Monday, June 30, 2008
Instead of ~$21,000, I'll earn $30,000 for the next two years. I also get $1,500 towards a new computer, and they pay about $700 of fees every semester that I would otherwise have to pay myself. Furthermore, I get $3,000 of travel/research support every year for the next four years.
I don't have to teach for these two years, which I'm actually a little disappointed about. Chip told me he wanted me to be the TA for upper level undergrad class which would be awesome since he's one of the most amazing teachers I've ever had. I do have to take classes as part of the fellowship. The disadvantage of the classes is that they require me to be in Big City during different months than I otherwise would be for my fieldwork. This fellowship will probably delay the start of my long-term fieldwork by about 6 months, which might delay the completion of my Ph.D.
On the other hand, the extra money will give me more financial flexibility. This fellowship will support me for all of next summer so that I can be in Ukenzagapia without having to come back to teach like I did this year. So although this fellowship isn't quite as sweet as the no-strings-attached NSF GRF "grad student lottery," it's a great opportunity for me to broaden my perspective as a scientist with additional support to pursue my research. (oh, and did I mention I'm going to be rich?)
Saturday, June 28, 2008
On the one hand, I'll be working in a totally foreign culture with a foreign language. On my graduate student stipend I am wildly wealthier than the vast majority of population and I am confronted with poverty every day. People there suffer from things that are easily treated in U.S. hospitals. HIV/AIDS is a big problem. You can't help but feel guilty for your privileged life. Electricity can be unpredictable, water has to be boiled or filtered, and the internet is universally slow when it's accessible. For several months over the next 4 years I'll live there, separated from Jon for some of that time, and my family and friends for almost all of it. Getting, staying, and researching there requires significant funds that I will have to acquire with my own grants because neither of my advisors work in Ukenzagapia.
Is it better to work in a place where I am familiar with the culture and natural history? Am I being unrealistic or too ambitious with my project? Is it better to stay within my comfort zone, where I don't have to see children and adults with club feet and deformed limbs begging on the streets?
When I consider all of these factors and queries, the idea of working someplace near Big City where I could be gone for hours or days instead of weeks or months at a time sounds very appealing. ScienceWoman is having a similar dilemma trying to decide how to progress in her field of -ology without jetting all over the place. I've moved a significant portion of my belongings at least once every year for the past 8 years, and I'm looking forward to staying put for a while. I also think there is a very good argument for working locally in a community or region with which you are intimately familiar, especially in conservation.
On the other hand, I came to graduate school because I wanted to lead foreign study programs for undergraduates. Why? Because I think it's important for people to see what life is like in other places, for better or for worse. During the process of intentionally developing a research question that allows me to work abroad, I think I found a good one. I see great potential for growth in the little research niche I've discovered, and it's probably unlikely to come from Ukenzagapia or elsewhere in Africa without external resources (i.e. from The West). I can easily envision three Ukenzagapian Master's theses that would be able to share field work and equipment with my research. I feel, perhaps naively, like I can make a difference here, if only through the addition of scientific literature to a relatively sparse field in an understudied continent.
But life in Big City is so comfortable. We have a nice apartment, friends, nearby family, and Jon has a job he loves. Do I really want to travel as much now as I did two, four, or six years ago? I'm not thinking of abandoning Ukenzagapia by any means, but I'm trying to think where I want to be working (physically and intellectually) a few years down the road. How can I direct my graduate research and ancillary experiences to prepare me for a job that I'll enjoy? How will my desire to have kids after my Ph.D. shape my research direction? Is there anyone out there who is further along the academic trail that wants to offer advice?
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I got an email from the IT guy- they successfully networked our big, fancy photocopier so that you can print to it rather than the very old laserjet that only prints single sided. I hope that this will truly save a lot of paper!
I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have happened at all if someone hadn't suggested it. I'm looking forward to teaching Herb how to use it and that alone I think will save a forest (he currently prints so much single-sided!).
