Oct. 15th, 2014 09:02 pm
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Still running all over the place on this work-cation.

Sunday night, I rode back from California to Arizona with JHF, YK, and a grad student and was reunited with [livejournal.com profile] scrottie, hurrah! Monday, I took a day off and went to a bookshop and then the Desert Botanical Gardens, plus a few miscellaneous tourist spots (photo album here). I can't tell you how much of a sense of a relief I feel here. Tuesday, S and I worked while hanging out at Cartel (happy spot with craft beer and GOOD espresso - could life get any better?), and then went on the Car Resistance Action Party (CRAP) ride up to Papago Brewing. I was hoping more of my friends would make it on the CRAP ride so I could catch up with people all at once, but alas, just CR made it out and the remaining people were all new to me. S rode his tallbike, which made the ride much more entertaining. Today, I swung by a bike shop and Crockett Honey, then headed in to campus to hunker down somewhere and work on a leafcutter manuscript.

I've been trying to wrap my head around a bunch of the literature over the past two days, and I think I've now got most of those ducks in a row. So, back to working on that Discussion. Good progress, overall, but busy times, as I keep on having extended research conversations with different people here. It's hard to stay incognito on visits to the academic homeland.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
As mentioned in my previous post, I spent a lot of time over the past week with I, a new graduate student. Interacting with her is reminding me of a number of little things that I have learned over my time as a scientist. A lot of those little things are obvious, in retrospect, but I always have to wonder if I would have spent less time flailing around if I'd known about or thought about many of them earlier in my career. A few examples:

1. Enter in your data as you collect it. (this is what I'm working on today, which is what made me think about this entry)

2. Along those same lines: Clean up as you go along.

3. While writing manuscripts, keep a text file with a "to do next" list. Actually, this should be started even before you start writing a manuscript. For me, it has been the simplest way to put down a project and then be able to pick it back up with minimal fuss.

4. When meeting with other people, put as much as you can into writing, but keep it simple. To have a focused meeting, have a goal for the meeting and put that at the top. Do you want feedback on a specific piece of writing? Do you want help with the experimental design? Do you want help figuring out the holes in your logic? Are you trying to figure out who to put on your committee or who to include in the project? The sooner you can get concrete specifics in writing, the easier it will be for others to help you make progress.

5. Have a plan for analyzing your data *before* you collect the data. You might change your mind later on, but this will save you many potential massive headaches. This means having a thorough outline of your experiment and its dependent variables. Is it frequency data? Continuous data? How many treatments are you comparing? How many figures in a paper will this translate into?

6. Consider keeping annotated bibliographies for projects. I don't know about you, but my brain and memory are small, and the amount of literature I need to be familiar with is large, and covers a wide range of themes. Annotated bibliographies are a shortcut for organizing your thoughts about the literature, and for staying on task with #3. I just keep mine in text files. No need to get fancy.

7. There are a lot of other useful sources of information that might be helpful. Don't skip over them. Read them in the evening before bed. This book comes highly recommended (although I haven't read it, I suspect if I read it I would do a lot of nodding). For academic writers in all walks of writing, I've found How to Write a Lot helpful, too.

8. For keeping the different parts of a research project organized, here's an idea of how I structure my files. I'll come up with a short name for the project and will make a directory (folder) for it. Within the directory, I'll have subdirectories for: datasheets, raw data (as it is entered in to the spreadsheet), figures, R scripts, and the manuscript. I'm not good at throwing things away, so whenever I generate new files, I make a directory within a folder, label it "Old," and stick the previous version in there.

9. I like Zotero as an open-source browser plugin for keeping track of references. I still download pdfs of references into a big (separate) folder, and label them with the authornames, year, and a few keywords. Note that this is completely separate from my annotated bibliographies.

I suspect I'll think of ten more pointers somewhere further down the line, but this should be a good starting list.

What work-organization insights have you wished you'd had at an earlier stage?
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
This morning, I woke up at 5, got out of bed at 5:20 (what can I say, the cat was heavy), erged, showered, made coffee and lunch, biked over to Blue Baker for Bike-Friendly Fridays (photographic evidence), then went in to work.

I then spent way too long working on a problem of mine and made some reasonable progress after spending a bit of time learning my way around the source code for the R function I've been using. That was good in that it stretched my brain a bit, but bad in that it ate up way too much time. And also, I still don't have a satisfactory final product. The trouble is that I anticipate that I'll want to create about 30-40 of these figures in total over the lifespan of the cricket project, so I want to make the figure-creation process less fiddly and yet still result in publication-worthy figures. Otherwise I can anticipate having to spend too much time mouse-clicking, and I am so over that (see: undergrad thesis and fungus-tracing in grad school).

Once I ran out of time and steam on that project, it was time to do some cricket work. I'd hoped to have finished the stage of feeding-food-to-crickets-and-weighing-them last fall, but unfortunately when I finally sat down to look at the data, I discovered I'd need more long-winged individuals.

