Over the past several years, I've been planting daffodils in my backyard where I have my fruit trees: an asian pear, two pomegranetes, an olive, a Meyer's Lemon, a persimmon, a peach, as well as red raspberry and kiwi vines. The daffodils are spaced randomly - and surprise me in the springtime when they start popping up. I've also started seeding red clover all around in the back with hopes that it will take over (at least for a few years).
I dream of a small orchard - a space with an eclectic collection of trees and vines with a carpet of clover on the ground (blooming red in the springtime, mingling with yellow and white daffodils) - a space where you can wander around and almost get lost (at least for an afternoon) so you must live on pears and berries and whatever it is that you can find. Whatever it is that is ripe.
Okay, well - it's not there yet. But the trees will grow. The clover will reseed and the daffodils will multiply.
Corals. The laboratory is gearing up for another coral sampling trip along the southern coast of Puerto Rico. We sample just off of La Parguera (with our collaborators at the University of Puerto Rico) - at the reef's Enrique and Turrumote and Media Luna. During my first visit, almost a year ago now, I had tried to prepare myself for what the reefs might look like - but I wasn't prepared for the quiet, for the stillness - for the greyness. The reefs are still alive - but they are in transition, a transition that is reducing their diversity, their productivity, their vitality - soon they will not be the same coral reefs that my colleagues have visited weekly for years. During this trip we will expand our sampling efforts to two more coral species (for a total of five) - one of which is on the endangered species list, Acropora cervicornis.
Corals and Impediments. Our biggest challenge is transporting our corals - getting them back to the laboratory with as little harm done to their microbial communities as possible - frozen samples, samples at certain required temperatures....getting through the USDA checkpoints in San Juan, crossing our fingers that when the FedEx guy says that they won't irradiate the samples, that he means it -- all of the permits are in place for the sampling, but translating the permits activity to actual transport seems to be a bit challenging sometimes. Plus, it's not the best time to be transporting microbial cultures - we do our initial plating of coral mucus in the field lab - we do what we can, but during most of the process we just have our fingers crossed, hoping that we've thought through the process and haven't left out something important. We're getting better at it.
Science. But each new sampling trip sends the lab into a period of renewed optimism - while this next group of samples confirm what we are observing? Or will a new trend be observed? Or will the data only result in more confusion, the need for additional samples, and a new approach? We recently got some pretty exciting data - the results of running one sample of coral mucus microbial community DNA through a functional gene array. We 'saw' for the first time what is most likely the predominant functional genes - genes involved in such processes as sulfur and nitrogen cycling and methane generation...and on and on...almost 1,200 genes revealing the role of the microorganisms in key nutrient cycling processes of the coral holobiont. During this sampling trip, we'll start obtaining samples that will allow us to start following the changes in functional gene potential of the microbial community during coral holobiont disease progression. Our hypotheses? That changes in microbial community structure due to disease influences a key sub-population in the community that contributes to coral death. That corals that can recover from disease events recruit back the necessary community - either the same 'group' of microorganisms or possibly even a different 'group' - but organisms with redundancy in their functional gene potential. In other words: who cares what the microbes name is, along as it has the ability to fix nitrogen.
Science and Impediments. Now, here's where it gets challenging. On more than one occasion I've posted about issues for women in science (well, at least my own issues) - and while sometimes I could state it more broadly, it always seems to come down to the same bottomline: it's hard to be at the table, to be seen and heard - and the battle for equal footing is a constant one. I've always said that individually each 'experience' seems trivial - but it's the compilation of daily experiences that combine to create a mountain-sized challenge that is oppressive. Today's example: I get stopped by a colleague who mentions that our program had brought in a visiting scientist (a marine mammal) person that has access to different 'pots' of money for marine mammal research (of which I have one grant pending to fund). It ends up that the program sequestered this person and that only three males in our program had been scheduled to meet with her (I had no idea she was even coming to visit - nor did the other female PI in our program - and we both have an on-going marine mammal project) - and my colleague said "Oh, we do need to remember to include you more often" which is simply condescending as hell...and then the conversation transitions to the fact that they might actually 'need' me - because some of the work that this visiting scientist was interested in was related to hydrocarbon impacts on dolphin health, and of course they know nothing about hydrocarbons. So my colleague says 'perhaps you could be a consultant or collaborator on a grant we submit so that we can be legitimate in the hydrocarbon arena' and I'm thinking: A collaborator? A consultant? I'm a Prinicipal Investigator - geez, what are these guys thinking? That I'm here to lend them my CV when they need me - so that I can help them (as tenured Full Professors) to get funding when they do nothing to support me as a more junior Associate Professor? When they don't even think to include me in the opportunity to begin with? So I respond that if they need a Co-Principal Investigator on the proposal, to let me know - and I walk away - because these guys are simply so clueless it is hardly worth saying much more (and also because I said more before, over and over again, and gotten nowhere). So -- individually this was a 7 minute conversation in a long and productive day -- but this treatment every day, every week - results in lost opportunity - lost opportunities, and I'm frankly wondering when it all ends - when my publication list will be long enough, when my grant portfolio will contain enough digits, when my years of experience will be sought out for it's equal contribution and not just as a last minute add-on in a time of need. It's such bullshit. Exhausting bullshit.
