Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Year 1 Week 9 Recap

Yes, it is Tuesday, but it's time for the recap of last week.

Actually, not all that much went on between now and my last post. I had some fun Saturday with the lab mates and Matt. We went to a corn maze in town, which was a lot of fun. It was a maize maze! My first stratiegy was to just go in random directions, but then Matt pulled out the map and we worked our way through it after my plan failed.Then we got a late lunch at the Calico Cafe. Best guacamole ever.

On Sunday, Matt and I headed down to Socorro to see Mouse and Dave. We brought along Settlers of Catan and played that for a bit. Then we headed down to the Bosque del Apache to see if the sandhill cranes were there. I'll do a post soon on just the cranes, but for now I'll just say we saw several hundreds of them hanging out down there, and it was really amazing. Mouse and Dave also showed us around town a bit, which mostly consisted of the NM Technical University. The property their house is on is also really cool. They have a pond in their back yard with coots! We finished up the evening completing our board game and Mouse made some awesome zucchini enchiladas.

Matt and I are heading out to get some breakfast, then I have to run off to class.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Let's Do Some Research!

I had a (very) brief meeting with my adviser yesterday, but I think I managed to figure out what I want my research topic to be for my dissertation. Now it's just a matter of fleshing it out, which means I'm going to spend lots of time in the near future sitting down and thinking about important questions and how to potentially answer them.

I picked a topic that can hopefully lead down several different research directions. My dissertation needs to be 4 chapters long: 3 should be really good, 1 can stand to be just "okay". There is no requirement that the chapters be related, but I think I would be happier with a piece of work that tells a larger story.

Those of you who have been following my research should know by now of my interest in Pleistocene non-analog faunas. By now it's been pretty well established that they have biological significance. Questions remain, however, as to why they existed. Another way of looking at it is, "Why was there so much more biodiversity then, and where did it go?" One hypothesis is that during the Pleistocene organisms were able to more finely partition ecological niches, which enabled more geographic overlap. This is a fine hypothesis that has not been tested; I intend to. How will I do that? I haven't figured that part out yet, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not Teaching Next Year?

I received some intriguing news today: Jim and Marcus have written me into their grant to do GIS work on a project they will hopefully be beginning next fall. It was kind of funny how I found out, because Marcus flat out asked me if Jim had told me: I had only vaguely indicated I was interested in the project. I guess that was enough for them to decide I was "the one" who would do it. I don't know too much about the project, but it involves some time and space analyses with human populations and ecological hot spots. I'll get to learn GIS, and add that to my intellectual tool box. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems.

I'm not sure if being "written into the grant" means I'll get some funding for working on it, but I sure hope so. If that's the case, perhaps I can cut back on the amount of time I end up teaching during my PhD. Anything to reduce the amount of mindless grading would be nice. I already have a large amount of teaching experience on my CV from this year and from throughout my master's. A little variety would be a good thing. This will be amazing, because GIS is a tool I can use for my own purposes, and it would be nice to get to work on a project with people, especially one that sounds so interesting.

Next step, see if there is an introductory class I can take on GIS this spring to get a jump on next fall.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Itching to Get Going Already

So far, this semester has been really heavy on the teaching assistant duties and classes, and not so heavy on the getting my research established. I'm sure it's my fault: maybe it's a time management thing, or an "I don't know what to do" thing, or an "I don't know what I CAN do" thing.

I'm still in the mindset of being in a master's program, where I have to do research and a project, but it can't be something too involved because I only have a couple years to get it done. I have 4+ years to do a dissertation. That's an appreciably longer time to do something.

My lack of research so far isn't for lack of ideas. I have an overabundance of ideas; but, I don't know if they are any good. I desperately need to meet with my adviser and see what she thinks, because I don't want to waste a bunch of time on something that won't work. All I know is, if I don't start something soon, I'm going to start feeling discouraged, and that won't improve the situation.

Recently I got the big idea that I want to do field work. I got into paleontology through working in caves, and that's really where I want to keep working. If I do this, I'll have to establish my own field site, ideally somewhere in the Southwest. This could be awesome, but it is going to take a lot of funding, manpower, and paperwork to get it to work. I already have a general place in mind, but what I really need to do is develop a relationship with cavers to see where I should specifically look.

