Saturday, January 31, 2009

interests and advisors

I originally applied to UBC to work with Leo at Big Natural History Museum. In order to do that, I had to have someone else at UBC willing to co-advise me (Herb). My intention was to bridge their research interests and work closely with both of them. As my project ideas have developed, however, my research becomes more and more like Herb's and less and less like Leo's. When I met with Leo to discuss my prelim proposal, he pretty much said, "Well, you're conceptually out of my realm of expertise, so I'll contribute what I can to the big picture and taxonomic advice."

This revelation is a little bit sad for me because I really like Leo and I think he's a great advisor. I wonder how my project ideas might have developed differently if I had spent most of my time last year at the museum instead of Herb's lab.

Then, there's Sam. I don't think I've written enough about what a tremendous influence and resource Sam has been. Last year I want searching for a field site to do what I wanted to do, and I was introduced to Sam. After an hour of talking with him I was completely sold on working at his site. Not only does he have tremendous knowledge of the area's natural history (stuff you just can't find in books about East Africa), he has similar research interests, is a native Ukenzagapian, and has tons of contacts. He could just tell me things that I spent weeks trying to read about a different African field site. Working with him is the difference between scrounging for natural history crumbs in 50 year old articles and having the answer (or at least an educated guess) just an email or phone call away.

Sam also happens to be one of Herb's students (have I explained this before? I can't remember), so his research ideas are well within Herb's realm. The fact that I am working at Sam's field site, not Herb's, means that Sam's advice is extrordinarily important. He is effectively a third advisor, though technically he is an outside committee member since he's at another university. But the extent to which Sam is involved in my research endeavours begs the question of who should be the PI (Principal Investigator) on the DDIG or DDIG-like grant that I submit after my prelims. Normally it would be Herb. It could also be Leo, but that doesn't make sense for my project. Can Sam and Herb be PIs with me as a co-PI? I need to talk about this with Herb.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Photos from Washington, DC! Part 3

Photos, finally! Did I mention that I'm really busy? Here are the photos from the Natural History Museum in Washington, DC. After Obama's inauguration we worked our way through the crowd and into the museum to warm up our frozen feet.

This is the main hall of the museum with the entrance from the Mall off on the right. Everyone had to come through metal detectors and have their bags searched. I tried to capture how many people were in the museum- it was so crowded!

The people on the right were all lined up to get food from the cafe. The cafe isn't even close to being in this photo. Cool dinos, huh?

There were people sleeping all over the museum. Seriously. Everywhere. Maybe these were some of the people who got there at 4 am or maybe they didn't sleep at all.

Some primates in front of the other primates.

These adorable twin boys were learning about spiders in the insect zoo. Perhaps they should consider renaming it the arthropod zoo considering how many non-insects where there? Or the insects & allies zoo?

It just so happens that Tuesdays are free admission days for the butterfly house at the museum, so we really warmed up in the hot, humid butterfly haven. That's a closeup of a butterfly wing (above).

At this time of year, nearly all of the butterflies in Northern hemisphere butterfly houses are from the tropics. Butterfly farming can be a significant source of income for subsistence farmers in developing countries. They raise the caterpillars, then the chrysalides (pupae) are shipped to butterfly houses all over the world.
This butterfly landed on my backpack.

Rocks & minerals are so awesome. I think I could've easily been a geologist if just a few things in my life happened differently.This tiger is intimidatingly mounted to pounce on you. This is just one example of the phenomenal taxidermy in the mammal hall.

We stayed at the museum for a couple of hours to wait for the crowd to disperse but the parade was still going on so the area downtown was still busy. All of these unfortunate people were waiting to get on the metro. The line wasn't moving at all. We kept walking and just two blocks down we got in without any wait at all. Our motto of the day was "don't be sheep." It worked out well.

