Monday, August 23, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I have just completed my first year in a PhD program. I started blogging a little over a year ago when I transitioned from one phase of my life into another. It started as a way for people from the life I was leaving behind to keep up with what I was doing. It has turned into an arena to reflect on the various aspects of grad school life. That is why I was particularly interested in writing for the zomg grad skool carnival!!!1. So, this is my attempt to impart the vast wisdom that I have gained this year (ha!) to the group of folks about to start:
This year has been a big one for me in many ways. I felt dumb much of the time, but am beginning to believe that many of us do… and its kind of the point. When you are studying something that hasn’t been figured out there are no easy answers. Additionally, when you are surrounded by people who have been working on their projects for longer than you it is very easy to fall into the how-will-I-ever-know-as-much-as-they-do mindset. I took something that James Watson (I know, not the best role model, for many reasons) wrote in his autobiography (much of which was incredibly pompous). I don’t remember the exact quote but it went something like, if you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, you will learn much more than if you are the smartest person in the room. This helped me be ok with not being the top of the class. I learned a huge amount from the people that know more than me, which makes me lucky.
Having people to commiserate with is immensely useful in realizing that you are not alone in these feelings of inadequacy. That being said, I have realized that grad students (myself included) like to bitch, a lot. It is easy to dwell on frustrations, and while venting is important, it is also important to keep things in perspective. I often found myself thinking about how incredibly lucky I was that someone decided it was worth it to pay me to be in school. I earn money for learning stuff, and all the downsides (for me at least) pale in comparison to that.
I will give one piece of advice that might not work for everyone, but has helped me this year. Have a Plan B. Mine is knowing that I would be happy with a career as a middle or high school science teacher, or as an outdoor educator. Whenever things got particularly challenging this year, or I really felt like I was in over my head, I just told myself that no one is forcing me to be here, and if I decide I really hate it, I can always get a job as a science teacher that would be rewarding and probably fulfilling. Obviously Plan B would feel like a let down, and I would undoubtedly be very disappointed in myself if I left my program. I have no plans to do so (that’s why its not Plan A). However, simply having a Plan B takes the pressure off, and allowed me to keep the stress level relatively low this year.
In summary, to survive and even enjoy your first year of grad school you should…
Have a thick skin. Allow yourself to believe you are in the right place. Vent and commiserate, but not too much! Have a plan B.
I haven’t written about the oil disaster. It’s not really a spill. A spill is what happens when something gets a hole in it, or gets knocked over. This was a blowout and the oil is still pumping out… so spill is not the right term. Anyhow, I haven’t written about it despite it being on my mind because the details of who all is really to blame, what is being hidden from us, how bad things really are are tough to keep on top of and many people in the “blogosphere” are doing a good job. Carl Safina’s blog and Deep Sea News have been doing particularly good jobs of this. These are links to recent posts on each of these sites, but they both have many informative and thoughtful ones of late.
I am writing this because I have a semi-personal connection that I want to share. I did a semester in college with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program. A key component of this semester’s program are 3 field seminars: one offshore voyage, one west-coast road trip, and a third that has changed since I was in the program. When I was there we spent a weekend on Nantucket to get a taste of island life. In the last few years they have been taking the students to the Gulf Coast. These trips are typically an amazing combination of experiential education (think lecture on salmon farming at a salmon farm), interdisciplinary education (you travel with your science, history, literature, and policy professors), cultural experience, and fun.
Over the last few years through the trips to the Gulf, folks in this program have developed strong personal connections to the community on Grand Isle, which is one of the places that has been hardest hit my this disaster. This community depends on the fishing, oil, and tourism industries for its livelihood, and all three are effectively gone. It has reached the point where the grocery store on the island may not be able to stay open. Because of the personal connections people in this program have built they have had many first hand communications with people on Grand Isle. I recently heard the director of the program (Jim Carlton) speak at a mini-reunion and he described the strange feeling of seeing the people he knows on the evening news over and over again.
