Ocean Sciences 2016

Hey y’all, I’m back!

I discovered that, despite all the ideas for blog posts bouncing around in my head, it is much harder to write them when you’re busy writing other things.


I’ll post an update later of what I’ve been doing for the past several months, but for now I wanted to get down some thoughts about the most recent Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM) in New Orleans.  OSM is held every other year, typically in the US in February for everything oceanography or overlapping in some way with oceanography.  This is my third time attending, having already gone to the OSM in Salt Lake City, UT, and Hawaii (!).  It’s a relatively large meeting, with about 4,000 attendees expected this year – although, it has nothing on Fall AGU, which comes in at about 25,000 attendees.

Ocean Sciences 2016 Plenary
Getting ready for the Plenary sessions

In no particular order, here are some of my reactions to this year’s meeting:

Twitter.  This was my first meeting as a semi-established twitter user.  I had fun live-tweeting some of the plenary sessions, and interacting with other scientists and attendees.  A few times I was recognized as, ‘oh, you’re that one from twitter’.  Highly entertaining!  It was a neat way to make connections with others interested in sharing their science lives and experiences.

Fiamma Straneo
AGU awardee giving an amazing talk on ocean-glacier interactions in Greenland

Got a talk!  I was super excited to get my first talk at an OSM.  Although, I was wishing for a day or two before that I had a poster, as that’s less stressful to me (at least during the meeting).  But, I totally crushed my talk!  And I included a humorous plug for hiring me as a postdoc.  We’ll see how that one pans out.

Weird scheduling.  The schedule at this meeting made no sense to me.  Almost everything I was interested in was only on the last two days.  There were a few talks I wanted to make it to but never did.  Not sure if it was just my bad luck this year, or the organizers didn’t think it through the whole way.  Hopefully the next OSM will work out better.

Too stressed.  I felt I was too stressed overall to take full advantage of this meeting.  Normally, I’m pretty good about attending lots of events and not being burnt out.  But I was mentally preparing for both my talk, and a job interview I agreed to do on one of the conference days.  I ended up feeling confused, and that I was missing important things but couldn’t figure out how to get to them.  I also needed to spend most of my evenings and lunches recovering, and wasn’t able to make the social leaps to hang out with new and old friends.  As a result, I’ve decided I’m not even going to apply for any more meetings until I defend my PhD.  It’s at the point where adding extra, potentially career-boosting, things will probably just backfire and not help me at all.

Beautiful park in uptown NOLA

Mentor program.  Lately I’ve begun to realize more and more the value of having a mentor or participating in mentoring sessions.  There were a few options for this meeting – one was a week-long affair, where you met for an hour or two every day with the same mentor to establish a relationship.  No way I had time for that.  Instead, I signed up for a 20 minute session with a mentor of my choice (chosen from a list).  I went with someone who has experience applying for and making decisions on a fellowship I am interested in applying for in a year or two.  It was very insightful, and I ended up with an excellent connection who can answer future questions I may have as well.

TOS couches.  I’m currently running for the student representative position on The Oceaongraphy Society (TOS)’s council.  I spent a good bit of time at their exhibit, talking about twitter and what they can do for student members.  And they had the most marvelous couches!  Totally made my day to be able to relax in the middle of all the craziness and stress.

Yummy NOLA food – no deep-fried touristy places for me

New Orleans.  Well.  I didn’t like it.  Hah.  It was more that my personality and NOLA’s did not really get along, especially the French Quarter vibe.  I’m too much a fan of structure, logic, tea (not alcohol), and early mornings for that style to resonate with me.  That said, the uptown area was beautiful, green, and spacious.  Although I can’t imagine being able to appreciate any of it mid-summer – it was already too hot for me on one day in February!

Want more details about the meeting?  Highlights from tweets are here, or check out #OSM16 on twitter.

John Kerry at ODU

Yesterday, around noon, Secretary of State John Kerry stopped at ODU to give an address on climate change and national security.  I went, in part because it sounded interesting and I wanted to hear what he had to say, and in part because it was just across the street and required very little effort to attend.

During the event, I live-tweeted parts of his speech that particularly struck me, as a scientist and as a graduate student.  My tweets are at the bottom of this post, but you can also check out #KerryatODU for more if you are interested.  Or, you know, just visit me on twitter.

