September 30, 2005

Something we don't think about every day

I was just talking with a professor who I want to be on my committee. I'm way behind on this committee thing, since one of my members dropped off last spring. I haven't gotten around to getting another member until now. But I've also been re-vamping my thesis.

Anyway, I had a lot of great things to say about my project, which is one reason I think maybe you shouldn't have to choose all members of your committee so early. I have a much better idea now of who'se expertise I might be able to use. So I think that I can use this woman because she is a biogeographer and she's studied modern climate in Grand Teton National Park where I'm working. As we were talking about my project and possibilities for research, she emphasized something that I don't usually think about. She said that my ideas for pulling lots of things together sounded super interesting to her, but more importantly it sounded like I was interested. She said it is great to have a thesis that you like and that you can get excited about. That way you actually work on it, and you can be interested in the outcome.

I know that some people probably keep this in mind most of the time. Especially those working on PhD's. Who could do a PhD without being interested? But right now I'm surrounded by uninterested people. The other grad student who actually has cores working in my lab is completely "over" her project. She's just in the data collection phase and she has so much data to collect that she hates it. She's forgotten about the big picture.

And I think I had forgotten a little bit too. Sitting around collecting data all the time isn't really that great. I got super excited when I saw my raw charcoal data graphed because I think it shows something really cool. That kind of got me excited again. And thinking about adding a couple facets to my project also gets me excited. I'm not particularly a fan of pollen analysis. That is pretty mundane to me. Sure, you can find out a bunch of cool stuff about past climate and how vegetation has changed over the past few thousands of years or more, but it's not my bag. I'm much more interested in my charcoal questions, and also the possibilities of thinking about how local climate controls the low-elevation lakes, and how people affected the whole landscape. I like variety, and this brings several things into my thesis for a nice variety. But I think I had forgotten that I have to make this project something I like. Even if it is just until it's done and I graduate, I have to like something out of it.

September 28, 2005

Teachers/ lecturers

What are some things that you out there think make a good lecturer (or university teacher)? I'm saying specifically "university teacher" because I think that they need different skills than high school teachers and elementary school teachers. So, what ideas have you got?

I pose this question because I know a few people who want to be teachers (both elementary level and college level). Some of these people I think would be absolutely wonderful teachers. Some I think would really stink at it.

September 26, 2005

I might actually have something interesting to write about...

The first purpose of this entry is to draw attention to my "nerd score"(bottom of sidebar). I just took this test that I linked to from Ms.PhD's blog. I did NOT expect to be a "High-nerd"!! Hmm. I suppose I'm nerdier than I thought. Oh well.

Now, there is something that I'm trying to figure out that actually has something to do with my research. For part of my thesis I'm looking at the macroscopic charcoal records from 3 lakes. My advisor has done this sort of thing many times before, so she knows how do analyze this type of data. I'm reading *the* paper on the CHAPS program (written by P. Bartlein at the University of Oregon), which is what we use to "decompose" the charcoal record into background and peaks. Supposedly this is the only paper published on CHAPS statistics, and there is of course the manual that goes with the program. I am reading this to hopefully become more familiar with the actual statistical calculations that go into the program. But I have found the paper a bit un-helpfull. (By the way, this is the Long et al. 1998 paper from the Canadian Journal of Forest Research).

I think I understand the methods, but I feel there is something missing from the paper. I wish that the authors would explain their statistical methods better. I said that I am reading it to become more familiar with the calculations they use. But they don't specifically talk about their calculations. They describe their statistics with words, and don't ever show any formulas. I think this is a poor way to get your methods across to your readers. I don't think that I could just read this paper and then do the same thing all by myself. I have someone who can explain it to me, and I have people that I can ask questions independently. But I think it is crummy as a methods paper because it doesn't really give you any methods.