The problem is that not all long-winged crickets are equal. While some individuals are flight-capable and have pink flight muscles (tiny, juicy cricket steaks!), others have degenerated white flight muscles and cannot fly. We are only interested in the LW-pink, not the cryptic LW-white, for the sake of comparison with the short-winged, flightless crickets (who also have white flight muscles). The LW-white crickets are a vague intermediate for our purposes at the moment.

So anyway. After I wrapped up the last round of feeding trials, there was a lag between the conclusion of the feeding and dissection of the crickets to assess their flight muscle condition. To my horror, I've learned that way more of the LW crickets are white-muscled than I had anticipated. So, back to the laboratory to feed and dissect more crickets.

I'm kind of in a hurry by now. This project needs to be wrapped up. So I'm dissecting crickets every day to speed things along. At least 8 crickets a day. Altogether, it only takes about an hour and a half, but it's a pretty intense period, staring at tiny things through the dissecting scope. Gives me the five-micrometer stare for a while.

Hopefully I'll manage to take some photos of the process. The process is rather gruesome, given that it involves cutting open a cricket and pulling out her insides, but at the same time, it's cool in the sense that it's a chance to learn how cricket guts all fit together. And yeah, the pink flight muscle really does look meaty, while the white flight muscle looks about like how you'd expect muscle to look in a couch potato. At least, in the cricket case, the flabby flight muscles tend to be offset by giant ovaries and not by huge fat deposits.

Oh, then.

Then I worked on some modifications to one cricket manuscript, where we're reporting on experiments where we measured cricket metabolic rates, and sent that over to my boss-man. And then I worked on modifications to another cricket manuscript, associated with the work described above. And then I biked over to another building to water our lab's wheatgrass (fed to the lab's grasshopper collection), then home, dinner, and a couple of hours working on the next leafcutter manuscript.

Tomorrow's looking like this:
Get up at 6:40, have breakfast and make lunch, bike out to Lake Bryan, help with sprint races, bike back to town, get groceries at Brazos Natural Foods, head in to the lab for a couple of hours, come home, fall in a heap. Maybe do some laundry, I hope? Maybe cook some food, I hope? And more of the same on Sunday.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
A conversation with [livejournal.com profile] bluepapercup is deserving of a wider conversation. She was hoping to finish her master's degree this spring, but recently had to decide to postpone her defense until the fall. So much of the process has been out of her control, such that it's inspiring to see her determination to finish.

In the midst of it, I'm thinking about some of the things I wish I'd known more about back in the day when I started graduate school. I also wonder how many people actually finish their academic work "on time." My guess is, not many, and those who do often miss out on other important life experiences. What does it mean to be "on time," anyway, when it comes to high-quality scholarly contributions?

A lot of people apply to graduate programs and then start them without asking certain critical questions of the program:

1. What's the average time-to-graduation for participants? Departments generally won't share this information with you unless you pry it out of them, because the numbers usually aren't as zippy as they'd like. I talked to a Biology faculty member about this at some point in the midst of earning my degree - she said the TRUE national average for time-to-completion for biology Ph.D.s was 8 years. This pegs it closer to 7 years, but still. It still makes me scratch my head over the overly optimistic paperwork I received upon arriving in grad school, which had me scheduled to graduate in 5 years. If only they had told the ants about that.

2. Related - what's the attrition rate for the program, and why? Specifically, is it because they don't give anybody any money, or enough money?

3. What careers do people from the program pursue after they graduate?

What questions would you add to the list?
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I am up to my elbows in data these days. I have finished counting pupae from the leafcutter colonies I brought back with me from Arizona, quickly analyzed the data, and see an interesting, useful trend. However, it's making me want to go back to Arizona to collect up the other half of the leafcutter colonies from that experiment, as I suspect that will strengthen the trend. If the trend holds across the full dataset, it will make a big, good paper into a bigger, gooder* paper. I just hope I'm up to the task of writing it well. The leafcutter ant literature is large and rich, so I need to be able to put my work in context succinctly, while incorporating good, appropriate acknowledgements of the work of others in the field. I think if I do a decent job of this, I may be able to get this one published somewhere high-profile. No problem, right? One of my larger goals with this is justifying, to myself, that I have done good work for my dissertation research. I had to wrap up this project in a hurry and graduate, so I couldn't do it full justice at the time. And it took a long, long time to reach the point where I could even do that experiment in the first place. I had to teach myself so much, without much outside help or support.

Meanwhile, I'm also crunching through data from the "Immortal Cricket" experiment, for discussion with the lab next Tuesday. I finished entering in the data on Tuesday, then took a break from the project to work on another manuscript on Wednesday (I'm not an author on it, but the authors appreciate the help), wrote out the Methods section yesterday, and buckled down to crunch data for the Results today. If I divide the Results into six components, I'm only halfway through at this point. I've made figures and calculated statistics for one-third of the Results (egg-laying), made figures for another third (how much the girls ate) but still need to calculate stats, and need to do figures and stats for the last third (lifespan). These data are also looking mighty interesting. Working with the feeding data involved enough number-checking to make me go cross-eyed this afternoon.

