Back in August Doug and I decided it would be great to do a 6 hour fun run. Because we have totally realistic perspectives on what is a normal amount of running. :) This photo was taken after several hours of running in circles on Terrell's Island. We look vaguely dazed and I'm pretty sure the legs were starting to feel the burn. Only 37 miles, NBD. Shoutout to Doug and Andy for keeping the group upright, fun conversation, and running in the correct direction.
This is my proudest race photo to date. On the Glacial Trail 50K this past weekend. This whole race was fueled by a group effort, Doug helped me mentally prepare, Dominica lent me her running backpack, and Jason and Israel for making this happen for me. This is about 10 miles into the race on part of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. I love that this photo is blurry and I've got a manic grin on my face- really captures the essence of me.
This summer I am conducting fieldwork at the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) in the northern lower peninsula of MI. I have spent the past few days running around getting acquainted with the forest here, and pondering some research questions I hope to begin to answer this summer. The station is quiet this week, but the REU students arrive soon, followed by the summer students, so the station will soon be buzzing with activity. When not contemplating research questions, I've been exploring the many recreational offerings here at the station, including a lovely paddle around Douglas Lake, complete with a fishing side-expedition.
Running update: The Apple Creek 50K race I was training for this spring was a wonderful event, and a great first 50K race for me. The race started just after sunrise and it was well organized and supported throughout the course. The trails were muddy but there was excellent weather for the race itself. The picture below, is about an hour after I finished the race, where I've clearly had time to rinse off all the mud and change into fresh clothes. :) I came in 4th overall and was the 1st female finisher, in just under 5 hours! The training clearly paid off, and I look forward to running this event again in the future.
I am pleased to announce that I have completed my PhD in March. My actual viva date was March 17th (vivas are similar to the North American version of a defense, but the questioning tends to last longer). When I returned to Appleton a whole surprise party awaited me- well done Israel et al. on the planning! It was complete with PhD-themed hats and 3 amazing cake offerings all made of chocolate!
Now that the PhD is secured, I've been spending my time polishing up a few individual dissertation chapters for publication. When I'm not in the office, I have been enjoying the glorious spring weather outside training for the upcoming Apple Creek 50K race, and preparing the garden for this summer.
This past summer was spent collecting final data on the Rhizotron. As this was the first experiment I established for my Ph.D. it was a bittersweet experience. Bitter (and at times resentful towards the springy alder branches that were apt to thwack me in the face) as I meticulously harvested and partitioned trees into branches, stems, and leaves for traits measurements. Sweet in the satisfaction of a job well done, and the physical clearance of a space densely occupied by my experimental "babies."
For reference a single alder tree around 5m in height (and 9 kg in weight!) easily takes 3 hours just to harvest and process, with several days to dry, grind, and measure into mere milligrams of sample for nutrient analysis.
Luckily, I had plenty of assistance/entertainment provided by small office figures. Note, the chicken is to scale. The tractor is tiny.
Some results were clearly visible (for example the massive growth of the red alders compared with other tree species), while other results require a bit of waiting time (examining to ratios of Carbon and Nitrogen in plant tissues). While I wait for results from samples sent off to the lab, I have been reading (hopefully as deeply as the alder roots in my experiment managed to grow), and writing. The first paper from my dissertation was published last month, in Soil Biology and Biochemistry (email me if you would like a copy but lack access).
In an effort to endure a physical running challenge somewhat analogous to the Ph.D. experience, I ran the Snowdownia Trail (ultra)Marathon- 28 miles of fell running (envision hurling yourself downhill through farmer's fields filled with hummocks, and squishy grass patches). It rained from the start to the finish, but perseverance paid off and I crossed the finish line to find a very supportive (and happy to see I'm still alive) Israel, and a large assortment of post-race goodies. I also worked on my post-viva swagger. Please note the man splayed out on the ground behind me, in sheer awe of my unique post-race swagger.
I learned that a waterproof backpack is a key piece of kit when running for 6 hours in the rain (weighed over 10 pounds!). I used none of the gear I had stashed in said pack, including a wool sweater, gloves, a thick winter hat, and waterproof trousers (that somehow manage to soak up water with sponge-like efficiency).
