Tuesday, March 31, 2009

undergrads and internships: waiting, accepting, and thanking

The undergrad for whom I wrote 11 letters of recommendation to summer research programs came by my office today to tell me where she's spending the summer. She got rejected/waitlisted at 7 places, hasn't heard from 3, and accepted to 1. She decided to accept the invitation from the one place where she was accepted. I think this is a wise decision even though she hasn't heard from 3 of the places.

I had to make a similar decision as an undergrad when I applied for REU programs because the date by which I had to decline or accept my only offer was before I'd heard from several other places. I'm glad I went with the offer even though it was my last choice program because I'm 99% sure I would not have been accepted elsewhere.

FemaleScienceProfessor recently had a post about student responses (or lack thereof) to acceptance letters to undergraduate summer research programs. I fear that as an undergraduate I may not have responded to the offer I received while I was waiting to hear back from other other programs. I suppose that in my head, telling them that I was waiting to hear back from other places implied that their program was not my first choice (true, but not something I necessarily wanted them to know). Now that I am older and wiser, I see that FSP's advice is absolutely the right: say simply that you aren't sure yet but will respond by the deadline. I wish someone had told me that when I was in college. Listen up you undergraduate readers. I know from this survey that there are at least a few of you reading.

My student did just like FSP said and told me about the outcome of my letters her applications. I am thrilled that my student took the time to write me a letter (by hand! though email would've been fine) to tell me the status of her applications. She also brought me sweets, which she said were the best way to thank someone according to her cultural traditions. I'm excited for her and fully expect that she'll do well this summer.

wow, welcome new readers

Geeze my blog is getting a lot of hits about the GRFP. I'm the third hit when you Google "grfp notification"! Eek. Sometimes I get a wee bit uncomfortable when my blog is so easy to find.

Also, I'm sooooooooo far behind on the goings-on in the blogosphere that I didn't know that I've been mentioned by two bloggers from ScienceBlogs.com in the past few weeks (Greg Laden and ScienceWomen). That would also explain why my blog has been getting more hits. Slowly my number of readers climbs.

Especially if you think you might stick around and become a regular reader, please consider filling out my reader survey if you haven't already.

Monday, March 30, 2009

so much exhausting fun

This morning I took my niece back to the airport. My aunt, uncle, and cousin left yesterday. We spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at cultural institutions. It was great fun but also exhausting.

I showed them behind the scenes at BNHM and they were all impressed. After seeing someone stuffing a bird for a study skin my aunt said, "I never imagined that this was even a job that someone did!" She said what happens at the museum makes her job (retail) seem incredibly dull and unimportant. I'm glad that a few more people in my extended family have a greater understanding and appreciation for what I do.

The girls, both 8 years old and in second grade, had a blast. I can't believe how much they giggled and laughed, especially before 8 am! Their laughing made me laugh too. I should laugh more.

Also, our niece is so much fun. She asks fantastic questions. She reads books like hungry grad students eat free food. In two days she read 1/2 of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. I'm sure she could have finished it except that we took her to a museum (where she went to their library and read more books). Her favorite t-shirt is this one from xkcd that we gave her for Christmas.
Perhaps I would be more excited about everything that I have to catch up on this week if I made such a grand announcement before sitting down at my desk to work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

just for one of my favorite readers

You know who you are, you bored compulsive blog-checker. I'm off to the airport now to meet my niece (ok, she'll officially be my niece in one month) who is flying alone. She's 8! And totally awesome and I think she wants to be a scientist. This weekend is going to be awesome.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

schedule madness

Between my prelims (two weeks ago now) and May, there is something happening every single weekend. I'm not just talking having people over for dinner or something (we do that almost once a week anyways); I mean we're either going somewhere or people are staying with us. We pushed a bunch of trips into that time frame (post-prelims).* The weekend after prelims we visited my parents, last weekend we went to a wedding, next weekend we have other family visiting, the next weekend I'm going to a bridal shower for my friend, the weekend after that we're visiting Jon's sister, and then we leave to finish preparing things the weekend before our wedding, then our wedding and then it's May!

