Monday, September 21, 2009

fun found file

I found this today while going through old files looking for something. It is clearly out of season, but since I have been missing teaching this week it is appropriate. Just a bit of background... the school where I used to teach had chapel twice a week for the middle school. Teachers were required to be there. This was my least favorite part of the job, but it really wasn't all that bad... usually.

A beautiful moment (winter 07?)

As the chapel doors opened out to the main green after the service today, one of the most wonderful moments of my thus far very short teaching career occurred. There door I was looking through framed the lit Christmas tree, and as the chilly air rushed in, we all saw the first snow flurries swirling around the tree. This was accompanied by the excited gasps of about 250 thrilled young men all in unison while trying to maintain the composure required of chapel. The older ones forgot for a second that they are no longer little boys. I hate to admit it but I almost teared up. Maybe it was because a teacher had just finished talking about his son who passed away 10 years ago. There was just something about the tangible kid energy and the visual expression of innocence and enthusiasm that really was beautiful. A colleague also noticed this, and said that it was a moment you would never experience if you weren’t a teacher, and that you couldn’t really explain it. I guess this was my attempt.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On missing Texas, and lobsters

This is my parents and I at the beach by their new house in Maine. I promise that the navy blue theme was NOT on purpose.

This weekend I caught up with a few friends I left behind in Texas. Some former co-workers had a get together and they thought enough about me to give me a call! It meant a lot to feel remembered and missed, because I have certainly been missing them. I promised one friend a new blog post this weekend. I was psyched to hear that someone was actually reading my blog down there, but now there is pressure to write something interesting... thanks Nick!

I have started having Sunday night dinners at my parent's house. I have to admit that I really look forward to these evenings. Maybe because I was living far away from "home" for 3 years, or maybe because I have become a poor graduate student, but it is wonderful to be able to go back to the house that has always been home and have dinner with my parents. Tonight we had lobsters that my mom brought back from Maine. Lobster is something that has always been a special treat in my family. I remember learning how to eat lobster the right way when I was very young, and how my older brother used to try to trick me out of the best parts of my lobster. I remember having to "earn" my own lobster by showing my dad that I knew how to eat it without wasting any. At my old summer camp they had a lobster dinner on the last night, and I loved being able to teach people the proper technique. Yes, I can hear some of you now... I just like telling people what to do. I guess that might be part of it, but I also love sharing what I know with others... its a fine line though between that and being bossy. I've been working on walking that line years! Anyhow, now that my parents have this amazing house in Maine, I have somewhere just a few hours away where I can kayak, play around in tide pools (one of my all time favorite activities!), and eat lots of lobster.

More science next time... right now I have some Microbial Physiology reading that has been calling my name all weekend!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

a comic to share

title: "Drinking from a fire hose" - originally published 2/5/2007

I have found a new way to procrastinate (just what I needed). This website ( is a hilarious look into the life of a grad student. I thought this one was especially appropriate given my post yesterday!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

lots to learn and loving it!


Bacteria are unicellular microorganisms that have, despite their extremely small size, significant beneficial and harmful effects on humans. This scanning electron micrograph shows the bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat, a common illness in humans.

© S. Lowry—University of Ulster—Stone/Getty Images -

In my first weeks in grad school I have felt like a sponge, learning new things just about everywhere I go... from just about everyone I talk to. Part of this is due to the fact that I have signed up to study microbiology knowing just about nothing about that subject. I am more of a geologist by training. I really feel like the proverbial kid in a candy store though. The more I learn about microbes, and their study, the better I feel about my choice of subjects. It also helps that just the other evening I heard my #1 science idol Ed O. Wilson speak and he said that if he were starting out as a scientist now he would study microbes and microbial diversity! Woohoo!

Did you know that your body holds more microorganisms than your own cells? Did you know that crazy drug resistant staph infections killed more people in the US last year than the Aids virus did? Did you know that there are about 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 50^30) microbes on the planet? Did you know that there is more carbon stored in microbes living deep under the sea floor than there is in all the plant and animal life on land? Did you know that you have an entire ecosystem within your intestines (probably about 500 species of microorganisms) that is key to keeping you healthy, and that we have only begun to investigate how that ecosystem functions, and that your internal ecosystem is very different from that of the person sitting next to you (unless that person is your sibling or mother, then it might be similar)? The vast majority of these species are unknown and many of the ones that we have seen we know virtually nothing about. Talk about drinking from a fire hose! (I know, I am just full of cliches tonight...sorry)

Microorganisms were the only living things on the planet for roughly 2.5 billion (thats 2,500 million) years. Animals have been around for .5 billion (500 million) years, while mammals appeared 220 million years ago. Human beings only showed up roughly 200,000 years ago! I think what gets me the most excited is how little we know about these organisms, other than that they are hugely important for the function of ecosystems (imagine all the trash and dead stuff if there weren’t decomposers!), the function or organisms, and for understanding the evolution of life on Earth. My task for the next 6 years or so... discover something awesome about these organisms... more specifically the ones that live in and around hydrothermal vents! I had better get to work.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Poetic justice... or, why I deserve it

This one is for my last year's students...

I had my first full week of classes this week. One story in particular is worth sharing: I am taking one class that I know is going to be very difficult, but I am excited to dive into a whole new world (new to me, that is) of microbiology. For each class our homework is to read an assigned published research paper very thoroughly. Part of the grade for the course is class participation. So far this all makes sense. When I learned how our class participation was going to be evaluated I was at first annoyed, but almost immediately welcomed it in the way you might welcome retribution from a friend for forgetting their birthday. The professor is going to call on us randomly and ask us very specific questions about the assigned paper. She is also going to record whether we answered correctly or not, and this becomes part of our participation grade.

This seems incredibly intimidating, but the goal is to force accountability and participation. How am I so sure I know what the goal is? Well, she told us, but also... I did EXACTLY the same thing to my students last year. I called on them randomly and asked them their homework questions, and recorded their answers as a reading quiz grade. Most of my students thought this was unfair. Hopefully they will take some pleasure in knowing that I am going through the same thing now! I can't wait to visit and tell them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

the return to student-hood

This afternoon I am off to class. It is an interesting feeling, after teaching for three years, to be getting ready to be on the receiving end once again. I have gotten used to planning activities, thinking about the progression of topics, and yes making power point (well, keynote actually... to be a bit snotty) presentations that look just the way I want them to. The job of planning class and how best to teach various topics has been a wonderful challenge. Most importantly, getting students excited about science has been incredibly fun. But, now I have a different job. My new tasks are to figure out what the professor wants us to know for the test (that question I always hated answering as a teacher), stay organized and finish assignments on time, and carve out enough time for my research. The goal is also to have enough time left over to go climbing, hang out with friends and family, and generally stay happy.