Time flies when you’re having fun, and this April-June was no exception. Between heading to the field in AZ for a month to work on my C. pallida thesis work and my trips to NY to check in on my Isodontia wasp project, the months absolutely breezed by me. Particularly incredible was the graduation of my first five undergraduates from the lab; we held a small going away party for them and the two students who worked with my partner in PhD, Katie Fiocca. I can’t wait to see all the amazing things they go on to achieve!
For some quick updates on last quarter’s goals:
Finish the review process for my two first-author papers on mannitol and D. melanogaster: paper one is published and paper two is in review!!
Finish gathering and writing up my erythritol data on ants – While the paper is nearly finished being written up, we are waiting on a few more choice bits of data to come in. Winter extended later than I expected and we didn’t really start finding bigger colonies to test until the end of May.
Finish gathering and analyzing data on Centris pallida neuroanatomy – I did finish and analyzing all the data I intended to collect when I wrote this goal… but the analysis pointed to some additional interesting data I could collect so… here we go with that!
Generate new materials for Bio 208 course revisions with Dr. Gurney – finished! I am now in the midst of trying out these new materials in the classroom and writing a short paper up on a teaching tool we generated for the class.
Gather data on Centris pallida thermal tolerance – Done!
Overall, not a bad term. This summer, I’m implementing new course material for Applications in Biology II and also teaching a new class: Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology II. Because of this, my research goals are a bit less lofty:
Finish the histological sectioning of my new C. pal work
Finish making the aperatures for my C. pallida trip to IL
Finish the erythritol-ant draft and get it submitted
And let’s not forget the other ‘biggie’ coming up – my wedding! Coming to PA in October of 2019. Weddings are a tremendous amount of planning, and I anticipate the months right before will be even more harried.
In my Oct-Dec update in 2018, I suggested that winter coming might be ‘restful’. As anyone who has done a PhD should know, and as I am beginning to learn, there is no time in an academic’s life that could be considered restful.
Still, my Oct-March went really well for being such a whirlwind. As far as some research updates, I have three first author papers current in prep (one in review), another three papers on which I am an author in prep (one in review), and several presentations under my belt – including an invited talk at Penn State Schuylkill as a part of their faculty research seminar. My Entomological Digest talk at the ESA Eastern Branch meeting won second place (!) and three of my undergraduate students gave posters/presentations, one of whom came in second in the BS/MS poster competition. The Social Insects in the North East Regions conference that I organized went off without a hitch – and it was so exciting to get to catch up with old and new science friends. I also got the first of my thesis data, which was relatively encouraging, and applied for four grants to help fund the research (I’ll hopefully be hearing back soon).
In addition, I’ve made some real strides in my ‘service’ world as Biology Graduate Student Association President – which is why this blog and some of my science communication has taken a small backseat. I’ve begun the process of organizing my department’s first scientific retreat (as a collaborative initiative with faculty) since I started my PhD. I’ve cleaned up and organized our student community spaces, including getting a lending library running, and pushed the Graduate Student Association at our school to set up an infrastructure grant program where graduate student organizations can apply for funds to improve their spaces and purchase equipment (microwaves, furniture, etc). We’ve started a website for our organization, and are putting together a welcome package with information for newly accepted students.
We also worked with our Graduate Program Committee, Department Chair, and Graduate College Dean to get a vacation policy in place for graduate students in our department. Finally, I feel I’ve made some strides establishing open lines of communication between some of the faculty and students in our department – and between students in different labs and cohorts. While these are not accomplishments that will show on my CV, being in a more collaborative and happier department matters to my personal sense of morality – I like to leave every community healthier than when I found it.
So what about moving forward? My big goals for this coming quarter (April to June) are to:
Finish the review process for my two first-author papers on mannitol and D. melanogaster
Finish gathering and writing up my erythritol data on ants
Finish gathering and analyzing data on Centris pallida neuroanatomy
Generate new materials for Bio 208 course revisions with Dr. Gurney
Gather data on Centris pallida thermal tolerance
I’m really excited to be heading out to Arizona for my field season on April 3rd, which will give me some excellent time to catch up on reading and writing, while also getting some wonderful thermal data on my lovely Centris pallida bees!
