Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in review

I never reviewed 2010 on my blog or posted goals for 2011, which I regret. I'm not going to make that mistake this year!

Although I didn't write it down, my biggest goal for 2011 was to finish my field work. CHECK! DONE! COMPLETE!

I presented at a big conference which resulted in useful connections and feedback.

I also managed to get two publications submitted in December, one of which has been in the works for 2+ years, and another that is just a short little thing.

2011 was a light blogging year (only 57 posts counting this one). When I fall out of the habit, I write less. I don't think it's much more complicated than that.

It has been a busy year. By my calculations, I've spent 2750 hours this year doing work, which I define as things I wouldn't be doing if this wasn't my career. That works out to an average of ~53 hours/week across 52 weeks of the year. I excluded my plane travel to and from Ukenzagapia because that adds dozens of hours. I think I had about 5 weeks worth of "vacation" where I wasn't working much if at all (a week in the spring, 2 in the summer, a week in the fall, and a week at Christmas). Spending 5.5 months this year in Ukenzagapia really pushed up those numbers since I work crazy 65-90 hour weeks in the field.

I keep track of how many hours I work for a few of reasons. When I'm in my office, logging my hours helps me keep track of when I'm really working and when I'm just reading crap on the internet or at the gym exercising. I aim to work 8 hours a day, 5 days per week when I'm not in the field or on vacation. In the field, I do it to help combat the feeling that I should be doing more. Finally, I figure there might be a handful of people out there interested in my quantification of this aspect of life as a scientist. I'm sure I've missed some things here and there, but I think it's a pretty good estimate of how much I'm working.

2011 has been a pretty good year. I'm halfway through my FIFTH year of grad school now! It's hard to believe. Thank you to all of you who are still reading my ruminations, and I hope 2012 brings more peace, love, and joy into your lives.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good news

Sam received the fellowship that I helped him apply for. It's exciting, and a little bit daunting. Although I'm not being funded by this, I play an integral role in making it happen and it will involve a lot of collaboration and management of different people on my part. Hopefully it will also advance the database that we started working on 3 years ago.

I really feel like a true collaborator now with Sam. I'm pretty sure that he would not have gotten this fellowship without my help!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Revolving door of manuscripts

Last night Sam and I submitted another manuscript. This one really, truly is a short natural history kind of thing and he did most of the writing. By my calculations, I only spent 15 hours on this one. I think it's likely to get published, albeit in a small journal. This morning we already heard that it's in review. Yay!

This morning we also found out that our other manuscript was rejected by the editor (this is journal #3). It isn't a good fit for the journal. I had my concerns about this, so I am not surprised. Sam suggested resubmitting to another similar journal, but I think it would also be rejected there without review. So, we just Skyped for 45 minutes discussing the pros and cons of various alternative journals. We've settled on another that reaches a good audience. In my heart of hearts, I still think the best place for this paper is journal #2 (where it did get reviewed) but they won't reconsider it.

I was looking forward to settling my books from my last trip to Ukenzagapia today (just how much did I spend?) and other post-season work, but this has to take priority. We want to submit again today or tomorrow, so now I'll be re-crafting this for journal #4. I. must. publish. soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

263 hours

Tonight Sam and I are submitting a manuscript. Well, kind of. We're sort of pre-submitting a manuscript. We're sending it the editor to ask for feedback on what type of piece it should be submitted as. He'll either say: (1) Thanks, but no thanks. We won't publish this type of thing. (2) Cool. Submit it online as A/B/C so it can go through the review process. Or (3) Um, maybe we might take it as A/B/C but first you should do XYZ before you submit it.

Since I got back from Ukenzagapia a month ago, this has been my priority. I. must. publish. something. asap! I wrote the first draft of this manuscript more than 2 years ago. It was submitted twice and rejected twice (once with review, once without) in 2010. The amount of data has tripled since the first submission, because every time Sam or I have gone to the field we've collected more data. I originally called this my "short note". Ha!

By my calculations, I've spent at least 263 hours on this manuscript. In 40 hour work weeks, that's 6.5 weeks. That doesn't even include data collection. That does include some data entry, writing, reading relevant literature, revising, corresponding with Sam, finding references, some analysis, making and reworking figures, and formatting citations. I don't know about you, but I think that's an insane amount of time. This is my first real paper, which everyone says takes a long time (no kidding).

Just for kicks, let's turn those hours into dollars. Based on my stipend of $2500 per month, we could estimate that it cost more than $4000 in my labor alone to produce this manuscript (that's assuming $625 per week just for the sake of simplicity). And that's not counting Sam's time, which is much more valuable than mine! Science is expensive.

But the real kicker is that it's not over yet. The manuscript is likely to be rejected from this journal, which means it will have to go through more revisions before we can send it somewhere else. I'll just keep counting, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Today I finally got reimbursed for some of my expenses for the conference I attended FOUR MONTHS AGO. These things take a long time. At least I did manage to get some money.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What? Where did November go?

I can't let November end without posting anything. For those of you who don't know me in real life and might have been concerned I was lost forever in Ukenzagapia, never fear! I have returned! I have a couple of posts I want to write about field-related stuff. Here's hoping my muses and my free time coincide more often.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On thieves and plans

When we have to leave research equipment in the field, we use a cable lock to secure it around a tree. These types of locks are not common (or available at all, as far as I know) in Ukenzagapia, and B and T covet them for locking their motorbikes. They asked what these locks are used for in the U.S. I said some people use them on bicycles, but you can't use it on a bike in Big City because people will just come and cut it to steal the bike.

T, after a brief reflection, made a keen observation.

"I think, in Ukenzagapia, the thieves are many, but the plan is small. And in America, the thieves are few, but the plan is big."

Keeping your belongings, I've learned, is largely about preventing crimes of opportunity because, as T so nicely put it, "the plan is small". People don't have bolt cutters or hacksaws. If you make it difficult to steal something, they might try and fail, but they generally won't go out of their way to do it.

All that said, people do have machetes. I don't know what exactly happened or how much planning was involved, but this week we discovered that some of our equipment was stolen. They cut through one of the cable locks and in another case broke the equipment to steal it because they failed to break the cable. I have a glimmer of hope that we might be able to recover some or all of it, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just keep swimming...

In spite of living alone this time, I still haven't had much urge to blog. I think I'm getting a lot of my thoughts out on facebook instead. I have less than 3 weeks left in Ukenzagapia! This is it! The end of my field work! I see the light at the end of the tunnel!

It's been a good trip so far. I've had some exciting discoveries (natural history observation type discoveries) that will probably turn into a few minor publications. The electricity has been, dare I say it?- excellent. The weather? Pretty crazy, but I was gone for most of the craziness. I met up with another UBC student and we traveled a bit- kind of a biologist's pilgrimage :-) It was fantastic!

