Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in review

Many, many changes happened for us in 2007. 2008 has had its share of ups and downs for us but mostly things seem to be looking up and I met many of my goals for 2008.

Academically, 2008 started with great uncertainty about where I should do my fieldwork. That dilemma was solved when I met Sam, who easily convinced me to work at his field site in Ukenzagapia. I received four small grants and a pre-application approval for a grant in the spring, though I was highly disappointed when I didn't receive the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Without the NSF fellowship, I had to teach this summer which restricted my field season to a small window of 5 weeks. During that time I had my first brief research trip to Ukenzagapia, but wasn't able to collect any data because of permitting issues. All in all though, it was a useful and productive trip.

While I was in Ukenzagapia, I applied for and was offered an interdisciplinary fellowship which I accepted. I went to my first big conference and loved it. This fall, I made some progress on my endless review paper and reapplied for the NSF GRF. I did not, however, meet my goal of submitting my review for publication in 2008. I am making progress in my graduate career; I have a committee and a date for my prelims! I'm still enjoying grad school and I'm satisfied with my progress so far.

Personally, the year started off on a bit of a roller coaster. My parents put down our border collie just shy of her 16th birthday. I didn't blog about it at the time, but it was sad to say goodbye to her. Then in March I had appendicitis, and my grandfather passed away in April. Thankfully, my student health insurance covered my appendicitis 100%. Later in April, Jon and I decided to get married after more than 5 years together! From then on things really looked up for the rest of the year.

In August we moved into a new apartment in our building, even though I really thought we wouldn't be moving this year. The apartment is great and we have no regrets. Based on entries in our guest book, we've had 31 different people sleep at our apartment on ~53 separate nights in the past year so it's totally worth it to us to have a more accommodating place (that's counting guests from our smaller apartment too).

Aside from our tiny 1/3 share of Google stock and my IRA dropping in value, we have not been directly affect by the financial crisis (yet). We are thankful for my fellowship and Jon's steady employment.

With respect to my personal goals for 2008, we did buy birthday gifts for all the little kiddos in our lives and we donated more than ever before to worthwhile causes, with the bulk of it going to Obama. Three cheers for his election! I did not do so well at putting money into my IRA. I only managed a few hundred dollars in spite of my raise with the fellowship! I've got to do better next year. I'll post soon about my goals and expectations for 2009.

My blog readership has grown slowly but steadily over the past year. Sometimes I have blog envy, but honestly this is how I want my blog to be. Thank you to all of my readers, known and unknown, new and old, academic and non.

May you all be the change you wish to see in the world in 2009!

Cheers to a new year, new challenges, and new opportunities.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We're celebrating in Jon's Hometown, then we're headed to my family's stomping grounds to celebrate with them this weekend and next week. We'll make it home just in time to ring in the new year.

Hopefully I'll get a post or two up before 2009. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

March 9!

At my committee meeting this morning we set a date for my prelims- March 9, 2009! Two weeks before that I need to send them my proposal in DDIG format. A month before that, I should send them a rough draft so I can get feedback on the proposal before my prelims. This adds a lot of deadlines to my calendar, but I'm excited about it! I'm actually so excited that I can't focus on much right now so I'm blogging instead.

The meeting went well. Chip was late* so it started a little bit late, but it took about 1.5 hours from planned start time to actual finish. My presentation was probably 20-25 minutes (I didn't time it), and they mostly saved their questions for the end. Before everyone left we scheduled the date, and I'll schedule individual meetings with committee members over email.

One thing that is exciting and daunting at the same time are the high-risk, high-cost research possibilities of my dissertation. After talking it over with my committee, the plan is for me to execute a failsafe, low-cost, straightforward project or two in Ukenzagapia this summer, while testing the feasibility of as many high-risk, high-cost methods as I reasonably can. Ideally I will be able to publish a small paper or two from next summer's data. Then, there are FIVE different high-tech methods, any of which would be awesome additions to my dissertation... if they work. I presented the five as possibilities but thought that a few of them might be ruled out collectively by the committeee. Nope. At least one person is really excited about each of those methods. So, I'll need to do pilot projects with these this summer.

After discussing all of these methods, Leo said that it sounds like my budget is quickly outstripping the typical DDIG award ($10-15,000), so how do I think I can fund my research? I don't think I answered this question as well as I could've. I've thought about this quite a bit (e.g. all of my ruminations on funding), though apparently not much this semester as evidenced by my lack of posts about funding and my slowness to respond to Leo's question. I told him I'm not afraid to ask for money, I've still got a slew of NGOs to ask for funds, and I'll definitely submit a DDIGish proposal. Herb says next year I should think about submitting a full NSF proposal with Sam, but with funding rates as they are that's almost a shot in the dark (more of a 'learning experience' unless the NSF budget gets a major boost). In the worst case scenario, I'm pretty confident that I can get $10,000 in the next two years to fund low-tech projects (that's probably a bare minimum budget once you factor in transportation & necessary fees). And when push comes to shove, if I don't get money for the high-tech stuff, I won't do it. My dissertation has to be viable without those extras.

*I should've told him it started 30 minutes earlier than it actually did. I'll try this for my prelims.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

not vacationing yet

Wow, I thought this week would be a big blogging week but now I'm thinking maybe not! We had a fun weekend in Someplace Snowy even though I definitely underestimated how cold it would be in the cabin we stayed in! I slept fully clothed with hat, scarf, and mittens inside my sleeping bag! I should've brought a warmer bag. But I digress.

I'm basically finished now with my presentation for my committee tomorrow morning. I have 22 slides, so it's a little more than I planned for a 15 minute presentation. I think it will be ok. They'll probably just interrupt and ask me questions along the way. As long as this meeting doesn't last more than an hour I'll be happy.

I'm really excited about this presentation for a few reasons. First of all, I think it's really pretty. This is my first presentation with animations but hopefully it doesn't come across that way because I did use them conservatively. But I'm even more excited because this will be my first time ever presenting from my own computer! I've always presented from other people's laptops and inevitably something doesn't come through right. I'm sick of presenting my slideshows as failsafe pdfs. So today I splurged and bought the adapter I need to connect my MacBook to a projector. I'm also planning to use the little remote that came with my computer to change the slides. Such nerdy fun!

Today I was busy working on my presentation, making sure my computer works with the projector, getting parking passes for outside committee members, and cleaning up and arranging the room where we're meeting tomorrow. Should I bake them bananna bread or something?

This week is also busy at home because we're having a party on Friday. I want to use this opportunity to get the apartment really clean. Like, scrubbing the floors clean. Jon is at work late every night this week because he's desperately trying to finish my beautiful dresser (my Christmas gift in progress from 2004) and he's making gifts for all of his siblings and parents. So, I'm going most of the party prep. But, the part of me that just wants to be a homemaker is going to enjoy sprucing up my houseplants, baking cookies, and yes, scrubbing the floors to the sounds of Christmas music and Living on Earth.

Oh, and did I mention that I've started a new part-time job? It's nothing big, but I am now managing the finances and payroll for the small company that Jon works for (there are 3 employees, including me and Jon). I think it will only be a few hours per week once I get to know the system, which I can do over break. This will give us a little bit of extra income, and will ensure that Jon gets paid on time. I'm only planning to do it until I go to Ukenzagapia next summer since I can't do this job long-distance.

Friday, December 12, 2008

planning my pre-prelim committee meeting

Yesterday I had a meeting with Herb to talk about my first committee meeting next week. Sam told me over email that he wanted a power point presentation with my planned methodologies, but I wanted to confirm this with Herb since, as my advisor, he is the committee chair. I thought Sam's request sounded more like something for my actual preliminary exam rather than a pre-prelim meeting. Herb said I should prepare a 15 minute overview presentation but not to go overboard. Herb also said I have a lot of strong personalities on my committee including two newly minted professors (Sam and Melody). I think this will be their first time serving on a committe, though I might be wrong about that. I'm pretty confident though that Herb can help me manage conflicting advice and keep things in control.

