Friday, December 31, 2010

Kids do and publish science

A class of 8-10 year old students in the UK designed an experiment to understand bumblebee vision. The paper was published in Biology Letters, and you can read an article about it, the paper itself, and more commentary on it for free.

The main scientist involved in the project, Beau Lotto from the University College London, has a webpage like I've never seen. This group is really, seriously sharing science in creative and novel ways (check out their Street Science and Flight of the bumblebee cubes). Kudos to them! What an inspiration!

The "Blackawton bees" project really sets a new bar for teaching science by doing science, and I expect we'll see more articles published by elementary and secondary school students in the near future. What do you think?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Puppy pic

Because you asked!
Anyone want to guess what she is? The shelter said "lab cross" but what is up with those ears? Usually they are practically overlapping on top of her head they are so high set. I think they might stand up, but who knows? She's 15 weeks now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


We had a party on Saturday and then left on Monday to see family. Here are some numbers from the past few days.

Guests at our party: 17
People bleeding at our party: 3
Time party ended: 3:30 am
Guests who spent the night: 4
Beatles songs listened to on the way to see Jon's family: 213 (that's 9.6 hours- listened to chronologically by recording date)
Pounds of dog food brought along for puppy: 0 (oops- this is why we got a dog before having kids)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


For years now I have thought that there should be an easy way to capitalize or de-capitalize selected text. I always imagined it would be a key on the keyboard, but I just discovered that it exists in the magic world of right-click!
If I'm composing or editing text and I right-click, one of the options is "transformations" then the options are "Make upper case", "Make lower case" or "Capitalize". This is SO useful for editing the title of journal articles so that each letter isn't capitalized (this is often the case when I download the citation, but most bibliography styles require lower case).
For how long have I been tediously changing one letter or word at a time? Is this a Mac-only thing, or can my non-Macophile readers do this too?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We finally did it!

After years of talking about it and putting it off because the timing wasn't right or we didn't have enough money or whatever, we finally got a dog. We adopted a 3 month old puppy from a shelter. She's adorable!
Since I'm capable of doing most of my work at home (though I almost always prefer to work in my office at school), I've been mostly home with the puppy. My work is now often interrupted by stopping the puppy from peeing inside and keeping the puppy from doing other inappropriate things.
After more than 3.5 years of being car-free, it seems time for us to get a car since we can't take the dog on public transit. Then Jon will be able to bring the puppy to work with him, which will be important when I go back to Ukenzagapia.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Need something weird for your experiment?

Ecologists often have to design some of their equipment for experiments and get creative with materials. I'm in the process of tracking down a few particular items for my next trip, and just found the most amazing website:
If you're like me, you might often have a picture in your mind of what type of thingamabob you need, but don't know what to call it. This website is full of pictures! Need something that looks like a u-bolt? Or special screws? Wire? Cable ties? Plastic mesh? Oh my gosh, this place has everything. This is waaaay better than wandering through Home Depot.
Thanks to Jon for tipping me off to this great resource. I love being married to such a handy man :-)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm home

I made it home from Ukenzagapia in time for Thanksgiving, and had my first two completely work-free days since September! I'm basically back in the right time zone now.
I'm pleased with how things went this time, but I have so. much. work. to do here before I go back again... soon. Eek.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Step by step

Tomorrow three students from SFC will arrive and stay for 5 days. They'll each spend at least a day in the field with me, a day with Cam, and a day with Ian to get a taste of the different kinds of research. When they leave, I'll have six days left in the field, and then I'll leave the following morning for the city, where I'll spend 2 nights before I get a on plane to go home. Ai! I feel like I can barely keep up with everything that needs to be done in the field, yet I still have a long list of other things to deal with. Sometimes it's overwhelming. I just keep trying to do one thing at a time. What is the most important thing that I need to be doing now? Step by step...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some stories from the field

-Through some kind of error in some database somewhere, by some omission or addition of zeros, I am paying less than $2 for 400 mb of internet. Normally this should cost at least $30.  As a result, I've been much more liberal with my internet use, averaging a whopping 18 mb per day. I'm so up on facebook. It's kinda weird.

-It has hardly rained since I arrived. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means that the roads are relatively fantastic. On the other hand, the rains are late, and that's not good for life in general.

-I saw a big gecko try to eat a small gecko. OMG geckos, please eat the insects in our house instead of cannibalizing your babies (and if you could not poop on my things I'd appreciate that too).

-Recently we had to go over a bridge under construction. They had laid down some big logs but hadn't put the planks on yet, so we had to walk the motorbike across the logs. Then we had to carefully maneuver past the trailer that was blocking the entire road. It's days like that when I am thankful to be on a motorbike instead of in a car, because we would've been SOL in a car. 

-I saw Mommy Dog get stuck butt to butt with Loverboy (her dog boyfriend) after what I thought was a failed attempt at mating. They were stuck together for at least 10 minutes. I didn't even know this was possible. My kind veterinarian friend explained it to me over email. Apparently it happens all the time- after a successful mating. I guess I haven't seen enough dogs mate.

-I think the likelihood of a person arriving late is correlated with the number of children they have at home. B has 4 kids at home (not 3 like he's been telling me all along) and T has 6 kids at home (and one more nearby in her own home with a child- which makes him a grandpa at 38!). T is late much more often than B, and it's usually related to a child being sick.

-I'm at the point now where I'm starting to think about the logistics of going home. What am I going to leave here in Ukenzagapia? Where will I leave it? What do I need to bring next time?

-I've barely gotten any rash at all from poison tree (knock on wood). Let's see how I hold up.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm so sick of writing grants

The title says it all. The summer before I started grad school, someone told me, "If you just apply for as many small grants as you can, you're bound to get something eventually." I took the advice to heart. I applied for a whole bunch of small grants and I got a bunch of small grants (and some fellowships). That's awesome. I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing without that support. What I regret now is not trying to apply for bigger money about a year ago. I've funded everything with a couple thousand dollars here and there, totally piecemeal. I've spent an inordinate amount of time keeping track of all of the expenses from the different pots of money (and then trying to get my university to actually give me the money...). Unfortunately, I'm not quite finished. I sent out a grant last week that will cover almost everything, but even if I get that I'll need a little bit more, and if I don't get that I'm not sure what I'll do.

If I'd known when I was applying to grad school what I know now, I think I might have tried harder to find an advisor who already had a big grant that could support at least some of my research. I guess I could've gotten in on Herb's big project, but I chose to strike out on my own. What was I thinking? I'm so sick of writing grants.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Mennonite, a Quaker, and an Atheist

There's got to be a joke in there somewhere.

I'm living with two great housemates whom I have been meaning to introduce for weeks now (because I love to name people on my blog). Cameron (Cam) is another biologist studying some other critters. Ian is a social scientist doing some really awesome applied research. I can't tell you how much happier I am to be living with Cam and Ian compared to living by myself last time. SO. MUCH. BETTER. Ian has a printer (so much better than the virus-ridden setup at the field station), Cam has tons of household goods, and I have the best Ukenzagapese in the house. Everyone wins!  I've evangelized Radiolab to them and they've lent me their books that I haven't had time to read. We share supplies and computer tricks, and commiserate when days don't go as planned. 

It's helping the time to pass quickly, but it also means I have an easy outlet for my thoughts rather than blogging. Things have been slow around this blog, and I apologize to my faithful readers who eagerly look forward to new posts (I think there's at least 3 of you :-). Maybe November will bring a flood of posts.

Two sides of the same coin

Hands down, the coolest part of my life as a scientist is getting to explore the world and work outside in beautiful places. I can't go into what makes my particular field site amazing, but trust me it is. I meet new and awesome people from different cultures who broaden and challenge my view of the world and what is possible.

At the same time, this awesomeness does have a drawback. It means that I leave home for weeks or months at a time. I was fine with that idea in my early 20s, but it's not nearly so easy to just go now that I have a place to call home and a husband with a job there. I'm trying to work as hard as I can in the field so that I can minimize my time away from home, but it doesn't feel like enough time in the field while simultaneously feeling like too much time away.

Over the long term (after my Ph.D.), I might shift to doing research that doesn't require international travel but I would hopefully still be working in beautiful places, albeit perhaps somewhat less extraordinary or exotic. For the time being though, I'm playing with the coin I chose, trying to figure out how to be the best scientist and the best partner I can be at the same time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The days are zipping by, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It means I get to see Jon sooner (or rather it feels sooner), but it also means I really have to get a lot done! I just submitted a grant that has been hanging over my head for the past 5 weeks (more on that later maybe) so I'm relaxing a bit tonight. It's a huge relief to have that done, so now I can start tackling the other zillion things I need to do (when I'm not in the field- being in the field alone is a full-time commitment).

