Friday, February 27, 2009

people need to stop dying

Seriously people. Come on. I don't want anyone else in my family, or family of my family, family of friends, or friends of family to die for at least the next six months.

My maternal grandmother is in the hospital with irregular heart beats and high blood pressure. She might have had a heart attack. They're doing tests tonight to try and figure it out. Thankfully, she also has high spirits. Please keep my grandma in your thoughts and prayers.

February is a hard time of the year. It seems like a time when older people whose health has been slowly declining and people fighting terminal illness lose their struggles. So many people I know have lost friends and relatives in the past month. Let's list them by degrees of separation, shall we?

One degree
1. My sister.
2. My grandmother.

Two degrees
3. My little cousin's first grade teacher died suddenly of meningitis (3 people in her life in 1 week- she's worried about who will die next).
4. My friend's uncle died after a long battle with cancer.
5. Leo's graduate advisor died.
6. EGF's uncle passed away.

Three degrees
7. My cousin's partner's (cousin in law?) grandfather died.
8. My friend's best friend lost her mom.
9. My student's family lost a close family friend to a sudden heart attack.

10? My best friend's friend tried to kill himself twice in recent months. He has been missing since Tuesday, and his wife is pregnant with their first child.

Enough already.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

great undergrads

This semester I'm mentoring two great undergrads, both of whom have been mentioned more than once on my blog (here and links within).

One is a UBC student from my first semester of teaching. I've been writing her letters of recommendation for summer research internships and advising her on the application process. Today she came to pick up the last two letters and told me that she is being interviewed for one of the most awesome and competitive programs she applied for (and it's also the most ecology-related).

The other student is one of Sam's students from Another University (AU). Let's call her Marcie. Sam envisioned this multi-layer mentoring scheme for Marcie involving me, Sam, and a scientist from BNHM. I'll field most of the questions she has, but Sam and the other scientist will also be invovled as needed. Marcie will be working on a project using the collections at the museum. I'm excited to work with her on this because it means I'll actually get to work a bit with the collections, too. My research is overwhelmingly field-based, but this is giving me a few ideas for small projects that I could do. You know, if everything else fails or something. Or in my extra time.

The idea is that Marcie and I will write a small natural history type paper for a regional journal based on the data she collects. I'll help her through the writing and submission process. I think Sam will probably be an author on that too. Then we'll probably start on a bigger project that will test some hypotheses about critter ecology. Exciting stuff.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you an acadmic redneck if...

...your academic family tree doesn't branch?

I never heard of academic family trees until I started grad school. Herb likes to talk about his academic offspring (aka former students), sometimes confusingly without the necessary prefix 'academic.' Once he started talking about his granddaughter which threw me for a loop since his kid isn't old enough to have kids. Herb is my academic father and his graduate advisor is my academic grandfather. The family tree analogy starts to break down when referring to committee members- are they aunts and uncles or what? But that's probably besides the point.

Through coincidence or lack thereof, my academic family tree with advisors, committee members, and unofficial mentors who have been influential is not as branched as some.

Figure 1 (above): Karina's academic family tree. Arrows indicate direct non-'parental' influences such as committee members (black) and mentors who are not official advisors (blue). Lines without arrows indicate academic parent/offspring relationships.

Case 1: SFC Mentor. Herb and I have the unlikely shared experience of attending the very same Small Friendly College (a few decades apart). Even more unlikely, his peer mentor (just one year ahead of him in school while he was at SFC) returned to teach at SFC and wrote my letters of recommendation for grad school. I had no idea about all of this when I initially contacted Herb about being in his lab.

Case 2: Sam, my committee member and expert on Ukenzagapia, is also my academic brother. He finished his Ph.D. some years ago with Herb.

Case 3: Melody, my only female committee member, is the academic sister of Cora, my best friend from high school who just got her Ph.D. and has been influential in helping me think about different ways to conceptualize my research.

A certain amount of convergence along the academic lineage of mentors and students seems to be inevitable in many fields, but how much is too much?

Will my intellectual lineage suffer from inbreeding depression? To offset the potential insularity of all of his graduate students (not just my inbred self), Herb has prescribed regular perusing of real, paper journal issues, attendance at conferences, and conversations with ecologists from other institutions.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Today has been hard; I don't know why today. I'm at BNHM trying to finish revising my proposal for my committee. I made good progress at first but I haven't been able to concentrate for the past hour and a half. I wandered around the museum for an hour, trying to find refuge in the quiet exhibit halls.

Last night I dreamt that my sister hadn't really died, only part of her. Half of her. We were watching her in a dance recital, so surely she couldn't be all dead. The other body must've died, not this one. She really would be at my wedding. Then in my dream I realized it couldn't be true, because she had only one body, and I saw her body in the casket and cried over it.

Last week I dreamt that everyone in my family showed up for our wedding at the funeral home instead of the meeting house, including myself. I also dreamt that my uncle died of appendicitis.