Oddly, the first 20 miles of the race felt quite manageable and I had a nice rhythm. Then, the climb to the top of Snowden happened and... well 3 more hours passed by as I careened up and down the edifice. Though the weather was quite sobering, the sheer cliff vistas while bouldering was certainly an once-in-a-lifetime experience. This race isn't meant to be a perfect analogue for my Ph.D. experience, but a few key components are consistent (this list is not a complete recipe for how to succeed in a Ph.D. or a long-distance race, just some general tips):
1) The critical support of my family, friends, and supervisors
2) Focus, determination, and grit to carry-on when things weren't going to plan.
3) Excitement and enthusiasm when things were going great (good planning).
4) Fueling the race with caffeine at strategic points (and chocolate at others).
5) Finishing the race* by thinking creatively, pushing myself through the tough bits, and focusing on positive things (like a post-race massage).
* I haven't finished my Ph.D., but I hope crossing that finish line will feel equally thrilling.
I have been using the 15N pool dilution method again this summer, but with a few new methodological modifications so I am very interested to see what the results look like. For some aspects of my research I can take samples through the entire life cycle of data from sample collection, preparation, laboratory analyses, statistical analyses, and finally... communicating the data via tables, figures (or doodles). This summer I have been fortunate enough to be gaining a bit more experience with the laboratory analyses involved in determining how much nitrogen (in the form of ammonia or nitrate) exists within my soil samples. Specifically I was able to use the Flow Injection Analyser.
While some early career scientists are told not to touch analytical machines (so as not to break them I think?), for me the experience actually solidified how samples become data, and ultimately left me feeling like flow injection analysis is less of a black box that spits out lovely nitrogen concentrations for me. You also really appreciate the single sentence in papers that states how nitrogen concentrations were determined, and how diluting samples can actually take an entire morning despite being an innocent two word phrase on a to-do list. Speaking of that to-do list... I must head off to work on my poster for the upcoming Ecological Society of America meeting in Baltimore!
One of my offices in located hours away from the University of Copenhagen- west in the Jutland Peninsula to be exact. This past week I was able to head out from my Uni office and explore potential field sites to see how suitable they might be for my summer research plans.
This is an example of the striking contrast between two tree species. While the edge does allow an unnatural amount of light into the conifer understory (as seen on the left), you can still see large differences just in the development of the shrubs and plants growing underneath these canopies.
I happened across a nice patch of exposed soil so naturally I wanted to jump down and grab a photo next to it. I also got a chance to get closer to those vibrantly green plants growing near by, on scent alone I guessed they were in the onion family. Yuck!
And I went on a weekend trip to Poland, to have a small vacation before the field season ramps up, and to do a bit of running in the Orlen Warsaw Marathon. Plenty of culture to explore, pierogies to consume, and all with glorious sunshine and warm weather and good company. I can't wait to return to Poland to continue my explorations beyond Warsaw.
While working remotely on my dissertation, I have had the pleasure of assisting Israel Del Toro with his new field experiment (for more details check out his website here). While the original intention was the start establishing field sites in Mexico, safety advisories have precluded those field excursions. Thus, we started scoping out sites in New Mexico., which of course means we needed to undertake a bit of a road trip to get a sense for potential field sites, what the habitats look like, and see if I can identify any of the spiky, shrubby vegetation. During the next month, I'll be visiting the Jornada LTER and agricultural research group at New Mexico State University. During the weekends I'll be moonlighting at a novice desert ecologist, mainly learning what I can while we drive around the southwestern U.S.
While some terrain will seem particularly novel to me, I've actually been on a whirlwind tour of New Mexico many years ago, so I do recall a bit of geology and astronomy knowledge from that trip (special shout out to Phil Blessman and Paul McLeod and my fellow students). I did spend some time in Cloudcroft before, but this trip I'm sure to get more hiking in. Here are some photos from our travels thus far.
In December I hopped on a series ot trains to head to Dijon, France (that's right: mustard country!) for the 1st global soil biodiversity initiative conference. The conference lasted 4 days, and went by far too quickly. To capture some of the more scientific and educational aspects, feel free to check out a compilation of tweets from the conference here. I did manage to take a few photos during my trip, which I'll post here for your viewing pleasure, mainly from a garden I found. But also, I am compelled to include a picture of the nougat stand located at the christmas market.