So much to do. I was able to keep my feet in the fire for my requisite scheduled "writing" time, but have to reorient myself to dig in for this statistical analysis. It's complicated, to put it mildly.

*Yes, I know this is incorrect. This is poetry.

Over & Up

Jan. 18th, 2011 01:05 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
That whole bicycle expedition down to Tucson and back went pretty well overall, I must say. I was especially grateful for the fine company of DM and CG on the ride back to Phoenix - we were able to maintain a comfortable pace, neither too fast nor too slow, and enjoyed the scenery. The ride out was a little too jock-ish for my tastes, I've decided - the riders who ended up riding with me were kind of concerned about how slow they were going or how out of shape or how manly they were, and the pace was just a touch too fast to be comfortable to maintain. Interestingly, I don't think the return pace was significantly slower, overall. It was just less...combative, one could say. No one was trying to win anything or prove any point. DM, CG, and I all decided that the person in the lead would be decided by how we individually felt about being in front or being behind, without too many regimented expectations about drafting or pacelining. So rather than having the person in the lead "pull" the paceline for, say, 30 seconds, before cycling to the back, the person in the lead would fly along, enjoying the fresh, cool air and sunshine and scenery, while the people behind relaxed a bit. It probably helped that the return ride was more-or-less downhill, with a bit of tailwind as well.

Regardless, it was a good ride, overall. I am most pleased by the fact that my butt isn't extraordinarily sore, or chafed, or covered with saddle sores. I'm also pleased by the fact that I feel tired, but not exhausted, and I feel like my body is resting and recovering well. I have some numbness in the ring and pinky fingers in my right hand, from handlebar palsy, but that should clear up as long as I don't aggravate it too much. So altogether, I feel like I'll be in reasonably good shape for the 300-km ride in 2 weeks.

Other than that, let me just say, boy. Mondays are going to be busy, here. It took DP and myself a solid five hours to get things done for the Final Experiment. Basically, on Fridays, we prep for Mondays by mixing up four different batches of polenta (nothing like cooking almost-food in a beaker on a hot plate), and then we spread them into pans to dry over the weekend. On Mondays, we remove last week's feeding trays from the colonies and weigh the leftovers ("Is Mildred eating right this week?"). We also count all of the ants, and take photographs of their fungus gardens.

Then we grind up the dried-out polenta into a coarse powder, weigh it out, and give it to the colonies. The bottom line is that there's a lot of weighing of finicky materials. Last week, I tried using a coffee grinder (blade grinder) to grind up the polenta, with pretty poor results. By the end, the grinder's whack-blade was crumpled like an airplane propeller that lost a battle with a goose. So I ordered a corn grinder, which came in over the weekend, and used it yesterday. The difference was night-and-day, thank goodness.

I also had to submit another postdoc application yesterday. I'll be curious to see what my final tally is, for number of applications submitted. There are all kinds of alternate scenarios for how things could go this spring and summer. The only thing I'm at all certain about is that I will probably end up moving out of the Farmer House in May when our lease is up. That will be a good time to get my belongings all in order for whatever adventure happens next. The ideal, for me, would be to take some time over the summer to reward myself for finishing my dissertation (assuming that I complete it). But if my livelihood continues to depend on the biology of the ants, I may be out of luck. All I can do is wait and see.


Dec. 5th, 2010 11:37 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
There is too much to do in December. It is going to be very physically, mentally and emotionally consuming. I need to get my plans organized to get things done.

First, a very happy birthday to my mom! I have a gift for you, but I think I will carry it up to Seattle when I fly up on Dec. 23.

Next, plans:
Today/this week: re-house a bunch of the lab colonies in preparation for my last major experiment, write my presentation for next week's conference in San Diego, more erging, revise Diss Chap 1 and send to committee member, come up with a list of potential postdoc projects to send to committee member.

Next week (12/12-12/15): conference in San Diego.

After that, from 12/16-12/22: work on writing postdoc proposals (probably 2 of them), revising Diss Chap 1 and another manuscript, make sure that experimental colonies are happy/doing well. Finish out the Holiday Challenge.

12/23-1/6: Seattle, time for visiting with family and friends, probably some more writing squeezed in there as well, as needed, for postdoc proposals (due Jan 15).

1/7 onward: run the last experiment, keep writing.


Dec. 3rd, 2010 05:29 pm
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Today was a busy day. Mostly busy for my brain. After breakfast this morning, I went out into the backyard to hang up some laundry and water the plants. The fig tree was not looking too good (not sure if it was the cold, or seasonal changes, or what), so I went back to water it. While I was there, I decided to jump on the old stick pile, which by now, is absolutely covered in grass. I hope that means that it is actually breaking down. I can't remember how old it is by this point, but it has been there for at least a year.