Last week did end better than it started, and Thursday was only mildly disastrous due to a literal roadblock and some miscommunication. I did get a pineapple out of it. It was delicious.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This week sucks

This week just hasn't gone very well so far.

On Sunday we had a brownout, meaning we had about half the electricity output that we normally have. My computer runs on that (thank goodness) but most other things don't, including my phone charger (isn't that strange that I can run my MacBook but I can't charge a cell phone battery?). The brownout wasn't so bad, but it meant I couldn't print and had to hand write some data sheets.
On Monday we still didn't have full power. One of my field assistants, B, had missed the one bus back to Nyota on Sunday afternoon and was stuck in the town trying to get a lift. So, it was just me and T, but we were supposed to visit 2 sites, and T was an hour late because he had some motorbike trouble. B never showed up. We only got one site done on Monday. (Thankfully, we did get full power back on Monday afternoon so I could print).

Tuesday was really the worst confluence of problems. We were supposed to do 2 sites to put us back on schedule, and we were picking up a fourth person (me, B, T, and the other guy). For your reading convenience, I am bulleting the sequence of events.

-B called and said he was back in Nyota but had motorbike trouble and needed to go to the mechanic and didn't know when he'd be finished.
-T showed up 20 minutes late, but couldn't start work yet because he had to pick up his son from the clinic (he has malaria), take him home, and then pick up the other guy.
-We changed the plan to go to one other site that was closer when I realized there was no way we'd finish 2 sites.
-I started walking the 5 km to the site because T had to carry other people and B was at the mechanic.
-I called B and told him to leave his motorbike with the mechanic, get a lift as far as he could, and then start walking to the site.
-T passed me going the other way on the road because when he went to pick up the other guy (2 hours late), he wasn't at his house because he started walking to where we were supposed to be that day. The other guy has no phone, so T takes off to go find him.
-I arrive at the site and wait around for while. I repeatedly call B to ask where he is.
-T gets to the other site, and the other guy left a note that he's headed home.
-I start working by myself.
-T still doesn't find the other guy, so picks up another other guy instead. They arrive FOUR HOURS after we were supposed to start working. They have to do something in a different place, so I continue working alone. Still no word from B.
-I work by myself for 3.5 hours until T and another other guy are able to help me finish.
-After I got home, I finally talked to B. He had gotten a lift part way to the site, but forgot his bag (with his phone in it) in the car...

Today we set out to do two sites again (to really get back on track). T and B were both 15-20 minutes late. B was only able to repair one of his two motorbike problems, and now T's motorbike had two broken spokes. This morning I had to decide what was better: getting on the motorbike with broken spokes or the motorbike with the faulty clutch plate. I went with the clutch plate. Whatever. It was fine. The crappy thing that happened today is that I lost my Rite in the Rain pen and we searched for about 15 minutes to no avail. I hate losing those because they are expensive and not easy to replace. I started using the fine tip on my double-ended sharpie. Then, right at the end of the day, I lost the damn little black cap. Once again, we searched (with four people) for 10 or 15 minutes without success. Guess what? We only got one site done.

Tomorrow we're supposed to visit 3 sites. Please send some good vibes my way!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wash by hand (or foot)

I'd forgotten how much having to wash my clothes by hand drastically reduces the number of different pieces of clothing I wear. I have waaaaaay more clothes here than I'm going to wear, simply because I don't want to wash them all every week! Sunday is my one day that I'm not in the field, so that's laundry day (unless I can find the time on Saturday). I've really got just one pair of pants that I really like to wear in the field, so I'm wearing those 6 days a week. I have two t-shirts, two long sleeved shirts, and two sports bras that each get 3 days per week. When I'm not in the field, I wear house clothes which is a skirt or pants with a t-shirt or button down shirt. I wear two outfits per day, but I re-wear each of those outfits for at least 3 days (more for the house clothes). Even re-wearing several pieces of clothing, it adds up to a few hours worth of laundry each week by the time I wash my towels and rain gear, rinse them thoroughly, and hang them out to dry.

Sometimes I walk around in the wash tub to agitate my clothes. Sometimes I do it while I shower, which just feels like great multitasking but probably isn't. Washing clothes by hand takes a long time. At least I'm able to keep my allergy to 'poison tree' at bay by washing so that I don't spread the oils around too much.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's all about the motorbikes

Sometimes I feel like all of my work out here revolves around motorbikes. The most recent problem: petrol. The town on the main road (the closest town with a real gas station- not like this one) ran out of petrol this week. All three gas stations were completely out of gas. As a result, there hasn't been much petrol for sale in Nyota- even less than usual. Today we couldn't do all of our work because my field assistants didn't have enough petrol in their motorbikes, and no one is selling more. Frustrating.

Aside from the perennial motorbike issues, the work is going well. I've been busy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Made in China

Many, many things here are made in China. Much of it is garbage, but I have come to realize that China is a powerful position to make things that are very useful to people in Ukenzagapia. Like Ukenzagapia, China has millions of people living in rural areas with poor roads and limited electricity. As a result, they have made many products to serve that market. Or should I say they copied many products?
Chinese manufacturers seem to be adept at recognizing a good thing when they see it. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right? They copied old English bicycles that are simple, sturdy, and survive the rough roads. They only have one gear (as far as I can tell), so you just push them up hill- but they do last longer than the "mountain bikes".

They copied the Honda CG125- a small, popular motorcycle. They copied it so exactly that when you put them next to each other they look identical- except for the names molded onto the engine. However, they did it with inferior materials so they could sell them for less.

My personal favorite Chinese knockoff is the pedal foot sewing machine. I saw so many of these sewing machines here that I thought that every single old sewing machine Singer ever made must have ended up here in Ukenzagapia. Upon closer inspection, I realized that not all of the sewing machines were 100 years old. In fact, most of them were new. The Chinese just took a pedal foot Singer sewing machine, copied the design, and even painted the darn things black with gold stenciling.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with "Made in China" because on the one hand, they make some very useful things (sewing machines that don't require electricity being very high on the list), but on the other hand they make some things that are so poor in quality that I am ashamed to have contributed the waste of resources to make a useless piece of junk. For example, light bulbs that only last 2 days, or a spoon that bends when you try to scoop jam. JAM.

I hope that Ukenzagapia is able to develop more of its own industries (ideally sustainable ones), but in the meantime, it's MADE IN CHINA.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Voting absentee

I've voted absentee for most of the elections in which I've voted. I found a great organization that helps people abroad request their absentee ballots. If you're ever abroad for an election, the folks at Overseas Vote Foundation can help you out. They even have a low bandwidth version of their site for people in remote places with slow internet (like me!).

If for some reason you have trouble getting through the process (I did, unfortunately), contact their help desk and they really will help you. Include your international phone number and they'll call you. Someone just called me and completed what I was, for some unknown reason, unable to do from here. Bummer that the form didn't work the first (or second or third) time, but props to them for some serious support! The only people who call me here are my husband and my parents- and now Overseas Vote.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The journey to here

When I was two, I watched ants on our sidewalk.
When I was four, I collected itty bitty snails on our driveway after it rained.
When I was five, I tried to "fish" for my goldfish with a worm I dug up in the backyard.
When I was six, I tried to make a bird's nest- how hard could it be? (it turns out, it's really quite difficult architecture for a six year old).
When I was eight, I fell in love with the local nature center and spent every summer there until I went to college.
When I was nine, I had the most amazing third grade teacher who encouraged my interest in science.
When I was ten, my teacher who let me write a non-fiction book about monarch butterflies instead of a fictional story.
When I was eleven, I started a club with my friends called EcoActors to promote recycling and raise money to conserve rainforest.
When I was twelve, other kids mocked me by calling me "nature girl".
When I was thirteen, I had a great jr. high science teacher.
When I was fourteen, I started the advanced science track in high school.
When I was fifteen and sixteen, I mostly forgot about all that nature stuff. It was mentally on the back burner while I dealt with high school drama.
When I was seventeen, I got a 5 on my AP biology exam.
When I was eighteen, I started college, having chosen my school based on the strength of the biology program (especially in ecology and evolution).
When I was nineteen, I traveled abroad to study biology in a phenomenal location and I was hooked on biology and hooked on traveling.
When I was twenty, I spent a semester in Africa.
When I was twenty-one, I did a summer research internship.
When I was twenty-two, I graduated not knowing exactly what I wanted to do next.
When I was twenty-three, I had a job teaching environmental education and decided to go to grad school.
When I was twenty-four, I quit my job and traveled for a year with my partner, and applied to grad school.
When I was twenty-five, I started grad school.
When I'm thirty-one, I hope to have my Ph.D. and a job I enjoy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nyota news

Over the summer, there was some drama surrounding money that I lent one of my field assistants to buy a motorbike. He said he bought one but no one actually saw it. Monday morning was the moment of truth: Did T actually buy a motorbike? Yes, indeed he did. It's nearly the same as B's motorbike, which is great because they can teach each other how to maintain it and share spare parts if necessary. I'm the envy of Nyota's motorbike riders because I have a real, certified motorcycle helmet from the U.S.A.* as opposed to the cheap helmets they sell here that feel more like suped-up bicycle helmets.

