Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It's been awhile...

Those are the three (four, technically) words that I've found myself repeating over the years when trying to start my own blog. I'm easily distracted, you see, and now with school -- i'm loaded down with homework, exam reviews, and all that other stuff that comes with school. (I need to learn how to code to indent -- it's bugging me!)

In the past two months, I've been working really, really hard learning about what it's going to take to become a functional scientist (notice that I didn't say good or great). In fact, I think about it a lot while I'm working on my homework or reviewing a concept or struggling with ideas. Science has always been, in some ways, both a sweet retreat and a kryptonite to me. I love it, really, like I love nothing else that isn't a human or animal. I love the idea of working together - of solving problems, of taking things apart and putting them back together again in a better way - in discovery, wonder and awe of our great world that we have only inklings of how things work. It's COOL.

I grew up very lucky that my mother fought for me: she knew I was gifted from the beginning. She recorded me on 8-track (don't laugh, i'm old! :) ) singing songs I made up, then recorded me on videotape acting in plays i made up, and took me, repeatedly, to the science center at the Ruben H. Fleet Space Center in San Diego's Balboa Park. I'm not sure if it's still called that, but that place was one of my fondest and earliest memories of falling in love with science.

My mother was married at 15 and had to get a hall-pass to leave campus to get married. She did not finish the 10th grade. And yet, it was she who always pushed me, who engendered in me a love of nature, science, words, music, movies, cooking, arts and almost everything else that I love. My earliest memories, too, were of feeling safe and happy at the library, sitting in the big ole baseball mitt shaped chairs, or the weird 70s hand-chairs. So many life-events happened at the library or at the park behind the library where I would have birthday parties, or we'd gather as a family. And TMI, I got my first period in the library, of all places. ha. It was always my mother who was my greatest supporter, and sometimes my greatest nemesis as I grew up, but she was the one who fought the school district to take me out of a nearly-failing school, where I and a boy named Leo, were they only two students to be pulled out of class for a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) class, and put me into a program at the local science-magnet school.

In other words, I owe everything I am and am doing today to my mother.  She's done a lot for herself, too, in these past 30 some odd years, too, and I cheer for her every day, too, just as she cheers for me.

So, while I struggle with science right now, I've always, always known I'd end up on this path somehow. That comforts me when I feel like I suck, or when I can't memorize and regurgitate facts for an exam or get low marks on something. I remember that it isn't the grades, really, but the passion I have for all of this. Someday the grades, the exams and the official education will end: but the craving to know more, to learn more, thanks to my mom, will never end. And that is what will make me a good scientist - and maybe even a great one if i work hard enough at it. I will be a functional scientist, technically, but it's the human element - the love, the support, the passion - that we all need to be great scientists.

P.S. Don't think I'm forgetting my wonderful partner of nearly 18 years, either. He's directly responsible for helping me get to this point - and someday I'll repay him. :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Charismatic Megafauna

I've completed the first week of school. It was a whirlwind, full of homework and syllabi and feelings of "where am I again?" I've been lucky enough, in some ways, to start school with a large apartment with no roommates, so I've been able to have privacy and quiet, which I was initially worried about having. The area where I live, somewhat off-campus, is also extremely quiet. However, this does put a damper on meeting people or making friends since i'm off in the wilderless of East Campus.

In spite of this, I decided that I would make the most of my time this long weekend by completing homework, relaxing and then...going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I should have gone Saturday, in terms of the transit system time budgeting, but I went instead on Sunday and paid for a membership (yay!). It saved me from the insanely long lines that persisted throughout the day - I couldn't imagine standing in that line in the heat today - and allowed me to enter at the membership door.

I got a free totebag and a coupon for 20% off at the gift shop (which i'm going to save for when I want something nice or for xmas presents). (I guess you get an automatic 10% off as a member.) I saw WAY too many things I wanted, but as I'm on a budget, I had to settle for a great tea light lantern thing with a lobster on it for $6 and a Mac's Field Guide to California Coastal Invertebrates -- and some postcards for family and my former library coworkers.  (A mola, cuttlefish and a ctenophore, respectively)

This brings me to my topic, in a roundabout way. I love aquariums. I thrive when I visit an aquarium. I see and learn a lot of new things: today I observed a decorator crab using a pretatory chiton as a 'farm'. For me, this was both hilarious and interesting. It made me ask questions, like: does the chiton tolerate this, or is he rising up  (as they do when waiting for prey) thinking that he'll scare away the annoying guy standing on him? Is this an aquarium-only behavior - something the decorator crab learned was a great way to find food since the chiton had quite a bit of algae growing on his, or was this something that is done in their normal environment?  I feel like I constantly have questions that, more often than not, I can't find answers to.

