Today I submitted the final grades for the General Biology II lab that I teach. Its nice to be done with TAing for the semester, and as I graded those last lab reports and exams, I realized that I am not only done being a TA for the semester, but forever! (unless I decide to go for a PhD)
I plan on a future career in education/outreach, so this will definitely not be the last time I teach. However, sending in those final grades today still made me realize that the end of grad school brings so many things in my life to a close. Therefore, it’s easy to get sentimental about little things that I never thought I would miss, such as setting up a practical exam, or grading what seem like endless lab reports. Additionally, TAing puts you in a nice spot in terms of your relationship with students, as I think students see TAs as less intimidating than professors, while still respecting us as authority figures.
After teaching this lab for three semesters, I am relatively confident in my ability to convey the information and run the lab. However I was worried this semester, that I’d be so busy finishing up my research and writing my thesis that I might put less effort into my teaching duties. This fear began to manifest itself at the beginning of the semester when my students seemed disinterested compared to past years students. However as the semester went on I was pleasantly surprised how my students warmed up to the subject matter, and my teaching style, which was reflected by their improving quiz and exam averages. I even got some positive feedback from students (which is rare to get, in person) several of them telling me how information I presented in the lab really helped them understand key concepts that related to both lab and lecture.
Finally, earlier this week, as I painstakingly graded those last exams and lab reports, I came across several drawings that reminded me why I will probably miss TAing and inspired this blog post. To give these some context, for one of the drawings in this lab report, students were instructed to draw a member of the Class Mammalia. I told them they could draw any mammal they wanted, and cringed as several students said “Sweet! I am just going to draw a stick figure!”, displaying their excitement about the lack of effort required for this drawing. Despite this, I got some very creative,and thoughtful drawings. I have posted my favorite two here.
While these drawing might have simply been unsuccessful attempts to get extra credit, I’d rather think that these students really enjoyed my lab, and that the things I taught them made them appreciate science a bit more. Either way I really appreciate how these students have inspired me to reflect on what a rewarding experience TAing has been overall.
As previously mentioned, teaching science AND keeping students interested can be a bit of challenge. Fortunately for me, as a TA of the marine biology lab, I have one lab that is guaranteed to make the students happy and excited to come to class- the end of semester fieldtrip to the New England Aquarium (NEAq)!
We (Chris Newton, my fellow TA, and I) were a bit worried about the selection of exhibits that would be available since the NEAq is undergoing some major renovations. But luckily for us many were open – including the rocky intertidal touch area which had just opened that day! Of course as an intertidal ecologist I was drawn to this exhibit. It was there I got to meditate on barnacles feeding – taking advantage of and gaining a bit of energy from some pretty turbulent waters…
Today is the 117th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon. The marathon always occurs on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April. Luckily, the weather today is comfortable for runners (and spectators!) with a high in the mid 50s, although that is not always the case. Last year temperatures ranged between 85° and 90° during the race, prompting race officials to encourage non-elite runners to defer running until 2013. The 2012 race was also the second slowest since 1985. Considering the impact of weather conditions on athletes competing in endurance events, will climate change affect winning times in the Boston Marathon?
According to researchers at Boston University: probably, but not much.
Abraham Miller-Rushing, Richard Primack, Nathan Phillips and Robert Kaufman examined that question (in a paper published last September in PLoS one) by looking at temperature data and winning times for the Boston Marathon between 1933 and 2004. They found that warmer race-day temperatures did, in fact, slow winning times. However, although annual temperatures in Boston increased 2.8°F between 1933 and 2004, race-day temperatures were incredibly variable (ranging from 34° to 90°F!) and did not follow any trend during that time period. These findings mean that warming did not have a detectable effect on Boston Marathon winning times 1933-2004. The authors also predicted how warming could affect winning times in the future. They found that warming at a rate of 0.104°F per year (a high estimate for global change) would, on average, slow winning times approximately 2 minutes over the next hundred years.
However, to further complicate matters, in 2006 the Boston Athletic Association moved the marathon’s start time from 12:00pm to 10:00am to reduce afternoon traffic congestion in Boston and allow runners to race during the cooler morning hours. The authors’ predictions are based only on data collected from races beginning at the old start time. No one knows exactly how the earlier start will effect winning times, but we can guess that it will help offset the effects of warming temperatures.
So, thanks to New England’s erratic spring weather and Boston’s traffic problems, we can still expect to see some ridiculously fast Boston Marathon winning times in the future.
Today I found PhD student Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn trying to keep warm in the lab. Sarah works on the bacterial causes of white band diseases in Caribbean coral. Half of her work is conducted at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. The other half of her work is conducted in the lab at our Northeastern University Marine Science Center. The lab has to be air-conditioned year-round to prevent the PCR thermocyclers from overheating, so even in the summer you see lots of sweaters and scarves!