This is a change for the better- and better late than never.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
While I was gone for 5 weeks, I had a little weekly planner in which I wrote down every expense (even 2 cents) and noted if I didn't get a receipt or shared a receipt with another person (i.e. Helen). Sometimes you just can't get a receipt, like for the avocado and mango you bought on the street. Still, I diligently recorded all of these expenses, marking personal expenses such as gifts with a star. I put receipts in an envelope and tried to always get receipts for expenses more than about $5, even I had to get them to use my receipt book. I didn't always succeed for various reasons.
On Monday I sat down with my planner, receipts, and receipt book to add it all up. Then I took out all of the expenses for which I didn't have a receipt (they totaled about $75- not bad). Next I categorized the expenses in the same way I'd written my grant budgets. Then I had to split the expenses between two grants which are administered by two different institutions (UBC and BNHM). Each grant had a spreadsheet and about 15 pages of receipts individually numbered and taped to sheets of paper- all in a different currency.
I can't even imagine what it will be like when I'm in the field for months instead of one month.
To make matters worse, when I get all of these reimbursements, I have to give a big chunk of it back to UBC because they seriously screwed up my advance before I left so it has to be done in this nonsensical, convoluted way. They're not used to doing advances for grad students. I've been meaning to mention that when I receive official correspondence from UBC about my grants that they address me as "Dr. Anirak" which is several years premature and thus endlessly amusing.
One difference is that I have several students from other universities, including some places like SFC. I also suspect that summer session students are, for the most part, overachievers. I have one student who is repeating the class to improve her grade.
Teaching this summer is turning out to be easier than I expected. I only have 2/3 as many students as in a normal semester, which means less grading and lab finishes earlier. I taught this class in the fall so I've also been through it once already. But seriously, I wish my afternoon students would ask me more questions. It would make me feel needed!
Friday, June 20, 2008
They still hadn't arrived when I went to sleep, but I got a phone call at 1:45 am that roused me from what must have been incredibly deep sleep. I had no idea where I was- not even which continent. When the guy said "Are you in Big City?" I nudged Jon and said, "Are we in Big City?" and then answered the guy on the phone (Yes, I'm in Big City). Boy, I was out of it.
I went out on the street at 2 am in my pjs to get my bags and I asked why in the world my bags were being delivered at 2 am instead of a more reasonable hour. The answer: They deliver delayed baggage 24 hours a day. I wish the person I talked to Thursday afternoon had told me that my bags could arrive at any time during the day or night. But whatever, I have my bags back and that's all I really care about.
I unpacked one before leaving for school this morning- the honey covered one. Two of my six jars of honey and one jar of jam emptied their contents into my bag. I knew this might happen. I'll deal with washing everything sticky when I get home this afternoon. I'm just so glad to have my bags I don't care if everything is covered in honey.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Please take a minute to call the Governor's office and tell him that the nation's eyes are on Louisiana and he should prevent SB 733 from becoming law.
Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)
It really only takes a minute. No one answered when I called the toll-free number, so I just left a voicemail. Go! Call!
Read more at:
-Louisiana Coalition for Science
-Uncommon Ground (thanks Kent for alerting me to this)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
When I ran into Chip he was talking to another professor from the fellowship committee that selected me. I talked with him (the committee member) for several minutes about the program, since I still don't totally see how I fit. He said several helpful things that have clarified what the program is and isn't.
First of all, my research should take priority over the fellowship requirements. If the fellowship would inhibit me from doing or publishing research, then that would be a reason not to do it.
Secondly, I don't have to rework my research to 'fit' this program. My research is my research, but this program will generally broaden my perspective and experience as a scientist through collaboration with people completely outside my discipline.
In retrospect, I think many people have been telling me to think of it this way, but I didn't really 'get it' until this morning's conversation. Yesterday I talked on the phone with Leo about it and he told me to think of the ancillary benefits rather than the research benefits. I still want to talk with Herb about it, but I think he'll say go for it.
