Showing posts from February, 2022

Mystery sponge

Collection of the sponge in Mashpee, MA A few weeks ago, I got an email from a Natural Resource Officer in the neighboring town, Mashpee, with a request for assistance identifying a marine sponge. Messages like this show up every once in a while.  When you work at "The Oceanographic" (as many people in town call it), the local community rightly assumes they can come to you for expertise. I love helping out. For all of the times in my career that I've had to ask others for help identifying species , I take great pleasure in helping others with their specimens.  Identifying species is always easier if you have a physical specimen , so that was my first question for the officer: " Do you have a sample ?" Two days later, a sponge appeared in my lab refrigerator.  My first step was a dissection. Sponges have skeletal elements called spicules. They're small pieces of silica or calcium carbonate that help the sponge hold its shape, and they're absolutely es

The life of the pre-tenured faculty: part 2

This electrophoresis gel shows are samples are good to go! Photo by Alexa Huzar.  An email showed up in my inbox with a photo attached. I could recognize immediately what it was - an electrophoresis gel . There were some bright bands on it, some smears, and a DNA ladder. All very standard stuff. Whoever had made the gel obviously knew what they were doing, and those bright bands indicated they had high-quality samples.  The email that accompanied the image told a similarly optimistic story. The samples were ready to go and should be delivered to the sequencing facility within a few days.  I leaned back from my computer and shrugged. My research project just took a large step forward, and I didn't have to do anything for it. One of the other team members was on the job, and all I had to do was wait . Sweet! One of the hardest adjustments for me as faculty is realizing that I don't have to do everything myself. I can organize; I can lead ; I can still be hands-on, but I don'

The life of the pre-tenured faculty

I knew going into my academic career that things were going to be hectic. There is a common understanding that life as an pre-tenured faculty is especially crazy - just check out my favorite  comic strip . It is entirely  too accurate . Yes, starting a lab, securing funding, mentoring students, and proving your worthiness for tenure can stress a lot of people out. I won't pretend like I'm immune. But like all things, faculty life also has its silver lining. I for one thoroughly enjoy that I now have the opportunity to mentor my own students. The first-ever Meyer-Kaiser lab PhD student started last year, and it has been my utmost pleasure to work with her since.  We hit an especially high point last week. Now that my student, Kharis, is in her second year of the program, her main occupation is planning her dissertation. (Of course, she's also done other things, like accompany me to Palau .) Planning a dissertation is hard. Planning any research is hard, but for most people,

ROV Lobstermoose

Niku the cockapoo takes a walk in the snow.  Photo by Erik Strand. When I first started as faculty at WHOI, I had the opportunity to buy all the equipment necessary for my research. It was a once-in-a-career opportunity to acquire tools that I would use for years to come, so I dreamt big. I bought myself a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). It's a powerful tool but small in stature - small enough to carry around with one hand, in fact. Meanwhile, one of my friends owns a cockapoo named Niku. This dog is simultaneously tiny, fuzzy, and ferocious - leaving one to wonder what species she actually is. It's a running joke between my friend and her boyfriend that Niku is a moose. A miniature moose. A cross between a lobster and a moose. Niku is a lobstermoose.  So one day the ROV was sitting out on the living room floor of my house, and my friend walked in. "Hey, look!" she exclaimed. "It's a Niku-sized ROV!" ROV Lobstermoose and all its accessories can fit in

The unimaginable

 "[S]he is working through the unimaginable" - "It's quiet uptown" from the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda Friends, I always knew I would get to this point in my career, but it still feels hard to swallow. I can barely believe it. I am sending a team into the field and  - oh, I can't even say it! I am ... not going with them. Can you imagine?! Field work is the best - pretty much every scientist agrees on that. You're out in nature, on an adventure , wind in your hair , exotic food in your belly , salt on your skin , pushing yourself to the limits. It's awesome. How could I ever turn that down?  Well, every scientist has to grow up eventually. It's not like I'm done with field work - I just had so much of it this year that I had to pass off a trip or two. The alternative was insanity and that disappointed look in my husband's eyes that says "You're leaving again ?" Yes, this tenure-track lady had to give in and del