Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Science Book Club: Ice Whale

It's time again for an installment of the STS Book Club! This time, it's a novel of the young adult variety. Perhaps a perfect stocking stuffer for the 11-year-old, nature-lover in your life? Or, you know, your story-loving 20-something PhD student.



My co-conspirators, then and now.  Notice that I have grown in my
appreciation of pants-wearing. 
I grew up on a farm in south central Kentucky with a small expanse of second growth forest rimming the yard and cultivated fields.  My siblings, cousins, and I would spend hours in those woods, building treehouses, turning over rocks, and chasing imagined creatures through the understory.  Mostly, we would pretend that we were surviving.  We would play like we were 100 instead of, maybe, one mile from home.  We had our dogs and we had our “tools” (usually a pocket knife or a hammer), but mostly we had our bravery and our brains.  It’s that same feeling of playing at survival that thrills me about backpacking or long canoe trips to this day.  No doubt this persistent desire to prove myself against some sort of untamed wilderness was inspired, in part, to my childhood reading list:  White Fang, Hatchet, “To Build a Fire,” Julie of the Wolves, and My Side of the Mountain, to name a few.  I rediscovered my love of young adult and children’s novels when I was writing my Master’s thesis.  I found I had less dreams about amphipods if I read before bed, and usually, by the end of the day, I had the reading comprehension of a 14-year-old.  I rediscovered my well worn copy of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, and the rest is history.  


“Not hope that he would be rescued--that was gone. But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.” ― Gary Paulsen, Hatchet



Over the past 3 years, I’ve re-read many of my childhood favorites and also discovered a few new novels in the genera that I truly love.  I’d like to share one of those with you now.  Ice Whale, by Jean Craighead George is a book I read over the summer when I was traveling.  George has a great track record with her writing, as she is also the author of My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves, a novel which won her a Newbery Medal.  Plus, I read on her website she has a memoir for children called The Tarantula in my Purse.  If I write a memoir, I hope the title is half as impressive!   


On with the review!


What is Ice Whale about?


This is an epic tale, spanning families, generations, and two centuries.  The real story begins in 1848, when young Eskimo boy, Toozak, witnesses a bowhead whale being born.  He feels connected to the whale, which has a distinctive marking that looks like a dancing Eskimo.  Some years later, the boy, now a young hunter, accidentally betrays the location of a group of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) to a whaling ship.  To atone for this mistake, the young man and his future offspring are bound to the fate of the whale whose birth he witnessed, and they must protect him till he dies.  Bowheads can live over 100 years, so this initial plot point propels the story through time.  Characters and families come, go, and weave together in unexpected ways.  There are numerous themes: ocean exploitation, changing culture of native peoples, survival, and science!  All the action of the novel is set against the raw beauty of the arctic, an area close to George's heart and a location she often visited during her life. I really think everyone can find something to love in this novel.   

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Assess the Stress

This is it guys. Two more weeks and then FINALS! Wow, two sentences into a blog post and I’m already about to reach for the stress chocolate I have stashed in my desk right next to the stress tea. Admittedly, the rest of the semester is going to be non-stop GO, GO, GO, for me and a lot of y’all out there. We’ve all being kicking ass this year and nothing is stopping us now. Even that crippling fear of ending the semester in a horrific crash and burn finals extravaganza doesn’t stand a chance. Not going to happen, folks. Why? Because we are going to keep our stress in check. Rachel and I have both been through our fair share of finals weeks (not to mention Rachel’s COMPS are tomorrow! GO WISH HER LUCK) and we’ve gathered up our top tips for finishing the semester with minimal freak out moments.