Really this program is like icing on the research cake. Sweet, sweet icing that requires four semesters of classes to eat it.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
can visualize where I'll be working! Here are some photos from this
week, including the biggest, rolliest rolly pollys ever. They're
about the diameter of a penny or nickel when they roll up. I tried
making a fern print on my arm but I'm far too pale for it to show up.
The caterpillars were being raised for a butterfly project that sends
pupae all over the world and provides income to butterfly farmers
here near Nyota. The caterpillar in the middle looks exactly like a
bird turd. Good camouflage.
the second or third I've seen in my life and I can't remember if this
is a pseudoscorpion or not. Can you help? I don't have my
invertebrate book and as I write this I also have no internet.
There's no scale in the picture, but it's about the size of my hand.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
night I had to move to a different area using public transportation.
This turned into a much larger endeavor than I anticipated, because I
waited for about 4 hours to get a ride. In the meantime, I drew,
listened to my ipod, and read my camera manual, but it was still boring.
The buses that passed either weren't going far enough, or were
already jam-packed with people (inside and even a few guys on the
roof). I had to wait to hitch a ride with a passing lorry. Finally at
dusk a logging truck came by. The cook was also headed the same way
so thankfully I wasn't alone with a bunch of truck drivers who don't
First of all, I am amazed that anything gets up and down this road,
let alone 3-4 big overloaded buses twice a day plus several lorries.
This isn't even the worst season for the road! What a ride. I wish my
camera had been accessible to shoot some video.
When I got to the other part of Nyota about an hour later when it was
completely dark, the cook took me to the rest house. She left before
I realized I wasn't actually at the correct rest house (the one I
thought I was going to). The man there was very hospitable,
especially considering that I was very confused about why I'd ended
up where I did. The place was a nice old building that reminded me of
the field station I visited last week, so it ended up not being a
problem, but I was discombobulated by the mix up. This experience
reinforced how important it is for me to be conversant in the
language here. Knowing the tribal language really wouldn't hurt
either, since they often use both!
This morning I switched from the first rest house to the one I
thought I was going to last night. Thankfully, it wasn't a problem at
all. And I finally bought one of the books I've been searching for! I
went on another hike today with two other travelers. Now I've
divulged to the guide that I'm interested in potentially doing
research here next year. I've got to be sure I can carefully,
tactfully get all of the information I need before I leave! I'm
beginning to worry that I haven't left myself enough time here by
saving it for the end of the trip.
Unfortunately, for some reason I'm not allowed (able?) to connect my
laptop here so this probably won't get posted until I get back to the
city on Saturday.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
been nice to have, but not essential.
1) Camelbak reservoir (I have a Camelbak daypack which I love. I
mostly use it without the reservoir, but it would've been nice for
2) A small tripod. We had one in RFC and it was incredibly useful.
3) Long cord for my computer adapter. This would be especially
helpful now that I am having trouble with my two-prong adapter.
So far I've managed to lose three things on this trip.
1) One of my two outlet adapters. Unfortunately, my spare was left
with my friend in the city.
2) My visor. It was my first visor and it said "California." I left
it on one of the two buses I took to start my hike last week. Oh
well. It would have been nice to have it but I'm not heartbroken.
3) My Nalgene water bottle. This I lost getting off the bus on
Saturday. I'm not sure if someone pulled it out of the side pocket of
my bag, or if it fell out while I was pushing my way off the bus. It
has the name of SFC on it and I have some fond memories associated
with it, but I can live without it. I'm sure someone else will put it
to good use since they're such durable bottles.
The one thing that isn't working properly:
My computer adapter. I have to balance it very carefully in the
universal power strip for it to work when I'm not holding it. I
suspect the problem is in my adapter and not in the power strip, but
I don't know. Either way, it needs to keep working for just one more
Sunday, June 8, 2008
America's annual conference this summer. I've never been to a big
conference of any sort. I felt like I'd been missing out for the past
few years when I've known so many other colleagues and friends going.
