Sunday, January 31, 2010

Committees... again

I originally wanted to have my committee meeting in mid-January. Then when that wasn't going to be possible, I wanted to have it last week at the end of January. Several people's schedules made that impossible, so now I have pushed the date to February 10 and am planning to leave for the field just two weeks later.

This meeting is important because I am no longer actively pursuing the high-risk project I defended in my prelims last spring. My committee felt that rather than develop and present a proposal for my entire dissertation that I should instead focus on a clear component of it that I could submit for funding. I tested some of the methods last summer, and I just don't think it's worth the risk. So, I've got to describe my new plan to my committee. Last year I presented them with a theoretical table of contents (of which the high-risk project was only one chapter), and this year I will do the same. I need to be sure that everyone is on the same page with the direction my dissertation is headed so that none of them feel excluded or push me to go in a different direction because they misunderstand the new project focus.

My committee meeting is only supposed to be an hour, but it's hard for me to imagine how it can be kept to that time. I suppose I will continue discussions with individual professors (which should be happening anyway) if we start to run overtime. Herb told me to prepare a short 10-15 minute presentation, but I suspect that the committee will ask me questions throughout the presentation, turning my 15 minutes into 45. I just want to be sure that they agree on my projects and the timeline for them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Short notice

Friday morning I received an email asking if I could give a presentation.
On Tuesday.
To the people that fund my research.

Gah! It only has to be 5-10 minutes for a non-scientific audience, but still! As I've written before, it takes me a long time to figure out the best way to present something. Just because it's a short presentation doesn't mean it will be a breeze to prepare.

On the bright side, these people have already funded me, so it's not a hard sell. I just need to keep them excited about what I'm doing.

I've got half a dozen or more posts to finish or start writing, but the week just got away from me. I am hoping to get some of those thoughts out soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

more of my life in comics

Why does this happen? This was totally me today!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting ready to go

I've spent most of the day working on logistics for my next trip to the field. I am looking at departing at the end of February and returning in early May. Based on my calculations, I need about 9 weeks in Ukenzagapia to accomplish everything for this trip.

Here's what I've done today:
-Priced out airfare and emailed a travel agent for a quote. Tickets are thankfully relatively inexpensive this time.
-Placed an order for equipment.
-Identified other items that still need to be acquired, repaired, or replaced.
-Examined my budget. This time I have 3 pots of money from which to cover expenses. I'm trying to determine the best way to use each of them to minimize the $$$ that we have to float using our own funds (I can't get reimbursed for some of the in-country cash expenses until I return).

I've still got a lot to figure out, but I'm starting to check things off. I think I'll get my plane tickets this week, and then I'll have a departure date for sure! I'm getting excited to go back.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reader question: An ecologist's education, so far?

Today I received a great email from a reader, Sarah:
 ...I was wondering if you'd be willing to answer some questions about your schooling and what you do concerning ecology. I'm a junior in high school and I'd like to be an ecologist like yourself someday.
I of course replied yes, so she wrote back with questions:
Okay so my first question is just to clear things up for me. You have a PHD but you're still in grad school? How did you get to your current level of education and how long did it take? (ex. went to a 4-year college for bachelors, then back for masters, and PHD... etc.) and another question is what are some pros and cons to ecology? (Just in general, could be about learning about ecology in college or your research.)
First things first. I don't have my Ph.D. yet, but I am working on it. Technically I am a Ph.D. candidate because I have passed my preliminary exams. Being a Ph.D. candidate is kind of like being a presidential candidate- you're in the running but haven't earned the title yet. A Ph.D. candidate describes more specifically the type of graduate student that I am (a graduate student can be anyone pursing a Masters or Ph.D.). When I finish my Ph.D., then I can be called Karina Anirak, Ph.D., or Dr. Karina Anirak.

As far as education goes, here's a brief story of how I got to where I am now. I graduated from high school and went to college where I earned a Bachelor's degree in Biology (that took 4 years). I contemplated graduate school, but was not ready to apply because I wanted to gain more work experience in research or education and use that time to reflect on whether or not I really wanted to go to grad school, and if so, for what. Grad school, in any field, is not something you should do because you don't know what else to do. After graduating from college I spent a few years working, traveling, and thinking about whether or not to go back to school (I read a lot about grad school during that time). Did I really want to do research? If so, what would I study? I decided that I wanted to go to grad school so that I could teach biology and do research at the college level, and for that you need a Ph.D. In ecology it is relatively common for people to skip a Masters degree if they have enough research/work experience when they apply, either from their undergraduate education or experiences after that.

I spent hours upon hours researching different graduate programs in ecology (chronicled here, here, and here). I applied during the 2006-07 academic year and began grad school in fall 2007. Now I'm two and a half years into my program. I have completed all of the necessary coursework, identified a research topic, and collected some preliminary data. I organized a committee of scientists (ecogeofemme has been writing about this process recently) who advise me and approved my research topic in my preliminary exam (aka prelims). I expect that it will take me three and a half more years to finish my data collection, analyze it, and write my dissertation. Six years to complete a Ph.D. in ecology is very normal in the U.S. When I finish my Ph.D., I'm not sure exactly what I'll do, but it is likely that I will spend a few more years 'in training' as a post-doctoral fellow (aka post doc).