Maybe that's the curse of the curious person? Or maybe I'm not looking hard enough. It's frustrating because I don't have the skills, yet, to start doing legit research -- or the funding, for that matter! Soon, soon.

My course-load this semester isn't very heavy, but there's still a lot of learning I'll be doing: I'm taking Statistics for Sci Tech, Environmental Economics and Management, Cell & Molecular Biology, The Oceans, and The Atmosphere. I've been in school for 3 years so far, so I guess I'm getting antsy. I want to learn the BIG STUFF, but I know that I've gotta master the LITTLE STUFF.

So, this week, I learned about pipetting with Pipetman devices; I learned about the laters of the atmosphere; I learned about amino acids and their structure and function; I learned how to start programming in R; and I learned a little bit about fisheries management. It's definitely a start. I just have to learn how to be more patient, right?

Sorry if this was rambling - but I get so excited when thinking about everything I need and want to do.

What's really funny is that I never really talk about charismatic megafauna -- pretty much all i wanted to say was that I wish we, as people, found other things, like crabs and lobsters and chitons and sea urchins, just as awesome and inspiring as those...mammals. :)

That being said: here's a few of my favorite photos from today's outing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Semester has begun

Calculus has not ever been my strong suit. I'm competent, but I kind of put it in that place in the back of my head where you allow yourself to mostly purge the information that you learned. Well, that was probably a bad idea! Two of my classes this semester will be building on calculus ideas, so my extra time that isn't spent doing classwork, I'll be doing review for both Calc I and for Chem I.  I'm hoping it comes back to me with a little effort and some reading.

That being said, classes are mostly fun. I'm taking The Oceans (which is really a general oceanography, which i've already taken...however- we're going to be focusing mostly on how it relates to Monterey Bay - so I'm excited about that, and the fact that the professor seems fun), The Atmosphere, Cell & Molecular Biology, Stats for Sci Tech, and Environmental Economics and Management - in which we'll be focusing a lot on fisheries management because our professor was actually involved in this as a career for a while. Neat!

Right now, getting up to speed, worrying about financial aid and rent monies, and time management is taking up most of my time, but I'm hoping to write more about my reading/experiences once I get settled in without worrying about things!

See you later!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Getting closer...

So, the day is getting closer and closer. Only days left until I begin my Great Adventure. It really is one because I haven't been 'away from home' in over 10+ years. My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly 18 years, and it's going to be a challenge for both of us to relearn what it feels like to live alone.

That aside, I've also had the added adventure of learning that my new campus "apartment"( a room in a two level house that's been divided into two apartments with 2 rooms a piece) is unfurnished. The expenses keep adding up in a way that I didn't expect, seeing that I had been hoping for a room on campus, but because of a housing shortage, I ended up in this odd situation. I have no idea who my roommates are yet, either, but I was supposed to have received a packet about move-in -- and have not. There's a lot of little things that keep becoming important - like not seeing my CalGrant (a very good award) on my financial aid -- which is also what would be paying my rent for the year. Yikes!

Really, all I can do is keep calm (and carry on?) and let the pieces fall into place with some well-timed phone calls and nerves of steel. At this point, though, not much can stop me short of a natural disaster.

I've packed my suitcase with a lot of college-y clothing (meaning, lots of pj pants and comfy weather-appropriate clothing -- and some field work appropriate clothing as well), and have packed my 'moving bins' (cute pink plastic bins from Tarjay) with everything I can possibly think I might need, from electronics, to school supplies, to decor, to kitchen goodies. My new, adorable scandinavian-style futon is being picked up on the way there because the Move Me To School caravan includes, thankfully, my friend's truck that will be a lifesaver, otherwise we may have had to make multiple trips!

So, this is behind-the-scenes look at how a degree in marine science starts: with all the sweaty, stressful groundwork. Never fret, though, especially if you're new to college because after all of this part is over, it's over for at least two semesters (or quarters, or whatever else they call them).

Once I'm set-up and everything is in its place, i'll have to learn how to bus it using the campus shuttle and figure out how to get around in town. There's a nice little mall area about 2 miles or so from the main campus that has all the usual suspects: Target, Michaels, Kohls, etc. I'm hoping there's a real grocery store available on transit, as well, because along with the unfurnished apartment -- i'm forgoing a meal plan in favor of cooking for myself....As I'm a decent cook, I don't forsee this to be a problem other than access to a grocery store.

