Guide to Graduate School Grief

Hi friends.  I’m glad to be back in this space.  I hope you enjoyed reading Meridith’s life update last week.  While we all have our own struggles, my year has been particularly difficult.  This is your warning that I’m going to talk a lot about death and grief, so if you’re not in the place to read about that, I totally understand if you bail now.  I’ve bailed on a lot over the past 365+ days. But, bailing out means keeping your boat floating, and, with lots of help, I’ve managed to do that too.

“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.” Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I want to write about this, in the imperfect way I am able, because I know it will help someone else to read it.  Maybe you? We know that graduate school is uniquely difficult on folks’ mental health. I want you to know you’re not alone.  If this isn’t you, but it is someone you know, I suggest you start thinking about the support you can offer. This twitter thread is a great place to start.

I want to want to write about my brother specifically, but I can’t do that yet.  The short version is this. Last summer my older brother, Jake, was in a car accident on the way home from work.  By midnight on the day of the accident I was flying home to Kentucky. After nine days in a coma, my brother died.  

I want to write this to talk about my own experience over the last year as someone grieving as a graduate student.  I want to talk about the things that helped me and the ways that this type of pain gets mixed up in the head of one anxious, highly driven person.  I don’t intend this to be prescriptive. I know everyone’s grief and grieving processes are unique, and you don’t have to be grieving a death to have some of these things resonate with you.  I formatted this as a list of dos and don’ts, but there are no dos and don’ts.  There is no way to do this wrong.

I thought, in the hours we spent planning the funeral, that when this was all over I would want to write everyday. But, as the weeks passed, I felt my grief like cotton stuck in my throat.  I want to write about this because I think it will help me too.

Guide to Graduate School Grief (to be taken as loving insight with the full knowledge that only you know what is best for you)

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Continue reading “Guide to Graduate School Grief”

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Catching Up with STS – Meridith Edition

HELLO FRIENDS! It has been a long, tough year since Rachel and I have posted here on Sweet Tea, Science. We’ve tried to keep up with people via Twitter (Mer’s, Rach’s, and the STS accounts) and Instagram (again we all have one!) but we started feeling that blogging itch once more, so we’re back. We wanted to start with updates on our academic and personal lives, because this blog is about the science journeys of two actual living people. We’ve had some highs and lows. Some heart-breaking tragedies and some magical love-filled unions.

Summer 2017

This time last year I was enjoying the perks of summer in Colorado while exploring the in’s and out’s of working in an industry setting. I’ve had many summer adventures/internships/travels, but any work I’ve done has been 100% within the realm of academia. However, via a connection made through my advisor at the big statistics conference (Joint Statistical Meeting or JSM), I landed an internship at an environmental consulting agency. The further along I get in my studies the more certain I am I’d like to explore career options outside of academia; so this was an amazing opportunity.  

I worked with Neptune & Co., a small but growing environmental consulting company focusing on environmental decision making though quality assurance, data science, and risk assessment. As an intern, I helped the other statisticians working on a project modelling the future (millions of years future!) risks and impacts of nuclear waste storage around the US. I loved being able to learn about an important issue from experts in various fields while applying what I’ve been learning over the past few years in my PhD studies.

We focused on the biotic impact portion of the models and worked to use what precious few data are available to create some distributions for variable such as: plant root shape,root depth, burrow depths, etc. All of these factors can potentially bring up buried contaminants if the burrows or roots venture too deep. It’s important to represent these as distributions (e.g. a Normal distribution LINK) rather than a point estimate (e.g. a mean or median) because it allows for more representation of uncertainty in the model.

Also we did lots of hiking and took adorable photos!IMG_7278.jpg Continue reading “Catching Up with STS – Meridith Edition”

Gardening with a Toddler

Editor’s Note: Today will be the first guest blog in STS history!  Both Meridith and I had guest bloggers on our individual blogs, and we love the additional insights added voices give to our topics of discussion.  Those who follow us on Instagram or Tumblr know that I have started a vegetable garden this year, and I have been having a blast.  I’m constantly amazed at how I, a person who presumably knows quite a bit about plants, keep learning new things through this process.  I was discussing this with my friend Christal recently, and we got to talking about how she had started a container garden with her 2-year-old son.  Adorable and educational?  I had to know more, so I asked her to write a post about the experience of gardening with her son, and what she thinks he has gotten out of the activity.  Here is what she shared!  
This kid is totally a STS kindred spirit!


They say everything starts with an idea. Gardening with my son started like this, but the funny thing was the idea wasn’t mine. It all started with a simple request from his father. It was a normal Saturday, we had just come from our son’s swim lesson and we were doing our weekly shopping trip to Target. Our first stop is always the dollar bin, usually for a small treat for the baby.  This time, his dad saw a cilantro growing-kit and asked if it would be OK to keep it at my place and grow cilantro with our son, like he did with his Mom. Of course! Our little bug, as we call him, loves being outdoors and playing in the dirt, examining plants and insects.  Why not try this?

