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Iceland fieldwork! (August 2018)

Hello hello! I’m writing this from Boston, where I’ll be this week for Goldschmidt. I’m pumped to present updates on my iron in modern soils characterization project – something I’ve been slowly working on since my time in the lab as an undergrad, and that I’m planning (hoping?) on submitting before the year is up. It’s just tantalizing to always add just one more set of soils… Find me at my poster tomorrow afternoon (Monday! Session 12e!) to hear me ramble about this.

I digress. I just returned from about a week of fieldwork in Iceland (with paleosol postdoc Emily), where we were sampling modern soils and surfaces to use as Precambrian terrestrial analogues. (And to contribute to my aforementioned soil project.) Despite hearing about how Iceland is beautiful, but cloudy and rainy and windy pretty much all of the time, we got extremely lucky weather-wise; in addition to 100-odd samples, I actually came back with a sunburn.

Over the course of eight days, we drove from Reykjavik to Höfn, up to some remote (even for Iceland) regions in the northeast, and back along the coast, ending the trip with a day-drive to the Snæfellnes Peninsula. It was lots of driving, lots of sheep, lots of breathtaking views, and lots of surprisingly decent gas-station espresso (although the jury’s out on whether it was delicious because it tasted good, or because it was so desperately needed. Does it really matter?). We saw glaciers, black sand beaches, endless stacks of basalt flows, moody Icelandic horses, diving puffins, endless stretches of mossy basalts, gorgeous braided rivers, ferrooxidans-rich streams, bright green bogs, and more waterfalls than we could possibly count. It was an incredible experience – THANK YOU, AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, FOR MY LEWIS & CLARK GRANT THAT FUNDED THIS TRIP.

There are so many unique research opportunities there, I can’t wait to go back. This trip spawned several new projects – not that I need any more at the moment – but there are always post-docs… and projects for my own students, eventually… wild to think about that, but it’s exciting!

A few highlights:

On one of our first long driving days, we discovered Glacier Lagoon – right during the golden hour, so the lighting was out-of-this-world.

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Sampling a very gravelly young surface somewhere in the northeast.

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Sampling one of the organic-rich, stream-fed bog soils. The moss is so green.

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Diamond beach! This is a cool black sand beach right across from Glacier Lagoon where ice chunks wash up pretty consistently. Really cool spot.

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This being Iceland, and Iceland essentially being one giant volcano, there were lots of red, clayey soils around. Great for what I’m looking for scientifically, but a huge pain to clear out of the auger.

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On the third day (I think), our luck with the weather finally ran out. It was rainy and chilly and windy and cloudy. But sampling stops for no weather! Here, I’m sampling soils, basalts, and biologic soil crusts (lichens and mosses) from this basalt and volcanic sand field. These landscapes were my favorite: these fields of basalt chunks stretches for kilometers in all directions, and they’re covered in this thick moss. Although the moss is so extensive, it can cover these flows in as little as one year! Which is crazy fast!

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Along with the moss fields (foreground) came huge mounds of bright red, purple, and black scoria. Silent except for the wind. Together, they created a wholly otherworldly feel. I could so easily picture early Earth like this, it was eerie.

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All in all, I’d call this trip a smashing success. Iceland – it was great. I’ll catch you later.

Summer 2018, in which I attempt to avoid the post-prelims slump

For the first two years of grad school – and possibly while I was working in the lab as an undergraduate – my advisor warned of the third-year, or post-prelims, slump. “It happens to everyone,” he said. “So don’t take it too hard when it inevitably hits you.” Externally, I nodded, but in my head I harrumphed and swore it wouldn’t happen to me. After all, things were going so well! I had so many cool projects and I was loving grad school.

Now, four months after passing my preliminary exam (YAY!), I still have many cool projects… too many. And I’m still loving grad school… most days. I wouldn’t describe myself as jaded or pessimistic, but I’m not quite so naïve as I once was. Papers are taking longer to write than I’d planned, I didn’t get the coveted NSF or NASA fellowships, and perhaps most frustratingly, the ICP-OES that I’ve been using since 2016 is the flakiest, most annoying, most broken instrument I’ve ever tried to use. (But shh, don’t tell it I said that – I’m in the ICP room now and it can’t know that I’ve been frustrated or it will definitely stop working again.)

