Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review

I've always enjoyed sitting down at the end of a calendar year and reflecting on what the passing year brought and what the new year may bring. This has been an unforgettable year.

The trend of events in 2009 was very similar to 2008- the beginning of the year brought tragedies but then many wonderful things happened. I am thankful that there have been many uplifting events this year to thwart despair. If I had to pick a theme for 2009, it would be self-context. I didn't go into 2009 expecting to find new revelations about my work habits and hurdles in the field, nor could I have possibly imagined the tremendous losses in my family and my personal struggles accompanying their deaths. I have been seeing a great therapist this fall to help me unravel the interconnected themes of sisterhood, family, death, regret, religion, self-esteem, loss, health, and communication. I have come to see my strengths and weaknesses in a much deeper context of past experiences and family dynamics, and I think these realizations (and so many others) will help me overcome personal and professional challenges.

Here's a brief recap of 2009:
January- Jon and I went to Obama's inauguration and I prepared for prelims.
February- My grandmother passed away after a difficult surgery, followed immediately, independently, and unexpectedly by my younger sister's death the next day due to pulmonary thrombosis resulting from misdiagnosed blood clots. That pretty much says it all. February was the worst month of my life.
March- I passed my prelims!
April- I received the graduate research fellowship, and Jon and I got married!
May- I went to Ukenzagapia for my first real field season.
June- Jon came to visit me in Ukenzagapia.
August- I returned from Ukenzagapia.
October- I went to a conference, we visited family in Canada, saw tons of friends who came into town for my best friend's wedding, and went back to Small Friendly College.
November & December- Pretty uneventful but traveled a lot and saw lots of family at the holidays.

Since self-context wasn't exactly on my list of goals for 2009, I'd like to address some of the ones that were.

Academic goals:
1) Prelims!  DONE!
2) Finally publish the damn review paper. NOPE. Maybe 2010...
3) Collect and analyze data from my first field season. I got the 'collect' part done but not the analysis.

4) Get the friggin' NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. DONE! Thank God!
5) Continue to seek opportunities to communicate my research to non-scientists. Not really. I did a poor job of this in 2009. I need to think strategically about how to do this in 2010.

Even though I wasn't able to get that review sent out for publication or analyze my data, I am feeling pretty good about my progress. I didn't teach at all this year but did write letters of recommendation for a fantastic former student and it has been a joy to see her interest in research develop, even though it is an entirely different field of biology. I have a project underway in Ukenzagapia and several possibilities for doable projects in the field over the next two years. I submitted a big grant (still waiting to hear) and got a fellowship and two other small grants to fund my research. I am about one day of work away from submitting a short note based on observations from my first field season, which will be my first publication from grad school. I'm finished with all of the classes I have to take, and mostly finished with my interdisciplinary group project. Soon I'll return to Ukenzagapia for my next field season. Not bad.

Personal goals:
1) Exercise regularly and frequently. Could've been worse. I did well in the spring, burned a lot of calories in the field, but not this past fall. I can do better.

2) Contribute to my IRA. Pretty good. Not as much as I'd like, but we do contribute a fixed percent of Jon's income now now which I like.
3) Make monthly contributions to Small Friendly College and small monthly donations to public radio. DONE! This makes me happy.
4) Get some of the kids in our lives (cousins, nieces, nephews) to visit us in Big City. DONE! Hopefully we'll have more kid visitors in 2010.
5) Go dancing at least once per month. NOPE. Not even close.
6) Foster more discussion on this blog. Not really, but my readership has grown steadily (if slowly).

So much has happened in my personal life this year! Since I already mentioned the difficult things above, I'm not going to talk more about those here. 2009 was a fantastic year for seeing friends and family. According to our guest book, we had 51 different people stay at our apartment on at least 125 different nights (a month of that was while Jon was in Ukenzagapia), including two different grad students and a family of three who were subletters at different times. Not only did we get friends and family to come see us in Big City, we traveled a lot this year (especially for weddings- including our own). Married life for us has so far been very much like our unmarried life, which is to say that it's great :-)

I'm thankful that we didn't move this year. For the first time in 10 years, neither of us moved a significant portion of our belongings! That does mean that we have acquired a fair amount of stuff we don't need that we need to creatively rid ourselves of in January. When I'm actually in Big City, I have greatly enjoyed taking care of my houseplants, container gardening outside on our balcony, working in the community garden, cooking the fruits of my labor, entertaining friends and family, and deciding how to incorporate new art (like our marriage certificate) and furniture that Jon builds into our apartment. We love where we live and hope that we don't have to move again until we leave Big City when I finish my Ph.D.