So it's nights like this, when I feel the lingering excitement of my lab's science, when new ideas have been floating around the lab all day - when one lit search leads to changing an old idea and a new dataset generates a whim of a hypothesis that grows throughout the afternoon - it's after a day when I'm convinced more than ever that we're on the right track but then I have a 7 minute conversation that sidetracks me, attempts to put me in another space - a space where I'm less than I can be, where I feel that I'm only there to support the scientific pursuits of others - it's after those days that I come home and crave (besides a glass of wine) the blossoming blogosphere of sites written by women in science - and find comfort in their battles and their successes and their words and know that what I am doing is very, very much worth it. (It was only 7 minutes out of an otherwise very good day). Something new that I found tonight (and hope to contribute to in the future as soon as I figure out how): Scientiae
This is a blog carnival that compiles posts written about the broad topic of "women in STEM," (STEM=science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and may include posts:
stories about being a woman in STEM
exploring gender and STEM academia
living the scientific academic life as well as the rest of life
discussing how race, sexuality, age, nationality and other social categories intersect with the experience of being a woman in STEM
sharing feminist perspectives on science and technology
exploring feminist science and technology studies
Both men and women (and anyone in-between) are welcome to contribute to the carnival as long as the topics are relevant and respectful.
This is in addition to ones that I've already written about here and here...it's definitely a growing - and strong - community. I'm so glad that they are out there, and I'm glad that they are sharing their experiences.
I spent yesterday afternoon tending shop for my friend Jeff at his gallery, Lime Blue over at 62B Queen Street. I took a book to read (Richard Ford's latest), a manuscript to edit, and even another one to review, but instead - in between people stopping by to take a look around, I took photographs of the place. I laugh at myself in this setting, heck, anybody would laugh at me in this setting - I'm absolutely mortified to use one of those credit card machines (What? Your strip doesn't work? I need to punch the numbers in?...while thinking 'Jeff didn't leave me detailed instructions for this!') and I had absolutely spaced the half cent sales tax increase - but Jeff had written that one down. Anyway, I survived, Jeff's shop survived - and I even made a decent number of sales. Plus, it was fun watching the light change throughout the afternoon - a beautiful, breezy, cool afternoon in downtown Charleston.
I rushed around this morning, getting a few more things planted - a row of swiss chard, another row of spinach - before the storms blow in this afternoon. So, as of today - this bed is full, maybe even too much so, with my early spring garden - and it's time to clean out the second bed for warmer season crops. I always feel better after this one is planted and growing - there's something about having a vegetable garden underway that makes me think that my world is a bit less chaotic - and that although my office is stacked with manuscripts and articles and a million other things that I need to get through, and although my home needs a good cleaning and there's laundry to do - that it is all okay because my lettuce is growing, the strawberries are blooming, and the sugarsnap peas are poking up through the ground. I find a small (and much needed) slice of sanity in having a vegetable garden planted.
