Thursday, July 3, 2014

King Rail Migration

Winous Point Marsh Conservancy, one of the oldest duck clubs in the country and also a great supporter of research started trapping rails again this spring, and was having some success catching King Rails, which a former student in the Krementz lab had been trying to do for some time to place satellite transmitters on them to track their migration. 

While many King Rails are non-migratory and spend their entire year on the coast there is a smaller segment of the population that does migrate every year and they aren't doing very well. Little is known about them, and the biggest gap is all about their migration ecology.

My dissertation research has detected a few King Rails, it's not the focus of my project, and we've never been able to capture one. So when we heard that they were capturing them we sent the transmitter up and they deployed it. The transmitter when it gets a good lock has an accuracy of about 150 meters, so it's not showing us anything to precise as of yet, but sometime in the next three months this bird is going to pick up and migrate, and I CANNOT WAIT. Yes, it's a very small sample size (n=1 isn't....much of anything), but its just going to be exciting to see when this bird leaves and where he goes during migration and what part of the coast he selects to spend the winter. 

The transmitter is solar powered, so as long as it keeps getting sunlight we can track this bird for several years. Here's a snippet of where this bird has been hanging out, it kind of looks like a mess, but let me tell you it is SUPER exciting. 

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Record Setting Yellow Rails

Yellow Rail, captured by Nick Seeger, Fall 2013
BK Leach Conservation Area, Missouri
One of the cool things that we've documented on my project is Yellow Rails in many places and in numbers that we did not expect. We observed over 30 of them in 2012 and 6 of them in 2013 (sadly in 2013 we probably missed several due to the federal shutdown).

Recently we found out that the Yellow Rails we observed/captured the past two falls were noteworthy for more then just my dissertation.

The two Yellow Rails we banded in Missouri last fall were only the 2nd and 3rd Yellow Rails ever banded in the state! How cool is that!

The Missouri Rare Birds Record Committee recently accepted two records from my project. My technician in 2012, Justin Lehman, saw more Yellow Rails in one day then anyone else has seen during the fall in Missouri!

And the very first Yellow Rail observed on my project is the earliest fall record for the species in the state (during fall migration).

While Yellow Rails aren't the main focus of my dissertation, I am really excited to be able to try and learn as much about them as possible since we know very little about them, and even less about them during migration.

I'll leave you with this awesome picture, taken by my technician Nick when he caught the first Yellow Rail of 2013. It was also his lifer Yellow Rail, which made it even more exciting.

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

13 FY Annual Report

In April all of the students in the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit presented to our cooperators on our projects for the 2013 fiscal year. Its a great way for all of us get feedback and make sure that our projects are still answering the questions that started the projects.

Part of this meeting every year is our annual report, which you can read here. Between all 12 of us we work on everything from water flow regimes, crayfish, bass, mice, turkeys, rails, geese and many things in between.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

#studyingforcomps - tips & suggestions

Since I'm now on the other side of comps I've had a few people ask me for suggestions on how to prepare for their own. Here's a few thoughts.

Talk to your committee early and often. Here at UA my committee are the ones who evaluated my comprehensive exams, it might be different for you, so whomever it is going to be, talk to them early. Try and get an understanding of what they expect you to do (especially if you have a written component) and what kind of subjects they want you to study. I have four committee members and they each picked a slightly different topic for me to study for my orals. Also see if they can recommend study resources, a particular book they think is well written or some journal articles to get you started.

My first load of books from the library
Go beyond the materials your committee gives you. Treat them as a starting point, but not in anyway an ending point. Go to the library, spend an afternoon in the stacks and see what is out there. Spend a few days on your favorite journal article database (I'm a heavy Web of Science user myself) and get together a wide variety of materials. Reach out to your network for suggestions on reading material (Twitter is great for this)

Find a way to organize all your notes. I used a combination of Mendeley and Evernote to keep everything together. Maybe a big notebook or a word document or something else works better for you, I really don't care. Just find some way of writing things down so you can come back them to later. Write down your questions, your ideas, connections between things you've read, they will all help you in your writing and in answering questions for your orals. 

