Category Archives: musing

Summer Musings

Every time I see someone has posted a new blog entry about their exciting summer adventures, my mind goes through the same general thought process:  1) huh, wonder what they’re up to, 2) read blog entry, 3) sounds like they’re having fun, I wish I was doing something that exciting, 4) I should write about my summer too!  And then I mean to and then I get distracted.  Blame everybody and their cool adventures.

Luckily, my days aren’t overly exciting, or my time would be taken up reading about other people’s cool adventures, and then going and having cool adventures of my own.  No such luck here, as I’m still in West Lafayette, and thus far I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in two places.  The majority of my intended awake time is spent in a research lab, which is less than thrilling as it’s the lab I’ve been going to most days for almost a year.  That said, lab work in the summer seems completely different than it does during the year, simply because everybody is there all day.  That seems sort of backwards (shouldn’t things get more boring the longer you do them?) but because everybody is there, it’s much more collaborative, no more hurrying in, doing your task, and leaving without saying a word to anybody.  Now it’s do your work, talk about it, get some insight on how to do it better, as well as some perspective.  While knowing that there’s lots of people working on offshoots of the same project can make it seem less “important” (my work isn’t unique!  I’m not the sole studier of this phenomena!  IF I DISCOVER SOMETHING IT PROBABLY WON’T BE NAMED SOLELY AFTER ME!)  it also makes it seem more concrete and more potentially “impactful” (clearly this isn’t a random project given to me by somebody who couldn’t think of anything else, as several people’s work would be affected by the outcome).

Despite all the learning and collaboration, there are boring moments (you want me to separate HOW MANY seeds onto plates without breathing on them?!) But overall it seems worth it when you consider the precious commodities available to me in lab that aren’t where I spend most of the rest of my time.  Case in point:  internet and air conditioning.

Ok, technically, the apartment where I’m living has both.  Sort of, I think.  It definitely technically has air conditioning.  As in, one unit in the front room that does very little to cool my room all the way in the back, even with the door wide open (which is a very strange way to sleep, in case you were wondering).  The internet is where things get fuzzy.  Technically we don’t have any.  But thanks to some generous girls on the first floor, we get it mostly, although it’s slow and sort of unreliable.  It works better than the air conditioning, though, so I guess technically we have both, although it doesn’t always feel like that.

But how does college in the summer compare to college during the year?  It doesn’t really.  There aren’t nearly as many people here, the roads are all torn up with construction, and I haven’t found anywhere open 24 hours (although I haven’t looked really extensively).  That doesn’t mean it’s not a good way to spend the summer, it’s just more laid back than the school year, for better and for worse.

I guess since I don’t actually have anything substantial to say I should stop rambling at you.  At least until there’s some sort of development worth discussing, which hasn’t happened yet, assuming you don’t want to hear about Arabidopsis and it’s variations.

What are your summer plans, and what do you like/dislike about what you’re doing or where you’re living?


Spring break love

What do I love this spring break?  Let me see…

1) My Kindle.

I got a Kindle for Christmas and I absolutely LOVE it.  It’s so light and full of wonderful book goodness.  And I can download new books whenever I want, and a lot of them are free.  Also, it LOOKS LIKE A BOOK.  I love tech as much as the next person (mostly, besides the dude, who without a doubt loves it more) but sometimes I get sick of staring at freaking screens.  The Kindle is such a nice break from that.  I’m not trying to hawk a kindle, but SERIOUSLY, you guys, check them out.

2) Nothing to do.

While I have a wonderful 12 page paper I need to get started, as well as some analysis for lab, I’ve done pretty much nothing over the last two days.  It has been so nice.  But I’m starting to get sick of it, and rejoin the world of productive people.

3) Eating yummy food.

Being home means I can pretty much eat all the delicious stuff not available to me during the school year.  Like the wonderful delicious cajun Yats.  YUM.

That’s all I can think of now.  Break is great though.

What are your favorite lazy indulgences?

Music Map

Due to my inherent need to procrastinate (I’m looking at you, P.chem exam!!) I find a lot of random, but very interesting, things on the internet.  One such discovery was this music map. It’s really interesting from a number of points of view.

Full disclosure: I don’t know jack squat about programming, or computer languages, so that part went totally over my head.  But I do understand music, and I do understand the connections in music, so I was extremely surprised to find that classical music pretty much existed on its own little island. Continue reading

Why do we science?

