Last summer I challenged myself to use Twitter’s social media platform (@jin_verde) to get more information out about the work I do as an ecological & environmental anthropologist. I’m not sure I did a great job promoting my own work – mainly focused on climate change and biodiversity conservation. But I have been consistent in highlighting what scientists in my field do and how they contribute to supporting the well-being of individuals and communities. (And the work of scientists in related fields.) I love finding and sharing success stories, useful links, and serendipitous findings. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad news when it comes to climate change and biodiversity conservation. Finding these bright points I like to share is a little more difficult, but so necessary.
It is needed as part of our larger efforts as scientists to share our knowledge and results more publicly. If the federal government is no longer willing to promote science to the public, then we need to do so ourselves. Many already are, but more of us need to be involved because federal agencies are wiping important public information off their websites under orders of their new heads. My goal then this summer is to publish a short essay every two weeks about my research, ideas I’m working on, ecological anthropology methods and processes, and environmental/climate information. I posting this here so that I can shame myself when I don’t follow through.
But there are other ways for scientists, science teachers, and science supporters to get involved, be heard, and make our scientific work known for the benefit of all living beings on this planet. Last Saturday I Marched for Science with my husband and another scientist friend, a marine ecologist, in the cold rain. Yesterday, I braved record-breaking heat (91F, plus humidity) to participate in the People’s Climate March. It’s 2017. Why do I need to do this? The GOP-led Congress and Trump Administration are pushing our shared planet America first into a dystopic nightmare in the name of Free Market Capitalism. Or Capitalismo Brutal as my husband would say. Resisting actions that place our life support systems – land, air, water – at risk is important. For years we’ve been told to take personal action to reduce those risks at the individual level (e.g. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but standing together as a public, as a community, and resisting short-sighted ignorance is equally important.
Last weekend, scientists around the world took the fight for science to the streets. We can also call our legislators, run for office, hold teach ins and give public lectures. Most importantly we can keep doing science. #ScienceNotSilence
There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest base of public happiness.
-President George Washington, 8 Jan 1790, 1st State of the Union Address to Congress
As scholar-teachers, all professors at R1 universities are expected to devote time towards research, teaching, and service. My expected ratio of 60-30-10 for my “40” hour workweek was described to me when I was hired. It doesn’t really work out that way very well unless you are an expert at time management and saying no. Most professors work way more than 40 hours a week to get everything accomplished. I read recently it was more like 60-80 hours per week, including weekends (thank goodness I don’t work in Wisconsin). Plus, saying no, when you stand in the shadow of the tenure monster, is difficult. If I say no to this person or this project or this committee now, will it come back to haunt me later? This is the question that keeps many an assistant professor up at night tossing and turning. Read the blogs.
I didn’t do a good job saying no my first three years as an assistant professor. Let’s just say that in Fall 2013, just before my mom died, I did a back of the envelope calculation and figured out that between classes, research, and advising I was interacting with roughly 220+ students. Go ahead and laugh if you’re running a calculus program or managing introductory biology, chemistry or physics lab courses. Get it over with. It’s all relative. In a small department like mine, you sit on multiple committees. And with my interests in environmental change and sustainability, I was identified pretty early on and asked to participate in a couple of larger university initiatives focused on these topics. Lastly, I was also trying to establish an international and interdisciplinary research program. So lots of stuff to do, people to manage, projects to get up and running.
Now I am not complaining. I love challenges, and took all of this head on. However, as I head into my third year as an assistant professor I am seeing the need to slow down and change things up if I want to survive long-term and have some measure of success. And as awful as it sounds, the deaths of both my parents last year put a lot of things about life and living into perspective for me. A final lesson from parent to child. So no is my new, old favorite – my mom told me once that no was the second word I learned to say. My brother had to learn to say no last year at work when he was taking care of my dad. He told me the other day he is still reaping the benefits and getting what he needs to get done.
Saying no to things though, I’m finding out means saying yes to others. Options, in some cases, that I didn’t even know existed. Now I have time to finish that manuscript that’s been languishing in my files, learn a new data analysis program that I’ve been wanting to test with an old dataset, and really network with other researchers in order to develop new projects. It’s a bit bewildering. Just what have I said yes to?
One of my husband’s favorite reminders of his culture versus mine is that the Spanish work to live, while Americans live to work. I cannot really argue the point with him. It’s true. We Americans are a culture of doers. And in such a culture, that harmless Monday morning question between colleagues – “So, what did you do this weekend?” – takes on a slightly more competitive and sinister meaning. As one old proverb states, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.