Pace yourself. Once you've got together some materials and you know roughly when your exam will be start working backwards and set up a schedule. My comps were a NSF style grant proposal and two weeks later orals. So I worked backwards and set deadlines for myself, when I wanted to have my lit review done for my proposal, when I wanted a draft of it done, etc. etc. Make sure you take into account your non-comps obligations. I took classes while studying, so I scheduled my proposal draft deadlines around when big assignments were due. This will help make it all more manageable.

Clear out distractions however you need to. This might mean studying in a new place, or in a new way. I studied most days in my shared office, but with a good pair of headphones and some brown noise I was able to ignore the chaos around me. If you need to start working from home, or from the coffee shop or wherever do it!

Be sure to clarify with your committee what kind of assistance is appropriate for you to receive. Within my department this varies a lot. Many of my friends have written proposals for their comps and have been allowed to have other students look over them and give input. My committee choose not to have me do that, and told me I wasn't allowed to discuss my ideas with anyone. They just wanted to see me on the page. This made the way I went about my proposal very different then if they had left it wide open. Figure out these expectations early so you don't do something wrong for lack of clarification.

Talk to students who have already passed their comps, especially if you share committee members. They can help ease your fears and give you advice on how to tackle the process, especially orals. If possible have a few of them get together and go through some mock questions to get you in the practice of pausing for a few seconds and getting an answer together in your head. Also good practice in saying 'I don't know'.

Realize this is a process that is suppose to push your boundaries and discover your 'soft white underbelly'. It sure found mine, and it was painful and I hated having it exposed to the four people who decide my fate for the next few years, but it was a good experience. Everything about this process will feel totally personal, but try and retain some perspective (fellow students are good for this). While the feedback you get might sting, write it down and come back to it the next day, often it looks less harsh after some sleep.

Take care of yourself. Comps are suppose to be hard, but they aren't suppose to destroy your body and mind along with it. Take time to keep yourself happy and healthy, engage in things you love, and make sure to keep engaging with the people around you that keep you going, it's easy to become a recluse.

Take the day or two before your orals off from studying. Let your brain relax, get lots of sleep, eat well, and try to spend some time with people who make you feel good. If you have a folder of positive emails, take some time to read them over these days.

It's fairly anti-climatic. You will be exhausted afterwards, your brain will hurt, but unlike defending, life doesn't change much after and your responsibilities are much the same. Despite this it is still worth celebrating, even if it's just getting some great grilled cheese with friends like I did. It's a milestone, and when it's over, you'll be so glad it's in the past. Plus you can change your email signature to say 'PhD Candidate' which is pretty cool :)

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#studyingforcomps - carving out time

My comps are coming up fast (8 days!!) and the end of the semester is finally past, FINALLY. The past two months have been a bit of a wake up call about how I need to take care of myself as well as my work. In the spirit of taking care of myself, I'm carving out a few minutes to breathe and share a bit more of my comps process.

I sort-of saw this coming around the new year, my energy level was awful, I was feeling down all the time (I hesitate to call it depression since I hesitate to self diagnose, but I felt awful) and the semester was just beginning. I knew this spring would be tough, but I've done tough before. I started running, sort-of, in January. Then classes picked up and I dropped it, and by the end of February I was eating crap, working 24/7 and felt even worse then I had in January.

Early March my body started to rebel and I felt physically awful, and wasn't able to concentrate or sleep. So, I sat down one day and tried to figure out what was causing all of this. I looked at what I was doing to myself, and decided to try an experiment. I took all the crap food from my kitchen, hid it away in a cupboard, went grocery shopping for actual food, and bought a bike.

The first few days of biking and eating good things were tough, but they have slowly become habits. I struggle with it every day, the argument of if I should write for a half hour or run for a half hour. Should I stand at the bus stop and keep reading, or bike 20 minutes to campus? I started to bribe myself with dried pineapple (this stuff is crack) and with going out with friends for happy hour (aka, if you ride your bike 3 days this week, you can go have a beer Friday). I've also started to keep track of my mood, how I feel, how I'm sleeping, and a pattern has emerged.

This is going to blow you all away.

Eating better and exercising, makes you feel better.