I also want to do some work with stable isotopes and mammal teeth. Without going into too much detail, it would involve developing and fine tuning a new method of sample preparation. This is totally appropriate for a PhD, since I need to be doing stuff that is new and useful. But yet, I'm still in this mindset that I can't do anything "too difficult" or "too time consuming" because those were things I needed to worry about with my master's degree. But from what I know about PhD students and their projects, research is always difficult and time consuming.

So why do I feel like all my ideas will never work? Probably because I've never done this before, so I have no clue what is good or bad. I need guidance! Ahhhhh!

Which is why I am going to track down my adviser this week, even if it means posting myself outside of her office.

I also need to figure out a way to support myself and NOT be a teaching assistant. It just takes up too much time. I like teaching, but ultimately, I'm here to do research and build my CV. Being a teaching assistant isn't contributing to these in a positive way that will get me publications and a meaningful job after graduate school. The way my teaching schedule is currently, Monday's are a total loss for me. I can't go on long term losing a full day of my own productivity each week.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Free Dental

Today Matt and I spent about 7 hours waiting around for free dental care. The New Mexico Mission of Mercy had a massive clinic set up yesterday and today. The plan was to go yesterday, but we didn't get out of the house early enough, so we went today.

I need my wisdom teeth taken out pretty badly, it probably should have been done while I was in college. I had the opportunity today to get them out for free, but because I need all four removed and some are still just barely coming in, it would have been a pretty major operation that would have potentially put me out of commission for four days. Plus, it was getting late on in the afternoon, and I don't know if they would have gotten to me anyway. I have to teach Monday (all day) and Tuesday I have a statistics exam. Being drugged up and in pain wasn't really an option. Had I gone yesterday, I probably would have done it.

This is the first time the clinic has been in Albuquerque. It was amazing, they were prepared to do pretty much anything, free of charge. They had an army of dental hygienists and oral surgeons who were volunteering their time and energy. There were even those machines that can do a 360 degree x-ray of your head. This is a huge deal in this city: so many people are homeless, unemployed, or underemployed, and just don't have the means for general dental care. That can be potentially life threatening.

It's disappointing that I waited so long today and missed out on an opportunity to save some major bucks with my wisdom teeth. However, I now know that I don't have any cavities, my gums are healthy, and I got a thorough cleaning. So even though I really REALLY need my wisdom teeth out, I know they aren't rotting out in my skull, and I'm doing a fair job of keeping them clean. I don't have dental insurance yet, the plan that I could have gotten through the university is really rather pathetic and totally inadequate for any major procedures: it had a maximum coverage of $500 per claim. I was told this clinic was coming up, and I have discount options at the UNM dental clinic on campus, so forking over a lot of money for a mediocre plan wasn't worth it.
Now that I know my mouth is healthy in general, I can plan for getting my teeth yanked in the, hopefully, near future. Maybe I'll set up a health savings account. Also, the clinic will be in Los Lunas next year. That's further away, about 4 hours, but if I can go there early next year and get my procedure done, it'll be worth it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Back in ABQ

It was wonderful to finally touch down in Albuquerque last night and see Matt. Despite a 2pm departure from Pittsburgh and more than a 2 hour layover in Chicago, I got in a little after 7pm. Not too bad.

Matt was waiting for me with flowers and we got some Rudy's Bar-B-Q for dinner. He also got me green chili and cheddar bagels for breakfast for the next couple days. We headed home, where I discovered he had picked up a bit around the apartment, and I got comfy and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Yada yada yada, then we watched an episode of True Blood.

The city is having a thing where there is free dental care today and tomorrow. My plan was to go today, but I was so beat from traveling that it just didn't happen. I needed the sleep, especially after flying yesterday, and especially after nearly a week of only mediocre rest. Meetings are anything but restful. I need to look over some work and meet up with a group for a project anyway, so I really don't have time to see the dentist today. Matt and I are going to get up early to go tomorrow.