Anyway, while I was jumping on it, I glanced over and noticed a cozy little hole. SOMEBODY (or some chicken) had created a nice little nest, outside of the coop and outside of our purview. There were TEN eggs in it! She (or they) had been busy doing this, for quite a while. So I sent the chickens back into their coop for the day. This afternoon, I could hear them making that sad, chicken-moaning sound a bit. Silly birds.

Other than that, I've continued to work on Diss Chap 1. By last night, I got to feeling like I had a good idea of how I needed to outline the discussion. Today, after reading somewhere between 12 and 20 million and four additional papers, I was finally able to sit down and bang it out. Boy did that take a lot of mental effort. I think I'm starting to do a good job of situating my research within the body of related research, though, which is a really, really good stage to reach. I first had to remind myself that in dissertation-writing, I'm becoming an expert in a subject matter where no one else is an expert, so I can't depend on anybody else to provide the appropriate context for my work. I have to do that work, myself. It's a good, useful mental exercise, but it's also exhausting. I also just remembered something from completing my comps - I felt like I went in circles quite a lot with coming up with my research proposal, up until I had a solid first draft of the proposal written. THEN there was something for me to talk about with my advisor and committee members. I suspect the dissertation chapters will be similar. Fortunately, for the remaining dissertation chapters, I already have a solid idea of where my starting point is. That wasn't as true for the first chapter, but it's more true now.

So, now it's time to balance out the mental effort with some physical effort, aka the Holiday Challenge. Off to the erg I go.


Oct. 28th, 2010 10:41 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I've been working from home a lot, lately. I was somewhat nervous about it at first, because I was afraid I'd get distracted at home, and lose out on opportunities and important conversations at school. But then I realized that the distractions at school were worse, and more frustrating - people talking in the offices across from my cubicle, and the constant urge to goof off on the internet, endlessly checking useless websites. And I just don't get reading done very efficiently when sitting in an office chair. With our recently expanded internet access in our house (thanks to our wireless bridge, which we've named "howie"), I can't avoid the internet at home. But for some reason, it's easier for me to buckle down and get to work at home. Writers really *do* need solitary space, to think. I can listen to music, which I can't really do at school because I haven't installed much work music on my school computer, and I eventually get fatigue from wearing headphones. And if I get hungry, I can walk over to the kitchen for a snack, instead of going through constant internal debates about whether I should go get a snack or keep working. Plus, I was realizing - this is how I've worked for most of my life, from grade school through grad school - at home.

Coffeeshops aren't really an option for me right now, given my somewhat woeful financial state.

So, yeah. Working from home has been a very pleasant change of pace.

And on that note, back to work. I've got a dissertation chapter to write.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Sometimes, this whole dissertation-writing thing makes me a stressbucket, as S has witnessed perhaps all too often recently. It requires tuning out distractions, focusing, and thinking. Yesterday wasn't a good day for it, although the day wasn't a complete wash. At this very moment, it consists of five major activities:

1. Trying to wrap up the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel. I meet with my advisor once a week to work on it. From those meetings, we generate about 6 hours of independent work for me. I think it's turning into the project I work on on weekends. All that I really care about is being able to work on it and then set it aside so I can work on more important things.

2. Working on writing up my first chapter. Most of the other work is done; the data were collected five years ago, a mathematician has helped to construct a model of the system, and the data are mostly analyzed. That last item was a bear to figure out, as I had to teach myself to use R before I could analyze the data, and even after I attempted multiple statistical approaches I still wasn't sure if they were correct. Fortunately, an incredibly helpful faculty member took a look and offered a useful suggestion. Unfortunately, his suggestion could only go so far in resolving the issue. The writing is the hardest part, though, because the subject and approach are quite novel, and I can't always see the logic that I need to clearly lay out on my own, without any help. If it were derivative work, it would be simpler, of course, but less interesting and rewarding in the long run. At least, that's what I'm trying to tell myself. I've rewritten the first paragraph about 6 times already. On Tuesday, after taking a nap, I was finally able to get it to a point where I wasn't absolutely and completely embarrassed to show it to my advisor. Only a little embarrassed. We meet to go over it on Thursdays. After today's meeting, I have a fresh set of concrete changes to make. I think I can make it. It will work out in the end. She thinks the study system and approach are novel enough to make a sizeable impact in the field. It's just a matter of constructing the writing to convince reviewers that we're correct about that. From there, perhaps it will influence the way other people think about the world around them. We hope. After all, that should be the goal of important theoretical scientific work.

