Category Archives: science
As you probably have gathered by chatting with me or following my blog/Twitter, I have been having some issues adjusting to life as a post-doc. Part of it is the pressures of my career path: I love what I do and I want to do the best I can, which often means sacrifices, lists that get longer instead of shorter, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed. I think that is part of the life as a post doc/new academic. I’ve always prided myself on being able to go-with-the-flow. During grad school, I had the mantra: “it will all even out eventually” and I still was able to have a life, race fast, and write papers and grants and my dissertation. But now, things are different. I’ve had to make huge sacrifices, including moving 800miles away from my fiance, giving up long-course racing, selling my triathlon bike, etcetera. Sometimes, I feel like I am running behind a wagon full of stuff as it heads down a bumpy road. The stuff in the wagon starts falling out each time it hits a bump, one item at a time, and I am picking up the things that are falling out, and trying to put them back into the wagon. But the more stuff I pick up and put back, the more stuff falls out, and I am having a harder time catching up to the wagon because I am carrying all the stuff. It’s cruel.
Yesterday, after a pretty rough morning, I went to the AWIS-St Louis seminar on improving work/life satisfaction for women scientists. I learned a lot, and wanted to share some insight that I gained to remind myself what to focus on during work/life balance struggles:
1. Look long-term, not at the “right-now”:
There are many times when I feel overwhelmed because what I am doing at that very moment is not what I had planned on doing. I am in the lab at 7pm when I had planned on meeting a group to run at 6pm. Or, I am sitting at my desk working on a grant for 4hrs straight when I was supposed to be doing dissections. I often feel as though I am not dividing my time well enough; that I don’t set aside enough time to get in a run or yoga, or that I don’t get enough done in a work day. I have been focusing too much on the “what’s happening now” aspect and not enough at the long-term. The leaders of the AWIS discussion yesterday brought up something that really struck home with me; Work/life balance is not like balancing scales. It’s more about doing what needs to be done now and planning ahead. One thing I love about my job is that it’s flexible. If I have errands to do in the morning, no one really cares if I don’t come into work until 10am (unless I have meetings). There is no perfect 1 + 1 = 2 answer to the work/life balance equation; sometimes its a little more convoluted. Even still, it’s important to focus on finding your center.
- setting boundaries
- planning and prioritizing
- asking for what I want and what I need
- cultivating a strong support system for both work and social well-being
- At the end of each day, I make a list of things that I need to accomplish the next day. I write it on a post-it note, and keep it limited to one post-it. That way, I can accomplish the tasks, and I feel like I am actually doing something productive by crossing things off the list.
- I use Google Tasks for the more important stuff- like when its a due-date for an animal treatment, or a grant deadline is coming up, or whatever. The check boxes also provide that “accomplished! YAY” feeling, and if I don’t get them done, I have to drag them to the next day or see them hovering in the list on the side bar.
- Use Google Calendar for important meetings. I used to have a pocket calendar that I would write things in but I am forgetful, and wouldn’t always have it on me. Google is everywhere– on my phone, on my computer, on any other computer, so if I forget what I need to do or if I forget I have a meeting in 20minutes, my phone lets me know or my computer blinks at me to remind me. Because, otherwise, I am forgetful.
- Delegating smaller, easily accomplishable tasks that would otherwise linger on my post-it notes for weeks has really reduced my stress levels. For example, I have had a stock pile of samples that I need to scan and analyze for bone parameters. But, I just wouldn’t make time to do the analysis. Every time a slot opened up in my calendar, I’d fill it with something else. So, I assigned the task to someone else, and *voila!*, its almost done. Delegate FTW.
I couldn’t be more proud of one of today’s NPR stories. One of my favorite professors at Michigan Tech, Dr Seth Donahue, was featured in a story discussing the research of hibernating bears. Seth studies bear bone mechanics and osteoporosis, as well as the mechanisms involved with regulating bone metabolism during periods of inactivity.