My advisor even said, "some people say CHAPS (the program) is a black box, where you just put in your data and it spits out some statistics. " She went on to say that it is not simply a black box, but that "we" know what is going on inside. I don't think this is true. I think someone knows what's going on inside (namely Bartlein, since he wrote the program and he is pretty brilliant with statistics), but the majority of people who use it don't. I have seen a few talks about this type of data, and usually the speaker just says some things that sound nice, so it sounds like they know what they're doing, but if you ask them specific questions about their statistical methods and why they did some things and not others, they usually falter and can't answer. This is a bad way to do science. I feel that any scientist presenting something in a poster or a talk should be able to answer questions about their data! Even funny questions. You shouldn't have to say, "Well, I know that CHAPS does a locally weighted moving average, but I couldn't do it by myself, I don't really know how to do it." I'm not saying that you shouldn't save time by using programs written for your specific situation, I'm just saying that you should still know exactly what is going on, and why.

September 23, 2005

Rain and sleepiness

It is cold and rainy today. And yes, I'm sleepy. Mostly from sitting in a warm room right after lunch listening to a boring statistics lecture. Very difficult to stay awake.

Friday's are Physics Colloquium days! I love to attend physics colloquia, and I have since I was an undergrad. I am a geologist, but I have always found physics colloquia to be more exciting and interesting than your average geology or earth science colloquium. Why? I'm not entirely sure. Geologists and earth scientists tend to have good ways of explaining topics to a wide audience, and make their topics interesting. But I find I'm usually way more excited by the physics topics. If I go to the earth science colloquium I'm usually bored.

An example of a super interesting colloquium - when I was an undergrad a physicist gave a talk about the atmospheres of brown dwarf stars. It was so interesting to me because he was talking about models for the condensation of these atmospheres, and these models were very similar to models that igneous petrologists use to simulate crystallization in a magma chamber. I was enthralled and sitting forward in my seat for the entire hour. It was so exciting. (The funny thing about that colloquium was that I was probably the only one awake. All the physicists there were bored out of their minds).

Now, today's physics colloquium is:
Thallium atoms, diode lasers, and 'table-top' tests of fundamental symmetries.
By: Protik K. Majumder Department Chair and Associate Professor of Physics Williams College
I'm not sure if this one will be super interesting. But here is the one I missed (sob!) last week:
Did a Gamma-Ray Burst Initiate the Late Ordovician Extinction?
By: Adrian L. Melott, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kansas

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the Universe. A GRB within our galaxy could have catastrophic consequences for the Earth. Extrapolations from the global rate suggest an average interval of a few hundred million years for events in which the Earth is irradiated from an event on our side of the Galaxy. The atmosphere would become heavily ionized, resulting in major destruction of the ozone layer, darkened skies and nitric acid rain.
Both the prompt UV and the solar UV resulting from long-term loss of the ozone layer are destructive to living organisms. The attenuation length of UV in water is tens of meters. There is a strong candidate for a GRB based mass extinction in the late Ordovician, 440 My ago. Planktonic organisms and those animals living in shallow water seem to have been particularly hard hit during this mass extinction.
When I found out I missed that one, I was quite upset. Cool topic! I love learning about things other than my specific field, which is probably why I love physics colloquia so much.

September 22, 2005

Being a "secretary" is hard

Especially when it's only a very part-time job! I'm working for a small lab on campus for ~10 hours a week. I started at the beginning of the summer to make some money, because all I had for the summer was 6 weeks of TAing for $1500. And I needed more money than that to live on. So I got this job, which is really cool. I'm continuing during school so that I don't have to TA full time. I'm TAing 2 hours a week, which sort of equates to a 10 hour a week job (because of prep time and grading and all) which is a 1/2 time TA. So I'm working another 10 as a "secretary". I'm not an actual secretary, I'm doing all sorts of weird things. I'm keeping track of money, but separately from the department accountant. I'm trying to keep things organized in the lab space, and I'm doing odds and ends for my boss. I like organizational work, so this job is fun for me most of the time. But it is hard as well. Especially today. I'm supposed to get all the paperwork from purchases with POs and the lab corporate credit card. Apparently this hasn't been happening. So if people don't give me their paperwork, I don't know what is going on. And when things don't work out, the department accountant calls me and yells at me. (Actually, she's really nice, but she seems like a witch and everyone is scared of her) And if I don't have any documentation, I can't help her. So she gets blacklisted somehow within the University purchasing system. Altogether not a good thing. So, being around for only 10 hours a week, it is difficult to communicate with all the lab employees and get them to follow my purchasing rules. And they all complain that I shouldn't be able to tell them what to do because I'm only a "secretary" and I don't know the first thing about engineering or whatever else.