The next night I dreamt about plants at my grandmothers funeral. Someone was pulling them out of the pots and I was upset with him. I wanted to take some home but he was taking all of them.

I hope writing this helps me get this off of my mind long enough to finish revising this proposal. 2 weeks until prelims.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

take ugly pictures

Last week I spent a day working at the museum for a change of scene. While I was there, Leo introduced me to a visiting scientist who has similar research interests. He also used to be in charge of one of the organizations that funded me last year*. We chatted for a while about my research and possible funding sources. He said that taking photos was important for broadly publicizing my research and writing articles for general audiences. His parting words of advice were, "Take ugly pictures. Illegal fires, bushmeat, whatever you see. Make sure you document the bad stuff, too."

*He said funding rates are going to be much lower this year from that organization because it was all funded from endowment income, and their endowment tanked (not surprisingly). Ouch.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

my great presentation

On Friday I gave a presentation for our student-run seminar series. I signed myself up for this date at the beginning of the semester thinking that it would help me get my thoughts together and get feedback from other students about my prelim proposal before submitting it to my committee on Monday.

I made an outline for the presentation before I left school on Wednesday, worked on it almost all day Thursday, practiced it for Jon on Thursday night, made revisions on Friday morning, and then presented! I'm really pleased with how it went. I was calm, confident, articulate, and organized. I think I did a good job explaining the background for a diverse audience and explained my novel and somewhat complicated methods clearly. I even timed it well! The audience asked questions throughout and gave me a few new suggestions for things I hadn't considered. The only bad thing was that the projector made some of my images unclear.

Most importantly, the process of putting together the presentation helped me clarify my conceptual framework. I even came up with a new figure for my proposal to show what I plan to do and why. It's making the revision process for my proposal a little bit easier. Also, I'll be able to use many of the same slides for the presentation to my committee on March 9.

It's always nice to end the week on a high note... even if my weekend is full of revisions to my prelim proposal.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

encouraging words

Chip is the kind of person who just doesn't communicate much over email. This morning I sent him an email asking for feedback (if he has any) about my proposal, but knowing how he is with email I also thought I should mention it to him in person when I saw him this afternoon.

I hadn't seen Chip since my sister died. He immediately gave me a hug and asked how I was doing. He said people are far more important and science can wait. I mentioned that any feedback about my proposal should be sent sooner rather than later. Then he looked me in the eye and said, "Well Karina, I'm approaching your prelims with the same assumption as before. I think you're great." He went on to tell me how he'll choose which questions to ask in my exam.

Sometimes, you just need the right person to tell you that they think you're great. I totally forgive him for not giving me feedback yet.

mixed messages

When I had my first committee meeting in December, I thought we very clearly laid out what I was supposed to do and when. 6 weeks before exam date- send committee a draft proposal. Get their feedback and incorporate it into the proposal I will defend that I must send them 2 weeks before exam date. Everyone agreed to this. Chip and Sam seemed to think this was a particularly good idea.

I asked for feedback on my proposal by Feb. 16 (yesterday). Melody was the only one who sent it. I'll get feedback from Herb today. Sam sent me an email last night saying, "I think I've already given you my feedback over the past two months. When did you want feedback by? Let me know if there are specific parts you need help with." This morning I asked Herb how to handle the non-responders, and he said, "Oh, most people probably won't give you feedback until the exam." WHAT?

Apparently, they laid out a best-case timeline for me but didn't really expect me to do it? Admittedly, I was more than a week late sending them my first proposal. Still, I'm kind of annoyed. It's only 8 pages. I'm especially annoyed that Sam and Chip haven't given feedback yet since they were so keen on the draft. Even though Sam and I have talked about my project at length, it would be helpful for him to read my whole proposal since ideas don't always come out clearly.

Also, I am completely intimidated by Sam- but only over email. Phone, fine. In person, fine. Email... opening emails from him fills me with dread. Is this totally bizarre? I give myself pep talks and remind myself not to be intimidated by anyone, especially not a colleague/committee member/advisor. Jon reminds me that I should always read emails in the best possible way. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt without inflection. I need to practice this with Sam.

On a completely different note, I have 825 unread blog posts. That number hasn't been below 250 since before Christmas. I (try to) read too many blogs. Time for lab meeting...

Monday, February 16, 2009

trying to catch up (or at least not fall further behind)

My prelims are 3 weeks from today. I requested feedback from my committee members on my proposal by today, and so far have only received it from Melody. Should I send a polite email to the others reminding them that I need their feedback soon? I'll get feedback from Herb and the rest of my lab tomorrow at our meeting. We were supposed to talk about my review last week, but instead we're talking about my prelim proposal this week.

Last Thursday I talked to Herb about my sister. He wasn't all that comforting. The least helpful thing he said was something like, "Well, you're still young. When you're older you learn how to deal with things like this." Maybe, but totally not helpful. I won't hold it against him though as I know he's understanding of how difficult this is even if he didn't articulate it very well. He gave me a check to help cover my travel expenses to get home.