Sam is always thinking of new things for me to do, including setting up a pilot project for a grant of his. I've become the de facto manager for this project because I'm here. Thankfully, I just found a way to simplify the gargantuan task he saddled me with. So, things are rolling along. I'm not panicking yet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not here

I've spent more than 13 months abroad doing field work for my Ph.D. My husband was able to come for a month just after we got married, but mostly he's been back at home while I'm out here busting my butt, trying to make my trips long enough to be worthwhile but also trying to minimize my time away from home. 

This is the last trip I have planned for data collection for my Ph.D. There are many projects that I could easily continue working on here, but I have put a firm deadline on the completion of my Ph.D. fieldwork. Will I continue working here as Dr. Anirak? I don't want to rule it out completely, but I also like the idea of having a field site much closer to wherever I'm living. I imagine I'll continue to be involved in research here from a distance, maybe with occasional short trips (less than a month).

One big reason for a fixed endpoint for my field work is so that we can have kids. I can think of no compelling reason that I should not have a kid before I finish my Ph.D. once this field work is out of the way. My American friend here tried to convince me that I'd have no problem doing field work while being pregnant or with a baby in tow, but my husband convinced me that was a terrible idea, and I think he was right. In grad school, but not here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Does this make me a real collaborator now?

I'm helping Sam with HIS application for a fellowship. It's really exciting stuff that I'll be involved in so I've got a stake in it too. It just struck me as I sent him a ton of comments that the tables are turned!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Geotagging photos and saving tracks on a Garmin GPS

Surely someone else will find this information useful. I use a Garmin GPSmap 60Cx. For the past 3 trips to the field I have been religiously saving my GPS track at the end of the day so I have a record of where I went. I save it with the date, then I clear the track so I can start fresh the next day. At least every few days, I download all of my waypoints and tracks to Garmin's BaseCamp program to make sure I have a backup of all of the points and tracks.

I've known that geotagging my photos using a tracklog from my GPS was possible, but I didn't try it until this trip. There are some simple programs (such as PhotoGPSEditor) that match up the time on your track with the timestamp on your photo, and voila! Your photo is geotagged.

However, this means YOUR TRACKS HAVE TO HAVE TIMESTAMPS. When you "save" your track on the GPS, IT STRIPS THE TIMESTAMPS*. This means that if you want to use your Garmin (GPSmap 60Cx or similar) to geotag your photos, you need to download the ACTIVE track every day.

I could have geotagged thousands of photos this way if only I'd known. Learn from my mistake. Download your active log before clearing it! Don't just rely on that "save" function!

*Apparently this is a space-saving measure- a stupid one in my opinion. You should at least have the option to preserve timestamps or not.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Parallel lives?

At one of the permit offices here I met another American woman getting her research paperwork squared away. As we chatted and talked about our research and backgrounds we found some crazy similarities. We are both 5th year phd students who first came here in 2008. We both have husbands (named Jon!) who we met in college and married in spring 2009. She studied abroad in the same place I did in the same academic year and we graduated in the same year. But these last few really take the cake- she and her now-husband also spent a year in Remote Foreign Country where she applied to grad school and then they lived in Big City for 2 years! Crazy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Meticulous lists

Each time I've left Ukenzagapia, I have left many things behind. My habit has been to fly with 2 bags at the weight limit, and fly home with one about half-full. You can imagine I've accumulated a lot of stuff here! I've left clothes, books, supplies, equipment, toiletries, medicine, all sorts of things. In order to keep myself from brining, let's say, another unnecessary cipro prescription or bottle of Ivy Block, I make meticulous lists of what I leave and where I leave it.

Actual excerpts from my April list:

Large trunk:
-One roll of masking tape
-Rite in the rain universal spiral bound notebooks (3)
-Set of multi-sided dice
-Assorted small canisters
-1 foldable yellow ruler
-1 plastic pipette

-Electric water kettle
-Electric two-burner hotplate
-Four dinner plates
-Small plates (2)

Cardboard box:
-Box of ~62 sandwich ziplocks
-Hand lens
-Obama shirt
-Black sports bra
-Grey pants (too big)
-Empty hand santizier bottle
-Deck of cards

You get the idea. This has helped me numerous times. I've even recorded a list as a voice memo because I was in such a rush I had no time to write it down, and then I transcribed it later. April's list of things left in Nyota had 200 line items, and then another 40+ left with my American friend.

Thanks to these lists, I've realized that some of my things did indeed go missing- I didn't just imagine I had them. In the time that I was back in the U.S., Sam came and left with his family, and Cam left a month ago. Now I'm missing 8 rechargeable AA batteries and two books. I'm pretty sure Sam is the one who lost track of these things one way or another. Also, Cam used up all of my duct tape and didn't tell me, so I didn't get more. He also said he left his bottle of Ivy Block, but it's nowhere to be found.

I don't mind that they used my stuff- I even gave them permission. I'm just annoyed that, for whatever reason, things didn't end up back where they should have.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How I spent my summer

Maybe I'm a little late on this. I wrote it over a week ago but I've been slow to post it! The week of Labor Day kind of counts as the end of summer, right?

In the spring I returned to Big City just in time to (belatedly) celebrate our 2nd anniversary. As a belated birthday gift to me, we took a 4-day road trip in May that let us explore some new areas. I spent a few days visiting friend and collaborator Theo analyzing data for my conference presentation. In July we did a lot of traveling. We spent a week at the beach with my family, went to a wedding for our friends whose cats we had for a year, then spent a week with Jon's family on a tranquil lake. Our dog learned how to swim and we learned she's still clumsy (and adorable).

Shortly after returning home from Ukenzagapia in the spring, I decided that I was going to do a triathlon this summer. I found an all-women one nearby and started training. I had signed up for an indoor triathlon more than 2 years ago, but that ended up being the weekend of my grandmother and sister's funerals, so that didn't happen. I don't particularly love running, I'm not a very good swimmer, and I'm not a very fast cyclist, but I liked that the training was varied so I didn't get bored. I also did some yoga. I didn't stick to my training program exactly, and I felt like I should have done more, but the triathlon was actually easier than I thought it would be. It was just a sprint distance tri, which means the distances are all reasonable. I was thrilled with my performance (easily top 50%) and I definitely want to do more triathlons. I felt great going into the run, and really surprised myself at how fast I ran.

When we weren't traveling, I spent my days at the office working on data analysis for the conference and writing. Then most the last week after the conference was spent getting ready for this last trip to Ukenzagapia! So that's how I spent my summer. Goodbye, summer. See you next year!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My new data backup plan

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I realized that backups using Apple's Time Machine really isn't the best way for me to backup my laptop. I've got a new plan. I have 3 external hard drives, and here's how I use each.

1 tb drive: This one lives in my office at UBC. I partitioned it so there are 3 separate "drives". One partition is for incremental Time Machine backups. Another partition is for a bootable clone of my hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. This means that if my hard drive fails, I could use someone else's laptop to boot from my clone (you can't do this with a Time Machine backup). I think I have it set so that it doesn't archive changes (like Time Machine does) so the clone should be exactly the same size as my hard drive when it's cloned. The third partition is for files that I don't need on my computer anymore but don't want to delete permanently (some photos and music).

