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

Can We Talk To A Gorilla?

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Source: koko.org

By Maria

In 1999, PBS released a Nature documentary called “A Conversation with Koko”—a feature all about the story of a Western Lowland gorilla named Koko and the primary researcher behind the communication efforts, Dr. Penny Patterson. Dr. Patterson had begun teaching sign language to Koko all the way back in the 1970’s and was still working with her and two other gorillas on a daily basis. Through their unique abilities, the gorillas were able to share their personalities in a way few animals can, and it was fascinating to watch their progression from their first three signs “eat,” “drink,” and “more” to thousands of complex words and phrases. Continue reading

The Science of Wanderlust

By Maria

Ever catch yourself staring out the window, perhaps at 2:15 on a Tuesday, only to realize you’re not really looking at the trees and traffic outside? Perhaps you’re really looking at the ruins of an old Irish castle, hauntingly beautiful in its age and surrounded by rolling green hills. Or perhaps you’re exploring the streets of a small Hungarian village—not understanding a single word around, but overjoyed by the new experience of cobblestone under your feet and the inviting smells from bakeries and little restaurants. Or maybe you’re lounging in a chair under a palm tree, toes in the sand, and watching the brilliant turquoise of ocean water gently roll up the beach and back.

If any of this rings a proverbial bell, you, my friend, might have wanderlust. Especially if this desire to travel and explore is intense, and you’re willing to work with whatever budget you have, the tourism industry would define you as a wanderluster. Continue reading

For the Love of Pandas

By Maria

Next week, on August 22nd, a very special little guy named Bei Bei will have his first birthday. Bei Bei is a giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, who lives at the National Zoo, as do his parents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and his sister Bao Bao. In honor of his upcoming birthday, can we just take a moment to appreciate some panda?

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She’s laying down to eat. How can you not admire that? (BaoBao, I think.)

Last summer, I traveled with a friend to Washington, D.C., to see pandas at the National Zoo. I remember pulling into the parking lot, almost crying because I was so excited that I was about to see a panda for the first time in my life. And when I finally got to see one… Continue reading

What Even is Cancer, Really?

One evening last week, I was rather mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. It was late enough at night that I didn’t want to start anything productive, but not quite late enough to head to bed. Thus, scroll, scroll, scroll, ooohlike, scroll, scroll, hahahawow, scroll, scroll…wait…what?

I had stumbled upon the comments section (dear heavens, save us all) from a crowd-sourcing page for a woman fighting cancer. The woman’s story was heart-wrenching, but the discussion attached the fundraising for treatment had shifted to the efficacy of naturopathic/homeopathic remedies for cancer. I have plenty of thoughts on that subject, but what was clear from my accidental stalking was that the primary arguers (on either side of the camp for/against scientific medicine over “natural remedies”) were a bit murky on what cancer actually is. They both were describing cancer as though it was a condition or infectious disease—perhaps not contagious, but something that can be fought off like a cold or a flu or something like a broken bone that just needs to be properly set to then heal itself. Continue reading

Budding Urban Naturalists

By Rob

During the past few weeks I’ve gotten to go on a few outdoor adventures with my wife.  She’s truly the perfect adventure partner, always up for getting dirty or sweaty, equally enjoying chasing some bird down a trail to snap a picture or making a coffee stop.  And she knows quite a bit about what we’re looking at while outdoors (Maria: he’s being sweet).

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Coffee…the most important part of going outdoors

I’ve always found many positive things in the outdoors, solace when getting over a heart-ache, adventure while orienteering, quiet conversations while fishing with my family, and the chance to push my physical limits when biking and running.  A new aspect I’ve recently started adding is that of an aspiring naturalist.

Continue reading

Top Ten Citizen Science Projects That You Can Join In

cit·i·zen sci·ence

noun

noun: citizen science

  1. the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.

When I was a kid, I had a burning desire to see how much electricity was in a bolt of lightning. I didn’t understand watts, volts, amps, or Ohms yet. All I wanted to know was if those bright streaks that crashed to the ground were strong enough to power a light bulb. Continue reading