Monday, August 30, 2010

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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Few Good Links

Maybe it's because I'm feeling rather beaten up over some things that have been going on at work lately, but there have been some amazing blog posts recently about how people really suck about judging others. These posts really made me feel better (mostly because misery loves company), so I wanted to pass them along.

Stephanie, over at Yarn Harlot, discusses the different expectations of mothers and fathers. It all starts with her saying "...someone who asked me, straight out, if it bothers Joe that I go away like I do, leaving him with all the work." and she goes into a wonderful rant from there that I agree with 100%.

Slackermom (one of my new favorite blogs) describes for us what it truly means to be a slacker mom. I think it's something we should all aspire too.

Dr. Girlfriend discusses the importance of graduate students knowing more about possible, even - gasp! - alternative, career paths. When is the ideal of the ivory tower TT job going to come crashing down? When can people choose an "alternate" career path without being seen as a failure? When are we going to stop using the word "alternate" for any career path besides the TT?

If you're feeling judged lately, head over to these blogs and take a read, and let's stop judging every little freakin' thing we do, eh?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


As Baby G's arrival comes closer, I am starting to think about maternity leave more. As of right now, I don't have an official job to go back too. However, there are a couple things in the works that will hopefully change that:

First, the observatory thing - if we can convince the university VIPs to keep the observatory open after December 31st, someone will need to start organizing events, applying for funding, etc.. This is something I feel very excited and passionate about, and has been a pet project of mine for the last year. So, I feel very attached to it, and would love to see the program flourish. The question is, how much time can I dedicate to it after Baby G arrives? Is it something that I can keep my fingers in a bit to begin with and then jump back in with both feet at some time in the future? Or would I need to basically forget about taking more time off if we get the go-ahead?

Second, there is a potential for a different type of outreach position to receive funding in the next while. If the funding comes through, I have basically been offered the job (if I want it) and that they would be flexible with a start date. If the observatory thing is also approved, I could incorporate the duties associated with that into this job. The question here would be when would I like to go back to work? Would I like to go back part-time for a bit first, or go full-time right away?

Now, obviously both of these "problems" are completely up in the air right now. Who knows - maybe the university will tell me to screw off about the observatory and maybe the funding won't come through for the position. But, I'm a planner, so here I am.

It's not like I'm stressing out about this right now either - just thinking, really. My decision on when to go back (if I have something to go back to) will depend a lot on how I feel after Baby G arrives, which is not something I can even fathom at this point. Maybe I'll love being at home so much I won't ever want to go back to work, no matter how passionate I am about it now. Or maybe after 3 weeks I'll want to shoot myself, and be begging to go back. Most likely somewhere in between, but time will tell.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another Success!!

The second open house at the observatory was a great success! Even though it was pouring down rain for the first part of the night, and cloudy for the rest, we had about 350 people come by!!

The event was bitter-sweet, as many people were asking when the next open house will be and we had to tell them that it was the last one for the year...maybe ever. I spent a lot of my time talking about the issues we are facing now in order to keep it open. The good news is everyone I talked to was very supportive about keeping it open.

What's the next step? Well, I'm going to write up a report of this second event. Then, it's time to start having meetings with some university VIPs (i.e., people that can influence the decision on whether or not the observatory can stay open). I have two very supportive, widely known, and respected faculty members that are behind me 100%, and will accompany me to these meetings to have more clout.

So, time will tell now. We basically have until December 31st to convince the VIPs that this is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you are feeling saddened by the thought of such a great facility closing its doors and are wondering what you can do to help, you can write a letter of support outlining why you think having this observatory stay open is valuable. You can send your letter to me via email (click on the "contact" link above). You can also join our Facebook group.

I will post updates, so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Here We Go!

Today is the second open house at the observatory! The weather forecast is not looking great (mostly cloudy and lots of rain), but hopefully that does not deter people from coming out. We had a similar forecast last time, and the event was still very successful. So, my fingers are crossed.

There will be more going on this time, which will hopefully bring out the crowds regardless of the weather. An amateur astronomer will be doing a mirror grinding workshop, and another will be bringing his extensive meteorite collection. There will also be a couple of display boards, advertising university groups that also do astronomy-related outreach. I ordered some small, very cute, astronomy related things from The Space Store, so we're going to try our hand at selling some merchandise too!

