Friday, April 30, 2010

Shameless Self Promotion

New to my blog, or just find it interesting? I know some people have been reading it, but it would be nice to know who you are and if you like what what I've been writing about. Comments are great, and if you really like what you see, why not become an official fan and follow me.

Note: I've adjusted my settings so anyone can leave a message, even if you aren't a registered user.


Another sign that the semester is at a close: I'm swimming in a pile of ungraded exams and emails demanding final grades. I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it.

This is arguably the least glamorous aspect of being a TA. Grading is a lot harder than it seems at first. For example, I found out yesteray as I was picking up the final exam sample set up that SOMEONE had accidentally switched 2 of the rock specimens people were supposed to identify. That means that people who knew what they were doing would still get questions wrong because they were looking at the wrong specimen. I have no idea when this happened or who used that set up, so I'm going to have to figure out a way to handle this. It probably means I'll have to omit those questions for that section and calculate the grade out of a different number of points. It's a situation where I don't want to penalize people for someone else's mistake, but at the same time I don't want to give credit to people who were clueless.

Not to mention, the illegible, incomprehensible gibberish that some people write. Oops, I guess I just mentioned it... I need a cryptographer. That's a person who deciphers codes.

I'm a third of the way through grading. This afternoon, once everything is in my grade book, I'll be free.

Free to work on something else at any rate.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Top Ten Signs You Might Be A Geologist...

10. You have ever had to respond "yes" to the question, "What have you got in here, rocks?"

9. You have ever taken a 15-passenger van over "roads" that were really intended only for cattle

8. You have ever found yourself trying to explain to airport security that a rock hammer isn't really a weapon

7. Your rock garden is located inside your house

6. You have ever hung a picture using a Brunton compass as a level

5. Your collection of beer cans and/or bottles rivals the size of your rock collection

4. You consider a "recent event" to be anything that has happened in the last hundred thousand years

3. Your photos include people only for scale and you have more pictures of your rock hammer and lens cap than of your family

2. You have ever been on a field trip that included scheduled stops at a gravel pit and/or a liquor store

1. You have uttered the phrase "have you tried licking it" with no sexual connotations involved

... as a geologist, I am personally guilty of 6 of these. I'll let you figure out which ones...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And so it continues...

Here's an update on the past week.

This weekend I went to DC with Matt to see an old friend from earlier in college. She's working on a PhD now at a museum in Argentina, and she is just about wrapping up her vacation where she traveled all around the world. Jealous? You bet I am. It was good seeing her, last time we met up she wasn't doing so great, but that was three years ago. A lot can change in that amount of time. Specifically, the people you work for.

This past Saturday was our departmental end of the year party, it's called "Entropy", a very dork-tastic name. The theme this year was to come dressed like your favorite decade/era. In true paleo-nerd form, I came dressed as a trilobite. I claimed I was from the Paleozoic era. Hooray for my own nerdy interpretation of a theme!


I also won money for a talk I gave last week. I got first prize out of all the talks done by master's students. I have no idea how much, Matt thinks it is about $300. I'll take that, thanks!

My roommie, moved today. A little after 8am two movers showed up, packed up her stuff, and off it went. Shortly afterward, she tossed the cats in her car, and in a flurry of cat fur, they too were off. They're headed to Florida, and in a couple weeks she will be starting her new job with Chevron and living in a NEW house in New Orleans. I'm a little sad. It all happened so quickly, I kind of sat in the living room for a few minutes not knowing what to do. What I NEED to do now is find something for my walls, because all of the decorations that were up as of this morning belonged to her. The downstairs of my house kind of looks like a prison now with bare white walls.

Another sign that things are moving on is that I gave my first final exam this week. Most people finished with about an hour to spare, so I'm going to go ahead and hope that is a good thing. I didn't think the exam was that hard, but I'm constantly reminding myself that although the things I am teaching are second nature to me, they are totally new and confusing to non-geologists. I just assumed people understood what rocks are. They are ROCKS for goodness sake. But, I guess I was wrong.

I'm currently finishing up on a writing assignment for my science writing for the general public class. I looked through current research, found something interesting/news worthy, and I am attempting to write about it on a level that most people can understand. I learned this semester that this is somewhere around a 4th grade reading level for our country as a whole (scary). It's HARD. To give you an idea of what I'm up against, I'm trying to explain how an animal is living at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea where there is zero oxygen, and how it has nifty adaptations so it can do this.

