Thursday, September 21, 2017

Summer 2017 Swimming Hole Inventory

Hello to the new year, and goodbye to the 12 swimming holes of summer 2017

1. Brighton Beach, NYC
    “70 years ago, I was the king of that beach” -My dad

2. Mom’s pool, Poughkeepsie, NY
     I floated on my back and watched and listened as the parent hawks fledged their baby hawk. Last swim in this pool after 20 years of summer swims.

3. Upper Cascade Lake, Keene, NY
    I rowed. I swam. Then dad rowed when I became a barnacle.

4. Ausable River, Keene, NY
    After swim, I dried off on a boulder of pure labradorite, which glistened in the sun. I kerplopped back in the water while trying to maximize observed schiller effect.

5. Lake Amherst, Plymouth, VT
    Run then swim*

6. Woodward Reservoir, Plymouth, VT
    At son’s camp*   

7. Rancho San Carlos pool, Carmel, CA
    Had pool to self   

8. Hotel Pool, St George, UT
    Small pool with lots of guests from all over the world

9. Hotel Pool, Page, AZ
    Small pool with lots of guests from all over the world

10. Tamaya Resort Pool, Bernalillo, NM

11. Hotel Pool, Flagstaff, AZ
    Best hotel pool ever is at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff. I had the entire pool to myself for a long nighttime swim.

12. Pool at Kleinberg Manor, Alexandria VA
    Got in one last summer swim before meetings with NSF and DOE program officers.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Academic Year Inventory 2016-2017

Every year at this time I do an inventory of my professional and personal highlights (and lowpoints).

Here are some reasons:
1.  The inventory pulls all of the year's accomplishments in one place, so I can see progress.
2.  The inventory shows where (and where not) my investment has resulted in tangible outcomes.
3.  I like the one-page format for comparing year-to-year inventories.
4.  The combination of professional and personal highlights enriches the context for both. I can spot long-term trends.

Feel free to borrow and improve on my template.

Here are some of my inventories from past years:

Here is this year's inventory.
(Note that some of the highlights/lowpoints have been tempered for public post.)

Annual Inventory of Accomplishments AY 2016-2017

I have been in this job for exactly 15 years.
There was a step advancement this year, with a raise that demonstrated my institution's appreciation for my continued work.
The (academic) year started off great with a wonderful summer conference/workshop with many colleagues and friends, but after the elections I limped through the rest of the year with a broken heart.

Still, I woke most mornings before the sunrise, sat at my desk, and did math before breakfast. I may have logged 1000 hours this year on my research problem. Another year of intellectual investment with no direct tangible product yet.

5 papers published
5 papers submitted
4 papers accepted
many works-in-progress

2 active grants
1 proposal submitted
1 non-renewal

Other product
First dividend check from a patent                                                                  

Synchrotron Beamtime Experiments
ALS beamtime July, November—good to have that in wake of election
Group beamtime (I didn’t go) February, Spring

I travelled less than usual this year. I cancelled a few planned trips also.
CIDER Santa Barbara six weeks summer—organizer
COMPRES trip to NSF July
COMPRES Panel review, November, Berkeley
AGU conference (2 group abstracts)
NSF panels

External Recognition/Awards

Group successes
Two grad students (one advanced to candidacy)
Two undergraduates
Three productive collaborations (1 paper submitted; one about to be submitted; 3 published)

Grad student exam committees
about ~6 total

Fall: Mineralogy
Winter: Graduate Geophysics/Equations of State
Spring: Plate Tectonics
Attended teaching-training seminars

Service highlights
COMPRES- Chair of Executive Committee (2nd year)
COMPRES NSF renewal proposal funded
UCLA Undergraduate Council
Department Search committee
Mineralogical Society of America Councilor
NSF panel
Board of Reviewing Editors, Science
Other manuscript reviews~ about 6.

