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!


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.

Mt. Cook I

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!)


You want the pudding

Whenever I’m waiting to hear back about (read: waiting to get rejected by) grants and fellowships, I think about Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please! In her chapter about winning awards, she likens wanting to win to wanting some delicious pudding. Do you need it? No. Would you be happy if your friends got it? Absolutely! You try to ignore it, try not to think about it, and tell yourself it doesn’t matter whether or not you get the pudding – but deep down, you know you want the pudding, and sometimes that little piece of your mind sneaks out. You let yourself think about what it would be like if you got the pudding.

The NSF graduate fellowship is extremely competitive. I received excellent reviews but I didn’t get the fellowship – which is fine. Would it be nice? Absolutely. Am I disappointed? Yes – but not too much, because I know just how tough it is to actually get one, and also… how much arbitrariness and luck is really involved. The reviewers are rushed and, at the end of the day, they have to pick just a few excellent applications out of a mountain of essentially equally excellent applications.

So instead of trying to totally ignore the fellowship while I was waiting to hear back (read: get denied), I did the opposite of what motivational speakers tell their audiences. Instead of envisioning success, I tried to picture very clearly the email that would 99.99%-likely arrive in my inbox: “Dear Ms. Dzombak, We regret to inform you…” or “Unfortunately, your application was not selected…”, that sort of thing. Maybe it’s depressing (yes), but being very realistic about the odds definitely helps when the inevitable occurs. And then – if the .01%-likely event happens and you do get the pudding – it’s great. (I assume.)

Anyway. I have now placed all my eggs in the NASA fellowship, another extremely competitive gambit. I’m allowing myself a tiny shred of optimism because the reviews for my NSF were 100% .positive, and I essentially added more data and improved the application for NSF… but I won’t think about that now. For now, congrats to everyone who got NSF!!

PS. If you have not read Amy Poehler’s book, I highly recommend it.


Post-prelims (or, Officially A Candidate)

Well, after the weeks of studying blurred sufficiently together, I took my preliminary exam. Yesterday as of 4 p.m., I became a PhD candidate.

WHAT A RELIEF. I was never really worried that I wouldn’t pass, I felt prepared, but it was still just this weight for so long. So now I can get back to lab work and planning for my fieldwork this summer! And editing my paper, I hope to submit it by the end of March to really tie up loose ends (until edits for the journal, of course).

But today will be spent making and eating lemon poppyseed muffins, watching Friends, and snuggling with my cats. Relaxing.

Some recent lab fun with water chemistry

In the depths of Michigan winter, it’s easy to get sluggish and demotivated – even with grant-writing season (three down, three to go!) spurring you on. Having awesome labmates who are excited about science definitely helps. Over the past few weeks, my undergraduate researcher Sonya has learned two new techniques: pyrite extraction (CRS) and UV-VIS. She’s gotten some exciting results – as we’d hoped, there was indeed some pyrite in the wetland soils! All my regular (non-histosol) soils had zilch, zip, absolutely zero pyrite, and I was worried these environments would be too oxic for pyrite. But we found some!

I’m also extremely pumped because it looks like Sonya will be staying on in our lab for a while, which means that we can work together on doing longer-term studies of variations in nutrients in SE Michigan wetlands, as well as expanding the range of her work from a few protected wetlands to those out “in the wild” – meaning, wetlands that could have more anthropogenic influence.  It’s great working with someone so enthusiastic and excited about her research!

Sonya with her successful titration of chromium-reducible sulfides in wetland soil waters!

No one else in lab has done UV-VIS work for a while – it’s exciting to have some water chemistry going on again! Sonya is starting with Fe and P analyses, and exploring other ions from there.