Though relatively new to me, ecology.rocks has been a way for me to develop my professional interests and identity. However, because I know this place is low-traffic, I have been lax about updating it in the way that I need to. After all, this has been primarily a research showcase for me, much more than a regular blog opportunity.
However, it is with great pleasure that I announce, a month late, that I've begun working at Dogwood Alliance. Dogwood Alliance is an environmental non-profit with one important mission: to protect southern forests. They've been at the forefront of pushing for things like supply chain management, sustainable logging, and conservation of critical habitats for the last twenty years. And now, I've gotten an amazing opportunity to join as the research manager.
This website will remain as my research hub. I'll still be working on side projects (like grammaR), and keeping my about pages up to date. I don't imagine the frequency of blog posts will change all that much (still close to never). But maybe expect to see a little more of me in places where it matters: like on social media.
Biology has this notorious way of lagging behind technology and industry by a few years. Not in everything, mind you. We still know more about the latest molecular techniques than many, many businesses. But more in the information management sense. Yes, our scientists – like me – may be programmers. But we aren't always up-to-date, and it can really show.
I'm currently using a program called SORTIE-ND to run forest models. Like many other scientific modeling programs, SORTIE-ND loads what it needs into local memory and runs as fast as it can without taking up 100% or destroying the hard drive. But it is constrained by the computing power of the unit that it is installed on. There's no easy way to send it up into the cloud.
Now, I doubt I'll be the one to do it. But wouldn't it be cool? If we could use a distributed file and data system, a set of servers, to run scientific code? If we could have our answer in minutes instead of hours?
These are the things to look forward to.
Mentorship in the sciences is one of those thankless gray areas. You don't get offered jobs exclusively to mentor students, or judge science fairs. You get offered a job so that you can do some science. Fortunately, we live in a world where mentorship is a duty, even informally, to most scientists.
Mentorship is important, and it's important from the beginning. When you're in your undergraduate program, you should be helping those younger than you: volunteering with science fairs, helping your peers pass their exams. This not only helps them, but it also helps you: it teaches you through doing, it helps you give back, and it looks good on your resume.
When you're a graduate student, you should be mentoring undergraduates in your lab, undergraduates in your classes, and kids in science fairs and outreach programs. It looks great on a resume, it gets you out of the lab, and it helps you remember how to speak to “normal” people.
When you have a Ph.D., you need to mentor. As much as you can. You need to write those blog posts, help those graduate students in your lab and NOT in your lab, and you need to talk to the public. You need to serve as an interpreter for the science of today. Because the language isn't always easy to understand, but teaching “the public” how to understand science breeds a better society. It creates a society where science is supported and anti-science sentiments are laughed right out of the public eye. It supports your job, and your future job. It invites people to step into the circle, get some training, and become scientists themselves. Mentoring in science pushes you forward and pushes society forward into the next century. Mentoring in science benefits everyone.
So put down that pipette, step away from that computer, and reach out. Talk to some schools about bringing some bugs to their classroom. Start an afterschool program. Hell, reach out to the neighbor's kid and inspire a love of science that won't be forgotten. It is your duty, and your pleasure, to do so. If you spend your entire life wrapped up in the miniscule, you'll retire without anyone to take up that torch, and your work will lay on a dusty shelf undiscovered. Get out there.
When I was at my undergraduate institution, Daemen College, an interesting question was posed to me: If some idiot carves his initials into a tree at three feet above the ground, twenty years from now, where will those initials be?
What do you think?
The answer is that those initials will be in the exact same spot, twenty years from now.
Let me explain.
Sort of like human children, trees grow up and they grow out. Unlike human children, when trees grow up, they don't elongate their entire “body” – they only elongate at the top, where the apical meristem is. Think of the apical meristem as the stem cells of the tree. You can see it in the picture I shared – the tree grows up in its meristem, and out in its diameter. The bark stays right where it is, it just expands as the tree gets bigger and develops more cambium.
I always enjoyed this problem, because it really gets at a student's ability to apply their knowledge (about how trees grow) to a new problem (where a scar on a tree is through time). Thanks to Dr. Brenda Young for passing that tidbit of knowledge on through a quiz question!
In the spirit of finally reworking the site's template, I took some time to modify the “Data” and the “Outreach and Education” pages, found in the top menubar. If you navigate over to them, you'll see descriptions of what I've done instead of barebones links. I hope that this update enables more people to access my data, view my outreach resources, and use them for their own research and education. As I finish polishing datasets and making sure that I have the rights to share them, I will update the Data page with sightings records for the West Virginia White butterfly.
In other news, we've recently had a paper accepted by the Journal of Chemical Ecology – we're just waiting on proofs so that it can move through to publication! Yay! This most recent publication deals with a second round of feeding assays for West Virginia White butterflies, and how they responded to the chemical components of garlic mustard.
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