I'm living with two other grad students in the same house I stayed in last time (with a hot water shower). One is a biologist and the other is a social scientist. They are nice guys and I think we'll all get along great. One is vegetarian and the other is happy to eat vegetarian so that's wonderfully simple. The same woman who cooked for me last time is cooking for the 3 of us. Mommy Dog is still hanging around and she gets so happy when she sees me that it makes me smile. 

I'm 3 days into field work now and it's going ok so far. It's taking a little longer than I'd hoped, but that is to be expected. The project I set up last time is going well, and this time I'm expanding on it. The roads are worse than last time I was here, though not too dreadful as long as it hasn't rained.

I finally got paid today- nearly two weeks late. I'm still waiting on several hundred dollars.

*Thanks to a loan from my friend who isn't going to be riding a motorcycle anytime soon because she's expecting a baby in November.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The bad luck bus

Before I start talking about being unlucky, I should say that I was able to get all of my necessary permits to begin research in just 8 days. I DID walk into that government office on Wednesday and pick up the permit they said would be ready on Wednesday, but even more remarkable, on Thursday I walked out of a government building in less than 10 minutes with the final permit in hand. It was awesome. Now I can begin my research!

My field assistants met me in the city, and we left this morning for Nyota with 5 heavy bags/trunks and 5 rolls of fabric. At the nearest large town, we have to switch to a bus that runs only once per day. It leaves Nyota in the morning, and returns in the evening... except when it doesn't.

When I was leaving Nyota in April, my field assistants came to my house before dawn to help me haul everything out to the road to wait for the bus. We waited. Then someone came by and told us the bus never made it back from town the previous evening because the roads were too bad. We were waiting for a bus that wasn't going to come. I needed to get to town in time to catch a bus to the city, for which I had already purchased a ticket. I had too much stuff to just get on a motorbike, so the only thing we could do was wait for a lift from a passing vehicle. It's very common for people to do that here.

One of my field assistants, T, was using my phone to call the city bus station to get the number for the town bus station to tell them I'm running late but I'm on my way when a lift showed up. It was the car from the research station, and inside was the neighbor lady, the guy who tutored me in Ukenzagapese, and the guy I rented my house from. They threw all of my bags and trunks on the rack on top of the car, not bothering to tie them down (it had a 'lip' on it so things just didn't slide off but they did slide around). There was room for me but not my field assistants, so they said they'd find other lifts and meet me at the bus stand. 

Not far down the road, T passed the car on the back of a motorbike. Not long after that, my other field assistant, B, passed me in the back of a pickup truck. I'd left first but now they were both ahead of me. Around that time I realized that I didn't even have my phone to call them because T had it when I got in the car! The road was terrible and we passed several stuck lorries and I'm amazed that all of my luggage stayed on top of the car (I think because it was heavy). It takes at least an hour to get from Nyota to town by car, so I was resigned to missing my bus and taking a later one. When the car arrived at the bus station, I was thanking the driver and getting out of the car when T and B ran up and told me to get back in! They said my bus had just passed a few minutes ago, and the bus company called the driver and they would wait just down the road for us. All of the other car passengers hopped out, T and B hopped in, and the driver rushed us down the road to catch the bus. 

We drove. We passed 1 small town. Then two. Then three. Then we realized the bus hadn't waited long enough and we had to turn back. We we back the bus station, unloaded my things, and switched my ticket from one bus company to another, just as the other bus pulled up and we hurriedly loaded my things on and I said a rushed goodbye to T and B. It was a crazy, hectic, stressful morning that ended up ok (and reinforced to me how many friends I've made in Nyota), but it all started because the bus didn't come back the night before.

Today we arrived in town at the usual time, but the once-a-day bus to Nyota was completely sold out. They had no seats and no luggage space available. Strike two for this annoying bus. It even left five minutes early this afternoon, which is unheard of. We had waaaaay too much stuff to get on a motorbike, and normal taxis usually can't make it on the rough roads, so we decided to wait at the start of the road to Nyota for a lift. I sat with the luggage and chatted with a friendly 15 year old boy from near Nyota who wants to go to the US when he finishes secondary school. 

After about 2 hours of waiting around, someone with a land rover type vehicle offered a lift to everyone else who was waiting around to go to Nyota (for pay). Everyone would have fit just fine, except this crazy white lady (that's me) had apparently brought all of her material possessions to Ukenzagpia and needed them in the car. There was no roof rack, so they all had to go inside. I sat up front between the driver and an older man. Squished in with my bags were at least 5 adults and 3 or 4 children, probably more, including only one of my field assistants (who sounded like he might have been under one of the bags). I felt really bad for all of them. One guy spent the whole ride half-standing hunched over the driver. That couldn't possibly be comfortable. My lap was covered in bags of bread and my feet were slowly cooking from the heat of the engine. It was hot, bumpy, and uncomfortable (not just physically) but we made it.

I was greeted by the neighbor guy and one of the guards, and the two other grad students I'm sharing the house with this time, and they all helped me carry things to the house. I'm staying in the same bedroom as last time. It's great to be back in Nyota. I just hate that bus.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cautious optimism

On Monday I was told that I'll be able to pick up one of my necessary permits on Wednesday. That would be great, as the other permits depend on this one. Fingers crossed.

In other news, my university continues to amaze me with its fantastically awful money management. I didn't get paid this month. I'm transitioning from one funding source to another this month, and it's not really happening on the accounting end. An 'emergency' payment was supposedly made, but it hasn't reached my account yet and the shit is going to hit the fan in a few days when our exorbitantly high electricity bill will be automatically deducted. Now including my paycheck, I'm waiting for more than $5,000 from the university. All of these payments have been (or in the case of my paycheck, should have been) in the works for at least 3 weeks. I'm making it work, for now, but what a pain in the ass.

Here's hoping that on Wednesday I have a permit and $5000 more in my account.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Making connections

Small Friendly College has a program in Ukenzagapia right now, led by one of my professors whom I know well. I've been trying for weeks now to figure out when I can see them, as our paths will unfortunately only cross briefly while I'm here in the city. I finally got a response and it looks like I'll get to have dinner with them tomorrow! I might also tag along for some of their other activities, depending on my schedule.

While standing in line at customs upon arrival, I met a woman who is leading a group of Canadian students and we exchanged cards* and a brief conversation. I just got an email from her, and she wants me to come talk to her students about my research. I'm not sure what exactly she wants me to talk about, but I think this is her first program to Ukenzagapia and maybe she's struggling a bit to fill the schedule!

The other day I was at a government office getting one of my permits, and an Ukenzagpian who I met briefly in Nyota recognized me and asked me to pass a message on to someone I know in Nyota. Somehow, that little encounter really makes me feel connected here. I'm knowing people all over the place!

*This means I remembered to bring my cheap grad student business cards, and I've already handed out two!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Details, details...

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship comes with a one-time $1000 international travel allowance.  Awesome. I'm using it for this trip. Or, rather, I guess I was planning to.

I filled out the online form to request the funds. I bought my ticket. I flew here. I got approval. In the approval email, they say:
Use of U.S.-flag air carriers by international travel allowance recipients
is required by the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive
Practices Act of 1974 known as the "Fly America Act." The conditions that
pertain to the use of U.S.-flag air carriers are found in GC-1*, Grant
General Conditions (07/02).
 It really would have helped to have this information printed in big letters at the top of the request form. According to this list, my ticket is not with a US-flag carrier. #!@($^#. It's been one of those days. Now what do I do?