I can do it, I'm a grad student.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So Close!

I'm so close to this semester finally being over. It feels as though it zoomed by without me realizing, only to slow down to an excruciatingly slow crawl during the past few weeks.

Just a run down of what I've got on my plate for the next week and a half: giving a talk tomorrow, draft of a paper due tomorrow, final paper due next week, three field trips, grading of said field trips, scheduling more medical tests, contacting various entities to transfer bills into my name once my room mate moves, figuring out why United Health thinks my bloodwork and labwork charges "exceeded usual and customary" and that they therefore don't need to cover it. What does that even mean?? Usual and customary for me? No, it isn't usual and customary that I have tests done, because I didn't think anything was wrong with me before. Tests are how you find out. Or did the clinic overcharge? No clue, which is why I will be calling them to see what the heck is going on. All I know is that I don't exactly have +$500 kicking around to deal with this nonsense. Long week, indeed.

In other news...

My talk tomorrow is for my department's graduate student colloquium. Basically we hold a week at the end of the year where we have poster presentations and talks on the various research that we have been working on. My talk is kicking off the presentation portion tomorrow morning at 10am.

The title is - Loss of habitat and biodiversity during terminal Pleistocene warming: what small mammal fossils tell us about the effects of climate change.

I missed a deadline yesterday for a poster presentation in May, so this talk is that last really academic thing I'll be up to until I go to UNM.

With only two weeks left in the semester, I feel like I am so close to finishing up here, only to turn every corner and have tasks of various sorts thrown on top of me. The semester will end one way or another, even if all of my time is nickled and dimed away by the time I get there. If I can make it to this weekend without any more stress and emotional breakdowns, I'll be happy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Science Outreach!

I love teaching. If I haven't made that clear in previous posts, it should be now. This weekend I'm running an exhibit during a science outreach event at Penn State called Exploration Day. I'll be showing off various types of fossils to what will hopefully add up to around 3,000 people.

About the event:

It looks like things are coming together. After putting it off for a few days, I finally got some plant specimens from the local paleobotanist to display. All the vertebrate paleo items are collected in my lab for transport. All I need now are to organize my invertebrate fossils, and get my displays all printed out and pretty.

We (me and a few volunteers) will be showing everything from dinosaurs to biofilms at a table geared at showing fossils of all types. It should be five hours of crazy fun! There will be a display on some of the field work we do, and I'm even trying to track down appropriate specimens so that kids can do crayon and paper rubbings of some different fossils. So far I have a fern and a sea scorpion (possibly some brachiopods) for this activity. I also have pictures of prehistoric animals that the kids can take home to color. I hope I can get some kids excited about paleo and fossils through my exhibit on Saturday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Penn State Graduation is Going "Green"

I just got back from the thesis office, and my thesis worries are all over. Everything is in: the document, the fee, and the signatures. I can now turn my head to the next things on my list of to do's, which include: taxes, the last assignment for my writing class, grading, getting the hold off of my bursar account, putting together my colloquium talk, and graduation.

Speaking of graduation, I found out the other day that for the first time ever, Penn State grads will be clad in green ragalia at graduation. By green, of course, I mean environmentally friendly; the color will still be Penn State Blue. Since most graduates throw out their caps and gowns, the University decided to switch to ones that will decompose in a year in a properly managed landfill.

The new gowns are a slightly different color than ones from past years, but are actually closer in color to the official school color. Penn State Blue is trademarked, if you go to Lowes or Home Depot around here and ask for Penn State Blue, it is a very specific shade. Since the new gowns are a different color than the one I had for undergrad, I can't reuse my old gown (bummer), but it's good that it'll be better for the environment in the long run.

Here's a link to the story:

The regalia for the master's degree is the typical mortar board cap, with the tassel worn on the left front edge (undergraduates wear it to the right until the end of graduation where they flip it to the other side), and a gown. In addition, the masters regalia has a hood which is worn over the shoulders. PhD recipients wear it over their arm, and are hooded during the ceremony by their escort (typically the academic adviser).

