The king of the seasons: Fall A-Z

Now that the autumnal equinox has finally passed, I can officially declare it the start of my favorite season of the year: Fall! And while I really wanted to write a super insightful blog this week about “On being the slowest hiker” or “The beer of my adopted homeland (aka Wisconsin),” I just couldn’t resist making another fun list. I made it a little harder on myself this time by forcing myself to populate the whole alphabet (definitely semi-cheated on X and Z) with all the fun things about fall.

A — Apples, apple pies, apple cider. And Aaron Rodgers.

B — Boots. All the boots.

C — Color change. So many reds, oranges and yellows.

D — Dead things. (Like leaves and trees… and zombies and vampires)

E — Excellent eating: apples, pies, pumpkin things, tailgating food… seriously all the things.

F — Football. But mostly just Wisconsin Football (because all the other teams just don’t matter): Packers and Badgers.

G — GOURDS! Love me some decorative gourds.

H — Halloween. Haunted houses. Haunted hay-rides. And HOCUS POCUS.

I — Indian Summer.

J — Jack-O-Lanterns. Because pumpkin carving parties aren’t just for children.


jack-o-lanterns… Kenya style–fyi the right one says is giardia (photocred: GOBY)

K — Kit-Kats. So many leftover halloween candy kit-kats. (Sorry kids, they’re mine).

L — Leaves. Leaf piles. (Jumping in leaf piles. Racking leaf piles.)

M — Maple flavored things.

N — [No-shave] November.

O — Orchard adventures.

P — Pumpkin. Seriously, all the pumpkin flavored things.

Q — Quilts! Warm, cozy, glorious quilts.

R — Running. It’s just so much better in the fall.

S — Sweaters, scarves, and [thick] socks.

T — Thanksgiving. Turkey. Eat all the things.

charlie brown thanksgiving

U — Ugg boots. So ugly, but just oh so comfy.

V — Vote. (seriously, please vote.)

W — Weather. Not too cold. Not too hot.

X — Xenial season (i.e. the season of giving thanks)

Y — Yamitty yams.

Z — Zealous feasting.

…I’ll be the only geologist in the geology building rocking leggings, a blanket scarf and ugg boots while carrying at venti pumpkin spiced latte. #noshame

Studying abroad: three reasons the un-typical trip is best

My time abroad with The School for Field Studies (SFS) in Kenya and Tanzania will forever be one of the most memorable times of my life. Not a single week goes by where I don’t reminisce about that semester, and I have yet to find a single person not at least a little bit jealous about my experiences abroad. Everything about my study abroad program was different and unique: the locations, the cultures, the people, the coursework, the animals and even the analyzing of dung maidens (seriously, we did this). I couldn’t have been happier with my decision, and the obvious next step is to share all my insightful wisdom with the world.


Now, I’m not here to bash anyone’s own abroad experiences, I have lots of friends who studied abroad in and/or backpacked through Europe, but I am here to convince people that maybe (just maybe) going about your study abroad experience or even post-graduate travel a little differently can be more fulfilling than chasing after the typical destinations and programs. And so, because obviously I’m super enlightened on the subject, here are my top three reasons (not really ranked in any sort of particular order) the un-typical trip is best.

Traveling somewhere totally crazy.


Bargaining hard from some tire shoes in Kiswahili at a local market

And by crazy, I mean far (far) away, unique and totally unfamiliar. Step out of your comfort zone. Travel somewhere your friends and family would never expect you to go. Spend a semester (or hell why not a year), in a place that might make you a little uncomfortable at times. Embrace the language barrier(s) and the struggles of learning a new language. Try new foods, attempt new arts and master your bargaining skills. In summary, find somewhere to travel that can teach you more about the world than a daily jaunt to the bars ever could.

I initially singled out my study abroad program for this exact reason. I felt (and still feel) that I have my entire life to explore Europe; I don’t need to be young and rambunctious to enjoy the pubs (and beer) and the beautiful ancient sites. I wanted to travel somewhere I’d likely never have the chance to visit again (or more accurately to one that I would be less likely to visit later in life). East Africa was a place I didn’t know much about, but I wanted to know more. I was drawn to images of its beautiful scenery, unique animals and extraordinary cultures (and people!). While I love beer and bars as much as any typical college student (and still am totally jealous of everyone who got to experience Oktoberfest and real Guinness), I wanted to be challenged in a way I had never been challenged before. And East Africa was the perfect place for me to go.