500 gb drive: This drive lives at the museum. It has two partitions: one for incremental Time Machine backups, and one for those files.

320 gb drive: This one is with me in Ukenzagapia and is the same size as my MacBook hard drive. Previously, I used Time Machine to back up to it, but I'd really be SOL in Ukenzagapia if I had to buy a new MacBook to get at the files! Now I'm using Carbon Copy Cloner to make a bootable clone of my drive without archiving.

Additionally, I have an 8 gb flash drive that I will put all of my most important documents on as a final backup. I should back up to the flash drive and my Ukenzagapia drive every Sunday at the very least.

A friend of mine recently had an external hard drive with years of photos fail on her, so I want to be sure that any files I have only on an external drive are on more than one external drive.

What do you think? Suggestions for improvement?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grand delusions?

I'm back at my field site now (Nyota) and I'm super excited about this last field season. I spent today unpacking, arranging, and cleaning things. Cam (my housemate for the last two trips) left 3 weeks ago and I went through the things he left behind for goodies like clipboards, string, and flagging tape.

I'm planning NOT to spend 7 days a week in the field this time. I'm wrapping things up, filling in gaps, and helping supervise other projects. So, I imagine all of this free time that I'm going to have, living in this house by myself. I know I'm not going to be able to do all of these things, but I'm very excited about the idea of running regularly, drawing, shooting things with a slingshot, doing yoga (did you know you can download free yoga podcasts?), making a solar oven and learning to bake with it, and taking awesome photographs, in addition to entering tons of data, sorting lots of research-related stuff, finishing my data collection, and generally keeping up on life. I've also got an exciting trip in the works.

Here's hoping for a great field season! First day in the field tomorrow!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Departure eve

I'm leaving tomorrow for my last data collection trip to Ukenzagapia. Woo hoo! I've got my bags packed (to the max, as usual) and my (new-to-me) iphone unlocked. I've redistributed all but the largest plants to friends so that my black-thumbed husband doesn't kill them while I'm gone. I've got a brand new laptop I'm couriering for Dr. K, a new laptop battery for a friend, and about 12 pounds of printed materials that I'm going to unload. On my way through Europe I'm going to buy a ridiculous amount of cheese for my American friend. Oh, and her son really wanted squeeze jam so I'm bringing a bunch of that too. Two friends requested ipods, which I am not bringing. I found a carryon sized wheelie bag at the thrift store which I'm using to carry a microscope and most of my electronics. I hope I don't forget anything too important!

Eating feces is definitely worse than eating insects

These are the things that field biologists talk about over lunch.

Several of us had lunch today and the conversation turned to what we eat in the field, which eventually turned into a conversation about what kinds of insects people have eaten. Everyone in the room had eaten some kind of grasshopper, ant, termite, cricket, or grub.

Then someone started talking about the sad time when they found a raisin-looking thing in their granola that they realized was actually mouse poop. Now that's gross.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Maybe posters aren't so bad

I presented a poster at the meeting last week, but unfortunately many people who I'd hoped would stop by were unable to for a variety of reasons. The advantage of a poster is that it's a complete presentation that can stand on its own without me presenting it. Like I said, I collected several business cards so I emailed my poster to all of these folks who didn't get to see it at the meeting.

I've already gotten feedback from ALL of the people I sent it to! One person collaborates with the person whose study I modeled mine after (let's call him Dr. Bigname), and forwarded my email to Dr. Bigname (who wasn't at the meeting). Dr. Bigname emailed me and said he thinks my study may be the best of its type in Africa! How's that for awesome?! He's forwarding it to Dr. Evenbigger.

As an aside, my poster printed with a minor graphical error that wasn't my fault. I pointed it out to the company who printed it and they offered to reprint it, but when I said that wasn't necessary, they sent me a coupon for 50% off my next poster!

Maybe posters aren't so bad after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I wrote a couple of years ago about my backup plan, but it's time to revisit it in light of new information.

While I was at the conference, I brought my MacBook to the local Apple Store to get a minor problem fixed*. My AppleCare extended warranty will expire while I'm in Ukenzagapia, so I wanted to be sure to get it taken care of before I left. They had to replace my whole display, which I figured would be the case. What I didn't expect was that they said it's a 4-5 hour task so I needed to leave my computer for up to 3 days! Still, I was ok with this because I had brought my external hard drive anticipating this separation from my computer. I use Time Machine to back up to 2 different external hard drives. I thought I'd be able to boot from my TM backup onto my friend's MacBook, but no. Time Machine backups are serial locked to the original computer. The only way to get your data off a Time Machine backup (according to the guy at the store) is a full restore onto a different machine (erasing whatever might have been on there).

So, I need a new backup plan. I will keep doing Time Machine backups, but I think I need to do something else too that would allow me to access important files via another computer. What do you do? Should I partition my back up drive and keep part of it for TM backups, and part of it for "manual" backup copies of the stuff I'd need to access from another computer in case mine fails?

Online backup options are out of the question right now because I can't do them in Ukenzagpia. I have some (mostly shared) files in Dropbox but I only have 2 gb. In Ukenzagapia I plan to back up to a third external hard drive.

*The Apple logo on my display became unglued. While this is mostly cosmetic, it does let dust in behind the screen, and I think it increases the risk of my screen getting damaged from behind. I really didn't want to end up with a shattered screen in Ukenzagapia!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Motivation from the meeting

I love the big ecology meeting and this year was no exception! I saw some great presentations, got new ideas, met interesting people, and caught up with friends. I talked with several people who have similar research interests and I'm likely to collaborate with one of them. I gave out and collected lots of cards. I learned that I don't want to do another poster for a while.

More than anything, though, it has inspired me to think about a conference presentation timeline for parts of my dissertation. I want to give a presentation at next year's meeting on the final results of the project I did a poster on this year, and maybe present a different piece of that research at a smaller conference earlier in the summer. It will help me to have these deadlines on my calendar.

Timing is everything

When am I ever going to learn? Once again, I'm leaving for Ukenzagapia right as the term begins. Because some of my grant money has to pass through my student account, all of the money gets held up in the time between when they bill for my tuition and fees, and when they waive it or pay for it. If only I could just remember to start this in the middle of the summer to prevent the hangup! Alas, no. A couple thousand dollars will be tied up. So, the emergency fund goes into action once again. At least we have that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What I'm bringing to the conference

Next week is the big ecology conference (are any of my readers going to be there?). I'm really excited about. I just wanted to take a moment to share a few items on my conference packing list and see if any readers have anything to add.