Bears make a great, unique model for disuse bone metabolism, because they hibernate for 6 months of the year. During this time, they don’t really move and they don’t secrete waste. If a human were to do this, they would end up with frail bones, weak muscles, and all sorts of other metabolic problems. But bears are different. Their bones maintain their strength even during hibernation, and as the bear gets older, the porosity of their bone bone (which typically decreases with age in humans) actually increases. Their muscles don’t atrophy during hibernation, either. Recent work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studied the longitudinal metabolism of hibernating bears using a hibernaculum, where the researchers could keep “nuisance” bears (the bears that get into dumpsters in towns and cause all sorts of problems for residents) and observe them during their hibernating state. It’s quite cool stuff, if you ask me.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Click on the image below to hear the rest of the story.
I’m doing it. I’m pulling the trigger.
It’s time for another race. I feel recovered from the FullRev at Cedar Point, and I want back in the game. Dare I say, that I had such great success on that day, I don’t want to fall off my (almost) winning streak.
So I’m getting back into the race mentality. I’ve got to plan out my nutrition, get a good night’s sleep, dial it in.
It’s not the typical race, though. No, there will be no ribbon at the finish line. Putting in the time in training now will hopefully mean an easier, less effort day come race time. There are no bike pumps or wetsuits or aero helmets or disc wheels allowed here. If I flat, I’m on my own. My transitions need to be quick and well executed, that’s just free time. I’m not worried about what shoes to wear on the long run; I’m more concerned with how I’ll get to the home stretch. It’s no longer about the gear, it’s about what’s in my head. I won’t be greeted by enthusiastic aid station volunteers at the 11th hour, when the pain cave is closing in around me. But I know there’s going to be that light at the end of the tunnel…
Special shout-out to these fab folks for helping me get through this challenge: Baberaham (for cooking me real food among other incredibly helpful things), Mom’n’Dad (obviously), Peace Coffee (how else can I function?), Saucony and Lucy Activewear (because wearing athletic clothes to work is AOK in my book when it looks this good), Sharpie and my Trakkers gang (for not calling me crazy[to my face]), and the oh-so-convenient Halloween candy from ShopKo (nuff said).
This week, I traveled to Michigan’s capitol to talk with legislators about my graduate education and research. Three other graduate students from Michigan Tech joined me on the long trek to Lansing (Michael Brodeur-Campbell of Lake Linden, Mich. – PhD in chemical engineering; Melanie Kueber, Munising, Mich.- PhD in civil engineering; and Christopher Morgan of Jenison, Mich., PhD in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics). We met up with the dean of Michigan Tech’s Graduate School, Dr Jacqueline Huntoon. Luckily, we had Jacque Smith with us to lead the charge and take care of all the very important details of the event for us.
Graduate Education Day, as proclaimed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, is an event which is part of Graduate Education Week. More than 70 graduate students from around the state join together and presented their research and graduate experiences to legislators, the public, and other graduate students.
“To attract and grow quality jobs, we must have the best trained, best educated work force,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said during her Feb. 3 State of the State address. The event was presented by the Michigan Council of Graduate Deans, and was an incredible opportunity for us as graduate students to connect with other students from different fields of study from many other universities around the state. It was also a great chance for me to get to know other graduate students from my own school from other departments (by spending over 18hours in the van with them!), and hear about their graduate experiences and research.
I was given the opportunity to meet with my hometown representative, Kate Ebli, of 56th District (Monroe County), who received her MBA from Oakland University after working in industry for several years. She is an incredibly nice woman with great insight into the importance of graduate education. It was fun chatting with her about Monroe, and the future developments that they hope to see in Southeastern Michigan related to energy and sustainability.
What do we get out of Graduate Education Day? I think the biggest thing was the awareness that it creates regarding the importance of pursuing a graduate education and the necessity for maintaining and encouraging students to follow that path. Kate Ebli mentioned that it’s practically necessity to pursue a graduate degree nowadays. Opportunities in graduate education from other Michigan schools were presented, and discourses into how different fields can collaborate and advance both science and rhetoric were engaged.