Now that I’ve had a day or so to mull over what he said, here are some of my thoughts and reactions to his speech.  In no particular order:

  • The US has a superiority complex.  I was under the impression that most of the international community held some scorn for us – for wasting time debating climate change instead of doing something about it.  Kerry’s speech had a strong theme of the US as a world leader, especially in setting standards for emissions.  Maybe my impressions are outdated and I need to do some more research, or maybe it’s just a matter of course, that a speech from a prominent politician is based on “America is awesome” rhetoric.
  • Science isn’t that simple.  I admit, I was slightly impressed when Kerry pulled out a quick explanation of how floating ice melting does not add to sea level rise, while land ice melting does.  However, it was a glaring example to me of how the public could misinterpret science.  What he said was true, but that doesn’t mean that changing amounts of sea ice don’t matter.  Sea ice has more complex interactions with the whole climate system, including insulating the ocean and reflecting incoming solar radiation.  So, while I applaud the attempt to bring in simple science concepts, I think we actually need more acknowledgement of the complexity of climate science, and trust in the ability of scientists who are trained to understand and interpret climate change.
  • One speech isn’t enough.  There were many times during the speech where I thought to myself: good point, but what about mentioning these other associated issues?  Then I realized that this 30 minute speech was going on 45 minutes.  There is so much to say about climate change, and so many intricacies to discuss, that one speech will never be enough to cover it.  This led me to two conclusions.  One, that what he did say is a good snapshot of what the current administration is prioritizing.  And two, that it’s up to the rest of us to keep the conversation going and get the information out there.
  • A military talk for a military audience.  Norfolk, VA is a hub of military activity from all branches, and a lot of points in his speech reflected that.  The focus was not on humanitarian aid for people adversely affected by climate change.  Instead, he used the speech here to announce a new task force to analyze regions of the world that are under the combined influence of local political instability and high risk of extreme events from climate change.  Climate change doesn’t cause political instability, but it can make already unstable situations worse.  Areas that combine both factors are threats to US national security (and probably the security of other nations as well).

Overall it was an interesting speech.  I was happy to hear such a strong message of “climate change is caused by us and we need to fix it” from the US government.  And if focusing on national security and military matters is how the US becomes more involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, well, that’s not a bad outcome either.  What do you think?

Here are my tweets directly from the speech (and one bonus one from ODU):


Taking the scenic route

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the choices I’ve made during grad school and how long it has taken me to finish.  When I first started, I learned that the average amount of time to get a PhD (at least in this field) is 5 years, although it can be done as quickly as 3 years.  So of course, I thought I could get it done in 4.  Why not?  I’ve always been above average – good grades, prior research experience, and everyone says how smart I am.

But here I am, 5.5 years later,  planning to graduate in May.  6 years for a PhD.  Not the 4 I had planned, not the 5 that is average, but 6.  And ever since year 4 rolled around, I’ve been convinced that I could graduate in the next 6 months.

I’ve been beating myself up about it for awhile:  How can it take me so much longer to finish than I thought?  What’s holding me back?  Why can’t I work hard enough to get this done?

I still haven’t figured out the answers to those questions.  Now I think that maybe it is because they are the wrong questions.  So I started challenging my original assumption instead.  What makes it so bad to take longer to get a PhD?

The answer, it turns out, is quite complex.  There is nothing inherently wrong with taking longer to get a PhD, at least in the US where there is no set time limit.  Employers, whether in academia or industry, don’t look to see how long it took, but look at your list of accomplishments (i.e., papers) and your skill set.  Sometimes, taking longer means you start the post-PhD stage as a better candidate.  Other times, though, taking longer means you are incapable of wrapping up a project, of finishing.

The same is true for completing a PhD quickly. It could mean that you are driven and focused – you know what you want and you accomplish it.  Or it could mean that you did the bare minimum to graduate and don’t actually know enough or have enough experience to proceed.

Now, I’m trying to focus less on the actual amount of time I’ve spent in graduate school, and more on what I’ve done with my time.  Considering the matter this way makes me feel better about myself – all that “extra” time was spent working on side projects that, in the end, give me more experience.  Of course, the rate at which I learn new skills or become involved in other research must increase with each extra year I spend in graduate school, or it will quickly become not worth the money I’m not making by sticking around longer.  So, don’t worry *insert concerned family member here*, I’m definitely motivated to finish up and move on.

I still dislike the questions you often get from those not in the know about how this whole graduate school system works.  Maybe we need a new metric, at least for casual conversation:  “No, I am not just a fifth year PhD student, I actually have a great productivity to research credits ratio.”  But someone else can come up with that.

I’ve got a dissertation to write.