But what about loafing? Daydreaming? Being lazy as my dad used to chide me? It seems that recent studies are showing that downtime from doing boosts creativity. And creativity is absolutely necessary for good science. A group of researchers at Leiden University found that meditation helped people come up with creative solutions to experimental problems, even when people didn’t really have much experience meditating. In the experiment, people meditated for just 25 minutes – practicing either open monitoring meditation, letting their minds wander and being receptive to thoughts and sensations in the moment, or focused attention meditation, where individuals concentrated on a particular thought or object. Open monitoring meditation assisted with divergent thinking, or coming up with multiple solutions to a given problem; focused attention meditation had no effect. Chilling out in the name of creativity backed by science. Breathe in.. 2..3..4.. Breathe out.. 2.. 3.. 4..
Being bored has its creative upside too. I could have told you that by age 10. I spent a lot of boring snowy no-school days making artwork or writing stories after a couple hours sledding or skating. Scientists at Penn State looking into why boredom is good for creativity found that people get creative because they’re bored. In the study, people watched video clips that influenced them to feel relaxed, bored, elated, or distressed. Then the researchers gave people three words and asked them to come up with a fourth that linked the first three words together. The bored study participants did the best at this convergent thinking task to find a single, correct solution to a problem.
So why the focus on being? It is a topic that came up in recent conversations with a friend of mine. We were talking about how the mad rush to produce as a non-tenured assistant professor leaves me feeling empty and ultimately unmotivated. However, over the holiday break I didn’t work. Well, okay I did about 4 hours worth of work over a 2 week period in reviewing graduate applications for our department. But back to the no-work. I hung out with my husband. I watched Spanish TV without subtitles – they have some very interesting talk shows that skewer politicians and make fun of dating. Pequeño Nicolás! I drank good wine and ate amazing bread and cheese. I connected with real people in a non-work context – family members and new friends. I enjoyed being. For the first few days, I was chomping at the bit to do stuff. Anything. By the end, I was extremely reluctant to come back to the United States and jump back into work. I was relaxed, maybe a little bored, and my creativity battery felt recharged.
This spring term, I have been given an opportunity. A semester without classroom teaching. In the past I’ve funneled my creativity into student learning but now I need to focus it into my research program – research, grant writing, and article publishing. So now, as my friend reminded me, the challenge is to continue this relaxed feeling while forging ahead productively.
- Knight, Anamaria (2009 October 27) Doing and Being Cultures. Small Planet Studios blog. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Leiden University. (2014 October 28). Meditation makes you more creative, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Colzato, L. S., Szapora, A., Lippelt, D., & Hommel, B. (2014). Prior Meditation Practice Modulates Performance and Strategy Use in Convergent-and Divergent-Thinking Problems. Mindfulness, 1-7. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0352-9
- Burkus, David (2014 September 9) The Creative Benefits of Boredom. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?. Creativity Research Journal, 26(2), 165-173. DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
Gasper, K., & Middlewood, B. L. (2014). Approaching novel thoughts: Understanding why elation and boredom promote associative thought more than distress and relaxation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 50-57. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.12.007
by Sarah Strada
This week in our research lab we worked a lot of analyzing the data we have been coding. I am working on the Agency Project which is looking at the relationship between the government and the community on the issues of malaria and wildlife conflict. I quickly realized that analysis is a lot messier than coding! I started by pulling out major themes and separating those on an excel spreadsheet. Then I broke those themes down into more specific themes. I felt like I could have gotten even more specific but then I realized that 3 hours had pasted and I had 3 more codes to analysis. It is really easy to get lost in the analysis but I felt like I noticed things about the data I hadn’t seen before and I felt like I was really beginning to understand it. It was a really rewarding feeling.
After the agency team had gone through all their data once we met to discuss some of the themes we saw. As far as wildlife conflict goes, the overall theme was: fence. The government built a fence to deal with wildlife conflicts, the community felt this fence was of really low quality and it was pointless, and the community thought the best way to solve the wildlife problem was to build a fence . . . fence, fence, fence, so many things about the fence. It really made me want to organize a service trip to Mozambique to build them one the best fences this world has ever seen.
Anyway, after we met we all went through our codes again and started to combine them all onto a single excel spreadsheet for each issue (one for malaria and one for wildlife conflict). Now we were all separating the codes into the same themes so they can be easily combined later. Going through the codes this time, I left a lot more out because at the end of the day I just had to accept that not every interesting thing said adds to the purpose of our paper. This analysis has been difficult but I often found myself unable to pull myself away from it. It felt like a puzzle that I had to finish solving.