As a student in the life sciences, I struggle often with determining the point of what I’m doing.  I had to ask my research advisor at least three times what the point of my research project was, and I’m still not totally sure I understand.  I’m often told that “knowledge for the sake of knowledge, discovery for the sake of discovery” should really be the point, but I really have a lot of difficulty getting behind that.  Sure, what I’m doing in the lab is interesting, but will it really help people?  I’m not sure.  Is that a sign I maybe shouldn’t be a scientist?  Potentially.

That’s why it was so encouraging to find this earlier this evening.  Unfortunately, the sound on my computer is on the fritz at the moment, so I haven’t actually been able to watch the video yet.  But even the section that was transcribed was incredibly interesting and insightful, and I can’t wait until it gets fixed so that I can watch it and gain a more in-depth understanding about what Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to get across.

I find it refreshing to look at my research project in a new way.  I don’t necessarily have to be doing something that directly relates to solving cancer in order to improve the world.  I can see the practical applications to what I’m doing, but only in  a very abstract way.  It’s hard not to compare yourself to your friend working in a cancer lab when you’re counting seeds on a plant.

Science is as science does, and it all helps humanity in some way, even if the final application isn’t there yet.  It’s important to keep that in mind, and help to put everything in perspective.

I’ll be back with more thoughts on the entire video as soon as I can get my sound up and running.

It’s easy to be green…isn’t it?

Despite what a certain frog once said, today it’s not very hard to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.  Walmart sells organic food, LED lightbulbs are shelved with incandescent ones at hardware stores, and it’s as easy to find a recycling bin as it is to find a trash can in some areas.  Actually, almost everything you need probably comes in an “eco-friendly” or “green” version.  A quick search on Amazon for “eco-friendly” generated over 200,000 different items.

But wait, is it really that simple?  Is all it takes to make a difference in the world to go out and buy one of these “eco” products?  Maybe not.  Common sense tells us that everything we buy comes in a package of some sort.  That’s wasted material right there.  “But wait!”  you say.  “I recycle!  And I use re-usable bags when I shop at the grocery store!  I AM making a difference!”

At least, that’s what we’ve been told it will take to save the world.  Just look at the childhood classic The Lorax.

The premise is pretty simple.  You can watch the clip there (there’s a link to the second part) but the idea is this:  Once-ler develops a new product, a “th-need” from the tufts of the Truffula tree.  Everybody wants a th-need.  Demand for the Once-ler’s product goes up, so he increases production.  The Lorax, the guardian of the trees, tries to warn him that he’s killing the Earth, but the Once-ler doesn’t listen.  This continues until there are no Truffula trees left, everything is dirty and polluted, and the Once-ler is out of business.  In the end, he entrusts the last Truffla seed to a young boy, telling him to take care of it, help it grow, and restore everything to how it was.

I LOVED The Lorax when I was growing up.  Heck, I still love it as a semi-hippie.  But is that really the lesson we want to be teaching?

Michael Maniates writes extensively on this topic.  His paper Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World? looks at these issues in-depth, focusing on The Lorax as a case study for how our society views environmentalism.  Basically, his point is: people want to individualize the problem of environmental damage and repair, so they like to focus on things that they can do as individuals (like planting a tree or riding a bike) and avoid working to solve these problems as a society.  Maniates argues, though, that we need to use societal means to solving this problem.  He advocates working for government and community reform.  It’s sort of like Captain Planet (yes, I am reliving my childhood as I write this).  The kids need to work together to summon Captain Planet so they can save the world, and they can’t do it by themselves, or even with two or three of them.  They needed everybody to be able to save the day.

Maniates isn’t trying to say you shouldn’t do those individual things.  Neither am I.  I recycle, walk almost everywhere I go, take reusable grocery bags with me shopping, and turn the lights off when I leave my room.  These are all great things to do.  But the point is, without changes on a large-scale, even if everybody was doing these individual things, environmental damage would still happen.

There are several ways to influence the direction the government takes.  Although it sometimes seems like Congress is only dealing with whatever issue is in the news that week, in truth, there are discussions about almost everything on the agenda every day.  One of the best ways to be heard is to write to your Congressmen (or women) and tell them what you think.  Here you can find out who your representative in the House, as well as how to contact them, and you can do the same thing for the Senate here.  Both the House and Senate websites also have places you can find out what’s going to be voted on in the next week or so, which is usually a good time to write in about specific issues or concerns you might have.

You can also get involved on a state or local level, by talking to your local representatives.  This could be a little harder to find, but you can often forge a personal relationship with the person you’re talking to, and as they are responsible for a smaller area, change can sometimes happen faster.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that the environment isn’t going to get better without you, but the problems are too big for one person to solve.  (Unless it’s Captain Planet).