Archive for the ‘Scientiae’ Category

December Scientiae – Ulimate Goals

The last Scientiae of the year asked bloggers to write about their ultimate career goal, what they want to achieve and/or be known for in years to come. We had as many variations of this answer as we did bloggers!

Brigindo, from Dirt and Rocks, wasn’t sure about goals and dreams when the call for post went out. But, after some thought, she realized it might be a good exercise to go through. She questions whether she wants to stay in academia and/or in SouthLife, and what that would mean for her and b. Even though she has no specific plans, it’s “…an exciting place to be.”


Cindy, at Dipper Ranch, beautifully writes in her email: “My ultimate goal in becoming an ecologist has evolved from dreamy days filled with long walks on beaches, in forests, and across fields of wildflowers to learning and sharing how our local ecological systems work. Discovering the subtle plant/animal interactions of The Coyote Brush Highway may have been just a simple act, but it was exciting to me and satisfying to share its mysteries with others. On a day-to-day basis, this is what being an ecologist means most to me.” Read her post about the Coyote Brush Highway, complete with gorgeous photos.

Patchi, at My Middle Years, cannot ever remember having big ambitions or lofty goals…which turns out to be her goal after all: being a part of a larger puzzle.

Barefoot Doctoral is in this science game for the fun (yes, you read that right!)…when it comes right down to it, what more would you want than doing something you love and being a great role model for students?

Over at The Tightrope, Dr. O struggles with the idea of the ultimate goal — what goal is big enough to be the ultimate, but is also attainable? After thinking about her own life and a life of a friend who recently passed, she realizes her ultimate goal is to always find joy in all aspects in her life. She says of her goal, “Right now, this is the best I’ve got.” I, for one, think it’s a goal we should all aspire too!

JaneB at Now, what was I doing? went into science because she wanted “…to be Dr. Spock, not Captain Kirk or Dr. McCoy.” And not just because Spock was smart, but because of he was awful with people…and it was OKAY that he was awful with people. I love the idea of teenage JaneB fantasizing about “finding new life forms” instead of some stupid boy (don’t we all wish we spent our teenage years doing something more useful?). There are a lot more wonderful qualities that JaneB has learned from Spock, and I think it would be a wonderful world with more Spock-like people the way she has described it!

Melissa, at Confused at a Higher Level, writes about some very excellent lessons she has learned in the past year. Among them is to be true to yourself and your goals. You will be a much happier, and authentic, person if you choose your career goals based on what you love and not on what you think will make you successful.

And me? Perhaps the loftiest goal of all: I just want the whole world to stop confusing “astrology” with “astronomy”.

Thank you for everyone who contributed to this carnival!

The Ultimate Goal

December’s Scientiae will be hosted by yours truly. I asked bloggers:

“What is your ultimate career goal? Do you want to win the Nobel Prize? Cure cancer? Build a better mouse trap? What is it that you want to be remembered for career-wise?”

This past summer, I attended (and help organize) a conference on science education at the post-secondary level. The banquet had Adam Bly, founder and CEO of SEED Media Group, as the guest speaker (if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, DO IT!). His entire talk was inspiring – it was almost like a religious experience for me. He makes his living being a big thinker and to get others to think big too. The part that hit me the most was when he challenged delegates to re-imagine their approach to science literacy:

“What if our goal was not the training of thousands of scientists, but rather the education of seven billion scientifically literate citizens?”

This summarizes my ultimate career goal to a “T”. When it comes right down to it, many outreach programs are all about recruitment. I get it – we want the “best and brightest” to study in our research area, to continue to grad school, and eventually become scientists or professors.

But, in my mind, this is not what’s important. Why should we focus on such a small number of people? For example, there are only about 300 professional astronomers in Canada of a population of 34.7 million. That’s 0.00086% of the population. That’s not what you’d call a large reach.

To me, science education and outreach is all about creating a scientifically literate society. All 34.7 million in Canada, and all 7 billion (and counting) in the world. I want everyone on this planet to be able to read a news story about “proof” against evolution or global warming and be critical. I want every patient to not take whatever their doctor says as the end-all-and-be-all advice for their health decisions. Hell, I want people to stop using “astrology” when they mean “astronomy”.

Is this goal too lofty for one person? Most definitely. Is it something I’m passionate enough to dedicate my (work) life too, to try and change the world one person at a time? Absolutely.