So, this summer I'm going even though I'm not presenting anything.
In order to meet the early registration deadline I have to register
while I'm still in Ukenzagapia so I started looking at my options.
Well, first I was just going to register, but then I realized there
are heaps of field trips and additional sessions ($$) to choose from.
I've emailed a few friends to ask what they're planning to do. I know
I shouldn't wait too long because many (all?) of these will fill up.
Maybe I should just go ahead and register for the normal stuff and
figure out the extras later.
Do any of you (my faithful readers) have strategies for planning what
to do at a conference, especially ESA?
Friday, June 6, 2008
start envisioning the details of my own field work. This is a pretty
long and rambling post, but here's what I've been up to:
I signed up for a four-day hike to get to know the people, flora, and
fauna of this area better, since this is the general region where
I'll be working next year (when I actually have my permits). No one
else was interested in this hike, so it was just me and my local
guide. He spoke good Ukenzagapian English but I also tried to
practice my language skills with him and the other people I met along
the way, though many people who spoke to me did so in English.
The first day of my hike started with a near-death experience (ok, a
bit of an exaggeration) in a bus to the starting point. Our bus
passed between two lorries with about 6 inches to spare on either
side. Even before this near-accident, our driver was taking the turns
like a maniac. I didn't even see just how close we were to an
accident with the moving lorry, but my guide did and he told the
driver off and demanded that they stop to let us off. We walked along
the road for a few minutes until the next bus came, and my guide
spent most of the rest of the ride telling the passengers of this new
bus about our first crazy driver. When we arrived in the town he
found the bus driver and proceeded to tell him off some more. I told
the driver, "You are crazy." Apparently the guide threatened to take
this guy to the police, but finally we bought some food and left
(after my guide told the story to a few more people).
The whole first day of walking was through small farms. We passed
many children (pretty much every day). This area in general isn't
very touristy, and apparently tourists only go on this particular
trek a few times a year, so these villages rarely see foreigners.
Children stared at me without exception. Many of them greeted me in
one language or another, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some of
them also think that I am hilarious, and spend the whole time
laughing at me (one girl laughed uncontrollably). A few of them are
scared of me to the point of tears.
The first day we stopped in a village to eat lunch at my guide's
sister's house. They have a "haircatting saloon" there which was a
good laugh. Everyone we encountered on this trek seemed to speak the
language I've studied interspersed with their tribal language, which
made conversations especially difficult for me to follow.
I was really unimpressed with the first night's accommodation
considering that I was paying $60 per day, but it was ok. I never saw
where there was a shower, but apparently I could've arranged to
bathe. The place where we ate had the TV on, and I found it
captivating to watch. Most stuff was in the local language but there
was some English too. Also, they had one Celine Dion CD on repeat.
The next morning we went back to the same place for breakfast and
they were playing the same music. We walked through small farms for
about an hour before the scenery got wilder. This was a welcome
change, as I was getting tired of making children cry. We arrived at
the field station around 2 pm. It has beautiful gardens, rooms, and
furniture, and an odd collection of books. Shortly after we got
there, the American Ph.D. student who I met on Monday evening arrived
(like I wrote earlier, you're never alone for long when you travel
alone). Let's call him John (not to be confused with my Jon). We were
the only two foreigners at the station. John is just starting 4
months of fieldwork in an area that is conceptually and
geographically close to my research, so it was great to talk with him
about his project and my ideas. Just as useful were the tips and
hints we traded about dealing with bureaucracy and logistics in
I hadn't anticipated how disconnected the field station would be from
the rest of the world. Somehow, no cell towers reach there so I was
completely out of range on my phone (FYI- mobiles are everywhere
here. Probably 75% of adults have one, so it's not unreasonable to
expect at least some coverage there). Also, the station is powered by
small-scale hydropower and if too many leaves clog it up the lights
go out. Around 10 pm the lights dimmed rapidly and we had to make mad
dashes for our torches. Each room only had one light bulb to begin
with, and there are very few outlets in the house. John brought his
own small solar system with a battery so that he can power his laptop
and charge batteries because the field station has so little
electricity. It's odd to find such a western-style building (it was
built by a Swedish family) with almost no electricity.