Finally, if you haven't see this amazing photo, you really must go check it out. Click around. Zoom in. Unfortunately, we're behind that camera on the right. Thanks to Kent from Uncommon Ground for the tip.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

bad news

A few months ago I wondered aloud at the Economical Academic about the economic ramifications of the slumping economy for universities. Well, the new year's news hasn't been very good at UBC. My department has halved graduate student support for presenting at meetings and canceled all visiting speakers. Today Herb told us that they probably won't admit any new students next year as Teaching Assistants. Furthermore, TA positions during the summer will be extremely limited, and they are going to enforce degree time lines more strictly.

A glimmer of hope lies in the stimulus bill to boost NSF funding, though I'm not sure how that will affect TAships. I'm thankful that Obama is a science-friendly president and I'm much more hopeful about science funding now that he is in office.

Monday, January 26, 2009

soooooo slooooooooooooooow

I've been working slowly but steadily all day on my prelim proposal. Part of what has made my progress so slow today is hunting down the right references for specific little facts. I tend not to do this very efficiently. An hour later, I'll have 8 tabs open and have added at least 6 pdfs to my 'collection.' I think I seriously spent 2 hours today reading about my field site while trying to find the proper reference for the average annual rainfall. Then I spent another hour looking for a specific reference about my critters. Why do these little things take me so long? Does anyone else have this problem?

I'm still going to be here for a while tonight. And I have to go swimming. Gotta practice my form and my tediously slow and exhausting swimming.

Someone from SFC called me today asking for donations. I've given money to them every year since graduation and encouraged all of my friends to do the same, but I decided that this year I should give them at least as much money as I give to public radio so I'm donating $10 per month.

In other random news that most of you don't give a crap about, four different SFC grads that I know have posted to Ecolog in the past few weeks (Ecolog is the listserv for the Ecological Society of America). That's way up from the typical occurrence of zero. One of them is a guy that I dated for a minute. I think he had more girlfriends during college than anyone else I know. Maybe it's because he also smelled better than anyone I've ever met (Jon knows, we've talked about this).

Ok, back to work. I know I still need to post those photos from the Natural History Museum in DC. Maybe I'll get to those later tonight.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

recipie for stress

I'm working at school for most of today and tomorrow because I have to get a prelim proposal draft to my committee early next week... and I haven't started writing it. I've been thinking about it a lot but not actually writing anything. Today I start writing.

Among normal everyday things like classes, I have a prelim proposal draft due in 3 days, a major revision of my review due in 2 weeks, the final prelim proposal due in a month, training for a timed indoor triathlon in 2 weeks, spending way more time than I thought I would be on my part-time job, and last but not least I'm planning a wedding 3 months from tomorrow on a small budget.

Two of my best girlfriends from SFC are getting married in the month before and month after our wedding. I just got off the phone with the one getting married in May. She wanted me to be one of her bridesmaids but I'll be in Ukenzagapia for the wedding. I feel like crying. Maybe I need to eat lunch.

Oh, we're also having a party tonight and haven't gone grocery shopping since before Christmas. We officially ran out of pasta last night which is basically a sign of famine in our household.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photos from Washington, DC! Part 2


We arrived on the Mall just after 8 am on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. There were already so many people there! We were across the Mall from the American History Museum and Natural History Museum.

This is a Google satellite image of the Mall before inauguration. Based on how many people are in this image, my guess is that it was taken no later than 9 am. We were about 3/4 of the way from the capitol to the Washington Monument.

This was our view of the capitol...

...and this was our view of the monument. It was pretty much people from one end to another. The mall definitely had room for more people in our area. Apparently they closed off sections of the Mall as the morning went on, which explains why it never got completely packed and there was quite a bit of open space off to the sides. These photos that I took were taken around 11 am.

They replayed Sunday's concert on the jumbotrons while we waited for things to start happening on the capitol. It was a good excuse to dance and keep warm! They had some trouble synchronizing the video and audio, and it wasn't just because light and sound travel at different speeds! Sometimes the video was ahead and sometimes it was behind. But that was hardly important.