I’m not the type to have “causes”. I don’t get riled up about politics or religion. In fact, I’m one of those people who can see many sides to many issues, and generally accept the viewpoint of others. But, when it comes to the understanding of science – especially when public opinion matters more and more and when governments are making decisions on what science to fund and what to cut – the level of scientific literacy has to be raised in our world.

December Scientiae – Call for Posts

Here we go – the last Scientiae of the year! This quarter’s theme is:

The Ultimate Goal
Sometimes we lose track of why we got into science. But, at some point, I’m sure we all had grandiose dreams of all the things we were going to accomplish as scientists. Sure, those goals may have changed as we evolved from naive and idealistic undergraduate students to where we are now, but surely there’s some big idea that’s pushing us, even in the distant background.

So, what is your ultimate career goal? Do you want to win the Nobel Prize? Cure cancer? Build a better mouse trap? What is it that you want to be remembered for career-wise?

Feel free to submit variations on the theme or anything else you find appropriate. Please e-mail a permalink to your submission to scientiaecarnival [at] gmail [dt] com by 5pm Eastern Time on December 15th, so the carnival can be posted in time for the holidays!

Not There Anymore

So, apparently I’m not 22 anymore. I’m not sure when this happened but, according to the calendar, it was about 10 years ago.

Last week, I had a photo taken for a staff/faculty event that is being held today. They put up photos of all the new people, as a way to introduce them. The photographer sent me the photo and, although it’s nice, I couldn’t help thinking that I looked old. Or at least older than I feel.

It’s funny, I still feel like I look the same as I did 10 years ago. But, comparing this new photo to others over the years, there is definitely a difference. I have wrinkles around my eyes and mouth, and my skin is not nearly as “glowing” as it used to be.

You hear about this aging thing, but you just assume it won’t happen to you.


Submitted to the 3rd quarter Scientiae, hosted by Patchi at My Middle Years.

June Scientiae: Inspiring Women

Biochembelle, over at Ever On & On, is hosting the second Scientiae of the year. She asks bloggers to:

Contribute your stories of historical or contemporary women in STEM who motivate you.

When I read the call for posts, I thought, and thought, and thought about this. As you may have read recently on my blog, I don’t have anyone in real life I would consider to be a good mentor – female or male. There really hasn’t been anyone who I look at and think “Yes, I want to be like them.”

But, perhaps that’s the point. Maybe I don’t need to be like others. Maybe I need to go forward in my career and in my personal life the way that best fits me and my family.

Since that post, I’ve gotten together with my master’s supervisor and my post-doc supervisor. Now that I don’t work for them, I find our conversations are much more open and personal. It could be because Evan accompanies me to these get-togethers, and so conversation automatically goes toward children, work-life balance, etc.. It was quite interesting hearing how my master’s supervisor had to change her priorities once she had children (when I worked for her, she did not have children, and I always thought I could never be successful like her because she worked so much), or how my post-doc supervisor had to juggle three kids while her husband was out of town.

These are just two women who have managed to have a family and be extremely successful in their career…I just never knew about it until recently.

I think this is one of the problems with finding someone whom you would like to model your life after: it’s just not talked about (this is one of the wonderful things about the academic blogging community, of which Dr. O writes about here). People go about their business, keeping family life and work life separate, and it’s difficult to imagine them worrying about their daughter who has a fever or making sure they get to their son’s soccer game on time.

There should be a conference for academic parents, where we can share our hardships and celebrations, and share ideas on how we balance it all. We could all serve as roll-models for up-and-coming academics. Instead of never discussing our family lives, we can be open, honest, and supportive and show them it can be done.

Scientiae: Change is the Only Constant

After some discussion, it’s nice to see that the Scientiae carnival will continue this year! Instead of doing monthly posts, the carnival will be done quarterly. I hope there are many contributors, both old and new, this year!

The first carnival of the year is hosted by JaneB over at Now what was I doing?:

A truism widely used in one of the fields my research area touches on (way to be vague?) is: Change is the only constant.

A recent post by Biochembelle has influenced my post today. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that my PhD experience was not stellar (to say the least). Looking back, I can see now that part of it was because I could not accept my mindset changing about my career.

When I graduated from my bachelor’s degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I took a job as an inside technical sales person for an industrial electric motor company. That lasted all of two months. At that point, I decided to go back to school, go back to astronomy, and get a masters. During that time, I loved research. I loved the people, I loved the subject, and I was having the time of my life. So, it was just natural to continue with a PhD with the future goal of becoming a tenured professor.