Outreach Highlights
 I did a science outreach event for 20th Century Fox. Earned a donation for our department.
Participated in UCLA science outreach events

Marches/Political Activity
This is a new category this year!

Women's March, Los Angeles Jan 2017
Science March, Los Angeles April 2017
Climate March, Washington DC, April 2017

Family/personal things
I turned 50
Son graduates high school; had a wonderful year; left for summer job and then to college.
Still married, and newly empty nest.
Good health except for the 3-am-wakies-and-can't-get-back-to-sleepies.
Struggled with a few perennial bad habits
Halfway to gaining the "Trump 10"
Exercised at least a little bit most days
Meditated very occasionally
Took bus to work more

Other items
Studying Spanish  
Read many books. 
Watched a few movies and TV shows. 
Approximately monthly theater/music.
Dutiful Daughter Roadtrip 1: Father-Daughter Roadtrip Nova Scotia, September
Dutiful Daughter Roadtrip 2: Mother-Daughter Roadtrip California/Arizona/Grand Canyon, February
Thanksgiving in Carmel.
August in NY/VT with family and new and old friends.
An array of new friendships. 
Cooked a lot of food--probably ~150 dinners. Shared them with family and neighbors and friends. 
Time with friends. But not enough.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Congratulations! You have an all-male list of keynote speakers

 Like an occasional cold virus infection, every once in a while I come across an invitation to a meeting in my field that attempts to entice me to register with a list of all-male keynote speakers.

At this point I need a form letter to call on so that I can adjust it to fit the circumstances (all white? all-male? all _fill-in-the-absence-of-diversity_ ?)

And you, my blog reader, might find it helpful too.

Luckily others have helped clear the brush before me. Here are some resources to help.

Attached is a letter I wrote to a colleague today.
(a good colleague, too! someone I like both personally and scientifically.
I admit I find myself hoping I do not lose a friend with this letter.)

[PostScript--as I am writing this post I received a warm acknowledgement, response, and statement of intention to take action from Colleague. So balance has been restored.]

Please feel free to use the letter as a template. Also, please share more educational links & resources about the importance of diversity for keynotes, invited speakers, on panels, etc. I'll collect them here.

Hi Colleague,

You should know that an all-male keynote list at a conference sends a series of unfortunate messages—messages that might not be noticed by a man, but are heard loud and clear by many women.

Here are some examples of what I thought when I saw this list:

Science done by women is not viewed by the organizers as prestigious
The organizers did not put a great deal of thought into choosing their list of keynote speakers
The organizers do not value diversity in their conference
Women are not welcome

Here is an article in Science magazine that takes a look at this issue:

I hope you understand that I intend this email message not as a personal attack on you (by all means no!! I consider us friends and I don’t want that to change!) but that I think that if you are not aware of these issues, you should be.  You are in a position to help our mineral physics community be more inclusive—and therefore better.


Here is the heavily redacted version of the conference registration. reminder

Dear all,

This is a reminder that the Nth Annual Meeting of the Extreme Science Conference will be held soon.

Confirmed keynote speakers include
- Colleague who got a PhD the same year I did
- My Postdoctoral Advisor
- Senior Faculty Member at Institution Where I got my PhD
- Fellow Editor of Professional Journal
- Faculty Member from Country that is investing a lot of $ in Extreme Science
- Extreme Science Textbook Author (Book published in 1991)

with a number of other prestigious invited speakers. [sic]

Please register,


Friday, June 9, 2017

Letter to my students on the last day of class

Dear Students,

    Thank you for your time and participation in this class. It has been a special year with changes at all scales—in many ways fascinating and wonderful, and in other ways difficult and heartbreaking. It has been a privilege to share even a small part of the story of this year together with you.

    I hope you have learned something of value—some of our collective science stories describing how the Earth works, and also the parts of the story that tell *how* it is what it is that we know. I hope you while you have been here and in the future you listen to some of the stories about the process of how science is done—often two steps forward, and one step backwards, and always conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the human beings who are trying to uncover truth. I think there is great richness in these stories where science and human creativity work together and occasionally collide. One of my goals is to keep my eyes out for these stories and practice telling them.

