Lessons from the laboratory: 5 tips for a successful move

It’s moving time in the lab. As in pack every little possible lab and office thing into a box, try not to break the mass-spec,  wrap all the fragile things (and accidentally yourself) in bubblewrap, re-label all the acids (and then label them again because safety first), dig up things you never even knew existed (do we really need all this melted tubing and why do we still have a lab coat from 1999?), organize thousands of samples (and then pack those too), move all the things 1.2 miles down the road to the giant new beautiful monstrosity of a building called SEEC, and then UNPACK EVERYTHING.

Moving is the worst. Okay, so not worse or more terrifying or seriously more worrisome than just the mere thought of Trump possibly becoming president…but you catch my drift. No one likes to move. It’s stressful. It’s tiresome. It’s tedious. But sometimes is necessary–like when you have a sparkly new lab waiting for you in a glorious giant new research building on campus. Now, imagine being a scientist trying to move your most precious possessions/life’s work (i.e. lab equipment, samples, papers, field equipment, perfect desk chair…) to a new place. It’s total [organized] chaos.

So, because most of you have at least the teeniest experience with moving some important part of your life (college futons don’t just move themselves) and because even less of you are experienced scientific movers (you care about this stuff, right?), I present:

Lessons from the laboratory: 5 tips for a successful move

1. Use all the bubble wrap

Our “official” orders were that every single piece of glassware and fancy-spancy equipment should be wrapped at least twice. But you should probably add 50 more wraps just to be safe, right? And then you should obviously steal some just for your own damn pleasure because you’ll need to relieve some stress after packing for the eighth hour of the day (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly didn’t have a very enjoyable childhood).

2. Label all the things

Unless you want a migraine to end all migraines when you get to your brand-spanking-new lab, LABEL EVERYTHING. And then label it again. Label the outside of boxes. Label bags in boxes. Hell, label the boxes you’re putting in the bigger boxes. Just label everything. Label yourself if you have to (especially when you start losing it after having to to make the sixteenth trip out of the clean lab to get even more bubble wrap to wrap your precious things in).

3. Don’t know what an item is? Better pack it

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These are probably important

Melted pieces of tubing leftover from some long ago experimental lab set-up? Screws to some long-lost part? Samples from the 70s that are labeled with nothing but a name? Manuals for now can’t be found machines? You never know when you might need those again (or when your advisor or former student will come looking for them sometime in the near future). Better safe than sorry. And I don’t want to be sorry. All these random things are probably super important, right?

4. Don’t touch the expensive thing. Leave that for the pros

Thought warming up/maintaining a mass spectrometer was hard?–you know nothing, Jon Snow. Decomissioning a mass spectrometer is vital to said mass spectrometers survival through even a short travel down any road. Take a piece off and you better make damn sure you memorize what that piece looks like and where it goes. And when you get to the magnet, you better have a serious game plan (like watching your advisor spend an entire workday planning how the movers are going to simply slide the magnet out of the machine without catastrophic failure). Graduate school stipends won’t cover the “oops, I just broke the mass spec.” So, leave all the expensive, super-breakable things for the pros (aka advisors).

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Fabulous Dexter

5. Do daydream about merriments in your new lab

It may be the only way you get through the packing pains. Just pretend that absolutely nothing will go wrong (it will), that everything will arrive in perfect in perfect condition (it won’t), that nothing will get lost (you think it won’t, but…), that removing said magnet above will go flawlessly (please, please do), and that everything you just packed will magically find its way to its perfect home in the new lab (it most certainly will not). Dream about all the happy lab days, crushing, cleaning and dissolving forams (or maybe even dancing when no ones around), you will have once you’re all settled in the new space. Just think happy thoughts–like Fabulous Dexter in his fancy laboratory to the left.

 

#happypacking/moving/unpacking/dancinginyournewlab

 

 

Geology is hard

I’ve been a busy, productive graduate student the past month with my first set of samples coming in (whoop, whoop!), learning some new foram taxonomy, trying to make a pretty map in Matlab, and trying to get a class full of students uninterested in geology actually interested in geology (…it’s still a work in progress). While busy doesn’t excuse my blog neglect, it did bring to light some pretty blog-worthy topics, including some serious winter sports FOMO and more ridiculously wonderful undergradisms. Which brings me to the topic of the week (rather month, since I’ve neglected this blog so thoroughly over the last 28ish days) straight out of the mouth of a frustrated intro geology student (who had just realized he forgot to do his pre-lab): “Geology is hard.”