Tonight my mom and my sister's boyfriend are staying with us. Thursday evening my aunt, uncle, cousin, and Jon's niece all arrive for the weekend. Also, a visiting student at BNHM is subletting our guest room for the month of April. He's moving in on Monday right after our family leaves.

I had big plans for getting stuff done this week, but my time is seriously squeezed between our friend's wedding and the accompanying mini-vacation and several family members visiting. Tomorrow I start seeing a counselor. I might not get anything done at all. Gotta get that grant out.

*Actually, we also had 11 people spend the night at our apartment on the Friday before my prelims. I might still blog about that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

mental gender bias

Last week in class a grad student was leading discussion about a paper with three authors. While summarizing the paper, the student repeatedly referred to the authors as "he." Two of the three authors had traditionally female names (first and third, in case you were wondering). Some of the women in the room, myself included, started saying "she" when he repeatedly said "he," but quietly. We did this a few times, and when he finally noticed and paused we said, "Two of the three authors are women, but you keep saying 'he.'" I suggested he say "they" instead since it was more appropriate anyways. He admitted that he said "he" because that was what he thought while reading the paper to prepare for discussion. The student said "they" a few times and then reverted back to "he" for the rest of the discussion (being corrected a few times).

We discussed a second paper, but the gender of the author was unknown, since there were only initials. I suggested lightheartedly that he just assume it was a woman and say "she" (in part to make up for all of the misplaced "he's" in the earlier discussion). He quickly fell back into "he found this" and "he did that."

The scene was never tense, and the student leading discussion laughed at himself for his false assumption, but it makes me sad that the assumption that the author(s) was male was so stuck in his mind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

weekend adventures

We're in San Diego this weekend for the wedding of two of our friends from SFC. They are the first of our close friends to get married. This begins the wave of weddings for us in 2009. My best friend just got engaged last weekend, so that's another wedding for 2009! That makes eight (four from SFC).

The wedding yesterday was amazing. The ceremony was outside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We had a great time dancing at the reception and the SFC crowd "won the party" (or at least we tried, the caterers might have actually won when they took away the keg that wasn't finished). I broke a wine glass when I tried to set it down too hard and then did a fantastic improvisation of a choreographed routine I did in college. Yep, I was drunk.

We're having a great time exploring the San Diego area and southern California. We're making a long weekend of it and going home late Monday night. Maybe I'll post some photos of our adventures. Tomorrow we're going to Joshua Tree National Park but I've scheduled a post.

Also, today is Jon's birthday. This has been much better than last year, when Jon spent his entire birthday with me in the hospital because I had appendicitis. Maybe I'll add a photo of my scar one year post-appendectomy. ***Note: Photo added on March 24.***

Ok, that's enough rambling for tonight. We're got to rest up for our adventures tomorrow!

Friday, March 20, 2009

budgeting for my prelim proposal --> NSF grant proposal

The proposal I wrote for my preliminary exam is now moving into the next stage as an NSF proposal. The bulk of it is there but I need to incorporate suggestions from my committee members and add the additional sections, such as a budget.

I'm presently feeling a bit intimidated by the budgeting process. Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while or who know me in real life probably know that my project is much more expensive than most graduate student projects.* Thankfully, I seem to be pretty good at getting small grants.** But what really makes this NSF proposal complicated is that I'm basically setting up a small research program involving students from an Ukenzagapian university with my Ukenzagapian collaborator. So, I'm also trying to get money to support their research on projects that are sub-projects of my main project. And I'm quickly hitting the budget limit. I'm going to have to write additional grants.

Writing multiple grants for the same project requires careful consideration of which organizations are more likely to fund what. For example, I know there are funds for supporting the advancement of scientists in developing countries, so I can ask them for funds to cover aspects of the project that will directly assist foreign scientists. That frees up some of the NSF budget, but I still need to include some support for foreign scientists in my NSF budget to show that I've put my money where my mouth is when it comes to "broader impacts."