Jon and I are spending the weekend with some friends at a cabin without electricity in Someplace Snowy. I hope it's fun! When we get back on Sunday, I'll be even more behind on the blogs (current unread feeds= 176!). Also, I won't get that post about communicating science up until next week.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

science outreach and mentoring

I love talking about science and sharing the process of becoming a scientist. That's why I created this blog. I've also had some opportunities for non-anonymous science outreach/mentoring in the past few weeks that I want to share because they were so awesome.

Right before Thanksgiving, I talked to my friend's 6th grade science class on speakerphone about bacteria. I'm no bacteria expert, but I did do a summer internship that involved bacteria. I was their call-in scientist! My friend told the students a little bit about my bacteria research and the students prepared questions in advance that they wanted to ask me. I spent about 20 minutes on the phone answering their questions. Some of their questions were related to my research, but many of them were about being a scientist in general and I talked about some of the traveling I've done. This was an urban public school, so the odds are good I'm the first scientist they've ever talked to. My friend said that it was awesome to see her 31 students squirming in their seats with excitement and talking about bugs. One of her hard-working students told her later, "Miss X, I think now I want to be a scientist when I grow up." Pretty big payoff for 20 minutes on the phone.

Last week Sam asked me to come talk to his introductory bio class. I went with another student from my program (a minority woman) and we just told our stories of how we got to where we are now and answered questions. I was pretty nervous for this and I think I should've thought more about how to describe my path (starting with "I've always loved nature..." didn't seem to strike a chord with these city kids), but Sam said the students loved our visit. It was exciting to answer their questions, and there was a Latina woman who asked the best questions about grad school. She already knew all about applying to REU programs! Here's hoping she stays in science.

Today I met with a student from my first semester of teaching. She contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if I would write her a letter of recommendation for summer internships. I mentioned this student in a post from fall 2007 and she's taking some of the advice that I gave them about applying for internships! She's interested in a different field of science, but at this point that's not terribly important. She's applying to REU-type programs all over the country, and I hope she gets into one of them! If she doesn't, she plans to stay here and do research in a lab at UBC.

Soon (maybe tomorrow?) I'll have a post about science communication. It seems to have been a theme for me this semester.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

getting to know my audience

I'm curious to know a little bit more about my readers. I've gotten to know those of you who comment by reading your comments and blogs, but I have a suspicion that there are many lurkers out there. That's cool, I lurk too. I read TONS of blogs but I comment on very few. But I am interested in the general composition of my readership. Are you mostly scientists? Non-scientist academics? Stay at home parents? Avocado farmers?

I'm curious because I get annoyed when I sit in a classroom where I'm required to be because it's supposed to be useful or relevant to my work and the person lecturing seems to have no idea who I am or what I do (see here and here). Obviously a blog is different; this is my life and you don't have to read it if you don't want to. Still, I don't want to insult my readers by over-explaining things or lose them because they have no idea what I'm talking about.

So, dear readers, I have a very short four-question survey multiple-choice that I would love for you to fill out. My apologies if I have neglected to include a selection that even comes close to describing who you are. There is a fill-in option for each question if you fall into another category. This survey will not collect any identifying information about you or your location.

Click Here to take my very short survey!

Thanks, readers!

P.S. If I don't get many responses, I'm going to truncate my feed so that you feed-reading lurkers have to show up on my Google Analytics visit count. Take the survey! Please!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

seeing benefits from interdisciplinary work

I recently attended a small interdisciplinary conference of sorts. It wasn't really a research conference, but more of a "here's what my organization/institution is doing" with a sustainability theme. This fits perfectly into my interdisciplinary fellowship and it was so exciting for me to see all of the partnerships that resulted in tangible benefits for people and the environment. It inspired me to keep thinking about how I see myself doing interdisciplinary work.

One session in particular was related to getting kids outside to encourage their natural interest in nature and outdoor play (awesome article on the matter can be found here). The great thing about the presentation is that organizations with diverse missions related to youth violence, social justice, exercise, ecological restoration, and career training were coming together by finding common interests in environmental sustainability.

In my head this post was a lot more exciting, but I'm having trouble conveying that without giving everything away. Sorry!

Monday, December 8, 2008

climate change policy

I'm behind on blogs and podcasts (though I'm always behind on podcasts), so last week I was listening to Living on Earth from November 21. In a segment about Obama's pledge to advance climate change policy, two interviewees from China and India noted that if the US takes a leadership role in climate and energy policy, the rest of the world will have to follow.

An excerpt from the transcript (emphasis mine):

AHEARN: Obama's speech before the nation's governors sets the stage for upcoming climate talks in Poland next month. Fuchan Yang, vice-president of Beijing-based Energy Foundation, says Obama's commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is a challenge China will have to meet.

YANG: Now the wind change – the new administration will make change – also this change is not only for U.S. but also in China. So here China will exceed U.S. very soon become number one emitters. So when U.S. joins the international community for the commitment, China have to do something.

AHEARN: India also faces that challenge – the rapidly developing nation is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Arvind Kumar, of the Indian Forest Service, attended the Governors' conference in California. He heard Barack Obama's speech.

KUMAR: He was full of confidence and conviction as far as tackling this great global climate issue is concerned. The USA is the number one country in the world and the president elect of that country, if he's confident we're going to tackle it, I think the world will tackle it. All countries will support, irrespective of caste, color, region or politics. It's a great issue because in this particular crisis, either all of us will remain or all of us will perish.

This is a frustrating affirmation that the US really has been holding back global progress in so many ways for the past 8 years.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

discount dress

My mom and sister have been in town all weekend for my bridal shower, so once again I haven't done any work. I have a 10 page paper to write for Wednesday that I haven't started, but there isn't much else going on this week so I'm not worried. I spread my major assignments and deadlines throughout the semester very nicely I think.

Anyways, I had a great time and got some fun things at the shower. My best friend and her mom planned it, my mom baked the cake, and almost everyone in the area was able to come.* After the shower, I went dress shopping with my mom and sister at David's Bridal. We went to look for ideas for bodice styles because my mom was going to make my dress, but we found one on the $99 sale rack that fit me perfectly! It turns out I'm a perfect David's Bridal size 4. My mom is still going to shorten it (I don't want a long dress) and make a few other changes, but it will save her a lot of work. I didn't expect to find a dress so quickly!

Today we got a Christmas tree and my sister cut and colored my hair. She's my stylist so I have her cut my hair a few times a year. Sometimes she also colors it. It hides my gray, which is slowly creeping in more and more.

*This came back to bite us in the ass again. The wife of the couple whose car we had before Thanksgiving was planning to come, but her husband had one car key and we still had the other! So, she wasn't able to come :-(

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

pedaling with only one pedal

Pedaling with only one pedal is probably a good analogy for something, but that's literally what I did on the way home tonight. My left bike pedal fell off! What's with my transportation being lopsided???

I wasn't able to put it back on and pedaling with only one pedal doesn't move you very fast. So, I just walked my bike the rest of the way home. I couldn't be bothered tonight to try to put it back on with tools so I'll deal with it later.

In other news, this program for graduate students interested in National Park Service leadership sounds really cool!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

hanging hammocks

Mariyah and Herb went to Neotropical Field Site for a short trip over Thanksgiving, and I asked Mariyah to bring back some hammocks for us. She got one for herself too, but doesn't have a good place to hang it at home.

We stretched out the hammock in her office and were debating the placement and the height we would have to drill holes in the cinderblock when Herb walked in with an undergrad. Whoops.

I was only mildly embarassed, since Herb lived in his office for several weeks at one desperate point in time. Still, that undergrad must be confused about what grad students do with their time!