    Thank you for your patience with my tinkering with this class. I am still trying to optimize how to simultaneously encourage our best work while minimizing anxiety. I think our best, most creative learning is done when we are not anxious. This year—more so than previously— I occasionally found my energy and enthusiasm waning. Thank you for giving me reasons every day to not disengage. You helped remind me to prioritize taking care of myself so that I have plenty of room for the people and ideas that energize me.

    This university's students energize me. I am in awe of your hard work, ever expanding talent, your engagement with each other, and occasionally with me. You are skilled and capable and I have never met an exception to that during my 15 years here.

    Here are my wishes for you and us as people and as scientists as you continue your studies and after you graduate, and as you build up, carve out, and share and rework your own stories.

In seeking the truth about how the world works, when you collect your data and make your observations, suspend belief and disbelief, judgment and desire. Be dispassionate with the data, and simultaneously gentle on yourself, the scientist.

Then tell your stories. The entire story that you want to share.  Be passionate as you develop  your stories, but discipline yourself to align the stories as closely as possible to the observations and data.

    Listen well to others’ stories. Be critical of the stories. Be gentle on the storytellers. Be gentle on yourself. Try to be dispassionately aware of the stories that you tell yourself in your head. Try to align these stories as close as possible with reality. Cultivate the stories that help you keep you to the path that you want to be on, and also the path of truth and connection.

Please stay in touch.

All my love,

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Farmers' Market Report

I admit that Mr Mango Farmer and I have been flirting for a year or two. We bond over The Big Bang Theory, which we both love. He thinks I am a character on that show. He calls me an arrogant scientist.  I laugh with him and buy his mangos. that’s the banter. Did you listen to our president last night? I ask. I don’t listen to him, he says. How about our new president? I ask. He answers: Oh yes—he’s a great guy. Totally misrepresented by the media. It’s such a shame. He’s a really great guy. Oh. I say. I try to stay warm. I can see co-mango-farmer looking at my face; I meet his eyes. I don’t know if he is seeking connection because he feels differently about trump than his co-worker, or if he is just curious about how I will react. I pay for the mangos (get my usual big bang discount) and trundle over to the fresh fish booth.

There, the very cute fishmongers say what a wonderful day it is, and isn’t it a wonderful day!? Not sure, I tell them. Fishmonger looks at me and asks if I need a hug? Of course I do. We share a friendly side-hug. Thank you for the kindness. Pass it on, he says. I buy a tub of smoked fish spread. How could I not?

I call my mom to tell her NO MORE MANGOS!!  It’s the WRONG response, she says. You must engage. We must all talk with each other. It’s by not engaging that this whole mess is allowed to continue.

I run into the Farmers’ Market Fairy. She is very practical about produce, and knows the political leanings of the vendors. I share about the mangos. She rattles the list of those she discusses politics with, and those she doesn’t discuss politics with. CONNECT—ALWAYS AND ONLY CONNECT!! I say. OUR JOB HERE IS TO ENGAGE (while we’re shopping for produce.)   Our conversation has pulled in another farmers’ market denizen. She has given up all news in favor of music. “I just can’t….” she says, while filling her bag with sprouted broccoli. Can you imagine being a journalist? I said. They don’t have the option of taking a break—they have to continually engage and dig in as far as possible. The Fairy thinks maybe I am a good person for believing in engagement, but she might not be such a good fairy in that way. Fairy says the bubbles are fundamentally different—people in different bubbles think differently, and some bubbles—our bubbles—think better. I disagree about the bubbles. If those in other bubbles think the same of me in my bubble, then who am I to claim that my bubble is better? We all share the same raw material of human brains —and some of us might know more, groups of us have been trained in different ways, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident, but I think that the idea of “us” vs. “them” bubbles is a complete fallacy, and a dangerous one too.