“Rocks for jocks”

Or rather, Geology 101.
When I walk into syllabus week, crossing my fingers that I have at least one student in each of my sections the teeniest bit interested in my scientific obsession, the first thing I tell my students is that geology is not easy. It’s an interpretive science that pulls and gives knowledge to a vast array of other sciences. Answers are not always cut-and-dry, we don’t always put things into an equation and get out what we expect, and only practice (lots and lots… and lots of practice) can produce a productive, fully functioning geologist. I tell them that I struggled through geology classes, and that I still struggle through lots of geologic subjects today. I say absolutely everything I can to impress upon their syllabus week minds that no, this class will not be a total walk in the park, and yes, I will make you work for it. I don’t really think any one them really believe me… until they actually hard-core struggle through the first lab.

de093810cff2c87e1447ebe1f229fa75I may have a different teaching philosophy than other introductory level geology TAs, but I don’t like handing out participation grades. Whether a student is a geology major, somewhat interest in geology or just taking this class because it’s required, I still expect my students to put effort into each and every lab. And while I don’t expect them to remember every single word or definition they learn while taking the intro class, I do hope that they walk away with a bigger understanding of what the science of geology is all about.

The core classes

Even for us lucky few who embark on an undergraduate career in geology, struggle is still the name of the game. Mineralogy. Petrology. Structure. Sed/Strat. Geochemistry. Maybe even Geobiology and Geophysics…. the list goes on and on. My core major classes were some of the hardest classes I took in undergrad. Time spent on labs in many of these classes could border on 5 hours OUTSIDE OF ACTUAL LAB TIME, and there were lab days where I would sit there completely perplexed by symmetry blocks or what-the-hell-grain is this on my slide or understanding a ternary diagram with all sorts of minerals in solution or even trying to figure out my aqueous geochemistry computer program. Geology is hard, but it’s just because we need to know so much more than everyone else.

I don’t TA any of these classes at CU-Boulder, but I’ve heard plenty of things from those TAs to know that my experience is not unique. Geology students struggle, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love every minute of it (expect maybe finals filled with every mineral formula you were told you wouldn’t have to memorize).

Field camp

Survive all your core classes only to realize you still have field camp to conquer? Yeah, I’ve been there. For all of you non-geologists (and all you geologists who managed to finagle your way out of this one), field camp is a comprehensive field mapping “experience” typically held sometime over the summer (usually somewhere cool like Utah) that lasts around six weeks. Sure, six weeks hiking and exploring in the glorious mountain-ridden wilderness doesn’t sound too bad to a geologist, but you’re forgetting the whole needing to remember all the minerals, rocks, structure, sedimentology, stratigraphy, ternary diagrams, paleoenvironment, brunton compass using and general just don’t fall on your ass while trying to find an outcrop geology skills.

Field camp is hard. Like throw your map board off a cliff (did it), lose your mapping partner (happened), leave your rock hammer on the top of the mountain (almost), leave your mapping partner to fight the snake in the outcrop alone (sorry Ben!), have an epic face-off with the worst gnats to ever exist (see above), stay up all night coloring your map and praying to the rock gods that your cross section will just magically look perfect in your professor’s eyes (hahahaha), and yes, even cry (saw it happen) hard. Your professor will probably give you some version of the “it’s not about the final product, it’s about the journey” speech, but that still won’t heal your poor I-just-mapped-these-rocks-totally-wrong-for-three-whole-days heart. But as expected with a crazy group of people obsessed with rocks, there will always be a shoulder to cry on (hi, friends), silly juice to drown your sorrows in (whatever your taste buds desire), and unbelievable stories to remember (remember that time?).

Field camp was hard. But damn, can I do it again?

“The one”

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And by someone, I mean geology. And by geology, I mean paleoceanography ❤

If you make it through everything above, (congrats) there’s usually the one subject that just gets your little rock heart going; that one subject that makes you want to learn more (or to devout the next large chunk of your young life to school) and to not care about how much you struggle doing it. For me, it was geochemistry. Everything started to make sense during/after that class. Complicated mineralogy and petrology subjects suddenly clicked, and all the chemistry based diagrams I had been staring at for two years suddenly seemed so simple. Sure, a lot of geochemistry just made intuitive sense to me, but lots of it was definitely still a struggle. Struggling (and loving) geochemistry got me to where I am today… so I guess I can’t complain too much.

Everyone here with me in grad school found their one (or hopefully are busy finding it right now), but there isn’t a single day that I don’t walk into the geology building or INSTAAR and hear about someone struggling with something (e.g. research, lab work, time constraints, comps, classes, writing, teaching). Geology is still hard because graduate school is a-whole-nother level of struggle. But geologists, especially graduate student geologists, are crazy, so we love it.