Bam. I have clearly discovered something totally new and ground breaking (send fame and fortune to

or not, obviously this is not new information, but now that I have proven it to myself, with the help of a few phone apps to track everything, it's habit. This post has become more rambly and about me then I intended. I've tried to present a bit about what my #studyingforcomps experience has been like so that it can help future phd students who have to go through this.

TL;DR : Please, for the love of all that is good in the world, carve out time to take care of yourself. Make it a priority. Shower, eat well, sleep long, laugh. 

If you are a data crunching idiot like me, get a few phone apps, track your sleep, your exercise, your food and any weird symptoms. I know it's hard to make time, but feeling awful isn't what this is suppose to be about. Studying for your exams is suppose to make your brain hurt, not your body, it's suppose to stretch your mind, not exhaust your core.

My downness went away once I was up and moving, maybe if you feel down yours will too. If it doesn't, find someone to talk to, it's just as important as taking care of your physical self. Many universities have places you can go to talk to someone, if not, look in your community, and reach out to your fellow grad students.

#studyingforcomps is hard, it challenges you, it pushes you, but it should not make you feel like crap and it should not make you sick.

go forth, learn awesome things, do awesome science, and be well :)

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Tracking Louisiana Waterthrushes

Can you see the tiny clear antennae sticking
out from between his feathers, that
is the geolocator
A bird smaller then your fist will fly over 4000 miles in the next year as part of it's normal routine. Understanding how it does that, and how all the other members of its species do it is hard, but also really interesting.

One of my favorite parts of being a bird bander is getting asked to come out and help other people with their projects. I have had many marvelous mentors and I love having the chance to pass it down the chain.

A few weeks back I was invited to come out and help capture Louisiana Waterthurshes and put geolocators on them.

Geolocators are small devices that record light levels as the bird migrates and we can use the day length information recorded to determine the latitude the bird was at on a given day. It's not the same as strapping a GPS to something, but it lets us study the migration of small birds who can't carry bigger loads.

Catching waterthrushes was a lot of fun, they are a medium sized warbler that live along mountain streams here in Arkansas, so we set up the mist nets across the streams and put out speakers to draw in the males who are defending their territories. We targeted males because they have higher site fidelity. So if this bird returns next year he is more like to come back to this particular stream then his mate is. We have to recapture each bird and download the data from the geolocator so we need to be able to find them again.

After capturing the bird we carefully attach the geolocator so it sits low on his back, just above the tail. We use a small harness which wraps around the legs, but doesn't prevent the bird from flying or moving in anyway. The device is so small almost all of it is hidden under his feathers. All that shows is the little antennae that collects the light. We quickly released him back into the beautiful ozark mountains and hopefully he will return to this same stream next year so we can recapture him and take off the geolocator and download the data.
female Belted Kingfisher showing off her feisty side

Researchers across the U.S. are putting geolocators on waterthurshes so we can see if birds from
different parts of the country are wintering in different areas. Understanding this connectivity is vitally important to the conservation of these birds. Birds are an international resource, they don't recognize borders, and this makes conserving them challenging because so many people and organizations have to be involved but it is also one of the amazing things about bird conservation.

Accidental catches are always fun as well, got my hands on a Belted Kingfisher for the first time. Check out this feisty female. She was not happy to be caught, but we quickly released her. Kingfishers have small legs, because they nest in burrows in sand banks and their small legs allow them to dig out the burrows and also crawl up and down the burrow to take care of their young. They are one of my favorite birds and it was quite the treat to get one in the hand.

Those waterthrushes are going to spend the summer on the streams around the Buffalo River and then migrate this fall to who knows exactly where and return the next year. It's amazing to think what this tiny creature will see and overcome as part of the next year, all while carrying a tiny little 'backpack' so we can better understand what he does.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

I LOVE science because.

I love science because the idea a bird can FLY from continent to continent twice a year and come back to the same place, amazes me. I love things with wings, with feathers, with elaborate songs and displays. I love birds, and I have since I was young, (granted I still am, so lets just say, younger). I love how many different ways there are to move from place to place throughout the year. So many different strategies and ideas. I love the fact that migration has captured the human imagination for millenia and connects people across languages and cultures.

I love science because the world is out there, ready to be discovered.

Did you know we don't know everything? I am reminded of this constantly, and I find it EXHILARATING. I love doing science because I get to be apart of this process and contribute something new and exciting, even if it is small.