I love blogging, and have found the blog to be a great way for me to process and share my life experiences. Thank you to all of my readers for sharing in it.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh Christmastime

Like FSP, I also have a Christmastime birthday. For years I loved this because the timing was such that I always got to celebrate my birthday with my cousins. However, on my 16th birthday I finally realized that they were really all there just for Christmas, not my birthday. Since then I've been ambivalent. Anyways.

In the past 10 days we have:
-Had a big party
-Went to another big party
-Narrowly avoid major weather-related travel delays
-Had our teeth cleaned by Jon's dentist brother
-Drove all over Jon's Hometown region with his mom's car (thanks!)
-Celebrated with Jon's family
-Flew to see my family
-Celebrated my birthday
-Celebrated Christmas and my birthday with my extended family
-Celebrated again with other extended family

And we're not home yet. Christmastime has always meant a lot of traveling for me, but this year it really feels like a lot. I was able to get some work done in Jon's hometown but I'm currently intimidated by my inbox filled with emails from Sam about the paper I desperately want to send out by Dec. 31, and many more emails from my committee about scheduling my meeting for January. I guess I need to start thinking about that again if it's going to happen. We're so close, it's just small changes, but still...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just buy the nicer one

My interdisciplinary cohort has been plagued this semester by trying to save money. First we tried to buy tweezers. Someone with considerable experience told us to buy reverse-action tweezers that were about $50 each. We decided to find cheaper alternative reverse-action tweezers and buy a few nicer (~$10) fine tweezers. Somehow the nice normal tweezers never got ordered (I think I was the only one who thought they were important to have) and we went through THREE DIFFERENT KINDS of CRAPPY reverse-action tweezers. Some of you who know me in real life may know that I'm a bit of a penny pincher, but in the case of the tweezers I advocated spending a little more to get some good ones because I know that working with crappy tweezers is, well, crappy. For as much as we spent on all of those crappy tweezers (not to mention the time we wasted returning them), we should've just bought a couple of $50 pairs and some of the $10 ones I wanted.

This week we had a similar ordeal. Way back at the beginning of our project several months ago, we ordered a piece of electronic equipment that will make our data entry go much more quickly. This week we finally sat down to figure out how to use it. Guess what? We bought the cheapest one* out there and isn't sophisticated enough to work with the system we're using. It isn't worth it to return the one we have (15% restocking fee), and the least expensive ones that do what we need are $150-200. Even worse, we can't get it this week so that delays part of our data entry until 2010.

This unfortunate mistake means that we won't completely finish our part of the raw data processing in 2009 like I hoped. However, we should be able to do everything except the part that requires the thing we don't have, which is quite a lot. I guess I can handle that.

These events have reminded me that for my own fieldwork it is worthwhile to get at least two of each of the best equipment I can afford so that it is less likely to fail me where I can't possibly replace it and in the event it does break or I lose it, I'll have a backup.

*I had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to buy the high-tech piece of crap because I was in Ukenzagapia when they ordered that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A short list of why I love [working in] museums