Monday, December 1, 2008

home again

We had an enjoyable and productive Thanksgiving weekend, which I will summarize with bullets for your reading pleasure.
  • We ate huge multi-course meals on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with huge breakfast and lunch on Saturday.
  • I can't believe how much cheese I ate. I love cheese. Especially expensive cheese that I'm usually much too frugal to buy.
  • I also can't believe how much I drank. At least a glass or two of wine (which easily gets me tipsy on an empty stomach) with each of those huge meals and plenty of beer in between.
  • We house-hopped among Jon's family and didn't spend two consecutive nights in the same house.
  • We figured out more logistics for our wedding in April.
  • I had lunch with a former coworker/boss/friend of mine.
  • Jon's dentist brother cleaned my teeth. I need to floss more.
  • I adore Jon's nieces and nephews because they're all so smart, well behaved, and fun to hang out with.
  • I didn't do much work. Monday was supposed to be my work day but his brother inconveniently didn't know the password for their protected wireless internet. Basically everything I needed to do required me to be online. So much for that plan.
Ok, back to work!

What is hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys?

Climate change: It's definitely hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys!

While my research isn't directly related to understanding climate change, my research may be able to help slow down the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere by conserving areas that are currently sequestering vast amounts of CO2.

If that's not hotter than those shoes, I don't know what is. (On second thought, the research directly related to climate change surely qualifies as hotter than mine, but both are still way hotter than Naughty Monkeys).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

from the airport

I'm waiting at Big City Airport to fly to Jon's Hometown for
Thanksgiving. We're able to do this trip thanks to Jon's mom's
frequent flier miles- but it means we're flying on different airlines.
She travels extensively for her job (just got back from Sudan and may
be going to Iraq after Christmas... yes, she has a fascinating job).

I don't think I've ever seen so many 9-24 month old kids waiting to
get on the same flight. I guess I don't usually fly the day before
Thanksgiving. Here's hoping I'm not seated near the screamer. Or in
front of a kicker. That's really annoying.

Damn. They just delayed might flight for at least an hour. I should
probably go find some food.

We successfully replaced the wheels on our friends' car yesterday. It
cost $100 plus Jon's missed wages for 4 hours to deal with it. It
could've been worse.

Monday and Tuesday were mad busy. I was at school from 9 am to 1 am on
Monday working on a 20 minute presentation for Tuesday in the midst of
meetings. I had a very long list of things to accomplish on Tuesday
(including giving my presentation) and I got all of them done! It was
so satisfying!

Ok, in the end I got on a different flight that got in a little bit
sooner. I probably won't be online much until Friday or Saturday.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

what the #@^#$(@*#^$#!@$%)(#$&!?!?!?

I'm not even sure how to start explaining this.

First of all, WE DON'T HAVE A CAR precisely so we don't have to deal with shit like this! This car belongs to our friends who are out of the country for a week. We've had their car since Thursday in exchange for taking them to the airport.


We parked the car one street over from our apartment last night. I went and tried to use the car this morning but it wouldn't move. It seemed like the car wouldn't get into gear so I gave up. We had very busy day and couldn't be bothered with it until this evening when Jon went out and noticed that the passenger side wheels had been cleverly been removed and the car propped up with a block.

Sometimes, the problem is so obvious that you can't possibly think of it. Thought process that didn't happen this morning: Hmm, why isn't the car going? Maybe I should get out and check if someone STOLE THE WHEELS from the OTHER SIDE of the car so I wouldn't notice.

So, I called the police to report a theft. The officer thought someone played a prank on us. He said that in his 17 years as a Big City officer, he had never heard of the wheels being stolen from the right side of the car. I convinced him that it wasn't a prank, and after that he was incredibly helpful, except for the fact that we can't file the report because we don't own the car. He suggested all sorts of places where we might be able to replace the tires for a 12 year old Toyota. Why in the world did someone steal the tires?!?!?!

We are leaving on Wednesday morning for Thanksgiving and the plan was to leave the car at the airport so our friends could pick it up when they return on Thursday. Now we have two days to replace the tires (and bolts) on their car so we can actually drive it. I was just writing at the Economical Academic about how we're really buckling down on our budget and this isn't going to help one bit. This kind of unexpected expense is exactly the reason we don't have car. But, obviously this is our responsibility since it happened on our watch.

I'm not sure if it's comforting or disconcerting to know that people rarely get the tires stolen off their cars when they leave it parked overnight on a side street. Either way, we've got 48 hours to borrow someone else's car, buy the right tires, and put them on. Typing that out makes it sound so easy but Jon will have to take a half day off of work to do this because I'll be mad busy with presentations and papers. I'm crossing my fingers that this goes as smoothly as possible. Who knows, maybe we'll even find the right shop and get the same tires back.

my very busy and exciting weekend

This weekend was mad busy with non-academic work and I've got tons to do before we leave on Wednesday, but here's rundown of my non-stop weekend.

7:45 pm- Arrive home from school after a long day of meetings.
8:00 pm- Friends arrive to play Settlers of Catan.
~midnight- Friends leave and we get ready for bed.

9:15 am- Wake up, check email, start laundry, etc.
10:30 am- Other friends pick us up to go to a museum for several hours.
4:00 pm- Friends bring us home.
4-6:00 pm- I make yogurt, start making banana bread, and start a loaf in the bread machine.
6-8 pm- Run errands with Jon and a friend to pick up crafty items for a crafty workshop on Sunday.
~8:00 pm- Park car that belongs to our friends (who are out of town this week) a block away from our apartment.
~8:30 pm- Different friends come over to play Settlers of Catan.
Midnight- Three people (a friend plus two others) stop to spend the night. They are driving A Very Long Trip over two days in the most ghetto-tastic 1995 Geo.
12:30 am- Settlers of Catan finally ends with Jon's victory.
~2 am- Different friends leave.
3 am- We finally go to sleep after chatting with the road-tripping guests.

8 am- Awakened by the departure of our 3 midnight guests for their second day of driving.
9:20 am- Get out of bed to get ready for day of crafty workshops, shower.
~10 am- Get in aforementioned car that isn't ours to pick up a friend to run final crafty errands. Car starts but doesn't move. I give up and friend walks to our apartment and we forgo final errands. I tell Jon and we decide to deal with the problem later.
10:30-noon- Bake cookies, prep apartment, prep crafty stuff.
noon-2 pm- First crafty workshop.
2 pm- 4pm- Second crafty workshop (two people from school completely forget to come)-:
4 pm- 6pm- Final crafty workshop with friends from SFC who bring their bfs to hang out with Jon.
6-7 pm- Cleanup crafty stuff, chat and be exhausted.
~7 -8 pm- Eat semi-potluck dinner with our 5 friends.
8-9 pm- Play Chinese checkers with some friends while others play with the Wii.
9 pm- Our friends leave. We play on the Wii until about 10 pm.
10 pm- I get ready for bed and remind Jon about the car. I plan to spend the rest of the evening blogging about my weekend and thinking about what I need to do this week except this happens. It deserves its own post, so I made one. This is both the most exciting and unfortunate part of the weekend.

Tomorrow I have 3.5 hours of meetings and a 20 minute presentation to prepare for Tuesday about a section of a paper I haven't written yet. Before we leave on Wednesday we have to deal with this! Monday and Tuesday are going to be very busy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

dum da da dum...

...I have a committee! I had a great meeting with Melody this morning and she agreed to be on my committee. Then I had a moment of panic in which I couldn't remember if I'd actually ever asked Chip to be on my committee. I've been assuming for several months now that he would be, but I couldn't remember asking! So I tracked him down, asked him, and he said, "Yes, that would be great. But if you'd sent me an email about scheduling a meeting I would've just assumed I had already agreed to be on it!"

Next I've got to schedule a meeting with everyone. Speaking of meetings, I spent most of today in meetings. My interdisciplinary group* had a highly productive meeting this afternoon that lasted for several hours. We still have a lot of work to do, but it was great to make significant progress today.