3. Working on writing up my second chapter. For a little while, there, I thought it would be part of the first chapter. It's becoming clear that it will be a distinct entity, directed towards a completely different field than the first chapter. This one is a fun project, at the moment, mostly because I'm in the midst of some relatively straightforward data analysis. Plus, it has provided me with an excuse to wrap up some data collection from three summers ago that I've wanted to work on for ages, but haven't had the time to work on. Too many other obligations were getting in the way. Yesterday's efforts were kind of hilarious. I reached a point where I discovered that I needed to collect some additional data that would allow me to calculate an ant's dried weight from her fresh (wet) weight. So I went from sitting in front of the computer to collecting up and weighing 250 ants (50 each from five colonies). And that's where the rest of that afternoon went. Unlike Chapter 1, the writing for Chapter 2 is kind of effortless at the moment. I sat down at the computer this morning and wrote two pages and constructed a diagram to go with the pages. I hope we can find a good target journal for this chapter. I'm excited to develop it to the point where I can discuss it with a couple of my committee members, as I think they'll be interested in it and excited about it, too.

4. Getting things finalized for my last experiment. I think, at the moment, I'm mostly just waiting for ants to hatch for this one. I also have to do a couple of hours worth of calculations, to figure out exact dosages of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus to add to supplement the polenta I'll give to the colonies. But that's not really a big deal, just hours of work to complete. Data collection is really the easiest stage of experimental work.

5. Working on figuring out what I'll do next year. I spoke to my brother about this, briefly, on the phone yesterday. "Oh yes," he said, "That's the phase where you basically run around doing little courtship dances to different professors until you find one that will accept you." Exactly, C, exactly. Such an ornithologically-oriented behavioral biologist, that one. I've seen his courtship dances - he did one at his wedding, in fact. But it worked for him, so I should take at least some comfort from that.

And there's one project on hold at the moment - analyzing the data from the experiment I conducted last summer. Again, it's one I'm looking forward to working on, because it should be relatively straightforward. Relatively. I bring it up because once I get underway with it, I know I'm well on my way to completing my dissertation.

My biggest comforts, in all of this, are knowing that my advisor will work with me to bring this work to life in the best way possible, and knowing that if I get this all done, it will be a pretty kick-ass dissertation. A career-starter. If I get it all done. Nose to the grindstone.


Jun. 8th, 2010 04:54 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Blarghasaurus Rex. This teaching gig is kind of rough. There are two hours of lecture every day, which I must attend. I also have to hold 2 hours of office hours each week. That's a total of 12 hours of face time, plus the inevitable additional time right before and after class.

There are a total of 10 problem sets for students to complete during the class, so between the two of us TAs, we will each grade 5. I spent the entire afternoon yesterday completing the first one, and from the looks of things, almost the entire afternoon today grading the second one (I took a "break" briefly to work on an experiment with D, and just now to write this).

Someday, maybe I'll get to do science again. This mostly stresses me out because I'm still delaying the start of the summer's Big Experiment. I need to do some data analyses before I start the experiment because I need to make sure I'll get some cool and useful information out of it.

In some respects, this stresses me out. In other respects, I just figure, well, trying to graduate 1.5 years from now is a lofty goal, given my many unknowns, and hopefully things will work out okay even if I don't make that time deadline. Either way, I'm clearly going to have to work my tail off. It all makes me wonder, does anybody ever really figure out the whole work-life balance thing? I suppose there are some who feel they do, and I'd guess it's not actually people with inherited wealth. I have to wonder if it's based on a person's personality in such a way that it's hard to switch from feeling imbalanced to feeling balanced.

I know that my type of academic work inherently involves a lot of crests and troughs, but I'm still uncertain about whether or not I handle them appropriately, and I still wonder if I really actually work hard enough, with the proper focus on the proper subjects.


Also, don't write prescriptive responses in the comments on this post, because, well, that's just annoying. But go ahead and write reflective responses. :-)
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
This is going to be a crazy summer.

Well, it basically already is summer, and basically, a month of it has passed already.

That's just about what I mean.

Insofar as school goes, I'm still scrambling to finalize the protocol for my final experiment. Ideally, I'd like to finish some old data analyses so I have a better idea about some of the measurements I'll make for my final experiment. It's generally a terrible idea to go into an experiment completely blind, that is, having no idea of how the experiment will turn out.

That leads into the next chain of events. The software package that worked so nicely for some initial data analyses is not set up well to let me do just exactly the procedures I want to do. So I decided it would be a good time to switch software packages and work with the open-source software package R (yes, the software package of pirates!). The new software package is command-line driven, which is to say it sits and waits with a little prompt while the user tries to figure out how to talk to it without making it angry. Not nearly as simple as figuring out how to navigate through an unfamiliar, (inevitably) clunky GUI.

I started out by trying to decipher the somewhat cryptic standard introductory manual. It's reasonably well-written, but does not exactly explain how to use R for particular statistical purposes. So then I ordered a book on just that, how to use R for statistical analyses. It's much, much more straightforward and organized according to the things I want to do. But it still takes a lot of effort to read it and retain what I'm learning from it. I have finally resorted to note-taking and feel like I'm almost ready to start using R now.

Once I've learned how this dragon works, I'll harness it to finish up those analyses, plus another set of analyses. Meanwhile, I'll keep working on other aspects of summer experiments.