For Michael Brodeur-Campbell, it was the first time he had visited the capitol. “I think that’s valuable,” he told me. ” I think being politically engaged is important. I got to see some different research going on in Michigan, learned about a few colleges and programs that I didn’t know about. (Graduate Education Day) did some good for increasing the visibility and value of graduate studies in the state.”
Why is graduate school important? For me, it offers the opportunity to learn, grow, and build on the ever-expanding knowledge base of the field I am so passionate about. I have realized that I am capable of contributing to science and research, and I continually desire to do so. All Miss-America quotes aside, I want to make the world a better place, and I have fortunately found a way of doing so through my research and studies. No matter how miniscule I feel that my contributions are at times (and it’s more times than not), I find confidence when my research is successful, when someone pats me on the back and tells me ‘good job’, or someone offers constructive criticism that makes my research stronger.
Brodeur-Campbell agrees. “Graduate research is important to me primarily because I want to make a career in research. Frankly I’m a chemistry geek and I love playing with solutions and beakers, and getting a Ph.D. is how I turn that into a job. But more importantly, I do it because I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and I think that it’s how I can make my greatest contribution to society with my work. And then I found out that I get all these unexpected opportunities to learn and experience things I never would have considered on my own, and that’s like the icing on the cake.”
Graduate education is a key to a prosperous future for Michigan. Many of our students are working on solutions to real-world problems. These solutions will have an immediate benefit to society and have the potential to positively impact our state’s economy as well.–Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Tech
Is graduate education important to you?
Below are some of the posters that the Michigan Tech students, including myself, presented at Graduate Education Day.
March is National Women’s History Month. As an ode to women in my field, and the National Women’s History Project to write women back into history, I’d share with you one of the most important women – no, scientists – of molecular biology.
You have probably heard about Rosalind Franklin, the university in North Chicago, Illinois. But do you know the woman behind the name?
Rosalind is the woman behind the discovery of the structure of DNA. Rosalind lived, and died, never fully realizing the impact how much her research would influence the world. She was the first to capture an image of the structure of DNA, which then went on to catapult work of James Watson and Francis Crick, the two most infamous names in molecular biology.
Rosalind graduated with her PhD from Cambridge at the age of 25. At 30, she discovered what was referred to at the time as the “B” form of DNA (now known as the double helix) using x-ray crystallography (image below) at the King’s College of London. One of her peers, Maurice Wilkins, shared this discovery – without Rosalind’s knowledge or approval – to Watson and Crick, which catapulted their publications on the discovery of the structure of DNA.
Rosalind published her DNA “B” form crystallography images in Nature at the same time as Watson and Crick’s infamous publication. She left King’s College of London shortly after this discovery and went on to Birkbeck College to study the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus.
Rosalind died at the age of 37 from ovarian cancer, which in retrospect was likely caused by the high amounts of radiation she was presented while fulfilling her research goals. Four years after her death, Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize for their findings, which was most definitely something that she had earned as well (and posthumously, it was agreed that she had great contributions to the discovery of DNA’s structure).
Rosalind paved the way for so many female scientists; well, actually, for scientists in general. I can’t imagine what she went through as a woman studying atomic-level science in the mid-20th century. I feel lucky to be in academia as it stands now; women have made huge strides in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), we have a voice, and we (should be) equal. Yet we still have a long way to go. In engineering academia, women are outnumbered nearly 12:1 by men, and only a bleek 2.7% of full professors in engineering are women. I know it something that takes time; indeed, the number of women reaching full professor status has risen in the fields of science and engineering over the last decade. But we are still an outstanding minority. We are still not completely equal; the attitude toward women as educators and researchers at the post-secondary level is much different than that towards men. It takes emulating the strengths, strategies, and integrity of women like Rosalind that will help us as women push past barriers.
This week is starting out peachy-keen, jelly beans.