  1. Hang on to your favorite mantras for dear life until it’s all over. My personal favorite currently is “Stay ahead of them game, or at least don’t fall behind”, while I’m pretty sure Rachel’s is “All my tasks are accomplishable”.  I used to think mantras were a little silly, but I am a full fledged believer now. Sometimes just taking a moment to remind yourself that you are capable really helps.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plans for the Afterward

I'm studying for my qualifying exams right now, and I think I'm firmly in the "What if I FAIL?" phase.  I really don't think I'll fail.  But, WHAT IF?!!  In either case, I'll know in about two weeks.  In the afterglow of my success or in the I-don't-give-a-crap phase before deciding on my new career path, I plan to have two days of full on relaxation.  Hint, if you come to this blog to hear about actual science things, then now is the time to bow out of this post.  Otherwise, here are the things I plan to do when I can close my eyes and not visualize the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Making the Most of MCMC

Sometimes in grad school you need to write about topics that you yourself have little to no clue about. Part of this learning process is figuring out how to teach yourself some of these very difficult concepts. This blog post comes from a blog post I co-wrote with my cohort chum, Justin, 
By: Justin and Meridith

Markov Chains, and particularly Markov Chains Monte Carlo, are a difficult concept to explain. In fact, Dr. Hanks has stated that they are “Easier done than said.” At the very basis of everything, Markov Chains are a system that transitions from one state to another state. It is a random memorylessness process, that is,  the next state depends only on the current state and not on the sequence of events that preceded it. I have scoured the web and believe the following to be the simplest visual introduction to Markov Chains. (Spoiler Alert: It arose from someone - Andrey Markov -  being a sassmaster.)




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Take the Bus! Good for the Environment, Your Wallet, and Your Wanderlust

And now for something a bit different!

We’ve been writing a lot in the past few weeks about life as a graduate student or some of the things we are learning while on our respective doctoral journeys.  However, if you will recall, we also love to go on journeys in general.  Meridith and I have always been avid travelers.  We have visited numerous other countries together (South Africa, Costa Rica, Panama, England, Aruba…) and separately (Kenya, Argentina, Ireland, Thailand...).  While traveling overseas is, literally, one of the best things ever, one of my favorite bar questions to ask people is, “What are the top 5 locations you want to visit in the United States?”  I think we spend a lot of time fantasizing about getting to far-off, exotic locations, and that can cause us to overlook the beauty in our own backyard (so to speak). (Editor’s Note: This is so true! One of my big epiphanies from my summer traveling Europe - by bus and train! - was that I had totally under appreciated all there is to see in the good ol’ U S of A.)  And while I might get to visit friends or make new friends when traveling overseas, getting a co-conspirator for your State side adventuring is a bit easier.

As Mer is one of my all time favorite partners in crime, she and I have always made a point to visit one another regularly.  Our college roommates (and often an all-star cast of their amazing boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/pals/siblings) make a point of gathering for New Years Eve.  That’s always a treat, and usually involves doing a multi-city flight out of California, to home, to the NYE destination (Boston 2015!), and then back to California.  While well worth it, that gets expensive.  If you add onto that a trip home during the summer and plane travel really starts to take a bite out of your budget.  So, what’s a budget-conscious, environmentally-minded person with a severe case of wanderlust to do?  Well, you can hop on the Greyhound and get to a regional destination with little money, hassle, and C02 wasted.  When I was living in Long Beach and Meridith was in Las Cruces, we were frequenting the Greyhound route between Long Beach and El Paso on a semesterly basis!
NYE 2014 Crew
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Rachel.  Take the bus? I have a car!”  Yeah? Then find a bunch of friends and pile into the car.  Carpooling is great, and sometimes it is the most logical option.  But, maybe you have a more flexible schedule, you’re traveling solo, or you really want to cut your carbon emissions.  In that case, you should really be looking up the local Greyhound and Megabus schedules.  I’ve written about my internal conflict concerning the environmental impacts of travel here, and I’d suggest you check it out.  For those unwilling to read my previous ramblings, my conclusions are simply that bus travel is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way to transit regionally.  Since writing that post over a year ago, I’ve had numerous conversations with people who just can’t seem to get over their bus hang-ups.  Maybe this isn’t the most glamorous way to move about the world, but if you are a reasonable traveler who keeps their wits about them, you have very little about which to worry.

Maybe you’re willing to give it a try?  I’ll give you a few tips from my numerous Greyhound adventures and misadventures to make your first bus trip a breeze.                     