I’m excited for quarter four because it’s going to be comparatively restful – winter hits the northeast and so I get a bit of a break from fieldwork and time to process my specimen! To me, quarter four looks like the time to wrap up a lot of loose ends.
Before I move on to the ‘big goals’ I have for quarter four, let’s celebrate what happened in quarter three. First, the EPiC conference (Evolution in Philadelphia) was a huge success with 108 attendees from 24 different university and 62% of the attendees being early career researchers. 29 presentations, 2 plenaries, and 25 posters later, we learned a lot about the amazing evolutionary science going on in and around Philly!
In June, I was able to travel to Cienfuegos, Cuba for a month with four amazing undergraduate students and Dr. Dane Ward to study Melipona beecheii stingless bees as part of my Eva Crane Trust grant (Dr. Ward is my Co-PI). We presented our findings in four posters at Drexel’s Students Tackling Advanced Research showcase in August and are hoping to flesh out at least one of those into a publication and a return trip. I was able to present my publication on wasp brains at the International Union for the Study of Social Insects Conference in Guaruja, Brazil in August which was an absolute blast. I also worked at my field site in NY at the Huyck Preserve and at SUNY Geneseo, studying the grass-carrying wasps that moved in to my bee nests (nope, no bees. It’s cool, nature). I was able to do some outreach – including some podcasts (PhDrinking, School of Batman), a Scientist Saturday at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and public and high school lectures at the Huyck Preserve. All in all, it was a busy quarter and there was a lot to celebrate!
For this final quarter, my goals:
Publication Proliferation – Finish writing the first drafts of my first two first-author publications – this will be a big challenge, since I’ve never written my own paper before!
Quality before quantity – Quality control my data on Centris bee ovaries and Melipona morphology and send it off to my co-authors to get their thoughts.
Conference Coasting – Plan the Social Insects in the North-East Regions Conference for December 2018.
Classroom Antics – I’ll be taking a class for my Masters on Theories of Individual Cognition in STEM Education and an online Morphology Course.
If I thought the second quarter of this year went fast, quarter three has gone even faster. I’m writing this a tad early – I’m currently (as of this post) in Cuba, so I had to write this post in advance since my internet access is spotty depending on my day’s activities.
The big thing I want to emphasize about this last quarter: I passed my candidacy! Indeed, I am now a PhD candidate – and coming off the back of a pretty successful field season, this feels especially good. I am excited to get the chance to settle down and work on my own thesis specimen this fall.
I met 3 of 4 goals (as expected!) for last quarter – Candidacy Boss Battle, Part 2; The Pallid Bee; and at least started Carpenter Contemplation (an ongoing meditation on America’s hardest-working bees). What’s on the docket for July-September?
Carpenter Contemplation, part 2 – Returning to New York to see how my nest boxes are doing and potentially gather some genetic and cognitive data!
Colliding Conferences – Conferences here, conferences there, oh my! I’m currently organizing two conferences – the Evolution in Philadelphia Conference and also, hopefully, the NE regions Social Insect conference.
Termite Trials – To increase the sample size of one of our soon-to-be-papers, we need to run a few more termites through our histology mill. Sit tight…
Pest Mess (please!) – This is the one I just can’t seem knock off my to-do list – third time’s the charm? Hopefully, the Tetramorium will be plentiful outside upon my return from Cuba and ripe for experimental tests!
I’ll admit that my to-do list has really gotten to be extensive – I am hoping after my field season is over I might have the chance to calm down a bit. Here’s to a happy, and productive, summer!
I arrived back from my first field season in Arizona on May 5th, and have been running around like mad ever since – trying to process specimen, taking my qualifying exam, and prepare for my next two field seasons this year (to New York, starting tonight, and Cuba, in June). But I felt I should take some time to reflect on the five biggest lessons I learned from this first foray into fieldwork.
Never underestimate the generosity of your peers – the number of people it took to make this season ‘go’ is astounding. From my ‘funders’ (fiance, Alex, and grant giver, B Cavello), to those that gave me lab space or let me borrow/taught me how to use equipment (literally a dozen people and counting), to those that let me stay with them (the amazing Kathryn Busby) which really made the trip affordable and fun, there are so many people who believed in me and supported me throughout this field season. The first big lesson I learned was to not be afraid to ask for help or support; the scientific community has a ton of wonderful people in it who want to help make science happen, and this field season I have countless people to thank for their generosity.
