Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Managing stress in graduate school

Graduate school can and should be a fun time, but there are many pressures (often self-induced) put on students that can make continuing education a drudgery. I do not share the philosophy that the students who can tough it out are the better ones. This gives a limited perspective to the field of science if we do not help support people from different backgrounds and with different needs to succeed. After seeing students struggle, especially through the PhD process, I have spent more time talking about the need for managing stress and having a fun time with my students.

Below is a wonderful perspective on taking care of yourself from Dr. Sheri Shiflett, a former CPEL student who has survived graduate school, post-doc, and now a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The ways I find effective for managing stress are helpful no matter what role I have found and/or find myself in: student, graduate student, postdoc, full-time 9-5er, etc. Learning how to take care of yourself is important throughout your life, especially as an adult where you have to be more self-reliant and self-aware in order to effectively manage and solve personal and interpersonal conflicts.

One of the first things I do when I feel overwhelmed is ask myself what *really* needs to get done and by what date. For items that I wanted to accomplish, but don’t necessarily have to be completed immediately, I cut those out and re-prioritize for the moment and/or immediate future.

I also find it effective to set boundaries on my time for work and time for play. You have to build in time for yourself or you will burn out eventually! Figure out what you can let go of and then take an afternoon or a day for yourself to do something that you enjoy which is not “work” in the traditional sense. Make time during the week for your hobbies and time with loved ones. Accomplishing your graduate school and career goals is important, but so is maintaining your sense of self, individuality, personal interests, and relationships.

Learn how to say “no.” People will always ask you to become involved in a plethora of activities and opportunities. You should be strategic and selective in the ones you choose because you only have a limited amount of time and energy. Overcommitting because you feel like you don’t want to let people down is a surefire way to also feel overwhelmed and burnt-out. This doesn’t mean to say no to everything. You should agree to some additional tasks and push your boundaries, but learn how to tell the difference between a little extra push for yourself, which can lead to inspiration, motivation, and networking vs. overcommitting to more than you can handle, which will deflate your confidence and make it more challenging to re-gain and bounce back.

The usual rules apply: limit excesses (e.g., alcohol, partying, staying up late, over-eating), get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and exercise. I have started doing all of these things and it has made a huge difference in how healthy and strong I feel! When I don’t get enough sleep, not only am I generally fatigued, but normal tasks feels so much more difficult to accomplish, and I am also more emotional! It’s easy to distort reality. Make time for yourself to work-out a handful of times a week. You’d be surprised at how much better you can feel from a 20-30 minute walk with a friend around campus or the surrounding are if you don’t have the time or inclination for something more strenuous.

Be gentle with yourself and forgiving when things don’t go your way. Bumps in the road happen and things don’t always go as planned. Strive to do your best work, but don’t be so hard on yourself when the experiment doesn’t go as planned or the boat trip to the island gets cancelled due to high winds, or you forgot about that one last minute assignment. You’re not a superhuman and that’s ok.

Take mini-breaks for yourself. If you’ve been glued to your desk for hours, get up and stretch, take a walk, take 5-10 minutes to meditate and clear your mind.

Take advantage of the counseling options offered to students. My last year of graduate school, I scheduled regular sessions with one of the on-campus counselors (for free!) and she really helped me put my situation and future goals into perspective. She also recommended great relaxation techniques and reading material. It’s also nice to just have a space to vent confidentially and not feel judged.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, stay positive and express gratitude often! My biology teacher in high school had a great one liner that I will never forget, especially in times of hardship and challenge, “This too shall pass!” [This was also a favorite sentiment of Abraham Lincoln’s.] Time will never stop moving forward and life will continually throw obstacles your way: you’re going to get through it one way or another. There will be many tests ahead of you and it’s up to you whether or not you choose a positive spirit in overcoming the obstacles you are faced with or a negative attitude. Studies have shown time and time again that those with positive attitudes, regardless of what life throws their way, tend to be happier and healthier individuals. Taking a moment to express gratitude towards someone, whether it’s a friend, family member, mentor, or even stranger, will help you to reframe the challenges in your life and see that people love you and care about you whether or not all your p-values are < 0.05 or you ace every test. This last step of striving for positivity is key to becoming a more resilient individual and recognizing that it’s very easy to focus on the negative. The negative will keep finding you, but it’s up to you to hunt for and celebrate the positive aspects of your life and any situation you find yourself in. I recommending looking up more information about “resilience” and becoming a resilient individual. The idea is not to eliminate stress or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but to develop a mental outlook to tackle problems head on, overcome adversity, move forward with life and ultimately flourish.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Women in Science - Melissa Willits

A scientist doesn’t have to be published to be a scientist. We don’t have to wear tweed jackets and glasses, sit in wing-backed chairs and drink port wine. We may often be overly dedicated to our work, but we may just as frequently be out at dinner with friends. We don’t need PhDs or glamorous university funding. More often than not, a scientist will be completely, wonderfully, extraordinarily ordinary.