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tricks of the Trade: LaTeX

Ok, guys. I’ve been studying as a baby statistician (scienctician? statscientist? ecologitician?)  for a little while now and I’m here to share some of their secrets. Before I started here at Penn State I had a couple ideas about what other grad students in my department would be like. First, everyone would be computer masters of any and all statistical programs: R, SAS, others that I hadn’t even heard of yet. Second, they’d all be completely on top of everything in all of our classes because they all would’ve completed undergraduate and master’s programs also in statistics. And thirdly, it’d be really hard to relate to other students because of my background in biology and my love for the outdoors (because clearly they’d all prefer sitting inside in front of their computers, right?). Thankfully, I was way off base and not only am I not left in the educational dust, but my cohort is full of awesome students with a wide variety of strengths and abilities. And I must collect them all. Yea, my new goal is to be like some sort of awesome Anna-Paquin-as-Rogue statistician and glean all of the amazing abilities and knowledge while I can. Except I think I’ll stick to taking the time to learn and practice things...instead of the whole touchy hurty thing she does. One of my absolute favorite new acquires is the ability to write and code in LaTeX.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting a Motivation Makeover

Last week, doing anything was a struggle.  Literally all I wanted to do was watch cartoons, eat burritos, and perform the bare minimum tasks I could get away with doing (Editor’s note: This is me. Always).  Admitting these sorts of things is what makes the idea of an anonymous blog very appealing on occasion.  It’s not because I have a super exciting secret life or anything (spoiler alert: I find my own life very exciting on the whole), but because I think a lot of the things I struggle with as a scientist in training are widely felt but often actively overlooked.  Graduate school is where you learn how to learn (because as a scientist, the learning never stops), hone key skills, and net a set of accomplishments that will make you stand out in the job market.  It’s a place where people who are fired up about things go to dive deep into problems, and it’s no surprise that so many great innovations are the result of doctoral dissertations.  And I’d say, about 50 weeks out of the year, I feel fired up about science.  About conservation.  About freaking adorable invertebrates and gnarly invasive plants.  


Adorbs.
I’ve been in graduate school for over 5 years, 3 years for my Master’s and 2 full years of PhD work.  It would be disingenuous and unhelpful for me to say that, over the past 5 years, I haven’t had motivational slumps.  Do I believe there are people who are 100% juiced up all the time, who never have to search for a reason to get reignited over their work?  I really do.  And I wish I was one of them, but I’m not.  Further, I think there are plenty of graduate students who struggle from time to time with motivation.  There are a lot of reasons:  personal issues, burnout, loss of interest in a project, imposter syndrome.  The thing is, I think we are taught to pretend this isn’t happening.  I have stock advice I give to all new graduate students when we are chatting, “Anyone who pretends they have their act together is faking it.  Everyone is freaking out.”  I think I need to do a bit of taking my own advice.  I’m probably not the only one who occasionally sits at their desk and goes “blah.”  I don’t think feeling a periodic lack of motivation makes me (or you) a bad scientist.  I don’t think it indicates a lack of passion.  I think pretending it isn’t happening is less than authentic.  I think refusing to yield to these periods and rekindling your fire speaks volumes of capability, passion, and drive.      


So here is my truth, as I’ve experienced it on several occasions.  I’m sailing along fine, killing it in the lab, balancing several projects, keeping my little fingers tippy-tapping on my writing projects.  A large milestone approaches.  I start to feel like I’m not doing enough (ironically, these sorts of thought progressions usually happen after 8pm in the lab…) and a little touch of imposter syndrome starts to kick up.  How rude!  I make plans for how to attack said milestone, I budget out my time, I feel like I can totally do this!  Then I’m motionless for a stressful span of days, absolutely sure that as soon as I begin I’ll realize the task is impossible.  Things spiral, I consume an unnatural amount of peanut butter, then some action or event clicks things back into place and I’m sprinting again.  In the spirit of honestly, it’s absolutely frustrating to look at yourself in the mirror and say aloud, “What’s wrong with me this week?”  But, in the end, it’s almost like fighting with your best friend.  It’s going to happen at some point, and if you take the time to learn something about them and yourself in the process, you can come out the other side closer than ever.


