Why we do science–lamprey repellants

August 27, 2011

Nobody forgets their first gander at the business end of a sea lamprey.  Petromyzon marinus  is a fish that attaches to another fish, rasps out a hole, and sucks out its prey’s  precious bodily fluids. It is impossible not to have mixed feelings when contemplating the sea lamprey.  When you finish admiring the frankly gorgeous, utilitarian design of its mouthparts (Steve Jobs likely holds the patent) it is perfectly natural to give way to a second, more emotional,  “gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!”.

The sea lamprey is also an invasive species, with nasty consequences for the fisheries of North America’s great lakes.

Thus it was a pleasant surprise this morning, over my second cup of coffee, to discover the following video on Boing Boing. I save Boing Boing–one of the great cultural websites that also likes the odd science story–for my Saturday mornings. Michael Wagner, at Michigan State university, recognizing that aquatic organisms tend to avoid chemicals that convey the message “someone I know was recently eaten here”, created his own “eau de lamprey mort”, and was the subject of the aptly titled MSU press release “Sea lampreys fear the smell of death“.  Enjoy.


Communicating, Leadership, and Expectations for Graduate School

August 24, 2011

Recently Cornelia Dean at the New York Times discussed a variety of ways that scientists are getting together to learn how to talk science to the general public (the article may be behind a firewall, but you should be able to access this via your home institution’s library). Few things are more important nowadays than raising the level of discussion on matters scientific; communicating in an engaging way just what makes science so important and so fun. We’ll hav e more to talk about this presently.

Halfway through the article I came across a reference to the Leopold Leadership Program headed by ecologist, and former president of the Ecology Society of America, Jane Lubchenco. This is indeed a pretty cool group, that  (as their masthead proclaims) advances environmental decision-making by providing academic researchers with the skills and connections needed to be effective leaders and communicators. By this time I was all gung-ho and ready to apply. Then I read that this yea, the program is bringing back all of their previous fellows to confab. Ah well. There is always next year. Keep an eye out for this group, people.

Which is just a long preamble to the fact that while perusing that site, I found a great resource page full of white papers on how to teach climate change, how to talk to policy makers, books by prior Leopold fellows, and one, that I want you to download right now: Graduate Student Expectations and Milestones. This is one of those essays that has been passed down through cohorts of grad students and across labs. Like Huey’s and Stearns’s advice to grad students from the “Life Management” section of GTDA’s blogroll (which yes, dear readers, needs an upgrade), and like an earlier post from another colleague’s lab Eight reality checks for graduate students, it summarizes a lot of useful experience about the graduate student’s life in a short space.

Read Graduate Student Expectations and Milestones and show it to your labmates. Better yet, ask your advisor what she thinks about it. It could open your eyes; it could save you a lot of time and trouble.


Getting back on the GTDA horse

August 22, 2011

When we last spoke, some two years ago, I had said pretty much all I had wanted to say on developing your graduate school survival kit. Why am I back? Well, things have changed. Pretty remarkably, for only two years. For example:

  • On a plane flight from Boston to DFW, I read (on my Kindle) a fascinating analysis of why Netflix has been so  successful. Jonathan Knee suggests that the big media companies are increasingly aware that aggregators, not content providers, can make a big difference in people’s lives by sifting through the tidal wave of media and presenting it in a thoughtful, accessible way. Content is still important, of course, but selecting among content without judgement, can be pretty random.
  • There has been a lot going on–new second brain software, the “cloud”, social media (my second post on this blog was a scornful analysis of Twitter, I was right on top of that, wasn’t I?), pads and e-readers–all potentially useful to the evolving academic.
  • I’m still as obsessed with doing things efficiently as I ever have been. I’m still clicking away on Evernote, and squirreling neat stuff away in Devonthink. It’s time I revisit some of these notes and jottings, make some judgements, and share them with you. And, just as importantly, hear what works for others. And lots of my friends and colleagues have pretty cool things to say on creativity, writing, time and life management.

Put all this together: aggregators can be useful; the academic environment continues to change; many of the old rules may no longer apply and need to be replaced.

Consider this as one place to stop by to see which rules help you survive and thrive in graduate school.

So, as this Blog hums again to life, what’s on your mind? What topics would you like us to spend some time on?