Nothing will go according to plan – part of the reason it took so many people to make the season happen is because nothing went according to plan! The bees showed up 3 hours away from where I was staying, so suddenly new lab space and housing had to be found closer to where they were. Equipment suddenly became inaccessible, requiring me to find new people to borrow it from. At every turn, it felt like my carefully constructed plan (that I had made in January, because I am a planner at heart!) was breaking apart. And yet, somehow, thanks to all the people who came together to help me out, everything came back together again at the end of the season and I got to test out my equipment and collect a lot of specimen. I think being flexible is the key to field work – have plans for if you don’t get your equipment running the way you would like, or if your organism appears elsewhere than expected (or later than expected…). Having a flexible mindset in how and where you gather data, and what data you gather, will help your season be more productive.
Attitude is half the battle – Reader, when I did not find my bees for the first three weeks of the season I was DESPONDENT. But honestly, that’s just fieldwork for you and each day you need to get up and at ’em again. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears peeled for other interesting phenomenon and do whatever you can to keep your spirits high; getting down on yourself will only make things even harder. Sometimes this may mean taking a break when things aren’t going well – a good taco, mountain view, cactus tour, fun reading day, etc, can do wonders to restore your spirit.
Bring more vials – I ran out of vials about eight times in five weeks, it was incredible. I had no idea one could possibly use so many vials. How??? This isn’t just for vials, its for all supplies – bring more than you need. Things will break, get lost, evaporate if you don’t seal your EtOH container tightly enough (*sigh*) etc – having lots more than you thought you needed will help you survive these curve balls.
Fieldwork is fun! – There is nothing more enjoyable than being out in nature, intentionally observing things, day in and day out and getting to call it ‘work’. Particularly, being in an area that is so different from where I grew up and that has such great diversity was an amazing experience. Each day was a revelation, watching cacti grow flowers and bees emerge from the ground, seeing spiders and lizards catch prey, following flower-petal trails to seed-harvesting ant nests… it was all tremendously enjoyable, and I can’t wait to do it again.
I’d like to thank everyone on below for their help – accessing lab space or supplies, providing me with a couch or guest room to sleep on/in, teaching me how to use new equipment, checking different field sites for me, providing endless encouragement, and even financial support. I could not have done this without all of you believing in me, and with that belief supporting me in so many ways.
Thanks to my Drexel support: Dr. Sean O’Donnell, Katie Fiocca, Dr. Jacob Russell, Dr. Jennifer Stanford, and Dr. Michael O’Connor; to my lodging/funding support: Sarah Cook, Ellen and Adam Lowry, Kathryn Busby and Logan Schoolcraft, Alexander Glica, and B Cavello (Women’s Mini-Grant); to my University of Arizona support: Dr. Stephen Buchmann, Dr. Dan Papaj, Dr. Wulfila Gronenbergm Dr. Goggy Davidowitz, Dr. Judie Bronstein, Noah Giebink, and Bruce D Taubert; to my Arizona State University support: Dr. Jon Harrison, Dr. Kaitlyn Baudier, Dr. Jennifer Fewell, Dr. Rebecca Clark, and Megan Duwel.
And, always, a thank you to Anne Zimmer and Richard Barrett – for believing in me.
Wow have the past few months flown by – year two of your PhD is no joke! First, I’d like to recognize all the big things I achieved in this last quarter (in no particular order):
Went to ESA EB and presented on wasp brains
Organized a field season to Arizona
Presented a poster and helped my undergraduates make two posters for a conference
Applied for four grants
Finished the termite retina project
Had my first committee meeting #CandidacyBossBattlePart1
Embedded and sliced all the bee/spider brains #BrainDraincomplete
Earned my graduate minor in Undergraduate STEM Education
Was on a podcast! My very first #SuperwomeninScience
Hosted Biotweeps – and had a ton of fun
Brought two new undergraduates into the lab, trained them on the first project, and developed materials for a new mentorship training program that I am implementing
There is a lot to be proud of on this list.