After that overly honest preamble, I’ll present my non-exhaustive, in no particular order list of things that have gotten my butt back in gear in the past.  This is how I kiss and make-up with science when I’ve been neglecting it.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

STS and the Super Science Side of Tumblr TA Tips for Teaching

We here at STS have TAed a lot.  We both taught lab sections when we were juniors and seniors in undergrad and then we taught more sections during our master's work.  I also taught during my first year in PhD land.  As a graduate student, TAing is often non-optional (gotta' pay those bills), exciting (young minds!  oh golly!), frustrating (it's ON THE SYLLABUS!), and intimidating (wait, so I have to be in charge of 20+ other legal adults for an hour or more?).  So, what are some of the most efficient ways to increase the fun and excitement of teaching, while minimizing the stresses?  Back at the beginning of the term, Meridith was going through orientation for her new grad school adventure and part of that orientation involved TA training.  She posted on our STS Tumblr, and asked the Science Side for their TAing tips and tricks.  The response was great!  So great, we decided we needed to bring all the responses together and archive them here on our blog.  
If you're a new graduate student, we hope this helps you put some tools in your forming TA tool belt.  Remember, people have personal teaching approaches, so everything doesn't work for everyone!  If you're an undergraduate or high school student, maybe this will give you some insight into what your instructors are thinking.  I promise, we are all actually working really hard to try and make this a good experience for all of us.  If you're a senior graduate student, maybe you have some tips and tricks of your own that aren't included in this post.  Share them with us in the comments!     
Head over to http://phdcomics.com/comics.php for more amazing funnies like this one!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is there a Doctor in the House?

I’m over a month into my PhD program and I’m still oscillating between wild, ecstatic optimism and stone cold, stop you in your tracks fear of the route ahead.  Completing a Master’s degree was two and a half years of hard work and setbacks culminating in one of the proudest, happiest moments of my life - successful defending of my thesis. I’m back on track for five more years of the grad student life, but these will be harder, faster, stronger times ahead than before. Good thing I’ve got my Daft Punk pandora station ready to go. My Masters program didn’t entail any qualifying or comprehensive exams so they seem like lofty, impassable goals now. A sentiment shared by my cohort members, but we’ve found that the more information we have the more confidence we gain. We here at STS would like to share what we know about our own roads to knowledge with you the readers so that you guys can find the confidence to face this journey too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bison, and Mosquitoes, and Shriners, Oh My!

Lost Lake
Day 14
Yellowstone National Park
Miles Hiked: 10 (80.7 overall)


Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!


Ecologist in action
After a day of full on touristing, it was time to get serious.  Our alarms went off at 4am, and we slithered out of our sleeping bags.  We dressed and washed up in a bleary haze before piling in the car with blankets and binoculars.  As per the recommendations of Jim and Dot (the adorable park ranger couple), we drove the 35 miles from Bay Bridge to Tower Falls and hung a left.  Along the stretch of road between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth, we found a pull off parking spot and were in position just as dawn broke over the sagebrush and meadows.  Wolf watching.  The wolves of Yellowstone get my scientists imagination running.  During the mid-90s the National Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves (mostly from the Canadian population) to Yellowstone, and the ecological impacts we are seeing appear to be profound.  For an excellent look at why top predators are important, check out this piece by Estes and colleagues.  Beyond the science, I think the mythos of these carnivores really plays on some of our most basic, primal thoughts.  What I really want to say, is I’m a stereotypical, hippie wolf-lover.  Seriously, wolves, wolves, wolves.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Joining the Ranks of Tourists and Fangirls in Yellowstone

Obligatory "NP Sign" Photo
Day 13
Yellowstone National Park
Total Miles Hiked: 3.5ish (70.7 overall)

After the rain
Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!

Yellowstone, the Disney of U.S. National Parks. America’s first national park welcomes over three million people each year, and Rachel and I were certain we wanted to be part of the excitement during our adventures. When we were first planning our trip (which was a very exciting and motivating time during that spring semester) we knew we wanted to take our time exploring this particular gem. Three days seemed adequate, but I’m sure we also could have spent the entire summer there hiking and learning. Even after all of the hiking we had just completed at Rocky Mountain NP, plus arriving at Bridge Bay Campground at 2 am, we couldn’t wait to explore this national treasure!