I'm kind of disappointed about one thing though: I had been really looking forward to being a volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this year, but because of my crazy class schedule, I won't be able to make both their informational meetings or any of the required training. Bummer.

Lastly, I am working on setting up my website for the first time in years because I want to make sure that I have somewhere to point people when they ask what I'm studying! I'm hoping to have this blog integrated with it, too, so that people can follow along with my experiences. Not that it's too exciting so far - but just you wait! Goodnight!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Okeanos Explorer 2013 Dives

Right now I'm watching NOAA's Okeanos Explorer 2013 dives live online. If you haven't yet sat down to watch some of it, you should! There are three feeds available: a main feed, another feed from a distance off of the ROV (I'm not sure if there are two ROVs in action or not.), and another that shows some of the actual screens that the professionals are looking at.) It's an amazing look at the biology and geology and other -logys of the canyons and other areas of the Northeast Atlantic off the coast of New England/New York (I believe.) -- And it's a great experience in HOW a dive happens.

Without trying, I've been learning a lot from the voices coming out of my computer and the images that they're helping to interpret. What's really great and interesting about this, though, is that there are moments where they're just as flummoxed as you are about an organism or a process - and they rely on a pool of scientists either on their conference call, or through Twitter, to help them interpret what they're seeing.  For me, what's even more inspiring are hearing the two amazingly smart, hilarious and charismatic female dive leaders, Amanda (@ademopolulos on Twitter) and Martha (I think she's the crustacean expert <3 ). The team seems to all work together so fabulously, too. The pilots of the ROVs even come up with questions sometimes that seem to have been picked right from my head. We're even lucky enough to have some other scientists along on Twitter to help us identify and who take screen snaps: two noteable ones are Dr. Chris Kellogg (@DrChrisKellogg) and Christopher Mah (@Echinoblog).

After a few weeks of following them, I've already memorized a whole bunch of new information -- the best moment for me was hearing the word "sebastes" and immediately knowing, without having to look it up, that they were talking about rock fish. I was so excited. It's like learning a new language -- and I guess it IS a new language -- and having that a-ha moment when things start making sense.

Today's dive has been in an area between Lydonia and Powell Canyons (take a peek at this cool ocean map of the area! (Lydonia canyon)) And, there's been a lot of quill worms, red crabs, squat lobsters, flytrap anemones, hakes (type of fish), zoanthids, flounders, and more. And, sadly, trash (a piece of metal).

Here's the link to the Stream 1 feed for you to check out tomorrow, since the dive for today is ending as I type this. I sincerely think it's a great way to observe and even participate. Our tax money pays for NOAA and these dives and its so, so worth every penny. My hat's off to everyone involved making this happen and allowing us to watch/participate along with you!

Monday, July 29, 2013

First posting.

I wanted to start this blog for the same reason that everyone else starts a blog (well, I hope so at least): I like writing about what I love. And, I love the ocean. I pretty much love everything about it, except for its exploitation, acidification and plasticization (Is that even a word?)(I think it is.) and all the myriad ways it's being used/polluted by, well, US.  Still, even that is somewhat fascinating to me as a future scientist. Will we be able to solve the problems presented to us? Or will it become much like chasing our tail: no matter how many solutions we find, so many more are left to challenge us?

Regardless, I decided that rather than take an academic look at things I'm not really prepared to look at yet, I'd start simply: I'd chronicle my academic life while finishing up my BS in Marine Science. What better way to start thinking about the things I'm learning while also, hopefully, inspiring people (especially people my age! *cough*) to take an interest in the ocean, to take an interest in science, and hopefully participate in caring for the ocean on an individual level, as well.

What will be on this blog: talk about classes, class content, field work, interesting facts about ocean organisms or processes, and very occasionally, college-related talk.

What won't be on this blog: super-personal information or other awkward hyper-political non-topic related discussion. I do know that some subjects are considered controversial to the general public right now, like climate change, but to me, this is not something I am going to quibble with someone over while I'm just a student. A vast majority of clever and wise climate scientists have concluded that this event/series of events is something I, as a student of Marine Science, should be concerned with-- and so I will be.

In any case, what comes out of this blog will be my personal insight and learning path that will lead me from question to question on my quest to become a rookie scientist. I have a long way to go, so hopefully there will be some amazing learning going on starting on August 26, 2013.