Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Day in the Life: Summer Field Work

Restored marsh area.

Despite what Starbucks is trying to tell you, fall doesn’t officially start in the Northern Hemisphere until September 22nd at 10:29 pm (equinox party anyone?).  And yet I felt now might be a great time to reflect on the summer.  At this point, if you’re a semi-regular reader you probably know a bit about my interests, but today I want to share a peek inside my summer work.  It was fun, it was muddy, and it was also just a ton of work!

I'm just for scale, look at the height on that hybrid Spartina!

But before I can really tell you what I did, I need to tell you why I did it.  As a PhD student, I’m nurturing a little research agenda that I hope will mature over time.  Right now, it’s at that horrible tween stage where it wants to be a grown up research agenda, but I keep driving it to the mall and embarrassing it in front of its friends.  Regardless, when people ask about my work at parties or family functions, I tell them I study the impacts of invasive plants in tidal wetlands.  Tidal wetlands are hugely important in terms of impacts to biodiversity (nursery habitat for many organisms) and ecosystem services (carbon storage, flood abatement, water filtration, and the list goes on…).  Ironically, in California, only about 10% of our historic tidal wetland area remains, and to add insult to injury wetlands are one of the ecosystem most impacted by invasion.  

But, why invasive plants?  Plants are primary producers, hanging out at the base of the food web, and when they change, other things change in really interesting ways.  My master’s research focused on the impacts of an invasive plant on songbird food webs.  I found the plant impacted the insects, which the birds ate, thus impacting the birds.  I was intrigued!  That’s how I knew a PhD was right for me, after my MS, I have about 1,000 more questions.  In my current research, I try to understand:  How do changes in invasive plant density impact the effects these plants have on ecosystems?  How does restoration approach impact ecosystem recovery after the removal of an invasive plant?  How does understanding the function of invaders in ecosystems impact management choices?  I have approximately a billion other small questions that I try to address, but those are the biggies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Share a Science Documentary Day

Science documentaries. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that you love them. You’ve watched both iterations of Cosmos; you’ve joined Stephan Hawkings on an exploration of the universe; you’ve learned about the rovers, landers, orbiters, and space stations exploring our solar system; you’ve experience Sr. David full-on gushing over a hedgehog. If I were to write a blog post trying to convince you to check out some of Sweet Tea Science’s favorite science documentaries, you would scoff because you are so on top of that. And that’s awesome! Seriously, let’s take a moment to appreciate our collective thirst for knowledge!

However, let’s not get so ahead of ourselves that we forget to share this excitement, enthusiasm, and thirst with others!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Winning Your First Professional Conference

If you're in Portland for a conference, you should
probably go hike at Mt. St. Helen's
Hello September!  Can you believe it?  I know I can’t.  Classes are ringing back into session all over the country, and most people are gearing back up after the summer.  For me, September is going to be a month of getting things back in order after a really intense stretch in July and August.  I wouldn’t say I’m gearing down, but without vacation, 8+ hours of manual labor, or time sensitive lab samples to deal with, I’m hoping I can refocus and reorganize.  One project I’m giving special attention this month is updating the analysis of chapter two of my Master’s Thesis, which I will be presenting at a conference in October (and submitting for publication before the end of 2014...I think I can...I think I can…). (Editor’s note: I know she can!) Professional conferences are very helpful as benchmarks for your research.  They give you something to work toward in the short term, and they also provide a great forum for research in progress (either in progress of collecting data or analysing it).  Aside from this, professional conferences are great opportunities for loads of other reasons, which are completely applicable for those who don’t have research to present yet.  If you are gearing up for your first conference this fall, or if you are on the fence about the usefulness of attending, here are my thoughts on how to get the most out of your first academic conference.    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fiscal Responsibility feat. Sweet Graphs

Back in April, I took a big step towards being a Real Adult and started my own budget spreadsheet. After just the first month, I was completely shocked at how much I was actually spending (read: THAT much on dining out?!) Now that I’m heading back into the tight grip of grad schooldom, I know that I need to prepare myself for the grad school lifestyle. Which, of course, means living within my means. My first step in this preparation process was to create a budget spreadsheet for myself. I’m a big believer in ‘knowledge is power,’ and had to embrace that mantra to keep my head up while working on this project.

I started in Excel with two of the provided templates: College Cash Flow and Monthly Home Budget. Both templates provides you with a file already outfitted with calculations to auto-fill the green boxes based on data in the yellow boxes. In the College Cash Flow file, you input your starting money on hand and monthly expenses by convenient categories likely to be used by college students (e.g. books, tuition, etc). Your total income, expenditures, cash flow, and ending balance are automatically calculated for each month. The Monthly Home Budget sheet performs a similar task, but on a shorter time scale. You also have an opportunity to compare your actual income/expenses to budgeted ones. Together they are both useful, but I found that with a little extra work I could create a more interconnected, useful budgeting tool, complete with visuals.

I wanted to know more about my individual purchases in addition to total monthly charges, so I added a section to the Monthly Home Budget sheet at the bottom where I could input each individual purchase with Date, Cost, Type, and Notes. I found that having to record each transaction separately also helped me stay aware of my spending as the month progressed. I have Office 2008 for Mac on my computer, so everything I mention subsequently will be specific to that version of Excel.The major amendments to the spreadsheet templates are as follows:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Science Side of NYC

If you follow us on Tumblr, then you know I was away from my post at the beginning of August.  I traveled from the West Coast all the way over to New York City, New York to celebrate my engagement to that fella' to the left.  I won't take you through the blow by blow, but spending a lot of money on a ring just wasn't our cup-o-tea.  Instead, we saved up and went on an adventure together to celebrate!  First, this is a decision I highly recommend because, hello, vacation.  Second, I hope you know I couldn't go anywhere, even the maze of NYC, without scoring some science.  I know this city is just full of everything, so don't consider this even close to an exhaustive list.  I would love to know about any of your favorite NYC science scores.

View from the Staten Island Ferry  
Most of my city going experience has been out west and in Chicago.  So one really special thing, for me, about seeing such an old city was the architecture.  I love that you can see a completely modern building with modern building materials and techniques right next to a church built in 1846!  Just look at that skyline.  You can learn by observation about changing technology as you look from the short, stone buildings to those shiny skyscrapers.  I'll make my first tourist aside here to state that the Staten Island Ferry ride was both free and awesome.
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