If you have an NSF or NIH grant, must you always fly US-flag carriers?

Writing, resubmitting, and advisors

So about that short manuscript. I wrote it. Sam and I revised it. I submitted it to OK Journal. It was immediately rejected without review. Sam suggested I consider submitting to Better Journal or Regional Journal. I chose Regional Journal because I'm 99% sure Better Journal will reject it. We submitted to Regional Journal. It was reviewed and rejected. We appealed to the editor- can we resubmit if we make it shorter? No.

Sam says we should revise, shorten, and submit to OK Journal or Better Journal. But it was already rejected from OK Journal and it's not going to fly with Better Journal. I think we need to send it to Small Journal, which is what Sam and I talked about when we met last week. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Getting better all the time

I'm getting good at leaving for Ukenzagapia. Maybe too good, Jon said as we parted ways at the airport. It's become a routine. We borrow our generous friend's car to get to the airport, I know where and when to get food in the terminal, and now I know where the gates are in the different airports because I've flown the same route three times. My bags were 1-2 pounds below the limit and I even recognized one of the women working at the gate.

It's still hard to say bye to Jon though. I was crying in the security line. Anyways. I'm at the connecting airport now and my taxi driver friend Violet will meet me at the airport in Ukenzagapia and take me to my American friend's house. Then I'm going to (hopefully) fall right asleep so I can wake up on Wednesday morning and start jumping through hoops for my permits again.

Speaking of non sequiturs, I know I haven't blogged as much in the past few months. I've started posts but just never finished them. I think I tend to blog more 'in the field' so perhaps blogging will pick up again. I also haven't been keeping up on other folks' blog so my apologies to those bloggy friends out there who I've been neglecting.

Friday, September 10, 2010

(almost) all my bags are packed

On Monday I'm leaving for my 4th trip to Ukenzagapia for another field season. My husband suggested that I get everything packed by tonight so that I have the weekend to remember and track down things I may have forgotten. Brilliant!

I'd say I'm 90% packed. I need to buy a few last-minute things (mostly gifts and a few drugstore items), pack my hiking boots (after I finish waterproofing them again), and pack my carryon bag. I have about 20 pounds to spare right now. This has never happened before. I've never packed my bags for Ukenzagapia and been below the 50 pound limit. For each trip before this I've written about how I was way over the limit (here and here). 

I should perhaps mention that the reason that my bags are comparatively light this time is that I have boxes of stuff stored all over the country (my friend's house, the university, and at my field site). Every time I go I bring more stuff and leave it there. I think I could equip a small field station now.

Anticipating that my bags would be relatively light this time, I offered to bring things for other people. I'm bringing more things for Dr. K, some for my friend in the city, stuff for some guys who work in Nyota, and several things for another American who is just starting his fieldwork in Nyota. It's mostly electronic items because they are difficult, impossible, and/or expensive to get in Ukenzagapia. This time I'm bringing more usb modems, a new laptop battery, lots of rechargeable batteries, extra computer ram, a used digital camera, a measuring tape, headphones, rite in the rain paper, a laptop cover, and a flash drive.

I also went to the bank today to get out a large sum of money (most of what I need for the next 2 months) in the newest, crispest $100 bills the bank teller could find (last year I wrote all about why). It was enough that I actually used my money belt to carry it, which is something I'm not sure I've ever done in the US before. 

I'm getting a lot better at this international field work thing. I'm more prepared than I've ever been- physically, logistically, mentally, emotionally. I hope this feeling persists!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tools for a scientist: September Scientiae

Anthropologists can study civilizations by examining their tools. This month, we can learn a lot about what some science bloggers do by hearing about the tools that they use in their daily science lives. You might pick up a useful suggestion or two along the way, be it software, pens, or notebooks!

rocketscientista calls this the most wonderful time of the year. I knew there'd be at least one person who wanted to effuse their love of office supplies! She tells us about her quest- and success- in search of the best lab notebook ever. I'm sure others will want to find out what it is. Also, she gets to play with liquid nitrogen. Awesome. But perhaps best of all, rocketscientista uses owl pellets. How? You'll have to read her post and find out.

Rocksinspace has a great list of supplies that keep her organized including multiple colors of pens and special notebooks. She also has 3 terabytes of external hard drives and is going to need a 4th soon- she works with enormous data files! On her blog she also shares a revelation about the disorganization of pdfs on her computer and is now getting reorganized with Mendeley.

FrauTech literally has a toolbox. She's got some timeless classics (drafting pencils and calipers) as well as the more sophisticated tools of today (matlab and a 3D modeling program), some basics that few of us can do without (coffee and Excel), and some things that are unquestionably tools by anyone's definition (screwdrivers, wrenches, a hammer, and more). Can you guess her field of work?

ecogeofemme doesn't obsess over school supplies but associates this time of year with new clothes. She also finds that the new lab she has joined as a postdoc is missing some of the things that belong in a lab based on her previous experiences.

Jaxwolf does a lot of her science in the field and has to be ready for anything with the ten essentials. She'd rather not head to the field without a GPS, compass, maps, first aid kit, multitool, waterproof notebooks, and duct tape. That stuff is amazing.

sarcozona gets the prize for most unique tool: the cone guillotine. What in the world is a cone guillotine for? You'll have to go check it out, complete with a photo.

microbiologist xx needs some sterile wooden sticks and a whole lot more for her research. She tells us why the microscope is her favorite tool, and includes some awesome photos to illustrate her point!

Melissa from Confused at a higher level shares some outstanding advice for anyone starting up a lab (especially at a primarily undergraduate institution). She has great suggestions for how to make the most out of start-up funds by thinking long-term. In the same post she shares an A-to-X list of things she uses in an experimental condensed matter physics lab. I love it!

NJS (Scientist Rising) reminds us that a lot of science doesn't happen in a lab (or in the field). Her work relies on her "laptop, research group computers, the department computing clusters, and a supercomputer or two." One advantage of computer-based work is that it's easily portable and she shares some tricks for managing connections with the other computers. Without those tools, she might have "killed at least one computer."

Like NJS, Alyssa's (aka Mrs. Comet Hunter) research relies heavily on computers and the internet. She wonders if she's missing out or isn't a "real scientist" because she doesn't work in a lab or do field work. As host of this month's theme, I say nay! Computers and the internet are most definitely "real science" tools, and both field and lab work have their drawbacks. If you have thoughts on the matter, you can join the discussion on Alyssa's post.

Two different bloggers wrote about their love for R (a free statistical package) and LaTeX (a free typesetting program). mariawolters calls R "the one tool I couldn't live without." As an academic who has frequently changed institutions, she is liberated from the software subscription ties of any particular university to various other [expensive] statistical packages. Eugenie also tells us how she uses Mendeley (another free program used for managing and annotating references) and BiBteX to make bibliographies in LaTeX. So much free software!

fridayafternoonwriter has learned which tools are most important to her while writing up her thesis: good software (no one else mentioned many of these programs), good hardware (wide screen monitor!), good music, and good tea. Her post reminds me that the small things that create our optimal work environment are important, too.

I have absolutely loved reading all of the different posts for this month's carnival. Thank you to everyone who contributed! I've learned about many tools that I didn't even know existed. I hope that everyone enjoys these glimpses into different fields of science!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Scientiae carnival deadline EXTENDED

If you still want to write about your favorite science toys and tools, it's not too late! I'm extending the deadline to 11:59 pm on September 1. Please submit! I'd love to read more posts and there have only been a handful so far. The original call for posts can be found here.

My parents are coming to visit this weekend, but I'll try to have the carnival posted by Monday, September 6. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scientiae deadline coming up!

If you are interested in writing about your favorite gizmos and gadgets as a scientist, please contribute to Scientiae Carnival! I am hosting for September, and you can find the original call for posts here.  Anyone is welcome to contribute a post (or a comment if you don’t have a blog of your own). To submit posts to the carnival, please email the permalink URL of your post to scientiaecarnival [a] gmail [dt] com.

The deadline is Monday, August 30, 11:59 pm. Keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Here I go again

I think I'm incapable of buying my plane tickets more than 3 weeks in advance of my trip. But! I've got them now. I leave in less than 3 weeks. It feels like it gets easier each time to get ready to go, and each time I think there are fewer things that I need to buy. This time I might be bringing nearly as many things for other people as for myself! I just really hope I don't have to pay excess baggage fees this time (but if I do, I'll know to ask for  receipt at the counter!).