What things didn’t I get to? Well, the blog took a huge backseat (my last Bee Byte is two months ago!) and I did not finish the Pest Mess (one of my big goals in my last goal-setting post) – mostly because all my ants died, before giving them the pesticide… oops.
So what are my goals for quarter two – April through June?
Candidacy Boss Battle, Part 2: Sometime between April and June it’s time for my full-on committee meeting and any revisions to my proposal that may come from this. Bring on the #nerves.
The Pallid Bee: A successful first field season out in Arizona would be a big boon to my thesis. Luckily, I have a great crowd supporting me at University of Arizona – and back home.
Pest Mess (attempt 2?): Shall we try again? Hopefully, in May I’ll have some time to grab fresh Tetramorium and give these last few experiments one more whirl.
Carpenter Contemplation: If Pest Mess doesn’t happen you can bet it will be because of the Carpenter bee project I have sitting in my back pocket, which will require some trips up to NY in May.
Hopefully, I’ll have some time to update this space with exciting news about grants, my field season, and other upcoming trips – as well as more Bee Bytes – ASAP. I’ll be celebrating my plane ride to Arizona with a Bee Byte on my thesis species, Centris pallida, so stay tuned for that – coming April 4!
Happy New Year! May all of our 2018s be better than our 2017s.
I recently talked about goal-setting on Twitter, and how hard its been to follow through on many of my goals in my PhD program due to the ever-changing nature of the degree. The challenges and stresses are highly variable throughout the year, and I’ve come to the realization that annual goals – at least this coming year – probably won’t make much sense for me. Instead, I’ve decided to try out quarterly goals, with one big and two medium size professional goals to work on and evaluate every three months. For my first quarter (Jan 1 – March 31):
Candidacy Boss Battle, Part 1: Plan my first field season and have my first committee meeting
Brain Drain: Get through a round of bee and spider brain embedding
Pest Mess: Run the last few ant trials to get started on that paper (this may extend into May/June)
Now, ‘Candidacy Boss Battle’ probably doesn’t seem like that big of a goal, but I want to give the process, and the emotional toll it’s likely to take on me, the respect it deserves. Here’s what I think that will likely entail:
Reading about 1 paper a day
Scheduling, organizing, attending the committee meeting
Reminding myself to breathe for the 2 weeks prior to the committee meeting
Making significant revisions to the proposal itself
Organizing a field season in an area where I don’t know the facilities or tools
Coming up with a back up idea for if I don’t find the aggregations
Creating a presentation
So, given all the above, I feel like it’s a pretty big goal. Brain Drain is a pretty small goal in comparison, but would give me a cool graphic for my presentations and would keep pushing the spider brain project along as my undergraduates keep chipping away at the backlog. Pest Mess is more ambitious – mostly because it takes a long time to do the work (multiple weeks, uninterrupted), less that it is a lot of work to do. In any case, each of these would keep the lab humming along at a nice pace and my career progressing similarly.
I’ve also been thinking about personal goals for 2018 – 2017 was somewhat unhappy for me and I want to make 2018 better. I think some of this will be hard for me, and realistically won’t happen this year, because changing how you think and what you value is hard. But here are some of the things I’m going to at least try to be more aware of in 2018:
Saying ‘no’ more often. – I’ve spent a lot of time prioritizing making others happy, helping others, over helping myself. This is, in moderation, a character trait of which I am proud. It has led me to meet amazing people and have incredible, unique experiences. But I also become so busy and stressed that it strains my relationships with those I love, and my relationship with myself. It has given me incapacitating anxiety and led to depression. I need to learn to say ‘yes’ to me, and ‘no’ to others, more often.
Valuing my mental and physical health. – We live in a world where pushing your body and mind beyond what is healthy is romanticized as an incredible devotion to your work. However this devotion hurts, when you take away the Instagram filters. This year, it is time to put my mental and physical health on the priority list – to stop joking about or in any way devaluing the importance of taking care of me.