Tomorrow may also involve going for a hike in the Sevilleta. I hope, I hope.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SVP 2010: Personal Highlights

The annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists is always a strange meeting for me. On the one hand, it's not even close to being my favorite meeting. On the other hand, it's good to present my research and see old friends and colleagues. On the other hand again, seeing people I really don't care to see (ever) puts a huge damper on the meeting, and by the last or second to last day, I'm sick and tired of the meeting and usually want to go home. This last part is so unfair, but life is unfair. My friend Denny told me at the onset of the meeting that it isn't my fault that other people are jerks. And she's 100% right. Maybe someday I'll be able to fully ignore the people who fully deserve to be ignored, and I'll finally have a satisfying meeting experience.

It bothers me when I have strong negative feelings toward people. I feel like I should be a better, bigger, nicer person than that. But Fred, my friend and new partner in small mammal paleoecology mayhem, has told me that nice is about how you act, not how you think. Maybe. My Catholic senses start tingling when I have unpleasant thoughts, but maybe I should stop feeling bad about feeling bad, and continue trying to act like the person I want to be.

Despite my apprehension about the last night of the meeting, the after party, and feeling the need to socialize, it went well and I ended up having a good time. Here are some of my highlights from the meeting, the stuff that I liked.

Cave field trips!

Mixer at the Carnegie.

Dinner in a dive of a Chinese take-out place with Russ and company. All 7 of us.

Chris Shaw (of the Page Museum) retirement party at the Sharp Edge. Expensive beer, but good beer.

Drinks with the former adviser, Alex (Sloth), and the ETSU folks.

Mammal talks. By far the most statistically sound science at the meeting. Also the least cocky of the talks.

My talk. I got up, did it, hid my nerves pretty well, spoke well, and got sincere compliments from some very important people: Russ, Liz, Ernie, and Larissa to name a few.

Dinner with the new adviser and lab mate. Good food, good drink. Thanks Felisa!

The auction: a rough caricature of Ernie Lundelius went for $300. Paul Sereno's went for about $40. Hilarious.

Ran into Roger Cuffey, my first paleo instructor EVER. Never got coffee with him and the PSU crew, but I did get to talk to him for a while. He's looking better than I've ever seen him before: no cane at the meeting!

Jennifer Nestler. We can commiserate on so many levels, and there are plans to maybe room together in Vegas at next year's meeting.

Really random bar downtown with an over abundance of Halloween decor. Bad karaoke, also hilarious, but we got there kind of late so no singing for me.

I also picked up some interesting looking books for excellent prices. It pays to wait until the last day of the meeting, when the vendors are getting desperate.

Alrighty, I need to make sure I'm ready to go when the Super Shuttle gets here to bring me back to the airport. I miss Matt and New Mexico.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SVP 2010 Tuesday

It's been a busy few days, hence the lack of a recap for last week and a lack of information about the meeting thusfar.

The past few days have been full of trying to connect with people I haven't seen in a while, and also meeting people I haven't met before at previous meetings. I've also been working on my talk, right up until yesterday evening. I wanted to make some changes to some figures that were confusing before. Hopefully all the work and frustration with my computer were worth it, I personally feel like the figures look better now.

I gave my talk this morning during a session that was really heavy on mammal evolution, patterns in mammal diversity, and extinction. The session was really good in general. It's weird, but I usually find that the sessions I am scheduled to talk in are usually really good, where as other sessions can be kind of lame. That really sounds much more conceited than I mean, and I don't think it's a bias towards only wanting to hear about mammals or the Pleistocene. It's just that I've sat through a few too many cocky dino talks than I care to remember, and it's nice to see talks that have rigorous science in them.

This afternoon I need to take care of some work in my room, and later I'll head down to the poster session. Fred and I are having dinner with Felisa before the SVP auction. Every year they auction off a bunch of random stuff, and some of it is really cool and/or valuable. I can't wait to see what there is this year. Come on Paleontologist Barbie, complete with bag and pink plastic dinosaur!

Friday, October 8, 2010

SVP 2010 Friday

Today I left for the 70th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, in Pittsburgh. It was a long trip, but my adviser and I had the same flight, and I learned some interesting things about her and we chatted more than we have since I moved to Albuquerque.