In summary: Geology is hard, but we seem to like it that way. (Otherwise everyone would do it, right?).

 

Techno in the lab

Anyone who has any sort of experience with the necessity to focus for long periods of time knows just how important ear candy can be for productivity. Some people enjoy a big fat dish of silence, others can’t get enough of the latest and greatest book on tape, while many, many of us prefer one flavor or another of beautifully (or not so beautifully) constructed tunage. Ear candy has gotten many of us through lots of moments in our lives, and it certainly is getting me through the next phase of mine: lab work.

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the face of an exhausted undergrad hiding in a library cage (yes, a literal cage)

I’ve graduated from my undergraduate years of hiding away in the library blasting movie soundtracks from Finding Nemo to the glorious wizarding world of Harry Potter so that I could, for lack of better words, get shit done. And while I’m still not ready to let go of those tunes just yet (graduate school does require times of epic concentration comparable to cramming the information from a semester of 5 classes into your brain in the two days you have to prepare for finals), lab work requires the kind of ear candy that brings a little more excitement to my day.

If you’ve never done tedious microscope work or really any kind of tedious lab work, well, it’s a hard thing for me to describe. Not only do you need to brace your eyeballs or pipetting fingers for some serious exhaustion, but you also need to prepare a delicious plate of gourmet ear candy (so that you don’t go insane scanning little box by little box for the teeny tiny little object you’re interested in counting/finding/collecting… or pipetting acids into other acids holding the samples you’ve already dissolved in acid).

brain-training-1Which finally brings me to my title: Techno in the lab. It all started in undergrad, where a graduate student working in the same lab as me would pump some fantastic club music from the makeshift lab speakers. At first it was weird; I had always worked out to that kind of music (trust me, nothing gets me through a horrible run better than some seizure inducing beats), so I always felt like I was about to break out in a serious sweat. But lately, it’s really been growing on me. Being in the lab is like a workout for the brain; seriously, it takes some serious brain power to not drop something you shouldn’t (like HF, don’t drop HF) or to transfer one tiny little foram from a giant vial of forams to a slide of a smaller amount of forams. You have to pump yourself up for an extended period of time of doing shit, and for me, I’ve found that techno and other super-upbeat music (like some crazy wonderful Miike Snow) are fantastic for that. focus Focus FOCUS!!!

I know, I know. Techno is not for everyone (especially my mother… HI MOM!), but I think we all have that one brand of ear candy that can get us excited for a day in the lab, or for all you regular people, a day in the cube farm. We all have to find ways to focus (because we all need to get shit done), and ear candy is a damn good way to do it.

And you should consider yourself lucky if you catch me in that lab dancing from fume hood to fume hood. #earcandy (???)

 

Twenty fifteen, you were swell

It’s that time of year again (the end of the year) where we all wonder where the time has gone and admire all our glorious accomplishments (or not). A year ago I was living in a strange land (Chicago suburbs), working in a mythical place (asphalt plant), and running like a champ (… at sea-level). Now, I’m a one-semester-complished PhD student at CU-Boulder prepping for classes and TAing and planning my next six months of research, writing and conferences. Twenty fifteen, you were swell–so here it is, my year in review.

January Twenty Fifteen

Month of the most boring Super Bowl of all the Super Bowls… but that Puppy Bowl was serious business.

And yes, I’m still a bitter Packers fan.

February Twenty Fifteen

Month of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball making us all damn proud and Mike buying me a heart-shaped deep dish pizza (because he knows the real way to a midwestern girl’s heart).

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Taking down Kentucky was one of the best games I have ever seen, and being in Madison for the craziness that followed made that game even more special. Yeah, my guys lost the championship game to one of my most hated teams (Duke, I hate you), but we were one proud Wisconsin fan-base after that hell-of-a-run.

And heart-shaped deep dish pizza? I bet your boyfriend doesn’t buy you heart-shaped deep dish pizza.

March Twenty Fifteen

Month of deciding to frolic off to the mountains for graduate school at CU-Boulder.

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Source: CU-Boulder

It took one day on campus for me to decide that I absolutely had to come here to get my PhD. Okay, so probably more like 30 min talking with my advisor… but who can pass up that view!?! (Sorry, Wyoming and CSU).

April Twenty Fifteen

Month of “OMG I FINALLY GOT THE SEE THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS IN REAL LIFE!”

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It was almost a spur of the moment decision for Mike and I to join this trek in Nepal, but we are both so glad that we did. I mean, look at those giant icy beauties!

May Twenty Fifteen

Month of peace out suckinois.