Melissa Willits does not have her PhD, and she’s grateful for it. She was raised by a dentist father and a seamstress mother in Tupelo, Mississippi with a fairly ordinary life. She went to her respected but standard state university with the intention of going on to medical school, but was sidetracked by the sudden and unexpected discovery that she was very good at microbiology, so she went with it. She began to learn Spanish as a second language along the way, and says her pathogenic microbiology class changed her life.

Upon entering the workforce after graduation, Melissa very quickly figured out that to be a woman in her field, or maybe even a woman at all, took a little extra work and very thick skin. Her first job, a microbiologist at an un-air-conditioned chicken processing factory, had her harassed by the men operating the plant, and even had her sexually assaulted by an old mechanic. Her search for bigger things quickly brought her back to university life to seek her Master’s degree in Food Science. After a setback or two—including a lucrative job with Dole and a plane crash—she made it to the end with a degree in hand. She also met and married her soulmate, whom she credits for her survival and success in graduate school. In response to the current social norm of postponing “family life” until a satisfactory “career life” goal has been met, she says, “It’s not that clinical. When you’re ready and fall in love, you get married. Life doesn’t stop. Young women these days want to compartmentalize and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

The rest of her career followed what feels like a fairly typical, albeit somewhat flashy at times, “real world” experience. She opted for what she feels was a more applied use of her knowledge and skills as a scientist than what she believed a career in academia could have offered her. Her jobs involved quality assurance and pathogenic testing for global food manufacturing companies, development of new formulas and systems for making said food, and becoming the go-to person for salmonella contamination and remediation from New Jersey to Bangkok. She was personally involved in the remediation of every significant pathogenic food contamination scare in the late 90’s and 2000’s, and many of her safety protocols and employee training programs are still in effect globally.

Melissa traveled all over the world and was a pretty high-powered woman, and her work-life balance suffered for it. Her husband was extremely understanding and willingly followed her career around the continent whenever needed. Some of this strain she attributes to the pressure from the corporate world as well as pressure from being a woman. She developed a thick skin and a loud voice to rival that of any plant operator or corporate manager that she had to work with. Regardless of whether you choose to be a scientist in academia, in government, or in the private sector, Melissa offers advice to any woman seeking to bridge the gender divide and hold their own with the work force: “It’s not about justice. There isn’t any. It’s about being effective. Cover your bases. Make noise even when people don’t like it…[and] always show strength—not cockiness, show confidence. It drives a lot of men crazy; they think it’s arrogant.”

I think it is hard to forget the stereotype that a scientist is only found in a university office surrounded by books and laboratory equipment. More often than not I think scientists are found in the everyday places, working more for the benefit of the masses than prestige. This is why I chose to showcase Melissa as a woman in biology; the discoveries she has made in her career may have been behind closed doors (and ended up in the ice cream in your freezers), but in an ordinary way, she has had a substantial impact on the daily health and safety of people all over the world, which I think is pretty extraordinary.
By: Rikki Lucas

Monday, November 28, 2016

Women in Science - Dr. Alison Jolly

Dr. Alison Jolly was born in Ithaca, New York in 1937 as an only child to Alison Mason, a landscape artist, and Morris Bishop, a Cornell scholar of romance languages. As neither her parents were involved in the sciences, Jolly pursued the sciences to round out the family. She spent her entire childhood in Ithaca and even earned her undergraduate degree in zoology in 1959 from Cornell University.

Figure 1 Dr. Alison Jolly in the field.

In 1959, Jolly began her Ph.D. in Zoology at Yale University to study sea sponges. After 3 months of unexciting sea sponge research, a chance encounter with lemurs at a Yale primate facility sparked the beginning of her career as a renowned primatologist. Dr. John Buettner Janusch, the founder of the Duke Lemur Center, brought the first lemurs from Madagascar to Yale University to start a research colony and needed students to help babysit them from time to time.

Changing her dissertation focus from sea sponges to lemurs, Jolly traveled to Madagascar to begin field work observing ring-tailed lemurs living in the Berenty Reserve, a private property dedicated to conserving Madagascar’s biodiversity. At the time of her research, in the 1960s, it was commonly accepted that primates, like chimpanzees and gorillas, lived in male-dominated societies. Dr. Alison Jolly discovered that contrary to other primate groups, lemurs, especially ring-tailed lemurs actually live in female-dominated societies.  Dr. Jolly received much criticism and disbelief towards her fi4ndings.