*I'm inclined to call it my 'fellowship group' but that sounds like I'm talking about a church group! We did spend a little while today bashing talking about the Atlas of Creation...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

creating a committee

I'm tentatively planning to take my Ph.D. candidacy exam (aka preliminary exam or 'prelims') in March. Before then, I have to create a committee of faculty members who will assess my performance at the exam. I already know that Herb, Leo, Chip, and Sam will be on my committee, and I need one more person. I'm hoping that Melody, the new assistant professor, will be on my committee. I have a meeting with her tomorrow morning to talk about research with her and I also plan to ask her to be on my committee. I hope she says yes.

If Melody agrees, then I'll contact everyone to schedule a meeting. Ideally my pre-prelim meeting should be in December, but it might not happen until January. I think that will be ok but I'd rather know exactly what to study before winter break.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

introducing new characters

I need more female characters in my blog! Here they are.

is a new assistant professor. I'm excited about her work and I think she's a great addition to the department. She also knows my friend Cora (it's a small academic world).

is a new Masters student in Herb's lab. She's really cool, and she might also study critters.

Val is my office mate. It's just the two of us in the office, and she usually works at home because she has kids and she's almost finished with her Ph.D. She's the most experienced grad student in the lab right now and I like chatting with her (though I don't get to do that very often).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

5 things meme

Sarcozona tagged me for this one. Oh, Fia tagged me too. My very first meme was a similar version of this one. I agree with Theo that a Five Things meme should only have 5 things so I'm eliminating the snack one. Who cares what my favorite snacks are? Besides, I answered that last time.

The rules:
~Complete meme and post.
~Email the person who tagged you to let them know it's up.
~Tag 5 others and email/comment to tell them so.

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:
-Getting ready to try out for my high school's huge variety show.
-Working at a nature center.
-Generally being way more stressed out than I am now.
-Taking AP Biology, AP Stats, AP U.S. History, and studying Russian.
-Disliking most of my classmates.

5 things on my To-Do List Today:
-Get a massage!
-Read Mariyah's paper for lab meeting
-Work on interdisciplinary proposal
-Add books to our wedding registry
-Reset the mouse trap in our kitchen

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire:
-Give lots of money to Small Friendly College for lots of different things. Maybe I'd endow a professorship.
-Pay off my student loans.
-Take my parents to Remote Foreign Country.
-Support lots of other organizations working to make the world a better place (socially, environmentally, economically)
-Put a lot of money in my IRA for my retirement.

5 places I've lived:
-an old farmhouse that was formerly inhabited by a macaw (1 year)
-the back of a station wagon (on and off for 8 months)
-a tent by a beautiful mountain lake (1 month)
-Jon's sister's basement (1 year)
-a suburban ranch house that no longer exists :-( (for most of my childhood)

5 jobs I've had:
-reptile caretaker
-barn manager
-adobe house builder

Blogs I tag:
I think I'm one of the last people to do this, but I tag...

how minds work... or don't

This semester Jon and I have established a routine of always sitting down to eat dinner together on Monday nights and then watch of movie. Last night we decided to watch Superbad, because Jon had been quoting it for several months now and I said I hadn't seen it.

So we sit down on the couch, start the movie, and I recognize the credits. I remember watching the opening credits with Jon and talking about their bad ipod-esque dancing. We pondered why I had only watched the opening credits and not the rest of the movie. Weird. I insist I remembered nothing about the plotline. I must have gone off to work or read blogs while Jon watched the rest of the movie.

Then the opening scene. Oh my gosh, I recognized the opening scence. Did I see this movie? Surely I only saw the opening scene because having seen the main characters now I still can't remember anything else about the rest of the movie. Nothing. A blank. Then Jon says, "Do you remember McLovin?" Vague images of McLovin in a liquor store slowly started to come back to me, but I still couldn't really remember what happened in the movie, or how it ended. At all. But I had definitely seen the movie before.

I watched this movie less than six months ago and remembered NOTHING about it, and even FORGOT THAT I SAW IT.

Jon has teased me about this before ("you could hide your own Easter eggs!" or "it must be fun to watch Star Wars again and again and still be surprised that Darth Vader is Luke's father!"), but this Superbad experience takes the cake. (For the record, I could remember where Easter eggs were if I hid them.)

So, that is the long way of telling you that I have a terrible memory for plot lines. But I do remember numbers. Oh my gosh, I remember numbers. Especially when it comes to food prices. I still remember the unit price we paid for tortilla chips when I worked at Mid-Atlantic Field Station. I remeber what a good deal on cheese was in Remote Foreign Country. I know when we should buy extra olives or refried beans because they're cheaper than usual. I also remember my mailbox combination for Small Friendly College (I confirmed this last month), but that's probably more muscle memory in my hand than anything.

Does anyone else have this plotline retention deficiency or a knack for numbers? I think my mom is the exact same way. I also count things differently than most people I've explained my counting to, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

communicating what I do

I recently attended a communication workshop to learn how to more effectively explain what I do. I went with relatively low expectations, but it turned out to be incredibly useful. I learned about some exciting new venues for science news and information, and got to practice distilling my research into easy-to-understand pieces.

Before the workshop I had an unanticipated lesson in communication at BNHM. I was there for another one of those donor-schmoozing events. They always include a presentation of some sort, but this one also had a behind-the-scenes tour for the donors/guests. I got to watch several museum scientists, including Leo, talk about their research in a whole new way. Instead of hearing them talk about their research for other scientists, they were talking to intelligent adults who were interested in science and research, but didn't necessarily know anything about their field or what they actually do as scientists. They noticeably changed their language, eliminated jargon, and spoke concisely. Leo and another scientist were particularly good at it, and you could tell. The other scientist also happened to be a great story teller, and people were riveted to him. He's an excellent example of an effective science communicator. He made it exciting and easy to understand. I explained my research too, but I could tell immediately one-on-one when I lost them somewhere.

[At the end of the event Leo said to me, "I'm so glad you came over for this event. It's good to attend these things, especially since you're interested in education and outreach." I was thinking, Oh good! He doesn't notice I'm here for the free food and alcohol! Well, that's not the only reason I go (I do like trying to explain to people what I do), but I'm self-conscious of the fact that I'm almost only at the museum when they're giving me free food or I'm taking some friend or family member behind the scenes.]

But really, I love talking about science. I love trying to explain what I do in a way that makes it real to people. Podcasts, blogs, and well-planned in-person presentations are some fantastic ways to communicate science. I can't wait to actually collect some data so I can talk about it! The next challenge I've got to tackle, though, is communicating my research to people in Ukenzagapia.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

conceptualizing interdisciplinary work

This year I received a fellowship to do interdisciplinary work as part of my Ph.D. training. I'm not going to distinguish between inter/trans/multidisciplinary work. Basically I'm working with other graduate students from different departments with a common theme of sustainability. One of the main things we need to accomplish is a group project that incorporates our skills and disciplines in a cohesive way. This is remarkably more difficult than it first sounds.

This semester we've been meeting with professionals who do interdisciplinary work all the time. It has been exciting to learn about their projects and interesting to hear about the challenges. Now we're at the point in the semester when we have to come up with ideas of our own. All we have to do is propose a project, we don't actually have to do what we propose (at least not yet).

We started our discussion about this by picking a site and independently thinking of projects within our line of research that could be done there. We ended up with a list of mini-projects that lack a central question we want to answer. This became obvious at our last meeting, so now we're trying a slightly different approach by asking a question that we can work together to answer (in retrospect, this probably sounds really obvious but it isn't necessarily).

This conversation within my group has made me think about what it means to collaborate on an interdisciplinary project. Will I be working within my discipline on a small stand-alone piece of a larger question, or will I being doing something that is totally integrated with other disciplines and maybe only broadly relates to my specific sub-field? Ultimately, how do I see my role as a collaborator? Will I expand my horizons or stay squarely within my field as part of the larger whole?

Perhaps part of the difficulty for us is the artificial nature of the project. Instead of finding a problem and assembling a group of diverse people to answer a question or come up with a solution, we have the group of people and have to find a question we can answer based on who we have to work with.