Bush got some boos, but mostly I think people there were more focused on Obama coming in than Bush going out. As soon as Obama finished the oath of office, the entire crowd went crazy and everyone was hugging and cheering. His inaugural speech had some great lines, but only time will tell which will become as famous as, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country," and "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Photos from the Natural History Museum still to come.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Photos from Washington, DC! Part 1

Photos from Washington, DC, as promised! I'm going to do it in three parts.

On Monday we walked around downtown. We walked down part of the parade route marked here with the blue line.

I think this might have been the official end of the parade route or something. I think Obama might have stood on this exact intersection of tape 24 hours after me. But if not, it's fun to believe he did.

There were lots of mounted police officers around, so I suppose it makes sense that they also had an Equine Ambulance. I've never seen one of these before.

Someone was flying this huge Obama flag near the Washington Monument.

It's the Obama house now!

This is the White House during Bush's last few hours as president. Thankfully that's over.

Inauguration day photos later.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

that was totally worth it

Wow, there we SO MANY PEOPLE on the Mall! Sounds like it was me, Jon, and 2 million of our closest friends. Everything went very smoothly for us getting downtown and finding a place to watch even though we didn't have tickets. Now I'm watching the end of the parade on TV. I'm so glad that we decided to come to this historic event.

So, it appears that I left the cable for downloading photos from my camera at home, so I'll post photos from the inauguration on Wednesday or Thursday.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

science communication

My final assignment last semester was a proposal for developing and assessing a community outreach program for my research in Ukenzagapia. In the process of writing the proposal, I realized a theme that came up time and time again last semester: things can go horribly wrong when the general public doesn't understand what scientists are doing.

Over the course of the semester, I saw several examples of situations that got ugly because scientists didn't communicate soon enough or clearly enough the goals and/or methods of their work with members of the community. This probably also has to do with framing, which Kent Holsinger has written about on his blog Uncommon Ground.

As part of my interdisciplinary fellowship, we learned about two cases in the Big City area where concerned and vociferous citizens brought projects to a grinding halt. The first case involved citizens who opposed ecological restoration projects, and the second was a hazardous waste treatment plan that didn't involve the local community soon enough. I think both cases were failure of scientists to effectively communicate their work. Illustrating the importance of science communication wasn't a goal of the course at all, but it turned out to be an unintended theme.

Now I see opportunities for science communication everywhere. For example, they should've had at least one entire lecture in my animal ethics class about research communication with non-scientific audiences. For heaven's sake, most of the biomedical researchers in that class may have to live in fear of violent animal rights activists for the rest of their professional lives if scientists don't speak up about what they do and direct at least part of the dialogue.

In the most unfortunate science miscommunication event, a grad student from UBC is caught up in a mess of accusations about her/his research. UBC lawyers are involved, and I'm hoping that it doesn't get out of control. The worst part about this situation is, I think, that the grad student and the accuser actually have common interests. In any case, the student is now on the defensive and so is the university.

It's very important for me both personally and professionally that Ukenzagapians as well as U.S. taxpayers understand what I do and why my research is significant. But in order for me to communicate that clearly, I've got to be sure I thoroughly understand it myself. Preparing for my prelims gives me an opportunity to construct my proposal around meaningful questions and practice communicating what I do. If only I could tell you here!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Jon and I are in Washington, DC until after inauguration. Unfortunately, I've got a lot of work to get done while we're here so I'm mostly holed up where we're staying at until Tuesday's events. I like DC. I almost went to Georgetown and loved visiting. We know several people here, too. I could live here.

I am a little disappointed that I'm not at ScienceOnline 2009. It sounds like Anne-Marie, Alice Pawley, Sciencewoman, and all the rest of you are having a great time. When I checked the registration a few months ago it was already full!

On the bright side, I do get to be in Washington, DC for one of the most historic speeches and events of my lifetime.