I love science because I want to change the world, and I believe everyone can. I believe for society to continue we need to work to understand our environment better, to know how to manage it and how to live with it in peace.

I love science because time after time nature is what soothes me, it is where I go when everything is wrong in the world. The more time I spend there, the more questions I have. What better way to answer some of these questions then with science!

I believe to face the challenges of today and tomorrow we need as many and as diverse a pool of ideas as possible. I believe I stand a chance of helping form an idea that might be worth listening too. I believe to solve the problems of today and tomorrow we need science to help discover the solutions, since we may not have them yet.

I love science because my parents let me be who I was. They let their only daughter collect bugs from streams and do water quality test for science fair projects. They bought me binoculars and field guides and giant vests as presents and continue to endure the fact I am always covered in dirt. I love science because we did science at home, and the excitement of learning was everywhere. I love science because my dad loved science, and while he's no longer with me I remember his excitement about the outdoors and I know he'd love to see what I am doing now. I love science because my Opa (grandfather) loves science, which isn't suppose to be high on the list of interests for a retired dutch farmer, and he has taught me stereotypes are not worth repeating.

I love science because it brings out the child in everyone. You show a bird to a group of people and the adults will act all bored and disinterested at first, but after the kids ooh and ahh, you hold it up to the grown ups and they finally let their eyes get wide. We all need this sort of wonder in our lives.

I love science because it takes away boundaries and limits. I get to spend time with all kinds, ages, sexes and groups of people from all sorts of places. I get to learn about their science, but also about them, their experiences, hopes and dreams. I get to go to places I never thought I'd see and bring others along with me. Because of science I have hiked across lava fields with my mom, backpacked through boreal forests with my husband, met one of my best friends, spent months riding around wetlands at ATVs.

I love science because it is hard, just like life is hard. I feel the most at peace when I am doing something new and challenging, and every day science presents me with another opportunity to do that. I love science because it has taught me how to teach others, how to help someone grow even when it hurts. I love science because someday I will get to help young scientists, and I hope I do as good a job as the mentors I have now.

As I lay awake tonight wondering where 'my rails' are in their migration I am reminded why I love science. I love science because it feeds my imagination and lets me travel with them.

This post was inspired by a post of the same name by Hope Jahren, who's blog is much better written and worth reading then this one. 

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Rallidae Rock! Guest Post on Nemesis Bird

I've got another guest post up on Nemesis Bird. It's just a ramble about all the unique things about rails.

I'm hoping to continue doing these occasional guest posts for them, about rails, wetlands and other science topics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

#studyingforcomps - Focus Techniques

Staying focused is hard, being productive perhaps even more challenging. In grad school the challenge of focus is especially true because there are SO many things pulling for your attention. Your research, your classes, any teaching you do, writing grants, writing papers, presenting at conferences, and all the other tasks. It makes it easy to be very busy without actually doing anything.

Over Christmas Break I was studying for my comprehensive exams, trying to get through a chunk of the reading before my classes started in January. Trying to do anything while home over break is difficult, everyone wants your time and doesn't want to sit and watch you read. As a result, I didn't get as much done as I thought and when spring semester started I set some rules for my self and tried some new things to help myself focus.

I share an office with my lab mates, there are six of us in here. Most of the time the noise isn't an issue, but it can get noisy. As a result I got a pair of over-ear headphones. Previously I'd always used ear buds, but they were giving me headaches and didn't really block out all the chaos around me.

I blocked a bunch of websites from my web browser. I use Google Chrome most of the time and I added the 'stay focused' extension. I blocked hulu, netflix, reddit, twitter, facebook, everything I didn't need to have available to me during the day. I had discovered in the fall while I thought I could 'listen to TV shows' in the background and still get things done they were crazy distracting. Now I only let myself watch TV at home in the evenings.

I've also started listening to a lot of brown noise via 'simply noise' overlay-ed with rain noises via 'simply rain' instead of listening to music. Before I was listening to Pandora, which was fine, but I kept getting distracted trying to get my stations 'just right' and constant noise in the background doesn't distract me like music does. Constant noise combined with my new headphones drowns out my lab mates. Which they have quickly adapted to. Now they know they have to get my attention before talking to me.