The past few months have been full of ups and downs, but I hope the results from this event, and the one in July, can convince the department, faculty, and university that there is immense public interest in keeping the observatory open for education and outreach purposes.

This is it, people! After this, the fate of the observatory will be decided!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are Women More Judgmental?

Recently, I've been involved in a few controversial conversations between women. I have noticed a common occurrence: women defend their opinions to the death. They will repeat their opinions over and over until they seemingly beat down the other side (yes, this is a generalization, and not all women do this).

Some common examples of these types of "conversations" are:
- stay-at-home versus working moms
- breast-feeding versus formula feeding moms
- putting more focus on family versus putting more focus on career
- choosing to move with your significant other or choosing to live long distance
- taking husbands name versus keeping your maiden name (good Lord, this one has been beaten to a pulp in the science blogger community)

I get that we all have opinions, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. What I don't get is why we care so much about what others decide. It's not like it influences our own lives if our friend decides to stay-at-home, or if they choose to use formula. As long as someone is making an informed decision, why can't we just leave it be?

So, why all the craziness surrounding these topics? Are women really more judgmental of each other, or do we just take the opinions of others more personally (i.e., see them as an attack) and so feel the need to justify our opinions over and over?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Impediment to Progress

There has been a lot of shit going down lately around the observatory program I'm trying to create. Without getting into any details (and boy, I'd love to write a big rant post about all this shit), basically there is one character whose seemingly only life goal is to impede the progress of this program using any means necessary. Let's call them ItP for Impeder to Progress.

ItP has made my life (or at least my time spent on this program - which is work that I do not get paid for) absolute hell. They are around every corner, just waiting to hit me over the head with some "rule" that didn't exist yesterday, or some other demand that must be met in order for me to move forward. I've jumped through about a million hoops for ItP, and it still isn't enough.

Now, dealing with one person might not be so bad, but since ItP is more senior than me, their behavior and attitude is starting to wear off on other people - people that have some power when it comes to making decisions about the future of the observatory. In the battle of ItP-said/Alyssa-said, they automatically win because of their position.

I don't get it. I'm trying to do something good here!! The department will benefit, the university will benefit, the city will benefit, even the whole region will benefit! Why, God, why, is ItP trying to stop the progress at all costs? They have no long-term investment in the observatory! Apparently they'd rather see it close down and be "moth-balled" instead of used to educate the public about astronomy and science in general.

If this shit doesn't change soon, I'm going to drop the whole damn thing and just let the observatory go blind. Kudos, ItP, kudos. You may get what you wish for.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Measurements Suck

I had an appointment with my midwife yesterday, and she does this belly measurement. It's supposed to be the same in centimeters as the gestational age - so at 23 weeks, it should be 23 cm. Last time, I was 22 weeks and my belly measured 26 cm. This time, I was 26 weeks, and my belly measured 32 cm!!


It's not like my weight gain is through the roof. I've gained 17 pounds overall, and the typical range at 26 weeks is 16-22 pounds. I know my belly is high and out front, but to be measuring at 32 weeks??

Now she wants me to get tested for gestational diabetes and to get another ultrasound done to see how Baby G is growing.

Is it possible to feel like a failure as a parent when our child isn't even born yet? I mean, now I'm freaking out about every little thing I'm eating, thinking I'm harming Baby G, and totally stressing out about the whole thing. Good times.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Birth Book Review

I just finished reading Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake (yes, you read that right) and Abby Epstein. I originally wanted to read this book because I wanted to know more about my birth options - both traditional (i.e., methods typically used in a hospital setting) and natural. The tag-line, "Know all your options, discover the natural choices, and take back the birth experience", sure sounded promising.

Although I think this book did cover all the bases the tag-line suggests (from obstetricians to midwives/doulas, from C-sections to fully natural birth, from hospital births to home births, and everything in between), it was far too biased for my liking. Even though the authors repeated statements that implied any decision is the right decision as long as the mother (or couple) knows all the options, it definitely gave the impression that natural birth is the way to go for everyone.

The authors tended to use scare tactics and statistics - not referenced in the text (although there is a list of references in the back) - to help push women toward the natural birth methods. Now, I do understand why they are doing this. After all, most of the information out there is biased the other way (against midwives, natural/home births, etc.), but I was hoping they wouldn't stoop to the same tactics.

