Monday, November 30, 2009

Final report

I forgot to include something on my list of things to get done before the end of the year: a final report for a funding agency. I've got to finish it tonight. I've been working hard on it all day, but I'm still going to be here for several hours. I've got to tell them all about my results, how they relate to their particular focus, and send them some nice photos. The results part is a bit difficult since I haven't even finished entering my data from the summer yet, but I don't think that's really what they're interested in anyways so I'm focusing on the stuff that is going in my short note with Sam even though it's nothing very impressive. It's all about the angle.

Now back to work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blogs I am thankful for

I am thankful for all of the bloggers out there from whom I have received insight, entertainment, wisdom, and food for thought.  The least I can do is thank all of you and hopefully send some new readers your way. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Blogs by scientists of one sort or another
Uncommon Ground*^
Professor Chaos*
On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess
Janus Professor, My Travels in a Two-Body Life
Wondering Albatross*
The Happy Scientist*
Liberal Arts Lady
Bug Girl's Blog*
What we don't know is A LOT
Muddy Misadventures*
Working Through the Blue*
Postcards from an intellectual odyssey
Pondering Pikaia*
More Than A Permanent Student*
A Lady Scientist
Gravity's Rainbow *
Transient Theorist*^
There's a War Under the Bed*
49 Percent
Academia and Me
Journeys of an Academic
Mistress of Science
Ph.D. To Be
All of My Faults Are Stress Related
A Natural Scientist
Grad Ovaries
Academic Ecology
Towards a Ph.D.
The EBB and Flow *^

Other awesome blogs by people who may or may not consider themselves scientists
Bitch, Ph.D.
The Clutter Museum
Professing Mama
Pretty Hard, Dammit
Free-Range Kids

I'll post this in my sidebar in a few days. If you're not on this list and you want to be, comment on this thread.

*= blogger that does some kind of research/education/blogging related to ecology or evolutionary biology (to the best of my knowledge)

^= dude (at least one if the blog has multiple authors- apparently most of my favorite bloggers are women)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Negotiating a non-faculty position for a spouse?

Do you know anyone who has negotiated a staff job (non-faculty) for their spouse? Does this happen? Universities employ plenty of people who aren't professors, lecturers, or technicians. Can staff jobs be negotiated if the other partner is offered a tenure-track position?

My husband isn't an academic, in fact not even close. However, it is possible that a university may have a position that he's ideally suited for. Jon and I were talking over dinner the other night about his dream job. He is a cabinetmaker, and he would love to teach woodworking. High schools have mostly eliminated shop as a class, which unfortunately makes that job more difficult to find. Recently he met someone who manages a university woodshop for design students to make prototypes and such. He would love to do this- discuss projects with students, teach them how to use the tools for whatever project they're working on, keep the shop organized, and work on side projects in his downtime.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pre-New Year's Resolutions

Janus Professor just posted a list of the things she wants to accomplish before the end of the year, and I've been thinking about this too (I feel accountable because of this post).

Academic goals:
  1. Send a short note out for publication. It's nothing big. I'm working on it with Sam. We should be able to send it somewhere in the next few weeks.
  2. Submit my review paper. OMG I need to send this somewhere, for my own sake. Herb just warned everyone in the lab he's spending the entire month of December writing his next big grant proposal so he won't look at anything else until that's done. I planned to submit this paper with him as second author (I think people will be more likely to read and find it that way), but since he's busy I'm just going to pull my shit together and send it someplace that it's almost certain to get rejected from, but my goal for this paper is submission by Dec. 31. If/when it gets rejected I'll send it to Herb and he can work his magic and we'll try someplace else.
  3. Enter all of my freaking data from the summer (again). I can do this. When I finish this task I will get a massage.
  4. Schedule my next committee meeting. Better yet, have a committee meeting. That might not happen until January though.
  5. Finish processing raw data for my interdisciplinary group project.
Personal goals:
  1. Go rock climbing at least 6 more times.
  2. Go dancing at least once (reasonable goals here).
I can't really think of any super high priority personal goals before the end of the year. The academic ones are plenty.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Presentation report

I think our presentation went well. I was seated next to the promient scientist giving the keynote. The talk was awesome. We talked right after. Of course ours wasn't as awesome (few decades less experience I think), but we did get people interested.