-Business cards. I have plenty of these already printed and I'm going to carry them around in my name tag holder.
-Highlighter. For highlighting the talks I want to go to in the printed program. This is the #1 most important time I need a highlighter in my life.
-Water bottle. It'd just be embarrassing to carry around a disposable bottle at an ecology conference.
-Distinctive ribbon. This is new on my list. I'm going to tie it to the tote bag they give me so I can tell it apart from the other 2,000 identical tote bags.
-Lightweight sweater/cardigan. It's going to be wicked hot outside but if they crank up the AC or have some temperature regulation problems, I don't want to be shivering.

I've been way out of touch with the blogosphere- does anyone have a blogger meetup planned? I look forward to seeing some of you very soon!

Friday, July 22, 2011

forgot ALL about her!

I just send Sam a brief update on the progress of one of his undergrads that I'm supervising. His reply:

"great on [name omitted]

forgot ALL about her!"

Oh boy, that gave me a good laugh. Students, this is a great example of why you might need to email your professors more than once to get a response from them. If your message makes it out of sight, it's probably out of mind too.

More thoughts from me soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Need some samples collected from the middle of nowhere?

There's an organization called Adventurers & Scientists for Conservation that is connecting scientists who need data collected in hard-to-access places with the talented, hard-core people who can get there. I think this is a fantastic idea. I hope it takes off!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I'm working on the accounting for my last trip. I swore I was going to keep on top of entering my expenses, which I did for about 6 weeks and then everything like that (and reading email) went to hell once we really started working 7 days a week. I recorded the vast majority of it in my daily planner, but now once again I'm having to sort out which expenses came from which pot of money, exactly.

There was a withdrawal and currency exchange transaction for which I didn't have receipts this time, and I was sitting here thinking, "Did I change $200 at that place? Or was it $300?" I was about to email Cam to ask if he remembers (yeah right), when I flipped back through my notebook where I write all sorts of misc things, and sure enough I wrote it down. $300 it is! That means I can account for all $4570 that I brought in USD! I haven't figured out yet how much of the Ukenzagapian currency I can account for, but I'm pleased as punch about the USD. I still have to figure out how much I have left in my big grant, how much of our money I spent, and how much money I spent from what Sam gave me. I have receipts all over the place.

When I'm in the field, about 1/3 of the things I write in my book are money-related, and because I'm kind of paranoid about Ukenzagapians overseeing the sums of money I manage, I tend to write in a way that makes it unclear which currency I'm working with (or even that I'm writing about money at all). This is not very good if I have to look back at my notes to figure stuff out. I need to be more clear about this!

While I'm thinking about money, that reminds me that I still have to actually do our taxes from 2010, and I'm still not 100% clear if I have to pay taxes on research awards even if I can clearly account for the research expenses, but I think the answer is yes (because they aren't "qualified educational expenses"). I'd be much happier paying these taxes if we had universal single-payer healthcare and if 60% of it didn't go towards war.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Categorization & frustration

In general, I like organizing and sorting things, but I am easily overwhelmed when something doesn't fit into a category. This is manifests itself in all sorts of ways in my life. Tidying the apartment. Packing. Entering and analyzing data. I hate it.

I tend to deal with this tidying and packing problem by making piles of miscellaneous things, but then I fuss over them for a while, trying to categorize them, before hiding them out of sight. But I can't just do that with data... It is so frustrating sometimes that the world wasn't made categorically! There's always a judgement call to be made in categorizing those boundary points. If I have to do it a handful of times, ok. But if I need to make a whole bunch of decisions that could really go one way or the other... ack!

Obviously, today I'm dealing with some data that aren't clearly one thing or the other. I've been reading about ways in which other people have dealt with this, but the best way to approach it still isn't clear to me.

I talked to John about my dilemma. He also loves categorizing things and has a meticulously organized, data-filled music collection on his computer. When he has music with incompleteable data, he just deletes it. Unfortunately, I can't just delete the difficult ones!

I'm tempted to work on the easy ones for now and come back to the hard ones when I'm less frustrated.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Meeting at the airport

Today I met Sam at the airport- on his way to Ukenzagapia. I had to give him some things for Cam, and my last chance was to bring them to the airport. He is flying the same airline/route that I prefer so I knew exactly when and where to meet him. I arrived before him, met his cab with a baggage cart, handed him a hard drive and a bottle of pills, and then we talked while standing in the line to check his bags. It turns out he had to give me some forms to submit so it was also good for him that I met him there. It was a kind of a weird place (and occasion) to meet, but I suppose stranger meetings have happened.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Aiming up

A year and a half ago I started a manuscript with Sam and Dr. K that was just supposed to be a short natural history note. It has been rejected twice (once without review, once with). The second place from which it was rejected is truly where I think it belongs because I think it is the most appropriate audience. Unfortunately, they won't reconsider it so we're looking elsewhere. We're aiming up.

What do I mean by "aiming up"? Academic journals are ranked by how frequently they get cited in other literature. The more-cited journals (the cream of the crop being Science and Nature) are more prestigious, reach a broader audience, and are much more difficult to get a manuscript accepted. Their impact factors are around 30. For comparison, the first place we submitted had an impact factor 1-1.5. Then we submitted it to a journal with impact factor 0.5-1. This isn't world-changing science, but it's something that other folks who are interested in these things would want to know.

Sam really thinks this manuscript has a shot at a >4 impact factor journal, so that's where we're submitting next. The paper has changed and grown a lot, but I'm still anxious about sending it there, because I'm pretty sure it's going to get rejected without review. If that happens, I think the next place to send it is down... way down (someplace that doesn't even have an impact factor). I guess it could go to another ~1 journal, but I'm skeptical there too.

I just turned over another draft to Sam to work his magic on it because he's the one with the vision and confidence to aim high... fingers crossed. I want this thing accepted somewhere this summer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Just me & the plants

Our lab is pretty empty for the summer. Only one other student is around, and she isn't in the office much and keeps odd hours. Herb is mostly in Big City, but he's not in the office very often either. So pretty much it's just me and the houseplants. I've got all of the plants from all of the other offices in my lab now so they don't die.

In general, most of the department's grad students are gone for the summer but thankfully I have two friends down the hall who will mostly be around. It's kind of lonely without lab mates, but I don't mind too much. It means I can play my music loudly and sing along with Adele and Meaghan Smith :-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Graduation gift ideas

My cousin is graduating from high school and is headed to a fantastic SLAC next year. I am SO excited for her, because her other choice was a big state school. I don't know this cousin very well, but I think we have some common interests (biology at least) and I think college will be a positive and transformative experience for her. She's from a small rural town and her parents are pretty darn conservative (socially and politically). They don't have much money at all, but she's got a full ride to this SLAC.
I'd really like to get her something special for graduation. I remember giving some of my younger friends a small set a drawers full of all kinds of little useful things (paper clips, sticky tack, tape, etc). I could do that for my cousin, but since I do still have some folks reading my blog I thought I'd ask if any of you have awesome ideas for an SLAC-bound high school grad. Did you get any really awesome graduation gifts? What great graduation gifts have you given?
I really hope she loves her SLAC as much as I love SFC. Seriously, my SFC professors sign their emails "Love" (at least to me!). I just got an email today from one of my profs who is leaving shortly for Ukenzagapia :-)

Monday, May 23, 2011

What do you use for making posters?