Right on time!
I hope we don’t need to remind you folks, but on our Awesome Besties National Park Roadtrip we weren’t messing around. We went on an early morning jog along the Natural Bridge Trail (this was when we were being extra amazing...I don’t think it lasted all summer), which was both invigorating and a prime opportunity to try and spot a moose!  Post-jog and granola hoovering, we struck out toward the epicenter of all that is Yellowstone: Old Faithful. And wow, the crowd here couldn’t have been more different from others we’d seen at the previous parks. People of all ages, itty little dogs on leashes, bikers, hikers, photographers, families, and us were all milling around until the next eruption time. Conveniently, eruption timers were plastered all over the viewing area. Old Faithful really did live up to it’s hype and was spectacular to view.

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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cover Letters of Interest

Once you've gone through the process of finding potential grad school advisers, the next step is to contact them. It can be quite scary. That fear that you'll craft a seemingly marvelous letter, attach your well-written CV, send it off, and then…hear back nothing. Or worse, you'll hear back, but they aren't interested in your obvious brilliance. Try not to get in your own head too much. Think of it more as the start of an epic journey towards the next step in your blossoming academic career. The professors that show the most interest in you are going to be the ones that are the best fit for your unique interests and skills. Writing about yourself is hard, but now is the time to brag on yourself a bit. Say it with me, “I am a badass science baller and all the profs want me.” Keep in mind that this letter does not need to be perfect. I just looked back at the cover letter I sent to my MS advisor (keep anything you write about yourself!) and it’s nearly 2 full pages long with way too much information. Thankfully, she wasn't bored, and I had a wonderful, productive Master’s experience.
Say it again!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eco-Life Hacks: Homemade Greek Yogurt

OK, you probably should be a little weary of
someone who eats as many beets as I do. Fair 'nuff.
Nearly two months into my life in State College and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I am already branded as the hippie chick. What do you expect from a biologist turned statistician?! I can't help it though; if people bring up podcasts and DIY kitchen adventures, I'm going to be all up in that conversation. If you join me for dinner you'll notice that my kitchen is fully set up while my dining table is a moving box. Priorities. If my apartment building doesn't have a compost bin but there is one outside of my multivariable calculus course, then I am going to carry my compost to campus in a airtight container and dispose of it responsibly. If you invite me to watch the US/Ghana game, I’m definitely going to bring a healthy snack of veggies and hummus. And if you mention homemade yogurt, then I will get super excited and discuss my love for plain, Greek yogurt made by yours truly. Them’s just the facts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What's in Her (Field) Bag

Summer is a funny time for an ecologist.  As a student, my classes have all wrapped up (I’m actually all done with class now, forever!!).  My social media is full of people’s summertime adventures.  My partner, who teaches communications courses at community college, is in full on vay-cay mode.  Me?  This is my busy season.  I have been up to my eyeballs in marsh mud for most of the month, and for the month before that I was prepping.  
China Camp State Park.  Maybe my favorite site. 
Ah, the field season.  The first day of the each sampling period, I’m always a huge stress ball.  By the time I visit my last site, I feel like Queen of the Marsh.  One thing I always do to minimize my first day jitters is prepare a packing list for each project I’m working on.  This helps minimize those “Oh crap, I left that sitting on the lab bench” moments.  This packing list is mostly full of project specific items (thermometer, pH probe, redox meter, etc.).  In addition, I have a mental checklist of things I never like to don my waders without.  These items reside in my trusty field bag, and today I’m giving you the grand tour!


I know we have an eclectic readership, from PhDs, fellow students, teachers, and amazing high school science enthusiasts.  Though you might not all be headed out to do field work anytime soon, I hope a look at my “must have” items gives you a taste for what a day in the life of a field scientist can be like.  Think of this as the field biologist’s version of those posts by lifestyle/mom bloggers about what they keep in their purses/diaper bags.*


Trusty field bag!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ten Tips for Tackling that Thesis!