I was introduced to Pomodoro's via this piece from GradHacker and have found it really helpful for both reading and writing. I can make myself do almost anything for 25 minutes. I set the timer on my computer, crank up the brown noise and go. Then I get five minutes off, to talk to my lab mates, eat a snack, check twitter on my phone, whatever. It works well with my need for constant change while still allowing me to get things done. It doesn't work as well for coding in R

I've also been finding myself printing off more of my reading. Which is odd since I've been using Mendeley religiously for awhile now. But for really stats heavy papers it helps me to be able to read them in their paper form and highlight/scribble the heck out of them. I've been transferring a lot of my notes back into Mendeley. I don't have a good rule yet for how to decide whether to print a paper or not, but if I keep getting stuck rereading the abstract and not getting anything out of it, I hit print, and it seems to have helped thus far.

Now granted these techniques are not foolproof. That's why I'm writing this post on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I can't seem to concentrate on anything for more then five minutes, but these 'techniques' have helped overall.

I'm always open to new ideas on how to help focus my attention. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments or on twitter (@amv_fournier) hopefully it won't distract me more then I already distract myself.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

#Studyingforcomps - The moment of discovery

Ted Shanks Conservation Area, Missouri
Science is all about discovering new things, whether its information new to humanity as a whole or just to yourself. The moment of discovery is what drives many of us in science. As I'm studying for my comprehensive exams I am having a lot of these moments. Things are clicking together. I am forming connections between papers and ideas which had never occurred to me before. Constant discovery is what makes all my studying so addictive, even when it takes me two hours to get through a paper because I'm going to Google every other paragraph for another explanation.

No, I'm not discovering these ideas for the first time, many of these papers are 20 or 30 years old, but the ideas are new to me, and putting them together is challenging, it makes my mind stretch and it's honestly pretty fun.

It reminds me of last fall when I was out with my technicians trying to catch rails one night in Missouri and one of them hops of the ATV to go through a net over a Sora and it 'disappears'. I'm 20 meters back trying to see what is going on and I suddenly just hear yelling

'It's swimming underwater!!'

I thought they were nuts, I'd never heard of rails swimming underwater before but my techs pursued the bird for several more minutes and it swam underwater several times. Sora, swimming UNDERWATER, it blew my mind.

Later I told my adviser, partially convinced I had found something new. Of course it isn't, he's seen them dive underwater before. I don't mind not discovering something new though. Just because it's not new information doesn't diminish the moment we discovered it, the excitement in my techs voices as they tried to tell me what they were seeing is etched in my memory.

Its easy to get wrapped up in the rest of science which follows discovery but I think its important to reflect back and capture these burst of energy and new information. Science is more then just writing papers, it's about learning, both things new to use, and new to everyone. It is the pursuit of knowledge which drives us, or is driving me at least as I work my way through all the material for my comps.

With that thought, I'm headed back into the stack, here's to new discoveries!

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Partners in Outreach

Marla showing a cardinal to some kids
I got addicted to outreach early, helping doing public education through the bird observatory back home and my summer job teaching ecology at the local boy scout camp. If you haven't gotten your feet wet yet in the world of spreading science do not fear, it's not that hard.

One way I've found effective is finding partners. I work with birds and have a good background in many other aspects of ecology, so seeking out local Audubon societies, scouting organizations, state parks and other groups who support the outdoors are great ways to get started in outreach.

A prime example is the partnership we have formed between our student chapter of The Wildlife Society and one of our local state parks. They wanted to have a program where the public could closely interact with birds and we all love mist netting and many of us wanted to gain more experience extracting birds.

So we set up some nets a few saturdays ever spring and catch birds. The park lets us use their beautiful visitors center and has partnered with a local grocery store to get some coffee and muffins donated and 'Birds and Breakfast' was born. We regularly draw over 50 people to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning learning about birds, their habitat and how to conserve them. Our audience is a great mix of youth and adults and everyone loves the chance to take a close look at the birds they see at their own feeders.

Finding partners is as easy as sending out an email, 'Hi, I'm a grad student studying X and I if you would be interested I'd love to come give a talk to your members about what I do.' You'd be surprised how many people will bend over backwards to fit your schedule and hear you talk.