What software do you use to design posters? What do you like/dislike about that program? How does it compare to other programs you've used?
I've got a couple of poster presentations to make from scratch this summer and I'm wondering if I should use something other than Powerpoint.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Project priorities

I counted NINE different projects that I'm working on. I've got to make significant progress on several of them this summer!
-Interdisciplinary project. This will end with a poster presentation this summer and won't be part of my dissertation.
-Review paper (hopefully the intro to my dissertation)
-Other manuscript (probably not part of my dissertation)
-Project A (a chapter)
-Project B (another chapter)
-Project C (half a chapter)
-Project D (other half a chapter)
-Database (maybe part of my dissertation)
-Bonus project (not part of my dissertation)
Highest priority (things in the analysis/writing/submitting stages):
Project A
Other manuscript
Review paper
Interdisciplinary project
Project D
The other things (especially the bonus project) can wait. I'll be working on the database this summer too but it's not in the analysis stage yet so I'm just helping the development along. I'm not sure if I should try to tackle these things one at a time, like spend a week working almost totally on the "other manuscript" with a clear goal at the end before I move on to tackle the next big thing? Maybe I'll try that and see how it goes. It would be good to get the closest-to-done manuscripts out the door.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Thanks for the comments on my post about establishing routines. In case you're wondering, here are some of the routines I've made up for myself:

Every weekday: Go to the gym or do an exercise video at home. I've found I really do best if I have to do it every day.
Mondays: Bake bread (in the bread machine) before work so it's ready when I get home. Also cook dinner (with extra for lunches).
Thursdays: Go rock climbing. Make pizza for dinner.
Saturdays: Do laundry.
Sundays: Take care of my houseplants and outside plants. Cook dinner (with extra for lunches). Read in the evening with Jon.

The important part of these routines for me is that I'm NOT going to do these things on other days. So, if I don't wash something on Saturday, it has to wait until the next week. This is an especially important limitation for plants, as I can spend hours piddling around repotting things and fussing over my plants. Today I planted lots of seeds outside and repotted two of my houseplants. Anything other than watering has to wait until next weekend.

There are still very few regularly scheduled things in my professional life. My basic work routine is get to school by 9 am and work at least 40 hours per week.  On Thursdays I call my field assistants in Nyota (though I often don't get through to them). I'm also going to study statistics every Thursday with a classmate. I'll study Ukenzagapese another day during the week (yet-to-be-determined based on my classmate's schedule). I might attend the lab meetings of another lab (depending on when they schedule them).  

Meetings with my advisor? What? Is that something you're supposed to do on a regular basis? Yeah, that doesn't happen. I just met with Herb the other day to give him a rundown of how this past field season went, and tomorrow I'm meeting with Sam to talk about the zillion projects we're working on together. Herb doesn't plan to be around much for more of the summer, and Sam will be going back to Ukenzagapia for a stretch. I think I'll be seeing more of Sam, though. Maybe I will end up having regular meetings with him (or his students) while he's around.

This week I need to come up with a plan for advancing several different projects this summer. I'll probably write more on this after I've given it some serious thought!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New GRFP guide and FAQ

I just completed my required annual GRF reporting and noticed several changes in the new program guide (link to pdf) compared to last year's (link to pdf). Since I think at least 1 other fellow reads my blog, I thought I'd mention these.

-They discontinued the Fellows Abroad program which allowed folks to study at a foreign institution.
-You can't have another kind of federal fellowship (e.g. EPA STAR) and a GRF, even if you wouldn't be paid by them both at the same time.
-Maternity leave explicitly qualifies as medical deferment, but the time allowable is dependent on your university's policies.
-Teaching is now explicitly NOT allowed while they are paying you a stipend (if you need to teach, you must defer a year or forfeit).
-Language is much stricter regarding deadlines for annual reporting. If you're late, your fellowship WILL be terminated. If you haven't done it yet, the deadline is May 1!

The new FAQ is here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Getting back in the groove

I'm certainly doing a good job getting my body back in the right time zone! I got home on Tuesday afternoon, went out for a belated anniversary dinner with Jon, and stayed up until 10 pm. On Wednesday I woke up at 5:45 (not bad), did stuff around the house all day, then went to trivia night and was up until nearly midnight. I slept until about 7:30 on Thursday, went to campus, and then went to a bachelorette party and ended up crashing at my friend's house and going home this morning. Tonight our friend is having a going-away-for-the-summer party, and on Saturday we're going to a wedding. It's a celebratory week.

I'm really trying hard to establish new home routines for myself now. Part of the reason I was able to do such an insane amount of work in Nyota was that I had a routine that didn't vary much, my life was pretty simple, and someone was cooking for me. It's much more complicated here and there are many more distractions (husband! puppy! houseplants! youtube! cooking! housework! - I had none of these in Nyota). I'm trying to simplify my life by scheduling things so that I just know when I do them and don't waste time and energy deciding whether or not I should do them (I do this a lot). So far I'm mostly doing this with things at home, but I think I'll do it with some school things too. I'm not the kind of person for whom routines come easily (I think I've blogged about this before), so I have to make a conscious effort to create and stick to them.

I'm curious, my readers, if you have created routines for similar reasons. If so, what have they been?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mortality and traveling

Traveling nearly always makes me think about my mortality. I think this is fairly common. However, as I've come and gone from Ukenzagapia, I've become more and more accustomed to the routine and I have less and less fear creeping into my thoughts. When I left Ukenzagapia a year ago, I was mentally checking off all of the dangerous things I do. Last motorbike ride. Last bus ride. Last taxi ride. Last takeoff. As my plane neared the ground at Big City airport and tree leaves came into view, I breathed a sigh of relief thinking, "Ok, if anything happens to the plane now, I'm pretty sure I could survive". Last landing. I thought about writing this post a year ago, but I still felt too superstitious about writing my relief at avoiding death. But we're all mortal, and worrying about it certainly isn't going to make the time we have any more enjoyable, so it's time to get this confession out there.

End of season

My gosh. I think the past 3 months might have been the busiest 3 months of my life as I crammed in a crazy amount of field work. I feel like nearly every post I've written from the field this time has said this, but I've gotta say it again. I've gotten SO much better at everything related to doing research in Ukenzagapia. Everything! This was my best field season yet. I've set up a management system for Sam's project that I'm involved in, and I think things will keep running without me. My field assistants got a lot more computer practice, and will be emailing photos every month of the data sheets (for 4 different projects- 2 of which are wholly mine and 2 that aren't) before they can get paid.

