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!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Petrol station

This is the local petrol station. Their tank is that jug right there in the bamboo 'hut' and you fill up with the funnel. Sometimes it's closed, and you know because there's no jug. They buy petrol from the nearest town with a big petrol station (like for cars and trucks), which is 2-3 hours away on bus. Then they bring it back here and considerably mark up the price. It's nearly $2 per liter. That's what all (3?) of the petrol stations around Nyota are like.

It took me ages to get this photo. We pass through this village relatively often, but there are always children and people around and I didn't want to explain why I wanted this particular photo.

This, perhaps more than anything else, demonstrates how much less fossil fuel is consumed here per person. Amazing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Waiting around

I am spending about 7-8 hours in the field every day, but it seems no matter what I do I spend at least half an hour waiting around. Usually I'm waiting around for someone who is late, or waiting around because there is a motorbike problem (let me tell you, I'm going to spend a long time on the internet when I get home reading about how a motorcycle works). This can be incredibly frustrating. I figure I have two basic options: 1) Get incredibly pissed off and upset that my time is being wasted. 2) Accept that this always happens and do like the Ukenzagapians do- just wait. I've mostly been doing the latter, because invariably me getting pissed off doesn't make things happen faster, and just makes me really upset.

Today one of my field assistants was an hour and a half late. I called him when he was 20 minutes late, and he told me he thought he would be there in about 20 minutes. That wasn't enough time to go do anything else, so I just waited. And waited. And waited. I think I completely exhausted myself waiting. I was pissed, and he knew it. I spent most of the day in a bad mood and now I'm exhausted.  I'm also really tired of riding around on rocky and muddy roads.

Ukenzagapians spend a lot of their time waiting around. Lots of jobs involve waiting around. Tour guides wait around to see if unexpected tourists show up. Guards wait around all day and night making sure people aren't stealing things. Store keepers wait around for customers (and then make customers wait around for them). I have rarely seen people read while they wait, or really do much of anything. They just wait. People wait around for paperwork. They wait around for things to be repaired. Then there's transportation. Everyone waits around for transportation, especially buses. Thursday morning I get to hurry out to the road with all of my luggage and wait.

Every morning I hurry up and wait for something. I can't wait until I get home because then every morning I can hurry up and go.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Us

Today has been a typical Ukenzagapian Sunday for me even though it is our first anniversary. I did laundry, baked a cake, collected some data, had a beer with the Catholic priest, visited with the neighbors, and worked on the computer. Jon and I will be observing our anniversary on May 3 after I return home since we're thousands of miles apart right now. We've got a box of wishes, predictions, and advice to open for our anniversary that people wrote during our reception, and we've got some cake in the freezer. I can't wait!

One week! I'll be home in one week.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

ESA- to go or not to go?

In my limited experience so far, I love conferences. I loved my first ESA conference. I was really looking forward to presenting a poster at ESA this year in Pittsburgh, but I stupidly didn't even start my analysis in time to remotely have any kind of results that I could submit with a poster abstract and so I missed the deadline and am not presenting anything. Boo.

I was planning to go anyways, since I think it will inspire me and I'll get to see a lot of friends. However, I have a few reservations. One is the cost. I'll be paying for it myself. Two is the time away from home. I'm looking forward to spending most of my time at home this summer tending my plants and spending time with friends, and the week after ESA we are going to the beach with Jon's family. I'd be away for two straight weeks.

I need to decide soon because I should book a dorm room (cheaper than hotel) because they go quickly. Readers, what do you think?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Asking for help

At the end of my last field season, I wrote a post about what I would do differently if I could do it over. One thing in particular was asking for help. It can be difficult to ask for help, especially if you are under the impression that you shouldn't need help because you should be able to figure it out or do it on your own. Stewgad, who writes the blog Pretty Hard, Dammit, wrote a wonderful post about asking for help. This year, I have asked for a lot of help over email, and I think that is part of the reason that this field season has gone much more smoothly.

I have mostly asked Sam. Since I arrived in Ukenzagapia, I have received an average of one email per day from Sam, and they are often long since I have usually asked him a bunch of questions. This is pretty extraordinary, I think, since he isn't my advisor. Herb, on the other hand, has sent me just three emails only 1-3 lines each, even in response to a long email when I was having problems finding suitable sites. When I desperately needed to get in touch with Chip for a statistical dilemma, I called one of his grad students to find out his whereabouts and then BCC'd the student on the email to Chip, and got a response from Chip's student but not Chip. Sam came through again that time with a solution.