Meridith and Rachel are both in PhD programs, which means dissertation writing will be in their future.  While dissertating will come with its own sets of challenges, they have both managed to survive the process of completing a Masters thesis!  Here are the top ten tips and tricks (in no particular order) they used to keep sane, be productive, and come out the other side.  

1. If you haven't been productive in 15 minutes, then it's time to change locations.

R: First I got work aversion to my desk, then I got work aversion in the stats lab (luckily, after I was done with stats).  I finished writing by visiting (almost) every coffee shop in Long Beach for a few days in a row before I had to move on to my next location.
M: Can someone figure out how to fix the mutual exclusivity of working outside on a sunny day and being able to see your computer screen?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Collaboration Station: Google Drive

Collaboration is a vital part of the scientific process. Do you think I’m going to save the world on my own? Nope. I’m going to need at least a little bit of help. The more great minds working on a project, the faster advancements may be made. And we need advancements (I’m look at you, self-driving car peoples)! Any sort of collaboration is difficult across distances. Technology has made the process easier and email is currently the main tool for communication for researchers. While I’m really proud of the older generations of scientists for getting on track with email, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask them, and everyone, to utilize Google Drive for their collaboration needs.


Being able to access my Google Drive from anywhere keeps me productive!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Science Book Club: Flight Behavior

I love extracurricular activities.  Maybe it’s a holdover from my days doing Speech and Debate, maybe is the fact that I don’t feel like I’m really doing my best unless I am overcommitted by at least 5 hours per week, or maybe I’m still overcompensating for being quite shy and think that these activities will force me to meet more new people.  Either way, I love them.  Most recently, I received an email on our grad group’s social listserve about a book club.  Obviously, sign me up!  Obviously, I didn’t finish the book in time.  I still read it though.  And I adored it.  So, here is a virtual book club to start your summer reading.  Ready, steady, go!


Barbara Kingsolver is well known for her use of vivid imagery in stories which feel both tangible and delicate.  According to her official website, she was born in 1955 in rural Kentucky (southern girl shout out!).  She currently lives in southwestern Virginia.  She is also unique as a fiction writer due to her education, which includes a BS and a MS in biology and environmental sciences.  These themes, of biology and southern culture, are reflected in several of her works.  Are you becoming less and less surprised that I jumped at a chance to read one of her books?  Despite all this, Flight Behavior is the first of Kingsolver’s works I have had the pleasure of reading.  However, after finishing the novel, some of her other popular books have jumped to the top of my reading list, and all her novels are now on my Amazon “Books I want” wishlist (This wish list is public, so feel free to buy me books! Just kidding, but not really). (editor note: I LOVE Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and highly recommend it to Rachel.)    


What is Flight Behavior about?


Set in the Appalachian region of Tennessee, this novel chronicles the fictional migration of a population of monarch butterflies to a fir forest just outside of a remote farming and manufacturing community.  The question of what has brought the butterflies there and their ultimate fate brings together a cast of unlikely characters: the sheep farming family, who own the property the butterflies land upon; the family’s oddball daughter-in-law, who discovers the butterflies; the ecologist and his graduate students, who come to study the insects; the local preacher, who has an unlikely part to play; and the young boy, whose small-town world view is forever altered by the events of the novel.  In the end, the fate of the butterflies becomes more than just a biological question.  It is a question of culture, faith, and what the future holds for all of us.      

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Great Grad Student Migration: One Woman's Journey

Two out of four WKU grads have no
idea how to wear their cap.

Well guys, I made it. One bedroom apartment. State College, Pennsylvania. In the five years since living with Rachel and Friends during our undergrad Wonder Years, I haven’t exactly had the best of luck with housing situations. Granted, living in the Chestnut Castle with my best friends really, really set the bar extra high.  Not to say that I’ve suffered through completely horrendous slum lord conditions with outrageous rent prices, but after spending half the time living with my parents and half hopping from place to place in New Mexico, I was absolutely ready for some stability in my own place. And it has been great so far.