Showing off the little seen details, like birds tails
helps everyone look more closely. 
Another great way to do outreach is to reach out to local schools. The Biology Graduate Student Association has had many of our members go and present in the biology classes of local high schools. We talk about our research, how we got involved in science and help highlight the variety of different careers available in science.

One outlet I haven't tried yet but I think sounds awesome is doing outreach in schools through Skype. David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science has been doing outreach via Skype and it seems to work really well. Skype is a great, and cheap way, to communicate with people all over the place and can even worth with groups of wiggly first graders!

The more outreach I do the more I see my abilities and enthusiasm snowball. Once you get started you gain confidence and knowledge about what works and what doesn't and you just want to keep going and keep getting better.

One of my committee members always says if you can't explain what you do to a ten year old then you don't know what you do well enough. The presentations you give to a elementary school student is different then to your academic peers, but both help you understand your science better and help give your science a broader impact, which is incredibly important is our constantly changing world. We need a population of people who love science and want to understand the world around them more.

Get out there! Find some partners and start sharing your science!

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Passion in Science : Childish behavior or science rocketfuel?

A few weeks back I had a series of conversations with some other scientists who decided to tell me different variations of 'birds aren't important' 'people who work on birds lack creativity' 'you aren't as good of a scientists because you work on a charismatic animal'.

I'm used to non-scientists asking me why working on birds is important. I'm also used to the good-natured rivalry between different taxa and fields within ecology. We have a good back and forth between our lab and the fisheries lab next door, all in good fun. But these comments weren't like those and they got under my skin. I wasn't entirely sure how to respond to any of the comments I got, and probably did a poor job in the moment so I reached out the twittersphere for some input.
I got some great feedback, including thinking about myself and my career as studying a system rather then a taxa and how being system oriented might make me more marketable (good food for thought, especially this post from The Lab and Field). I need to mull over how I identify myself as a scientist some more though before writing up my complete thoughts, so look for that in the future sometime.

What I got immediately from this conversation were many of comments saying of course birds are important, just like every other taxa is important and if another scientist is belittling your taxa, it's probably because of their issues, not your own. Maybe they are at a low point or lacking the passion I often exhibit for birds.

This last comment really hit home for me. Many of my peers have lost their passion and never get excited about science anymore. Many are planning on leaving science after they graduate because its just stress and long hours now. Sadly, I feel sometimes I alienate my friends with my excitement about rails, migration and science as whole. Especially when my passion for all things rail pours into excitement for the statistics, writing and all the other pieces of grad school required to study the sneaky little guys. I know that without my passion, I couldn't be successful a graduate student and this quote from Kristopher Helgen summed this feeling up perfectly.
I personally could not agree more. When I started grad school I noticed that some saw my passion as childish behavior. They seem to think science should be done for the sake or progress, or grants, or fame.

I totally disagree, loving your system or your organism is not a bad thing especially if it helps keep you motivated. Passion is 'science rocket fuel' and I don't think it should ever be belittled, no matter if the organism is a widely loved charismatic species or more misunderstood one. Sure grad school isn't all sunshine and rainbows and there are days that even my passion can't save me from the stress load or endless road blocks but I want to help conserve our natural resources, including my favorite taxa, birds. I've committed myself to this PhD and to helping promote conservation through research, even on the bad days. I've got this strip from PhDComics taped above my desk to help ground me on those days when things seem bleak.

I am grateful to have the wonderful community on twitter to help set my head straight when I get caught up in the naysayers and once again I am choosing to use the passion that I have to motivate me everyday, from field work to writing and data analysis and all the fun in-between. I hope that this passion is not held against me as I continue on in my career and I plan to help encourage it in those around me.  Have any of you ever faced similar situations where everyone around you seems passionless or your excitement for a certain species or taxa is belittled? I'd love to hear about how you dealt with it or how it's changed your perspective on science!

To see the whole conversation on twitter click here.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#studyingforcomps - how i'm tackling the reading

I'm scheduled to take my comprehensive exams in June and I've talked a little bit about the format that will take. My committee decided I'll be writing an NSF style proposal, defending it and then have an oral examination of the subjects my committee members decide on.