When I visit BNHM for a change of working scene about once a week, good things nearly always come of it. I'm going to sum up these good things with a list of bullets of why I love working in museums.
  •  Meeting other scientists. They're always coming to see the collections. Last week I met a former grad student from my department who now teaches at a small liberal arts college (aka SLAC). I'd heard about her from Herb and Leo since that is my aspiration as well, and it was great to finally meet her. Bonus: she also studies critters so we talked about that too.
  • Weird shit. Even relatively normal natural history museums have all kinds of weird things in their collections. Sometimes I get to see them.
  • Books. Boy do they have a lot of books- old literature especially. Very useful stuff. Sometimes amusing. Today I stumbled across this funny* little excerpt from a note entitled Don Rosevear- polymath in the journal Nigerian Field, 1978, vol. 43(2): 49.  
 "...At the British Museum, Rosevear introduced a new technique, which deserves to carry his name for all time, to mammalian taxonomy that involved the use of soap, sponge, and water. By the judicious application of this technique many species and subspecies of the hedgehogs of West Africa were reduced to synonymy by the removal of coloured soils in which they had habitually burrowed."
  • Seriously, though. It's been incredibly useful for me to have access to the library to find older literature that just isn't online. It's essential for this note I'm writing with Sam.
  • I feel smarter just from sitting in an office surrounded by so many natural historians, collections, and books. Yep, that's right, I went and did what I normally do in my office at UBC, but today I did it in a windowless cavern at Big Natural History Museum. But I was next to a whale skull.

 *Maybe I'm the only person that thinks this is funny, but I hope not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gift recommendation help?

My brother in law is looking for a "marine biology kit" for a ten year old. My go-to place for all nature-related book/kits/supplies is Acorn Naturalists. I love Acorn Naturalists. It's like someone took everything that I think is awesome and put it all in one place.

Anywho, a marine biology kit is a tough one. I couldn't find one from AN that wasn't designed for a classroom, which makes me think it might not exist. Readers (I'm especially asking working through the blue and my friend whose grad student office looks at the ocean), do you have any suggestions?

I'm wondering if maybe the child would like a good book about oceans (maybe this one?) along with some magnets, rubbings plates, or a thematic card game.

Ok, upon browsing their kit section, I did just find three different tidepool kits from Acorn Naturalists, but they're all somewhat location specific (all to the west coast) and I'm not sure where the child lives.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Farewell ScienceWomen!

Yesterday Alice and SciWo announced the retirement of the ScienceWomen blog. The archives will still be around, but I'm sad to lose such influential women from my feed reader. I wish them both the very best in their non-bloggy lives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Today I finished my group project for the term. Hooray! It feels great to not have that hanging over my head anymore. My group crafted an interesting proposal for a project that we don't intend to do, but I really like the idea and I plan to keep it around in case I end up in a position where I need to pull an interdisciplinary urban ecology proposal out of my hat. Seriously though, I'd like to do this project someday (just not for my dissertation).

This may very well be the last course I take in graduate school. I don't think I need any more. That's a liberating thought. Now it's all about finishing the project with my interdisciplinary cohort and (more importantly) my dissertation! I am looking forward to using the rest of the time before the holidays to do some serious thinking about where my dissertation is headed. Oh my.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

So my readers can catch up on their blog backlog

I haven't posted much since Thanksgiving. I've just now caught up on blog reading for the first time in about a month. I think this post is just going to be a random bullets.
  • After a highly productive Thursday, I didn't finish anything on my to-do list on Friday.
  • Jon's father and his wife visited us for the first time. It was fun to have them here but I'm glad it was just 2 days. I took them to the museum and showed them behind-the-scenes (this is part of the reason I didn't finish anything on Friday). They loved it. Who don't?
  • Jon has been sick to varying degrees for the past week. I have had the light version of whatever he has.
  • We are really, really close to having our marriage certificate framed and hanging on our wall. It's about time.
  • I think I'm falling in love with kale.
  • I'm having lunch with my friend Cora on Monday :-)
  • I'm trying to think about what to write for December Scientiae Carnival:
The days have really been getting shorter, and sometimes winter makes it hard to stay cheerful. In that light, I’d really like to hear what other people like about being in STEM. If you aren’t sure, maybe you could also think about the positive things that get you through the day or week. What makes you happy or makes you laugh? Even a funny story about an experience would be great.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Productive day

I'm awesome. Today I finished everything on my to-do list that can be done today at school. I met with Herb, sent a draft of the short note to Sam, finished my second notebook of data re-entry, and some other miscellaneous tasks. It feels great to have set out a long but manageable list of things to accomplish today and have done it! Everything else that I get done today is bonus, and tomorrow is another day.

Soon I'm going rock climbing, and in a few hours my father-in-law will arrive with his wife. They haven't visited us in Big City yet so we spent a while last night reclaiming our apartment from the disaster zone. Why can't I just stop time for just a little while? I can't believe it's December.