Setting boundaries in research is one of the toughest things to learn to do, and not easily teachable. There are all sorts of fun and interesting ways to look at data, and analysis is supposed to generate more questions. However, if a researcher doesn’t narrow down their topic the analysis and final writing can get unmanageable and frustrating. Sometimes the best way to learn is just to dig in and see. ~JS
by Donald Warner
I’ve officially reached the point of semester that my life is being held on by a single string ready to collapse the balance I have been trying to make of school, work, sleep, food, extracurricular activities, and the occasional “fun” activity (I know, what a concept!) With the looming smell of stuffing and sweet potatoes in the near future, and lowering temperatures that are perfect for just sleeping all day, I thought I’d post some tips to help fellow researchers, as well as students on how to make it through the November drag.
1 . Schedule, schedule, schedule
What?!? Plan ahead?!? Don’t procrastinate?!? What is this?? The concept of actually sitting down and planning out when to balance all of your responsibilities has always seem foreign to me. In fact, the concepts of procrastination and improvisation should really be tattooed on my back in fancy Shakespearean lettering because they are such engrained concepts in my mind. However, as my improvisation turns into “hell, I’ll just lay in bed” I’ve realize that this already flawed strategy is definitely not going end well. Something as simple as just planning out homework, sleep, meals, and even fun can help tame the overwhelming feelings of distraught and doom that are likely arising at this time. If you are one of those people who already do this, and have been doing this for years: teach me your tricks, slash give me a bit of whatever elixir of motivation you’re drinking. If not, this false sense of control on your life will sure to help you manage to not crash and burn as you daydream of pie baking in the oven.
2. Think of the big picture
As much as I aspire to marry rich and simply live lavishly on Malta, with a baby hippo and a fancy cocktails, it’s helpful to stay realistic. The work we are all doing now is going to help our future, so that if the million dollars that Nigerian prince entrusted you with does not actually follow through, you have some experience and good grades under your belt. This is especially important with research. With our research, there are real world benefits, people will benefit from the work we’re doing now. This humbling thought can often jump start me to be productive and get moving.
But my stomach hurts! Sirius Black is still dead! It’s too cold to function! I am famous for finding any sort of reason to halt all work, crawl into bed, and cuddle with my stuffed hippo until I lull into sleep. Excuses, as well as procrastination and improvisation, also may as well be tattooed on my skin in fancy letters. If you too are an excuse maker, don’t worry you are not alone. Taming the voices in your head that tell you to stop is a skill that is hard to master, but it is imperative that you learn as soon as possible. So much of life is mental, and if you can power through the head colds, the sadness, and the cold weather that is slowly freezing your innards, you will feel so much better about yourself, and life. Take the extra time to come into the lab and work, or make the trek to the library to do homework, and try to stop finding excuses!
4. It is okay, and imperative, to relax.
Relax! Please! Find some time! And this is coming from someone who’s anxiety resume is stronger than their academic one. If you get behind on your scheduling, or miss a homework assignment; it’s okay. The world is still spinning; the Simpsons are still on air; and the apocalypse has not yet begun. It’s healthy to be a bit stressed and to put some pressure on yourself to get work done, but within reason. Life is hard, my friend, and won’t get any easier any time soon. You’re allowed to sneak a quick TV episode or a power nap without having to feel guilty.
5. We are social creatures! Never forget
Social interaction?! My super introverted self’s stomach is already churning just thinking about it. But no really, people can be okay. Find some time to study with friends, schedule some research with a buddy, or even go get coffee (or tea) with someone you think is cute. It can be easy to feel super alone in this world, especially when you get caught up in your work. Remember that everyone is struggling, and that having someone to talk to, even if it is just every now and then, can make life a little more enjoyable.
In the thick of the mid-term, when we are all buried beneath an overwhelming amount of things (just things mind you!!) that must be done yesterday – heh! – Donald’s wise words gets to the heart of who we are above and beyond being mad, white-coated scientists slaving away over hot computers in the lab. We’re people first. People who have problems and hang ups and sadness and happiness. To be human beings, not merely human doings, we do have to think of the bigger picture, relax (and stop making excuses not to do so), interact with our fellow Earthlings – human and otherwise, and schedule in our priorities. *raises a fancy cocktail and gives a baby hippo a hug* Here’s to all of us who’ve made it through the midterm, and all the best as the steam locomotive accelerates to the end. ~JS
by Catherine Soriano Luna
Well it was a thankfully brief and interesting summer. While most of my colleagues wish that their summers were longer (and don’t get me wrong, most years I do), I was so happy for the Summer of 2014 to end. It came after an equally interminable year of riding a mental, emotional, and physical roller coaster. I hit 5 life milestones in one year – something I would never recommend – getting married, buying my first home, buying my first car (without my dad checking it out first to make sure it is safe enough), and the deaths of both my parents (they died exactly 6 months to the day apart). The first three are exciting and certainly the first is a very happy occasion, but all this was marred by the loss of two people I have loved, and who have loved and believed in me through thick and thin, my entire life. But I study resilience. I know what it takes to walk on. And despite the cliche, as my mom would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So I’ve climbed back up on my horse and I’m charging back in to the battle.