This week I bought a new computer. I feel a bit giddy getting a new, bright and shiny and more technologically advanced laptop. But making a big purchase made me a little nervous, especially since the number of options and upgrades seemed endless (and expensive!). But my cranky and ever-slower computer was pushing my nerves, and this week I finally broke down. Besides, I have nearly filled its 75 GB hard drive and I simply need more space. That’s right! A whopping whole 75 gigs … not even half of the storage of the lowest models available today.
Despite its blemishes and bruises, my current computer has served me well over the past four years – it’s been with me since I first started my PhD. My advisor very generously purchased it for me when, upon arriving to the MSC, my old computer that I had through my master’s degree and two years of teaching kicked-the-bucket.
As I eagerly waited for my new one to arrive, I decided to satisfy my organizational cravings and take the time to clean-up my files and folders. As I thought about how best to approach this task (did I mention I love organizing?!) I wondered if the distribution of space taken up by my types of files reflected, in anyway, my life. That is, does the amount of space each of my folders takes up on the hard drive reflect the amount of time, thought, and energy I put into these “areas” of my life? So I did what any good scientist would do, I crunched the numbers.
First I made some rules… I would only count files and folders in “My Documents” folder – excluding software, random downloads, temporary files, and the loose yet-to-be filed files. I didn’t include my pictures and music folders because they take up a lot of space and often cross between life categories. Last, I assumed files types (.pdf, .doc, etc.) were similar in terms of size or at least evenly distributed among folders – while this isn’t likely and I am sure there is probably some way to normalize file types, I really couldn’t procrastinate *that* long on this project.
So as a first pass, I divided all folders into two categories: “Graduate School” and “Everything Else” – because, let’s face it, that’s how I really do divide my life these days.
Hmmm… that’s a bit of a reality check. Sometimes, it is 95% grad school and 5% everything else (especially if you don’t count sleep as personal time). Such as times like now, when I am trying to wrap up a bunch of projects and prep for the coming field season. But the nice thing about grad school is that when your nearly burnt out you can take a whole day off and… run a 5k and write a blog post… and answer student emails…
So what makes up these two categories?
So here is where my assumption of ‘all file types being equal’ starts to fail.
I would agree that most of my time in grad school (Figure 2 – left) involves Reading (“Literature”), Research, and Teaching (I just wrapped up a 40 hour paper grading marathon) but I definitely don’t spend 18% percent of my time on Courses. I’ve only taken 3 courses since I’ve arrived but this folder has lots of power point documents, e-books, and other such large-sized files. In fact, I spent much more time and energy on applications (can I get some money please?!) but the small-sized word and adobe files only make-up about 1.5% of my Graduate School megabytes.
Now onto Everything Else (Figure 2 – right)… Grad school takes up so much of my time (Figure 1), I haven’t dropped a stitch in so long my sewing machine has about half an inch of dust covering it and I am not even sure it would turn on – this folder has lots of images of projects I’d like to tackle. Everyday I walk past my fabric cabinet dreaming of all the projects just waiting to be stitched together… But I do cook! A girl has to eat right? And baked good make people happy – including your colleagues and thesis committee. We’ll not talk about the Personal Documents – taxes, bills, receipts, etc. – the stuff I prefer not to spend much time on.
Well, that’s my life measured in bytes. Now time to organize my new computer!
I didn’t want to blog about my thesis, but since writing it is literally all I have been doing lately, its hard to think of anything else. I was excited to write this blog post as a chance to procrastinate a bit.
I have really enjoyed graduate school thus far, but trying to put down onto paper everything you have done for the past three years, and then compare it to everything that has been done on the subject…ever….is one of the hardest things I have done to date. The thing that keeps me going is the the sense of accomplishment I know I will have once I am done.
This whole process has given me a lot of time to reflect on graduate school (while procrastinating…) and while I can’t wait for April 26th (the day I submit my thesis), I also can’t help feeling sad when I realize that it means the end of a wonderful and fulfilling chapter of my life. Ok better move on before this post begins to sound like the acknowledgements section of my thesis…
Other things I have been doing while procrastinating include clicking on the Google Doodle of the day. I always like to check it out because I usually learn something new every time. Yesterday’s was pretty cool. In case you didn’t get a chance to see it, check it out an article about it here. It was an illustration in celebration of the 366th birthday of Maria Sibylla Merian, a scientific illustrator whose beautifully detailed entomology drawings made her famous. She is best known for documenting, via illustrations, the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly.
I really enjoyed the doodle, and browsing through her artwork, and it reminded me of Kate’s recent blog post and the important relationship between science and art. Just like the artists whose work is currently displayed at the Museum of Science, Maria Sibylla Merian used art as a tool to make science more accessible to the general public. And in a time before high tech cameras and microscopes, art was one of the only ways to document the natural world. Even today, I think there is something to be said for temporarily abandoning all this technology and exploring nature in a more…well…natural way. For instance, while my students complain that they have to draw all the organisms they dissect in lab, I bet they are much more likely to remember where the green glands of a crayfish are by drawing and labeling it than by taking a picture with their smart phone.
Well, thats all the procrastination I have time for at the moment, back to writing! 16,000 words down…..? more to go!