Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cusp of Summer

The last few weeks of the academic quarter were busy with adventures such as:
  •             My attempt to write a final exam that is actually fun for students to take.
  •             Writing notes-to-myself such as: Next year try to write a final exam that is actually fun for the professor to grade.
  •             Realizing I will really truly be on sabbatical for much of next year, and perhaps I should plan something. I was afraid to think about it during the academic year, I think because I was afraid I would drown in my own anticipation.
  •             Making sure that all lab members are set up for the summer: AGU abstracts, summer salaries, all lab orders out, postdoc put in charge of the lab, etc.
  •             Trying to get at least a little bit of writing done every day.
  •             A personal fantasy (my only) fulfilled at the last minute—a New York City sublet for the summer.
  •             This is a partial lie. My other personal fantasy is a flat in Paris.

And now my summer travels have begun. I have slept in seven different beds the past seven nights. I spent the weekend with my extended nuclear family. Tomorrow I drive my son to camp. It has been fun, but I am looking forward to setting up my summer schedule and my sabbatical schedule filled with my favorite things: writing, walking, family, friends, food, and science.

I have new ideas for this blog, and am looking forward to sharing some more science, and exploring different ways to do science communication. Is there a way to capture share and show how science feels during those occasional times when it gets really fun, exciting, and beautiful? I aim to find out.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday Night Dinner Report: Salmon, End of Academic Year, No Kids

Friday night dinner was typical; neighbors were invited at the last minute; we sat on the back patio, and everyone came with something from their fridge: fresh strawberries, asparagus, chimichurri sauce. I cooked a big hunk of salmon and put out a salad. Don brought good wine. All of our kids were away so we talked with more than the usual swearing. We zoomed in and out—the neighborhood early-birds, guns (a big topic in Santa Monica these days), Syria, three new schools next year for three neighbor kids: middle school, high school, and law school. Then our neighbor in D (we actually do refer to each other by our condo-unit) and I walked the dogs. C and D went off to play cards, and I snoozed while my husband and our friend Don talked about baseball and RAND.

This past year, our department had its 8-year review, and the two external members of the visiting committee suggested I take sabbatical time, my first after 11 years. It had never seemed important to do this, with teaching being the fun part, a still-growing lab, and a family tied-down at work and school.  But as soon as I finish grading those final exams, I will be on sabbatical for the next academic year. I am looking forward to carving out lots of space in my life for science, papers, proposals, relationships, and self-care. I have eight papers and three proposals to write. I have a summer sublet in New York City, plus my parents’ places upstate. My research group ducks are in order—content and productive. We have lots of summer synchrotron time. Let the adventures continue!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Office Stratigraphy: Bedrock at the Bottom

During this year's annual office cleanup, I came across the personal essay I had written when I applied for graduate school. Here it is, exactly as written 25 years ago:

I have always been driven by my creativity and curiosity. Aesthetic creativity has led me to the violin, the guitar, black-and-white photography, and rhyming verse. Curiosity about people helps me succeed in people-related jobs, such as being a head counselor at a summer camp and tutoring math for local junior high school students. Intellectual creativity and curiosity has pushed me towards scientific research in general, and materials science and engineering in particular.
I am extremely excited about being in a field where I can satisfy both my curiosity and my creativity. "Curious Abby" enjoys learning about how the structure of a certain material relates to its function; "Creative Abby" is excited by the opportunity to create a new material, design a new device, or conduct research in this field.
From my two previous research experiences (one in Northwestern's chemistry department doing biochemistry, and another in Switzerland conducting transmission electron microscopy experiments on amorphous metals), I realize that I can, and will, be excited by any type of materials research. However, the area of ceramics has especially attracted my interest. I have followed up on my interest by arranging to do my senior research project with a professor doing ceramics toughness studies.
My career will utilize my strengths to their fullest. I can envision myself in many positions: as a college professor, as a chairman of a materials science department at a university, as the research director in a company, or as a business woman running a materials designing or consulting company. I am a high-energy person, and my high-energy career will combine my curiosity and creativity with my enjoyment of working with people.
What strikes me most about this essay is how little I have changed in 25 years. Perhaps the biggest change is that I no longer use the word "utilize". The other change is that I've become increasingly interested in "connection" as well as maintaining "creativity" and "curiosity."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Academic Year Inventory 2012-2013

My university is on the quarter system, and we are finishing the dregs of the academic year. Each year around this time I find myself depleted, and I do an annual exercise of taking stock of mine & my research group's accomplishments for the past year. While sometimes it’s hard to see accomplishments during the day-to-day, when I look back over a year, I can what I have accomplished.

Summary: This was a year of intellectual investment.
My goal starting out was to learn new things—specifically for a big problem I’m working on.
And I did learn. A lot.

6 papers submitted
3 papers accepted
3 papers published
~12 works-in-progress

4 active grants
3 proposals submitted
1 renewal granted

Synchrotron experiments
ALS time—high P,T carbonates
APS time—carbonate silicate experiments
APS time—more carbonate-silicate experiments
APS time—high P,T experiments on transition metal oxides
ALS time laser heating

Goldschmidt Conference
AGU conference (4 group abstracts)
One week at Kavli Institute, deep Earth workshop
ALS user meeting
AGU meeting
NSF-DMR-Materials workshop
Electrochemistry workshop in Austin TZ
DOE Geochemistry symposium
Department seminar

External recognition
Elected as a Fellow to Mineralogical Society of America

Group successes
New postdoc started January—new expertise, new experiments
Co-advised postdoc—kicking butt in the lab
Grad student 1: published first paper, passed prelims, received DOE/NNSF graduate fellowship
Grad student 2: about to take advancement to candidacy exam, about to submit 2 papers

Service highlights
COMPRES-chair of infrastructure committee
AGU Governance committee=successful elections
Editorial—shepherded a batch of new papers
Dept. Search committee—hard work=successful

Teaching highlights
Taught graduate geophysics for the first time
Taught undergraduate plate tectonics (2nd time)
Organized planet science and geochemisnars
Silicate liquid reading group plus group meetings

Communications and connections
Two new collaborations
Met lots of new scientists/new friends
Started this blog plus another
Tweeted mightily

Family/personal things
Husband settles into new job
Son graduates 8th grade; learns to play guitar
I take a course in mindfulness meditation.
Family Hawaii trip
Time on East coast with friends & family
Walks with friends
Countless Friday night dinners