I've been to Penn State graduations before, and they are very formal events that command dignity. It is NOTHING like my high school graduation, which was a circus (those of you from East Hartford know what I'm talking about, ugh).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Never Too Old For Mommy

I have two degrees under my belt, I'm 25, and I'm moving across the country in a few months, but I still love my mommy!

My mom visited this weekend. I always like it when I go to see her, or she comes to visit me here at school. We spent some good time together, dinner with my friends, the mall, and breakfast at the Waffle Shop. We also got our lodging plans all sorted out for our vacation after I graduate (Virginia Beach!). We'll spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg first, and then stay in a cabin for a few days and be beach bums. It is going to be an awesome trip!

I miss home, but, mommy will be back in a few weeks to watch me get my diploma! Maybe I'll schedule massages for the Saturday prior...


Reheating my lemongrass chicken... mmm

This afternoon, after much arguing with Adobe Acrobat, I have finally submitted my thesis to the graduate school. Despite lousy internet connections. Despite my slow computer that likes to freeze up on me. Despite my own issues with forgetting what date it is, and then suddenly realizing "CRAP, I need to finish this in (insert small number) days!"
I got it done, despite myself and everything else. And it feels good.

Now I just need to pay my fee and submit my signatures. I believe I will wait till I go to work tomorrow and use a "reliable" internet connection for this. The signal at home is pretty shoddy, don't want any hiccups with the credit card!

Friday, April 9, 2010


I hate not having control of my own fate.

I turned my thesis in to the graduate chair yesterday, and she is supposed to read it, sign  it, and then notify the staff assistant that it has been done, and then the staff assistant will in turn notify me and give me the signed sheet.

The staff assistant got sick yesterday, and it is now Friday evening, and I am getting antsy: the whole thing is due on Monday to the graduate school office.

I know I know, I waited till the end to finish up, but I kept wanting to change things! I also got bogged down with other deadlines, and teaching, and school that I forgot how far along in the semester it REALLY was. I can't believe it's April. I can't believe I only have two more weeks of lab to teach and a final exam to administer and I am basically done. I have a paper I want to get started on that is due in only 2 weeks. This is nuts...

Thursday, April 8, 2010


This could be it, I may be officially DONE as of this weekend (with all things thesis related anyway). I have all of my committee members' signatures, and I'm just waiting on the graduate program chair to come back to her office so I can give it to her for approval. Only one person asked me any questions, and I was a little nervous because he seemed a little, I don't know, bothered that I didn't follow up on his comments. I MADE the changes he wanted, I just didn't have any questions while I was making the corrections. At any rate, he was satisfied after 5 minutes of chatting, and he is super excited that I'll be going to UNM. He's a fan of Jim Brown.

The suspense is killing me, I don't want to get caught up doing something else and miss Kate and have to put this off another day. I've already dragged this on long enough.

Thunderstorms are rolling in, and some cooler weather is supposed to come along with it. Mom is visiting this weekend, we're going to plan a vacation together for later in May. It's also an excuse for her to visit.

As soon as I meet with Kate, I'm heading home to clean house.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


What's new: I finished and printed my thesis. It's rather amusing, because it is 191 pages long, but most of it consists of tables and appendices. But, it is finished, and all I have to do now is track down each of my four committee members and get them to sign it. Then, I need to corner the associate department head, and have her sign it too. Oh happy day! What am I going to do with myself now??

Off to class...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Success Stories!

What I'm doing: Finishing up an abstract and then consulting with the graduate school website as to what exactly I need to do in exchange for a degree. I see a lot of chasing around of committee members for signatures in the very near future.

What's New: Jon passed his candidacy exam and Bea passed her PhD defense!
My room mate is now officially Dr. Adams! And she is like 99.99% done before she can start her new job. It's been a crazy few months, I'll tell you. Living and working with people who are under that much pressure is nuts, although I won't pretend that I was suffering nearly as much as they were.

For those who need a refresher, Bea was documenting the last few months of her PhD in one of the blogs that I follow: The Asymptotic End. I don't know if she'll keep blogging once she is off working and making the big bucks, but seeing as how she has been asymptotically approaching done-ness, it only seems fair that the blog should go on and on.
::cue Titanic music:: 

And so, as one PhD hero goes off into the world, we welcome Jon in as an official candidate.