You can expect more posts on this topic in the near future as the semester draws to a close and we have to come up with a proposal!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

other conversations in the blogosphere

There's a conversation going on over at Professor Chaos about clothing in academia (part 1 and part 2). It was inspired by some of the conversation about Dr. Isis that happened earlier this week.

I also (tried) starting a conversation over at The Economical Academic about how academia is feeling the economic crisis. How is it affecting your research or institution? Go on over and comment!

I won a t-shirt!

Alice Pawley from Sciencewomen had a free t-shirt drawing for readers who donated to DonorsChoose during the Scienceblogger campaign, and I won! My t-shirt is going to look like the one Sciencewoman is modeling here. It says, "This is what a scientist looks like."

I'll post a photo of me wearing it when it arrives. Hooray!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

work-free weekend

I didn't do any work this weekend. In fact, I didn't do much other than play games and sleep. On Friday and Saturday nights we had friends over to play Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. Today we slept in really late. Jon used my fast, new computer to play Sim City, and I started watching. Lame, I know, but it's really mesmerizing. Then I was hooked. I started my own game and that was pretty much the end of the day. I haven't played Sim City in years. It's so addicting because I just wanted to build a little more, get a few more residents, or balance my budget. Next thing I knew I'd been playing for 5 hours!!! Seriously. Addictive. That's enough for a while.

Well, now I've got to get a few of those housekeeping (on the computer) things done before I fall asleep. This is going to be another busy week!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

skirting the gender gap in my fellowship application

I submitted my NSF GRFP proposal at 4:59 pm on Friday and now my goal is to forget I even applied. But before I forget I do want to blog about it.

This year I abandoned chronology in my personal statement and instead shaped it around how I'm going to increase diversity in science in many ways. One way I plan to do this is by supporting women and underrepresented minorities, such as Ukenzagapian students.

I began the paragraph about increasing diversity of participants by saying, "Historically, scientific fields (including ecology) have been dominated by white men." Then I went on to say how I would change that. However, some people commented that I might be alienating the white men who were likely to be reading my essay. Herb in particular thought I should cut it. So did my mom.

I clung to it somewhat stubbornly and talked to my friend Cora (who received a GRF) about my essays on the phone. She didn't think I should cut it either. It was a statement of fact. How could any reviewer deny that? In the end, though, I cut the whole sentence. It didn't really add enough to justify the risk that I might offend a white male reviewer.

Kate's post for this month's Scientiae carnival said that women are tricked into thinking gender equality exists in science when it doesn't yet. Perhaps our reluctance to make statements like mine make us silently compliant to the status quo?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

oh my GRF...

I received a deluge of feedback today from Herb, Sam, Cora, Jon, and my mom on my NSF GRFP essays. I'm basically finished. I've uploaded 'backup' versions to NSF Fastlane so that if I can't do anything else I can at least hit the 'submit' button. That said, I'm meeting with Herb tomorrow morning to discuss the final details of my plan of research. Then I have 6 straight hours of meetings and class that end at 4 pm. I must submit by 5 pm. I'm going to proof read everything aloud to myself before I hit that button.

I must say, I think I've really put together kickass personal statement and previous research essays this year, and I'm feeling pretty good about my plan of research. I'm not as panicky as I was at this time last year, but I do have the legitimate lingering concern that they'll decide I'm not eligible (I wrote about this in the spring, but came to the conclusion that the potential benefits* were greater than the costs and I was going to apply anyways). So, I'm giving this thing my last best shot while trying to stay emotionally detatched and plan everything after this as if I never even applied for this.

*For my readers who aren't familiar with it, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program gives you $30,000 per year for 3 years and money for tuition. This is far more than I could earn as a teaching assistant and gives me the flexibility to conduct field work in any month of the year.

my life in comics (part 2)

Every morning for the past several weeks I've woken up to news on NPR about the economy (or the election! But mostly the economy). It's kind of depressing. At the same time, though, I'm not too worried about me. Being a grad student isn't the most lucrative employment, but it is pretty secure if you still have a ways to go like me. Ph.D. Comics summarized it well:

I've probably got 4 or 5 years left before I hit the job market, so I'm hoping by then I'll be able to get a mortgage and buy a house.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


It's still sinking in. I was totally unprepared when they called it as soon as the California polls closed. I'm so glad it was a decisive victory so I could go to sleep last night knowing that Barack Obama will be my next president.

Now I've got to try to get some work done today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

election eve

Tomorrow I get to cast my vote for Obama! I'm so excited. I might make calls for Obama tomorrow too. We'll see. Jon is taking the day off, on the principle that election day should be a national holiday. I completely agree. Is there a movement for this somewhere? I want to support it. But, I'll probably still be at school for a little while tomorrow.

Last night I finished another round of NSF GRF drafts and then spent an hour composing emails to send them to various people for feedback. I thought I was going to have a meeting with Herb, but he came and left. I thought I was waiting for him, but maybe he was waiting for me. I guess I should've been more proactive. Today I did a bunch of little tasks like writing emails, downloading programs like R and Google Earth, and aerially exploring Nyota (my field site) on the internet. Later this week I'll probably have a bunch of final revisions to do so I'm trying to get my end of the week assignments out of the way tonight and tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'm really not sure how much work I'll get done. I mean, this is a HUGE election! We're planning to go watch with election results roll in with some friends tomorrow night and hopefully celebrate Obama's victory. It might be a late night.

If you haven't already voted, GO VOTE!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Computers

After much anticipation, I finally received my new MacBook on Thursday afternoon! I used it to write my Scientiae post that evening, and set it up to get the data from my old laptop while I slept on Thursday night. That's when things started to get frustrating.

The newest MacBooks lack a firewire port, which is one of the fastest ways to transfer data from one device to another. Without a firewire port, I had to resort to other data transfer methods such as wireless or ethernet cable. On Thursday night I set up my computers to transfer wirelessly using the MigrationAssistant utility. It said it would take about 7.5 hours. When I woke up the next morning about 9 hours later, it said "less than one minute remaining" for the transfer... but it continued to say "less than one minute" for the next half an hour. I called AppleCare. They told me sometimes the final "minute" took a long time, especially when transfering between OS 10.4 and 10.5 so I should leave it for another hour or so. I didn't have another hour (I had about 15 minutes) before I had to leave for school, so I left both computers at home tied up in the transfer with the hope that it would finish while I was gone.

When I got home on Friday afternoon, it still said "less than one minute" so I called AppleCare again. They suggested I cancel it and try again with ethernet. This time I couldn't even get MigrationAssistant to set up properly so the AppleCare woman told me I should visit an Apple repair place because it might be a hardware problem. I immediately scheduled an appointment for 8 pm at the Apple store's Genius Bar.

I explained my problem to the guys at the Apple store, and they talked me through the options. We set up the transfer with MigrationAssistant using ethernet, which seemed to work this time. It said the transfer would take about an hour and 20 minutes. I got my flirt on with the Genius Bar guys since they'd have to let me stay past store closing. Until the store closed, I wandered around oogling at all the sleek products and people watching. One 'customer' looked like she was doing her online LL Bean Christmas shopping.

Once the store closed, the computers said they had about 25 minutes remaining. I sat at the Genius Bar chatting with the employees while they cleaned up. Then it got to that final, frustrating step of "less than one minute remaining" and it just stayed there. I just wanted to go home, get my costume on, and go to a Halloween party! At one point there were five guys all standing around watching and willing the transfer to finish. One of them kindly brought me a coke and a snickers, and I even got a free Apple water bottle. After 30 minutes of "one minute remaining", we decided I should leave both of the computers, go home, and come back on Saturday. GAH! I didn't get home until 11 pm and didn't go to that Halloween party after all.