I haven't even really made a list of things that I need to accomplish before I leave. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More than I needed to know about budgets

I just got out of a too-long meeting with someone from accounting because I was trying to figure out the best way to pay some research fees. The accountants went off on some waaaaaaaaaay looooooooong tangents, and as a result I know a LOT more about the financial woes of the world, country, state, university, college, and department. Yikes. Things are not looking good for grad students coming down the pipeline here at UBC. I'm very happy (and lucky) to have the security of a graduate research fellowship during this time.

However, I now have to pay taxes on more of my research money thanks to a minor language change. In a nutshell: Instead of getting reimbursed (which is not taxable), the money will go on my 1098-t, which, because my fellowship income is also reported on my 1098-t rather than a W-2, is mostly taxable income.

I also learned that it costs the department about $500,000 to hire a biology professor, and with the current distribution of overhead payments, it takes the university at least 10 years to recoup that startup from grant overhead. I had no idea. Talk about pressure to get big grants!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hello, Goodbye

This is the theme song of the day. New students are arriving, two lab members are leaving. It's bittersweet.

I'm spending the afternoon editing down a communication of research findings that is supposed to go to a lay audience but was 1300 words (2.5 pages). Short and to the point is what every communication workshop I've been to emphasizes. I've got it below 500 now. Almost there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rejected and ready to be home

My manuscript was rejected last week. That's a bummer. I haven't read all of the reviewers' comments yet but Sam doesn't seem discouraged, so that's good at least.

We're finally home from vacation. I was gone for 15 days (straight from the conference to the beach). We have two house guests who are already here, and we're having a going away party for one of them tonight. My friend Mariyah finished her degree and is going back to her home country. I'm really going to miss her.

I should be returning to Ukenzagapia in less than a month now, and have a crapload of things to figure out before I go. That said, getting ready to go to the field seems to be less hectic each time, which is nice. Nearly all of my equipment is already there so there's not much to buy or bring this time. Perhaps I should be starting to worry? But then I remind myself that worrying about work doesn't get work done. I just need to stay focused and work hard every day. I can do that.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Paperclips to particle accelerators

I have the great pleasure of hosting the Scientiae blog carnival for the month of September. I have been mulling over this month’s theme for more than a year now. During my first field season of data collection in 2009, I spent a lot of time thinking about my research equipment (including what would happen if it failed me) and wondered what types of tools other people rely on for their research. This is the time of year when students and teachers in the northern hemisphere return to school after summer vacation, which often means buying new school supplies. Although I know this may not be the "school supply" buying season for many Scientiae bloggers, I am interested in hearing what supplies you use in your research, teaching, and outreach. What things do you love in the lab? What are you lost without in the field? What computer programs make your life easier every day? What tools are indispensable? What is tried and true?

Your list can be as conventional or unconventional as you see fit to share. So, without giving your whole research agenda away, what are your favorite school supplies?

Anyone is welcome to contribute a post (or a comment if you don’t have a blog of your own). To submit posts to the carnival, please email the permalink URL of your post to scientiaecarnival [a] gmail [dt] com by 11:59 pm on Monday, August 30, UTC-11 (that’s American Samoa time). I will try to have the carnival posted on Thursday, September 2.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ESA in photos

Here are a few photos from the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in Pittsburgh. The convention center was gorgeous!

Ecologists chillin' between sessions

Exhibit hall with poster presentations and vendors

Walkway between two halves of the convention center (that's water falling down the sides and along the pathway)

This is a vertical planting that grew to create an impressive billboard.

Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I haven't heard a bad thing yet about this stadium.

Hydroponics demonstration garden at the convention center. Big plants, no soil!
The roots just got bathed by dripping water and grew in the plastic housing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Link love from ESA

Here are some cool projects I've learned about at ESA:

EREN: Ecological Research as Education Network- creating a structure for ecologists at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) to collaborate on larger-scale projects

EcoSynth- this might be the coolest thing I've seen at ESA. The web page doesn't do it justice right now! You can use a remote controlled airplane with a digital camera to construct a 3D image of an area.

DataONE- an online repository for data and metadata.

eBird- enormous citizen science project in which anyone in the world can participate! They have thousands of people contributing every day! Wanna join?

Not a link, but I witnessed something that deserves a shout out. I saw a grad student give a talk with no slides and no notes with a 20-minute can-you-do-this-if-your-advisor-doesn't-show-up warning. The penalty for a no-show talk or poster is nothing to scoff at, but if someone else gives your talk you're off the hook. This woman gave her advisor's talk with basically no warning, and did a hell of a good job.

**Added August 7, 2010**
Gigapan- seriously awesome and interactive photography. Thanks for reminding me, Eugenie!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Have I mentioned I love conferences?

I'm having a great time at ESA meeting in Pittsburgh- me and 3,800 of my best friends!

The pros:
-The David Lawrence Convention Center is a great space. It's big enough that nearly all of the workshops and sessions (about 20 talks are going on simultaneously at any given time) are in the same building and it's relatively easy to navigate.
-I've seen folks from ecomath camp, the field station where I used to work, a guy from a summer internship I did ages ago, and even an ex-boyfriend from college.
-The dorm (=cheap accommodation) is an easy walk from the conference center.
-There are so many awesome talks and posters. Conferences get me excited about science, outreach, and education! I'm a session-hopper so I don't stay in one place for long.

The cons:
-I really should have done a poster or presentation. Next year I think I'll have enough for 3, but I can only do one. I should've gotten my act together!
-No internet or AC in the dorm where I'm staying. Also, our window only opens 4 inches and our door doesn't lock. It would have been helpful if they told us to bring an ethernet cable. It's not like I don't have one sitting at home doing nothing, but I certainly don't just carry one around with me! If I had that, I could be accessing the internet in my hot and humid dorm room instead of sitting here next to the window in the lobby budgeting out the free 2 hours of WiFiPittsburgh that I am allotted. No university wireless access for us :-(
-I ended up volunteering as a projectionist for a session that didn't have nearly as many interesting talks as I'd hoped, and I was useless as a volunteer because the session presider had it all under control so I just sat there. On the other hand, I will get my conference registration fee reimbursed, which is definitely awesome.

Hopefully some pics and more thoughtful posts will follow soon.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

More than I can chew?

Yesterday I had a crazy busy day in which I met with Sam for several hours, submitted a huge final report for my interdisciplinary project, and didn't eat lunch until 5 pm. Then I talked to Leo at happy hour, went straight to dancing, and then proceeded to play office chair games in a gym and drop an egg off of a building until 3 am. Anyways, while talking to Sam yesterday, it dawned on me that I might end up with two Ph.D.'s worth of data, or at least it feels like that right now.

I've got my main project with the critter study system. I collect some data that I'm not so enthusiastic about, but I also set up an experiment that could be really cool. I'm going to do some other experiments on my next trip. I wrote my big proposal that got rejected for this system, but I'm not going to pursue that part of the project anymore. I should still get 2+ dissertation chapters out of this.

I've still got that review paper from forever ago that has hardly budged an inch in more than a year, but will likely be my introductory chapter. Then there's the database project. That's what I was working on with Sam yesterday. It's going slowly but will be cool and powerful. That should be fodder for a chapter in my dissertation.

Now I'm working on a proposal for a slightly different study system. It's super exciting and is likely to lead to management recommendations (read: totally applicable to a real-world problem). The more I think about it, the more excited I get about it, but it's also daunting. It occurred to me while discussing experimental design possibilities with Sam that this project alone could be the bulk of a dissertation. I think that (if it works) this project will provide the most important chapter(s) in my dissertation, which is something I could not have anticipated even just a year ago when I first had the idea.

I'm excited about all of these projects, though admittedly least excited about the review paper and some of my critter system data. I just hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mid-year assessment

Alyssa from Apple Pie and the Universe has invited us to reflect on the past year for August's Scientiae blog carnival. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to revisit the goals I set for myself in January. I find goal-setting to be extremely helpful-- as long as I actually do revisit them!

Publication- I'd like to get at least one thing published this year, and maybe one or two more submitted. (I submitted something and it hasn't been rejected yet, so that's a good sign! I'm not sure if it can be published this year or if I'll get anything else submitted.)

Presentation- I would like to present something at a conference, maybe just a small one. (I don't think this is going to happen this year.)

