Can We Talk to a Gorilla? Revisited

By Maria

Most of the content below was from a post I originally shared in 2016. The gorilla in focus passed away earlier last year, and the foundation where she lived has been embroiled in legal battles over their remaining gorilla ever since. Those human squabbles have kept the gorillas in my mind, though, and I wanted to bring up these ideas again. We share this planet with these magnificent creatures, and we have so much power over what happens to them and their homes, we at least owe them this sheer wonder!

Continue reading

Owls, Prowls, and Stomach Growls

By Maria

I brought my headlamp since it was a night hike, but I never needed it. Light reflected off the newly fallen snow and seemed to glow all around us as we quietly crunched up a hill into the trees. We were in search of owls, and embracing the winter night was all part of the fun.

We had met up with staff and members of the Hollow Oak Land Trust for one of their winter events—the Owl Prowl! Hollow Oak protects and maintains greenspaces generally between the city and the Airport. We were on Hollow Oak’s Trout Run Conservation Area, a property somewhat between Robinson and the airport. Though surrounded by development, all of Hollow Oak’s properties are well maintained as gems of habitat for local wildlife—little oases. The owls in our area aren’t migratory, so quite literally any time of the year is a good time to listen for owls. We were on the look-out for three species in particular that are known to be on the Hollow Oak Land Trust properties: the Eastern Screech Owl, the Barred Owl, and the Great Horned Owl. Continue reading

More Than a Walk in the Snow

By Rob and Maria

Pittsburgh woke up to a beautiful snow this morning! It seems like we haven’t really had winter since Thanksgiving, and while no one particularly enjoys cleaning icy remnants off their cars before heading to work Monday morning, there is something reassuring about the familiar seasons. Plus there is something ethereal about the muffled quiet of a city when it’s blanketed in snow, and something wildly fun about trompsing about outdoors in winter weather! Since nature has a lot more going on out there in the snow than you would expect or imagine, we went on a mini adventure through a city park this afternoon to explore it all. Check out what we found! Continue reading

New Year, New Ways to Think About Trash and Plastic

By Rob and Maria

Our trash never goes away. It just goes somewhere else.

That mantra is important to keep in mind for this post. We’re all very good at generating trash, and then we bundle it up and place it bins for either trash or recycling…and it rolls away. Theoretically, the trash goes to a landfill and the recycling goes to be made into something else—another generation of plastic or aluminum. Continue reading

Yuletide Citizen Science

By Rob and Maria

We woke up to pouring rain outside. It was still dark. The sun wouldn’t rise for another 90 minutes or so, but we probably wouldn’t notice right away through the heavy clouds anyway. Ah well, the rain might dampen the ground, but not our spirits! Today was our Christmas Bird Count, and science stops for no rain! We just pulled on layers of leggings, wool socks, thermal shirts, and flannel, topped with rain jackets and rain pants. It was time to count some birds! Continue reading

Holly Jolly Bio Trivia

By Maria and Rob

Worried about conversations lagging at all of those holiday parties coming up in the next few weeks? Or positively fretting that someone will bring up the latest political scandal at Christmas dinner? Never fear! We have the perfect solution for moments when you need just a little extra loquaciousness: Christmas-themed science trivia. Your casual yet intriguing small talk will amaze your hosts and ensure that you will be invited back to fabulous parties year after year! Or be purposely not invited next year…it could go either way, really. But we would totally re-invite you. Continue reading

A Science Career Outside of Academia

By Maria

In the past year, I’ve attended at least three different fairly large meetings where the topic of post-PhD job prospects was a central topic. I’ve spoken to multiple highly accomplished post-docs frustrated with how many jobs they have applied for, and I’ve seen some very nervous grad students when mention of the future comes up. It’s a serious issue! Only 7-14% of PhD-holders in STEM will go on to a tenure-track professor position within three years of graduation, and only 9% of PhDs in the life sciences will end up in a professor position at all. In a worrisome way, this makes sense given that the number of PhD-holders aged 35 and under has increased roughly 60% since 1993, yet tenure-track positions have remained nearly stagnant in that same time frame. Continue reading

Why Science Outreach?

By Maria

This past summer, I taught a conservation-themed day camp for 9-13 year olds. For each day of the camp, I invited a different biologist to visit the class and tell the students about their research and career paths. They weren’t long visits—perhaps 20 minutes of presentation and half an hour of conversation with the kids. Nothing that can’t be added on occasion to even the busiest researcher’s schedule.

Still, the experience very distinctly left a mark on the kids. The scientists’ research topics later appeared unprompted in the children’s art work and their free time conversations. One girl even approached me with her observation of common experiences the researchers had all shared from when they were her age (“All of them in their presentations talked about playing in creeks as a kid, like me!”). Meeting a scientist each day of the camp had been impactful for them. They weren’t just reading about a faceless researcher online or watching a TV news clip about a latest study. Local scientists had made time to talk to them. That mattered. Continue reading

Does Familiarity Really Breed Contempt?

By Rob

I don’t think the old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” applies to nature conservation.  If anything, it’s the opposite.  Years ago, when I had first moved from the suburbs to the city for college, I often saw pigeons congregating in disorganized flocks.  They strutted around, not even caring about cars barreling down the street.  Once they did become bored and decided to move on, they often left a mess behind.  I heard quite a few other folks refer to them as “rats with wings.”  Yes, they are indeed as ubiquitous in a city as the rodents that people fear will infiltrate their food cupboards.  They’re brazen, willing to swoop around an unsuspecting tourist like mosquitoes seeking a quick blood meal.  They’re unwanted, with the only way to keep them off historic landmarks is by placing sharp metal spikes.  Why should anyone care for these messy, bothersome birds that probably harbor mites? Continue reading