Saturday, August 29, 2009

Allow me to introduce myself

Hello! My name is Alyssa, and I have been blogging here for almost a year. Here I am at the top of Machu Picchu (yes, I am awfully proud of that):

I just finished my PhD (July, 2009), which focused on searching for objects called main-belt comets (objects that are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but display cometary activity), and studying gas and dust production from active comets. I am currently working as a post-doc with my PhD supervisor, and will be continuing my work on main-belt comets, as well as helping with other projects.

During my graduate career I was also very involved in science outreach. I was the coordinator of the Let's Talk Science Partnership Program for six years. I also developed and coordinated a new astronomy outreach program called Exploring the Stars.

Right now I'm trying to decide what career path I will take. I'm very interested in continuing in science/astronomy outreach, but am also keen to delve into teaching, technical writing, and/or science education research.

Besides work, I enjoy a wide variety of hobbies. One of my favorite things to do is read, and I've made a concerted effort to fit it into my schedule the past couple of years. I have also taken up knitting this year and absolutely love it. Other stuff I like to do is golf, play soccer (football), go to the gym, travel when I can, nap, bake, and probably spend too much time in front of the TV or on the internet. I also like to collect jewelry, especially rings.

I have a wonderful husband (who I will still refer to as DH), and we have been married for almost a year. We have two cats (Isaac and Isabella), and currently live in London, Ontario. DH is currently looking for a new job, so we are not sure when/if we will move or where. We are hoping to start a family in the near future, and do other grown-up stuff like buying a house and filling it with non-student furniture.

When I started this blog I wasn't sure what I was going to write about. But, after reading some (now favorite) science blogs (see the lists to the right) and becoming part of the community, I feel I have found my voice in sharing the highs and lows of graduate school (and now post-doc life). At first I wanted to blog pseudonymously, but after about a year I have decided to out myself and write under my own name. This blog will continue to evolve as my life does - the format, background, title, or topics may change, but I assure you the person will not (much!).

Welcome to the new blog. I hope it's as enjoyable for you to read as it is for me to write!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Decisions decisions

I have been thinking about it long and hard recently, and have decided that I will be "coming out" on this blog relatively soon. Well, half coming-out anyway. I will use my first name, but will not use names of anyone else I write about.

There are a few reasons why I've decided to do this:
- I don't think I blog about anything particularly controversial, or that could get me in "trouble" in the first place
- I find it strange to be in contact with people without using my real name (particularly over email)
- blogging pseudonymously means there are topics I cannot write about without "outing" myself (since my field is relatively small, and my sub-field is even smaller, especially in Canada) - I'd rather have to watch how I say things rather than what I can say.

Another question in my head right now is whether to change the title of this blog. If I'm blogging under my real name, then the title seems kind of strange. BUT, people already know the blog by that name, so it might be weird to change it now. I'm not sure how much it matters - if you have any thoughts, please let me know!

I am also considering starting another blog - in that case, this one would be my personal one, while the new one would focus on science or science-related posts.

So, I will be posting under my real name shortly. I have to do some house-cleaning first, just to make sure there are no previous posts that could pose problems (holy p's Batman!). Look for some changes by Monday!

Paper #2...

...has been re-submitted! We made some substantial changes to it, and hopefully they will make the reviewer happy.

Now to figure out what I'll be working on as a post-doc, and to attempt to get MSc paper #2 out this year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Right up my alley

Alice over at Sciencewomen posted this link about two great jobs at Northwestern. They sound right up my (interest) alley - researching how women in the sciences make career decisions.

The problem? Well, I certainly don't have a social science background, and I most likely won't be moving to the Chicago area.

I'm stuck right now on how to go about searching for jobs. There are jobs like these that I am so incredibly interested in, but I just don't have the experience or the ability to be in that city.

I hear about people switching career paths all the time - but how does one go from science to social science without additional education (because, honestly, that's the last thing I want to do right now)? And what about working from home/from a different city - do many places do that, or do I have to try and find a job in the city where we move (which is still up in the air at this point)?

Not that social science-y jobs are the only option on the table right now. I'm still interested in science/astronomy outreach, technical writing, teaching,  or even becoming a research assistant. But, I think these issues will arise in general during my job search.