Field work- I should have two trips to Ukenzagapia this year, and I'm determined to be more confident in my field work. (So far so good! One trip down, one to go! I'm in a MUCH better place with my field work than I was a year ago. This song helps.)

Outreach- [I want to develop some kind of outreach plan] (I haven't made much progress here. This is why it is good for me to revisit these goals!)

Dancing- Go dancing at least 12 times this year. (I've gone dancing 9 times this year and I'm going tomorrow too! I'm on track for meeting this goal :-)

Counseling- I plan to keep going to a therapist whenever I'm in Big City, as long as I feel like its helpful. My current therapist will leave at the end of the school year, but hopefully I'll be able to find a new one who is a good match. (I meant to blog about this but never did. I saw my therapist for the last time in the first week of May. She was leaving (she was an intern) and it turns out that I was one appointment away from expiring my allotted visits to counseling services. I don't want to try to find someone else because I feel like I got through the hardest stuff with her and I don't feel the need like I did a year ago. I was sad about leaving her because she was great, but I'm ok with not going to counseling anymore.)

Reading- I would like to read more books in 2010... As much as I do love reading all of these aforementioned blogs (and then some), but I need to read more books.  I'm starting with a biography of Jane Goodall. (I'm really sucking at this one, considering that I haven't finished that biography of Jane Goodall. In fact, I left it here when I went to the field, and haven't opened it since. I did put a huge dent in a different thick book, but I haven't finished a book in ages. Maybe at the beach?)

Climate action- I want to offset my greenhouse gas emissions for my travel...I've got to start somewhere, so 2010 it is. (I put this one off for a long time but finally did it. I offset my travel to and from my field site, my other travel, and our utilities for 2010 to date with Native Energy. Finally!)

What else has been going on around here recently? Probably not enough progress in my work. I had much grander goals for my data analysis this summer. Eek. I'm giving my balcony garden (and my partner) lots of love. We're savoring the last few weeks with the cats before they go back to their real owners. We've had tons of family visit and I'm starting to think about my next trip to the field in September. I'm hoping to send off a big grant proposal before the year is out, something that wasn't on my radar in January (but it probably should have been). All in all I'd say I'm in a pretty good place, and I'll hopefully be similarly zen about my life in December when I revisit these goals again!

P.S. I'm hosting Scientiae in September- stay tuned!

Conference session scheduling tool

Big conferences have so many sessions running at the same time that it can be overwhelming to try and plan which ones to attend (especially before you have the program in hand). I just discovered a cool little tool that lets you mark which sessions you are planning to attend, skip, or read.  I know at least 3 of my readers are going to the Ecological Society of America conference next week, so I thought I'd post the link in case you haven't found it already. Check it out!

Anyone know of any blogger meetups happening at ESA this year?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer blues

This is past the point in my summer when I start to panic about everything that I haven't done yet that I need to accomplish. July feels like my last whole month of summer (work). August will be half filled by the ESA conference and a week at the beach. There's still so much data to analyze... and so little time.

On the bright side, the end of my interdisciplinary project is in sight. I've been having weekly skype meetings with my #1 collaborator on the project, and we've successfully divided and conquered the data analysis and we're finishing the writeup in the next week. We're submitting it as a report to our higher-ups, not a journal, so it won't go through an insane number of revisions. If we decide (much later) to publish it, we'll have something to start from. We had a whole-group skype meeting today and decided that we will consider our project "finished" in mid-August when we complete one final report as a group. Beyond that, we can each take pieces further to publication as it suits our goals (or not).

I've also decided that I need to be focusing strongly on submitting another big grant to fund my final two field seasons in 2011. I need to prioritize the analysis that will be included in that proposal, and worry less about the other analyses. My oh my, I have a lot to think about.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Practice parenthood

Last week we had two 9 year olds stay with us- my cousin and Jon's niece. Every morning they went with me to the museum for day camp and then in the evenings we hung out in our neighborhood or played games. They were so agreeable and responsible! Most mornings they were up, dressed, and eating breakfast before we were out of bed! This is the first time we've been responsible for kids like that in our own home for more than just a night. I think it was good practice for being parents... but what will we do with them for the first 8 years?

I love third, fourth, and fifth graders because they can understand quite a lot but are also still excited about learning (it's not "uncool" yet). If this whole professional science career thing didn't work out, I'd love to teach one of those grades. I think I'd make a great middle-elementary school teacher, albeit one that could never find a job because I'd have a Ph.D. but no experience.

This week we still have Jon's niece here but this time his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew are here too, plus an 80 pound dog. I won't even go into the explanation of who and how the other 6 people passed through in the past 2 days. Last night we slept 7 extra people in our apartment.

I really need to get a LOT of work done this week. Only two weeks before ESA and then my summer is basically over...

Friday, July 16, 2010

That wasn't so bad

So, I sent that painful email and received some useful responses. All three of them had ideas and I just sent off a couple of emails to straight up ask organizations for money. I also- independently- got a fantastic tip from a friend on how I might be able to raise money. Unfortunately, if I told you [the internetz] I'd have to kill you. Or something.

Now back to the mad money chase.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I just sent an email to Sam, Herb, and Leo saying that I am $2700 short of what I need for my next field season on a bare-bones budget. Eek. I obviously should have figured this out and dealt with it months ago...

Monday, July 12, 2010


Today I finally received my last of 3 large reimbursements (>$1000) for expenses in Ukenzagapia. I've been home now for as long as I was in the field. Have I mentioned how much I hate paying for field work with 3 different little pots of money? I have spent far too much time and energy on managing the finances of my project. I need a big freakin' grant.

I just submitted a small (~$250) reimbursement that I couldn't submit until the new fiscal year but I'm not counting on getting that one for a while.

In other news, I have no proposals pending and still don't know how I'm funding my next trip. I'm starting to think about bake sales and lemonade stands. Suggestions?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The lost week

Jon's aunt died in a tragic accident on Monday evening. We're going to her funeral this weekend. Between the Monday holiday and the family tragedy, this week is pretty much shot for work. Life just doesn't stop for research.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Funding woes & grant reviews

I don't know yet how I'm funding my next field season(s). I've had some big writing priorities to tackle before figuring that out, but now that I've submitted a report, a permit renewal, and a publication I've got to think about funding. Gah.

What I really need to do it get a big grant. My first attempt at a big grant was unsuccessful (not surprisingly). I used the proposal I developed for my prelims, but the methods were untested and I had essentially no preliminary data. It was worth a shot, but I'm not surprised it wasn't funded. Also, once I actually went and tried the methods (just after submitting the grant), I realized there was no way it was going to work well enough to justify the cost. Even if I had gotten it, I'd have modified the methods & objectives considerably. I received the bad news shortly before I left for Ukenzagapia in February, and I couldn't bring myself to read the reviews just before going into the field. Then I kind of forgot about them. See, I know that if I submit again, it will have to be with a new proposal because this first one just isn't going to fly, so the specific criticisms on this proposal won't help me turn it around and resubmit. I'd nearly be starting from scratch again.

Today I finally opened up the reviews to read them. The ratings ranged from Fair to Very Good. Most of the reviewers were concerned about the feasibility of the proposed methods, in which they were 100% justified since I myself decided it wasn't feasible. Some of the comments made me laugh out loud, such as, "I got the sense that this proposal was written quickly and from the perspective of someone not familiar with critters or the study site." Quickly? I wish! At the point that I wrote it, I hadn't spent very much time at Nyota yet so that is fair I suppose but then again I had Sam's advice on it. This particular reviewer went into great depth with their concerns about the lack of excruciating detail in some areas, comments which would be extremely helpful if I were resubmitting this same proposal.

It is interesting to look at the perspectives of different reviewers about the broader impacts of the proposed research. One reviewer said the proposal didn't emphasize the impacts for the scientific community enough and only emphasized things like training students. Most of the reviewers thought the broader impacts were good and some of them think Herb is a real rockstar in that respect (they basically said so). Another said that one outreach project seemed like a weak add-on, in part because they "didn't the costs of a pamphlet included in the budget." A pamphlet. We're talking about the cost of printing a pamphlet. C'mon. Still... lesson learned. If you're going to mention it, put it in the budget, even if it's just to say you're going to seek other funds to cover it (I did that for several things, as the project cost exceeded the amount requested).

Even though some of the specific criticisms won't be applicable to the next proposal, reading the reviews helps me see what the reviewers generally liked and didn't like. It certainly wasn't a wasted effort. Now back to strategizing for the next trip...