All that said, there are some things for which I have been afraid to ask for Sam's help for fear that by not already having done said thing he will think less of me (for example, renewing my permits- eek!). I don't have the same kind of anxiety with Herb (maybe because I usually have to try to get Herb to pay attention to me). That fear of disappointment just leads to procrastination which leads to more fear and then more procrastination. A vicious cycle. So, I'm trying to get over that fear and just ask when I need help or advice. The sooner I ask the better, but better late than never.*

* My high school chemistry teacher always preferred "better never late."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Coming home and settling down?

I'm actually not referring to myself in the title, but my friends. Just since I've been in Ukenzagapia, I've received emails from two different friends who have independently spent the larger part of our time since college abroad. Both have been largely out of contact, not on facebook, etc, and now they want to get back in touch. Both friends have emailed to announce that they are returning to the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

I'm that age. My college friends are getting married and wayfarers are returning home. Pretty soon people are going to start having babies.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reasons why I am kicking ass

-My big experiment is all set up. My field assistants will keep it running while I'm gone. I'll check it once more before I leave.
-I've taken some great photographs this year that will be really useful.
-My field assistants can both use their cameras, download pictures to Picasa, and tag them with labels. One of my field assistants is an especially promising photographer.
-My Ukenzagaese isn't too bad at all. I'm especially good at greetings now which impresses the sandals off of people I meet in passing. I think my language level was slightly better than a Peace Corps volunteer I met who has been here since September. I still haven't been studying regularly, but most of my communication with my field assistants is in Ukenzagapese now. I need to learn more verbs and practice them so they stick.
-I'm piloting a few small things that may develop into bigger projects.
-I totally have poison tree rash under control. I haven't had even a moderate rash since that last whiny post about everything I'm doing to protect myself. I haven't had a bad rash AT ALL this year. Thank you IvyBlock!
-I know a lot of people now in Nyota. It's great to have friends.
-I've been making (slow but steady) progress on the short note that got rejected in January. I think I might be able to resubmit it just before I leave Ukenzagapia.
-I've been helping two undergrads with their projects over email.
-I'm getting better at scheduling things and estimating how long they will take.
-I'm starting the permit renewal process, even though I am unreasonably intimidated by it.
-I learned how to make a stovetop oven so I can bake things without a real oven.
-I was right on with my cheesemaking techniques. According to a Peace Corps cookbook I recently got my hands on, their instructions are boil milk, wait 2-3 days, strain. That's what I did! I independently invented cheesemaking.
-Jon and I are missing each other a ton, but otherwise we're fine. We're good at this long distance thing.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I just found out there is going to be a special issue of a journal that I should really submit an article for. Unfortunately, the deadline is June 1. It would use my data from last summer, but I'm doubtful that I can get a manuscript ready that quickly considering how long the little note has taken me. I guess it's something good to aim for at least. That might get my butt in gear on that #@&#*% data.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rainfall and water tanks

While visiting my host family earlier this month, I noticed something about water tanks. There appears to be an inverse relationship between the amount of rainfall an area gets annually and the size of household water tanks (if they have one). Dry areas have massive tanks and wet areas have comparatively tiny ones. There's also an economic component, as most people cannot afford a water tank or the transportation to bring it to their home. I grossly generalized the relationship in this graph, but it might be something close to linear.

This is an obvious phenomenon, but it didn't occur to me until I left Nyota and went somewhere different. I think it's really important for me to travel around the region when I can to really understand the diversity of habitats, ecosystems, lifestyles, and conservation challenges that exist here. One size certainly doesn't fit all.

Crazy things

How about that ash cloud, huh? My parents called last night and told me that flights to and from Europe are pretty much grounded. Then Jon told me our brother-in-law is stuck somewhere else in Africa right now because he's supposed to fly home through Europe. So am I, in two weeks.

Jon called me this morning all worked up and said he had really crazy news- was I sitting down? I moved to a chair, thinking what in the world could he tell me that I might fall down? I thought, oh my gosh- what if no flights can leave from Europe for the next month? Am I stuck in Ukenzagapia? What happened?

Then he delivered the news. Two of our friends have been backpacking around the world since October, and we have been cat sitting for their wonderful cats since then. Jon just found out that they unexpectedly got pregnant- even though she had an IUD- and they just came back to the U.S., ending their trip several months ahead of schedule. Their whole life is changing! Jon is all freaked out for them, imagining what it would have been like if I had gotten pregnant halfway through our trip in RFC.