Now where to get the rest of the money? If I get a grant I applied for last month, then I can use that money to buy some of the supplies. If not... that's another contingency plan I need to make. I've got some ideas.

*Actually, that's probably not true. There are plenty of grad students who do projects using very expensive equipment, much more so than any equipment I'll need (though mine is only cheap relative to $200,000+ machines). The difference is that my advisors don't have grants to support my research, so I've got to get the grants myself.
**I also applied for almost everything for which I was eligible. I think this is good advice. Eventually you're bound to get something.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

'tis the GRFP notification season

It's that time of year again when applicants for NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program get antsy and my blog gets lots of hits from anxious grad students searching for GRF tidbits. I suppose I have written quite a few posts about my trials and tribulations applying for this damn fellowship. *sigh*

I'm still doing my best to forget that I applied this year. I'm not going to anxiously check Fastlane every day. I'm not expecting to hear a peep from NSF until April, which is when I was notified last year. It's also what they say on the GRFP website.

If I get it, cool. If not, it just means I'll be applying for EPA STAR and Fulbright fellowships, or possibly a more creative solution with teaching instead of my fellowship next year. Fretting about it at this point is all cost and no benefit. But if your anxiety wants company, go check out this forum.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

thoughts on grief, or what not to say

Note: these comments reflect my personal experiences and opinions. I'm sure everyone's reactions to grief are somewhat different and what I want might not be what everyone else wants when they've lost a loved one (or two).

Since my sister and grandmother died last month, I've dealt with a lot of people's reactions to such awful news. Most people don't know how to react or what to say, which is understandable. I'm not sure I'd know what to say to me either.

Still, I appreciate it if you say something. It is awkward if you don't acknowledge it. You can just say you're so sorry to hear about my loss, even if that sounds generic. I don't care. Generic is better than nothing.

Yesterday on Facebook I was IMd by the younger brother of one of my high school friends. He is the same age as my sister and they dated for a minute in middle school. He asked me how I'm doing but didn't mention my sister, so I was in the awkward position of trying to figure out if he even knew. I thought he'd heard through the grapevine, but I hadn't received any form of condolances from anyone in his family so I wasn't sure. I finally brought it up but I wish he had just said something rather than beating around the bush. I guess her death hit him pretty hard even though they hadn't talked in years.

I think I'd also rather someone say something even at the risk of being rude. Some people have said unhelpful things to me, like Herb. Even if it doesn't come out quite right, I know the sentiment is there and they have acknowledged my loss.

Some have even been rude to the point of humor. When I was at the doctor a few weeks ago I explained to the nurse that I was there to talk to my doctor about my risk of blood clots in light of my sister's death. The nurse said she just lost her grandmother and was having a very difficult time. I said I also lost my grandmother the day before my sister, and she said, "Wow, here I am thinking my life is so horrible and feeling sorry for myself, and then I hear about you!" I just sighed and nodded, but inside I was laughing. I think what she was trying to say is that we're not alone in our tragedies- and it could be even worse. I think about that sometimes. It could've been worse. I'm glad if this tragedy helps you keep your life in perspective, but saying something generic would be more polite.

I have also greatly appreciated the emails, phone calls, cards and plants I've received expressing sympathy. I never really understood why people sent flowers to funerals, but now I think it's more important purpose is to support and comfort the friends and family members. Snail mail sympathy cards are still trickling in 6 weeks later. I don't think it will ever be too late for me to receive a sympathy card.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

wedding blogging

Last weekend we went to visit my parents and got back Monday evening. I've been meaning to blog but time in the evenings has just been filling up with other things, like trying to finish up all of the wedding things that we've been putting off until after my prelims!

After much consternation, our wedding invitations have finally been sent (except for the international ones). We haven't seen them yet because my friend from high school did them. I regret getting another person involved and if I were to do it again we'd do it ourselves. I had a very specific idea in my head of what I wanted but I didn't think I could make it myself. In hindsight, I think I could. I just wish someone else could read my mind, since even detailed descriptions of a vision can be inadequate to convey the idea. But, whatever, the invitations are good enough. I like them.