I turn over the soil in my beds with a pitchfork - and I only experienced one small trauma during this seasons preparations: while digging up a clump of weeds and soil and turning it over, I saw three small snakes wiggle out. They were a about a foot long each, so probably it was a nest - and two of them were pretty aggressive, even at this young age - and that along with their coloring made me think copperhead. I've had trouble with copperheads in my yard for several years now - and while I've tried to come to grips with snakes in my garden (here and here and...here) - even with poisonous snakes in my garden (along with the blind beagle and my other dogs) - I simply haven't fully accepted their presence. If I had been able to reach a blunt-ended shovel or a hoe in time, I would have killed the three snakes. But unfortunately before I could find my hoe they had moved into the straw covering my potatoes - to be only discovered again one day, I'm sure. I've always been told by snake folks that you need to be more careful of younger poisonous snakes because they haven't learned how to control the amount of venom they release, so they tend to throw caution to the wind and really zap you. Great. If I were savvy, I'd just accept it and post a sign along Highway 17 advertising the Lower Awendaw Snake Emporium and charge admission. When folks came up to my gate, I could greet them with a snake wrapped around my neck and I could have them hanging from trees (the snakes, not the visitors). The place would be a hit, I'm sure - and perhaps it could be the Charleston County satellite location of the Edisto Island Serpentarium with a full fledged gift shop and real exhibits - better yet, maybe I could donate all of my snakes to the Seprentarium for free (confession: I did call them once) and get back to gardening in peace.
But the garden is underway, the birds sound like it's warm out, and the snakes are moving around (even if unintentionally). It's a new season.
For a week or so after I submit a grant, I'm not real with it. I go through the motions - but at work I don't generally feel all that effective. I just do what I can. This week I had to jump right into something that I have affectionately called 'Ben-World' - editing my doctoral student Ben's dissertation proposal. I haven't been at my best while editing, but I'm plugging along - there's another section that I need to get through tonight.
Generally though, after a grant submission, I'm just plain loopy. I find some things really funny, that perhaps are, and sometimes I find things that really aren't so funny as being hilariously funny. For example...Funny Exhibit No. 1: a photo of my friend Jeff's parents riding a peanut. Yep, that's Rod and Lena, Peanut Riders. Jeff emailed this to me today, and on the phone gave me a play-by-play of the day when he and his parents veered off the road because there was a peanut sign. The reality is that this was not a first for Rod and Lena (or Jeff) - in fact, Lena looks like she's a peanut-riding pro - while I'm envisioning Rod's expression as Jeff tells him to 'show a little leg'. Now - I'm making good fun of these Peanut Riders, when in reality I am forever in their debt because after Hurricane Gaston they showed up in my garden with two well-tuned chained saws and the kind of chain-saw experience that comes from a past spent in the wilds of Wisconsin -- and helped me take down several large trees that had been uprooted by a storm that caught many by surprise - including me, as I watched out my windows as a large tulip poplar started leaning over my car in the driveway. These are good Peanut Riders - the kind that you can count on when there is trouble.
So, for Funny Exhibit No. 2: I'm telling this story because I'm assuming that the new postdoctoral fellow that just started in the lab doesn't know about my blog, and that by the time he does - we will have teased him about this anyway, so no harm done. So here we all are - sitting in the conference room for our weekly lab meeting. It was the postdocs first lab meeting - and we're chatting and I'm talking about a new microarray chip that has microbial genes for bacterial diseases on it - and how they cost $800 each but boy would I love to get one and you know, science talk about the service contract on the mass spec and the UV lamp for the Millipore system and...you know, STUFF. Katherine reads her poem (I'll get to that below) and then Maria talks about her revised metabonomics protocol and then somehow, and I'm forgetting how the conversation evolved, but somehow the postdoc starts talking...saying something like:
'Yeah, at USC, students are given 12 hours of free therapy during their degree program.' and then he went onto describe how he was having trouble with his DGGE gels - how 'the back gel was always blurry', and then how the 'centrifuge was having problems'. So he used this period of time, during the end of his doctoral research stint, to go to therapy -- where he learned that he had 'anger management issues' and was an 'asshole'.
Well, I must say that I just looked at him and smiled, and looked at Katherine and smiled - and well, looked at everybody and smiled, while inside I was laughing as hard as I could. Now, in all of the rules of conduct for a new employee, I'm not sure that there is one single rule that covers how (when or where) you should bring up your anger management issues, and, well, your asshole-ish nature. But I'm guessing, and it's a pretty educated guess - that it's not something you bring up during the first group meeting with your colleagues. But the honesty of it all - the simplicity of it all - and the fact that he did it - make me laugh off-and-on for the rest of the afternoon. When lab meeting started, I realized that I hadn't 'warned' him that we have a poetry reading during each lab meeting, and after his disclosure - I see that all rules have been tossed out of the lab windows anyway, and even so...what's a little poem when there's a blurry DGGE gel and a malfunctioning centrifuge?