My last two days in Nyota were run on very little sleep, some caffeine, and a lot of adrenaline. I had to prep tons of data sheets for while I'm gone and pack & inventory all of my supplies and equipment. My housemate Cam will be in Nyota until August, leaving shortly before I return in August. This works out perfectly for me and so I left nearly everything at the house in Nyota this time, and some clothes at my American friend's house in the city. As a result, I'm going home with 1 bag nearly empty and the only reason it isn't empty is because I'm bringing home stuff for Cam.

Unfortunately, my last night in the country was marred by robbery. I was walking back from the grocery store with Cam in the wealthy mostly expat neighborhood where my friend lives when a car suddenly pulled up very close and slowed down just enough to grab my bag through the window. Stupidly, I didn't let go because I didn't want the bastards to take my bag on principle, and so I got pulled to the ground when they sped away and dragged a short distance before the bag strap broke. I had my phone in my pocket and Cam carried the money in his, so the only thing they got was less than $30 worth of groceries. I hope they were sorely disappointed by their takings. The neighborhood is generally safe, but there are a few things I should have done differently. First of all, I should not have used a reusable grocery bag to carry my groceries. It was a cloth bag that obviously looked like a purse. Secondly, Cam probably should have carried the bag instead of me. He is much larger, though it might not have made a difference. Thirdly, I should not have been carrying the bag on my streetside shoulder. It made it so easy for them to grab. It happened so fast that I didn't even have time to shout and the only thing I thought was, "Don't take my bag you #@$%ers!" Neither Cam nor I got so much as a glimpse of the license plate. I got some nice road rash on my arm and my hip, which put a hole in my pants and my underwear. I was shaken up my it and I'm kind of sore, but all things considered it wasn't a huge deal. They didn't take much of value and I didn't get that hurt.

This departure from Ukenzagapia was more emotional than the others. I'm also probably more exhausted than I've ever been. I'm really becoming attached to Nyota, and now that the end is in sight with just one more trip, I'm thinking about what it means to wrap this up. I'm overflowing with gratitude for the people who have helped me tremendously, like my American friend and my taxi driver Violet. Furthermore, this is the longest that Jon and I have gone without seeing each other since 2004 and I'm so excited to see him again. Yesterday was our second anniversary and in those two years, we have spent 10 months apart. That's far too long. Thankfully, I have an incredibly patient and supportive husband.

I'm halfway home on my layover in Europe. I thought I'd be able to go to the first aid station and get some antibiotic ointment and new medical tape to bandage my wounds, but it turns out they won't help you until your fork over at least $40 for a consultation, so I just washed up in a handicapped restroom and will make do until I get home. Home. Home. HOME! I'm going home.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A blob of thoughts

-I'd really, really, really love to eat ice cream right now. I'm getting teary thinking about it.
-I just spent a long time counting a bunch of little things in the dark with a headlamp because (big surprise here) the power is out. My back is sore and I'm pooped.
-I still have to pay our state taxes (like, right now). I'm just roughly estimating, and then grossly overpaying, the amount we owe for taxes and will sort it out for real when I get home.
-I'm going home SOON! Only 1 week left in Nyota!
-Vacation was awesome. I hardly did any work for 4 days.
-How am I ever going to be a real grown up scientist?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


By my calculations, I worked 90 hours last week and nearly 80 hours the week before. I don't think I have ever needed or looked forward to a vacation as much in my entire life as I have for this one.

For the next few days, I'm on vacation. I've got my computer with me and I'm hoping to catch up on email, but mostly I'm hoping to relax and have a wonderful time. So far, so good. The place where I am for vacation is fantastic! I'm thrilled. My life is awesome.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Today we prepped for the next part of my big experiment. Last time it took us 2 days, but I estimated approximately how many person hours it took (54) and so this time I recruited 2 extra people to help and we got it all done in one day! I am really proud of my ability to correctly estimate how long it would take. I was worried when we were only 25% done at lunch time, but we really got in a groove and finished at 4 pm! Meanwhile, we watched several nature documentaries and Finding Nemo on my computer.

I also arranged with T and B to pay their wives to make some plastic thingamabobs for me, which worked out well and provided them with some extra income (plus, I'd given them both nice scissors as a gift so I knew they had the tools to do it!).

But my most exciting news is that I'm planning to take off FOUR consecutive days in April for a break from fieldwork! Cam and I are going to travel somewhere else for a few days. I'm SO excited about a vacation! I'm planning to do some computer work then, but it will be a great mental break after being in the field for all but 9 days in the past 9 weeks.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What have I been doing?

Certainly not much blogging! The muse just isn't there lately. Instead of composing blog posts in my head while I ride around on the back of a motorcycle every day, I compose the acknowledgement section of my dissertation (which I've only started writing in my head). I'm grateful for the help of many, many people. But I digress.

In the past 3 weeks I've:
-started a big experiment
-dealt with several extended power outages
-had no running water for 2 weeks due to drought
-had 2 different house guests back-to-back, followed by the arrival of Sam and Dr. K!
-gotten chased away from a site by bees
-spent all but two days in the field (15 days straight)
-gotten great encouragement and advice from Sam
-went swimming in a newly discovered (and safe!) place

My schedule is pretty well packed for the next 5 weeks, but I'm trying to find a few days to get away from Nyota and travel someplace new. I hope I can. I could use a little vacation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gendered perspectives on the same book

One of my favorite books is A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. It's especially great Africa/field biologist reading since it's about Sapolsky's field work in Kenya and other adventures in the late 70s and early 80s. I've recommended it to many people, and people rarely seem disappointed. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at Cam's reaction when I asked him what he thought of A Primate's Memoir. He said, "It was ok... I liked it, but I spent most of the time comparing myself to him and feeling like I'm not having nearly enough adventures." This was a reaction I'd never heard before, and certainly not a reaction I had myself for one simple reason: Even though it's been 30 years since Sapolsky was hitchhiking around East Africa, I still don't think a woman by herself could do many of the things he did. I read his adventures and think, "My gosh! Even today I couldn't hitchhike by myself to Sudan with some Somali truck drivers!"

Cam, like Sapolsky 30 years ago, is a single man in his 20s doing field work for his advanced degree in Africa. I guess the comparison is easy. 

I suppose I can relate, as when I read Jane Goodall's books I can't help but compare myself to her, delight in the similarities, and then marvel in amazement at everything she did before age 30, not to mention everything she has done since. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whew... praise!