Some things that help stave off a slump: going to Paris and eating many, many pain au chocolats. Doing super cool sampling of Precambrian rocks in northern Norway and running along the gorgeous fjord after work. And more simply, making an effort to actually hang out with your friends. Reading books for fun again. Writing for pleasure. Chipping away at to-do lists in manageable chunks. Working with great undergrads who remind you that you really do love your work, and that it’s fun. (Hi Sonya!) Putting in time with other productive-but-not-research things (I’m loving my science communication work with AWIS!).

You know what else helps combat a slump? YOUR INSTRUMENT FINALLY WORKING AGAIN AND GETTING DATA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN WHO EVEN KNOWS HOW LONG. It’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I’m here, in the almost-too-cold ICP room, running another hundred samples, and I’m not even salty about it. I’m just thrilled that it’s working again. And the timing couldn’t be better: I have about a week until I head up north for family vacation, then just a few days between that and my ICELAND FIELD WORK. Yeah, you heard me right. I get to escape Michigan in August and sample soils in Iceland, and hopefully see puffins. Then there’s Goldschmidt (find me in session 12e!), and then my partner and I are sailing around the Washington coast for a week or so with his mom. And then it’s a new semester and the undergrads will be back; I’ll be teaching soils again (yay!) and taking a modeling class (yay?) and hopefully mentoring a new student in lab (YAY), so I suspect lab work might be limited to nights and weekends.

So far: slump avoided.

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 12.31.09 PMMe with the ICP in question. Note the hope in my eyes accompanied by a slight glint of fear that everything will go wrong at any moment. Instagram.

Women in science communication

I’m so excited to say that a few weeks ago, I was selected to serve as the Director of Communications for the Michigan chapter of AWIS (Association for Women in Science). Being a part of AWIS for the past two years has been so eye-opening and thought-inducing – it’s a great community with even better discussions – and I’m passionate about supporting women in STEM at all levels, so having the opportunity to serve on the board is fantastic.

I was in Paris when I interviewed (Skyping from our tiny – but quaint, because it’s Paris, so everything is viewed through rose-colored lenses – AirBNB), followed by my time sampling in Norway, so I have finally had the time to sit down and really start working on this. I’m revamping the website and I’m working on getting a Michigan AWIS blog started where our members can share their experiences (good or bad) as a woman in STEM, give advice, comment on the current political climate… whatever they want, really. The point is to give our members a professional platform beyond publications or presentations. I’m so pumped about that, and I really hope it gets off the ground smoothly!

The other reason why I’m so excited about this is because I’m expanding it into Communications… and Science Communication. My other undergraduate degree was in Communication Studies, and I have always loved writing, so being able to combine my two skillsets and professional interests is amazing. I took a class on science communication last semester, hosted by the wonderful Julie Cole, and every Friday morning I walked away from that classroom feeling motivated and driven to contribute to the public science discussion – to progress. In today’s political climate, with science and scientists perceived as being under attack (though studies show that public opinion of scientists is actually steady, and majority positive), being able to clearly and simply explain what we do and why we do it is so important. I believe this is particularly important for scientists who don’t fit the old-fashioned stereotype of who a scientist is; unfortunately, for many people, when they are asked to describe a scientist, “white man with glasses and Einstein hair” is still the norm.

To keep science in the positive realm of the public sphere and to attract and encourage the new generation of scientists, this has to change. It is changing… but slowly. With social media presences de rigeur and an ever-technologically-savvy youth population, scientists today have the opportunity – and some would argue the obligation – to share our research and our lives as scientists online. Lab blogs, personal Instagram accounts, and department Twitters are ubiquitous at this point, which is an amazing first step. The trouble arises when it comes to audience.

The issue many scientists face is the fact that their audiences are typically rather small and – the real sticker – mostly limited to people who are already in science. How does one break out of that narrow window and connect with a much broader, less-specialized audience?

A number of science communication-minded Instagram accounts run by female scientists came under attack several months ago, with the author in Science Magazine arguing that while yes, these types of accounts do provide an alternative to the “white man with glasses” stereotype of scientists, they still present a “very narrow representation of femininity,” which she says reflects the underlying system where “traditional” female attractiveness is still the most crowd-pleasing representation, and where women are expected to carry out more mentoring and volunteer work than their male colleagues. It’s an interesting read and I recommend you check it out, but I also came across a number of articles rebuking the original opinion piece, with one headlined, “Scolding female scientists for embracing Instagram doesn’t solve the gender gap in STEM.” This provided the counter-argument that these women shouldn’t be put down because they fit the profile of “traditional femininity,” that they are entitled to run their Instagram with pipetting woes and cute selfies side-by-side. Additionally, because there was such strong feedback from the community, Science published a handful of responses, as well as this reply article. (The latter opens with, “Although we agree with M. Wright… that there are many systemic structures perpetuating the marginalization of women in science, we view social media as a powerful tool in a larger strategy to dismantle such structures.”)

