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?

natl_geo_1978_cov1

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

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?

11760133_951657159795_340443642499127293_n

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

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

How to Tell if an Information Source is Trustworthy

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on how to tell if information sources are trustworthy or not. Since repetition helps information retention, I decided it was time to revisit an updated version post. Especially now as we are approaching election season, it is critical that we are relying on trustworthy sources to give us accurate information. There’s a lot of junk out there, but we can sort through it together. Continue reading

From a Conservation Educator…

I don’t think I can remember my first trip to a zoo. My family visited the Columbus Zoo often when I was little, and the numerous visits have blurred together over the years and decades. What never blurred, though, was my love for the animals I saw on each visit. I remember parking myself at the gorilla exhibit over and over, and the awe never diminished. I had read all about these animals in the library books I regularly hoarded, but to see them live, in front me…to realize how powerful and how intelligent they were…to see how the silverback Mumba interacted with his family, sometimes playing with the young ones or chastising them when they got a little too goofy for his breakfast time preference…to see how curious they could even be about us humans…what a beautiful thing. Even as a child, I wanted to show the whole world how precious these creatures were. As I grew older, that passion to inspire love increased especially as I learned more about their decline in the wild and its implications. Continue reading

Free Trip to a Museum or Starbucks..?

Friends, family, and readers! I’m interested in getting a bit of background information on the folks who regularly or occasionally read my blog. (Or heck, even if you’ve never read it, but you were intrigued by my dazzling flowery banner at the top.) My goal is to learn a little bit more about all of you so that I can better meet your interests and reading needs.

Survey is here.

Once you have taken the survey, either message my Facebook blog page or comment “Done!” on the Facebook share. On Wednesday, July 13th, I’ll randomly pick one person to win their choice of either $10 to Starbucks or two tickets to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. (And to ensure it’s random, I’ll use a spreadsheet.)

Thanks so much! Keep exploring!

Backyard Wildlife: The Discovery!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we did indeed find wildlife on my trail camera! It was mostly deer, but I still think it’s a great way to visualize the natural world around even a suburban area.

I__00082

Nice young buck, velvet still on his antlers.

I__00078

Just a little fawn, still adorable with her spots 🙂

I__00080

Think she spotted the camera?

I__00084

Gettin in that Saturday morning jog!

I__00077

Bonus Footage: I think a train went by. Or did the neighbors leave their fire-breathing dragon out again?

I__00066

Bonus Footage: This must be from when I dropped the camera during the set-up process. Looks like swirly fun in an impressionistic dream kind of way.

I’m going to leave the camera out for a bit longer, and I can keep you updated if I find anything else exciting!

In the meanwhile, if you are interested in some hands-on field work, but with the help of naturalists and scientists, the National Park Service is holding a series of BioBlitzes across the country this year in honor of 100 years of parks. BioBlitzes are a citizen science effort of conducting biological surveys in a short period of time. They are a great way to go on a guided exploration of biodiversity, plus they can be a huge help to keeping inventory of all living things in the focus area–from animals to plants to fungi, everything! Many of the BioBlitzes occurred in May, but different parks around the country are hosting their events all the way until later in the year. The map on the NPS page will help you search for BioBlitzes near you.

Well, that’s it for today. Keep exploring!