Academic self-replacement

Herb has been pushing all of his graduate students to think about how their personality will impact their career choices and suitability. What type of career does your personality lend itself towards? Also, if you aren't a very social person, how will you make yourself known to others in the field? How will you be a face instead of just a name? What's your strategy?

Similarly, he has been trying to impress upon us the importance of getting outside the UBC bubble to find out what other people in the field are thinking about. Last week's lab meeting was a discussion about these issues. Herb gave examples of how his previous students have initiated collaborations outside of UBC and how they have networked and built their careers.

He mentioned that his third former graduate student (of many) is about to receive tenure at a major research university. Then he said, "So, if self-replacement is the ultimate goal then I've got that covered."

Suddenly it hit me: jobs like Herb's aren't growing much (at all?)*. When he retires, one person- one former graduate student- will fill his position. Unless new positions are being created, a huge number of once-graduate students are competing for 'replacement.' Yet he has produced many, many graduate students.

I've read about how the number of Ph.D.s awarded in biology greatly exceeds the number of jobs requiring a Ph.D. in biology*, but I didn't really get it until Herb talked about replacement.

Of course there are many jobs for Ph.D.s in biology that aren't research-based professorships like Herb's. There are undergraduate institutions, government jobs, some industry (limited for ecologists and evolutionary biologists), and non-profits. But are graduate students being prepared for these jobs or encouraged to pursue them? There's an interesting discussion at Sciencewomen that touches on these topics (with particularly insightful comments by Alex- check them out).

* My limited and impatient Google searches didn't turn up what I was expecting. I didn't just imagine this stuff- can anyone point me to some articles I can link to?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

today's accomplishments

Today I finished a grant application for tomorrow's deadline. I also submitted the second of many letters of recommendation for one of my students from last year who is applying for summer internships. I read her most recent personal statement this morning and was very impressed by the changes she made based on my feedback. I'm embarrassed by it, but I totally get verklempt when I think about my students doing great things in science. Um, yeah. I can't really articulate it, but I get all emotional. Is that totally weird?

In other news, I'm such a bad swimmer! I've got to work on my form- a lot- if I'm going to do a triathlon! Mariyah and Amber want to do it too so I've got training buddies. Today I was just getting the rhythm of my terrible form when Mariyah gave me some pointers on my technique for the front crawl. Then I thought so hard about what my arms were doing that I had horrible rhythm, forgot to breathe and kicked only sporadically and thus could hardly make it halfway across the pool. I'm glad I have Mariyah around to give me swimming tips. I'll get the hang of it... eventually.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

once upon a time

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, Jon started building me a dresser. It was my Christmas gift in 2004. He designed it and started building it in 2005. He continued working on it in 2006 until we left for Remote Foreign Country when it looked like a dresser but needed all of the finishing touches. We stored it at his mom's house. We moved it to Big City. We put it in a closet, because there was no place for him to sand it and finish it. We moved upstairs, and moved it to a real workshop where he could actually work on it again. Mind you, this is possibly the heaviest dresser I've ever seen.

Christmas 2008, four years later. His goal was to finish it by Christmas, so we just redefined Christmas as last Sunday. Last week he told me he still wasn't quite finished but that it would be done today. On Sunday morning we exchanged gifts with each other while listening to Christmas music and then went bowling and to a museum. When we got home, I was completely surprised by this when I eventually went up to our room:

What a beautiful dresser! I am thrilled to pieces to finally see it completed.

What did I get for Christmas 2008 from Jon? A bed frame. He promises to get it done before 2012. :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

OMG weddings and babies!

Ok, I just got home and I have tons of work to do tonight but before I get started I have to write about this. I'm seriously that age. It seems like everyone I know is getting freakin' engaged right now! Just in the past week THREE people that we know have gotten engaged.

