Saturday, September 27, 2008


This is all out of order, but I'm really excited about these "new" shoes I found at a thrift store today:

I've been dying to get a pair of shoes for swing dancing in, with nice leather bottoms for slippery goodness, so that I can stop wrecking socks and take my level of class up a notch or two.  But definitely I'm wayyyy too cheap to pay for new dance shoes.  I found these today for $5 at a nearby thrift store.  Wicked exciting, and the fit well too!  I wore them most of the day around my apartment.

Now all I  need is a place to dance!!!

When one door closes, another opens... (But what happens if you leave a stick in the door?)

So it was a little strange deciding to leave my other job. Way back in the spring when I first worked out my plans, it was set up as sort of a verbal agreement with my adviser that after my early summer funding ended in late July, he'd continue to support me on one of his grants into the fall sometime. As I think some of my earlier posts mentioned, I was going a little crazy after a few weeks of this, living off in a house in a soybean field pretty much by myself, and working close to seven days a week 'cause I had nothing much else to distract me (both a good and a bad thing). The research was fairly interesting, but not even slightly applied... just math and theory and thinking. One of my goals in taking a year off was to try new things, and to increase my experience with the application of theory, and hands-on field work skills, as these are sort of weak points on my CV. So my job at the bio station, while productive, relatively lucrative, and good for a continued career as a theory guy, wasn't quite fitting the bill of what I had intended to do with my time. So I started looking at other opportunities, via Ecolog, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Student Conservation Association, etc. I was still having trouble getting interest from some of the interesting jobs I found because people don't believe that I can do field work, since most of my documented experience with research involves sitting in front of a computer...

The catch is I was torn about whether or not I even wanted a different job, since the one I had was really pretty cushy, and it's a lot easier to leave things the way they are, and keep working with people I already knew and liked, instead of taking chances. So I didn't really tell my adviser that I was even nominally applying for other jobs. Ooops. And then, rather to my surprise, I got a job offer for a really neat project studying dispersal (a component of some of my theoretical research projects), to be a field tech in a southeastern state I'd never been near before in my life.

That was a pretty good recipe for a good deal of emotional turmoil there - I felt bad about not having let my adviser know wayyy in advance that I was applying for something else (it felt a little sneaky). I wasn't expecting to actually get offered a position doing the kind of work I was looking for experience in. I couldn't decide what to do with myself - these two different jobs sort of took on the parts of a deeper conflict I have going on, the tug and pull between math/theory/research and ecology/field work/hands on work. The field tech job, while it offered chances to do some neat field work, see a new place and meet new and interesting people, didn't involve me doing my own, cutting edge(ish), mostly self guided research (something I was doing at the bio station) with the potential for publications. Craziness.

Twas an intense two days of indecision/soul searching/phone calls with parents, Eugenie, friends, etc, trying to figure out what path to take. In the end, I talked with my adviser about it a bit, layed out the situation to him, and asked his advice, albeit later than I should have. This was a good thing to do, and i sort of wish i had done it sooner, but he and I don't communicate well for whatever reason so it's always kind of awkward to converse. I don't think he really grasped why I would even want to go somewhere else and do fieldwork, but he was really nice about it, and said he didn't mind if I went off and worked at this short term position for a few months, especially if I would come back and finish my work with him when I was done. Never expected to have that possibility! Right now I think that's what I'm planning on doing. Definitely I need to finish the project that I've been working on him. As a wise prof/friend of mine likes to say "Research that doesn't lead to results that are shared/published/presented is purely recreational". I need to have something concrete to show for all of my work. Plus I left some of my books there, so I pretty much have to go back ;-)

Once you get through one of these decisions and pick a path, it's best to jump whole heartedly into your new path, so that's what I've been doing. But definitely icky to work out the details inbetween. I think I always worry too much about what my employers think about me, and feeling like if I go work for anyone else I'm letting them down/selling out on them or something. But in reality, I guess maybe this is the way that science goes - people move around all the time, at least pre-tenure, and it's not such a huge deal.

So I've managed to move through one door into a new situation, but the door I came out of is still propped open with a stick or two! Wooo analogies.

By way of introduction

Hey all,

As some of you know, I am in fact, still alive and well, just belated in my chronicling of recent adventures. It's Saturday, not much is happening, and I'm settled down with some dark chocolate and tunes, so I think it's time to stretch the ol' fingers and type away. To break down what would be a cumbersomely long single post, I'm gonna write in a few installments.

First, for those wanting the quick version.... To recap - 3 weeks ago now (!) I left the biological station where I had spent the summer doing some theoretical research on a evolutionary/ecological model. A whirlwind week followed, returning to my home in the northeast, unpacking from the summer, sorting through a bunch of stuff (keepsakes, books, odds and ends, useful items, and a lot of junk) I'd stored in my parents' house, repacking, purchasing a car (!!!), and then setting off for my new job in the southeast. On the way I stopped by my "alma mater" for a day, visiting Eugenie, my sister, and friends/professors. Soooo good to be back there again - made me happy. The trip was painfully short though, restricted by having to head south. From there, we (my mother went along to help with the driving, and to provide advice as I was learning to drive a standard so I could operate my "new" car) spent the next two days travelling, spending the night with one of my former housemates and his girlfriend, and visiting another old school buddy for lunch, eventually arriving at what will be my "home" for the next three months. Mom left the next day, and I had Sunday to settle in, before starting work bright and early that monday. Two weeks of work later, I'm really enjoying my job (with a few caveats), have sat through a lot of training sessions, done a lot of field work, met some interesting and enjoyable new people, and have gotten to witness some of the differences of southern life...