I find this wedding planning process in general to be overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make. I think if I didn't have a job then I could enjoy the deciding the exact color of the center of the dogwood flowers on my invitations and the pattern of silverware we rent. The thing is that for most of these little details we don't really know what we want. Once I start trying to decide though, I go from having no idea at all to a clear vision. Making that vision a reality is the frustrating part, especially if Jon and I have different visions!

We are ordering a Quaker marriage certificate with our vows that will be signed by everyone present at our ceremony. We will frame it and hang it on the wall in our apartment, so it's very important to us. We decided that this is something we are willing to spend a lot of money on. We are hiring a calligrapher/artist to make it. The problem is that Jon's vision of our certificate is something like the constitution, whereas mine has flowers and color.

Jon's ideal marriage certificate, above (Image source)

My vision for our certificate is more like this (Image source)

Jon's preference is for a certificate without flowers or decorations- just black script on white paper. He loves black and white. I want to have the general layout of the certificate pictured above, but with dogwood branches and flowers instead of fall leaves. Jon is ok with flowers, but wants them to be stark contrast black pen and ink rather than the watercolors that are more common on marriage certificates. I have a beautiful vision in my head of what it would look like in watercolor, and his vision is pen and ink. Further complicating this is that we can't find any examples of marriage certificates in the style Jon prefers and I'm for some reason having a hard time picturing it in a way that doesn't look plain.

Also, did I mention that our wedding is just 5 weeks away, which is pretty much the minimum time for getting a hand-made marriage certificate? This is high on the list of things we should've made a decision about months ago, or chosen an artist at the very least.

In case you're interested, we're trying to decide between these two talented artists who both do beautiful work: Calligraphica and Sally Sanders. Now Jon and I are going to debate the pros and cons.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the day after

I stayed up until 3 am last night playing SimCity. It's just so addicting: just a few more commercial areas... just until I get to N residents... just until I balance the city budget... OMG it's late!

Oops. I still made it to school at a respectable hour but didn't have a highly productive day. I sat down this afternoon to figure out what exactly I need to focus on next. There's plenty to do, but none of it is as pressing as prelims were.

I had an impromptu meeting with Herb today. He said he was very impressed with how I did in my prelims. He said I handled the questions well; the fact that I didn't freak out and was comfortable for the most part made it more like a conversation. Even though Leo asked me questions about critters that I answered completely wrong, I explained my train of thought (which was logical). I actually changed my answers mid-conversation for more than one question, but I guess it demonstrated my ability to think flexibly through problems rather than sticking rigidly to one perspective or answer.

The questions asked by my committee members brought up so many additional factors that I hadn't even considered (and I've considered a lot). Ecology sure is messy. I won't be able to incorporate all of them into my proposal for NSF (nor would that be a good or compelling idea), but I'll likely take them into consideration for my experimental design or additional data collection in the field.

Monday, March 9, 2009


No conditions! What a relief. The experience was about what I expected. They asked some questions I couldn't answer very well, and lots that I could. They recommended several more things that I should consider. They didn't deliberate long. At the end I asked them a few questions about the next steps and destination for my proposal.

I'm just so glad to be over this hurdle!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I think I'm ready

My prelims begin in 16 hours!!!

My presentation for my committee is ready, save for a few minor changes after I practice it again.

I had a dream last night that I was giving a terrible presentation. It was supposed to be a practice for my real prelim proposal, but all of these people showed up who weren't on my committee and were so unimpressed and I was an inarticulate fool. I tried to convince them that my actual prelim presentation would be much smoother but one of the professors said, "I've already submitted my opinion that you aren't ready for prelims." She isn't even on my committee!

Thankfully it was just a dream. I'm going to give a great presentation tomorrow. I'm going to quell the butterflies in my stomach and be calm and confident.

I don't understand in detail all of the statistical methods I might use. I didn't read all of the papers I wanted to (or even was supposed to). I don't know everything possible about my critters or my system. I'm not perfect. But I have thought carefully about the questions I want to answer and how to design my experiment. I've thought about how my research relates to what others have done and how it is unique.