I called on Saturday and found out that the transfer still didn't finish. I already had another Genius Bar appointment, so I went back on Saturday afternoon. This time we didn't use MigrationAssistant at all. They used an external drive to transfer everything, and had to use the terminal to get around permissions on a lot of my data. This is probably what screwed up the transfer with MigrationAssistant. I had about 2 hours to kill while my data moved this time, so I did quite a bit of window shopping at expensive nearby stores. It was fun, but I was planning to work on my NSF essays on Saturday! Good news: not a hardware problem. Bad news: both of my computers had been tied up in attempted data transfers for almost 48 hours! Lesson learned: If your first transfer fails, go immediately to the external hard drive (USB capable) method without MigrationAssistant. Be prepared to enter password multiple times or override permissions using the terminal.

I finally left the Apple store around 4 pm on Saturday with both computers and all of my data transferred. So what did I do on Sunday? I left my new computer at home with Jon (who promptly created his own user to play computer games) and took my old computer to school so I could work on my NSF essays without the distraction of setting up all the little preferences for my new computer. Still gotta do that. But now, I've really gotta go to sleep!

Friday, October 31, 2008

tricks and treats for an aspiring ecologist

I think trick or treat is a great theme for November's scientiae blog carnival. I'm going to share the tricks I use to keep myself sane and the treats I enjoy as a grad student in ecology.

Taking time for fun- I make time for fun things like having people over, playing board games, and watching movies. I don't let myself stress out about work that I should be doing while I'm having fun. If it's going to stress me out that much to play a game, then I'll just work instead until I'm at a point where I can relax.

Regular exercise- I'm trying to be better about this in my second year. I have set myself the easily attainable goal of going to the gym at least once per week. I bike to school every day and have to carry my not-so-light bike up 2.5 flights of stairs so that also helps keep me active. I make time to go to the gym at least once a week even when I have a lot of work to do. I hope I can keep this up all year!

Income ingenuity- Budgeting carefully and spending wisely is crucial on a grad student stipend. Being creative is important to keep you from getting the blues about your empty pockets. I'm a huge fan of craigslist for acquiring just about anything except food. Several months ago I wrote a post about it for The Economical Academic.

There aren't very many deadlines in grad school. I find that applying for small grants is a great way for me to give myself deadlines. It forces me to think about my project more closely than I otherwise would, and I tend to blow off my self-imposed deadlines. I also have the grant deadlines repeat annually in my Google calendar.

Keep a blog! I think this blog has been really beneficial for me. It gives me a place to process my thoughts and even get some feedback. It's already interesting for me to look back at some of my posts from last year to be reminded of how different thoughts have developed. Also, the science blogger community is great! I'm not nearly as active as a commenter as many of you are, but I appreciate your blogs too!

Self-confidence and self-respect- Somedays I have to remind myself that I can get a Ph.D. and be a scientist, but deep down I have confidence that I can do it. Even when I struggle or receive strong criticism, I remind myself that I'm here to learn and no one expects me to know everything already. I also recognize and take care of my needs outside of school.

Travel- I get to go to Africa! Pretty awesome. No matter what you study as an ecologist, there are opportunities to work in interesting places all over the U.S. and abroad.

Romping around outside
- Studying ecology almost guarantees you get to spend most of your time for at least one part of the year outside (unless you end up doing theory at a computer). Classes almost always have field trips, too.

Eating free food- I think I've averaged about one free meal per week this semester. You might have to be strategic, but there's often free food on campus.

Academic community perks- There are so many fringe benefits to being part of an academic community. I get access to a fantastic student gym with free group fitness classes and a climbing wall, among other things. Universities tend to be much more walkable and pedestrian-friendly than the rest of the country making it possible to live car-free. I have access to a huge library and interlibrary loan. Plus I can occasionally pick up extra cash as a study subject for something.

Technology- My research gives me the opportunity to play around with things like GPS receivers and digital cameras. Buying research supplies with grant money is kind of like Christmas. But hands down my biggest perk to date has been my brand freakin' new MacBook that I'm using to write this post! It finally arrived yesterday afternoon. It is officially property of the university, but I intend to keep it for the rest of its useful life which perfectly coincides with how long I expect to be in grad school.

Schedule- I have considerable flexibility in my own schedule outside of classes and meetings. I can write for two hours in bed before getting dressed and going to school for the rest of the day. I also enjoy school 'vacations' even though there's always something to work on.

Thanks to Jane at See Jane Compute for hosting this month's carnival. I can't wait to see what everyone else has to say!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

my life in cartoons (part 1)

If I had a tracking number for my new MacBook, this is what I would be doing:

xkcd really hits the nail on the head.

But, alas, no tracking number, so I'm actually being productive and working on my personal statement for the GRF application.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

6 random things meme

I've been tagged by both Eugenie and Fia so I guess I'll do this.

The Rules
  • Link to the person who tagged you.
  • Post the rules on your blog.
  • Write 6 random things about yourself.
  • Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them.
  • Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when your entry has posted
Ok, let's see what comes out.
  1. My grandma told me when I was a little kid that I was going to be a scientist when I grew up. I guess I've been trying to fulfill the prophesy.
  2. Most of my extended family are conservative Christians and an unfortunately high number of them don't believe in evolution. An unfortunate number of them also live in swing states. God bless 'em. Thankfully, my parents are rational and reasonable.
  3. I've never plucked my eyebrows but I do wax my legs. I'm getting better at it.
  4. I didn't really want to come to Big City for grad school and I was kind of intimidated by the idea of it, but the decision was easy when I wasn't accepted at the other 5 schools I applied to! I definitely think this was the best place for me to be since it turns out we know a lot of people here, I like my advisors and program, and we can live car-free.
  5. Jon and I will have a Quaker-style wedding.
  6. I don't have an engagement ring and I would be appalled if Jon spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on a ring for me, especially a diamond. One of our friends will probably make our wedding rings.
Who can I tag that hasn't been tagged yet?
Paulina (what we don't know is A LOT)
Leah (penn)
EcoGeoFemme (The Happy Scientist)
Amused (amusings...)
Anne-Marie (pondering pikaia)
I think 5 will have to do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

mental murkiness

This morning I received some feedback from Sam about my application essays. It sounded a bit harsh but he's absolutely right in everything he said:
res statement does not wow me. methods are fine but first few paragraphs are blase. nothing pivotal, just another story that the Herb lab is pursuing is what reviewers could say! same old story, just a new species -- who gives a damn? the first para has to capture our attention about a novel conceptual idea--what sets your study apart from everything else? why is it so novel and ground-breaking? i see nothing from what you may have reviewed for your paper that comes to play in the 1st few paras -- you have to work harder on this document.
This prompted a lot of reflection and thinking today. I didn't make any major changes since I'm getting more feedback tomorrow, but I did talk to Chip about my project and talked to a few people (Jon, Mariyah, another friend) about my mental murkiness.

Of course I know I need to address the things Sam said, but I seem to have trouble saying clearly in writing why what I'm proposing to do is novel and exciting. I've had this problem with the review paper and now with this proposal. I think it comes from a deeper lack of clarity about the ecological relationships I'm trying to understand, and the best way to go about understanding them.

In general I think I'm doing a good job at this whole grad school thing. I've identified an area of research with opportunities that I'm excited about and I've even gotten a few grants to study it. But I think my greatest insecurity and weakness right now is my ability to translate questions into experiments. Let me explain.

I have a big question for which I would like to know the answer. I'm not talking huge, but big. Bigger than can be accomplished by one Ph.D. or lab group. Under that question I have several smaller questions that are interrelated but can still be approached and answered in many different ways. Then within those I have questions that are specific to my field site and system. It helps me to think about the levels of each question and I've laid out many of them explicitly.

My problem is in connecting the experiments and the questions. I have an interesting array of methods I could use to answer some of these questions. I can think of experiments and observational studies that would tell me something about the system I'm working in. I start to try to answer one specific question using a particular method, but then I get discouraged that the question isn't the right one because it's only addressing X and not Y or Z*. Will answering this small question even tell me anything about the big one? Am I looking for a silver bullet that doesn't exist? When I start delving into the details, I lose sight of the big picture and have trouble justifying my research to the rest of the world. I have yet to find the middle ground where I can both grasp the details to answer specific questions while holding onto the bigger question. Am I making any sense?