Pros and cons of being an ecologist? For me I think it's mostly pros. I wrote a post in 2008 that covers many of them. I loved my biology classes in college and I had great professors. Cons? Most ecologists don't have enormous earning potential compared to other fields requiring similar or fewer years of education, but this is only a problem if for some reason your life plans involve needing to be very wealthy.

My advice to Sarah and other young aspiring ecologists is to learn how to learn in whatever classes you take. Figure out how you learn math most effectively. Learn how to find the information you need using search terms and databases.  Learn how to understand the science from reading about it. Make connections between different classes and subjects. Learn how to write well. Those skills will help you succeed in whatever you decide to do. As far as helping you decide what to do with your life, don't stress about it too much now, but do ask people who have interesting jobs how they got there. At the very least, you're bound to get some interesting stories that might help inform your choices down the road.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I am involved in more than one project involving databases that vary is size and complexity. Thankfully, I don't have to do all (or even most) of the database work myself. I am coming to appreciate the immense value of a skilled database designer.

Last fall I spent weeks learning a new program and designing a database so that I could more easily enter and then manipulate my data, only to give up when I couldn't figure out how to make it do the queries I needed. I got some help during the process from a department lab tech who has experience with databases, but he didn't know the particular program I was using. Today we talked about my database again (he knows I gave up on it a few months ago), and he wants to use it to teach himself the program! He wants to work on my database for free. I'm thrilled! Maybe it will be usable after all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Carbon offsets

The research that I have chose requires that I travel once or twice a year to Africa for field work. While I hope that the research I do will contribute to conservation of natural resources, I feel that it is also appropriate for me to offset the emissions resulting from my air travel. However, I am overwhelmed by the multitude of options for how to do so. I don't feel well-informed enough to evaluate different carbon offset schemes. Tackling this is one of my goals for 2010. So, dear readers, I ask for your advice.

Have you offset your carbon dioxide emissions? If so, how? Why did you choose that one?
Have you researched different options for carbon offsets? If so, what resources did you find most useful?

I am interested in anything you've got.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Future of Scientiae

Scientiae is a blog carnival that was started by Alice Pawley. I contributed occasionally (and wrote some darn good posts when I did, if I do say so myself), and would really like to see it continue in 2010. I have a great idea for a September theme that I've been excited about since last July!

Since Alice has stopped blogging, someone needs to take charge of Scientiae for it to continue. Pat at FairerScience has a thread going about it, and since her blog gets more traffic than mine, you should join the discussion over there. You should especially comment there if you want to host!

Update (1/16/10): If you want to see Scientiae continue, please comment on the most recent post on Scientiae!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Keeping online lives separate

Warning: This post might be boring for you if you don't use either an aggregator/feed reader or a Mac, but I've included some links and a little more explanation for those of you who otherwise wouldn't understand what in the world I'm talking about.

I am in need of some advice and new ideas for keeping my blog identity from interfering with my real one. For a long time now the number of blogs I read and comment on as my pseudonymous self greatly outnumbered those commented on by my real life persona, but these days a growing number of friends and family have blogs. I need to separate my selves.

Who else has to deal with this problem and how do you deal with it? Or maybe you just have two different gmail accounts that you use for different things? Essentially, what I need is a system for separating feeds from blogs that I comment on using two different gmail accounts.

I used to read blogs from the feed reader in Safari, but Safari started crapping out all the time. I switched to NetNewsWire, but for some reason it likes to communicate with Safari (which I still use for my realname Google calendar) and is always switching up the account I'm logged into.

I would also like to start using citation alerts via RSS (web feed) instead of email. Do you use this? Do you use the same application as you use for blogs?

Maybe I will switch to an in-browser feed reader like Google Reader and use different browsers for different accounts. My default is to always use FireFox for my pseudonymous self because Safari and Opera don't get along so well with Blogger in my experience.

On second thought, I probably don't want to use a web application (in the browser) for feeds because when I'm in Ukenzagapia I'll want to read them offline. I download my mail instead of using webmail for the same reason (I can't tell you how useful it is for me to be able to read and compose emails offline). I suppose I could try the feed reader in Mail (demo video link)- do any of my readers use this? If I use Mail I'm afraid I'll always be distracted by blogs because the unread ones show up like unread emails- bad for productivity.

Please help! What's your system?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maybe I should've been a librarian

I've noticed this academic year that I really enjoy connecting people with the tools, tips, and tricks to help them do research, writing, and collaboration more efficiently. I love telling people about Papers and Mendeley, both programs for managing pdfs and notes associated with journal articles. I love explaining why everyone should use a reference manager like Zotero or EndNote (or others) to cite-while-you-write and make bibliographies. I love showing people how to use wikis to facilitate group writing projects. I love sitting around and trading Mac tips and program suggestions. I love helping other grad students design their own web pages. It strikes me that these are the types of things academic librarians do these days (or at least they should).