Stepping away from the western lens.

As I feel very strongly about this point, I have to step away from my usual joking manner and get a little more serious. All of us in the “western world” are guilty of taking things for granted. We’re so far removed from so many of the world’s problems (extreme poverty, water security, food security, war) that we tend to push them out of our minds. We tend to scold other countries or cultures for “doing it wrong” or for “being the enemy” without knowing or even understanding the bigger story. Immersing yourself in a country or culture different from your own is one of the most effective ways to remove your western bias, and to view worldly issues from the lens of someone faced with those issues every single day. And because she says all this so much better and more poetically than me, please watch Chimamanda Adiche’s “The danger of a single story.”

"We are all children of the earth." --Dr. Moses Okello

I left for East Africa with a lot of pre-conceived notions, particularly the “they’re doing it all wrong” attitude. Almost immediately though, all those notions were turned upside-down. Interacting with local communities and people on a day-to-day basis and working with local professors and staff opened my eyes to things I never ever would have considered before. This is something I never could have truly appreciated from a seat in a 300-person lecture at UW-Madison or even from another country and college similar to my own. I could write an entire book about all the things my time in East Africa taught me, especially about all the wonderful lessons the people of East Africa knowingly or unknowingly bestowed upon me, but instead I’ll leave you with a video of our Kenya Center Director, Dr. Okello, throwing down some serious wisdom and sharing a beautiful story about an encounter he had with a little girl during his time in Idaho as a graduate student.

Getting a little dirty.

I’m not talking about the going shower-less for days (or weeks) on end or rolling around in the dirt or even getting some bad-ass dreads kind of dirty (although talk to anyone in my study abroad group and they would probably assert that these things happened A LOT); I’m talking about the getting out in the field and doing hands on research kind of dirty. Choose a program that throws you in the thick of things every day. Seriously, GO PLAY OUTSIDE!

While my initial interest in my study abroad program was because of the location itself, the aspect that solidified my interest was the field study focus of the program. I’m a geologist. Geologists like science and LOVE being in the field. I couldn’t imagine spending a semester abroad in a glorious, new place sitting in a classroom everyday, that’s what not-study abroad college is for, so I knew I needed something a little different. SFS is one of a handful of study abroad programs that centers all of their programs around being in the field and doing hands-on student-involved research. With SFS, I knew I would never, ever bored. I definitely could have selected another SFS program better suited to my major, but honestly, I just wanted to try something new.

DSC04120  DSC_0020

(left) a rare photo with a Maasai. and a dung maiden.
(right) vegetation surveying near Lake Manyara National Park

For those of you who are interested in reading more about my time abroad, feel free to check out all my archived posts from my study abroad blog ( There’s a ton more photos and lots of commentaries on all the hilarious things I got myself into and wonderful things I learned while in East Africa–so go be entertained (or not… whatever you feel).

Things you should know before befriending a geologist

Us geologists are a special breed. We definitely aren’t like everyone else. So, if you’re thinking about befriending a geologist, there’s probably a few things you should know:

You can’t take us anywhere. Well, you can, but you’ve been forewarned… Geologists are distracted by everything. And when I say everything, I mean rocks. Rocks are everywhere. And we’re very good at finding them. And spending forever looking at them. And talking about them. And boring you with all the details about them. And debating with ourselves and each other about them. So like I said, you can’t take us anywhere.

We collect all the rocks. Okay, so not all the rocks… but definitely MOST of the rocks. When we hike, our packs are heavier coming down than they were going up. When we move, we have boxes of just rocks–so beware of agreeing to help a geologist move… we’ll probably make you carry all the heavy stuff. Every space we can claim as our own is filled with our rocks. Our kitchens, our living rooms, our bedrooms, our offices, and yes likely even our bathrooms play home to at least one of our magnificent rock finds.


