Sunday, June 30, 2013

Our first, and possibly last, day on the water...

Home ship home.
On Friday afternoon, we departed from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and began the first leg of our 12 day journey.

3 hours of driving led us down Route 13 through the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, across the series of bridges and tunnels that span the mouth of the mighty Chesapeake Bay, through Virginia Beach and into Norfolk, VA.

We arrived at the NOAA dock, passed through security, rounded the corned and Voila! Our home for the next 12 days lay before us, quieting floating in the Elizabeth River.

The R/V Gordon Gunter (hey, look! I spelled it right this time), originally built as a Navy ship, the Relentless, is now a scientific research vessel run by NOAA.

For those of you not in the 'NO' (AA), it stands for
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We load our gear, meet with the Field Operations Officer, and head out into Norfolk to grab a bite to eat. Since there are approximately 14 of us eating dinner, we don't get back to the ship until 11 pm. Everyone heads to bed of a night of uneasy sleep in this loud, unfamiliar place.

We've already made a mess of the place.

The cabins we are in are surprisingly spacious, with a dresser, a desk, a chair; all the comforts of home. Actually more, since I don't have a desk at home, unless you count the coffee table. We were all pleasantly surprised by how nice the accommodations were.

During lunch, we realize we are in the process of getting underway. We head up to the flybridge, a small observation deck above the bridge, where we can check out the port and take pictures as we are leaving.

Norfolk is a major port on the Atlantic Coast and has an extremely large military presence. I guess that's sort of a "DUH" for most people, but coming from the West Coast (in particular, Oregon), the whole Navy thing is pretty new to me. Like, I knew it existed, but I never really saw signs of its presence. Sort of like Santa Claus. A well armed Santa Claus.

Leaving Norfolk behind....or so we thought.
At 12:30, we have a meeting to go over our watch assignments and the projects we'll all be working on. Everyone is eager to hear about when their allotted bedtime is for the next 11 days. The watches are from noon to midnight and midnight to noon. No one is quite sure which is better, but I am pretty sure I couldn't handle a midnight to noon shift....but if that was my shift, I'd have to adjust.

Luckily, I was assigned to the noon to midnight shift....not that it matters.....

Is that an ATAT? You'll have to ask
George Lucas....

Upon arriving to our meeting, we are informed that a component in the engine room ventilation system has broken and we are returning to the dock. This repair may take some time, but we won't know until they can take the part out and see what was wrong.

So we were on the water for approximately 2 hours...and that's all we've done so far. Other than wait around, hoping to hear one way or the other, what the next 11 days has in store for us. Make that 10 now....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Influenster: Mary Kay.

So I'm not exactly what you'd call a girly girl.

But I do like free things. So of course I signed up for, which provides me with free samples of stuff to try out. Most recently, they sent me a box full of Mary Kay products.

I occasionally wear makeup, especially when I have to present in front of students or fellow scientists. It helps me feel good and ensures that I can focus on the work I am presenting and not worrying about how I look. Hey, you stand up in front of 50 middle school students without feeling like they aren't scrutinizing you.

They are.

I am actually pretty excited about this box. I have never been one to buy in to the whole catalog product thing. Frankly, I've always thought of Avon and Mary Kay in the same category, which is entitled "stuff my grandmother liked". Not that this means I can't like them too, but when it comes to makeup and perfume, we had very different tastes.

I don't want to smell like an old lady.

This is Mary Kay's chance to prove to me that it's more than just my Grandma's makeup.

Included in the box was lipstick, lash primer, mascara, eye color and a brush for application.

So now I have all this new makeup to play with...just in time for me to go on a research cruise!

Friday, June 21, 2013

A 3 hour cruise....

Actually, it's 11 days...and it's not so much a cruise...but whatever.

I will only agree to go if this man is the captain.
Next week I am heading to Norfolk, VA to participate in a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) research cruise through my University. I, and several of my classmates, will be living aboard the R/V Gordon Gunter for 11 days. Each day, we will trawl for monkfish and red crabs as part of two separate research projects. The goal is for us to get some experience at sea and with various techniques, as well as to allow work on projects involving species we might not normally see in the Chesapeake Bay or Maryland and Virginia Coastal Bays, where we typically work.

The boat we'll be aboard is 224 feet and designed for research with lots of fancy technical equipment onboard. This means lots of buttons to push and things to break. Hooray!

Honestly, this should be a pretty cool experience.

I am stressing out though, because it's a long time to be away from home and, as with most things with my school, everything is happening at the last minute. This includes getting fingerprinted....

So, there's lots of little things that need to get done before we embark on our journey of learning, but they will all get done. In the meantime, it's Friday, so I'm going to have a beer, enjoy the sun (It is the longest day of the year today. Happy solstice!) and try to relax.

Also, enjoy this picture of a crab. Because I said so.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing Challenge: Accepted (And Promptly Ignored)

When Kristen came to visit me in January, I expressed my need to write to her. I want to create something. I'm not very artistic (my stick figures, including the women, all have penises and I can't color within the lines) when it comes to drawing, painting, or crafting. Think Jackson Pollock or Rothko. That would be the extent of what I could do, except take out the high price tag and the gallery wall space.  