Right now I'm working on collecting the books/topics they want me to dive into as well as reading a huge stack of books on migration so I can get a broader understanding of what my proposal will be about. I've already got an outline together of what I think I want to address but just based on the reading I've done the past month I can see my question changing a bit.

Right now the biggest thing I'm working on is all of proposal research reading and so far here is how I've tackled it.

I bought a bunch of those little post it note flags in several colors and I take them with me everywhere I read (my desk at school, home in the evenings, outside when its nice). Each color corresponds to a different subtopic (Optimal Migration Theory, Weather, Methods, History of Migration) so when I find something I want to come back to or a sentence sparks a question I write it on the flag and stick it next the paragraph.

Colorful post-it flags everywhere!
I'm also not reading every book cover to cover. I've got 15 books on my desk all dealing with migration and there is a lot of overlap. So I go over the ToC of each book and figure out what chapters are 'unique' to a particular book, closely read those and then skim the others (typically the first two chapters where they go over the definitions of migration). My exceptions to skimming to first few chapters are my insect ecology and fish migration books since I wanted to try and better understand any differences in the theory behind those areas of research.

I've also been trying to pull some cool facts out and share the interesting things I'm learning. So I'm tweeting these facts with the #studyingforcomps hashtag.

I'm sure as the next six months roll onward I'll figure out some more tricks on this whole 'read everything' thing but for now that's what I'm up to.

Anyone have any ideas or suggestions?

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest post up on Nemesis Bird

I wrote up a post on rails and wetland management for Nemesis Bird. Just highlighting why wetland management is so important and why it might sometimes seem destructive when its not.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Goals for 2014

Pass my Comprehensive Examinations - If I accomplish nothing else this year but this it will be a huge success.

Work Less - I find that I spend a lot of my time doing things that feel productive, but aren't. I want to streamline my workflow so that I can get more done during 'business hours' and not work so much on the evenings/weekends. Work/Life balance is important, even when I love my work.

Stop changing organization/productivity systems - I am a productivity nerd and an early adapter, I have realized lately, to a fault. Unless I have to change to a new system (being forced by school or some other entity) I'm going to stick with the apps/software/services I currently use. 

I want to be able to run a 5k by the end of the year - I need to start exercising more, grad school is MUCH less active then field work or even my undergrad. I need to get up and moving more, weekend hiking isn't cutting it. 

Visit 10 new states
     Larger Goal - Visit All 50 States by the time I'm 25 (June 2015)
         Remaining States (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Washington, Alaska, North Dakota,
          Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Colorado)

Visit 5 National Parks (1 - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2 - Buffalo National River)
Spend 30 nights camping (5 down!)
Spend two hours a week learning spanish on DuoLingo
Hit 550 life birds
Go Birding in Florida
Get 200 species of birds in Arkansas
Hike/Backpack 500 miles (100 down!)
Read 20 books, not school related (3 down!)
Read 1000 peer reviewed articles (I've honestly been doing an awful job of keeping track of this)
GPA = 4.0 (sadly....foiled again)
Give 10 public education talks (5 down!)
Write three guest posts for other blogs (one, two, three)
Cook two new recipes every month
Present/Poster at two conferences (AR State Wildlife Society Meeting April 2014, Midwest Bird Conservation and Monitoring Workshop August 2014, The Wildlife Society National Conference October 2014)
Get my second peer reviewed paper accepted
Have a 3rd successful field season
Submit two new peer reviewed papers for publication
Complete a WFR Course
Get certified as a Associated Wildlife Biologist through The Wildlife Society
Payoff 15% of our student loans

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

2013 was a very good year, both personally and professionally.

I got my first paper published and finished my first year of graduate school. Despite all the challenges I had a solid second field season. Feeding my travel bug I was able to travel almost every month of the year, saw some amazing birds and met some amazing people. I have to say I am quite satisfied, even though I didn't complete all the goals I set last January.

So here's 2013 by the numbers, since my scientist self always needs to quantify things.

