Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DeSantis Visit

As a woman, one can't have too many positive role models. And as a scientist, one can't underestimate the value of networking and building professional relationships. Back on February 9th I hosted a visiting speaker for the interdisciplinary seminar I am taking. The purpose of the course is to get people to come do guest lectures on topics that are interesting and have broad reaching implications across many disciplines. I invited Larisa DeSantis from Vanderbilt University as my guest. She does really cool research, and I had met her earlier in October at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists meeting in Pittsburgh. I found in Larisa someone I can model my own career after.

Dr. DeSantis received her PhD in 2009, and took a position as a professor at Vanderbilt immediately afterward. That is highly unusual, and was quite an accomplishment. It's no wonder, however, because she had a very productive graduate career and came into her current position with a staggering number of publications for someone so fresh out of school. She is a shining example of why it is such a good idea to produce papers and do talks as you progress towards a degree.

I can also respect Dr. DeSantis because of the education and science outreach she has done in addition to her research. She has produced several educationally based publications as a result of mentoring teachers in science education. During her visit we talked at length about the importance of educational outreach and communicating science. We also talked at length about what I might be doing for my dissertation, and she offered to help in any way she could. It was just nice to have an optimistic conversation about what I might do for a project, and she was honest and encouraging.

Dr. DeSantis is a paleoecologist, but she uses information gleaned from the fossil record to better understand current ecological processes, particularly those related to climate change. She also uses modern day processes to better understand ecological patterns of the past. She's a good person to know, I hope that other people in my class got as much out of her visit as I did.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Still Playing Catch Up

The theme for this blog entry is "Playing Catch Up". On the one hand, I've been catching up with my own work for school since everything got crazy earlier in the month. On the other hand, Matt and I got to catch up with people we hadn't seen in a while.We've had visitors coming and going from our apartment for the past couple weeks. Sadly, my work and class schedule makes me a terrible host who isn't around much. But it was nice having visitors, none the less. Matt's parents were here Feb. 5th-12th. The O'Donnell clan did a lot of birding while I was at school, and we had several good meals together. Matt's mom is also almost always willing to play a board game in the evenings, and having three people tends to work out better than just Matt and me.

On Sunday, there was a major Southwestern reunion of geologists from Penn State. Lev and Fabia were in town from Phoenix. Dan was also here from DC, and was staying with us for a few days. We all met up with Mouse and Dave, and had a day of gallivanting through Albuquerque. We went to lunch where we all were exposed to New Mexican chili. Then we went to the zoo, but we went kind of late and didn't get to see everything. Lev and Fabia had to leave us around dinner time, but afterward the rest of us went to a local bar for trivia night.

Matt, Dan, and I went down to Socorro to visit with Mouse and Dave again on Tuesday evening. Dan brought all the minerals he had bought on his recent trip to the Tuscon Mineral Show, and proudly went through many of them with us. We also went out for dinner where we exposed Dan to green chilies again. I think his final verdict on New Mexican cuisine was that it was right at the threshold of spiciness that he could tolerate. My impression is that he is just as happy with generic American Tex Mex. Ah well. I still think New Mexican food in amazing, but you can't convert everyone.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Busy Week

I've been completely bogged down over the past few days. Apparently I scheduled a bunch of things back to back, and I've more or less been running around like a nut for a solid four days now.

One of the reasons I've been so tied up is that the University closure last week made it difficult for me to do some of the work I had, specifically my GIS homework which involved a steep learning curve. I managed to get the trial software onto my computer at home so that I could finish the assignment. It turned out alright, but the next assignment is going to be really difficult and I want to make sure I spend plenty of time on it.

Yesterday, Larisa DeSantis (my guest for the topics class) was in town, so I was busy getting everything scheduled for her visit. I guess I became kind of a witch because I had to chase people down to get her schedule filled up. The cancellations last week left some planning to the last minute, which always makes me nervous. I was also majorly stressed, I haven't been getting enough sleep, my asthma is acting up, etc. etc. so it was just a bad combination. Larisa's visit went very smoothly, though, and in the end we all had a great time. She is someone I would seriously consider working with once I'm out of graduate school.

The last reason I haven't been posting on my own blog was because I was doing a bunch of other blogging for classes. The new post on the BioBlog is by me, and it is about my trip to Death Valley back in November. If you haven't seen it, you should check it out at BioBlog. I got a lot of wonderful edits from classmates, and it is so much better than the initial draft I wrote. Writing takes a tremendous amount of work, and I fully respect people who do it (well) for a living. I also updated the Paleoecology Blog last week, and we've been having some interesting discussion on that as well.

I will follow up later with more details about Larisa's visit.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Year 1, Semester 2, Week 3

It's the Coldpocalypse!

UNM was open for less than 2 days this week, so there isn't too much academically related to write about. I can, however, elaborate on how this became the least productive week of all time. UNM and other schools and universities enacted 2-hour delays every day this week since Tuesday, which all turned into early closures. On Thursday I made it in to school, for my own classes. All of my teaching was canceled because of the delay and because they closed early. When I got home yesterday afternoon I had an email indicating that the university wasn't going to open again until Monday of next week.

What was the cause of all this chaos? Initially it was the cold temperatures. The other night it was -11F, and the daytime temperatures over the past few days have been in the single and negative digits as well. It's just not a good idea to head out in that kind of cold if you don't have to. I've been spending so much time inside that I'm starting to get antsy, which was why I was excited about making it into school yesterday. Matt and I have ventured out a couple of times to get food and rent movies and make sure our cars still work, but that's about it. I was really bummed about Friday's classes being canceled, since they are my "fun" classes.

The other issue that made it difficult to keep buildings open this week was a lack of natural gas for heating. All of our gas comes from Texas, which also had a major cold snap. The cold there caused electrical outages and the failure of compressors which move the gas into New Mexico. Here's a link to more information on that. UNM had been trying to operate on diesel, but I think we all just finally cut our losses by the end of the week. The governor issued a state of emergency, because a lot of people don't have heat in this ridiculous cold. There are shelters open in parts of the state. Luckily Matt and I haven't had any problems, other than me running around trying to figure out what was going on.

I was completely prepared to teach this week, and spent much of Wednesday prepping my lecture for class. What a colossal waste of time. I was also counting on going into school to work on a project for my GIS class, which I can't do now. Everything is shut down. I have a CD which I think has a trial version of the program I need, but from what I heard from other classmates, it isn't easy to install.

Dealing with my students and trying to predict what was going to happen this week was also another fun activity. Homework and make ups become a huge issue when these sorts of things happen. The main office was a nut house with students trying to get things turned in before the university closed. As it turns out, because labs have been officially canceled for the week and the University is shut down over the weekend, everyone has until Monday afternoon to get it all it. Which makes all the craziness yesterday seem silly and unnecessary. I thought the woman in the office was going to have a meltdown.

I have, however, been getting emails from people who are at work today. Our department was doing interviews for new professors over the past couple weeks. All these problems have made it very complicated, the woman who interviewed yesterday was supposed to give her lecture on Tuesday. She's been here since Sunday, and she's from New Zealand. Talk about the worst week possible to come here. Also, I just got an email indicating that there is free lunch somewhere in the building, because the meeting it was intended for was canceled. The only people who are around are necessary personnel and people who just can't get away from their work and experiments.

I have had it with this week. I'm not going to worry about anything else until the state has this emergency under control and I can actually count on being able to go to work. Student problems just aren't a priority at the moment.