2009 wedding count: 7
-Friends from SFC
-Other friends from SFC
-My cousin (I'm missing her wedding because I'll be in Ukenzagapia)-:
-Jon's boss
-A friend from high school
-More friends from SFC

These are only the weddings we're sure we'll be invited to, and it's only January! How many more weddings will there be in 2009?

Also, my friend Cora emailed me this morning to tell me that she's in labor and I'm expecting an announcement of the baby's birth any moment now!

Friday, January 9, 2009

not so good meeting

Today I met with Herb to talk about my prelims and my review. Basically, he said my review can't go another inch until I clearly structure it around questions that people are interested in seeing answered. I have tried and tried to do this, and I have obviously not succeeded... yet. I just wish that Herb had told me this at the beginning or middle of the break instead of the end.

He also wants to see more incorporation (i.e. citation) of the current leaders in the field who are actively shaping the paradigm I work under. For my prelims, he wants me to figure out where my work in general fits into the paradigm. This, of course, is essential, and right now I couldn't tell you.

Ok, it wasn't a bad meeting, it just wasn't a feel-good motivational kind of meeting. It was holy-crap-I-have-so-much-to-think-about kind of meeting. Overwhelming. And kind of discouraging that the review still isn't going anywhere. I just signed up to have the lab read it again next month, so at least that gives me another deadline.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

good meeting

Today I had a meeting with Sam about my prelims and a database project he and I are collaborating on. The database actually involves several people from a few different countries, and the long-term plan is that I will get many papers from the database, several of which I can be first author on if I run with it. Sam said he and the others really see me as a collaborator on this and that I should not be afraid to speak up with my ideas. Exciting stuff, but also a little bit intimidating as this project could easily be with me for the next decade and I have a bit of commitment anxiety.

But, there have been some major frustrations with this project so far and I've tried really hard not to rip my hair out. Long story short- someone on the project either doesn't know what they're doing, did crappy work in order to get paid for more hours of work, or their task truly is 1000 times more difficult than I thought it would be. AAAAH!

The upside: Sam said these things are the other person's problem and I should just work on different parts of it while the mess is sorted out. Phew.

We also talked about possible chapters for my thesis and what exactly I should write my prelim proposal about. For my thesis: My review will be the introduction, then I can have a chapter about observational stuff I'll do this summer, a critter-based chapter, an interdisciplinary chapter, and a database chapter. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I need an EXPERIMENT. My prelim proposal will focus on a truly experimental study that I can submit to NSF for a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG). Before the end of January I've got to figure out exactly what that experiment will be (I've got plenty of ideas).

Oh, more exciting news. Sam wants me to mentor one of his undergrads! In fact, it's the one I mentioned here who asked great questions. We'll be working on a project at the museum that is tangentially related to my thesis and the database, and it will broaden knowledge of the natural history of some Ukenzagapian animals. I'll be helping the student analyze and write up the data she collects. I'm looking forward to this since the UBC mentoring program never gave me a mentee.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

in case you were wondering...

...this is what a scientist looks like.

I won this t-shirt from a drawing of ScienceWomen readers who donated to the DonorsChoose challenge that I supported in October. Thank you to ScienceWomen and YellowIbis for this awesome t-shirt!

Friday, January 2, 2009

checked out!

I've been totally checked out of most things academic since the day after my committee meeting. We hosted a party, went to a party, barely cleaned up from our party, stayed up late playing Settlers of Catan, left for Jon's Hometown, celebrated Christmas with his family, went to see my family, celebrated Christmas and my birthday a few times, and made it home on New Year's Eve. I brought along a modest stack of articles to read during our travels, which I promptly forgot about and thus never read. I didn't do a damn work-related thing. So, with many deadlines looming this spring I've got a lot of work to do and it's time for me to check back in.

I've also really checked out on blogs and blogging too. I have a record 412 unread feeds and barely posted since the aforementioned committee meeting. But, I'm not going to apologize for any of this. It is what it is. Now I've got to get back to work!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Looking ahead to 2009

Last year I wrote about my hopes and dreams for 2008 and I'm doing the same for 2009. It's interesting for me to look back on it now, although I wish I'd thought to review last year's goals a few times throughout the year, too!

