Funding news: Rosemary Grant Award!

sseI’m incredibly excited and honored to be selected as part of the 2016 cohort of Rosemary Grant Award winners! This award is given by the Society for the Study of Evolution to first- and second-year grad students showing promise in the field. This year looks like an incredible group (I actually met some of these people during the interview process, and they really are fantastic). In particular, Lauren Carley is doing some work on similar questions to mine but at a different taxonomic scale, so if you’re interested in what I’m doing you should check her out!

Plant of the week–Caulanthus amplexicaulis

wpid-2015-10-28-17.36.42.jpg.jpegThis week’s plant is Caulanthus amplexicaulis, also known as the claspingleaf wild cabbage. It is endemic to parts of Southern California, where it blooms from May through July. It is another intense soil specialist–one of its subspecies is a serpentine specialist in found in the Santa Rafael Mountains. It is usually found in sloping areas. Its oval, glabrous (smooth) leaves are a strong contrast to many of the other leaves of plants I have shared, which were covered in fine hairs (hirsute).

Recommended article: Academics leave your ivory towers

I wanted to share a thought-provoking article I read a few weeks ago about the urgency of sharing scientific work with the media. It’s called “Academics: leave your ivory towers and pitch your work to the media.

The TLDR: Make friends with a journalist/editor! Don’t be offended when they do their job (editing!). Embrace speaking to the public!

Favorite Quote:

Ademo says he would welcome more submissions from scholars. “There’s a lot of research that goes unnoticed,” he says. “It would be great if more academics didn’t shy away from writing for the media and communicating with average people. It would be great if the information came from the source directly.”

Follow-up on Caulanthus coulteri

wpid-20151005_141624.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I made a post about Caulanthus coulteri (see here), because I couldn’t resist its adorable basal rosette that looks to me almost like a green sunflower. Here it is in full, glorious bloom. The cell phone camera image doesn’t do justice to the yellows and oranges mixed into that deep crimson coloring. Like Streptanthus insignis, it has that sterile flower structure topping its stem.

A digression about mental health in grad school

About a week ago, I was in a car accident, which kind of threw off my studying plan for my comprehensive exams. For several days, it has been hard to think (as it often is when one’s brain has been rattled around in its casing). I can’t concentrate on much of anything–not my reading, not my data, not my students.

This frustrated me to no end. The voice in my head that I have come to think of as mini Donald Trump kept screaming, You’re on a timeline! You’re slacking! You’re a waste of space! and on into further obscenity. I was violently angry with myself, and for what? Driving in the rain on the best feasible route from my starting point to my endpoint?

As grad students, we’re trained to work all the time, with no mercy for ourselves. If we’re tired, we’re supposed to drink some coffee and power through it. If we’re too sick to come into the lab, we’re supposed to take the day to catch up on reading. There’s a culture of unwillingness to admit that we might have taken time for ourselves, and might want to KEEP taking that time to save our health and sanity.

EEB at UC Santa Cruz does a better job of this than many departments. I have been very lucky to find people I am able to speak to candidly about the need to treat my own body and mind with respect. However, it makes me anxious to imagine admitting to a student at another institution (or maybe even in another department!) that I didn’t put in my forty-plus hours last week. Certainly I would never say something so bold to a faculty member. I’m terrified of the judgement, that seemingly inevitable pronouncement of my uselessness and failure as a scientist.

Is that truly what we think science should be? A slow grind into death by exhaustion? I suspect very few scientists would say total mental collapse is what we should aspire to. We want to be creative and productive and passionate about our work, and to do this, we need space and energy for ourselves to grow and change. An exhausted mind walled in by impending obligations has neither of those things.

Even as I write this, I know that I am doing an awful job at taking my own advice. It is incredibly difficult to embrace slow solutions. I know, logically, that there is no instant fix, apply-directly-to-forehead solution to my injuries, but I want to be back at work. I want to be learning and discovering and teaching. Still, I’m trying to give myself the grace and space I know I need to do things well, and I hope you, dear reader, can find a way to walk this better path with me.

How to get an NSF-GRFP without really trying

grfp logoOne of my student volunteers is writing an National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship proposal this year, which got me thinking about the proposal process again. Two years out, I am still so grateful and excited to have received the award. However, I managed to avoid a lot of the associated angst, since I was applying as a senior undergraduate and was mostly thinking of my application as good practice for the next two years. Apparently, I was the right combination of qualified and lucky, because I received the award in 2014. In thinking back, there are a bunch of important little things that simplified the process.

At the bottom of this post, you can find PDFs of my application materials (spot the typo!), but without further ado, I present the rules for getting an NSF-GRF (with as little pain as possible–the title about not trying is probably a lie*):

General Advice:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide Rule: Don’t Panic.
  • The Anti-Fight Club Rule: Talk about the GRFP with faculty and peers early and often. Don’t let the veil of secrecy fall at any point.
  • The Golden Rule: Give unto the GRFP committee the kind of application that you yourself would like to read. Be personable, but only as witty as you actually are.

Writing the personal statement:

  • The Futurama Rule: This is a story about you, but not your past. You probably don’t actually have any major scientific achievements yet. This is a story about what you WILL do for science. Use what you have done to project into the future rather than dwelling in the past.

Writing the research statement:

  • The “the cake is a lie” Rule: Pick a proposal topic you’re passionate about, but don’t feel like you have to follow through with this project for your PhD if you decide later you don’t want to, or shouldn’t. Writing a GRFP isn’t a contract, and you aren’t promising anyone anything.

Revising before submission:

  • Newton’s rule: Climb up the foundations built by others. If you have access to previous award winners or submitters, ask them what they think. They will have seen the application reviews that are released online and will have a better idea of what the committee is looking for.
  • Voltaire’s rule: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. As I mentioned above, my application contained a couple of typos, and I still got the award. That won’t hold you back if the rest of your application is still good. Embrace your application for what it is.

After submission:

  • Orpheus’ rule: Are you tempted to look back at your application? Don’t do it! You’ll probably just find typos you missed and be filled with anxiety. Put the whole thing out of your mind until late March. It will make you feel a lot better, I promise.

After the results are released:

  • The Damn Spam Rule: Check your spam folder! My award email went there instead of my inbox, so I actually found out from one of the PIs whose lab I was applying to (now my adviser).
  • The Anti-Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence Rule: Make sure to download your reviews from the application committee, regardless of whether or not you get the award. Learn something from the feedback, and fix your mistakes! But beware, they disappear off the NSF server after a few months!

If you’re interested in another take on this process, you can reference my fantastic cohort-mate Theadora’s post HERE about her thoughts on her application and eventual award.

My personal statement

My research proposal

*I only somewhat regret engaging in clickbaiting

Plant of the week: Streptanthus farnsworthianus

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Flowering S. farnsworthianus

This week’s Plant of the Week is Streptanthus farnsworthianus. Its common name is Farnsworth’s jewelflower, and it is found primarily in the woodlands of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Its flowers are very similar morphologically to the other jewelflowers I have shared recently (which is expected, since flower form is one of the primary characters that has been used in the past to designate taxonomic group, and unlike many other characters that are actually examples of convergent evolution, is comparatively reliable).

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S. farnsworthianus with its first true leaves

This one is particularly interesting because of the dramatic morphological changes its leaves undergo as they get older. As you can see in the images, the first leaves are highly lobed, while the older leaves are entire (“entire” refers to leaves with smooth margins, or edges) and have an almost waxy look. They also turn this beautiful lavender color–usually mustards are purple when they’re stressed, but these ones are supposed to look this way.