I moved across the country and switched fields. The first six months were okay. Not great by any stretch, but I attributed it to being in a new city with new people and studying something completely different. All of a sudden I didn’t have any close friends nearby for the first time in my life, and I had no idea what I was doing in my research. On top of that, a paper came out basically scooping my PhD project, so I had to start from scratch.

Things continued to get worse. I would get into these funks that lasted for days or weeks, hating my research and hating my classes. But, when I talked to other students or professors about it, everyone said they feel/felt that way during their PhD. Everyone convinced me that being miserable and frustrated all the time was perfectly normal. Clearly, they didn’t have a grasp of my particular situation. At one point it was so bad that, after a melt-down in our living room, my now husband suggested I see a therapist.

I knew I wanted to quit. My husband knew I wanted to quit. My therapist knew I wanted to quit. But, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t about letting other people down, though that was part of it. It was really about seeing myself as a failure. It was about finishing what I started, because I didn’t want to be one of those people who were never happy no matter what they did.

So, I pushed through. I finished my research, wrote up my thesis, and couldn’t be done fast enough. I was so incredibly happy when the committee told me I passed. Not because of the accomplishment (I couldn’t even stand to be called “Doctor”), but because it was finally over. I could move on to something I enjoyed.

I knew very early on that I no longer wanted to do scientific research at that level, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. I couldn’t accept that I had changed my view about research and about becoming a professor. Looking back, I would have to say it’s one of my very few regrets in life that I didn’t leave my PhD.

In the end, I do think I’ve learned from the experience. I now allow myself the option of leaving or quitting or giving up. I try not to do things I don’t want too (within reason, of course – we all have obligations and responsibilities that must be tended too!). Two years ago, if I had the problems I did with breastfeeding Evan, I would have just kept going, being miserable for months. Instead, I gave myself a specific time-line: if it wasn’t working after a certain amount of trying (six weeks), I could move on. And you know what? It worked. I was able to give it a good try. It didn’t work, so I stopped. No guilt (okay, some, but not as much as I thought), and things got so much better so much faster.

So, here is my advice to anyone out there struggling with something – be it your job, your relationship, or some other facet of your life: give yourself a specific time-line (don’t say “well let’s see what it’s like in a while”; say “I’m giving myself until July 1st”), give it a fair chance during that time, and if it doesn’t work out, change the situation. No guilt. There is nothing wrong with changing your path. In fact, it can be quite liberating!

September Scientiae: Missing Out?

Karina, over at Ruminations of an Aspiring Ecologist, is hosting September’s Scientiae. She asks bloggers to write about “…what types of tools other people rely on for their research.”

I had to think long and hard about this question because, honestly, my research is pretty boring when it comes to necessary tools. Why? Because I basically sit in front of a computer all day long. ALL. DAY. LONG. It bores me just thinking about it, let alone writing about it! The only thing I could think of to write about was how I use the internet for pretty much everything. Boring!

This makes me sad, and it sometimes makes me feel like I’m not a “real” scientist. I read other blogs where they talk about having to spend time at the bench, or their equipment breaking down, or traveling to do field work. DH also has a very hands-on job: he’s in the lab all the time, designing things, building things, fixing things.

Even though my masters and doctoral work were categorized as observational astronomy, I did very little observing myself. Most of my research was based on archived data. If I did get new data, other people (professional observers working at the telescope(s)) obtained it for me. I did do some observations using the local telescope, and I did take two very short trips to use another telescope on my own. But, that’s about it.

During my two short post-docs, I really wanted to pick up a small project or two that involved using my hands, being in the lab or field, even if it was on the side. I was involved with such a project during my first post-doc (with my PhD supervisor), but the project was only in the initial stages that all I was able to do in the four months was to order some of the equipment. In my current post-doc, the plan was to go out in the field once or twice to help install or fix GPS equipment. But, then Baby G came along, and the trips were postponed, and it just hasn’t worked out.

It makes me wonder if I missed out on something. It makes me wonder, had I had these types of experiences in grad school, if I would have enjoyed that time more and not want to jump the research ship so readily. But, maybe this is why I enjoy outreach so much. I get to be out there, interacting with people, showing them stuff that doesn’t involve me sitting in front of a computer.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: