Life Update: Where the heck have we been?

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Oh.  Hi there.  It’s us, Meridith and Rachel (this is actually Rachel).  If you follow us on Tumblr, you know we didn’t drop off the face of the Earth.  Life on Earth just got hectic for a moment, and we took an unplanned break from blogging.  When we posted our first long form blog on May 6th, 2014, we had grand schemes of always having a backlog of posts for just these sorts of crazy life situations.  For a good little bit there, we were posting once a week, then that dropped back to bi-weekly.  Even with the slow down, only four of our 17 months of existence have passed without a post.  Not too horrible, really.  The problem actually was that almost all of those four months were contiguous.  But, we’re back!  We are recommitted!  We are hoping to get back to weekly posting, but you can look forward to at least bi-weekly posting for the foreseeable future.

Alright.  We were gone, and now we are back.  But what were we actually up to during this period of radio silence?  I’m so very glad you asked.

STS Blog Update: Shiny and New!

Most obviously, but also most recently, we have been working on transitioning Sweet Tea, Science from a Blogspot to a WordPress format.  Check out this slick new format.  So fancy!  We are also a dotcom now, which is exciting.  We decided to make the switch for a few different reasons.  First, fresh new starts can be motivating.  Like getting a brand new lab notebook or a never-been-touched whit
eboard, sometimes new things just make you want to get to work.  That’s the hope, anyhow.  Also, nearly all the other science blogs we follow are WordPress blogs, and we felt like we might be missing out on a layer of interaction that the platform allows, such as being able to like and comment while providing a direct link back to our own blog.  Last, Meridith suggested it, and I tend to defer to her in all things technological.  So, here we are.    

Rachel Life Update: Quals, Weddings, and the Marsh for DayzzzzzzIMG_4813

A new blog space is dandy and all, but what have we actually been doing with our lives, you might wonder.  Back around
last September, our posting started to lag from every week to bi-weekly, and it is no coincidence that around September of last year I started studying consistently for my qualifying exam.  That haze of studying, burritos, and eating way too many cookies continued on into early December when I actually took the exam.  It was a stressful, scary, and, honestly, sort of traumatizing experience to study and prepare to jump through that hoop.  I dealt with bouts of imposter syndrome that were truly exhausting.  People kept tell me to use this time to “become an expert” in my field of study.  But the more I read, the dumber and dumber I felt.  I’m not trying to be melodramatic here, but it was pretty horrible.  I actually think I might have convinced my Mom I was going to fail, as she apparently called my sister to see if
she thought I was going to pass.  Essentially, it was three months of suck with a side of you’re an idiot.  (Author’s Note:  I don’t think this is everyone’s experience, but it’s as honest an account of my experience as I feel comfortable giving.  I’m trying not to sugar coat it, because authenticity and all that jazz.
Alternatively, the exam itself was borderline pleasant.  Turns out, I’m not an idiot and discussing my research and having my knowledge about ecology, conservation, restoration, wetlands, and quantitative methods tested by five really smart scientists, whom I respect, was not the worst way I’ve spent three hours.  I felt the exam was a really fair test of my understanding, and I received some excellent feedback on my research design.  I passed, which was a great relief, but I was pretty much spent.  Whatever fear induced wind the looming exam had put in my sails left with a whoomp, and I was very close to useless until after the holidays (details here).   

 IMG_4668Coming back from the holidays transitioned into the longest, craziest field season of my (admittedly short) scientific career.  I don’t think I would have made it from February to August (yes, seven months) without the help and support of my amazing labmate.  We both study invasive plants in tidal marshes and started a very successful work sharing arrangement, which I only hope was as beneficial for her as it was for me.  To distill seven months into so many sentences is tough.  I did a bit of a picture post about half way through, which you can check out here.  Essentially, I spent several weeks setting up an invasive plant stem density manipulation experiment, which we hypothesize failed due to California’s historic drought.  In short, I think that the lack of rain during January (we got literally NONE in the Bay Area) and February resulted in the plant I study, Lepidium latifolium or whitetop, only coming up in sparse, short stands that were not really suitable for the experiment I had designed.  I spent some time re-thinking my plan with my PI and my labmates, and ended up repeating some baseline measures I’d taken the year before as well as some other drought related measurements.  Hopefully, I’ve poised myself to have a three year observational study of drought impacts to an invasive plant.  I think that could be really cool, but figuring-things-out-as-I-go mode is one of my least favorite modes to be in for a prolonged period.  It also makes things go slowly.  In the end, I think I have some very cool data and a great plan for this winter, El Niño or no.IMG_4496

June gave me a slight reprieve from the marsh, and I got to head home to Kentucky to watch my cousin and my best childhood friend get married (not to one another).  That was a nice week and a half.

Then August got absolutely devoured by my long term, Spartina restoration monitoring project.  Taking into consideration some very useful feedback from my qualifying exam, I dropped a treatment but added three sites to this experiment, and permitting took longer than I had expected.  So, I futzed around with more Lepidium stuff during the early part of July, and I ended up trying to do all the fieldwork for the restoration project, which is intense sampling of 9 sites, in August.  It was the worst decision ever.  EVER.  Don’t get me wrong, it had to be done, but I will never do this much field work or driving again in a single month if I can help it.  Also, working low tide cycles really messes with your sleep patterns.  Based on the data from my Garmin, I got an average of 6.7 hours of sleep per night in the month of August, which is actually way better than I thought, but it was something like 4, 4, 3, 5, 4, 12, 9 hrs.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  

I’m leaving out a few fun and not so fun details here, because life isn’t super simple, and you have to keep living it, even when Science is trying to demand 100% of your energy.  In sum, I hate to see you go, field season, but I love watching you walk away.     