Mike (still) rock hunting on the final day of our trek in Nepal

We will make you hike with us. And it won’t be just any kind of hike, it’ll be a geologist hike, which means we’ll make you stop every five seconds to look at rocks or we’ll race you to death up the mountain. We also have perfected the art of hiking in torrential downpour, or damning heat, or snowstorms, or up (and down) scree… and it won’t stop us from babbling away about the rocks or yes, even taking notes on our glorious homemade map boards. And if you dare ask us a question about geology, you’ll have opened a whole rabbit hole of topics that you probably will wish you hadn’t.

We make lame geology jokes. And like them. And think you like them too. Are you cummingtonite? That’s a gneiss schist. Rocks rock… you get the picture. We may roll our eyes when someone resorts the geology pun game, but deep down it makes all warm and fuzzy inside.

We like adult beverages. A lot. It hasn’t been a successful day in the field without some sort of liquid wonder. Beer is a major staple of our diet. We don’t go anywhere without a beer plan. And when we go to Utah, we make sure to stop in Colorado… or Wyoming to get the good beer before we go back to 3.2 land. And yes, some of us are fancier than others, so wine is the adult beverage of choice. However, don’t ever ask a group of geologist to agree on the best kind of liquor because consensus you won’t find (my vote is still gin guys).


We love to talk geology. Seriously. If you ask us a question, we won’t stop talking about it. And we LOVE when people ask us questions… because it lets us show all you “normal” people just how wonderfully smart and insightful we are. But when you bring us concrete and ask us to identify the rock, you should probably cross your fingers that our rock hammer isn’t within reach.

We love to hate bad geology movies. The Core. Dante’s Peak. Journey to the Center of the Earth. San Andreas. We love to hate them all. And we’ll probably make you watch them. And make you listen to us grumble about how horribly inaccurate they are. And we’ll definitely try to teach you everything the right way (whether you asked for it or not).

Field season is our happiest time of the year. Camping, getting dirty, rock hunting, mapping, researching, [working hard and playing hard]… we love all these things. Field season is the time of the year when we get to do all these glorious things. But sorry, we can’t invite you. It’s an exclusive club kind of thing. And for those of us whose fieldwork is a one-time deal or whose fieldwork has already been completed, we just hope and pray that one of our rock loving friends will let us tag along on their own field adventures.

We ALWAYS remember that one time at field camp. You know that time? We have absolutely no shame constantly reminding all you normal folk just how awesome our field camp/field trip/field season experience was. And when our field groups reunite, SO MANY INSIDE JOKES.

And last but not least… We will try to convert you. 

The to-do list of a new graduate student


This week’s Wednesday post-day is short and sweet. No quirky intro; just a list of things I’ve been mentally adding to my own to-do list and things others around me have been adding to their own.

  • Read. All. The. Things.
  • Make friends (with people, not lab equipment).
  • Impress your advisor.
  • Find your advisor if he/she is or has gone missing.
  • Start all the glorious research.
  • Hunt down all the advice (like learning where the free pizza is or how not to throw your computer out the window trying to use an online textbook).
  • Find your office.
  • Set-up your office.
  • (And if you’re feeling fancy) Get a name-tag for your office.
  • Don’t get lost.
  • Be a cool TA. Not be an awful TA. Just get your students to turn in their assignments.
  • Add “cheers” to the end of all your mass class emails (because you’re a classy individual).
  • Take all the cool classes you couldn’t as an undergrad.
  • Take less classes than you did as an undergrad.
  • Find the BEST coffee.
  • Find the nearest coffee.
  • Sniff out the free food.
  • Go to the free food.
  • Find the beer. And the bars. (Especially the Wisconsin bars).
  • Learn all the matlab.
  • Get all your keys.
  • Don’t lose your keys.
  • Write a clever blog about how super well-rounded you are (or just ramble on about silly things forever and ever).
  • Mingle with the cooler, more experienced grad students.
  • Find non-geologists to bug sometimes.
  • Exercise… ? Or just learn to bike to class without dying.
  • Attend all the colloquiums.
  • Go outside. Sometimes.
  • Have fun. Don’t cry.