As a result of my undergraduate experience, I greatly appreciate well-run libraries and the librarians that make them work. I received library education in several different classes, where students learned how to use the different resources available to them such as web design programs and scholarly databases. I recall that the SFC library is well-respected (albeit small, since the school is too), but I didn't appreciate what a good library was until I graduated. After graduation, Jon and I lived in a town with a public library that must have had one of the worst online catalogs in the country. Seriously, I have no idea how it could be so bad. But I digress...

I have been tossing around thoughts on some of the queries I made for myself back in November. So far the only blogworthy thing that has come out of it is my enjoyment of connecting people with research tools. I don't really know what to make of that in terms of my career choices now, but maybe I should have considered being a librarian.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's in a name?

Apparently, a lot. Check out this article about what changing the writer's name meant for business. I think this is fascinating.

Thanks to FSP for mentioning it last week.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Looking ahead to 2010

2009 brought a lot of changes to my life, and even in January 2009 I could see that it was going to be a big year. I'm not so sure about 2010. I think it's going to be a work hard, play hard kind of year, but I don't expect it to be life-changing the way 2009 was. I don't have particularly detailed goals for this year and nothing earth-shattering, but worth articulating nonetheless.

Publication- I'd like to get at least one thing published this year, and maybe one or two more submitted.
Presentation- I would like to present something at a conference, maybe just a small one.
Field work- I should have two trips to Ukenzagapia this year, and I'm determined to be more confident in my field work.
Outreach- This year I would like to give some thought to a long view of outreach related to my research. I've got to do more than just think about this stuff myself and talk about it with other ecologists. Maybe I'll work with some of my teacher friends more, develop more information online for a general audience, or partner with another organization. At this point I don't know what it will be, but in December 2010 I'd like to have the ball rolling on something.

Dancing- Go dancing at least 12 times this year.

Counseling- I plan to keep going to a therapist whenever I'm in Big City, as long as I feel like its helpful. My current therapist will leave at the end of the school year, but hopefully I'll be able to find a new one who is a good match.
Reading- I would like to read more books in 2010. I love reading, but most of my reading for pleasure nowadays is blogs. As much as I do love reading all of these aforementioned blogs (and then some), but I need to read more books.  I'm starting with a biography of Jane Goodall.
Climate action- I want to offset my greenhouse gas emissions for my travel. I've been wanting to do this for ages, but I like to be a well-informed consumer and I've just been overwhelmed each time I tried to do research about the different carbon offset options. I also just need to start offsetting the present rather than make the hurdle higher than it needs to be by saying I'm going to offset the past two years too. I've got to start somewhere, so 2010 it is.

Maybe this will be a year of getting stuff done... or maybe not. We'll see what 2010 actually brings!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Typing styles

While working on this short note with Sam I learned that he is a two-finger typist. This definitely explains why he tends to type in either all lowercase or all caps, though it does not explain the prolific number of emails he writes. I guess he's speedy at the hunt and peck. In the past week I've received 28 emails from Sam. Some of them are short, but many of them aren't. This is just another way in which Sam sometimes feels like more of an advisor than my advisor does.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Submitted! and rejected.

I submitted my manuscript yesterday at noon, and then didn't even have a chance to blog about how happy I was to have it off my plate for a while because I had a rejection email when I woke up this morning! At least they were speedy about it. It was rejected by the editor- no reviews.

So, now we're working on finding another journal. We aimed pretty low already since it doesn't have any statistics (it's kind of anecdotal). We're trying to decide if we might be able to pitch it bit higher, but I'm skeptical. I'm looking for similar papers in that journal. I'd almost rather just send it straight to someplace more likely to accept it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Sam and I are on the verge of submitting our short note- my first publication in grad school- on which I will be first and corresponding author. Tonight I nearly submitted it in haste, thinking I was on a roll. I'm glad I stepped away from the big red button because it turns out I'd actually neglected to revisit the instructions to authors in their entirety. I almost submitted it without double spacing the document! I suppose Sam was correct when he called me naïve in the whole publishing thing. I'm forcing myself to go over it (and the instructions) with fresh eyes tomorrow, not tonight.

Monday, January 4, 2010


When I first started reading sciencey blogs, I really didn't get it when people wrote about drama with their committees. Now, as an older and wiser Ph.D. candidate, I'm beginning to understand the complexities.

I'm going back to Ukenzagapia in February, and want to meet with my committee before then. Unfortunately, Leo is going to be away for most of January. Since his expertise has become less central to my project, Herb advised me to ask my committee to meet in mid-January so that I have enough time between meeting and my departure, and that I meet with Leo when he returned. Leo said, "Why not just meet 1-2 weeks later after I get back?" It makes me a little uneasy to push the meeting so close to my departure, so I decided to talk with him in person.

Today I met with him to explain why I want to have my committee meeting earlier, and he said he would step off of my committee if meetings are going to happen without him. Yikes! I wasn't expecting that, and certainly don't want that either. But, at least now I know where he stands. So, I'm scheduling a meeting for the day after he returns.