I have to say, of all the news he might want me to sit down for, I'm relieved it was that! I'm excited for our friends and I'm sure they'll be fine. I just hope we get to keep the cats at least until I get back from Ukenzagpia. I miss the cats!

They wanted to come to Ukenzagapia with me, but my bags were already overweight, and they're pretty fat cats.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Walk like an Ukenzagapian

Everyone here carries things on their head. Young and old, male and female. At first I thought it was a strange sight to see a bag with handles on top of someone's head, but now I understand. If you have good balance, it is less awkward than carrying something heavy on one side of your body or trying to hold it in front of you with both arms. I have had the urge to carry things on my head sometimes, but I've got about 20 years of catching up to do with everyone else here since they start as small children. Every day I see little kids carrying buckets of milk on their heads. Usually they have a hand on the bucket too (it's totally acceptable to use your hands to hold it on your head), but still. Go find a box, put a couple of books in it, put in on your head, and then use your hand to steady it while you walk around. Tell me how your arm feels after 3 minutes. It's tiring. I figure it's good exercise as it forces you to have good posture and uses the back and arms muscles when you steady it with your hand.

I've been practicing a little bit here and people think it is hilarious to see a white woman carrying stuff on her head. I tell them I'm learning how to walk like an Ukenzagapian.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Academic Excellence Award for Young Women in Ecology

I don't usually post things like this, but I think some of my readers might know some excellent young female ecologists to nominate for this award from the Ecological Society of America's Student Section.

Attention All ESA Students and Faculty,

The ESA Student Section is pleased to sponsor the first Academic Excellence
Award for Young Women in Ecology. We will award one female student a prize
for academic excellence demonstrated by an outstanding research publication
and a commitment to increase the visibility of other women scientists.

ELIGIBILITY AND NOMINATION: At the time of the nomination deadline
(SATURDAY, MAY 30th 2010), the nominee must have published a paper in a
peer-reviewed journal (MAY 2008-MAY 2010) and have implemented outreach
activities to promote women in science. Accepted manuscripts in press are
eligible, but in review are not. The nominee must be an undergraduate
student, a graduate student, or have received a Ph.D. within the past two
years.  In addition, the nominee must be first author of the paper and be a
member in good standing of ESA's Student Section at the time of nomination.
If you are not sure if your dues are up to date with the ESA Student
Section, pleas contact our membership officer (Matthew Whiteside, Self-nominations and nominations by colleagues are welcome.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Applications will be reviewed by an Awards Committee
appointed by the Officers of the Student Section. The award package will be
judged based upon (1) the paper‚s contribution to the field, including
originality, study design and impact and (2) the nominee‚s outreach efforts
to promote participation of young women in science.

- Commemorative plaque
- 95th ESA annual meeting registration fee reimbursement 

The awards will be made public during the ESA Student Section award
ceremony, to be held on Tuesday, August 3rd at the conference center (time
and room TBA) of the annual meeting. Applicants are required to attend this

Nomination packets should include:

1. A PDF copy of the published paper in the original format of the journal
in which it was published. If in press, the edited proof pdf is valid.

2. A brief letter (pdf or word 2003 compatible format) containing:
- A description of the impact the paper has on the field and the date of
completion of the degree, if the nominee is no longer a student. ***Make
sure to indicate whether the research was completed during undergraduate or
graduate tenure*** (200 words max)
- A statement describing how the nominee engages in outreach to other women
scientists; personally, educationally and/or professionally (200 words max)
- A final sentence in this letter stating: „I hereby commit to attend the
95th ESA annual meeting to be held in Pittsburgh, PA 1st-6th August 2010,
and to be present during the ESA Student Section award ceremony‰. Please
sign or write your initials at the end of this letter. 

3. A letter of support from the major professor that also confirms the
nominee‚s eligibility for the award. The letter is to be submitted in pdf
format, and directly by the recommender (not by the applicant).

4. A CV from the nominee in pdf format

Nomination packets should be sent (by May 30th 2010) electronically as pdfs
to the Student Section's Women and Minorities Officer (Stephanie Kivlin,, with the phrase "Academic Excellence Award for Young Women
in Ecology " in the subject line.
Failure to adhere to any of the rules described above will translate in
automatic withdrawal of the entire application for this award.