My summer employment situation has also finally been resolved, or so I hope. At first, I was assigned to TA introductory Plant Biology for non-majors, which sounded reasonably interesting. Not interesting enough to the undergraduate population, unfortunately; it was canceled due to low enrollment. I only found out at the last possible minute.

When I got up this morning and checked my e-mail, the department had come up with a scheme to pay me an hourly wage for the equivalent amount of work but for half the amount of money. Less than ideal. Later in the day, the department developed another scheme to transfer me into being a lecture TA for general Genetics. So that's what I'll be doing for two hours a day throughout June. It could be worse; I could stand to spend some time reviewing genetics concepts, and hey, I'll be earning enough of an income that I won't need to look for a second job.

For now, back to reading about R. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.


May. 4th, 2010 11:36 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I'm hoping to get my feet solidly back on the ground this May. The spring sure felt like a whirlwind of activity, but now I should have a brief break from teaching responsibilities, which should provide me with time and mental space to get back to various research projects. Among those projects:

-Keep plugging away at data analysis for my first dissertation chapter. I have to remind myself that whenever this chapter makes me feel really stupid, it's because the subject matter is novel and different enough that I can't just plug it into an existing framework. I hope that I can eventually settle on a way to present it clearly and effectively, though. My patience for drawn-out analyses is limited.

-Get travel squared away for the summer. The trip to Copenhagen in August is going to be a squirrely one, because I need to make arrangements to visit Wurzberg, Germany, and to visit [livejournal.com profile] dichroic in the Netherlands on top of arrangements to visit a professor in Copenhagen itself. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a series of arrangements for the next phase of my research life, wherein I will be writing a lot of grants. I have to spend time carefully thinking about strategies for developing my research program. The goal of postdoctoral research programs is to use them to develop tools or skills that complement what I've learned in graduate school, and ideal situations involve working in places where I can take my favorite study organism and apply techniques used by people working with different study organisms, or studying different facets of my study organism.

-Try to avoid going insane while working on the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel. I'm having fun with Adobe Illustrator these days. So much fun. Eventually, my advisor and I are going to have to buckle down and get the Discussion written, though. That's going to make my brain hurt as well. Information for that Manuscript is scattered in so many different places by now that it's hard to keep track of it all.

-Work on developing a protocol for the nutrient supplementation experiment I need to complete this summer. I only wish I knew more about plant physiology and leaf chemistry variation. Then I would be more certain about my methods. At least I now have plenty of funding for measuring the successfulness of my methods.

-Keep the ball in the air on several other small projects. Heh.

Maybe this is why I've been feeling so quiet. Hey, at least I get to work on my own stuff for a little while!
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I spent an hour yesterday afternoon talking to a professor about the nitty-gritty of postdoctoral research. Somehow, I hadn't realized he'd been to so many different places. I'm reaching the point in my graduate career where I need to go past the stage of contemplating postdoctoral research and into the stage of assessing my options and lining up opportunities. This stage of one's academic career involves a lot of planning; I have to identify who I would want to work with, what projects I'd want to work on, what skills I want to acquire, and how I'll get money to do what I want to do. In the grand scheme of things, this is a tooling-up stage, where I'll be filling out my skills and qualifications in preparation for applying for faculty jobs. That's a completely different ball of wax. Plus, there's the component of how all of that affects my personal life, and how it meshes with my life's philosophies. Somehow, in the last month or two, I've started coming to terms with the fact that I'll eventually be leaving Arizona behind.

So that's one set of plans. There are also plans for wrapping up my dissertation research. I have one more major experiment to complete this summer. I just got my teaching assignment for the summer as well. I won't be teaching a class that I've taught before; I'll be teaching introductory Plant Biology. That could be cool, but it could also be a tremendous amount of work. Probably both.

Along with the research, I need to get geared up to write my entire dissertation. I'm partway finished with the data analysis for my first chapter, and will start working on my second chapter towards the end of the summer. Hopefully I'll be able to get underway with my third chapter next spring.

I'll also be traveling; I'll be heading to Copenhagen and surroundings for a conference in August, and to California for my brother's wedding in July. I think I'm going to declare that that will be it for summer travel, other than Arizona-based trips and probably a trip to Colorado for some friends' wedding. I just cannot afford more travel than that.

And so, it is time to buckle down and get to work.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Yesterday was a whirlwind. I spent a good portion of the afternoon at Trailhead Cafe with [livejournal.com profile] scrottie, grading papers like a maniac, and prepping to teach today and next Monday. It took too long. Then I had a wonderful bike ride home, first along the Arizona Canal and then down the Crosscut Canal, right as the sun was going down. Once I got home, I cooked up a storm, making dinner for yesterday evening (cornbread and lentils, to go with some southern-style greens S cooked up Friday night) and this evening as well (roasted beet and lentil soup, plus Cafe Flora-style French Dip Sandwiches). It's my turn to host dinner for the Scrabble Society. Getting everything ready to go was fairly time-consuming, but I should be able to just heat things up and pop 'em in the oven after I get done teaching tonight. Then I should be off the hook for Monday dinners for a few weeks, whew.