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I love Chicago and really liked my jobs (minus the working in the steel mills and an asphalt plant), but the suburbs… not the most exciting scenery for a newly graduated outdoorsy 20-year old. It may not really be the “worst state ever,” but I wouldn’t wish the drive south through the state on anyone (except maybe my worst enemy).

June Twenty Fifteen

Month of “I can’t believe I actually live here! It’s like a painting! Seriously… like a real life painting” … oh and moving in with Mike… and living through him buying a couch (#adultmoves)… and learning to run again (at altitude).

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(1) Boulder is absolutely beautiful. I still can’t get enough of the amazing views I get to look at every day.

(2) Mike doesn’t like making decisions. And when he has to make a big decision… things get hilarious. Hours of research, mostly him not being able to decide what he wanted and where he wanted it from, and four trips to IKEA later, he finally managed to buy his couch (because he couldn’t fit himself on the normal-size people couch I already owned).

(3) Running at altitude is hard.

July Twenty Fifteen

Month of making friends with the ICP-MS.

While not the exact machine I made nice with over the summer, the photo above is pretty similar looking to the behemoth I spent most of July learning how not to break.

August Twenty Fifteen

Month of hiking and making friends with real [geology] people.

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Hiking in Colorado is like a fairly tale–for my eyeballs not my lungs. And there’s nothing like bagging some 14ers with some awesome geology ladies (Left-Ice, Middle (me)-Marine, Right-Beavers).

September Twenty Fifteen

Month of learning how to (and how not to) TA… or just starting to.

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Source: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham. http://www.phdcomics.com

I swear I’m not a nazi-TA. Hopefully.

October Twenty Fifteen

Month of “what am I doing again?”

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Embarrassing myself (slightly) at my first committee meeting, losing my mind (slightly) finishing my NSF GRFP proposal, writing my very first mid-term exam ever… grad school is fun! (It is guys, don’t worry).

November Twenty Fifteen

Month of Harry Potter world and butter beer and family and food and turning 1/4 of a century old.

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Because the most important moment of this whole month couldn’t be anything school related after my glorious day (really a few hours) spent at Harry Potter world drinking my grand ole one butter beer (it was glorious). A girl can only hope she’s as cool as Hermione.

Seeing the DiGiovacchino family was obviously more exciting than butter beer. I think they still like me. But I’m never participating in a vodka tasting again.

Getting older is weird.

December Twenty Fifteen

Month of “how do my students still not know what a sedimentary rock is?” and eating my weight in lefse. Oh and selfies with Amber.

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The dog is Amber. She sort of loves me.

Final exam grades were depressing. Lefse made it better.

Amber is the cutest dog who has ever lived (all six pounds of her). And now that she’s toothless, she rocks the Marnie look from time to time.

 

Fare-thee-well twenty fifteen.

“The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone”

As a geologist, I often take for granted the years of practice I’ve had comprehending geologic processes and time. Earth is not the same as it was 4.54 billion years ago (birth of Earth), 65 million years ago (Dino extinction) or even 21,000 years ago (the Last Glacial Maximum), and it’s not easy for humans to grasp changes that occur on timescales much, much longer than our lifespans. Things have changed: oceans once existed where there is now land; strange animals, like t-rex, [giant] megafauna beaver, and my personal favorite, the terrifyingly large megalodon, once prowled the planet; and Antarctica once played home to tropical plants and animals. And things will continue to change.

My mind was blown when my Geology 101 “rocks for jocks” professor stretched a piece of string across the 200-seat lecture hall with ticks for important events in Earth’s history illustrating that earthly human habitation barely stretched one cm at the end of the string. While not exactly the same, the clock below may serve to similarly blow all your minds (or not, if you live and breathe this stuff everyday). But if you react anything like me, this kind of analogy is a strong eye-opener for how little our species has experienced on earth.

But geologists don’t shrink away from that realization–we thrive in it. Geology is a science because, well, humans simply don’t understand very much about Earth’s history. We know a hell of a lot more than we did 100 years ago… For example, scientists once believed a great flood was responsible for the appearance of marine fossils and rocks on the summits of the world’s highest mountains, but we now know that these rocks and fossils were deposited in ancient oceans and then uplifted through plate tectonics… But there is always another piece to the puzzle to sink our crazy geologist teeth into, and we can’t wait to see what we find next.

I think we all have an innate curiosity about the world around us (geologist or no), and John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World is a perfect example of geologic curiosity spilling over into the non-geology world. Annals of the Former World is a non-fiction masterpiece about the geologic history of North America. When I first picked up this book, per the requirements of an undergraduate course, I was admittedly a bit grumbly. But McPhee’s writing was incredible and, while not a geologist, his ability to write about geology in an extremely approachable way astonished me. I was already a geology major, but McPhee’s writing would have sent me running to geology faster than a One Direction fan running to a meet-and-greet.