Then, I realized “Holy crap, I’m getting married in a month.”  Then, like ten seconds later, I got married.  The wedding was awesome.  Meridith looked fabulous.  The people in my life are really amazing.  AND, I got a puppy.   

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Now, finally, for the first time in about a year, I feel like I’m living my actual, real life again, instead of some stress haze dream of my life.  It’s pretty great.  I feel productive, and motivated, and yes, still stressed.  But there is wind in my sails, and I feel like maybe I’ve escaped the doldrums.  

IMG_5796Meridith Life Update:  Quals, Quals, and a Summer in Seattle

Just as I was ramping down post-quals, Meridith was attempting to turn her focus from her really demanding coursework to the beginnings of studying for her own qualifying exam.  Unlike my oral quals, Meridith had to take a three part written test, two parts focused on statistical theory and one part focused more on applied statistical applications.  She studied her little, former-ecologist toosh off.  And, as one might expect from someone who already has a MS with a minor in applied statistics, she passed the applied part no problem on the first go.  Unfortunately, the theory sections of her quals gave her some more troubles.  You can read a re-cap of Mer’s quals in her insightful post about the experience.  Because, in her program, plenty of people don’t pass quals the first time, Meridith started refocusing her summer on studying to re-take the theory portions of her qualifying exams in the fall.  


Months before even taking her exam, Meridith had applied and been accepted to a summer statistics program in Seattle to learn about disease modeling.  The annual Joint Statistical Meeting (JSM) was also taking place in Seattle.  After some discussion with her adviser, Meridith decided that continuing on with her Seattle Summer plans was probably the best IMG_6134decision.  She would have to study for quals take two no matter where she was, so why not change up locations a bit?  She ended up having a fantastic summer learning about disease modeling and studying her toosh off again, but this time while sampling some of Seattle’s local eats and drinks.

Near the end of the summer, she did attend her first JSM.  She got a lot out of of networking wise, and really enjoyed the chance to see work done by other statisticians focusing on biological and ecological questions.  Also, because Meridith is an awesome smarty, she was awarded an Honorable Mention for the Gertrude M. Cox award.  This is an award given to only two women per year in the entire American Statistical Association.  With only two winners and three honorable mentions, this is kind of a big deal.  I can say that, because I don’t have to be humble about Meridith’s accomplishments.  Which is one reason I’m glad she let me write this post!

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Returning to State College after her Seattle Summer adventures, Meridith threw herself back into quals preparation.  I honestly can’t imagine how stressful studying the second time around must have been, considering the state I worked myself into when studying for my own qualifying exam.  Unfortunately, quals part two was also less than stellar.  Not passing the second time around was really tough, I could tell from the outside, but, being Meridith, she bounced back quicker than I ever would have.  The current plan, to my understanding, is to retake the theory courses she took during her first year and try quals again in the spring.  Should she not pass this time, the Ecology PhD program at State College has already agreed to take her on as a student, again, because Meridith is awesome.

I’d just like to take a small moment to acknowledge how stinking impressive it is to 1) switch fields after two whole degrees and 2) not give up when the field switch is difficult.  I don’t really think I would have the moxy to do either one of those things.  I do, however, have an absolute certainty that I will be feeding like a succubus off of Meridith’s statistical knowledge for the rest of my scientific career, no matter what she ends up being a Dr. of.            

Having to retake some courses has actually been pretty great for Meridith, as far as I can tell.  She’s feeling like she’s getting a more firm footing in statistical theory, and she now has the space to start applying what she is learning to some real research questions with her ecological collaborators.  Right now, she is working on building movement models for ants so scientists can use them to study disease spread in social networks.  Sounds way fancy.

Looking Forward

That’s where we’ve been and what we have been up to over the past year or so!  We would love to get an update on your lives!  You can leave a comment below, or you can email us with an idea for a guest post!  We’d also adore any feedback you have on our new format as we continue to work out the bugs.  And, if a couple updates a month just isn’t enough Rachel and Meridith for you, please check us out on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.  We are Millennials, so you know we are all up in that business.    

So good to see you all, so good to be seen!  We are glad to be back in action!

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6 thoughts on “Life Update: Where the heck have we been?

  1. Yay! Y’all have been busy bees! I love reading about all the many ways you both are kicking ass in academia. Also, welcome to WordPress! I think you’ll like it. I’ve found it to be a much more user friendly platform than Blogspot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Man, my comps (the Canadian version of quals) are in 6-8 months… and I’m already having anxiety dreams about them. It makes me feel better to hear that other lady scientists I have a deep respect for also felt insecure, stressed, and impostery from them. Not that I’m glad you felt shitty, obviously, just that there’s comfort in knowing it is a universally tough experience. And also that it makes everyone feel like a giant fraud (I literally have told Matt “I’M A HUGE FRAUD! I’M NOT EVEN A REAL SCIENTIST” everyday this week when I get home). thanks for the update, Rachel, and thanks for having the most kick ass wedding ever!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are the most real scientists; you already have one advanced degree! You feel this way, I feel this way, EVERYONE in your program feels this way. Seriously, it’s hard to make yourself believe, but I’m relatively confident that 99.9% of all graduate students are just faking having it together. You are smart, and capable, and so absolutely not a fraud.

      Thanks for reading and for being such an amazing wedding guest!

      Like

      1. I am SO often torn with that balance of appreciation when others have gone through similar experiences and not sounding like I’m glad things are going shittily for others! Danielle, I totally feel you! Sometimes I feel like I’m not even a real scientist OR a real statistician, but that’s (hopefully) not the case at all! Best of luck with your comps and thanks for sharing your frustrations with us as well.
        YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!!

        Like

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