After all that, I got back to work on preparations for the conference we're hosting this week. I still haven't finished writing my poster presentation, which needs to get printed, oh, by yesterday or so. I can tell I'm a little nervous because I had a terrible dream about the conference, where the first speaker went missing and the people who showed up wouldn't fit into the available space and ended up having to sit in an adjoining room. Then they fell to talking about all sorts of nonsense that had nothing to do with the conference. Most of my stage fright is because of our working groups, where us graduate students have to corral in a group of faculty and convince them that our paper topic is worth writing about.

Anyway. Back to work. Regardless of how the conference goes, I'll be relieved when it's over.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I am doing a lot of mulling things over at the moment, but am not ready to share any half-formed thoughts with the world just now. That's my excuse for not having a whole lot to say. But yesterday's list was useful enough that I'm inspired to write a new one for today (and to tell you what got done off of the old list). So, to did:

-Mail a package to [livejournal.com profile] trifold_flame
-Plant some eggplant seeds
-Prepare the side yard to plant some corn - Well, I got started on this by clearing out some of the greens growing in the spot and feeding them to the chickens. So I still need to do some more soil prep - pulling out the grass, and importing some of the delicious manure from the backyard. Hmm, a job for the yard trike!
-Make tostadas and they were delicious.
-Cook up some tepary beans and they went on the tostadas.
-Go on the Car Resistance Action Party Ride
-Spend time with [livejournal.com profile] scrottie I will miss him while he's traveling.
Muck out the chicken coop
Empty the litterbox - Okay, technically S did this, but it was on my list.


-E-mail someone about some data analysis associated with my first dissertation chapter and I even heard back from her!
-Do some statistics for the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel and look up authorship info - hmm, nnot yet.
-Get my presentation materials together for the Social Insect EXPO! on Saturday, Feb 20 at the Desert Botanical Gardens - hmm, not yet
-Go through my To-Do punchlist for the conference we're hosting from Feb 18-20 (hmm, write poster, get catering stuff together, etc etc) - also hmmmmmmmm...this is looking like a bad trend
-Get an undergrad set up for our spring research project - phew, at least this got underway! Plus, DM is helping with the project, and she has already made a cool discovery.
-Tend to my teaching responsibilities (aka grade papers and prepare for next week) - I sort of got started on this...sort of...
-Finish up some writing responsibilities for the Phoenix Bike Guide - the plan for tonight!

So, how about an updated To Do list. The exclamation points make everything more exciting, and theoretically make me more likely to get things done.

-Data analysis for Diss Chap 1! (from now on, I'm going to call my dissertation The Neverending Story)
-Data analysis for MODII:TS!
-EXPO! Prep!
-Get lab geared up for Science with R!
-Read some book chapters!
-Punchlist review!
-Grade papers! Re-write assignments!
-Phoenix Bike Guide!
rebeccmeister: (Default)
As grey clouds descend, I am departing from Seattle and heading back to Phoenix. My luggage contains an odd assortment of items, mostly food for our New Year's Grand Canyon Expedition. I will be hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, spending four nights there. I think I did a reasonably good job of tying up loose ends before leaving, considering that I managed to get a bicycle shipped to myself and did some tidying up to boot. I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the way in which family descended during and right after Christmas. That's probably just me being a McGrumpyPants, but I feel like things went from relative quietude and concentration to a stampeding cacophony and frenzy. So maybe it's good that I'm leaving that behind.

I didn't get as much work accomplished as I'd hoped, but I still feel like I made reasonable progress on things, and am ready to get back in gear when we return from the Canyon.

Most of the stories I've been reading from Working have highlighted people either doing jobs they aren't completely satisfied with, or jobs that seem to have kind of shifty morals attached to them. There was a film critic for the New Yorker who commented on people loving their jobs (she loved hers), so maybe that will change as the book progresses. Ever since reading Your Money or Your Life, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the aspect of work that we wouldn't do if it weren't for the fact that we're making a living by doing it. I am, of course, in a rather extreme field in terms of its justification as work. On the one hand, I could point out that I'm not making a fantastic living as a graduate student, but on the other hand, I am provided with enough funds to get by. And on the third hand, can I justify my work in the same way the Ford assembly-line worker justifies his? I'm so close to the pragmatic branches of biology (if the study of medicine can be viewed in that fashion), and yet I'm kind of repulsed by many aspects of pragmatic biology.

Can I really buy in to such a flawed system? It's funny and sad to think that part of my job has been to train future nurses and dentists, when I can't really afford dental care for myself. I think we need biologists who understand basic biology so we have some perspective on applied biology. And the US government seems to agree, given that they allot a small fraction of money to basic biological research (a drop in the bucket relative to the National Institutes of Health spending, which is yet again a drop in the bucket relative to so-called defense spending).