Where did this weekend go? It hardly felt like a weekend. At least this is a short week. I sure do have a lot to get done though!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Co-presenter anxiety

This weekend I'm giving a presentation with another person in my interdisciplinary cohort about the project we've been working on. It's going to be a large, mixed audience- some prominent scientists but mostly non-scientists who are enthusiasts about what we studied in our project. We're slated to present between two senior scientists, to an audience of about 100 people. It's a little intimidating.

Getting this presentation ready has taken more of my week than I expected it to, and my co-presenter is making me kinda anxious. I'm pretty sure we'll be great and people will love us, but he keeps bringing up all of the unknowns (What will the room be like? How big will our screen be? What if they mistake us for experts? What if someone asks us a question we can't answer?). I'm just trying to go with the flow. Our presentation is nearly final now, and we're practicing tomorrow evening. He's bringing his girlfriend over tonight and so we'll practice the presentation after dinner. I just want to have fun with this presentation and convince all these laypeople of the greatness of our project.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Money for a plane ticket!

I got another small grant to cover my next plane ticket!!! This email was sitting in my university account since yesterday afternoon but I just checked it. I'm all smiles. Yay!

It sounds like I can't actually get the money until I've completed the proposed work, which means fronting the money for a few months. That's definitely better than not getting reimbursed at all, but once again that makes our money more complicated.

I guess now I've really got to figure out exactly what I'm going to do now that I know I'll be able to get there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking out for each other

I think it's important for grad students to look out for other grad students and share what they know about how things work (or don't) within the department, university, discipline, and academia in general. I certainly make an effort to do this and I've been grateful for useful knowledge gleaned from more experienced graduate students. This morning something happened that reminded me of the importance of this sort of informal transfer of knowledge.

One of my classmates mentioned that her advisor still hasn't commented on a grant proposal that she has to submit in two days. Certainly a bummer, since his name is on the application and, as Dr. Isis says, she can't submit without his approval. Last year I submitted a proposal with a similar application process. There's a whole bunch of administrative stuff that the university has to do, most of which takes a long time. Herb warned me about this. I asked if she'd talked to Mr. X, the accountant who actually needs to press the button to submit her application. She said, "Who's Mr. X?" (alarm sirens go off in my head at this point). I told her to go to his office straight away because she would need to promise homemade brownies and probably her firstborn child (to several different people, nonetheless) to get everything set up for her to submit the grant in just two days. It might not even be possible.

There were two major ways that this last-minute scramble should've been prevented:
1. Obviously, my classmate should have thoroughly and clearly read all of the instructions for submitting the grant and asked for clarification if she didn't understand. However, this process is different than most applications that grad students in our department go through, so I'm not surprised that she didn't know and I don't fault her entirely.
2. Her advisor should've given her a heads up weeks or even months ago that she would need to do some additional legwork within the university system to submit this grant. Ideally this should've happened early in the process of drafting the proposal.

If someone else in her lab or office had gone through a similar process, I hope that the students would alert each other to such potential obstactles. I feel bad that she didn't know about the complicated submission process before today, but not as bad as I'd feel if she wasn't able to submit it at all. At least now she might have a chance. What if she hadn't mentioned it to me in passing? I guess she probably learned a tough lesson about grants.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Those with whom you disagree

Earlier this semester we had an invited speaker who holds many opinions contrary to what most people in the department think. This is precisely the reason he was invited.

I furiously scribbled notes during his talk in an attempt to understand his worldview and how his arguments were constructed. I was also trying to figure out what the heck he was saying. It seemed to me that he mostly said disputatious things to get a rise out of people rather than clearly developing his position in a logical manner. He said some crazy things, such as, "Nothing useful has come from theoretical ecology." When people asked questions using clear examples beyond those he had given, he went off on tangents and didn't really answer their questions. I wonder if he could get away with saying the things he did if he weren't an old white dude with a long CV. I should perhaps note that he isn't a scientist, though he sure does write a lot about science.

