Wednesday, June 30, 2010

See you in August!

I head out to sea tomorrow to try to do some science. I have set up a separate blog for the voyage. If you want to follow along, it can be found here. I would love to hear from readers while I'm out there so comment away if you are so inclined. If not, I will be back at the beginning of August.

Peace out, homies!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blog Carnival: zomg grad skool carnival!!!1

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.

People doing something to help the Gulf Coast

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

some welcome R&R

I am spending this weekend in Maine relaxing. I am justifying this because we leave for the cruise on July 1st and that is when the science-marathon begins. (Funny how I feel I need to justify relaxation to myself. Luckily, I can rationalize just about anything.) Once we set "sail" it will be all science all the time. For the amount of money it costs to do this type of research, you sacrifice sleep and "down time", and I am totally cool with that. After the cruise is over, we will have time-sensitive samples to analyze, so the marathon will continue. I am fine with that also. It is hard to know how I will deal with that type of rigorous schedule, but I like to think I'll do alright. It may be illogical, but I am trying to rest up (physically and emotionally) ahead of time in the hopes of setting myself up for as much endurance as possible. I think the good food (aka mom cooking for me!), sea air, some tide pool time, and general relaxation of my family's place in Maine will be good for this.

Speaking of family, today is both Father's Day, and my big sister's birthday. I made my dad a 3 berry pie. I used to do a lot of baking, but haven't in a long time (one of the many things I have felt too busy to do), so it was really fun to do. It also turned out pretty well. I'll post a photo soon. I love being close to my family. I don't see my sister as much as I would like (and I have historically forgotten her birthday more often than I have remembered it), but its at least more than when I lived in Texas. I also talk to her more often then I did in Texas. I really think that the pace of grad school would be a lot more difficult if I didn't have them all supporting me, and relatively close by. (Just in case they're reading - I love you guys!)

In other news... I just summarized a cool new study that links sperm whale poop to the carbon cycle (and therefore climate change) in the Southern Ocean via microbial metabolism over at MasticatedScience check it out. I used as many different ways as I could think of to say "poo" without cursing (I think I got 7)... did I miss any?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Van packed - check!

The Van - ready to ship

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).

We have spent the last month preparing for this research cruise. Everything from radiation permits to hiring a crane to load our shipping container/mobile laboratory onto the truck, to labeling hundreds of sampling tubes, to ordering equipment, to fixing broken equipment had to be taken care of... not to mention designing experiments and anticipating everything we might need to carry them out on the ship.

The lab-mate who I have been organizing all of this with described it as if someone who had never baked anything was told to make a cake... its easy just mix the sugar and flour and bake it. That is how we have felt for a good part of the last month... lots of figuring things out along the way... it has been frustrating at times, but as I sit here our shipping container is fully packed and ready to be picked up tomorrow, and that feels good.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Science Blog Post Competition

For all of you who enjoy science blogs... you might want to check out this link:

3 quarks daily is a cool blog that collects some of the most interesting internet-stuff in one place. They are having a competition for the best science blog post of the year. There are 80 nominated posts, and you can vote for your favorite. I have one post on there. However, whether or not you vote for mine, it is a great selection of science writing!


I have started contributing to another blog (in my spare time... ha). It is called Masticated Science, and the idea is to "chew" interesting research into bite sized bits that can be easily consumed by non-scientists. You can check out a recent post I wrote about a very cool recent study characterizing the life in a Mars-like hypersaline methane seep here.

In other news, the goal setting for the month of may was pretty dismal. My upward trend has taken a dive.