With my brother's visit, I'm also confronted with differences between how he pursues his biological studies and how I pursue mine. He has been getting a lot of media attention for his research, probably because he studies organisms that have wide popular appeal. Our research group also garners a fair amount of attention, but that aspect of biology doesn't really interest me because it tends to represent flash-in-the-pan science. We need scientists who are willing to study the ugly, understudied organisms, termites and cockroaches and horrible, disgusting pathogens. We should not ask those scientists to have the same relationship with their study organisms as the biologists who study penguins or ponies or dolphins.

Ehh, that's as far as I've gotten so far on this train of thought. Back to reading.

Glory Days

Dec. 8th, 2009 03:06 pm
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Days like today are an antidote to all of the moments in the middle of the hectic semester when I feel like I can't get anything done because I'm constantly running between meetings or trying to keep up with teaching responsibilities.

Those days are over, at least until mid-January, when they'll get even more crazy because of the conference we're hosting in February.

But until then, I have high hopes for all of the projects that I have allowed to just float along while I dealt with the immediate tasks. I wrote out a draft protocol for an experiment that DM and I are really excited about, and am getting a couple of datasets organized so I can ship them off to another collaborator. That project should help me make progress on my difficult first dissertation chapter.

I'm also tidying up a figure for a manuscript that my advisor is (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) finally working on (aka the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel), and have a few last things to put together for a mini-report of sorts for another committee member. The mini-report may or may not turn into a publication, but I think that it will get incorporated into my dissertation, one way or another.

Once all those projects are moved along, I'll be able to revisit the data for my second and third dissertation chapters, which is an exciting prospect. Just imagine, some day I might even graduate.

The best part of working on these projects is that I'm not necessarily tied to a specific place. I spent the morning in a coffeeshop with [livejournal.com profile] scrottie, which is really one of the better working environments for me (even if they did play too much Sinatra on repeat). I'm in my office for the afternoon, but it's fairly quiet in here, thank goodness.

And now, back to work.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
This week, I am substitute-teaching for another graduate student who is out of town at a conference. That meant teaching last night, eating food, going home and going to sleep, getting up at 5:45, and then teaching the same thing all over again twice this morning to two groups of my own students. Now I am kind of tired and burned out.

There was too much material to cover, to the degree that a few students came up to me at the very end of lab and asked if I could go through a few procedures again because they were unable to focus as I explained things to the class. I'm glad they asked for clarification, though, and did my best to provide it.

I am having a lot of fun with the example I used to illustrate the hypothetico-deductive mode of reasoning this time around (also referred to as The Steps of The Scientific Method). I made the students try to come up with explanations for why great-tailed grackles hang out in the grass on campus. I'm really hoping that it gets them to wake up and pay attention to the biology that's happening all around them (I mean the non-human biology. They are quite well tuned-in to the human biology that's happening all around them.). I will know if I've succeeded if the students who show up early to lab next week start talking about noticing the grackles. The best is when they get so excited that they start looking stuff up for themselves.

I just have to teach one more time, on Friday. I hope that I can keep my explanations fresh enough, the fourth time through. It gets hard to keep things really dynamic when going through the material that many times, and the students bear the brunt of the expense.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Perhaps I am overcautious, but as a general rule of thumb, I try to be extremely careful when writing about sensitive school/work-related subjects on teh internets. After all, some day I will be looking for a different job, and I want to be able to look interviewers in the eye and clearly tell them that all of my internet-based activities are conducted in a professional manner.

But there are some potentially inflammatory subjects that I can't help but talk about because they're on my mind and I am hoping that talking about them will help me cope with them and move on with my life. The current subject relates to some specifics of my teaching responsibilities, but I am going to try and talk about the situation in as abstract of terms as I can.

The fundamental situation is this: what should a person do when they believe that there is a disconnection between stated learning goals and the mechanics of how a course is taught, and yet this person is not in a position to make decisions or changes related to this disconnection, or to even engage in dialogue about it?

I have a feeling that my friends who work in corporate environments will recognize this type of situation as a management problem, because of the involved communication issues (and personally I feel like I have tried and tried and tried and tried to communicate, to no avail...).

My personality type is such that I still feel compelled to correct the situation because my primary responsibility is to the students I teach. But time and resources are limited, and I am also charged to teach in such a way that my instructions parallel the instructions of the other teaching assistants for the course. Basically, I feel set up for failure.

I will get over this feeling, to some degree. I know that I tend to get really passionate about teaching, and that I am a really opinionated idealist (though I hope I still stop to listen!). I also agree strongly with a lot of the concepts/methods with which I have personally been indoctrinated, which may make me closed-minded about other ways of knowing (I am particularly scornful of purely factual knowledge, and tend to find more value in reasoning skills).

Altogether, I just feel like maybe I have outgrown my current teaching environment, but there isn't much I can do about it at the moment, other than to carry on and not get too invested in the situation.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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