Monday, June 28, 2010


I just submitted the short note for publication! I'm so happy to have cleared this hurdle. I wrote this in October, submitted it in January and got it right back without review, and have heavily revised it over the last 5 months and added more data. So, here it goes again!

This paper is nothing big, and it's going to a journal with an impact factor <1. Still, I've done the vast majority of this myself (with advice from the coauthors), so it's an accomplishment for me. I've been hearing that first papers take a long time, and this is certainly the case for me. Maybe my next one will go more quickly!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Clever, I hope

I've been having a problematic recurrence with the experiment I set up in Ukenzagapia. My field assistants and Sam think it has one source, and I think it has another. It's important to determine the source of the problem but I've been at a loss (especially since I'm not in Ukenzagapia right now). Finally, I came up with a solution that is pretty damn clever. I talked to my field assistants yesterday and they are putting it in action today. I hope this plan works!

In other news, I've finally gotten two of my three reimbursements for the thousands of dollars I spent. Thank you, bureaucracy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What more could he want?

I'm on version 18 or something of the short note. As I mentioned before, nearly every time I send Sam a new version, he writes back with things I should add. When I finished his last round of suggestions a few weeks ago, I really thought that was the end. What more could he possibly suggest that hasn't come up already?

Today he sent another suggestion for incorporating some data that would be useful if we had it for everything we're studying, but we don't, and I don't see a good way to incorporate it. I. just. want. to. be. finished. So I'm writing an email to explain why I don't think we should add those data (and suggest that if he does, that he add it himself since he's an author too). Gah.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just a little more...

I think I might- for real- be able to [re]submit my short note this week. The one from January. Gah! Somehow this short thing has turned into a 26-page document double-spaced with references, tables, and a title page. Based on my records, I've spent more than 60 hours on this in 2010 alone, and the majority of those were after I submitted it the first time! But seriously, I think I might get it off of my plate (again) by the end of this week. I need a goal like this to keep me moving forward in this deadline-less summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Babies in academia

Discussions of work/life balance, timing your procreation, and parenthood are common and recurring themes in the science blogosphere. My advisor happens to be extremely supportive of his grad students (men and women alike) having kids during grad school. Herb would argue that best time is during grad school. He even went so far as to boast to the new cohort of grad students that he has the "most fertile lab in the department" since some abnormally high percentage of his previous and current students have had one or more babies during their grad student tenure. His general rule of thumb, having watched many of his grad students have kids, is that each baby adds about a year to your Ph.D. My office mate took about 7 or 8 years to finish but had two kids during that time so that puts her right on track in terms of her progress.

You might think that Herb had his child while in grad school. Quite the contrary. At the celebration dinner after my office mate's defense, Herb mentioned in conversation that he took his son to museums 4 days per week when he was a toddler/preschooler so that his wife could get her science done. Confused at how this was possible, I asked for clarification how he spent four weekdays at a museum all day entertaining his son. His response? He was already a full professor so he had the flexibility. He was a full professor when his son was born- he was no spring chicken. For those of you who are less familiar with the traditional ranks of academia, a person typically does not become a full professor until after they have completed their Ph.D., typically had a postdoc (~1-4 years), landed a tenue-track position as an Assistant Professor (5-6 years), gotten tenure and become an Associate Professor (probably at least 5 years), and then finally made the (typically) last leap in rank to become a Professor. That's minimally about 11 years after completing your Ph.D. Assuming one starts a Ph.D. at age 23 (young) and finishes at age 28 (fast), then you would be at least 39 before you become full professor. What this boils down to is that most women would be in less-than-ideal circumstances to start having kids when they are a full professor. My advisor had the flexibility in his schedule (and the reduction in pressure) that comes with the job/financial security of a full professorship. Interesting, no?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaching at a SLAC

I decided to go to grad school so that I could become a professor at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) like the place where I spent my formative years (affectionately known here as Small Friendly College). As I have progressed through grad school, I have become less sure that this is what I want to do. There are a handful of conversations I've had that stand out and that sway me one way or another.

While Jon and I were traveling in Remote Foreign Country in the year before I started grad school, we had the great fortune to cross paths with one of my favorite college professors, my mentor who wrote my letters of recommendation. He mentioned to me that he was retiring. I was saddened to hear this news, but in the conversation that followed I could see he was truly burnt out from decades of teaching at SFC with all of the mentoring responsibilities that don't cease even when students graduate. The fact that he was great at his job created greater demand for him as an advisor and professor. As a student, I didn't realize the extent of professors' responsibilities or recognize how the closeness of student/faculty interactions at a small college could be draining. Do I want a job with so many face-time demands?

Fast forward 2 years. Herb and I were discussing mentor's upcoming retirement. Herb, who was the college roommate and thus personally knows my SFC mentor (see explanation here), remarked that he has no interest in retiring anytime soon. He attributes mentor's desire to retire early to the different professorial lifestyle and expectations at SLACs. More food for thought. Is being a SLAC professor potentially more exhausting than a professor at a big research university?

Another year goes by. I returned to SFC and had a great conversation with a friend who is teaching there this year. I was explaining my concerns about teaching at a place like SFC because I don't want to get burnt out like my mentor was. She, as a visiting assistant professor, now has an insider's perspective on departmental expectations. SFC has a fantastic tenure-track assistant professor who is teaching great classes, mentoring students, and doing great research with undergrads. She is also working her butt off, staying late, and everyone can see that. What is the department's response? You're doing awesome work, but we're concerned that your pace is unsustainable. We recommend that you work less and make time for your family and yourself in order to prevent yourself from burning out. This was refreshing to hear, and it really makes a lot of sense for a department to send this message to someone who they would very much like to keep around but are concerned will work themselves to a point of departure. Might I be so fortunate as to end up in a place like SFC where the department's advice to a fantastic tenue candidate is work less?

I haven't ruled out jobs at SLACs, but I'm also interested in jobs with conservation NGOs or maybe a government position. Maybe I could even cut it at a mid-sized research university with some grad students. I still don't know. Thankfully, I don't have to yet, but I do keep mulling over it because I do want to make sure I have adequately prepared myself for the job I want.

**Note: I just polished a post I wrote last month, and it was posted under last month's date so I'm including a link here for those of you who would otherwise miss it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Methods of data organization

This summer I've got a lot of data to analyze. Do any of my readers have suggestions for how to organize your files and analyses so that you can keep track of what has been done? It's far too easy to modify a bunch of data, do some analyses, then come back a week later and not remember what was done or why. How do you do it, o experienced readers?

When I took a GIS class, they taught us an organization system where you always always always make a folder for your original data within your project folder and then never touch it. Then you have another folder for the stuff you're modifying. Most importantly, you keep a text file where you explain step by step everything that you are doing. This system seems like a pretty good starting point, but I'm looking for other suggestions. Mostly I just don't want to end up with something like this:
Thank you, Ph.D. Comics, for being so topical.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I had a hunch

One of my field assistants (T) is phenomenal in the field, but consistently shows up late, especially when he is coming back from "town." He has also been having money problems. I loaned him some money to buy a motorbike (as it is in my interest as well for him to have one), but I wasn't able to see the motorbike before I left Ukenzagapia.

Shortly after returning, I heard from Sam that my field assistant is being a real pain in the ass and demanding another loan from Dr. K. because I didn't loan him enough to buy the motorbike. My other field assistant has been giving reports to Sam and Dr. K about the situation, but I'm supposed to feign ignorance of all this drama when I talk to them on the phone. It's all terribly complicated and everything I hear is 3rd hand.

Anyways, I've been having a hunch since the last month or so at Nyota that T a second wife & kid(s) in "town," but it's not exactly the kind of thing I can confront him about. He already has a wife and 6 kids in Nyota, but has so much trouble getting back to Nyota on time that I just think something is up.

I mentioned my hunch to Sam the other day, and it turns out I was right. He does have another wife (I'm sure not legally- but she probably has a kid or two and so now it is his responsibility to support them as well, so she's basically his second wife). Of course Sam didn't want to tell me this, but he says he's impressed that I figured it out on my own because it shows that I am really beginning to understand the culture.