Bitter or Better. – “When something happens that you cannot control, you can choose to become bitter – or become better. Choose better.” – to paraphrase Sister Karlien from high school. This is something I used to be good at that I’m afraid the past two years have caused me to fall back from. I’ve got a lot of bitterness to let go of, to remember the positive feelings that make me happy. There’s a lot to be grateful for in my life, and even as times are complicated and tough, I need to remember ‘better’ is the way to go.
Accepting my humanity. – Struggling with perfectionism, impostor syndrome, intense fears of failure, and self-imposed unrealistic expectations has only made the graduate school environment even more difficult. This year, I hope to accept my humanity – the process of failure as human, the importance of mistakes, letting go my harsh self-criticisms, seeing others that I admire in a more realistic light.
I hope that your 2018 is off to a good start – and that you use the beginning of the year to reflect on who you wish to become. I am hoping to find some time in future posts to discuss how, after you make a goal, to follow through using different types of step-organizing strategies that work for PhDs and life!
Grant writing is a new thing for me, so you should take all my advice with a grain of salt – but this is one piece I think might be worth considering. Grant writing isn’t really a big, scary exercise in writing and self-promotion (well, I mean, it is that too) but more importantly it’s an exercise in listening.
But who are we listening to? To answer this, we must think about who are we in conversation with as we write our grants. There can be several answers to this question – and several audiences for you to consider.
The Grant Reviewers – Imagine you have to sit down and look over hundreds of applications from, mostly, similarly qualified candidates. What would make some stand out? It isn’t likely to be that one extra paper you published – it’s more likely to be that your application was enjoyable and easy to read. When the pages fly by and your story is interesting, you’ll leave the reviewers with a far more positive impression of you, and your science. So spend lots of time perfecting the readability of your writing – the reviewers will thank you.
The Grant-granting Agency – I work as an assistant poetry editor for a literary magazine – in some ways we are a ‘granting agency’ in that we grant author’s work publication in our journal. Nothing is more irritating than reading work that doesn’t fit the stated goals of our magazine! Granting agencies likely feel the same way – if your work doesn’t fit the criteria, or address the points in the application instructions clearly, it doesn’t matter how amazing you are, you simply haven’t demonstrated you deserve this grant. Pay close attention to the wording used in the application for who they are looking to give this money to – and then use that same language to describe yourself and your work, so it’s easy to spot how you fit the bill.
Your Critics – Another creative writing tidbit is the idea of workshops; you bring in a piece of writing and distribute it to your peers, who read it and comment on it – telling you what worked and what didn’t. You usually end up with 15 copies of your work that all say slightly different things… but have some common underlying thread. Apply the same principles to your grant – send it to lots of people, those with and without experience in your field or with you/your projects, etc. The suggestions they send back will vary and you absolutely should not take every suggestion, but look for the underlying themes. Are certain sections unclear? Do you need to reorganize so your question is broader and has more impact on your field? Is the tone bogging the piece down? Listen to what your critics are saying underneath their suggestions to get to some of the real issues with the piece.
Your Cheerleader – Grant writing, maybe because it’s new or maybe because I have some serious impostor syndrome, is some hard stuff. I have to catch myself from making all kinds of qualifying, humbling statements like ‘this was a pretty big paper’ (since grant writing is all about acknowledging your accomplishments). So make sure you have a cheerleader – preferably somebody in your field but not your adviser who can tell you that you are GRRRRRREAT. It could be your mom, but would you really believe her? Find that one professional who can make you feel like others in your field recognize how awesome you are – and then read their email while listening to that ‘New Avengers’ song from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. I promise, you’ll feel ten feet tall after and swagger like you’re Iron Man.
Yourself – If you can’t represent yourself in the grant application, you don’t deserve to get it – whoever you represented does. No matter everyone else’s suggestions, edits, comments, and concerns, make sure before you submit that the grant still sounds like you. No one knows your smarts, skills, achievements, creativity, humor, etc like you do – so always read that last draft with yourself in mind.
Listening is hard and takes practice – pulling out the ‘underlying concerns’ in a critic’s piece or identifying what to do to make your narrative read more easily can be difficult. Not receiving a grant isn’t actually always about you and your qualifications – there are so many nuanced reasons, especially when there’s so little money to give out and such competitive pools of applicants (that you’re a part of!). Put your best application forward, then back away from the result – and be prepared to try again.