Although I think a lot of garbage came out of his mouth, listening to him did force me to think more carefully about my own perspectives regarding approaches to research and its applications.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elements of a good proposal

I recently heard someone describe the elements of good research proposal. It made such perfect sense that I couldn't believe I'd never heard it before. So, I'm sharing it here.

Proposal= background/context + research plan + effective communication

Without all three things, your proposal probably won't fare well.

The same person also outlined steps for developing a research plan.
  1. Start with a compelling question.
  2. Generate testable hypotheses.
  3. Define your data needs to test the hypotheses.
  4. Identify methods of collecting and analyzing those data.
Of course, it's not nearly as simple as that. In my limited experience, a lot of revisiting #1 and #2 happens when data will be too difficult to obtain. Back to the drawing board!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Economical Academic

The Economical Academic was on sabbatical for a while, but it's back. Last week I wrote about deciding to be car-free. You should go over and check it out. Guest bloggers and suggestions welcome!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Data envy

I'm involved in a project that uses human research subjects (not the norm for ecologists). Another grad student is doing a similar but separate project.

We have 47 participants.

He has 1700.

I've got data envy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything I do will be incomplete

The concept of incompleteness in my work is something that has come up a few times now in my weekly meetings with Herb. Basically, everything I do as an ecologist will be incomplete. I am never, ever, ever going to be able to measure or control everything that I would like to in order to get nice, clean results. The challenge is to figure out what data I can collect to answer a meaningful question. It doesn't have to be a big question. There will always be related questions that I would like to answer but won't be able to. I am limited by time but also by accessibility. There are things I really want to know about critters that I just can't because of their behavior and life history. There are even things I want to know about plants that I can't figure out, and they don't even move! No matter what project I've come up with so far, I've struggled with the limitations in the kind of data I am able to collect. In this way my work as an ecologist is and always will be incomplete.

This is a limitation that I need to accept and embrace. I feel like I only see holes when I look at my project ideas. How could reviewers possibly accept EFG if we don't understand ABCD? I've put so much pressure on myself to come up with a complete picture that I'm paralyzed. Is it even worth it for me to catch critters if I can't find out what they're doing? Instead of feeling discouraged by the limitations, I need to find a way to be liberated by the concept that adding one little twig or bud to the tree of knowledge is a contribution. No one expects me to do it all. I need to find something that I can do, and do it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interdisciplinary day

I'm going on nearly 11 hours of non-stop interdisciplinarity. Today I've worked on three different group projects with three different groups!

One of the projects I worked on today involved a conference call with people from the interdisciplinary conference I went to in October. We're trying to write a synthesis paper. It's pretty far outside my comfort zone/realm of professional experience, but I find the exercise interesting. I'm not sure yet how I fit into the project, and there's a possibility that ultimately I won't be an author. But, it's about a timely and widely relevant topic that is at least worth thinking about in much more depth than I have to date.

One of the things I've enjoyed so far about the project is suggesting ways to make the collaborative process easier. I set up a wiki for the group, which my interdisciplinary cohort at UBC has found to be very helpful in the writing and editing process. We're also using a shared Zotero library. I think we should be using Mendeley, but so far I think I'm the only person who has heard of it so we're using Zotero because most people are already somewhat familiar and comforatable with it. I really hope that everyone will use the wiki because I think it's a great way to keep up on what other people in the group are writing and thinking without having to ask them for their most recent writing. I'm a little worried that people will hesitate to put their first drafts on the wiki, especially after FSP wrote about this phenomenon.

Good group dynamics seem to be a critical component of a successful long-distance writing project. So far, it seems to be going well. There are a few leaders spearheading the project, one of whom will almost certainly be first author, and we're all amicably working out who will do what. The thing that I worry about most is that the project won't be grounded enough in concrete applications of the concepts and ideas we're writing about. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blah day

For most of today I was in a crappy, crappy mood. I was tired, sad, unmotivated, and overwhelmed. I talked with my therapist about my work-related anxieties instead of my sister's death. I nearly fell asleep in lab meeting. I took a nap in my office. I tried to be produtive.