Figure 2 Ring-tailed Lemurs
However, Dr. Jolly’s disposition and personality allowed her to not be easily dissuaded from continuing her work. Dr. Jolly was known to not compete for her positions or give in to academic pressures. Instead, she combatted criticism by continuing to publish new findings on these female-dominate societies in lemurs every birthing season. Dr. Jolly published over 100 articles about wild ring-tailed lemurs and authored textbooks and textbook chapters on lemurs. Dr. Jolly also influenced dozens of up and coming primatologists by encouraging students to join her every field season in Madagascar. As David Attenborough once said, “A whole generation of primatologists and conservation biologists came of age with her encouragement and support."

During her Ph.D. studies, Jolly married Richard Jolly and started their family of eventually four children. Richard and Alison were supportive of each other’s professions and traded off following each other’s careers. Both partners moved to different countries around Africa so each person could move forward in their individual careers. Dr. Alison Jolly sought only visiting professor positions and never attempted to gain tenure at any her affiliated universities.


Figure 3  Dr. Alison Jolly and her husband Richard Jolly

When Dr. Jolly was not working on ring-tailed lemurs, she focused on conservation efforts towards Madagascar’s diminishing biodiversity. There are over 80 different extant species of lemurs and they are all endangered due to the pet trade, deforestation, and local cultural beliefs. Jolly and local Malagasy collaborators created The Ako Project. The Ako Project consists of illustrated children’s books that depict a day in the life of different lemurs and how each one confronts daily environmental threats. Each book is accompanied with an informative poster about each lemur and their habitats. The Ako Project has ensured that each classroom in Madagascar has at least one book per student.


Figure 4 A page from one of The Ako Project books
Dr. Allison Jolly was a decorated scientist that had won multiple awards and honorary doctorates over the course of her career. She was well-respected in and outside her field and is truly missed. Jolly passed away from battling breast cancer in 2014. She is remembered for being a giant in the field of anthropology and an inspirational female role model.
By Marie Vergamini

Monday, November 21, 2016

Women in science - Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young was the first American black woman to get a PhD in Zoology. Though Young’s life was difficult at times and she did not receive much acclaim while living, it is obvious from her dedication to research and teaching that she was a talented scientist.

Young was born in Clifton Forge, VA and grew up in Burgettstown, PA, outside of Pittsburgh. Upon graduating from high school in 1916, Young enrolled in Howard University to study music. While attending Howard she cared for her invalid mother, which she continued to do for the rest of her mother’s life.

She did not take her first biology class until 1921, with Ernest Everett Just, who saw promise in her work as a scientist. After Young graduated, Just, the head of the zoology department, hired her to teach and assisted to facilitate her work in zoology by helping her to find funding for graduate school and to publish her research. In 1924, Young became the first black woman to be published in Science in zoology for her newly observed findings on paramecium. This study, titled “On the Excretory Apparatus in Paramecium,” was circulated among academia as far away as Europe and Russia.
In 1926, Young received her master’s with excellent grades from University of Chicago studying under Just’s mentor, Frank Lillie. She returned to Howard to teach with Just and was invited to conduct research with him at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Wood’s Hole, MA, researching the effects of UV light on development of marine eggs.

Young had a busy year in 1929: she started going to Wood’s Hole independently and while Just had an appointment in Europe, she stood in as head of the zoology department at Howard and took over the majority of his teaching responsibilities. All while writing proposals for doctoral funding!

In early 1930, she returned the University of Chicago with the intention of pursuing her PhD with Lillie. However, due to the enormous stress of filling Just’s shoes, being separated from her mother, and damage to her eyes during her work with radiation, she failed the qualifying exams and disappeared for a few months.

She persevered and returned to Wood’s Hole and Howard to teach later that year, but her friendship and mentorship with Just was essentially over. He had expected Young to return to Howard after receiving her PhD and was disappointed at her failing the exams. Eventually, she confronted him about his negative attitude toward her and in 1936 she was fired from Howard for misuse of laboratory equipment.

She did not let this derail her life for long, though, and was accepted to a PhD program at University of Pennsylvania under a colleague from Wood’s Hole, Lewis Victor Heilbrunn, where her dissertation was “The indirect effects of roentgen rays on certain marine eggs”.