Year one of my PhD program is officially over and, with the advent of the fall semester, I would like to celebrate the things that I’ve achieved in just one year. In some ways, this blog has functioned as my ‘praise journal’ – the technique I wrote about in this blog post about overcoming impostor syndrome. This past year has been very hard – a PhD is about growing as a scientist, which (it turns out) means more than just learning science; it means learning to think and work differently. This growing process is hard – my perfectionism, anxiety, and workaholism have been dangerous company to keep as my PhD has progressed. But each graduate student has their own areas of personal growth where they will be challenged during their graduate career.
This past year I’ve accomplished the following scientific things:
Taken six classes, and many online workshops
Taught two classes
Gathered brain data on over 160 specimen and counting, including spiders, ants, termites, and wasps – and helped finish three full projects for my lab, one of which is already published
Gathered microbial community data for another lab that will result in an eventual publication for them
Started working on an additional four projects for my lab, with exciting results incoming!
Made a poster on ant pesticides with my STAR mentee!
Began developing a pretty fantastic thesis proposal, if I do say so myself #justbeethings
Co-author on my first published paper (this one was big enough that it deserved to be mentioned twice)
Presented at two scientific conferences
Received two travel awards
Attended the Bee Course, 2017!
Mentored over 400 student hours between six different undergraduate students
Was the only Biology student to win the College of the Arts and Sciences TA Excellence Award
Elected to several biology leadership roles and accepted for science outreach positions
Had my #scicomm accepted for publication at Buzz Hoot Roar, The Female Scientist, and more
All in all, it was a scientifically successful first year, all while I dealt with a lot of personal adjustments and challenges. What started out slow and scary, has built to something incredible – it’s easy to see, when it’s all in one list, how much there is to be proud of from this first twelve months of my journey. Here’s to many, but not too many, more!
Since we’re halfway through the year (or thereabouts) I’d like to take some time to reflect on those goals I set for 2017, all the way back in January (how has it been six months already??). It’s important to check in on your big goals every once in a while, before it’s too late to make changes in order to achieve them.
In my goal-setting post I set the following list up for 2017… we’ll go point by point:
Finish gathering data for the Eciton army ant project – this goal is, as I talked about last month, on it’s way to completion. With 6 undergraduates and myself all plugging away at this over the next three months, I have no doubt we’ll ring in September will all of the data.
Maintain an active blog presence here, with at least one post a week – I think, most weeks, I’ve managed to get at least one post out and I’ve maintained my monthly biopoetics, of which I’m most proud. It’s been a little hard recently – with finals and some big personal stuff coming up – but I have managed to keep up this blog (for my betterment, if not yours).
Develop my board game idea into a reality – Honestly, I forgot this was even something I was looking to do (#mybad). I’ve got a really interesting board game idea in my head about my brother’s business, but I’ve still yet to take the time to work on this – prioritizing other creative projects, like novel writing, over this. Maybe this means this project should be moved to the back burner?
Publish three more poems – I’ve accomplished this one several times over! So far I’ve had 14 poems published this year – though I have been really lax in writing or submitting my work to new places. Most of these publications are roll-over from my work in the summer/fall of 2016.
Have my committee and thesis ideas outlined for my PhD – This is actually pretty in-progress. I’ve got some cool ideas about bee dimorphisms (both morphologically and behaviorally!) and I think my attendance at the Bee Course 2017 this year (at the Southwestern Research Station in AZ) will really help flesh them out.
In addition to these goals, I want to remind myself of some additional things I’m working towards accomplishing this year that I should be proud of, including:
Adding 20,000 words to one of my novels
Generating data for the next NSF proposal on spider brains
Working on getting a house (crazy right?)
Taking additional classwork in the form of PROFESS courses
Gathering data on Synoeca wasp dimorphisms
Gathering data on erythritol and various mysterious insects #patent
Heading a lab of six undergraduates – and hopefully not sucking too hard
Given that so many of the above only really happened in the last two months, it seems like it might be a good idea to re-evaluate my yearly goals every quarter instead of every six months – so much can change so fast!
How is your 2017 going? Are you on top of your goals? What do you do to re-focus during that mid-year burn out?