For award application and instructions, go to the ESA Student Section
website, If you have questions, please
email Stephanie Kivlin ( or Rob Salguero-Gomez


ESA Student Section

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Work work work work

Chip once mentioned to me that he likes his students to do field work abroad because they get more done. I have to admit that I rarely work this many hours per week (60-80) for weeks on end at home. It really is amazing what a lack of social outlets can do to your work habits. When I'm not in the field, I'm mostly keeping up with email (more or less), prepping for the field, writing for or thinking about different projects, reading papers, or sleeping. I kind of like the lack of distractions. I'm living alone, so I'm free to be as boring as I want and I don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks about me sitting at my computer for 4 hours straight.

What do I do for fun? I listen to podcasts when I'm doing things around the house or mindless field work prep. Sometimes I visit with the guards or the neighbors. One of the guards thinks everything I say in Ukenzagapese is hilarious, but in a good way I think. I like him. I've done a little bit reading for fun, but I haven't even read blogs in weeks (with the exception of Eugenie and Jax's blogs to see if they've been accepted to grad school!). This is highly unusual for me but might also explain why I have been getting so much work done. Unread posts as of 5 days ago (the last time I updated them) = 561. 

I don't mind working these 10-12 hour days 6+ days per week for a while, but I am not going to work this many hours when I get home. I'm looking forward to working 9ish-5ish and spending my evenings with my husband and houseplants, playing games and watching movies. I can't wait. I'll be home in less than a month.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Annual reporting

It's the time of year for annual reporting to NSF. For some reason, I am extremely stressed out by this process. They want to know all of the presentations, publications, internships, awards, patents, international trips, etc etc that have occurred in the past year. I think it stresses me out because it reminds me of all of the things I haven't accomplished in the past year. For example. I haven't published anything yet since that review paper is collecting virtual dust and I haven't even resubmitted the short note that got rejected in January. Now it's April? Yikes!

They ask for all kinds of information. My first impression was that it would be a relatively quick process, but I'm having to go look up all kinds of things (Did I do that this year or last? What was the title of that presentation? Was that technically supported by my GRF?). That in combination with my slow internet and general anxiety about answering the questions as best as I possibly can makes it a slooow process.

I think this is a kind of performance anxiety. I'm generally pleased with what I have been able to accomplish, but when I think about someone else judging my merits it makes me all self-conscious and filled with self-doubt that I won't meet their expectations of me based on whatever they've heard or seen on paper. Imposter syndrome. Gah.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crazy things for sale on the street

Yesterday I saw this man carrying a fish tank on his head. To sell. On the street. In the middle of rush hour. You know, just in case you were sitting in traffic and thought, "Oh my gosh! A fish tank full of little fish! That's exactly what I needed to pick up on my way home from work!"

Most people selling in traffic sell normal impulse buy items- snacks, drinks, and small items like cheap watches and wallets. But then there are people like fish tank man, and the guy who was carrying an enormous stuffed white tiger. It was as big as he was. Who buys that stuff*? I wish I'd gotten a picture of tiger man.

* To get this picture I did have to pretend that I was interested in buying the fish.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Host family

I'm visiting my host family from when I studied abroad with SFC. I saw my host mama because she came to the US for a conference a few years ago, but I haven't seen my host sisters in ages. One of them was just a baby when I was there! The three girls are now so big. The place where they live has also changed a lot since I was here last. As far as I can tell, and from what I've been told, it's mostly for the better. There are fewer children begging on the streets and the roads are much better, which is nothing to scoff at.

Let me just say, my host mom is awesome. She works for a women's health NGO and has moved up the ranks in her job from accounting to national director. She's going to school part-time. She is passionate about development work that allows poor people to earn an income for themselves, and has started numerous projects towards that end (mostly out of her own home). She also loves woodworking and designing furniture! I never knew. She also started a project in her home village to replant an area that has been devastated by tree cutting for charcoal burning (they never use charcoal in their house). She has big visions and so much drive. I adore her.

Her three daughters are also fantastic. They speak wonderful English, as well as 2 mother tongues and are studying another language at school. I brought them each a book, which was very difficult to pick out considering that I hardly know the girls now. The middle daughter finished her book (Smile, a graphic novel) within a day of my arrival. She wants to be a doctor and have her own hospital. The youngest wants to be a lawyer or teacher. The oldest doesn't know yet but loves social studies. These girls are the future of this country and of Africa. They give me hope.