What’s In Her Bag: International Conference + Honeymoon Edition

At various points along your PhD journey it can seem like life ceases to exist beyond your pile of papers, monitors full of code, or wall of caffeine. Sometimes it may be hard to find the time to venture outside your office, let alone your town, state, province, country, etc. In this and many other regards, the academic life is not without its stresses and pitfalls, but the opportunities to travel for conferences and research are some of the best parts. The bi-annual International Statistical Ecology Conference (ISEC) has been on my radar for some time, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity  to extend a trip to St. Andrews, Scotland into a full fledged honeymoon around the Scottish highlands. According to my twitter profile, I’m often a traveler, and I think I’ve developed a few good packing practices I would love to share with all of you.

Me and Darling Husband

Nearly five years after my last European adventure, I’m once again packing my trusty 60L pack and jetting off, only this time with my darling husband accompanying. When packing for this trip there were several considerations at the forefront of my thought process. I knew how I packed for my 3 month long European trip 5 years ago thanks to this previous STS post. While I ended up packing a few of the same items (!!), this trip has a different focus and thus different packing needs. First, I needed conference clothes as well as clothes for hiking and exploring and I wanted to look super cute as often as possible because I am a proud fancy scientist.

Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes. ~ Meridith circa 2013. My, my how I’ve changed.

Next, I wanted to pack a few things to help reduce my carbon footprint while traveling (even though flights are a big one! Two quick links about carbon offsets: why and Rachel’s recommendation for where to buy). Finally, while we aren’t truly backpacking, I did need to consider weight. Admittedly my packed ended up way heavier than I anticipated, and as I’m writing this post I’m noticing some areas where I could maybe, sort of, perhaps packed less. A thought I will not admit to my husband. Ever. My pack is perfect.

What’s in my Gregory bag? Continue reading “What’s In Her Bag: International Conference + Honeymoon Edition”


Why I Went Full Stats Stud

In honor of World Statistics Day 2015 I felt motivated to write about my own experience with Statistics and my decision to switch career paths from Ecology(ish) to Statistics for my PhD program. One could argue that my current position as a statistician is a result of an intense desire to avoid any more Chemistry courses as an undergraduate student in Biology. My Chem 2 experience was the roughest of my educational experience (the last year notwithstanding) and when I crawled out on the other end I vowed never again. Since a minor in Chemistry was out, I decided to go the Mathematics minor route instead. Why not? I took AP Calculus. I was “good at math”. My second grade teacher told me so. Let’s do this.

Continue reading “Why I Went Full Stats Stud”

Being an Involved Grad Student

A.K.A How to being involved AND score free meals

I’m a fairly involved graduate student. Rachel is as well. The benefits are numerous, but some of the top reasons we like to be involved include contributing to our respective departments and universities, building our C.V., access to amazing workshops/events/etc, in addition to always knowing where the free food on campus is located! Below are some of our top ways for you to get involved within your own programs!

Check Your Emails

Inbox Success! Now to stay on top of it!

I cannot believe the amount of people in my department who don’t keep up with their inbox! It’s not so scary to peek in and give them all a read. Then also, don’t be afraid to delete them! Granted, I’m on the far other end of this spectrum, constantly checking, deleting, and sending emails to the other students in my department. Zero email inbox is my happy place. Trust me though, there are plenty of opportunities waiting for you to read about in your inbox! I get emails about social events, workshop opportunities, conferences, class announcements, etc.
Free Food Score: 2 out of 5 Pizzas.

Join your GSA (or START one)

The level of involvement will surely vary between departments, but I’ve found that even my department’s small (and frankly, underutilized) Graduate Student Association is full of potential! When I arrived at PSU our GSA was just called SAC and it was a loosely defined organization with just a string of presidents who took responsibility for organizing a social event every so often. No one really knew what SAC stood for. I think Student Advisory Committee, but it was neither quite a committee nor advisitory. Luckily, we voted at our last meeting to officially change it to Statistics Graduate Student Association! In my short time being involved (since last fall) I’ve served as webmaster and made a bad ass website for us, organized weekly grad student workshops that now have Panera catering, organized a successful laser tag outing, AND been promoted to vice president. I’m looking forward to running for president next year. If your department doesn’t have a group already, ask around and check into the procedures for creating a campus group! It’s a mostly painless process and usually once recognized, you’ll be able to apply for funding.
Free Food Score: 5 out of 5 Pizzas

Check out College/University Level GSA Groups

Often the lifestyle of a grad student dictates that you spend the majority of your time on campus in a very few number of locations, interacting with only a limited number of colleagues. If you’re anything like me then you probably love to nerd about about your chosen field of study and you enjoy hanging out with others who share that passion! It can be hard to meet graduate students in other fields, but once you do it can open a whole new social aspect of your grad student life! Check to see if your school has graduate associations at the college or university level and check out their calendar for events that will draw in students from all across campus. Penn State’s GPSA hosts a plethora of amazing social events, workshops, coffee hours, talks, etc all year long, including a giant end-of-the-year field day for grad students. These organizations are also key for staying informed and involved with grad student rights and issues. Health care is a key issue for everyone insured through their university and there a lots of changes still taking place through the Affordable Care Act. Make sure that your voice is heard!
Free Food Score: 4 out of 5 Pizzas

Note the intimidating countdown until
the hardest test of my life. Blarg.

Be an Officer

The current student associations don’t have quite what you like going on? Be that change you want to see! Get involved. Get elected. Join committees and plan some events to your liking! You can also choose your level of involvement. Remember, everyone else is also a graduate student so they’ll be more than understanding if school, research, life gets more involved. I especially enjoy my role as webmaster where I’ve been able to create web pages through PSU’s partnership with WordPress. It’s much simpler than I anticipated and such a great tool to have learned.
Free Pizza Score: 3 out of 5 Pizzas


Academia is quickly taking over Twitter. I love using it to keep up with current events and issues in science, as well as living vicariously through Anna Kendrick. Even if you don’t want to keep up tweeting from an account, you can still use one to cultivate lists of accounts to follow. I keep a list of accounts that provide relevant Penn State and statistics news so that I can have them on our SGSA website in a convenient Twitter widget. My hope is that even the students and faculty in Stats that don’t tweet (a LOT of them) still have easy access to the information. It’s a great place to hear about research, events, funding opportunities, jobs, free food, and sports.
Free Food Score: 1 out of 5 Pizzas 

Offer to Show Prospective Students Around

You were a young student applying for grad school not so long ago. You remember how nerve-racking the whole process is! Volunteering to take a prospective student out to lunch is a win-win situation. You get to tell them your honest feelings about the program and possibly your advisor (Check out last week’s post for more on this!) so they are fully informed and you both get lunch, usually paid for by your department. My department is having our recruitment day next friday and I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I was in their position. That visit and the emails I exchanged with two students really sold me on choosing Penn State and Statistics for my PhD program. I’m so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to help guide potential new graduate students towards a similar decision!
Free Food Score: 5 out of 5 Pizzas

If there’s anything we’ve missed or if you’d like to share your own experiences let us know!