Perhaps it will be easier once I know where we will be. Right now it's frustrating because I feel like I can't search for jobs until we know, and I'm  just twiddling my thumbs, sitting, and waiting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Silly, but still annoying

I'm giving a talk at my MSc university when I go to visit next month. They have put my abstract up online, but don't have "Dr." in front of my name. I realize it's silly, and not really a big deal, but it sort of bugs me because all the other speakers listed have "Dr."

I'm kind of tempted to send an email and ask them to change it, but that seems kind of petty. On the other hand...I'm a Dr. damnit! I worked hard for that, and I want people to know - especially in a professional setting.

As for those of you who have requested links to the photo albums - I'll respond when I get home (for some reason I can't send emails from that account on this computer, but can receive them).

UPDATE: A friend of mine at MSc U. let them know about the mistake and it has been changed. Thanks T!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Alright, so I have made two web albums of our trip to South America. Since I'm still blogging pseudonymously, I won't post the links here. BUT, if you're interested in seeing them and promise not to share the links with anyone without asking me (and not "out" me in any other way), send me an email and I'll send the links!

Here's a few to wet your appetite:

Sunrise in the Amazon

Dancers in a samba show - Rio.

View of our tropical island tour boat.

Machu Picchu - after a 4 day hike.

This might not be a problem for long, as I am really wanting to "come out" and blog under my real name. Any advice on that front? If I do that, should I start a new blog, or just continue with this one? I don't think I've written anything controversial enough for it to matter, but I'm not sure!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Back!

Phew! What a trip! It was an amazing, difficult, beautiful, annoying, once-in-a-life-time trip!

We took off the morning of August 1st, and arrived in New York city that afternoon. We spent a few hours walking around, then got some pizza & cheesecake before heading to bed. Early the next morning we boarded our plan and headed to Rio!

We arrived at night, so were unsure about the city until the next morning - and then we were blown away! It's the most beautiful city we have ever seen! I spent some of the time at the conference (which was a nice reminder of why I don't want to remain in academia), but we also did a few tours. We went up Sugar Loaf, saw Christ the Redeemer up close, went to a football match (where the home team won!), saw a samba show, and went on a tropical island tour. Everything was amazing, and Rio really exceeded our expectations! We never felt like we were in danger (like many warned us about), and had an amazing time. I'd love to go back!

After a week in Rio, we headed to Peru (with a 6am flight, we had to be at the airport at 4am - needless to say, we both felt like shit!). Once in Lima, we met up with our tour group to discuss the trip. Everyone was either from Canada, the US, or England, so it was nice to be able to speak English to people (and have them understand us!).

We left Lima and went directly to the Amazon the next morning. We had a two hour boat ride that took us to the lodge, and it was beyond words! The whole time I was thinking "I can't believe I'm in the Amazon!". We did lots of nature hikes/boat rides and saw monkeys, many types of birds (even parrots!), caymans (related to alligators), and insects (no tarantulas or flying cockroaches though - thanks goodness!).

After that, we headed to Cuzco, where we were to acclimatize before beginning the Inca Trail. Cuzco is at 11,600 feet, and it was tough even to just walk around! Since the highest point of the Inca Trail was 13,800 feet, we were glad we had 1.5 days to get used to it.

So - the Inca Trail. Well, I'm going to admit that it was absolutely hell on earth to do the damn thing! The trail was 45 km long, and we did it over 4 days. It was steep, with lots and lots of steps. The second day we went up 1 km in 4 hours, and most of it was steps! I also wasn't able to eat a lot, so I had very little energy. Plus, I absolutely despise camping in a tent, and the squat toilets were the most disgusting things I have ever seen/used. To make matters worse, everyone else in our group was a superstar and were hiking really fast (they all do marathons in their spare time - yup. MARATHONS), so we were always the last ones to reach each checkpoint. Needless to say, I was miserable.

BUT, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous! And when we passed through the Sun Gate to see Machu Picchu below, it was totally breathtaking! Am I glad I did it? I wouldn't say that - I would have much rather taken the train up with the civilized people - but I am definitely proud I did it.

After that, we went back to Cuzco - where I got my purse stolen from the back of my chair in a restaurant (I know - it was the only time I did it on the trip - usually I had it around my body or legs)!! What made it worse was that my passport was in it. No, I don't normally carry it with me, but we were leaving early the next morning and took it out of the hotel safe so we wouldn't forget them. That means we were unable to travel to Puno/Lake Titicaca because I had to have a passport to get home a few days later. At least my camera wasn't in it!!