I got an email last night that I am a potential candidate to represent my university at Graduate Education Day, a state-wide event held in the capitol building in Lansing in mid-April. I have not yet got final confirmation, but I am really excited about even being considered! To attend, to talk to my state’s officials about the research I am doing and discuss the impact that graduate education has on the success of our state… what an amazing opportunity. I never thought, when I was in high school, that I would have been “in school” this long. But I’m not really in school; I have a job, I pay taxes, I contribute to society (right? I buy stuff, I stimulate the economy!). Although I was the first one in my immediate family to get a bachelor’s degree, I always had some seriously awesome mentors throughout my life; my parents, my cousin, my xc coach. When I graduated with my bachelor’s and didn’t try to find a job – just went straight on to get my master’s – my dad had a hard time understanding.
“Why don’t you just get a job and make money?” He’d ask. I could hear him thinking: All that money spent on your education in engineering could come back sooo quick. And I can’t blame him. It’s hard to find a young engineering student who doesn’t at least think about how much more money they’ll make compared to those graduating from other fields (let’s face it, that’s part of the allure to high school students learning about engineering). But it wasn’t about the money for me, at least not when I graduated. I just didn’t feel like I was done learning yet. I wanted to challenge myself, and I didn’t feel like I was ready for the real world, whatever that was, just yet. After I finished my masters, well… I guess I realized that I still wasn’t done learning, even then. And I wanted to find my place. I just didn’t think I’d fit in with industry all that well.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that people who go into industry right out of college continue to learn and grow. They move around in their company or between companies. They acquire new skills. Academia is just a different avenue by which this can happen, too. For some (not all), its more self-directed.
So… here I am, back at Tech to get my doctorate. I am working my way towards the “final” degree. I guess I can’t go anywhere further in school after this, as far as going up goes. I also can’t extend my student loan deferments. I’ve learned some really important things, and I am finally content with saying I’m ready for the real world (well, I will be when my advisor and committee says I am, anyway). But I am still not done learning. I want to continue to ask questions and do research and explore the questions that my research findings unfold. There will always be questions, and I am excited to dig deeper.
In other news, I also got an email today regarding a fellowship I applied for earlier this semester. The DeVlieg Foundation, which provides two doctoral students and one masters student a generous award each year, has application rounds at the beginning of the spring semester every year. I’ve appled before, but was not chosen. This year, I just so happened to be one of the lucky folks. Well, maybe lucky isn’t the right word. I would like to think I deserved it. I have worked my butt off to get as far as I have; in the two and a half years I’ve been digging deep into the doctoral research. It makes me sound arrogant, but after years of joking of the necessity of having low self esteem but acceptance of criticism. But that’s the way it is supposed to be, that is what I signed myself up for, right? And I am so far from complaining. It’s emails like the ones I have received today that make all the pains lab struggles and failed experiments be erased, if only for a second. It’s nice to have my efforts recognized, and I am so grateful.
As I wonder and plunder through my third year of grad school, I get a breath of confidence every once in a while that I may graduate in the near future (and then proceed to be hammered back to shore by the waves of reality). Last spring, I focused my efforts to get to research-only mode so that my advisor could save money on tuition and I could make an extra $250 a semester in stipend. Trust me, that $250 was significant. Recently, however, I started thinking about the next step: the Post Doc.
Currently, I’m putting the pieces of my doctoral puzzle together, in the form of a dissertation (it’s in its initial stages, known as The Outline). It gets me starting to wonder what lies ahead. Seriously, I know that jobs are few and far between, and being in school for so long might put me in a position to be “over-educated and underpaid”. So the best strategy to tackle my next-phase step is to ask: What is it that I want to do with my life? Since I ask myself this question every time I fill out a fellowship application or write an essay entitled “What it is that I want to do with my life”- I should really know the answer. But the truth is, what exactly I want to do with my life next is dependent on what exact opportunities are available when I defend my dissertation and move on from the graduate school lifestyle. Having flexibility, exploring new areas of science, and continuing to learn and expand my horizons, now that is what I want to do with my life!