My classmates have all been very supportive. I've received some hugs, many emails and calls, some cards in the old fashioned mail, and my interdisciplinary cohort sent flowers to both my grandmother's and sister's funerals. Friends have brought food and helped clean.

Last week I got a massage and I'm going to get one next week too. I can get cheap massages as a student and it's something I can do for myself. I'm also trying to keep up my exercising, especially swimming. I was registered for a triathlon on Feb. 8 but we were in the midst of funerals so obviously I missed it. Hopefully I can do one in March. If not, Jon will come to the gym and time me in all of the events for my own little triathlon.

I need to send my final prelim proposal draft to my committee in one week. I honestly haven't even looked at it since I made revisions the morning my sister died (11 days ago... already?). I'll do that tomorrow morning.

Then we've got that wedding to plan. We need to send invitations in one week and we don't have them yet. I think we're behind by absolutely every wedding planner's agenda of what is supposed to be done when. My sister was going to cut my hair and help with my makeup... another thing to figure out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My sister died the day after my grandmother. I haven't known how to say it here. Everything I imagine writing seems inadequate to convey how tragic this past week has been.

She was my only sister. We were such different people. It wasn't supposed to be this way. We were supposed to have years ahead of us to work out our differences and grow closer. This is so hard for so many reasons.

I went to school on Wednesday determined to be more energetic than on Tuesday when my day started with the news that my grandmother passed away. Then I got a call from my dad in the late morning. He sobbed, "I've got really bad news, honey." My 21 year old sister passed out right after coming home to my parents' house after a doctor's appointment for her 'bronchitis.' They thought she had a heart attack and the paramedics tried for 25 minutes to revive her; they couldn't.

Mariyah helped me figure out how to get to my parents asap, Jon flew back across the country from his work trip, my best friend brought me home from school and helped me pack, and we got to my parents house at 2 am on Thursday morning.

On Thursday we made arrangements at the funeral home and found out from the autopsy that she died from bilateral pulmonary thromboembolism. Her earlier symptoms of blood clots were misdiagnosed as muscle strain (leg pain) and bronchitis (shortness of breath, coughing). If you would like to know more, please email me and I will send them to you. I won't post the details here.

On Friday we drove with my parents to a different part of the state for my grandmother's visitation and funeral on Saturday. My dad's entire family was there, so it was wonderful to be with them for those two days even under such awful circumstances.

On Sunday we drove back to my parents' hometown. My sister's visitation lasted four hours and about 170 people came. Monday was the funeral at my parents' church. I saw so many family members that I haven't seen in ages and it made it easier to cope knowing that so many people were there to support us.

Now Jon and I are back home in Big City. I am so thankful that my parents have the support of their church community and their families, and thankful that we have so many fantastic friends here who have offered to help.

It's going to be a long road, but I know I won't walk alone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

very sad news

My grandmother passed away this morning. She recently had surgery to remove a cancerous growth in her lung. The surgery was, of course, supposed to go smoothly but there were complications and it sounds like then she was ready to check out. I wasn't ready for this. I wanted her to be at our wedding in April. My grandpa died 10 months ago on their anniversary.

Jon is traveling this week for work and will probably miss the funeral. I don't know when it will be yet but probably sometime this weekend so I'll have to figure out how to get there and back. So, don't expect much blogging from me this week. I probably haven't read your blog and generally have no idea what's going on in the blogosphere.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

more of my life in comics

I'm learning that even low-key Quaker-style weddings with lots of helping hands get expensive with >100 people. Eloping would've been our best option financially, but then we wouldn't have everyone there to sign our marriage certificate.

I hate introductions

I've done all of the easy parts of my proposal (study system, preliminary data (none!), methods, etc) and now I'm writing the introduction. I've been working on it since 8:30 am (that's just today). I need to send this to Herb today. My committee was supposed to get it last Monday. I need to finish this.

I think I have a problem. I hate introductions. When it comes to the big picture, I have a very hard time figuring out what to say and the order in which to say it. This is has manifested itself in Herb's criticism of my last draft of my review, an earlier draft of my review, working on my review, and stages of writing my GRF proposal. I just can't seem to go from big picture to experimental focus very well.

mrswhatsit has been going through similar struggles recently. I almost feel like I could've written this post! ecogeofemme made a great comment on mrswhatsit's post about not "writing like your committee is in the room." I was definitely writing like they were in the room earlier this week (probably because they have to read it so soon!) but it doesn't help get the fingers going. I need to stop being so concerned about this coming out right the first time.

Maybe I'm just completely psyching myself out. Maybe I've convinced myself that I'm not good at this part of writing, so I sit down expecting to have problems and take forever and guess what? I have major organizational problems and I take forever. I don't think I'm a bad writer, I think I'm just a bad thinker. Herb seems to think that I "think clearly" but it certainly doesn't feel that way.

Before I resume working on my introduction, I'm going take a break and do the dishes. Yes, that's a break. AHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!