It was interesting reading the guest register for the past two years.
Not very many people visit (once every 1-2 weeks), which I find
remarkable. This place could really be an important center for
research in this area with relatively minor investments in solar
power (electricity and hot water heating) and perhaps a nearby cell
tower. It is still difficult to access by road, but it's doable.
About $30,000 could go a long way here towards attracting researchers.
I spent two days exploring the area. I'm able to identify some of the
prominent flora and fauna but I've got a long way to go. On Friday
morning we headed back to our starting point ("civilization" =
internet cafes). The walk back was misty/drizzly/rainy the whole
time. I had my rain pants and jacket but I still ended up very damp.
I'm not sure if it was mostly sweat or that my rainjacket is wearing
out. Either way, it was pretty miserable but I kept a positive
attitude about it and just kept on truckin'. I was thankful for my
decision to purchase a waterproof camera. I had puddles in my shoes
within an hour or so of walking, but my socks kept my feet warm. We
made it to the town where we spent the first night by noon, and we
ate lunch at that same place with the Celine Dion music. I could see
steam rising off my body when I took off my jacket and I didn't even
come close to drying out during lunch. Then we took buses the rest of
the way back to "civilization" which I was thankful for since the
weather was crap. The drivers were good this time and not suicidal.
I'm writing this on Friday evening to post on Saturday morning, and
I've thoroughly enjoyed this evening with my computer to catch up on
email and do more reading. Hope you at least liked the pictures even
if you didn't read this whole thing.
I got two pieces of great news when I returned to electronic
-Clinton finally stepped out of the race and Obama has the democratic
nomination (Jon sent me a text about this that I received once I got
back in range)
-I've been offered the multidisciplinary fellowship I applied for!
So, I knew the Clinton thing was going to happen soon but I wasn't
expecting to hear back already about the fellowship! I'm still not
sure how it would work for me, so as soon as I get back I'd like to
talk to several people about it and be sure I understand what I'm
getting into and if I definitely want to do it. It's a NSF-funded
$30,000/year two-year fellowship, so it would be hard to decline that
kind of raise (~45%) but I really need to be sure it's the right
decision for my research and career direction and not just for my
More on my hike tomorrow.
Monday, June 2, 2008
traveling 'alone.' I said earlier that this was my first time really
traveling alone, but I actually spent 3 weeks in Russia traveling
'alone' but I ended up being by myself for only 1 or 2 days so I
didn't really count that. This time I'm also feeling like I'm not
really traveling alone because I've made so many friends!
Meeting Helen was the best thing that happened at the beginning of my
trip. I joined her language class, and met many other people
(especially expats) through her. We were able to talk about our
research ideas and concerns and found we had many random things in
common (i.e. both of our mom's write math curriculum. how random is
that?). Now that Helen and I have parted ways, I imagined the rest of
my trip to be more solitary. Not exactly.
-Last weekend I met a middle-aged Brit at the hostel recommended to
me by my language teacher. He happened to be heading towards Nyota on
Saturday as well (though not quite as far), so we took the same bus
from the city towards Nyota and he got off about 2/3 of the way
through the ride. It was nice to have company for such a long bus ride.
-Helen's partner's classmate came to Ukenzagapia on Friday, and it
just so happens that she'll be working in a small town I was planning
to visit where there's hardly any accommodation because few tourists
go there and basically none stay there. So, I'll be staying with that
new friend next weekend.
-Monday night at the hostel I sat down for dinner with two
foreigners. One happened to be someone with whom I was exchanging
emails about hiking plans because the guides put us in touch, and the
other is an American Ph.D. student who works in the place I'm
visiting later this week. His work is somewhat related to mine and
I'm sure I'll get advice from him.