Anyway, Kristen responded by being extremely supportive and then issuing me a writing challenge: 12 short stories over the course of 12 months. The point isn't to churn out perfectly edited prose. The point is to get my ideas on paper (er. . .a glowing computer screen) and then worry about the editing part later. When she suggested this to me, I was thrilled. It was like I had a sense of renewed purposed. I was all like: 

So, now that it's basically the middle of June, just how far have I gotten on said challenge?

The sad truth is. . .not that far.

So far I have two complete stories. Just two. I have another one that I've been editing and would be a third in the collection.

I have several ideas where I've outlined them, brainstormed a beginning, middle, and end, and even fleshed out characters. When I sit down to write those stories, however, my inspiration deserts me and I'm left with the same blank, glowing screen.

This would be me if it were in the early 90's, only exchange the cigarettes
for a box of crayolas and the coffee for  a Capri Sun.
So basically nothing is the same, really.
Photo Credit.

It has been my dream for a while now to publish a novel. I've been inspired my mother who used to write columns and stories. She would read them aloud and sometimes act them out for us.  My cousin wrote a full length novel about her travels through Africa with her husband that won the Indie Book Award for best memoir. Hell, I'm even really impressed when my friends get their thesis papers published about astrophysics. All of these people put their creativity, effort, and brainpower into something and can then look at their work with a sense of pride and accomplishment. It's a physical manifestation of creativity that gives the creator a small sense of legacy. Even after they're dead, they created a written work that could be read and enjoyed by someone later. That's pretty amazing!

In addition to Kristen's writing challenge, I'm also trying to decide what I want to attempt this year for National Novel Writing Month. If you haven't done NaNoWriMo before and you have the burning desire to write a novel in one month. . .do it. It's a simple concept: You write a 50,000 novel in one month. That's 1667 words a day. Now before you're all like, "AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT" remember that most people can type at least 30 words a minute if they went to school and had to sit through countless hours of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

Maybe one of my short stories should be about how much I hated this fucking game. 
I plan to make NaNoWriMo extra credit when I teach high school English. Many high school students are just bursting with emotions, creativity, and they're trying to find a way to express themselves and their individuality. I can't think of a more productive way for students to spend their time. I think I probably need to stop idealizing the teaching profession and pretending my life will be exactly like Freedom Writers. For the record, though, I was able to complete my novel the first year, but unable to in 2011 and 2012. Here's looking at 2013 for some success.

I wish I could say I was a winner. 
Thus concludes my writing update. If someone knows of a good way to keep up motivation while writing, I would LOVE to hear it. If someone knows how to make millions of dollars with little to no effort, I would also love to hear that. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A roller coaster of learning.

So I've officially been a full time graduate student for 3 semesters. That's a whole year and a half of research! Since this has basically been my life for the last 18 months, I feel like I should have written a few blogs about this aspect of my life...but it hasn't really come up so far.


Yes, that's right. I'm going to blog a little about my life as a graduate student. I know you are all
sitting on the edge of your seats right now.

Graduate school: a non-stop roller coaster of fun and learning.
This past week, I spent three days out at our Coastal Ecology Lab working with high school students for educational programming. Since I am funded through an NSF grant, part of the deal is that we partake in outreach programs involving high school and undergraduate students. These can include field trips for classes or summer research interns.

What's in YOUR water?
This past week was a program that brings local teachers to our campus for a two week professional development program where they create a science curriculum for their students, culminating in hands on activities. This is what brought nearly 200 students to our lab over the course of the week.

Having worked with students before in an outdoor education setting, this was a nice throw back to what I was doing before grad school.

I have always found it frustrating though, to only work with students of a few brief hours. There are always the students who are eager to learn and those who are eager to be the center of attention. You get these tiny little glimpses into who they are and the kind of help they might need to be successful students and eventually adults....and there's not really a whole lot you can do in the small amount of time you have with them.

I guess the only thing you can really hope to accomplish is create a spark of interest or excitement in them, one that their year 'round teachers can help encourage, or that they choose to pursue on their own. Another benefit to programs like this is to help students get an idea of what higher education is like, which will hopefully encourage them to pursue it. Because I go to a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), I feel like this is especially pertinent because we cater to a more diverse population of students, both in terms of our outreach and in terms of the current undergraduate and even graduate population at the school.

As a future PhD student with a possible career in academia awaiting me, I just hope that I can find students who have been encouraged to pursue their fields of interest before they get to college. This means parents who were supportive, as well as teachers who encourage a love of learning and allow students to explore potential career paths and interests.
I love learning. So. Much.
Now I can understand why a teacher would jump at opportunities to get their students out of the classroom and doing hands on activities...much to the chagrin of some of my fellow grad students, who would rather be doing research and otherwise hastening the arrival of their graduation date. Some of us though, plan on continuing on in academia, so outreach programs like this give us valuable teaching experience and a chance to develop our own curricula.

I guess I can understand why outreach activities might be tied in to research grants too now...