I seem to be able to think up questions with ease, but the process of determining how to clearly and rigorously answer them is very difficult for me. I suppose this proccess doesn't come naturally to everyone and that's why I'm in grad school.

*Is this possibly a relict of my perfectionism that I have slowly overcome since elementary school? Is this the modern-day manifestiation of my fear of writing anything in third grade for fear of writing something wrong? Am I trying too hard to figure everything out before I actually do anything? I tend to think that since data are expensive in my case that I do need to figure out as much as I possibly can before I go spend 3 months in the middle of nowhere Ukenzagapia without my advisors. Perhaps that is perfectionism justified. No, I am not being a perfectionist. I am being reasonable and responsible in trying to plan my research carefully while recognising there are plenty of things beyong my control. At this point I think I am just confused.

Help fund classroom science projects!

Sciencewomen have challenged their readers to fully fund some teacher-proposed classroom science project for Donors Choose. Some of the projects still need more donations, like the one for Kindergarten Geometry that I supported.

Take a moment and think about why you like science. Most of you are probably somewhere on the journey of a scientist right now. Now think back, way back, to your earliest science memory. What is it? I remember holding a baby turtle. What do you remember about science in school? I would bet that you had at least one fantastic science teacher in your childhood that inspired and encouraged you. The teachers from Donors Choose are motivated people stymied by underfunded classrooms. When you give to a classroom project, you're helping another generation of students learn that they can do, understand, and love science.

What are you waiting for? Skip a couple of expensive lattes and go give $5 or $10 to a project you like.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

on applying again for the NSF GRFP

There seems to be widespread confusion in my department about whether or not second year Ph.D. students are eligible for the GRFP, and unfortunately I think most of them are misinformed and have been told they aren't eligible when they actually are. Then there's me, plowing ahead stubbornly at my final attempt.

Today I sent drafts to Herb's lab group to get feedback this week during lab meeting. I've been enjoying posts by Amused who got a GRF last spring. She's offering great advice for writing the application essays (here and here).

I was trying to figure out if I should list a manuscript in preparation (my review) in my publication list and I found this NSF document. It's basically a review of the GRFP from 2003 where they describe how the program should be improved. Many of the changes they suggest have already been make. It does explicitly say in this document that applicants should include mansucripts in preparation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dear Apple,

Please please please tell me you've already shipped my lovely new MacBook. I can hardly wait to get it. I've been waiting for months now to buy a new computer- the release of the new MacBooks has been imminent for weeks and it's been over a week now since I ordered my brand new aluminum baby. If it doesn't arrive tomorrow and I have to wait until next week I might buy a Dell* instead. I would really like to download more photos and podcasts but if I do, I think my iBook's hard drive will explode.

Anxiously waiting,

*Ok, I'm actually kidding about that but I thought it might get your attention. Send it the day before yesterday!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

abandoning chronology

I’ve been intensively scrutinizing essays (my own and others) for the NSF GRFP. I feel like I’ve made huge strides in improving my essays this year by looking more carefully at how successful applicants have organized their essays. One big change I made this year is I abandoned chronology in my personal statement. Previously I described step by step how I was inspired and prepared to attend grad school. Not this year. This year it’s organized around a theme with subthemes and I mention experiences as appropriate regardless of chronology.

The other big change is that I’m focusing much more on concrete things I did, am doing, or will do rather than talking about touchy-feely passion for science. I am a passionate, touchy feely kind of person but I personally find it much harder to write convincingly about those things. I need to keep some passion in there somewhere but I'd got to figure out how to make it work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

wanting memories

We got back yesterday evening completely exhausted, but we had an awesome time at SFC. I only saw Herb twice in passing! I'll hear his take on it tomorrow.

I had a wonderful time hanging out with my cousin, her friends, and some of my college girlfriends. We're all still trying to figure out where our lives are going to some extent and how so it was good to talk about that.

Other highlights:
  • a really big bonfire
  • hearing the my cousin finally feels like she fits in and that she's really happy there
  • seeing an awesome concert
  • going on a trail ride with my friend
  • watching the alumni win against the students
  • talking to friends who are going to RFC! We get to relive our travels vicariously through them.
  • catching up with some of my favorite professors
  • swapping stories about 70 mph species identification, picking up roadkill, and airplane travel with unusual, um, specimens.
One bittersweet moment was meeting current students from a particular student organization in which I was heavily involved and no one knew who I was. It's hard to believe I'm that old- I'm one of those people. *sigh*

(Later this week I'll try to post some photos after I get my new computer!)

**Note: Photos added on November 10, 2008**
This is how we felt at the end of the weekend.
This is a beautiful shot of the clouds before sunset.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

back where it all began

Tomorrow we're leaving for Small Friendly College, so I probably won't be blogging again until at least Monday unless I find myself with an exceptional amount of down time. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and my cousin who currently goes there. Oddly enough, Herb will also be there. You see, Herb and I share the unlikely experience of having attended the same Small Friendly College, albeit some decades apart. I had no idea he went to SFC when I first contacted him when I was applying to grad school.

Jon and I met at SFC, and it's a very special place for me because I think it profoundly shaped my direction in life. I'm looking forward to seeing many of my professors and friends and catching up on what they've been doing. It should be a good time.

Note to other bloggers: My RSS feeds all just reset for some unknown reason so now it says I have 1,327 unread feeds (the real number is more like 80). Either way, I obviously read too many blog and I'm behind so I'm probably behind on your blog too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

meet my new MacBook

No, I don't have it yet, but I did just order one of these babies: the best MacBook money can buy (before it becomes a MacBook Pro).

I prefer smaller laptops for their portability, and the Pro only comes in a larger size. On the inside, my MacBook will be almost as good as a Pro, and better in some ways than the least expensive Pro. I'm getting the biggest hard drive (320 GB) and the most RAM (4 GB) that I can for a MacBook. I am also getting AppleCare, because it has always been worth it in my experience and it gives me peace of mind. The total comes in at just over $1900 with the educational discount, and my fellowship is paying for $1700. Not bad at all! I plan for this computer to last me until the end of my Ph.D., and then it can be almost completely recycled because of the major improvements Apple made in the redesign of the MacBook/Pro.

I'm preparing myself not to receive it until Monday. Oh my gosh I can hardly wait!

(As an aside, I woke up this morning to check for the new MacBooks and our internet wasn't working. It turns out that our service was shut off because the bill was 55 days past due!!! We were enrolled in autopay, but apparently that didn't transfer when we moved and I didn't notice that we weren't paying (even though I keep track of all of our expenses). Ack! We don't usually do things like that! So I had to pay about $10 in extra late fees and reactivation plus the balance in full to get us back online. After all that they didn't even have the new laptops in the online Apple Store until this afternoon.)

friends and mentors

On Monday I got to visit with my friend Cora who recently finished her Ph.D. at a big-name university with well-known ecologists. She finished in less than 5 years and is a role model for me as someone who can use her time effectively at work and still have a life outside of school. She was married for her whole Ph.D. and she's now expecting her first baby. When I see grad students who seem to be at school every day of the week until late in the evening, I remind myself that Cora was able to finish sooner than everyone else in her cohort by working intelligently. She even went on several long vacations! As someone slightly older and certainly more experienced than me, I think of her as a mentor and appreciate her perspective on getting through grad school. How would my grad school experience be different if I hadn't known Cora?

Cora was originally going to come over for dinner, but we changed plans and met for lunch at BNHM. It was a good excuse for me to work at the museum. I finally rode my bike from home to the museum after thinking about doing it for months. It was great! I should do that more often. Even with a 2 hour lunch to chat with Cora and show her around, I got a lot accomplished today. I'm feeling really good about the condition of my GRF personal statement and previous research statement. Family members and close friends will be getting drafts soon! I was holed up in a very quiet corner of the museum and I restricted my internet access. Sometimes a change of scenery is definitely a good thing for writing.