I'm going to give a 20-30 minute presentation of my project for my committee members. They (should) have read my proposal, so most of this will not be new. It should help clarify the analyses I plan to use and why. Then, they will ask me questions about my proposal for the remainder of 3 hours and decide if I advance to candidacy.

I'm not going to get kicked out of the program. I'm not going to fail. I might be passed on the condition that I rewrite the proposal, or that I analyze fake data (since I have none of my own). A conditional pass would be a bummer, but not the end of the world. I'm going to be fine.

I'm both nervous and excited about presenting my ideas and fielding questions about my proposal. But even more than that, I'm looking forward to 12:30 pm tomorrow when I'll be finished (I hope) with this process. I'm ready to resume everything else in my life that I've been neglecting for the past month.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

trying not to freak out

Today was exactly one month since my sister died. It was even the same day of the week, so I spent most of the morning doing the same type of stuff I was doing one month ago and trying not to freak out. If I didn't have my prelims on Monday, I don't think I would've done any work this morning. I don't really feel like I have time to mourn until after prelims because it's so
exhausting to cry. School is a distraction but I'm having a hard time keeping my sister from distracting me sometimes.

I'm still trying to finish reading everything that committee members assigned, prepare my presentation, and prepare for some of the questions I know I'll be asked. I'm letting most of the self-assigned papers for prelims fall to the wayside. There are still several things that I'm unsure how to answer and would like to be able to know more about before Monday. Trying not to freak out.

Tomorrow I have a doctor's appointment to talk about my own risk for blood clots, and then an appointment with a counselor. At first I didn't think I'd need a counselor, but Jon convinced me on Sunday night when I was really upset. I hope I can still get some work done tomorrow.

It looks like we're finally sending out wedding invitations this weekend. Just like the day my sister died, I spent part of this morning exchanging emails about invitations. I just want these to be done and out. I'm so overwhelmed by having to decide all of these stupid little wedding details. If I'd known it was going to take us this long to figure out the invitations I would've just picked something or done it myself 5 weeks ago. Seven weeks until our wedding. Trying not to freak out.

We have several people spending the night on Friday and we need to clean, not just tidy, the apartment before then, especially since some people will be sleeping on the floor. We haven't mopped since we cleaned the sticky spots on the floor after our party before Christmas. My desk is covered in things from my grandma and my sister that I have to go through or at the very least clear off of my desk before guests come. Trying not to freak out.

One thing I have been doing well is making time to work out. I've been swimming 2-3 times per week, going to 1 group fitness class, and doing treadmill/bike/elliptical about twice a week. I discovered that I can read papers while on the stationary bike so that makes it easier for me to make time, plus I've been swimming after biking/running to make the best use of my time at the gym.

Four whole days before prelims. Still trying not to freak out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

this project is driving me nuts

I'm collaborating on a database project with Sam and some other people, and now we're apparently stuck in a collaboration with a very Difficult Person. He's the creating the database that someone else designed on paper, and this whole thing is taking 1000 times longer than either Sam or I anticipated. Every single step of the way takes longer. Difficult Person is not a good communicator, shows up late for meetings, and says contradictory things about the database structure.

At first what he had to do was supposed to take only a few hours, so Sam was just going to pay him hourly and then we'd move on. 65 "working" hours later, Sam decided that Difficult Person was screwing him (or just extremely inefficient), so he brought him on as an author of the database. Whatever that means. Now at least he has incentive to work efficiently.

Last night I had a meeting with him that went until 10 pm. He was late because he couldn't find my building (walked past it) and I spent 10 minutes outside saying, "ok, now cross X street then cross Z street... No, you went the wrong way. Turn around..." After an hour and a half of meeting, we had kind of connected 3 tables out of about 30+. Now we have to consult the designer across the pond before we can proceed.

Jon says I need to be more assertive with this guy. I'm afraid of being a bitch about it.

The most frustrating part about this project is that I wish I knew enough about database design to just do it myself. I've done a little bit, but not enough to confidently put this one together. So, I'm at the mercy of a bad communicator who doesn't understand the data.