Ok, that was the "spark notes" version of the last three weeks. Now for some more juicy stories for those who are interested (and/or trying to procrastinate about doing something else). Again, these are going to come in installments:

1) Changing jobs
2) Nothing stays the same?
3) Signs on a journey
4) "Working" with the government
5) Notes from the field

Hold on Transient fans, it's gonna be quite a ride...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This is just to say...

...That I'm 2/3 done with a significant road trip to the south east where I'll be starting a new job as a field technician on Monday. Don't think I've mentioned it much in a post yet, so there'll be more to say about it in the near future I hope. I found out as of yesterday that I actually have a place to move into when I arrive this afternoon - really good news! Hopefully I'll have enough time to settle in and explore the new place. It's in a college town, so even though the house won't have internet yet, I figure sooomewhere I should be able to steal/borrow/legitimately use wifi...

Lots of new stories about the trip and such to come in the near future, I promise!


Friday, September 5, 2008

Friendly, but clueless

I don't know how often y'all ride bicycles in traffic or on roads, but I've been doing it quite a bit recently to get to and from work every day. I like the exercise book-ending my day, and it's pretty countryside to ride through.

Back when I was learning how to ride a bicycle at the ripe old age of 11 or 12 (I think), terrorizing my sister while speeding up and down the paved roads of the cemetery in town, my mom made me learn the hand signals that you use on a bicycle to indicate which direction you're turning. Think blinking turn signals, but using your arms instead. And this was in spite of the fact that it was years until we'd ever be allowed to ride in a place where there was a hint of traffic to signal to.

Being grown up now and riding with traffic, prepared by my mother to be a safe and courteous rider, I dutifully signal at each of the 3 turns between my house and the lab here. And more often than not, I'm rather struck by the response of the motorists passing by and around me when I do so... probably nine times out of ten, they seem to think I'm waving to them, as they proceed to cut me off. I guess that's the midwest for you though - ever friendly ;-) Or maybe I'm so far out in the boonies that they're not used to seeing anyone bicycle to get anywhere, who knows.

Do people where you all live seem to understand what hand signals mean???

Politics as usual (or not?)

So once again, things have been busy and posting happened quite a while ago. Since then, some fun things have happened. Probably I'll split them into different posts.

For starts, sometime in the last week or two, I had the chance to attend a political rally where Obama/Biden were speaking. I've never been to quite such a large political event before (15,000+ people - quite strange after the daily 10 people or so I'm used to), other than several years ago when I heard Ralph Nader speak. I went mostly for the experience, and to hang out with other people instead of working, not because I'm really a big Obama supporter (more to come).

We had to show up pretty early and stand in a significant line to make it into this ball park in a Midwestern town. A number of local and state political candidates spoke, and then several hours of loud music and bright sunshine late, Biden and then Obama spoke to the assembled crowd.

I think what impressed me most about the whole event was the diversity of the crowd that attended. Maybe this area is inherently more diverse than the other parts of the midwest that I'm more familiar with. But I was surprised at the racial/ethnic and even age diversity of the crowd, although it was quite apparent some of the kids were less than enthusiastic about their attendance. It seems like maybe Obama really does draw a pretty diverse crowd of supporters, which is cool if it's true.

The speeches themselves weren't anything special. I'm rather innately skeptical when it comes to politicians, especially major party politicians. A lot of what Biden/Obama said was about what you would have expected any astute politician to say in front of a crowd of people from an economically depressed midwest swing-state. I was a little more impressed than I had expected to be by the renewable energy spin that Obama took, likening what needs to happen in this country to secure our energy independence and shore up our job market via the development and production of green energy technology to the challenges that the US faced and conquered in the Space Race. He drew a little on JFK's leadership in that instance, suggesting perhaps that he's the kind of leader who could make such a thing happen again. Sounds good to me... we'll see what happens though. (By the way, the original JFK speech is pretty awesome - well worth listening to, try here and for the second part, here). I've always sort of thought that what it would take to shift our country off the oil track and on to a sensible, sustainable economy and society was something as motivating and impowering as the space race was historically... nice to hear a politician latch on to the idea.

All in all, it was a worthwhile trip. I'm far from sold as an Obama supporter, and definitely want to find out how much substance is behind the nice ideals that were trotted out in the speech. Most significant about the trip though was the chance to people watch and see how such events take place. Felt kind of cool to be a small part of the kind of democratic(?) process so much a part of our country. And powerful to see how people, the real people who make up the life blood of this country are captured by ideas and speeches, for good or ill, motivated by the real hurts and challenges and dreams that are a part of their lives.