Miles Traveled by Car - 30,000 (ballpark estimate)
Flights - 14
# Educational Presentations - 5
# National Parks - 4
# National Wildlife Refuges - 10
Bird Species Seen - 394
# Lifers (Bird species I'd never seen before) - 164!
States Visited 19
States which were new 6 (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kansas, Nebraska)

Year First Visited
Dark Red - Pre-2000
Red - 2000-2003
Orange - 2008
Yellow - 2009
Both Blues - 2012
Purple - 2013

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Saturday, December 14, 2013


Looking at the numbers can be really discouraging as a woman in STEM. It often seems like the cards are stacked against us and I must be very crazy to think that I am the exception to all of it. That is probably another discussion for another time. This post for The Lab and Field got me thinking about my own work and how I can help change those statistics myself, more then just being a female in STEM. That post references an article in nature that encourages us each to calculate our own gender gap. Or the ratio of Females to Males in our own work. It's easy to talk about these gaps as national wide, or international problems and brush them off, but when you look at your own numbers, it's pretty sobering.

I originally looked at these numbers two days ago and then sat down tonight to write this and double checked them and reached back a bit farther into my undergrad. So if you follow me on twitter, these numbers are a little different then what I tweeted before.

Supervisors/Committee Members (undergrad to now)

3 F : 8 M (0.375)

Co-Authors (My 1 pub and assorted posters)

2 F : 6 M (0.33)

Technicians (My legacy)

1 F : 4 M (0.25)

Now granted I haven't published much, but as I look ahead at what I hope to publish as a part of my PhD, how many female coauthors do I forsee? Well I've got a female PI on my grant right now, and two other female collaborators. So that is good, but there are a lot more male collaborators on our various side projects.

I find these numbers really sobering, especially my own technician legacy. Last year I had very few qualified females apply to be my tech. Maybe I need to find a better way to advertise and find the girls who have the skills I need (ATV driving, extensive field experience, bird ID). I'm not sure, but I know that the female supervisors I've had, and the female scientists I've gotten to know outside of work have greatly inspried me, just like some of the men have, and I want to help change the tide and close the gender gap.

Food for thought for sure, I'm open to any suggestions on ways to recruit more women into my technician ranks. And as always I'm looking for collaborators who love rails and wetlands!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Post on Gradhacker!

So I've been trying to work on my writing skills from a variety of angles, and one of those is writing about my experience as a grad student and trying to pass that on to other students. As a result I wrote up this article on communicating with your family about grad school over the holidays and gradhacker was kind enough to accept it and let me write up a guest post!

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Learning a new language - R

So I've been working on learning R for a few years now, but only really seriously took it up about a year ago and while I know I still have a long way to go I am finally at the point where if you give me a morning I can typically figure out whatever it is I need to do.

Luckily R is a really open platform and so if you spend enough time digging through google you can typically find someone who has had the same issues you have had.

For instance Wednesday I needed to make a graph showing detections of Sora/Hour for 2012 and 2013 as a bar graph and then also throw a smooth spline for each year over top of it.

Making such a graph sounds simple...right?

Well after four hours of pouring through other people's code and learning all about splines and how R graphs bars I finally figured it out, and the end result, is yes pretty simple. The process continues to teach me more and more about how R interprets what I am telling it. Almost never is the issue actually with R, it's with what I am telling it to do, there a misplaced character somewhere and that character is throwing an error or telling it to do something I didn't know I was telling it to do.

Anyway, here's my beautiful graph, all ready to go for my annual field report (which is ALMOST done, finally).

The take away from the above graph is the distribution of the birds is almost identical between the two years, and chances are the difference isn't statistically significant (I haven't ran those tests yet) So even though the Sora started moving through later in 2013 they peaked about the same time.

Pretty cool eh? No I don't have a good explanation for the peaks being the same despite the later start, give me some time. 

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Boots and Binoculars?

My boots in Hawaii, abused and glued
to death
If you paid close attention you saw that I changed the name of this blog yesterday. I'd been trying to
find something that really fit for awhile and was struggling because everything I came up with was just way to pun filled. My adviser made mention of getting out and doing some good ole 'boots and binoculars' work recently and that phrase really stuck with me and I think it fits this blog well. The basis for all the work I do is based on spending a lot of time out in the field with boots and binoculars. So here we go, we've got a new name!


Boots and Binoculars

Boots and Binoculars