As I take a look around, I see that my students are doing and have done well. Phew! That is a huge relief. Katie Chen is working full time and being paid at University Research Co., LLC where she took a chance on an unpaid summer internship last spring. Raquel Fleskes is thriving as a brand new doctoral student of molecular anthropology at Penn. Maria Sharova is back after a successful summer being paid to analyze environmental protest text at SESYNC. Jordan Tompkins survived not only her crazy supervisor (me), but also killer elephants, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and hoopty transportation in Mozambique’s bush. Rebecca Alberda learned a lot about a new (to her) type of disaster – terrorism – and working for the US government as an anthropologist in her masters internship at START. Her blog post about the experience highlights the many connections in natural and man-made disaster risk, as well as the large group of individuals working to improve communication during catastrophes to protect more lives. Alyssa Nutter received rave reviews for her work with the Peace Program field school in the Gambia, and her supervisor assures me that she remained safe from potential Ebola infection. I have not heard from Amanda Hathaway though. I hope that she is working at a job she really enjoys and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of Colorado. All in all a good group of women going places. Seeing their success boosts my optimism that things are looking up!
In the meantime, I have seven new students, and one doctoral student, working in the Shaffer lab. Each of them brings a new perspective and fresh ideas. This term the undergraduates will be learning how to do text analysis. Jordan is taking the lead on their training (learning and practicing her people management skills), and I am learning how to step back and delegate.
Welcome to winter here in the Southern Hemisphere! It’s just cold enough to stay out of the water between the breeze and the cool water temperatures at 30C. Although if this were in northern NY, where I grew up, there’d be no question of sitting on the beach. This is bikini weather in NNY.
Yesterday, 25 de Junho, was Mozambique’s 39th Dia de Independencia. The equivalent of the USA’s 4th of July, except their parties are accompanied by loud, danceable music not fireworks. The party started on Tuesday night and continued on through the following day. We heard the sound systems of the Baixa in our hostel up the hill all night long – loud enough for me to distinguish the lyrics. I’d have put in my ear plugs except that Jordan and I needed to catch the ferry boat to Inhaca Island at 7am, er 7:45am. African time.
Most businesses and institutions are closed on Dia de Independencia. We did see women selling foods on the street, fishermen and sailors, police, and the bars (the World Cup isn’t over). Knowing that we would be FORCED into a day of rest, we decided to get out of the city. Inhaca Is. is about a 3.5 hour boat trip. The island is located just north of Maputo Special Reserve, and is home to about 6000 people – Mazingiri Ronga, other Mozambicans of Portuguese and other ethnic group descent, and visitors. In 1951, the first marine research station in southern Africa was established on the island due to its location and biodiversity – some of the southernmost coral reefs, dugongs, mangroves, many fish and invertebrate species, along the East African flyway for birds, beaches, etc. Many opportunities for research. There is also Portuguese Island to the north. If I recall correctly, that is the island where the Portuguese originally used to come in to trade with the locals for ivory. Although I’m not 100% sure and I don’t think any test pits have been tried.
We worked pretty steady all last week at the workshop, and as we had to wait a week to get the research car fixed, we’ve been taking field trips around the city and out. Dra. Helena and her husband Wilson drove us out to Pequenos Libombos Dam – which supplies the agricultural area of Boane/Massaka with water and regulates the Umbeluzi River flow. Nuria and Islatina took Jordan and I to Xipanene Market. You can buy anything there. Anything. We stuck to the clothing and food sections, but I know you can get the latest phone technology recently liberated from careless travelers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could purchase other things for a price. Jordan bought some extra clothes and I got 2 capulanas in lovely shades of orange.
Back to work today. It’s time to pick up field supplies for the research and food. And then spend time in quiet and alone. Once I get to the field, it will be people all the time with me and constant translation. I expect to be exhausted so I’ll store up on energy now.