Again, you should read each of these to appreciate the nuance of their arguments (they’re all pretty quick, thought-provoking reads), but this opened the doors to an entire realm of ongoing conversations about how women communicate their science, and whether or not the burden of science communication automatically falls to female scientists for the same reasons that female professors and PIs are expected to do lots of outreach and provide more emotional support for their students. Or… is it because we are passionate and vocal about supporting other women in science and wanting to encourage young women who may be uncertain if they’ll belong and be successful in STEM fields?

It’s a thorny and fascinating thing, one that I very much look forward to throwing myself into as I begin this work.

Sampling Precambrian rocks from the FAR-DEEP cores at Norway Geological Survey

I recently spent a week sampling Precambrian drill cores from the Fennoscandian shield; the drill cores from the FAR-DEEP project (part of DSDP) are housed and impressively-logisticsed by the Norway Geological Survey in Trondheim. Nestled cozily into a bay of the Trondheim Fjord, Trondheim is a small city by U.S. standards, but the second-largest in Norway (population just shy of 200k). We got lucky with the weather: all week, we saw essentially nothing but blue, cloudless skies and temperatures that never went above 70. And, because it’s so far north, it never really got dark – which took a little adjusting to, but in the end I really enjoyed it.

I went out (supported by a GSA graduate student research grant) to sample potential paleosols or weathering surfaces, some of which have been documented by previous workers. I was expecting to find a few profiles I could sample; I didn’t think I’d come back empty-handed, but I also wasn’t expecting… the almost 200 samples that are being shipped to me now. There were so many unique environments and interesting questions raised that I couldn’t help myself; not only did I sample potentially weathered rocks, I grabbed material from supratidal sabhkas with crazy dissolution and oxidation features, gorgeous pale pink microbialites, varved lacustrine sediments, weird volcanics… the list goes on. Obviously, I’ll be prioritizing the rocks that were my main goal (gotta get that paper submitted!), but everything else is a tantalizing side project.

Everyone with whom I worked while sampling – NGU folks, visiting students and profs from Yale, Stanford, University of Portsmouth (UK), and University of Tuebingen (Germany) were absolutely lovely and such fun to hang out with and talk rocks. It’s always refreshing to meet a new batch of people with different perspectives. Prior to this work, I had been on vacation in Paris for two weeks (which, by the way, 11/10 recommend), and I was worried about coming back to work. But doing this “field”work was the perfect transition: working hard, but doing something different, with new people. I’m back in Michigan now, running sequential for the next few weeks, but I’ve returned motivated and upbeat. That’s the point of vacation after all, right?

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Some of the sampling team!P1170266E
We quickly discovered that the best wifi was in the hall… all those boxes are filled with core. Probably about 1/4 of all the cores are pictured here… we made it through nearly the entire 3.5km repository!

 

Proud mentor moment!

This Wednesday, my undergraduate researcher presented her first poster, covering her preliminary results for her work on seasonality in nutrient cycling of a Michigan wetland. After the symposium, she let me know that she won an award for her poster and presentation! I’m so proud of her dedication and enthusiasm for this project – she has exceeded my expectations for a freshman first getting into research! Go Sonya!!

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Thumbs up for science!

GSA!

I was pumped to find out I was generously awarded GSA this year! I wrote my grant to fund some of my fieldwork – I’ll be sampling Precambrian paleosols in Norway this summer, from the FAR-DEEP cores. Between Norway and Iceland, I’m more than looking forward to my travel this summer.

And, because I finally got around to editing some pictures from New Zealand last year, here’s a blustery Mt. Cook. I’ll post most of the images separately.

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MGU 2018

Yesterday was our annual interdepartmental conference (with the climate and chemistry folks), so I presented some early work for the project I’ll hopefully get wrapped up over this summer and present at GSA this year. It’s always a nice chance to get to talk to your friends about their work in more detail than, “Oh yeah, I know he works with fish over in paleontology” or “She works with… organic things.” In these mostly informal, but still slightly formal, settings, you get to ask your colleagues questions and see what makes them really tick. Watching your friends get excited about their work, and happy to share it with you, is just… fun. And hey, you might even learn something. (I learned that there is a fish species that can breathe air and survive outside water for periods of time! Who knew!)

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