2009 will be an exciting year for us with quite a bit of traveling. Jon and I are getting married in April and I'll have my first real field season in Ukenzagapia. We're attending at least one wedding in addition to our own (almost inevitably there will be more as we seem to be that age). We're also planning to attend Obama's inaugural festivities in Washington, DC later this month. As Jon says, it's probably the most historic event of our lifetimes that we'll know about in advance.

After moving annually for the past 5 years, I really, truly think we're staying put in 2009. Going to Ukenzagapia for 3 months doesn't count since we'll keep our apartment and Jon will be here for most of the summer. I'm sad to be missing most of summer and the container gardening opportunities that go along with it, but I have to remind myself that it's only one summer. Maybe Jon can at least grow some basil while I'm gone. My plan is to be here for summer 2010.

Academic goals:
1) Prelims! They're happening in March. This is an important milestone in my career and I'll become a Ph.D. candidate. During this process I'll have to figure out what data I plan to collect this summer.
2) Finally publish the damn review paper. I really will, even though I thought I'd get it done in 2008.
3) Collect and analyze data from my first field season. This should turn into one or two small papers, but at best they'll probably be rough manuscripts by the time 2009 is out.
4) Get the friggin' NSF Graduate Research Fellowship or complete applications for other fellowships in the likely event that that doesn't happen.
5) Continue to seek opportunities to communicate my research to non-scientists.

Personal goals:
1) I really want to exercise regularly and frequently. Last semester I went to the gym an average of once per week, which was an improvement from last spring when I hardly went at all and suffered the consequences. I had weird back pains and I think it was from my lack of exercise. In order to get physically fit before going to Ukenzagapia, I would like to train for a sprint triathlon. Mariyah wants to do one too, so now we've got to find one and start training. I really suck at swimming so that will be a particularly big challenge for me. Between my prelims, a friend's wedding, my own wedding, and leaving for Ukenzagapia, finding a triathlon in the spring may be difficult!
2) I failed miserably at contributing to my IRA this year. I'm going to use the extra money I've been setting aside for taxes (they aren't taken out of my paycheck) for a contribution to the 2008 tax year, and then I'm going to automatically invest a set amount every month, maybe $200. I did this while working at Mid-Atlantic Field Station with great success, though we were also living well below our means and saving as much as we could for our trip to Remote Foreign Country.
3) This year I would like to start making monthly contributions to Small Friendly College and continue my small monthly donations to public radio. I'll make one-time contributions to other organizations.
4) In 2008 we succeeded in getting birthday and Christmas gifts for the kiddos in our lives, and this year we want some of them to visit us in Big City. Making this happen may be difficult considering that the best time is probably summer when they're out of school- but I'll be in Ukenzagapia.
5) I want to go dancing at least once per month. I love dancing and it is tragic that I can count on one hand how many times I've gone out dancing in the past two (maybe even three) years.

As far as blogging goes, I would like to foster more discussion on this blog. I seem not to be very good at it, so that is something I would like to improve in 2009.

The economic recession is sure to play an important role in 2009, though I'm unsure how it will affect me directly. Jon's employment is secure though it may slow down. My fellowship lasts until spring 2010 so I'm not dependent on TA positions that may be cut. A friend from high school and my uncle have both been laid off, but none of my immediate family members (nor Jon's) are in imminent danger of losing their jobs. I am very thankful for this, but my heart goes out to those who are unable to make ends meet. I hope that we will be able to rebuild our economic systems, infrastructure, and conservation ethic as a result of this disaster.

Finally, dear readers, I would like to leave you with a question that has been on my mind, How am I going to make the world a better place in 2009? How can I be the change I want to see in the world?

I haven't come close to answering it myself, but if you've figure out how you're going to make the world a better place this year, please do share!