We hug our goodbyes until next week's episode, and I walk away thinking about how even the smallest slice of the farmers’ market is a microcosm that contains the entirety of the world. Communities, friends, families, the two of us, one person and her brain.

 And then I find myself wondering: what does statistical mechanics look like from the point of view of the particle?

Every particle must think she is goddamn awesome, oscillating in her multiple degrees of freedom, with an array of interacting forces acting on her, and maybe even contributing her own forcings to the mix. Three dimensions plus time—so much freedom and individuality for each of us particles—mornings to prepare our thermodynamics lectures and evenings eating our mangos. 

Together, we several billion humans make up just a single humanity. A tiny, transient, assemblage that has been hungrily eating away at the system that surrounds us. The system is changing, and we the particles are responding.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A template for talking to a class of science students during difficult times

Part I: What worked.

I studied engineering as an undergraduate in part because I thought I might want to be an astronaut. The day the Challenger space shuttle exploded shook me and my classmates. I remember walking into my intro to engineering class and the professor said not a word, no eye contact, just turned to the board and continued his lecture on force balance. I see —Engineers just keep their nose to the grindstone, and continue their work.

Fast forward fifteen years. I have just arrived at the synchrotron beamline having left my 2-year old back home with my husband. It is morning and we are doing safety training and preparing our experiments and someone comes and switches the TV monitors to the news. I watch a burning tower close to home and I watch as a second plane crashes into the tower. When I realize what is happening/what has happened, I crumble. I am comforted by the janitor as the scientists continue their work.

So I have learned that as scientists we keep our nose to the grindstone and what we have to offer as professionals is reason. Evidence based decision making. Data.

Last Wednesday I asked my dad: what do I say to my students today? Stick to the script, he said.

So I did. I ran from a meeting* to my class. The room—about 30 mineralogy students in the classroom—was buzzing.

What now?
What will happen to science funding?
What can I (as a student) do?
Why even study mineralogy?

I looked at their faces. I also noticed some key absences and made a mental note to follow up by email.
I don’t know.
It is now my job to advocate.
We’re here to practice scientific reason and evidence, but we also can guide ourselves by our compassion.
Today we will take temporary refuge in the tectosilicates. Think globally, act locally.

Part II: What didn’t work.

Over the last few years I have started asking a new question to family, friends, close colleagues: what is most important in the world right now: reason? or compassion?

Has it been a disservice, my training in reason but without a significant compassion component? Yes I think so. And I am now in a position to fix it! But how? Perhaps by bringing it out in the open? By talking?

The next day was lab time—and the TA and I decided to earmark some of the time for discussion.
We lay out our plans: Big things have happened in the world, and we want to give ourselves an opportunity to talk and share, because we are scientists and we are also people.

We acknowledged up front—listening/sharing is not a requirement. Please feel free to pull out your microscope/books/lab sheets and get to work.

There were 15 students in that room and 15 different experiences is a vast world of experience and thoughts and emotion. And I listened to the students and marveled at what a microcosm of the world even a group of 15 UCLA students can be. And there were two lab sections.

I saw warmth and sharing and caring but I also saw some crossed arms and angry eyes. Not all of us are suffering in the same way and not all of us are suffering.
And I am not trained in moderating an emotional discussion. I’m trained in math and science and engineering. I’m trained in reason, but I am not trained in combining reason and compassion. We closed the discussion, thanked the student, and got back to work. I reminded the students that I am always here to talk—about mineralogy or anything—and took my place at the back of the lab with my stack of papers to grade. Some students swung back to say hi, ask a question, tell me their stories. I checked in with others—did I make the right decision? The students are polite — I am in a position of power, even if invite my students to question my own choices with me.

I think it was a fumble, and I hope my choice did not cause students pain.