Early stages of the garden
Bug loved it so much our one, little cilantro plant quickly turned into a small window sill garden containing cilantro, a tomato, some strawberry plants, and a daisy. It became a daily ritual to water and check on all our little plants. Bug was the main caretaker, making sure he reminded Mom, Dad, or grandma (whomever was home) that he needed to water the plants. As they got bigger, we decided it was time to transplant them outside. In the past, before I had my son, this usually meant death for all my plants.  Out of sight out of mind.  Not this time!  My baby bug reminds me that we have to go water the plants (even if they don’t need it!). He has his own watering can and gardening gloves (I love The Dollar Tree for cheap gardening tools my two-year-old can use).


Transplanted outside
What started out as a simple project with his Dad has turned into so much more. He is constantly asking for new things to add to our garden. Decorations, plants, rocks, you name it.  When he is out with his Dad or grandma, he tells them Mommy needs more flowers for the house. Our newest additions have been an Easter lily his Dad got for us and a chili plant that my Mom gave him from her own garden. And it’s not only a love for plants that my son has gotten out of this, but also a sense of responsibility by taking care of something.  He sees the results of feeding and watering his little plants, discovers new “friends” that come and inhabit our garden, and enjoys the perks of spending time outside rather than being glued to the TV all day.


I love watching my son’s interest in nature grow. He now catches caterpillars, and we feed and keep them, so he can watch them transform into moths and butterflies. Recently he found his first grasshopper and spent the better part of the afternoon chasing it around the backyard with his Dad. These are memories that I cherish. They are ones that are filled with love and wonder, but they teach him as well. His love for all things outdoors has grown to us purchasing a season pass to our local zoo, as well as day trips to our local parks to see the squirrels and ducks. He constantly asks when we can go see the animals and fishes. Our family activities are centered around this growing interest our son has in plants and animals.  
Keeping an eye on his caterpillar
Literally, can’t let them out of your sight!



He is the happiest kid I know (and though that sounds biased, it is also true!) and I know a lot of it comes from the quality time he spends with me and his Dad doing things that are engaging and memorable. All the things he learns from our little garden also come up in our other day to day activities. When we are grocery shopping he loves to help identify and pick out the fruit and vegetables. He asks questions like “What is this?” when he sees something he doesn’t know or “What does it taste like?” or “What color is it?”.  When I am preparing our meals, he brings his step stool in to stand next to me and ask me “What doing Mama?” and “You putting ‘matos in the pasta?”. He is becoming aware of how we can use what we grow or buy, and it gets his curiosity going. He asks to smell or taste various fruits and veggies that we buy or grow.


Every day I am amazed at my son’s curiosity and how much he has learned and remembers. It’s been almost a month since he chased that grasshopper, but he asked his Dad yesterday in the car if he remembered how bouncy that grasshopper they found was. If he sees a plant, animal or insect in one of his children’s shows, he has to come grab me and tell me about it and associates it with where else we use or see them. My son’s vocabulary has exploded since we incorporated all these family outing and projects. He can sit and tell you about things from tomatoes to narwhals. And it all started with a $1 cilantro grow-kit and a request to share a memory with my son.


Closing Thoughts from Rachel and Meridith:  We were super inspired by Christal’s insight into how simple outdoor activities really activate curiosity in children.  This really illustrates the point that you don’t need to take a child to a far off National Park (though that is rad!) to instill a love and respect for the natural world.  We were also really interested in the developmental changes Christal noticed after the family gardening projects began.  Responsibility, thoughtful questioning, increased vocabulary, all coming to her at the very low price of a little time and effort.  Rachel was also struck by the similarities between the things she has learned from gardening and what two-year-olds can learn.  She feels like she learns new horticulture terms every week now, and she is certainly asking new questions all the time (Why is this eggplant so sad?  Is this the right type of soil for chili plants?)!  These sorts of activities are the basis of scientific thinking!  


We are curious about the experiences of readers.  Have you gardened yourself, and what have you learned?  Have you ever gardened with a child?  Do you think gardening teaches skills that are relevant to future scientific education?



About Christal:  Christal works in the entertainment industry both as a performer and backstage technician, and she is also a single mom. Her work can be physically intense and injury prevention is essential to having a long term career. Her love for fitness started in high school when she took weight-lifting classes. There she learned about the anatomy of the body and what exercises were best to strengthen each area. Her passion for fitness continued in college where she minored in dance and tool as many nutrition courses as she could, including Healthy American Cooking. She is currently working two gigs, one as the shift manager at a southern California amusement park and another as a fitness coach through Team Beachbody.  Looking for a fitness coach?  Check out Christal’s websiteFacebook, or on Instagram.  Christal’s goal is to encourage others, especially her fellow moms, to be as physically fit and healthy as they can and feel good about themselves!  She is also passionate about the health and fitness of the next generation (specifically her son!).