Unfortunately, T isn't showing up to work (at least that's what I'm hearing from Sam via Dr. K and my other assistant). He has to repay the loan by paycheck deduction, but that doesn't work if he's not getting paid because he's not working. What a mess. And apparently, he's blatantly lying to me about buying a motorbike. What in the world can I do from here?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not as bad as I thought

On Friday I sent off a new draft of the short note to the other authors with all of the changes Sam suggested. Recap: I wrote this in October, sat down and wrote more of it with Sam in December, submitted it in January, got it back right away, and have been revising it for resubmission to a different journal ever since. This isn't experimental at all- just a natural history note. It's not supposed to be big. Every time I send Sam a new version, he writes back with a bunch of suggestions of things I should add. I've been sitting on those last suggestions since April. This week I sat down to think about whether or not it's worth it to do them, I decided it really might not be very difficult (especially now that I'm back in the US).

On Thursday I made a list of all of the corrections and additions needed for the paper. On Friday I sat down and did them. Boy that felt good! I think it might be ready to submit next week if Sam and Dr. K are able to give me feedback in time. The timing is somewhat unfortunate as Sam is leaving for a week or two but we'll see what happens. At the very least, I made good progress and can now worry about other things for a while.

Today I've been chopping away at my list of things to do at home. I cleaned off my desk (for the first time in about 6 months), organized a closet and a bookcase, dusted, did laundry, repotted seedlings, and washed the weird dishes (Jon's responsible for the dishwasher stuff). I feel like there's such a backlog of things for me to do at home that I have a hard time leaving the apartment in the morning because I'm tempted to stay home and organize stuff instead. I'm so glad to be home.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2011, not 2010!

A while ago I posted that I should submit an article for a special issue and the deadline was June 1. I lamented that the deadline was then because later I'll surely have even better stuff to submit. Now that it is June 2, I went to close that email (I have the obnoxious habit of leaving emails open in Mail until I deal with them- it drives Jon nuts) and just saw that the deadline is June 1, 2011. So, I guess I might be able to submit something after all :-)

In other news, I just emailed the forms for my permit renewal! Woo hoo! Another big thing off my plate. Now I just have to figure out how to pay them!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Here's a sign that my review paper has been waaaaaaaay on the back burner- a screen shot from the file info on my most recent version:

I haven't even opened the file in nearly nine months. Oh dear.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Things worth celebrating

This month, Rocket Scientista is hosting the Scientiae Carnival and the theme is celebrations. What do I have worth celebrating?

My biggest accomplishment this year is the completion of a successful field season. In April I wrote a post about all the things I was doing well, and that list held true to the end. I really feel like I have friends at my field site now and I'm getting much better at figuring out how to get things done.

Since returning home in early May, I submitted a report and am well on my way to submitting the paperwork for my permit renewal. Finishing writing projects can be so tedious, so I try to celebrate all of the small milestones along the way. I try to lay out a plan for what I need to work on each day, and if I finish all of it before the end of the day, my reward is going home early. It usually motivates me to work more efficiently and stay on task (though not always).

Acknowledging and celebrating small victories is one of the things that has helped me progress in my Ph.D. and stay happy. I'm nearing the end of my third year of grad school, and I figure I have three more years so I'm just about half way done. My glass is definitely half full! Cheers to Rocket Scientista for asking us to share our celebrations.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer priorities

This summer I've got some big priorities:
-submit paperwork for permit renewals (I should have done this a long time ago)
-submit that #!@*%!# little note
-analyze last summer's data
-analyze data for my interdisciplinary project
-work on that review paper that I haven't talked or thought about in months
-figure out how to fund my next field season

I've been dragging my heels soooooo badly on the first one- permit renewal. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it's partly because I don't really know how to approach this (and am stupidly afraid to ask Sam for help), partly because I'm unsure how to conceptually unify all of the things I need them to approve, and partly because I'm afraid they're going to reject me for some minor oversight or omission. Jon has given me some pep talks, reminding me that really the agency that approves research just wants my money and then to make sure I'm not barbecuing their endangered species or something egregious like that.  I've really got to get this done before I can move on to other things on my list in any significant way, but I would just so. much. rather. be cleaning our apartment or doting on my plants. I'm in one of those homemaking phases when I just don't want to go to work at all. But here I am... Blogging. Gah!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Post-trip wrapup

I've had three good meetings with Sam since I got back from Ukenzagapia. He has said some very complimentary things about me which has made me happy. I've had a couple of meetings with Leo, who is happy with my progress and told me I need to work on that review paper from ages ago. I had a 5 minute (I'm not exaggerating) meeting with Herb before he took off for Neotropical Field Site. I'll catch up more with him later in the summer, but it's one more example of how Sam is my functional advisor.

Last week I turned in all of my receipts for reimbursement, except one but it's complicated. I'm getting back about $4500. More than half of that goes to my parents, who were kind enough to lend money because I couldn't get advances on the grants. The rest of it reimburses my set-aside-for-taxes account. I was waaay over budget this time on salaries. I'm not sure how much of our personal money we spent this time, certainly more than I wanted to. It seems like I need about $5000-7000 for each 2-3 month trip to Ukenzagapia. That sure does seem like a lot. I don't know yet how I'm funding my next trip.

I submitted a report to the governmental agencies concerned. I was writing that in the evenings after my all-day Wilderness First Responder classes. That was exhausting and it's a relief to have it done. Now I need to focus on my renewal application.

I feel so much better after this field season compared to my first one. I was kind of a wreck when I got back last year, at least as far as how I felt about my research. I'm still not thrilled with the data I collected in that first field season, but at least now I've got other data too. Time to start analyzing!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not much to say

I'm back in Big City now and it's wonderful. I'm so glad to be home. Today I finally finished opening all of the mail that accumulated while I was gone. I don't have plans to go anywhere until ESA in August, but we do have many visitors coming. I'm looking forward to this summer.

For whatever reason, I just haven't had much to say on the blog this month, which is really unusual. I'm not sure why. I guess I've been traveling so much that I haven't had much of a routine. I have a few draft posts that maybe I'll get around to finishing. Perhaps I haven't been inspired to blog because I also haven't been reading any blogs. I haven't even opened my feed reader in 2 weeks, and I've hardly read any blogs since late February. I expect once I really get back into the swing of things at work and home that I'll have more to say.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

College: a reflection on time and place

It's a funny thing, time. I've been out of college now longer than I was in.  I just spent the last week at SFC in a Wilderness First Responder course with current SFC students. The faces and names have changed, but in many ways the students haven't. They're still talking about the same SFC things as when I was a student.

I love coming back to campus, because in so many ways it just feels natural. It feels like home when I walk across campus. But it is somehow bittersweet for me to return. I love the memories- I love recalling the people and events that helped shape me. But, I am reminded that that time has passed. I can tell I'm older. Several years older. Part of me is sad that I'm not a SFC student anymore. The stories from my time at SFC are like ancient history to the current students. Time marches on.

I've done so much since I graduated. Really! Far more than I did when I was a student! I've been to three new continents and back to Africa (three times!). I'm halfway through my Ph.D. I'm married. I've had jobs, owned cars, moved several times, and lost three loved ones. But since SFC is where I feel like the modern me started, it feels like my roots. It feels like the place to return to, to pay homage to.

One year after I graduated, I wrote:
Somehow, in four years I managed to bond myself and part of my identity to the physical SFC. SFC is an inextricable part of who I am. It brought so much love, peace, and happiness into my life. My time there has given me the strength and skills to go beyond, but I can't fully escape the longing to be there again.
Maybe it is bittersweet because I know that even if I went back there to teach, it won't ever be home again like it was as a student. That time and stage has passed, and with melancholy I accept it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Most of the way home

I'm safely back in the U.S. (in case anyone out there was worried by my blog silence). I got home last week, and then left again! I went to my cousin's graduation, visited my parents, and am spending the week at Small Friendly College for a Wilderness First Responder course. Here's hoping I can get some work done too.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What I'd like to write

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was all stressed out about the NSF reporting because it reminds me of all of the things I haven't done yet. Here's what I'd like to write for my broader impacts:

I maintain a pseudonymous blog about being a grad student in ecology and evolutionary biology. The blog has a small but dedicated audience, as well as several one-time visitors who arrive through internet searches, and received an average of 28 visitors per day from May 2009- April 2010. During that time I wrote 194 posts. Through this blog and pseudonymous persona, I participate in discussions related to the experiences of women in science and the challenges of field work in particular, and have corresponded with several individuals interested in pursuing careers in ecology. I have also used the blog to raise awareness of environmental issues, useful research tools, and opportunities within biology.

Oh well. I just wrote it here instead!