People from the Williams-Mystic Program have decided to try to do something to help the folks of Grand Isle directly (very little of the BP money for helping people out of work has actually reached this community). A fund has been set up to allow the grocery store to remain open (therefore allowing people to remain on the island where they live) and establish lines of credit at the store for residents. Two people from the program have been sent down to Grand Isle to help set this up and try to document what is actually happening. They have set up a blog here that provides a nice perspective - that of non-media real people spending extended amounts of time on Grand Isle. If you have been wishing there was something you that would actually help the people affected by this disaster, please consider donating to New Englanders For the Gulf even if you are not from New England. Spread the world.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In about two weeks I head out to the west coast to spend 3 weeks aboard the R/V Atlantis doing research on the hydrothermal vents. Hopefully we will have Alvin with us... but that is not certain (looooooong story).
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Saturday was cold, rainy, and windy. It was certainly a day to hunker down inside, but I was determined to spend some time in the woods... it has been far too long, and I had my mind set on some solitary thinking time. I do my best thinking outside in beautiful places; sitting on a dock looking over a lake, on a rocky beach, on a mountain top, in my kayak, or wandering amongst evergreen trees. I almost gave up on the idea of Saturday tree time, but decided it was silly to let a little rain keep me inside. I broke out the waterproof gear and hiking boots that I rarely wear these days and set off in search of a local park that I had heard about.
As I started walking I was chilly, and began to doubt the sanity of my plan. However, I was determined not to let the rain get me down and I moved quickly and soon warmed up. I found a pond and stood watching sheets of rain dance across the water. I scampered over wet rock, moss, and lichen, squelched through mud and pine needles, and got off the trail to do a bit of exploring. It felt like I was the only person in the park, and I don't think I could have enjoyed if more if it was bright and sunny because I felt like I was experiencing a side of these woods that most people don't bother to get to know, and somehow that meant I knew them in a different way even though it was my first time there. I look forward to many more trips to this little oasis only 15 minutes from my house. Knowing that I can be in the woods in 15 minutes if I need to makes life a little bit better.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
I have been slacking in blog-land recently, but I have something to report. I want to move to California, at least for a couple of years... like for a post doc. Now all I have to do is finish my PhD. I spent the last week out in the Monteray area working with collaborators at the Monteray Bay Aquarium Research Institute. By "working with" I mean that I was being shown how to use a very complicated instrument that we will eventually get to play with in our lab and bring to sea. I am (mostly) confident that when said instrument arrives I can tinker with it without breaking it. Using this instrument is going to test both my molecular biology skills as well as force me to learn some basic computer programming. As usual, I am looking forward to the challenge.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
The next image is from the same sample (Stibella growing on Mn). I think we are looking at bacteria growing next to fungal hyphae (on the right side of the image) but I am not entirely sure. It is interesting that when looking at something familiar under a new level of magnification, it can be difficult to tell what you are actually looking at.
After playing around with the basics of light microscopes and trying to perfect our focus, we tried our hand at fluorescence microscopy. This technique uses specific wavelengths of light to excite certain molecules within cells that emit light when they are excited. It is typically used for looking at samples that have been pre-stained with fluorescent dye (like the one at the very beginning of this post), but many of the organisms in the Winogradsky were auto-fluorescent so we were able to get some cool images by looking at them under specific colors of light. This green image is the same image as the one above, but with the red filter on. The organisms absorb red light, and reemit green light.
I looked at this exact part of the sample under red, green, and blue light. Each light excited different organisms, or different parts of the same organism. When you capture an image of each and merge the image you get something pretty cool!
Here is another example, but this time looking at a filamentous algae (shown in red) and a round one (shown in blue).
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I can’t help comparing two potential contributions that I could make to humanity: one being the creation of a wonderful program that is some fraction of what is described in the day dream above and the other being whatever cool scientific tidbits I might discover along the traditional track lying ahead of me in Academia. Depending on the perspective I look at these options with I can make arguments that either is somehow better. It is hard to know where I would have a greater impact (which is how I like to think of success). I remember as a child having very definitive opinions about just about anything (ask anyone who knew me before I was 18), but much of that certainty has vanished as I have seem a plethora of possible roads to travel (I have written about this before too). Maybe clarity will come, or maybe opportunities will arise, or not, and that will determine where life takes me.