We've had a very social few days, hence the lack of posting. We had a party on Saturday night that didn't end until 4 am and two people spent the night. Great fun! On Monday evening a friend from SFC stopped to visit as she drove through Big City so we went out to dinner with her. Oh my gosh, I just realized this is going to be a very short week for me. I'd better get a lot done!

Monday, October 13, 2008

computer Christmas Eve

According to MacRumors, Apple will be releasing their new line of notebooks tomorrow! I'll be getting a new computer as soon as I possibly can since my dock has frozen 10 times in a month and my 30 GB hard drive is totally full. I am sooooooooooooooooo excited! I've been holding off on a new computer because my friend Mitch told me months ago that they would be releasing new ones soon. The anticipation is like Christmas Eve. I can't wait!

Friday, October 10, 2008

do you know who I am?

I've titled this post for some future reader.

I did a little bit of Googling around when I should've been doing something productive, and I found my blog, much to my shock, at the top of some very basic Google searches about this field. I'm telling you now- there is no way that I will finish my Ph.D. before someone at my university stumbles upon my blog and quickly identifies me. I'm convinced that it's only a matter of time before some wise new UBC student who has prepared him/herself for the grad school experience via the blogosphere makes the connection between real me and blogger me. Or perhaps it will be someone who is already here?

I can only hope that you, future reader, will tell me first rather than everyone else in your lab or the department!

Now I can mentally prepare myself for this inevitable future event and move past the axiety associated with being the number one Google hit for blog ecologist. At least it's always changing...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

meeting with Herb

I hadn't had an 'official' meeting with Herb since July or something so yesterday we got coffee and talked about what's going on in my academic life. He said he thinks my review is shaping up well, which is good to hear. I thought I was getting weird vibes from him during the lab meeting but I guess it was all in my head. I wasn't going to let myself get too worried about it, but this meeting was reassuring.

As advising styles go, Herb is very hands off. If you're not self-directed and motivated, he's not going to be much of a help. His style so far is working well for me because I have some clear ideas of what I want to do, and he is generally pretty good at helping clear the path (once you decide where the path is going).

We talked about my review a bit, who should write letters of recommendation for my NSF GRF application, the novel methods I want to use next summer in Ukenzagapia, and who I need to talk to about the methods. Oh, we also talked about when I should do my prelims. Apparently prelims here aren't the grueling "weeding" process that some programs have, because Herb and Leo both keep saying I'll have no problem with them. Leo wanted me to do them this fall! Herb and I were talking about March. Sometime in March. So this fall I need to officially get my committee together and schedule a meeting before the end of the semester so I know what to prepare for the spring. Herb said there's no reason for me to wait until next year, so I need to get them done before I leave again for Ukenzagapia and before our wedding in April. I still don't know what exactly I'm supposed to do for prelims, but I guess that's why I'll have a committee meeting (so they can tell me).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

being honored

Last week in the midst of my writing madness I attended a fancy dinner to be recognized for a grant I received from the university (I think I might have called this Grant A). I already spent the money for travel to Ukenzagapia and had no idea I'd be honored at a dinner until a few weeks ago.

I got an email saying they wanted to honor me and the other award recipients at the dinner, could I come, etc. As I got more and more emails about the award dinner it started to seem like a bigger and bigger deal. First they wanted to know if I would be bringing a guest (I stupidly said no). Next they told me I'd be meeting the donor who endowed the award. Then they wanted my CV for my "introduction" (What? Why are they introducing me?). Finally they called me the Friday before the dinner saying they urgently needed my "remarks" for the script (WHAT? What do I have to say?). Remarks! Oh my. Apparently this is the kind of award ceremony where they talk about you and then you say thank you and how much the award has helped you. I've never been honored at one of those before!

On the night of the dinner I arrive at the building on campus and meet the coordinator with whom I have been corresponding over email. As I'm picking up my nametag he asks, "Do you have a copy of your remarks?" Uhhh... you mean you aren't going to put them on a teleprompter or something? There's not a copy of that script you so urgently needed them for? Apparently, you are always supposed to bring a copy of your remarks (ok, I'm not really sure why I thought I didn't... I think perhaps I just failed to consider and comprehend what it meant to give these remarks. Now you've been warned. Bring your remarks). So, I ran back to my office to print my remarks, then returned, sweaty, to the pre-dinner mingling.

They aren't kidding around about this award dinner. It's possible that the whole thing was more expensive than our wedding will be. First there was an open bar. I had no one to mingle with since I declined to bring a guest so I found another student who wasn't mingling with the gray-headed male-dominated crowd and chatted with her until dinner.

During dinner I was seated with the bigshots. There was an alumni association chairperson, a dean, and a chancellor. I don't even know what a chancellor does. Where are they in the administrative hierarchy? Is there more than one? The man who established the award I received sat down right next to me, so I got to tell him how much the money helped me further my research as a grad student in biology.

There were many speeches, much clapping, lots of university cheerleading, and some awards. Considering how long we sat there they really didn't give out very many awards. Students were in the minority by far. I think it was mostly wealthy alumni, other major donors, administrators, and professors.

I got so nervous when they called me up and read my introduction. I didn't know what they were going to say (I wish I'd asked), so a few things caught me off guard. I think my little speech was ok, but I wish I'd practiced it more so that I would've been more calm, cool, and collected. Then they gave me a thing with my name and such engraved on it and took my photo with the bigshots. I had no idea they were going to give me a thing- really the money was enough!

After the awards we had to hang around for more photos and they had a dessert bar with a chocolate fountain. When I left I got to take home a huge flower arrangement, except that it only made it to my office because there was no way I could get it home on my bike. I'm telling you, they went all out on this thing. Their money is probably better spent funding more student awards.

Overall it was an interesting glimpse into part of a big university. I'm glad I went, even though I had to go back to my office afterwards and write for a few more hours. I'll be sure to tip off the next award recipient to bring their own remarks, dress very nicely, and bring a guest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

trying to say what I want to say... what do I want to say?

Today I got feedback from the lab about my review. Most of the feedback said that I need to make my points more clearly and not bury them in the middle of the paper. As one person commented, I need to do a better job of saying what I'll say, saying it, and then saying what I said. I also haven't found the right audience, or the right angle.

Herb said in grad school he read two reviews on the same topic. One was an exhaustive summary of the literature, and the other took the literature and made a point with it. I need to do more of the latter and less of the former.

Basically, I've done a lot of reading, thinking, and writing, but I still don't have a clear, interesting, or memorable way to communicate my synthesis. I'm a little bit discouraged, but I'm not going to let myself get down about it. I can publish this (someday!); I just need an epiphany like the one I had a few weeks ago about my GRF application.

As much as I want to, I am going to resist the urge to stop thinking about this paper for a while. I'm not going to put as much energy into it until after the GRFP application is due, but I'm not going to ignore it completely. I'm hoping that if I keep coming back to it every few days and thinking about it a little bit at a time that I'll have another breakthrough.

Monday, October 6, 2008

review reflections

Tomorrow the lab group is giving me feedback about my review. I really need to figure out how to put a graph on my blog (suggestions, readers?) to track my enthusiasm. It was probably a 2 last Thursday and an 7 on Friday afternoon. I kept asking Mariyah questions and trying to talk through my confusion with her, so she offered to read it on Friday morning so that we could talk about it Friday afternoon. She really helped remind me that what I'm writing about is exciting and interesting and I'm not the only person in the world who cares about it.

I hope that I get inspired rather than overwhelmed and my ideas clarified rather than confused from tomorrow's lab meeting. I need to keep making steady progress on this review even while I start working a lot on my NSF GRF application. There's so much to think about with this review. I have about 100 citations and there are more papers I should read and possibly incorporate. Herb wasn't kidding- it's hard to write a good review.

On a completely separate note, I ended up not making yogurt today, but I did make a casserole, cobbler, quiche, and cookies. I have lunch for several days now! The cookies are for the lab group for commenting on my paper tomorrow. I was going to bring them cobbler, but I decided it would be too messy and involve plates and utensils.