I’ve been preparing for this move since getting back from last summer’s European adventures. Finding and getting into a PhD program was my main focus right up until the moment I was accepted back in March. After that, it was one big countdown until the next chapter in my life was ready to begin. And yes, my life chapters do happen to coincide with my academic life stages. I know a lot of you may have just graduated from undergrad, and it’s about time for the great grad student migration. Hopefully, since I made the move a little sooner than most, I can fill you in on what I’ve found to be most helpful during my transition. I started with a little research. First, checking out Rachel’s post from her move last summer, added a few other resources, and I deemed myself ready.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gardening with a Toddler

Editor’s Note: Today will be the first guest blog in STS history!  Both Meridith and I had guest bloggers on our individual blogs, and we love the additional insights added voices give to our topics of discussion.  Those who follow us on Instagram or Tumblr know that I have started a vegetable garden this year, and I have been having a blast.  I’m constantly amazed at how I, a person who presumably knows quite a bit about plants, keep learning new things through this process.  I was discussing this with my friend Christal recently, and we got to talking about how she had started a container garden with her 2-year-old son.  Adorable and educational?  I had to know more, so I asked her to write a post about the experience of gardening with her son, and what she thinks he has gotten out of the activity.  Here is what she shared!  
This kid is totally a STS kindred spirit!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Making Time for Nature


One of my favorite environmental quotations goes as follows:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive...”  ~Edward Abbey*
These are the words of wisdom I try to remind myself of when I am having a moral crisis over what sort of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store (Plastic vs. Glass??  High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Palm Oil??  Too many decisions!).  While I absolutely want to work as hard as I can to understand and conserve the natural world, I also want to take time to walk around in the woods!  When I am working out in the field, I try and remind myself to stick my toes in the water or gush over a particularly adorable weevil.  This helps keep the balance in my life.  

Lett Lake, Snow Mt. Wilderness Area, 
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that requires as much outdoor time as mine does.  Heck, even for those of us that work outside, having unstructured outdoor play time is really important.  Remember, just because you are playing, doesn't mean you aren't learning or growing.  How do you think kids learn?  Through play, naturally.  Playing in nature, whatever play means to you, is a great first step to exploration, questioning, and eventual understanding.  The question becomes, how do we fit hours into our busy schedules for outdoor recreation and soul-feeding fresh air?  I am currently on a quest to answer this question in my own busy life.  In an effort to make it happen, my partner and I (editor’s note: Meridith and her partner, too!) have committed to hiking once a week every week.  The life experiment is set to run for the summer (May thru August).  For us, there are no rules aside from “get outside and walk!”  I’m hoping to see some new places and explore spaces nearby that I have under appreciated or overlooked.  As of today, we have gone on a walk-about all but one of the weeks we intended! Not bad overall, and we are only getting started! Would you like to get your outdoor adventure one?  Here are my strategies for making it happen!
     
STS Guide to Making Time for Nature

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Finding a Graduate Advisor

This is a question for either of you to answer. Over the course of my last year in school I’ve had the most difficult time finding out how to go about seeking potential (M.S.) advisors for graduate school. Like, I’ve tried looking at schools I would like to go to, and looking at researchers there, but I have had little success in making conclusions when my interests are wide-spread. So, how the hell do I narrow down my interests, and what is a (possibly) better way of finding and approaching potential advisors? I am (mentally) paralyzed.


Thanks, freshlypluckedscientist, for the awesome post request! First off, it’s going to be ok! You are not the only one who has felt like this! I’m also fairly certain that we are not the only two who have felt like this! Rachel and I have both gone through this process twice (M.S. and PhD) and we understand how difficult and frustrating the entire process can be. Both times I tried to get a head start on the process and both times I felt like I was always behind schedule and running out of time! Before I even get started on any suggestions or tips, I’d like to reassure you that it’s completely ok to take a year off to figure things out and generally just chill. I took a year off after undergrad and nearly 2 years off after finishing my M.S. degree. I’m now going to be a few years older than the rest of my cohort, but I am going back fresh and excited and motivated!  Like so many big life decisions, you just have to do you.   
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