Besides this, everything seems to be going smoothly. I just remembered that I have to talk to my department accountant and see the records of what has been spent out of my grant. It is not really my personal grant, but it is specifically for my master's project. We got some more money (a lot in fact), and so I want to go over the entire budget. I had to pay for radiocarbon dates (6 at $300 a date) and lead-210 dates (I don't even know how much those cost), and I paid a bit for field work this summer and over Labor Day weekend. But now that we have tons more money, I think I have plenty left for some lab supplies and another trip to Jackson in December, and maybe I might even be able to afford to pay myself for 10 hours a week next semester, so I can just work on my stuff and not have to TA at all! That would be cool. My advisor wants to go over the budget with me, and I want to go over it myself so we'll figure out what we can spend.

September 18, 2005

Dedicated to Tom (dad)

Well, yes, it has been a long time since I've posted. Last night I promised my father-in-law that I would post more. So this post is dedicated to him. Hopefully knowing that he's out there watching will help me keep up.

First of all, I haven't posted in the last few days because I have been getting stuff done! Since school has started I have been having weekly meetings with my advisor about my research. Right now I still don't know exactly what direction my thesis will take (arrgh!!) because I'm waiting for some radiocarbon dates. But I do have some cool and potentially exciting data! I will show some of that in a couple days. But, that is kind of exciting and I feel like I've been accomplishing something.

Yesterday I drove on a field trip for the Yellowstone class I'm TAing. We went to ... Yellowstone. But it was really fun. It was cloudy and cool and starting to look a lot like fall. Very nice. We saw several bison and several elk. Some of the bull elk had huge racks, and that was pretty cool. There is one more field trip for that class, back to Yellowstone, in October. Hopefully that one will be just as fun.

And I'm definitely going to GSA in October. I've already set up one meeting, and hopefully I'll set up more. I'm looking forward to meeting more people.

September 10, 2005

It's turning into fall!

Today is the first football game of the season here. And the weather matches perfectly. It is overcast and drizzly. Ahh, it is turning into fall. Fall is definitely my favorite season. It feels like it's coming a little early, but I still like it.

I made up my mind yesterday and registered for the Geological Society of America meeting this year in Salt Lake City, UT. I'm going for the purpose of meeting people in the field that I want most to work in. I'm in the master's program here, but I'm not doing what I want to be doing. And I think I could be. So, my tentative plan is to finish up my master's here and try to work on a really cool project with a real paleobotanist. This is my dream, I guess. So I'm going to GSA this year to meet with some paleobotanists and talk to them about their work, and other paleobotanical things. Hopefully I'll learn some things that will be useful when I'm done here.

Supposedly one of the professors here has some nice leaves that go along with a dinosaur dig. I would like to work on these leaves. I understand the fact that no one here wanted to accept me as a real paleobotany grad student because nobody here knows a thing about it, and I'm sure they would feel inadequate as advisors. But that is what I really wanted to do! I thought I made that clear in my application essay! Rrr. It's okay though, I'll work something out for my Ph.D.

September 02, 2005


What's your favorite NASA mission patch? Mine is Gemini 4. So many are cool though! Talk about a dorky post...

September 01, 2005

Happy September

Here we are almost done with a week of school. Wow!

I have to say that I really feel for all the people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and all the rest of the places hit hard by the hurricane. It is all over the news. We listen to NPR in the mornings during breakfast and then while we're making dinner, and we have hardly heard any other news but hurricane news. The other day they were talking to someone from Idaho Falls who had decided, along with her husband, to drive down to the affected area and offer to take a family back to their home and house them for however many months it takes to rebuild. And others in their community were offering the same thing, and to enroll children in school and provide transportation and help out with food. I was just amazed when I heard this, and it made me feel really bad that I'm not in a position to do something like that. I would love to help out in a "real" way like that, instead of just donating some money or some blood (although blood is very important). I just feel like I'm sitting around hearing all this news and not doing anything about it! Being a grad student leaves you in a funny place in the community because you don't have a lot of time or money to help out.

I also feel guilty because it's sunny and nice here, and I'm going down to the Tetons this weekend for a day of field work. It's supposed to be nice there. Why should I get to do normal things when all these people's lives have been turned upside-down? Huh.