I am up waaaaaaaay past my Ukenzagapian bedtime and tomorrow I'm launching a big project but I've been prepping like crazy for the past 3 days and then got an email from Sam that had to be answered urgently and still need to reply to someone else before i go to sleep. But anyways, I had to reply to Sam about this project of his that I'm helping with. I'm basically supervising it on the ground but didn't come up with it. It overlaps with what I'm doing so it's not too difficult but it isn't my first priority and it has caused a few headaches.
Basically, I've been really worried that we haven't done enough for his project, so much so that I was nearly in tears about it in November. I sent him the email update tonight with trepidation and was seriously thinking about not checking my email in the morning in case his reply is bad and then puts me in a funk all day.
He replied right away and said, "This is quite impressive- well done!"
I literally breathed a sigh of relief. It is so great to hear praise sometimes!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meters and feet

This week I'm starting my big new experiment in the field. We've been prepping for it the last few days. Unfortunately, I realized about 5 days ago that I didn't have enough of one of the supplies that is essential to this experiment. I thought I might be short, but I thought I had enough to start and then I could ask Sam to bring more when he comes in a few weeks, but it turns out I was way too short- I had about 1/3 of what I needed. When I calculated how much I needed before I left, I calculated it in meters, but then I bought it in feet. What a stupid mistake!

So, this put me on a mad hunt for more of this stuff, and fast. This meant going to the nearest city. I got the name and number of a hardware store from someone in Nyota, and it sounded like the guy had something suitable. I asked around to try and get a lift to town, but I had to go the very next day since there was no flexibility in my schedule and this was now urgent. I didn't find a lift, which meant getting up well before dawn to catch the !#@$*^%$ Nyota bus. I hate the Nyota bus.

It took me 3 hours just to get to the nearest sealed road on the Nyota bus (that's about double what it should take). Once there, I had to get another bus to the city. Before that though, Jon and I talked on the phone for a while and he was having a terrible day and I was trying to be supportive but I hadn't eaten breakfast yet and he was crying and I was crying in this narrow corridor between two buildings at the bus stand. I was feeling so overwhelmed. But I sucked it up, put on my best don't-mess-with-me face and then caught the next bus to the city.

I haven't really been to this city before, in spite of its proximity to Nyota as the nearest place for things like fast internet and western food. Cam drew me a map, and I navigated my way to the shop that said they had the supplies I needed. The shop owner was extremely kind and helpful, but it turned out they didn't have exactly what I needed or have enough of an alternative. By the time I left that shop, it was after 11 am and in order to catch the Nyota bus I had to leave the city by 12 or 12:30. There was no way I'd make it.

I spent the next 2 or 3 hours going from shop to shop asking where I could get the supplies I needed. I rode on the back of bicycles all over town, going in circles and criss-crossing my path. At each shop they helped direct the next bicycle driver to the next one. I was determined not to leave until I had found something I could use. Finally, I ended up at a little shop that Cam goes to frequently for his supplies, and they had something suitable. 

At that point I had missed my chance for catching the Nyota bus, so I decided to make the most of my time in the city. I got my lost phone number replaced,  drank some cold, fresh juice, withdrew money, and shopped at the used clothing market. Only then did I start heading back towards Nyota.

There's just one bus to and from Nyota every day. It leaves Nyota before dawn and drives to the nearest town, then leaves mid-afternoon to come back. If you miss that bus, then your options are 1) hire a taxi or 4wd- very expensive. 2) catch a lift with a car or lorry headed to Nyota, 3) hire a motorcycle to take you, or 4) wait until the next day. I was really hoping to catch a lift, but it was too late in the day for many vehicles to be headed that way. I called people I knew in Nyota to ask if they knew anyone coming back on a motorcycle who I could ride with but no luck there. In the end, I hired a motorcycle to drive me for about 5 times as much as the bus ($10). The 70-minute trip on the crappy, narrow, curvy road (without my helmet) is probably the most dangerous thing I've done in Ukenzagapia.

I arrived back in Nyota 12 hours after I left. It took an entire day. All because of stupid meters and feet... and the Nyota bus.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Small victories in accounting craziness

Holy miracle of miracles, it turns out that the ticket for my previous trip actually came through on my credit card as a US-flag air carrier charge after all, which means all of my worries about violating the Fly America Act were for naught. Hooray!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Going back in time... with cell phones

In some ways, working here feels like going back in time. I imagine in many ways this must have been what it was like in many parts of the U.S. about 100 years ago, especially places like rural Appalachia.

For example:
There are a few local stores, one or two in every village, that sell a little bit of everything. One man stands at the window and measures or counts whatever you ask for. It's basically a "general store". 

Roads are poor. It's a constant battle to keep the roads in good condition.

Hitchhiking is common. If you have to walk miles and miles with your milk, produce, or firewood, you'd be thrilled to catch a ride from any passing vehicle that would take you. Since there's just one bus per day, hitching a ride can be the only other option, and everyone does it.

It's a cash economy- and you'd better have small notes because nobody wants to change the big notes for a few bananas.

Market access for cash crops and produce is made difficult by the poor roads.

Families are big. 

Kids play with anything, and mostly make their own toys from cast-off items. Chickens, knives, leaves, old bottles, rope, sticks, plastic bags, broken buckets, anything. I think this is just something that kids do instinctively- the difference in the U.S. is that usually they aren't allowed to play with such "dangerous" items anymore.

The kids who are able to go to school often have to walk very far (an hour or more). 

Many people (kids included) don't know when they were born.

People suffer from many diseases and parasites and children and adults are smaller as a result.

Death in childbirth is unfortunately common, and a hospital is a long way away. 

Households than can afford it (such as mine) often have domestic help, instead of mechanized modern conveniences (e.g. a woman to help with cooking and laundry instead of a washing machine and a oven/microwave/fridge).

Yet, at the same time I have cell reception in most of the areas where I work, and I can sit here, miles from a paved road, on the internet over the cell network. It's kind of surreal, and makes stark the extreme inequality in the world.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad and then good

On my second day here, my phone fell out of my pocket on the road when I was getting on B's motorbike. We went back about 20 minutes later to look for it, but by that time it was long gone. I really liked that little Nokia :-(

I actually had an extra phone with me that I intended to give as a gift (for no one in particular). I also have another sim card that I use for internet, so now I am having to take my phone apart every time I get online until I can get to one of the telecom stores to get them to replace my sim. I will be able to get the same number back which is good, it's just a matter of getting to town to do it.

Also, my American friend sent a new Nokia (I hate the spare motorola!), brownies, and cheese with her daughter who came to Nyota on a field trip with her school!

I've been getting ticks, which has never happened before. They are teeny tiny, like the size of this period. I also pulled a fat one off that had clearly escaped notice for a day or two (or more?).

I still had some permethrin from when I brought it in 2009, so I treated my field clothes. I think that will solve the problem.

In less than a week I had poison tree rash on my hand and wrist. Even worse, I actually forgot- of all things- to bring more Ivy Block! I have some left from last time, but not 3 months worth.

American friend's sister-in-law is coming in a few weeks, and she told me to have some Ivy Block sent to her house and she'll bring it! So I'll have more in about a month. I'm also going to try something called Oral Ivy. I'm pretty skeptical but it was only $8...

The electricity hasn't been very good. We've been out of power about 1/3 of the time I've been here so far, including a 48-hour and 24-hour outage. Those are the worst.