What I was hoping for was to read positive birth stories that encompassed all types of births. That, if a woman made an educated decision, the birth would be be a good experience (no matter what methods she decided to use). Most of the book did not meet my expectations in this regard. However, I did enjoy the last section (Take Back Your Birth), as it seemed more in line with what I was hoping for.

I do think the overall idea of this book is a good one, but I think it could have been done with a more positive outlook, using less scare tactics, and have properly cited references. I'd rate this book 2.5 out of 5, but I would recommend it as a starting place for women who really want to know about their birth options.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books About Confrontation?

The longer I work on this observatory project, the more I realize I am going to need to get better at handling confrontations; be it over email or in person, with "friends" or with "foes". There are just a lot of assholes out there who either want to stand in the way of change/progress, or like to completely overstep their bounds.

It shames me to say, but my biggest issue with confrontations - especially in person - is that I get teary-eyed. I don't mean to, and I certainly don't want to, but for some reason my body just reacts that way in those situations. I'd really like to be able to control my emotions more.

So, does anyone have any book suggestions about how to handle confrontations in the workplace? Books specifically geared toward women would be even better!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Biggest Hurdle

Yesterday I went out to the observatory with the telescope technician so he could teach me some of the basics of telescope maintenance. He is retiring at the end of the month, though will be working on a contract basis until the end of the year.

He has been looking after the observatory for the last 20-25 years. He knows everything there is about maintaining everything, but has pretty much nothing documented. It's tough to pass on knowledge when, for example, he "just knows" what's wrong when the dome makes a certain sound.

Even when things have been documented, it doesn't include everything the user would need to know. Because, of course, "the user" (i.e., him) has been using the telescope for 20-25 years and knows everything about it already.

Now, I'm not faulting him for any of this. No one really plans to be the last telescope technician ever. But, I can tell right now that this is going to be the biggest hurdle in terms of getting an education and outreach program up and running for the observatory. Because, of course, if the telescope doesn't work, then there's no use having any type of program, is there?

So, after the next open house (August 21st) I plan to get together with the head of the physics department, and hopefully the Dean of science, to discuss this and explore the options. Maybe we could continue to hire the technician on a contract basis (although, at some point, his knowledge really needs to be passed on to someone else), or we could get someone that's mechanically savvy to become a very part-time (0.5 days a week) technician.

Of course, we would need funding for either of these options, but if the department and faculty want this program to continue at all, hopefully they'll be willing to help out.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Zero Motivation

I have about 3 months left before I start my pregnancy/parental leave (November 15th unless something comes up like bed-rest or Baby G arriving early) , and I have absolutely no motivation to work.

The plan is to use Baby G's arrival as a kind of a deadline for my academic career - my "get out of academia free" card, if you will. So that means I need to wrap up my work before then. But, I'm finding it hard to concentrate on working on any of my projects, and I find myself wasting time at work by surfing the net, reading blogs, and finding other new, exciting (or not-so-exciting) ways to procrastinate.

I know I just need to deal with it, get to work, and get this stuff done. After all - it's only 3 more months, and then I'm free!!

So, what would I like to accomplish before November 15th?

1. Get that frickin' masters paper submitted, and hopefully accepted for publication.
This one is out of my hands right now. I sent the most recent draft to my MSc supervisor at the end of June and am waiting to hear back. Just FYI - it's been 5 years since I handed over my first draft of this paper.

2. Get a good start on my new post-doc project so that it doesn't die when I leave.
This includes documenting what I'm doing so I can hand over the stuff to whoever will be working on the project next.

3. Write up how-to packages for earthquake outreach material
When I first started this post-doc, I was given the task to buy a bunch of earthquake-related supplies to create hands-on activities. I need to write up how to use these materials so they just don't sit in a box somewhere, collecting dust.

4. Finish up a lit-search for post-doc
Another smallish project I was given was to do a lit-search on a certain topic, write up a summary, and include abstracts/links to pertinent papers. I got a really good start on this, then it just died.

5. Education conference duties
I really need to start and finish finding papers by Canadians who have done research on education at the post-secondary level in Physics and Astronomy. This work will be presented at a conference next summer, and then will be put into a paper after that. I'm also on the organizing committee for this conference, so I need to make sure someone else can take over my duties while I'm on leave.

6. Astronomy outreach
I have two events still to come - another open house on August 21st, and then another event on September 18th. I also need to decide what grants to apply to, if any, this year for the observatory outreach program, and I need to figure out what's going to happen with the program while I'm on leave. Finally, I hope to secure an outreach position for when I come back.

