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).