Is there an upside to not having electricity? I guess it could be worse, and I just try to do the things that don't require electricity like laundry and equipment prep and be extra-conservative with my laptop battery use. Oh! I guess I did get to try out the solar shower that I brought, which works wonderfully. It also reminds me how fortunate we are to have electricity. I try not to take it for granted.

The internet is even slower than I remember it.

I do have internet, and it's so slow that I can easily go a whole month on less than 500 MB, which is only $2. Awesome.

My favorite field pants are wearing out (new holes with every thorn I encounter), and I don't love my second pair.

There are lots of really cheap used clothes here (thanks to all of the developed countries sending them here and undermining the development of a local clothing industry), so I think with enough searching in town I should be able to find some suitable replacements.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hey, I'm getting pretty good at this!

Every time I come back to Ukenzagapia it gets easier and easier! It's wonderful! My American friend and my taxi driver friend Violet help me in the city, and this time I only stayed a few days. T and B traveled with me back to Nyota with my things, and Cam was there to help us when we got off the bus. I arrived here on a Sunday night, and we started work Monday morning. I de-parasitized Mommy Dog (inside and out), I moved into the same room as last time, and this time I even have a desk. There's something incredibly comforting about returning to a familiar place.

Field work is off to a great start. Project setup has gone faster than I anticipated, and there have been some great synergies with other folks in the area. I still have some insecurities about being a scientist, but I'm feeling so much better about my ability to do field work compared to when I started in 2009. I haven't even come close to freaking out about my research on this trip. Of course, my project isn't going exactly as I'd planned, but it's nothing insurmountable.

I'm starting to get so comfortable here that the thought of starting over in a new field site when I finish my Ph.D. is not appealing at all, though maybe not so daunting if I do it in the U.S. The end (of field work) is almost in sight now- hopefully just one more trip later this year! Wow. I've come a long way in the past 2 years.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My relationship with books

For many academic books that I have recently acquired, my relationship goes something like this:
1. Check book out from the university library. Renew one or more times.
2. Purchase book for myself when I find a good deal.
3. Bring book to Ukenzagapia.
4. Leave it there because I don't want to carry it back and forth.
5. Check it out from the library again so I can read it when I'm not in Ukenzagapia.
6. Return library books before I leave for Ukenzagapia.
7. Read books again in Ukenzagapia.
8. Repeat steps 5-7 as necessary.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Back to the field

Well, I'm almost back to Ukenzagapia. I didn't cry this time when Jon and I said goodbye at the airport. My bags were right at the weight limit- one was even a pound over but they let it go anyways. I have another 10 pounds of stuff that will come with another traveler who is arriving next week. Jon is bringing that box to our friend who will bring it to the traveler who will give it to Violet the taxi driver who will then put it on a bus to send it to me.
I'm carrying a ridiculous amount of cash on me this time. Violet is picking me up at the airport and bringing me straight to my friend's house with my 120 pounds of luggage. I'll unload some of the cash in the city, but I'll have to change most of it into local currency, and then the stack will be too big to fit in my money belt. Gotta come up with a different plan for how to bring it all from the city to Nyota. I'm staying in the same place as last time, and Cam is still there so I won't be lonely.
Have I said on the blog that I think this may be my best trip yet? I'm super excited about the project I'm going to be working on. I think it's going to be the best part of my dissertation, thanks in part to Theo who set up data simulations to run power analyses that allowed us to hone in on a reasonable sample size. Also, my permits are all set so I hardly need to spend time in the city!
I'll be gone 3 months this time. I was only home for 9 weeks. My cell phone battery didn't even die! Hopefully the infrastructure (especially the electricity) will hold up to make the next 3 months as productive as I dream they might be. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Co-advisor, co-author, and/or committee member?

I need some of my readers to weigh in on this: In terms of the academic recognition system, how much weight is given to being an official, on-the-record co-advisor as opposed to just being on the committee and/or co-authoring publications with a student?
I thought the publications were more important than the title, but I think I might be wrong about this. Perspectives?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nobody here but us grad students

I saw at least one postdoc too.
I am glad that we have a holiday honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., even if I am working today.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Committees... sheesh

We are required to have annual committee meetings, which I think is a good idea to keep the committee up to date on progress and changes. In December I sent out an email to schedule a meeting for January, and finally got responses from the slow folks in early January. I scheduled the meeting, and then it turned out that 2 of my 5 committee members (one of which is Herb, my advisor and committee chair) couldn't make it on that date. Herb said go ahead anyways, so I met with him and Melody separately.
This morning I woke up and had an email from Leo saying, "I hope you don't mind if I miss your committee meeting this morning. I have a lot of deadlines and need the time to work on them, and I think I already gave you all of the useful feedback I can." I wrote him back asking if he could come if we went to him at the museum, and he said ok to that but then I had to talk to Sam and Chip about it. In the end, we couldn't go to the museum because Chip didn't get to school until 1 minute before my meeting was scheduled to start, and Sam had to leave promptly after an hour.
My meeting (with only 2 of my 5 committee members) went well. It was really mostly just a meeting with Chip, since Sam and I have talked numerous times about everything that I presented (and he's sick and spent part of the meeting with his feet on a chair and his eyes closed- body language clearly indicating "I don't need to pay attention to this"). Chip had some great insights and useful suggestions so it was a useful meeting (and Chip is notoriously overcommitted and hard to pin down). Even though the meeting was fine, I am frustrated with Leo. I don't think he wants to be on my committee anymore. As I've written before, my projects have gotten further and further from his area of expertise. Last year he said, "If you're going to have committee meetings without me, maybe I shouldn't be on your committee." I like Leo and he's my main tie to the museum right now but it seems like he's not getting much out of the relationship and maybe I'm not either. I don't know who to put on the committee instead. I need to talk to Herb about all of this and decide what to do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Less than 2 weeks!

With grant money on the way, I've just put more than $3500 on my research credit card. I'm leaving in less than 2 weeks! It turns out that now is a really good time for "free 2-day shipping" with a "free trial of Amazon Prime"...

Friday, January 7, 2011


I just found out that I got a sizeable (for me) grant! I've been cautiously optimistic about my odds on this one, but was also comfortable with my backup plan (which would delay the completion of my field work my approximately 1 year but mean a shorter trip to the field this spring). I've been waiting on this to make plans for returning to Ukenzagapia, but now this means all systems are go and I leave ASAP. Eek! It's both exciting and waaay intimidating, as this means I'll be gone for about 3 months and have so much to do in the field while I'm there. Not to mention what I have to do before I leave!
Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Google Voice for when you're in the field

I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, but Jon suggested that I set up a Google Voice number linked to my cell phone. Then Google Voice can transcribe my voicemails and send them to my email address (same for text messages). This is perfect for when I'm in Ukenzagapia for weeks on end and leave my U.S. cell phone at home. As long as I have email access, I can receive voicemail transcriptions and text messages. Way cool. I love technology!