The meeting itself doesn't start until Sunday, but Russ and Tony Barnosky are leading a field trip tomorrow to some famous cave sites in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Hopefully it will be an interesting trip, it had better be, it cost a pretty penny to go. At least I'll see some nice fall foliage.

Right now I'm sitting in a pretty posh hotel room, waiting for my roomie to show up. I got in, and apparently I missed a call from her (I think, I could make out the message, so it could have been anyone, really). She's out with Russ and folks, I called and left a message, but no reply. It's okay, it's been a long day, I'm tired, and I'll probably see people tomorrow.

My friend Chira picked me up from the airport, which was awesome, because otherwise I would have needed to take the airport shuttle, and those can be hit or miss. We hung out for a while, and got some dinner out. Dinner was delicious, I got pan seared salmon with mango butter, cinnamon smashed sweet potatoes, and green beans. I haven't had salmon in a long time, and it was great. Chira looks like she is doing well, her baby is due in January. I know she'll make a really great mom. I hope that classes and student teaching aren't too stressful for her.

I'm gonna go relax, and hopefully fall asleep soon. Early morning tomorrow. The good thing is, I don't have to go far to meet for the field trip.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Year 1 Week 6 Recap

So this post if coming a bit late, I had a very long weekend, followed by grading and my own homework.

Last week had a few highlights, the primary one being that I gave a practice talk on my research in front of my lab group. I got a lot of good feedback, Felisa seemed impressed, and now it is over and I can prepare for the real thing and concentrate on the rest of the semester. Some of the advice I got went way over my head, and may have been more than was really needed. However, I will make some changes to some figures that are confusing, and I need to seek out a statistical test, which I am getting help on tomorrow. Sweet.

Friday was not so much fun. The only way I can describe it is "stupid". Matt and I went to get NM driver's licenses, which turned into an all afternoon ordeal. Stop one: we went to a regular MVD government office, waited an hour, only to be told when we got to the desk that they couldn't do first time out of state driver's licenses because the "system was down". Great. How about telling people before they waste an hour or so of their lives sitting there like schmucks?

Stop two was an MVD Express office, which costs an additional $25 "convenience fee". My experience was convenient, but Matt's was not. The guy helping Matt got an "out of state" error message, and told Matt that he would try again in 15 minutes. Then "Dave" disappeared. About a half hour later, we stand up looking annoyed, and the woman behind the desk asks us if we're waiting for something. It turns out Dave was told to go to lunch, but failed to mention he was helping us. In the end, the error was because Matt has an  '  in his last name. Seriously. Apparently if you have anything other than letters in your name, their system just can't handle it. So now Matt has a license with a last name that isn't technically his. That should make going to the airport loads of fun in the future.

This weekend was chock full of fun for me. Matt was on a birding survey all day Saturday, but I got up at 6am to go to the Taos Wool Festival with my friend Fred. I got lots of yarn, saw some really cool stuff, and petted some nice animals. Then when I got back for the evening, Fred and I went to her friends' house for an Octoberfest dinner. Then I met up with Matt and other friends at the Marble Brewery. Not a lot of sitting room, but they have good beer.

 Llama with a serious under bite.

 A lovely little alpaca who just got a haircut.
 Fred, posing with a knitted woolly mammoth. We bought the pattern for it, as well as a dragon.
 A knitted cactus garden, guaranteed to never die. I love the little lizards.
A felted piece with actual bird bones. This is some kind of wall hanging. It gets points for creativity, in my book anyway.

Sunday I went to the Balloon Fiesta with Matt, Mouse, and Dave. That involved waking up at 4:30am, sitting in traffic for a long time, and being in the cold dark for about an hour. I will say though, it was SO worth it. This is something I will definitely do again, and I hope when people visit us, they come when the fiesta is going on.
 We're here! It's fiesta time!
 Dawn set up of balloons.
 Laying out balloons before take-off.
 A small sampling of all the pretty balloons!
 Completely awesome. Breakfast burritos, hot chocolate, and Darth the balloon.

That's all folks.