After completing PhD in 1940, she taught at various black universities in the south. Many of these universities had little money to provide for research and she could no longer afford to return to Wood’s Hole each summer. Her mother died in 1953 and hastened a mental break for Young. She became worried she would end up like her mother, but had no family to take care of her. In the following years Dr. Young was in and out of mental hospitals and could not hold a job for several years. She hospitalized herself in the late 1950s until 1962. In her final years, Dr. Young took a position at Southern University in New Orleans where she died in 1964.
Young wrote, “Not failure, but low aim is a crime” in a yearbook at Howard. I believe she tried to follow this as best as she could her whole life. I can only imagine how hard it was for Young as a black woman in America and the scientific world in the early 1900s. She had to deal with racial and gender disparities throughout entire her life. I am proud that she could pave the way for opportunities for me and other female scientists today.

By: Liz Keily

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Women in Science - Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren has a very unique story on her claim to scientific celebrity. Not only is she a renowned scientist, studying stable isotopes dating back to the Eocene, but she is a prominent writer, a mother, a wife, a friend, and an activist. Hope Jahren got national recognition for writing a book titled “Lab Girl” that was recently published in 2016. In her book, she talked about her journey through science and what she has endured being a woman in Geology.

            Hope Jahren grew up in Minnesota where her father taught chemistry at a local community college. She would go with her dad to his class and he would let her play with the scientific instruments including beakers, pipettes, and even Bunsen burners. She felt a calm whenever she was in his lab, and soon realized that she would be a scientist just like him. While at the University of Minnesota, Jahren had a few odd-end jobs, including a stint at a hospital where she was in charge of making IV bags. While she didn’t particularly like working in a hospital setting, she realized that she was good with working with her hands. This realization soon led to her majoring in geology, in which she as able to work with her hands in a lab, focusing on stable isotopes analysis from soil and plants.

            After receiving her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkley in 1996, Hope Jahren packed up her bags and went straight to Georgia Tech. While going right to an Assistant Professor position, she was not well versed in getting funding. From her Ph.D. program, she brought with her a lab manager and friend, Bill Hagopian. While citing that Bill is one of her closest friends and colleagues, she has never been able to secure him funding. Throughout her career, her and Bill had trouble getting money. This resulted in Bill oftentimes sleeping in their lab, and a constant moving around of positions. Hope Jahren went from an Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech to Johns Hopkins University, to a full Professorship at the University of Hawaii, to most recently the University of Oslo. All the while, she has not been able to secure funding for her lab manager. Even through many awards, including three Fulbright scholarships and pioneering research, her trouble with funding shows the competitiveness that scientists today face.

            Hope Jahren has often cited that being a woman has led her to the many problems that she has had academia and in science. While at Johns Hopkins, Hope Jahren was the first woman to go on maternity leave, which led to much criticism and discrimination from her male colleagues. About this, Hope Jahren said, “It can be a challenge to be the real me and the science me.” Along with the sexism she has often faced in science, including her lack of ability to secure funding, Jahren has suffered from manic depression. Her manic depression was often sparked by the harsh reality of being a woman in scientist. However, through all the issues she has faced in her academic career, she has managed to prevail and has come to be known as Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2016.

            Hope Jahren has been an advocate for women in science over the last few years, and continues to speak out against sexual harassment in science. She has led a campaign over Twitter to get more women working in science to show off their hands, contrasting “#Science hands” with the polished hands that Seventeen Magazine asked to see. Not only has she continued to gain recognition for “Lab Girl,” but she has continued to gain recognition for her activism. Hope Jahren, now in Oslo with her husband, her kids, and her lab manager and best friend, Bill, continues to do pioneering research. There will be much more to come from this amazing contemporary woman scientist.

By Chelsea Barreto

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Moving forward after huge disappointment

Yesterday, November 9, 2016, I woke up after very little sleep feeling hopeless and dejected. Then I had to tell my 9 year old son, who was nervous about the election, why he did not need to be afraid. And I had to tell him the truth. After that, I went to teach a class on multivariate statistics to a class of dispirited students. However, that was nowhere near as difficult as attending a graduate class the hour after learning about the twin towers on September 11. That was hate. A vote for Trump is not. I have spent the day reading news stories, seeing reactions on social media and I have a message of hope. In academic environments we are sheltered from the rest of our nation. What is important to us is not important to everyone. There are many things that we can do to move forward and bring about positive, great change. But it as to start with us. First, we have to stop seeing every Trump supporter as a supporter of hate, racism, sexism, etc. People care about other issues that we may not be aware of or know about and vote on that. I know very good people that voted for Trump for reasons that are important to them and just as valid as my reasons for not. I listened to an African-American woman talk about her vote for Trump because she couldn't fathom a woman in the White House just as a woman shouldn't be leading a church. We need to understand that so many people have grown up different from us and may be scared to realize their own power after centuries of being oppressed. It is a process and takes time. We need to help all women know that the stories we have been told growing up are not true. We need to empower all people to believe in their voice and ability. Second, we must get better at bringing our science to the public. We need to stop focusing on our metrics of success through impact factor and journal citations and also value the ways in which we motivate, train, and mentor others to care about ecology, the environment, and other disciplines in science. Keep talking about what you are passionate about. Help others outside of the acaemic environment see the wonder in the natural world as we do. And finally, we need to be role models of tolerance and hope. Fear breeds hate. There are so many things that COULD change under this new leadership. That doesn't mean it will. The fear of all that can go wrong is what brings about bad policies and people stop listening. When that happens, we lose. There is a bright future ahead of us, even with so much uncertainty. This is what I told me son: our daily lives don't change. Go to school and respect your peers and speak up when someone laughs or jokes about someone, anyone for being different. Know that one person, or a group of people don't get to change our world. And don't live from fear. That is the worst way to start your day.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gahndi

