've been on 'break' for almost 30 minutes now so I need to unplug the internet and get back to work.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Finally some good news

I was finally notified by Grant B - they said yes! I'm getting about 70% of the funds I requested, which will hopefully be enough to get me rolling this summer. Now I have enough for a plane ticket and some other stuff.

Yesterday was my grandpa's funeral and the service was very nice. Almost all of my extended family was there and I had a great time visiting with everyone. It was especially nice to see some distant relatives who I haven't seen in at least 10 years, and it turns out we're very much on the same wavelength. They're cool.

Unfortunately, yesterday I started having pain in my back when I breathe. Last night and this morning I was in a lot of pain. It's tolerable now but it hurts to breathe deeply, yawn, sneeze, or burp. According to a doctor I talked to on the phone today about my breathing pain, there's a chance it is a blood clot in my lung (I have some risk factors for it, such as my recent appendectomy) but I think it's probably just spasming muscles so I'm trying to relax. I am so sick of being uncomfortable and broken. I really want to start exercising again but my surgeon said I'm supposed to wait another week before I can ride my bike again or do any running. My plans to get back in shape keep getting thwarted and instead my 'exercise' is just walking to and from school.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Honorable Mention

This morning I got the official email that I received a GRF Honorable Mention (they gave out 1,639). Receiving an honorable mention is an improvement from last year's application, but ultimately offers nothing more than a line on your CV, unless you need to use the supercomputers you can have access to, which I do not.

Reading my reviews today was disappointing because they were only marginally better than last year's reviews even though every part of my application was better this year (except my GRE scores, which didn't change). Three reviewers each rate my application for Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit, so I get two rankings from each reviewer for a total of 6. They are ranked as Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, or Excellent. Here's a summary:

2007 Application
1 Good
4 Very Good
1 Excellent

2008 Application
5 Very Good
1 Excellent

I'm actually surprised that those rankings got me an Honorable Mention. From what I've seen, you need to have 5 or 6 Excellent marks to get an Award. I know at least a few of my 200+ new visitors must have won the NSF lottery- how many Excellents did you get? Inquiring minds want to know.

The circumstances under which I applied this year were vastly superior to my first attempt. Last year I started my application 2-3 weeks before the deadline while Jon and I were in RFC. I figured it would be a good experience and I had nothing to lose. At the time we were field assistants for a project in a rural area where we were unable to get high speed internet access. I had extremely limited access to scientific literature and no advisor to review my proposal. I could barely download the pdfs I asked my friends to send me over our dial up connection. All things considered, I'm glad I applied last year as it was a great learning experience and gave me something to start with this year. It would have been nice to get it last year but I knew my chances were slim.

This year I had feedback from Herb, Leo, Herb's lab group, and a bunch of other people during the proposal writing process. I had four letters of recommendation instead of three (Herb, Leo, SFC professor, and Mid-Atlantic Field Station researcher). It goes without saying that I also was sitting at a desk with a T1 and access to a huge university library system, unlike last year. I know my personal statement, research experience, and plan of research were all better. Why wasn't that reflected in my feedback?

The most frustrating part of all is that hardly any of the feedback from this year offers suggestions for what I could improve. Last year I had an error in my experimental design that only one reviewer caught, but once they pointed it out to me it was blantantly obvious. Comments this year said that my methods were sound, the project was feasible, is an important area of research, and that I have proven experience in science outreach and communicating with diverse audiences. It sounds like I had a solid proposal that simply lacked that intangible 'something' in my writing that divides the Excellent proposals from the Very Good.

I suppose I'll apply again next year, but I've got to double check that I'll still be eligible. I'll probably post about that soon. I hope some of my new readers stick around. Click on the link to the left to subscribe and save the RSS feed in your bookmarks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I wish I were kidding, but I'm not.

This morning I woke up to a text message from my mom telling me to call home. My grandpa died last night. Today, April Fool's Day, would be his 66th wedding anniversary with my grandma. My grandpa went in the hospital last week shortly after I had my appendectomy and he's been unresponsive since Saturday, so yesterday I knew he didn't have much longer, but this is still terribly sad. The funeral is this weekend so today I've been making arrangements for how to get there.

In between travel planning I checked the GRFP page on a whim and to my surprise it says that the 2008 award list is up, although I haven't received an email yet. As you can probably guess now, I'm not one of the 913 lucky people on the list.

I'll have to wait for the email to get feedback on my application because there are no score sheets posted to my account when I login. I wonder what I @#(*@ed up. This really sucks. Especially today of all days.

Good luck to all my new readers who are also waiting to hear from NSF. I hope your day is better than mine.