So, about that poem. Today was a real treat. In honor of Mardi Gras, and in honor of a changed city, Katherine took an essay written by NPR's Andrei Codrescu and edited the essay into a poem. A book of essays by Codrescu can be found here, all about his adopted city of New Orleans - and it seems appropriate during this season (albeit a few days late) to reflect on the devastation that still exists. And isn't the world a funny place? Just yesterday my friend and former colleague called me from New Orleans - someone I had been trying to find who finally re-surfaced. His home had four feet of water in it from Katrina - but he and his spouse are repairing and remodeling and hope to finally move back in their home in a month or so. They will be only the second home in their neighborhood to be re-occupied. They have been living in an apartment - and Richard spent about six months not being able to work, and another six months working in other laboratories - but he's now back in his old lab. It felt good to hear from him - and then the new postdoc (yeah, the one with anger management issues) told us about a trip he took to New Orleans for his prior position - and how whole areas were still devastated, how the 9th Ward didn't even have foundations of homes anymore, and how it was growing wild - and how the images that we see on the news don't even come close to showing the immensity of the devastation. He told us about the large black X's on the homes - and how the numbers associated with the letter (depending on location) were the statistics for how many bodies were found inside. One, eight, two...it went on and on.
I couldn't help but thinking today, in that loopy-post-grant-submission-way, that perhaps, just perhaps - that we needed to send the Peanut Riders down that way - with their trusty chain saws and there own personal brand of peanut-riding exuberance in tow. Rod and Lena, saving the world. One peanut at a time.
Each day has its own pictures: bumper to bumper traffic two states long, a frenzied mug in a domed prison, rising water, the hungry pushing carts out of looted stores, roof tops in a lake as vast as the eye can see. Dead city. Silent city. The survivors, the tribes. Stadiums filled with refugees, helicopters over a dead unlit city, a ragged parade of decadents spitting defiance, television cameras as numerous as marchers, a can of tuna and a strand of beads. Dead pets rotting away behind locked doors the smell of putrefaction visible. Muck. Darkness. Heat. An eviscerated pigeon, two dogs shot by a hired executioner. A sea of horrible stories rising like swamp fever from the foul mouth of dear ones, from exile. We are all working in this pit of sorrow to unfreeze time.
Louisiana isn't called the Dream State for nothing. Katrina found us dreaming. If our voluptuaries had been on guard we might have saved the city. We could have been preparing for this for all the years we knew it was going to happen. Instead we made libations to the gods of chaos. Our politicians, like our citizens, lived in the moment. A beautiful, fragrant, delicious, sexy moment.
While working in the garden yesterday (and ignoring the chilly wind), I was kept company by two bluebirds - who went back and forth between the popcorn tree and the sweet gum, depending on where I was working. They were cold too, a little fluffed out - as were the other birds - the red-winged blackbirds that were clustered together on the same tree, the morning doves, moving as inseparable pairs between the birch and the bald cypresses. The cardinals were busy - and I think that if I looked deep inside of the leyland cypresses, I might have found evidence of nests, or at least their beginnings. I rushed to get my potatoes planted (red pontiacs, yukon golds, and white kennebecs) before the winds clock around this week, bringing us warmth from the south. They're now in the ground and covered with a layer of straw - in a bed next to the savoy and red cabbage seedlings, the brocolli and cauliflower, and the romaine and buttercrunch lettuces. Oh - also a row, just a small one, of alpine strawberries. Hopefully this week, maybe in the early morning before going into the lab, I'll be able to plant seeds of carrots and spinach and sugar-pod peas and sweet peas. It's a bit late for some of these, but I still want to get them into the ground. I did manage to water the garlic and shallots tonight - and harvested my last cabbage from my winter garden. The transition has been made - my spring vegetable garden is underway.
From noon until 3:30 pm tomorrow, if you're just hanging around a computer and want something to listen to - perhaps check out the 2010 Imperative Global Teach-In - it looks interesting to me, and although I have meetings for much of tomorrow afternoon, I might get the lab to listen while they're hanging out (I mean working) in the lab. The 'Teach-In's" mission:
To successfully impact global warming and world resource depletion, it is imperative that ecological literacy become a central tenet of design education. Yet today, the interdependent relationship between ecology and design is virtually absent in many professional curricula. To meet the immediate and future challenges facing our professions, a major transformation of the academic design community must begin today.