Since I know that I want to go into academia, the next step is to look for a post-doc or a teaching position. I know that I love doing research and I love learning, so let’s say my next step is the Post-Doc.
I’ve recently discovered RePORTER from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Formerly known as CRISP, RePORTER is a new and updated version, used to find out who has been awarded a grant (or grants) from the NIH recently (updated weekly), what research they were awarded money for, and how long their grant money will be there. Want to know how much the faculty in your department were awarded last year? Type in their name. For me, I’m planning on scoping out potential laboratories that sound cool and checking if the PI (primary investigator) have money to support research. If you are a pre-doctoral life sciences student and you want to try and get funded without a graduate teaching fellowship, one option is to apply for the Ruth Kirschtein-NRSA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship through the NIH. In order to be awarded this, one must first establish a relationship with an NIH-funded faculty (ding ding ding! Use RePORTER to find these faculty). It beats going door-to-door and asking.
RePORTER is really neat, too. I tried searching for PI’s in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin who have received money from NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases). It was really interesting to see who was doing what research in my region! RePORTER can be used to navigate through all different search procedures, like Funding Mechanism (training grant, SBIR, research projects, etc), Award Type, State, and organization (such as university). Now you can find out who has what kind of money, because it will list the award cost, too!
Every researcher in bio-based science should know about PubMed. It’s an online database for compiling manuscripts that have been accepted to peer-reviewed journals. Depending on your university or library, you may not be able to access all the manuscripts listed on PubMed without paying a fee, but most medical schools and universities have Free-Access permissions (and if that doesn’t work, try to Interlibrary-Loan an article you can’t seem to access). The most important thing about research is knowing what has already been done, and what needs to be done next. Reading about what others are doing, and staying on top of the literature, is key! I use PubMed practically every day to try and find new articles or articles I may have missed, especially while preparing manuscripts for submission (and preparing my dissertation, too!).
Remember when you had to write papers for school, and you had to use references and form a bibliography at the end?
EndNote is a really awesome tool that helps make writing papers a whole heck-of-a-lot easier. First, take all those journal articles you have stacked up on your desk. Second, enter in the title, author, journal name, etc. into EndNote. Hit save. Type your paper like you normally would, and when it comes time to enter a citation, click on the paper in your EndNote database, click insert, and voila! You have an automated bibliography. If you are planning on submitting the paper to a peer reviewed journal, you can change the format of the citations and bibliography even after you drafted the entire paper. Simply change the reference format and it automatically changes all your citations. Sooo much easier than going in one-by-one on your paper. Plus, you don’t have to worry if you are using annotated, alphabetized, or numbered citations. It’s all automatic. Makes grad school survivable, anyway!!
And for a fun tool that I like to play around with on the interwebs sometimes, I bring you Wolfram|Alpha. It’s a pretty slick resource, from the makers of Mathematica, that compiles data and interprets user-input search cues to get results. It’s much more advanced than Google (in fact, its not really like Google at all), and more dense with information than an encyclopedia. For a little bit of fun, you can try this game: Type in your birthday (day, month, year), and see what other important things in history happened on that day. Or, type in your name, and see something like this:”]
Other cool (and more useful) tools with Wolfram|Alpha are:
- job/degree searches (This is especially useful for high schoolers and college kids trying to decide what it is exactly they want to study; compare occupations and see the growth/decline of the jobs of interest)
- compare cities (looking at jobs all over the US? type in the cities of interest and compare population, temperature, elevation, surrounding areas)
- find a gene or protein sequence (ok, maybe a little too nerd-core for some people, but I got really geeked when I typed in “aggrecan” and got back the protein sequence, 3-D image, and atomic structure of the backbone of proteoglycans! Goooh!)
- find out about a material and its properties (I retrieved the Young’s Modulus and density of aluminum just like that! Useful for all those kiddies in Mechanics of Materials! *snap*)