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“When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, 
they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived 
in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly 
as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains 
had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the 
movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict 
all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The 
summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” 
--John McPhee, Annals of the Former World

The passage above is one of my favorite’s from McPhee. After spending a paragraph explaining, in great detail, how the summit of Mt. Everest evolved through time, he very bluntly [and humorously] sums it up: “The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” McPhee does this throughout Annals of the Former World, and I love him for it. Geology is serious business, but we do like to have some fun.

Farting around

In the wise words of the the greatest writer to ever live: “I tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” Kurt Vonnegut was a magician with all his words (and if you’ve never read any of books, drop everything you’re doing immediately and proceed to arguably his greatest masterpiece: Slaughterhouse Five… or Cat’s Cradle… or in my opinion The Sirens of Titan), but this particular quote from A Man Without a Country, is one of my all time favorites. Per the ultimate source on odd words and phrases (Urban Dictionary), farting around can be defined as “The act or process of wandering aimlessly with no particular goal.” And like Kurt Vonnegut, I am a firm believer in farting around.

farting aroundMost of us spend our adult lives chasing something. A job. A house. A beautifully written thesis in paleoceanography on El Nino Southern Oscillation during the Last Glacial Maximum. We become so focused on one thing for so long that we forget to look around. We forget what it’s like to explore with no plan. We forget what it feels like to get lost (and afraid) only to discover something absolutely amazing. Growing up shouldn’t have to mean we have to leave our farting around behind. In fact, I think it means we need to quite a bit more of it.

Now, I’m a planner (I got that from my momma), and I’m late if I’m not five minutes early. I hate running behind schedule and I don’t really “go with the flow.” I freak out about all things future, and my closest friends know they have to work hard to find the spontaneous buried under all my layers of “guys, I was just going to sit on the couch tonight.” Farting around does not come naturally to me. I have to remind myself that some of my greatest accomplishments in life have come from wandering aimlessly, and I really need to do it more.

Fart around somewhere strange. Go somewhere unexpected. Hang out with people you just met. Try something totally new with absolutely no reason for doing so. If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t freak out (or do it spectacularly). Lots of wonderful things came from periods in my life when I wasn’t sure what I was doing, or where I was going. Farting around brought me to science. It sent me to East Africa (to the ultimate surprise of literally every single member of my family) to study abroad. It even lead me to CU-Boulder and to working with my fantastically brilliant advisor.

But farting around doesn’t have to be all about big life decisions. Let yourself procrastinate a little. Spend some time digging up obscure facts on the interwebs. Go running without your glasses. Get lost in the Canadian wilderness snow-covered swamp land (the best way to make friends… and boyfriends). Go on a trip with people you don’t know in a place you’ve never been. Just do it… fart around that is.

#happyfarting

Ten things I learned this past Halloween

Halloween is over, but writing about it is not. And because I love lists (you sick of lists yet guys?), here’s a super short post about ten glorious things Halloween taught me this year.

[ONE] Just because I’m a grad student doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have fun (and how to play a mean game of slap cap… or vortex… or whatever the hell you young people call it).

[TWO] I may still know to have fun… but it must all be done before my bedtime. Which is pretty much no later than 11:30pm (but really more like 9:30 pm).

[THREE] Sexy Halloween costumes? HELL NO. I’m rocking onesies for the rest of my halloweens.

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[FOUR] Pumpkin carving is just as fun as it was when I was three. But now my clumsy self has to handle the knives (and Mike will probably never let me carve a pumpkin ever again). And by making it all the way to pumpkin seed roasting… I think that makes me a real adult.

[FIVE] Mike is the Halloween Scrooge. Next year, he gets to rock a matching onesie as punishment.

[SIX] No one is safe from Halloween mayhem. Exhibit 1: Mike’s parked car being pummeled by another parked car which was run into by a supposedly malfunctioning car which had already run into a building and another car in our parking lot on Halloween afternoon.

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Poor Mike’s car (on the left)

[SEVEN] Being warm is so much better than looking cool–Dear Mom: I forgive you (and thank you) for all the years you made me wear turtle necks under my costumes.

[EIGHT] Did I mention that onesies are everything? Yeah, onesies are everything.

[NINE] Hocus Pocus is [still] king.

[TEN] Being in charge of the halloween candy is hard. I have no self control.

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I’ve never had any self control #teambabychubs