My job is to teach both reason and compassion to my science students. But in the context of being a science professor, perhaps compassion is this: gently guiding students to the discipline of learning/doing science. Reason is one of the foundations of hope. I must also welcome compassion to the table though: I’ll share with all the students my acknowledgement that not everyone is able to get back to work yet. Part of our job as scientists is to take care of ourselves first, so that we are able to do the sometimes hard work. And that I am here/there/everywhere for all my students for all the parts of being human and being a scientist.

*It was a luncheon where a spectrum of UCLA adults sat in the room and some of us cried. Turns out the woman sitting next to me and crying with me was the oral surgeon who pulled a few of my wisdom teeth a few years ago. Small world. And I now have a sister in blood, teeth, and tears.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Today's Journal Entry--post election plotz

today's journal entry:

10 Nov 2016
When I woke up on Monday I thought the nightmare was about climate change, and maybe in the end it will all still be about that.

People I know who felt safe in the world—e.g. my son, husband—were devastated on Tuesday night. People who already knew they were never safe in this world, that safety is an illusion, that it was always an illusion, but maybe the illusion crumbled for them with the towers 15 years ago, felt a familiar deep pit in their bellies that could always be invoked, but managed to be set aside so that the work of life could go forward.

For months now, I have been thinking of John Dos Passos’s invocation of “we are two nations.” The entire trilogy is a mechanism for this phrase.

The two nations have always been the haves and have-nots, but what it is exactly that we have and who has it and has-not it has changed.  In Dos Passos’s day, was the proletariat vs the bourgeois—the nations were the wealthy and the workers. It is still so, but doesn't seem the best description of what divides our two nations right now. I know a little bit about my nation (the nation that lost the election: young people, immigrants, liberals, city people, people of color, scientists and science-lovers/believers, etc.) and I know almost nothing about the contours of the nation that won this election—very religious right coupled with rural white people. My ignorance is a telling symptom of the problem, and I am ashamed of it.

 Every once in a while I saw a glimpse of the other nation on facebook, or maybe followed a thread on my twitter account into what appeared to be a vast world,  not for me and so barely accessible. Like very occasionally coming across pornography on the internet. So far from my experience, appreciated as fantasy by a some people I know, but a world that I almost never see—the filters are too good.

The pit in my belly knew about the sinking ship the minute HRC called one of our nations “a basket of deplorables.” It is not hard for me to put myself into a person’s shoes who is being called the passel, and I would want to drain the swamp too. Swamp. There’s something low and wet and smelly and animal about that word.
When women suffer for her mistakes, the world suffers too.

On the other hand, DT made a gazillion mistakes—omigod his life is a series of mistakes encased in a veneer of narcissism—yet he is now our president.

Even amongst my nation, everyone I’ve talked with has a different take-home message from this. Is it because we don’t listen to each other (my neighbor) was it HRC’s badly run campaign? (I've heard this mostly from white men of privilege) is it plain old hatred of the womanly swamp? is it our country’s deep racism and backlash against Obama? tapping into a fear/fascism with the time-tested targets of immigrants and Jews? Is this the result of a generation of republicans sowing mistrust in the tedious hard work of governance and the messy craft of governing? Is it simple greed that helped sow the mistrust in the first place? Is it the interconnection of the world coupled with a lack of the discipline to do evidence-based decision making amplified by a barely knowable statistical fluctuation plus mathematical instability? It’s only been a day and there are many more I haven’t yet talked with so yes yes yes all this and much more.

So now what?
For me right now it’s:

Count blessings at all scales—from my son who poses the question to himself about how best to live his white privilege to my country that accompanies a revolution in leadership with gentle words from leaving leaders side-by-side with protests of the people.

Listen to my friends and acquaintances who come from different backgrounds when they describe and explain their family and friends back home, like ambassadors from another nation. 

Take care of the next generation and the world for the next generation, for I’m now the old generation.

Recognize the path that maximizes reason and compassion and walk it hard.