Greetings! In preparing my blog, looking forward toward my PhD here at Duke, I got to reminiscing about the fantastic experiences I’ve had in research up to this point. I want to begin my blog by taking you on a walk through some of projects on which I’ve been lucky enough to work, and the nearby beautiful places in which I’ve frolicked.
As an undergraduate at UW-Madison, I worked as a technician for Erinn Powell, a graduate student in Prof. Ken Raffa’s lab. Her research investigated how two types of disturbances (fire and bark beetles) interact. I also worked on my own research project during the summer, investigating some of the signals that cause bark beetles to aggregate when attacking trees. My project unfortunately failed due to an exceptionally early emergence of adult bark beetles. While a failed experiment is a pain, I think it was something good to experience early in my career; I learned from the start that science is a fun, but sometimes cruel, path. Anyway, here are a few photos of research and beautiful landscapes from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where our research was conducted:
After I finished my undergraduate degree, I traveled to New Zealand, where I spent several months volunteering on organic farms and for the Department of Conservation (DOC). With DOC, I worked for six weeks to help build an aviary for soft release of captive raised Kokako. Many of the birds in New Zealand, which evolved in an environment lacking land mammals (for the most part), have suffered greatly with novel introductions of mammals such as stoats, rats and feral cats. Fastidious control of mammalian pests, along with intensive monitoring and captive breeding, is giving birds such as the Kokako and Kiwi (which I helped radio tag as a reward for hauling parts of the aviary up slippery hillsides) a chance to rebuild their populations. I also worked on a project at the University of Canterbury in which we studied the effects of stream size and riparian management in response to land use change. While most of this fieldwork involved scraping cow pies off of the equipment we’d deployed in the field, I had a great time, and this work allowed me to fund tramping trips to the mountains (a few photos of which I’ve included for the sake of gratuitous landscape awesomeness):
Finally, I wanted to give you a brief visual taste of some of my masters’ fieldwork. My thesis project asked how dissolved organic carbon (DOC) of varying source and concentration affects nitrogen cycling in rivers of northern Florida. I found that rivers with higher concentrations of DOC are more likely to have carbon-limited denitrification (a microbial process that converts nitrate, a major pollutant that leads to eutrophication in many waterways and coastal oceans, into atmospheric nitrogen gas), due to a lower biomass of labile-carbon-producing aquatic plants. For those who want a more thorough explanation, please feel free to check out my thesis on the Florida International University digital commons. In these pictures, note the amazingly clear water of the spring fed rivers (low in DOC, and what there is coming mainly from aquatic sources), and the mirror like reflections and incredibly dark stained water of blackwater rivers (high in DOC, which is mainly from terrestrial sources). Altogether not a bad place to spend one’s field days:
So those are some of the experiences that have led me to the PhD program at Duke. As I continue with my blog, I’m planning to share some of my opinions, observations, and musings about the process of graduate school and of science generally. I want to help communicate about how the process works and how scientists think (though thinking like a scientist is still very much something I am learning how to do) because I feel that the world has a deficit of science literacy. My task to you, dear reader, is to call me out when I’m being obtuse, biased, or just plain wrong. Please help me become a better science communicator!
Thanks for reading, and please stay tuned!