At the end of the day I went to check my department mailbox. What did I find? A HUGE chocolate bar with a thank you note from the classmate for whom I reviewed numerous NSF GRF application drafts. A huge bar of chocolate was exactly what I needed. That made my day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Weird spam?

Today I got an email titled "Award Acknowledgment for sharing great CHEMISTRY information to the public" for this blog. Have I ever blogged about chemistry? The weirdness goes on (emphasis theirs).

Dear Blog Owner,

Our website is a informational databases and online news publication for anything and everything related to science and technology. We recently ran a poll asking our website users regarding what online informational resources they use to keep up to date or even to simply find great information. It seems many of our users have labeled your blog as an excellent source of Space information. We have reviewed your blog and must say, we absolutely love the information you have made available to the public and would love to make your blog a part of our top science blogs. After browsing your blog, our research team has decided to award you a Top science Blogs award banner.

It is a distinction we offer to the blogs that our team feels is ahead of the curve in terms of content.

Thanks again for the great information and we look forward to the great responses your blog will receive from our site. Your blog presence will be very effective for our users (top science blogs).

We have put great efforts in making this decision to give deserving with award acknowledgment. For listing please reply to request banner.

William Lee
Research team
1 international blvd
Mahwah NJ USA - 07430
201 247 8553

SPACE information? I'm quite sure that, while fascinating, I've never blogged about space (you should check out Mrs. Comet Hunter for astronomical interests). Upon visiting the aforementioned it looks ok at a quick glance. Then, none of the links worked. None that I tried at least. What's the deal? I deleted all of the cookies from the site and blocked them. Has anyone else gotten this weird "award"? Any ideas?

Oh! Ambivalent Academic got the same message, "space information" and all. I'm not alone. Who else?

Business cards

This morning I ordered 100 business cards for myself. My university is printing them and billing my student account. One of my peers just told me about this service. It makes the whole process a lot easier because there are fewer decisions for me to make.

I never think about having business cards until I'm at a conference or something, and then it occurs to me that they might be useful. So, soon I'll have some. Do any of my grad student readers have business cards, or did you when you were a student?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thoughts on presentations

I'm really slow at putting together presentations. I have to give a 15-20 minute powerpoint presentation tomorrow in class about an article. I think I've spent 5-6 hours on this presentation, and it's not even a big deal!

Things like this make me worry that I'd be a terrible lecturer, or that if I were a good one that I'd have to work 80 hours a week to do good lectures and I'd be totally stressed out and dissatisfied with my lack of a life. I hope I get better at this presentation thing.

Monday, November 2, 2009


This is the first year that I've been back to Small Friendly College and realized that I look older than the students. They looked obviously younger than me.

This suspicion was confirmed when a SFC student called me ma'am. It's one thing for a high schooler bagging your groceries to call you ma'am, but it's an entirely different thing for a SFC student to call you ma'am. I was one of them! Obviously I've moved from the "student" category to the "ma'am" category. It makes me feel old.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Queries for an ecologist

I mean queries of the Quaker kind, not the programming or database kind. I feel the need for some directed self-reflection at this stage in my graduate career, so I decided to write some queries for myself. These are open-ended questions; hopefully the process of answering them will help me determine what my priorities are.

What satisfies and sustains me in my work?
What do I find most rewarding in my fieldwork?
What types of problems do I want to solve?
How can my research be applied to solve a problem?
What are the linkages between my research and conservation?
What type of ecologist do I aspire to be?
What are my fears related to my Ph.D.?
What things overwhelm me and why?
Am I getting tired of traveling? Or of doing research abroad? If so, why?

Specifically related to leading foreign study programs:
What are my strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
How will leading a program change the course of my Ph.D.?
How will I manage my research as a program leader?
What skills will I need to develop to be successful in that endeavor?

To the extent that I can do so anonymously, I will answer them on this blog. I think it's a good way for me to force myself to explore the answers to these questions.