Monday, October 31, 2016

Eradicating Pestilence: Alice Evan’s Crusade in Microbiology

Adamantly defending her sensational research, Alice Evans was a bacteriologist who illuminated people to the dangers of unpasteurized milk. Although she faced constant criticism for her research on freshly drawn unpasteurized milk she was able to invoke a significant change in the ideology of bacteriological research. Her contributions to bacteriology and infectious disease research have positively impacted people worldwide. Even though she was a woman she was able to have a successful career in science. She was respected by her peers and able to complete important research for the United States government during a time when women were not expected to pursue any type of professional career.
Alice Catherine Evans was born on January 29th, 1881 in rural Pennsylvania. She was the second of two children. Her mother immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. Her father had been a surveyor, teacher, farmer, and a Civil War soldier. Once she finished secondary school she became a teacher since it was the only profession available to women in rural Pennsylvania. Although she though that teaching was rewarding she eventually became bored due to the monotony of a repeating curriculum. A two-year tuition free nature study course for rural teachers at Cornell University would allow her to cultivate her budding interest in science. After completing the program, she received a bachelor’s degree specializing in bacteriology.

Once Evans received her bachelor’s degree she was able to attend the University of Wisconsin to pursue a master’s degree in bacteriology. She increased her knowledge of chemistry at the University and was even offered funding to pursue a PHD in Chemistry. In addition to receiving an opportunity to pursue a PHD she was also offered a position with the United States Department of Agriculture. Since she did not consider herself prepared to pursue a PHD in Chemistry, and since a PHD was not required for advancement in science at that time she decided to accept the position with the Department of Agriculture.

At the Department of Agriculture Wisconsin division Evans studied ways to improve the flavor of cheddar cheese. While working in the division she was able to coauthor four publications. While working in Wisconsin, Evans was appointed to a position at the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington D.C. After accepting the position in D.C. Evans became anxious because of rumors that claimed that the division in D.C. did not want any women. Once she arrived at the division her fears subsided since the people she worked with seemed to not have any problems with working with a woman. While working in D.C. she discovered that Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis, bacteria found in freshly drawn milk, were closely related enough that both could potentially cause people to develop Undulant fever. Undulant fever or Brucellosis which it currently named, is an illness that involves chronic fever, fatigue, and many other debilitating symptoms. She published her research in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 1918.

Her research was initially met with widespread skepticism from many science and healthcare professionals since bacteria with different morphological characteristics were never considered to be closely related by bacteriologists. Even though her claims were contested by many people, her research would eventually be supported by many studies. After publishing her research on Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis she joined the United States Public Health Service Hygienic Laboratory, where she completed research on relevant world health issues such as the influenza pandemic and epidemic meningitis. While continuing her research on Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis, Evans contracted Undulant fever in 1922. She would suffer from the symptoms of the condition for many years before fully recovering.  She was elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1928. This society would later become the American Society for Microbiology which honored her through creating an award in her name which is given to a person who contributes to the participation of women in microbiology. Toward the end of her career she researched immunity to streptococcal infection until she retired. She continued to be a strong advocate of the participation of women in science until she died in 1975.

By Grayland Godfrey

American Society for Microbiology. The American Society for Microbiology.  Accessed 19 Oct. 2016.
“Brucellosis.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
Colwell, R. R. “Alice C. Evans: Breaking Barriers.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 72.5 (1999): 349–356. Print.
Evans, A. C. “Memoires”. 1963. Early Women of Science at NIH. Office of History National Institute of Health. IN 19 Oct. 2016.

Moreno, Edgardo. “Retrospective and Prospective Perspectives on Zoonotic Brucellosis.” Frontiers in Microbiology 5 (2014): 213. PMC. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.