7. Post-doc association stuff
I am a member of the executive for the post-doc association on campus. In all honesty, I haven't done much, but I do want to make sure someone is able to take my place once I leave (or before).

That seems like a hell of a lot of crap to do in three months. So, why can't I motivate myself to do any of it (except the outreach stuff, which is fun....and which I don't get paid for :P)? Is it because the amount of stuff is overwhelming? Is it because I'd rather focus on preparing for Baby G's arrival? Is it because it's summer? A combination?

Saturday, August 7, 2010


There hasn't been much for blog memes recently (except for maybe Cath's floss meme, which was just plain weird). Luckily, to break the streak, I've been tagged by Dr. O over at her new blog on labspaces.

Here's the deal:

1. Sum up your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.

2. Tag 10 other blogs to perpetuate the meme.

Hmmm...does this have to be a coherent sentence, or just 10 words?

Okay, here it goes:

Forever evolving, never boring (or at least that's the hope).

Wow. 10 words is not a lot.

I'm tagging:
1. X-ine
2. Nina
3. Cath
4. Ambivalent Academic
5. JaneB
6. Becca
7. Chall
8. Rocket Scientista
9. Adrienne
10. Ella

Have fun! And don't forget to post your link in the comments :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Good Day

I decided to stay home from work yesterday and just chill. Mostly because I'm feeling extremely unmotivated lately, but also because I didn't want to step outside into yet another brutally hot and humid day.

At about 10am I cracked open a new, very girlie novel: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. By 4pm, I was on page 230, and went off to my massage. I came home, DH made dinner, then I polished off the rest of the book. Though no literary masterpiece, it was a fun read and I look forward to reading her other books.

What a perfect day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Stories are True

I've always heard people telling similar stories, but I never saw it with my own eyes until today.

As I was pulling up to a stop light, the woman in front of me was driving erratically (swerving into the neighboring lane, jerky breaking, etc.). As I pulled up beside her, I looked over and there she was...putting on eye make-up in the rear-view mirror (not pointed where it should be, of course, but toward her).

Even better: she had a small child in the back seat.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

24 Weeks

Today Baby G hits the all-important 24-week mark. Why is this particular week so important? He is now considered “viable” - if Baby G was born today, he would have a good chance of living. Of course, we’d much rather he “bake” much longer!

This weekend we started buying some of the little, everyday, but necessary things for his arrival: a bathtub, some toiletries, diapers, receiving blankets, towels, wash cloths, etc.. We also bought a nightstand to put beside the glider in the nursery, and a couple more books (we have a feeling Baby G will have a huge library by the time he turns 1!).

There sure is a lot of stuff to buy! Even though we really only have the small things left, they sure add up! So, we’ll be spreading out the purchases over the next 3 months and hopefully get everything in time.

I’ve also decided on a knitting project for the nursery: I’m going to knit squares with the letters of his name and make a wall-hanging (we do have a name, we’re just not telling anyone – not even our parents – until Baby G is born). You can get the free patterns here if you’re interested.

Here is the baby bump at 23 1/2 weeks:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August Scientiae: A Reflection

Welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere! I am very excited to be the host for this month's Scientiae carnival, and was happy to see so many posts from both new bloggers and old friends.

As summer is the perfect time for reflection (with all our "free time" and what-have-you), I thought it would be wonderful to see where we've been, where we are now, and where we are going.

It's wonderful to hear that many of you are feeling more content, balanced, and confident about your personal and research lives!
NJS over on Scientist Rising has come through a difficult personal year on the other side. She has made some important headway in her professional life as well. Feeling more certain of her career path, and her personal life, she is "...becoming more the me I want to be by the day".

Micro Dr. O on The Tightrope similarly had a difficult year, dealing with a small breakdown ("not the mental-hospital type, just your run-of-the-mill mid-post-doctoral breakdown."), not knowing what to do with her blog, and the heartbreak of a miscarriage. But, now, just a year later, she's feeling her life has a much needed balance because of the solid support system around her.

Karina at Ruminations of an Aspiring Ecologist revisits her goals she set for herself back in January - and she's doing great! She has even added a couple new goals, such as writing a grant proposal, and is feeling really good about where things are going. She's also the host of September's Scientiae - so stay tuned for more!