-When I return to the city before I fly home, I'm staying with the
other American from my language class.
Right now the only time for which I won't have a friend (yet) is
actually at Nyota. We'll see if that holds true.
Thankfully I haven't picked up any really persistent but unwanted
'friends' like I did in Russia (i.e. culturally obnoxious tourists
who want to take advantage of your language skills- however
rudimentary- or just generally need someone to listen to them talk).
What has your experience been traveling alone?
Ukenzagapia. On Monday I spent 8 hours with a guide hiking to some
spectacular sites. One part in particular reminded me strongly of
RFC. The flora, fauna, and geology here are amazing! Since I'm near
Nyota I need to be more careful about what I say since I'm just here
as a tourist. Still, I'm seeing and learning a lot.
On Tuesday morning I'm starting a four-day hike to a rain forest.
That means I won't be online again until Friday or Saturday at the
earliest. I should have some great pictures to post though!
Out of curiosity, do any of you (my faithful readers) know what the
restrictions are for bringing honey back to the US? I'm thinking of
bringing some back from Ukenzagapia.
Check out this guy from Monday's hike.
posting). In summary, Thursday I had a meeting with a local
scientist, Friday was the last day of my language class, Saturday was
my last day with Helen, and Sunday I took the bus out here to the
general region of Nyota. Whew!
My meeting on Thursday was great. We talked about the possibility of
Masters students from the local university working on related
projects next year with me, so that we could share fieldwork, data,
and resources. He was gracious and incredibly helpful. We've been
corresponding for several months now so it was great to finally meet
On Friday our language class went to someone's house to cook a meal
together. It was so much fun! We had an interesting and probably
fairly representative group of foreigners to Ukenzagapia in our class:
-two spouses of diplomats
-one spouse of an aid worker
-two Ph.D. students
The only major group missing would be missionaries.
Our teacher was is from Ukenzagapia, so he helped make the local
fare. The diplomat was from Zimbabwe, which was fascinating. The
diplomatic spouses were from Denmark and Sweden, the aid worker
spouse was American, and Helen is part Arabic. I made guacamole, the
Swede made ice cream, the American provided the house, the Dane
brought liquor, and Helen made salad. I was so full at the end of the
On Saturday Helen and I ventured out of the city to a popular
destination nearby. Oddly enough, we found the place very quiet and
saw only a couple of foreigners, which was not the impression we'd
gotten of the place from hearing other people talk about it. We had a
nice walk around and learned some history of the region. It has been
really interesting traveling with Helen. She is fluent in Arabic, so
she is able to understand a lot of the Arabic influence here.
Mostly we wandered around the town. We both bought some artwork which
we're really excited about. Also, our tour guide said to me, "If you
want, we could get married." Maybe I'll write more later about such
marriage propositions. At the end of the day, we caught rides on the
back of motorbikes to the bus station. It was definitely the
highlight of the day! I would've paid 50 cents just for a ride around
town! That's Helen on the back of a motorbike, taken while I was on
the back of another.
On Saturday night I said goodbye to Helen, because I left early
Sunday morning and she's headed somewhere else. I won't see her again
before she goes back to the UK. It's been great to have a friend here!
Hopefully I'll be able to post again tomorrow morning, but it's
possible I won't be able to post again until Friday or Saturday
because internet is extremely unreliable here. Tomorrow morning I'm
starting a four-day hike!
adapter in the city I just left, and I'm not going back there for 2
weeks and I'm in a tiny town that isn't exactly on the beaten tourist
track. I was unsuccessful in finding an adapter yesterday afternoon,
so they told me to try again this morning. I was planning to spend
Sunday working on my computer, catching up on writing emails and
reading various articles. Since I couldn't plug in my computer and
wasn't sure when I would be able to (due to the possibility of not
finding an adapter here), I read and went to sleep early. Thankfully
I was able to find a universal power strip this morning, so I'm back
in action. Now let's see if I can get up to speed on what I've been