Two weeks in Copenhagen came and went very quickly. I found my new office in the Geosciences building. No shortage of bicycle parking space here! You can't really tell from the photos but the building is relatively new and has a whole host of plants growing up trellises inside the main atrium area... guess you'll just need to come chat with me to see for yourself! In the meantime, here are some photos from my trip.
I had the opportunity to listen to several great lectures, present my own research, get acquainted with my new Department colleagues, and even attend a week-long course on the use of isotopes to trace nutrient dynamics in the environment! There was also a bit of time to try out some of the local fare (rye bread anyone?), and do a few touristy things.
This is a photo from one of my new field sites, just an hour's drive form my office in Copenhagen. The lack of understory vegetation is rather distinctive, considering this is a broadleaved forest. It was wonderful to be out in the woods all day.
First sightings of avian life in Copenhagen (I'm not talking about the Swan boats here)...
After several days of grey skies and extensive rain storms (which I'm used to in Bangor at this point), I finally spotted a Copenhagen sunset! Had to pull off the bicycle path to snap this photo.
Over the past few days in Manchester I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the British Ecological Society's special interest group meeting "Carbon cycling: from Plants to Ecosystems." More information on the meeting available here: http://besplantsoileco.wordpress.com/pse-pepg-joint-meeting/. The meeting was a jointly coordinated effort by the Plant-Soils-Ecosystems and Plant Environmental Physiology special interest groups, and held at the University of Manchester. I really enjoyed the meeting, and I'm going to briefly use this post to explain why I think you should attend meetings of a similar structure in the future. It is also important to place this in the context of my background as an international PhD student, with this conference being my first in the U.K.
Firstly, all the participants for the meeting could fit into one conference room for presentation. This is very different from the larger society meetings with dozens of concurrent sessions happening in multiple conference rooms (for example, the American Geophysical Union meetings which have had over 22,000 attendees in a given year). I really enjoyed the contrast, with all meeting participants in the same room watching the one presentation at a time. As an attendee I really appreciated knowing that over coffee I could walk up to any other person and discuss the previous presentations, because we all were there together. We all just saw not only the keynote address, but the sessions that followed it. In some ways I felt this meant I was more likely to interact with fellow meeting participants, regardless of whether we had any direct research interest overlap. More practically speaking, I talked with almost everyone at the meeting. I cannot say I have had the pleasure of interacting with so many new faces in any meeting I have ever attended before.
Secondly, as a speaker, I felt the meeting arrangement ensured I would have the attention of the whole group, while giving my presentation. This was rather empowering. Sometimes at larger meetings you can be assigned a time-slot concurrent with competing talks (e.g. similar topics but as a younger scientist your name may not have the recognition to draw in a crowd, compared with a very established scientist). Or worse, you may be assigned to a room at the opposite end of the conference venu and end up running to a series of talks that look really interesting, but are all assigned to take place at the same time as your presentation! This isn't always the case of course, but it has happened.
Lastly, every talk is relevant or connected to your research topics. Perhaps some are methodologically not up your research alley, but you have the background to understand all of the research that is presented. This makes it easier as both an attendee and as a speaker to understand and present material since you can spend more time on the details, and less time introducing to topic for a broad audience. We were able to cover the intricacies of specific enzymes involved with photosynthesis, without having to spend precious presentation time going over what photosynthesis is. So this meeting allows participants more time to digest the details, as well as the take-home messages. As a presenter I got a lot of great questions both immediately after my talk, and during the coffee breaks, dinner, and following day of the meeting. This is the most feedback on any presentation I have ever given, save my thesis defense.
This is not to say that I don't love larger society meetings. I love the larger meetings for their breadth of topics covered, and the fact that most people in your field will all be in the same city for a few days each year (so you can meet with everyone without the use of Skype). But, the more intimate setting of the smaller, special interest group style meetings is a distinct advantage for me. After two days I was able to meet almost everyone in this group and discuss new potential collaborations, as well as introduce myself to the PSE-PEPG research world. I am grateful for the opportunity to present at the meeting, and I look forward to hearing more about PSE-PEPG research at future events.
p.s. If you were not able to attend the meeting, you can follow the twitter conversation here: http://www.hashtagr.co/psepepg and the oral presentations were recorded and will be posted on the PSE website in a few days time.
Relena is a forest ecologist and researches how trees and soils interact. She also likes to run through areas populated by trees.