Liberal Arts Lady describes her goals for the year, including the decision on whether to take a junior leave. Going into her third year of her tenure-track position, she is looking forward to the next few years and has a "...new confidence in where I am and where I am going."

Over at Saying "Yes-And", Synchronia - a first time Scientiae submitter - is also feeling good about her research. Just about to start her third year, she has a new level of trust in herself regarding her research and where to go next.

Although the previous year didn't go as planned for biochem belle over at There and (Hopefully) Back Again, most of the changes have been for the better. She is rebuilding her confidence after it took "...a rather brutal beating this past year". She lists some of her goals for the upcoming year, including researching career options both in and outside academia.

There are a few of us who have made some big decisions about our career in the last year.

Julia, the Ethical Palaeontologist, has made the difficult decision to withdraw from the MPhil/PhD program, and has started a new blog, Stages of Succession, to go with the new stage of her life.

After a year of contemplation, Dr. Girlfriend at Life After Graduate School has decided to step away from the bench. Her true interests include “...public understanding of science, or lack thereof, and how an appreciation of science can be made more accessible to the layperson and policy makers.” So, she will be embarking on a masters degree in Science Communication and Media.

Rebecca at Collisions with Reality is also changing paths and moving with her family to the Bay Area. Although not necessarily wanting to continue in academia, she does plan on working on Project Euler (a series of mathematical/computer programming problems), putting together a getting started guide to Python, and writing some grant proposals. Check out her Etsy shop too!

I am also hoping to change career paths in the near future. I'm considering Baby G's arrival an unofficial deadline to fulfill my research obligations so that I can start fresh after maternity leave. I'm hoping to get some sort of position in education and public outreach. There is even a potential position in the works - so fingers crossed!

A few fellow bloggers need some support from the community.

Michelle at C6-H12-06 is heading right into the beast we all know as the defense! She is unsure about her abilities at giving speeches, and is also not sure whether to get a job in government or industry, or continue on with a PhD. I'm sure she would appreciate the advice of some been-there-done-that's!

JaneB at Now, What Was I Doing? is having a tough time right now. She doesn't feel confident with her progress at both a personal and professional level. She hopes to find answers and a new balance over the coming year. So, head on over and give her lots of virtual hugs - we know you can get through this!

Dr. DudeChick at Who am I? has moved half-way around the world from her husband in order to start a new job, but is still only half happy. Although she doesn't feel as sorted as she would like to be, it sounds like things are moving forward. Hang in there!

A couple of bloggers have taken this topic to another level and are reflecting on reflection.

A Life Long Scholar is nearing the end of her contract and is dreaming of her ideal location, asking "Does anyone know where this dream location is?" Take a look at her list and give your suggestions!

Unbalanced Reaction is also thinking up ideas on how she can stretch her start-up budget for her new lab. Her plan sounds like a good, and really fun, one! What would you trade with her?

We end with four bloggers that went beyond their own personal lives and delved into some very interesting statistics and topics.
Kalen at Engineer-a-Business discusses how the Nettab was toted as the new-big-thing in technology at the beginning of the year. But, in doing some personal research, the feedback for such a tool is mostly negative. What do you think about things like the iPad? Useful tools, or just another thing to lug around?

Susan and other bloggers at Women in Planetary Science ask "Women make up half the bodies in the solar system. Why not half the scientists?" Although less than 9% of NASA scientists are women, the number is rising. Is there hope for us yet? To help get the word out there about women in planetary science, the blog is hoping to feature 51 such women. There have been 14 profiles written so far - if you're interested in volunteering, check it out!

Female Computer Scientist has a similar goal for this year: "To convince people to stop throwing up their hands and saying women are just not interested in Computer Science, and instead do something about it." There are countries whose tech workforce comprise of 50-60% women - why not in America? She gives some great tips and advice on how to turn this around.

Pat over at FairerScience is grumpy about another issue facing women in science: newly appointed professor, Vice Chair of education in neurosurgery, and Program Director at The University of Texas has a not-so-stellar track record when it comes to sexual discrimination. Unfortunately, she finds this isn't the only institution where such decisions are being made - what can we do to stop this from happening?

Well, that brings our summer reflection to an end. It was wonderful to be introduced to new bloggers, and hearing what old friends are up too. I hope it was as interesting and fun for you to read as it was for me to put it all together. Enjoy the rest of the summer!!