Share a Science Documentary Day

Science documentaries. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that you love them. You’ve watched both iterations of Cosmos; you’ve joined Stephan Hawkings on an exploration of the universe; you’ve learned about the rovers, landers, orbiters, and space stations exploring our solar system; you’ve experience Sr. David full-on gushing over a hedgehog. If I were to write a blog post trying to convince you to check out some of Sweet Tea Science’s favorite science documentaries, you would scoff because you are so on top of that. And that’s awesome! Seriously, let’s take a moment to appreciate our collective thirst for knowledge!

However, let’s not get so ahead of ourselves that we forget to share this excitement, enthusiasm, and thirst with others!

I have been inspired by a lovely evening out with my partner and his friend. We had been enjoying a few beers, and we got on the subject of education, intelligence, science, space and…well, you know how conversations can go. We eventually got on the subject of exploring our solar system and trying to understand the creation of the universe. Now, keep in mind that I love these kinds of conversations and could go on and on for a while. My comments are often prefaced with “I saw once in a documentary that…[insert science here]”. I was shocked to find that the friend had never heard of some of what we were discussing. It wasn’t that he didn’t have an interest in the topics, quite the opposite! He tried to write it off as us just being inherently smarter than him, but honestly, it was just a product of being an avid science documentary watcher. The knowledge is out there, I just Netflixed my way to it! I want others to know that they can too!

I am beginning to realize that there exists a set of people out there that are interested in exploring the sciences, but they don’t believe in themselves or don’t know what avenues to explore to help with their intellectual endeavors. This is where we come in. I’m going to assume that the majority of readers are here because they are totally into science. If we all independently hosts screenings of science documentaries and invite lots of our friends that might not normally choose such a film, then think of all of the science converts! I propose we
take this opportunity to organize. I nominate September 17th, 2014 as the first annual Share a Science Documentary Day!

This is a project that will require the help and support of the online scientific community. Science Side, I’m looking at you!

Your STS Homework:

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1. Share your favorite science documentary. You may do this in the comments here, on our Tumblr, or on your own social media outlet of choice! Be sure and tag us, @SweetTeaScience, so we can reblog/post/tweet you. Feel free to use the tag #SciDocuDay2014!

2. Host a Science Documentary Viewing on September 17th, 2014. Invite friends now and get people excited!

3. After your viewing don’t forget to try and start a dialogue. Talk about what you just learned and encourage others to share their impressions.  (Editor’s note: I think this would be a great time to talk about how to pick a documentary that isn’t bunk and how to be a skeptical consumer of information.  I mean, I love me some Netflix docus, but I’ve also quit some half way because…bunk.)

4. If you’d like, write up a little something about your event. What did you watch; did people enjoy it; would you host a similar movie night again, etc. We’d love to hear back and post your feedback on our blog or Tumblr!

Best of luck to everyone choosing a film to watch. Here might be a good place to start. We’ll keep you updated via tumblr about our own plans and movies that we choose to watch at our respective events! If you have any suggestions we’d love to hear them.

Cover Letters of Interest

Once you’ve gone through the process of finding potential grad school advisers, the next step is to contact them. It can be quite scary. That fear that you’ll craft a seemingly marvelous letter, attach your well-written CV, send it off, and then…hear back nothing. Or worse, you’ll hear back, but they aren’t interested in your obvious brilliance. Try not to get in your own head too much. Think of it more as the start of an epic journey towards the next step in your blossoming academic career. The professors that show the most interest in you are going to be the ones that are the best fit for your unique interests and skills. Writing about yourself is hard, but now is the time to brag on yourself a bit. Say it with me, “I am a badass science baller and all the profs want me.” Keep in mind that this letter does not need to be perfect. I just looked back at the cover letter I sent to my MS advisor (keep anything you write about yourself!) and it’s nearly 2 full pages long with way too much information. Thankfully, she wasn’t bored, and I had a wonderful, productive Master’s experience.

Say it again!

There’s a fine line between a letter of inquiry and a cover letter. Basically, if there is a posted opening with the advisor, then it is a cover letter. Otherwise, it’s a letter of inquiry, simple as that. The aim of such a letter, when writing to potential advisers, is to express your informed interest in them and their research, while also presenting a focused snapshot of yourself. Informed interest is important. Make sure you familiarize yourself with their work. Read their papers.  Brainstorm ideas for how your work could compliment theirs.  I’m not going to lie, this can be tough. I find it helps to remind yourself that you are not contractually bound to follow through with the ideas you come up with and present during your application process (Editors Note: This was my mantra to Meridith during her PhD application!  Glad to see it sunk it.). You just want to show that you are an intelligent being with a real interest in a similar field of research and that you can come up with relevant ideas.

To begin, you’ll want to state your interest in their lab and ongoing project(s). A common pitfall is to contact a professor about an area of research in which s/he is no longer active. Check the dates on those publications!  Additionally, some professors will be looking for more than one student to work on a several different projects. Clarify early why you are writing to them. They get numerous emails daily and the easier it is for them to read your email, the easier it will be for them to respond. Next, the second paragraph should be a self introduction. What are your recent experiences, and how would the skills you have benefit you if you were to join this person’s research group? The third paragraph should be dedicated to expressing your interests, goals, and ideas for research. The final paragraph is a little more general.  You can think of it as a summary:

I think my interests, skills, and future plans could potentially fit in well with your research program.  If you have room for a PhD student in the (interest term and year here), please let me know if you would be open to discussing my interests or experiences further. I have listed some of my major accomplishments below, but I have also attached my full CV if you would like further information about my past experiences and skills. I know you are very busy, so I appreciate any time you can give me.  Thank you very much.

I like to include a little bulleted list of notable accomplishments to whet their appetite. I wouldn’t advise giving them more than your “top 5.”  The goal here is to entice them to open your attached full CV.  Good achievements to mention are:

  • GPA
  • Grants or scholarships awarded (and how much $$ you were given)
  • Examples of academic excellence (exceptional GRE scores, special skills, unique courses taken with grade)
  • Evidence of research experience (REUs, internships, volunteer positions in research groups, etc.)
  • Publications (with links) or presentations/posters 

The internet already has loads of posts on this topic and plenty of sample letters to reference. Don’t rely on just this post!

Contemplative Mammoth’s Post
Dynamic Ecology’s Post
The Professor is In’s Post
Simple Sample Letter
In Depth Cover Letter Essentials

Please let us know if you have any other great cover letter references! We’d love to let this list grow and provide a wide array of recommendations for the future graduate students among us!

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!).