So, we left the group, flew to Lima, and visited the Canadian Embassy. I was able to get an emergency passport, and we even had time to be able to enjoy touring around Lima.

We left our hotel in Lima on Friday evening (August 21st), and walked in the door to our apartment this morning - about 40 hours of traveling/sitting in airports later.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip...full of memories that will last a lifetime. But, boy am I ever glad to be home!

Best parts: tropical island tour and football match in Rio; seeing parrots in the Amazon.

Worst parts: the squat toilets on the Inca Trail and getting my purse (with passport) stolen in Cuzco.

What I didn't miss about home: people on their cell phones; being on the computer all the time; driving.

What I did miss: our cats; being able to flush toilet paper; showering with a puff; choice of food; choice of clothes; our routine, everyday lives!

I'll do another post with pictures soon - but right now it's time to get some food, and figure out how to replace everything that was stolen!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another Book Meme

**I am not actually here, but have scheduled this post for your reading pleasure!**

A couple weeks ago, Cath responded to a great book meme. I'll admit, I was a bit saddened that I hadn't fallen out of a sail boat, and therefore was not tagged.

No fear though - as Duwayne came to the rescue and tagged us "self assured mother-f**kers" (yes, I'm that lame that I don't want that language on my blog!).

Here's the deal: "list fifteen books that had the most profound impact on you - ones you can think of in fifteen minutes or less."

Alrighty then. I'll say this: I'm making the list in less than 15 minutes, but the explanations will take longer. I tried to think back as far as I could, but I tend to have a bad memory for this stuff! I also have a hard time differentiating my favorite books from the most influential. I figure my favorites are favorites because they made an impact on me. So, we'll go with that.

1. Contact - any time I am asked what my favorite book is, this is my response (same for a movie). I know it's cliche for an astronomer, but this book was absolutely influential on me going into astronomy. Plus, Carl Sagan is an amazing writer (I have read his other books, which were also amazing, but I chose just to put this one on the list).

2. The Book of Negroes - a very recently read book, but it left some very vivid pictures in my mind. We'll see if they're still there in years to come.

3. War of the Worlds - I took a science fiction literature course in my undergrad because I read this book. One of the few books that I've read multiple times.

4. Good Night Moon - I still remember my mom reading me this book, especially the "bowl full of mush" part for some reason. Even better is that my mom gave me a copy of it for Christmas a couple years ago - best gift I've ever received.

5. The Red Balloon - I distinctly remember the pictures from this book, but I had forgotten all about it until I saw it in a bookstore in New York. All sorts of memories came flooding back when I read it!

6. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. - LOL! Seriously, this was the book of my early adolescence. I'll always remember "We must, we must, we must increase our busts!" Classic.

7. Catcher in the Rye - this was the first (previously) banned book that I had read, which I did in high school. Funny enough, I read it again last year and didn't like it much, but it's on the list because of my memory of it as a teenager.

8. Catch 22 - this was the book that made me want to read more classics. Absolutely and utterly amazing.

9. Time Traveler's Wife - holy man. I never thought I'd read something that would take my breath away like this book did. I still have vivid pictures in my head from it, and I actually cannot wait to read it again once I get through the pile of books beside my bed.

10. The Introvert Advantage - another recently read book, and my only non-fiction entry... I felt like I learned so much about myself from it.

11. A Wrinkle in Time - I remember sitting in class, on the floor, with our teacher reading this to us. I read it again a few months ago, and (like with The Red Balloon), memories came flooding back.

12. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! - the best book for any physicist to read! Hilarious, and defined my life as an undergrad.

13. Brave New World - War of the Worlds made me take the literature class; this book made me want to read more science fiction.

14. Interview with the Vampire - an odd book to have on the list, I'm sure, but I read this book (and then the whole series) during a dark time in my life. It was fitting, and a great way to escape.

15. Life of Pi - I'm not sure if this was influential at all, but I was absolutely enthralled with the story. And it's nice to read a "feel-good" book once in a while!

To take Cath's theme of tagging even further, I tag anyone who's been in space!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Out of Office Reply

Hello *insert name*,

I will be out of the office from August 1st - 23rd (I'm in South America for three weeks, suckers!), and will have limited internet access ** (and I don't want to deal with any crap over email). I will respond to your email regarding "$SUBJECT" as soon as I can, or when I return (if your email doesn't go to spam, or I don't delete it, I might write you back by September).

Cheers (see ya!),

**If I do get internet access, I'll try to post an update here!