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Let's talk podcasts

I walk to work every day, it's just under thirty minutes or just over thirty minutes depending on whether I'm going to school or the museum, and it's a really beautiful walk. I have thus far not made time to introduce myself to the uni gym/pool complex, so this is the extent of my exercise regime at the moment.

For me, listening to podcasts while I walk is one of the main motivations for walking, as opposed to taking the much quicker bus ride. I chill and either get ready for the day, or unwind after staring at my computer screen for hours and listen to some awesome-assed ladies (and gents) entertain and tell me how to be my best person. Here's what I'm listening to these days:

Another Round with Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton
Transistor, a science podcast hosted by many a fine host including: Genevieve Sponsler, Dr. Christina Agapakis, Dr. Wendy Suzuki, and Dr. Michelle Thaller.
Call Your Girlfriend with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Good Job, Brain with Karen Chu, Colin Felton, Dana Nelson, Chris Kohler
Welcome to Nightvale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, narrated by Cecil Baldwin
Dear Hank & John with John and Hank Green

Take a listen, you won't regret. Let me know if you agree.

I forgot Caustic Soda Podcast! with Joe, Torin and Kevin! I've probably been listening to this podcast the longest. Dark humour and sciencey stuff, and Canadian!

Oh gosh, grad school

I dropped the class. I talked to my supervisor. I survived. I feel pretty ridiculous for how "big" this all felt. But really, I only feel ridiculous because I think other people think I'm ridiculous. When in reality, no one knows how much I thought about this but me.

Time to move on.

I'm making a collage based on a couple of the things I heard at a "How to make it in Science" talk a couple of weeks back. It's pretty rad. I think I need to remind myself of how confident I am and how confident I want to be and project to the world. If I'm going to be worried about what people think about me, why not make it pretty fucking obvious to them that I am a strong woman with her head on her shoulders?

Oct. 9th, 2015

I had a plan this morning and I was ready to execute it. I'm registered in a class I don't want to take and the reason I registered in it in the first place is solely because my supervisor wanted me to. I am not learning anything new (not really)> Sure it's good to practise and get feedback on different ways to communicate science, but I would much rather spend my time and money on courses that are going to help me do the work I came here to do.

The plan was good, the email draft to my supervisor about my decision was written and waiting to be sent, all I had to do was make sure that I could actually drop the class and replace it with research credits this late in the game.

Here is where it falls apart.

I did not read the date correctly on the deadline to withdraw with 50% tuition rebate. It said 6-oct-15, which I read as October 15th. Obviously, that is not what that date means, and since today is October 9, I have missed the deadline. The only way that I can drop that class and possibly have it replaced with research credits is to submit a special form, which requires the help and support of my advisor.

I feel like the mountain just got a whole lot higher to climb. I'm visibly upset about this now (my face is wet) and I feel like I would rather stay in this stupid fucking class than even attempt to bring this up with my advisor.

I am not one to back away from difficult things though, so I will still try.


Email sent.

Giving it another go

So this all started with thanksgiving this year, Canadian thanksgiving (we're talking mid-October). My boyfriend and I made took a time lapse video of us cooking a Julia Child themed supper. Virtually all the recipes came from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, with the exception, of course, of the stuffing and the turkey. French people just don't DO that. The supper was delicious, we and our guests had a great evening. Upon reviewing the video however, I was struck with my own image; "Holy shit! I look like that?"

Mirrors are a funny thing, they show you your reflection from your own point of view. I like how I look and I'm often caught in front of the mirror admiring my body (I know, I am so vain and yes, this song is about me). Seeing it from the aimless abiotic view of the camera however, my body did not look anything like I thought it did. It was weird, and off-putting (depressing, to be honest).

I have oft touted or at least been complemented on my healthy body image. I like many aspects of my body, I like to wear fun colours etc and I don't really give a rats arse if I don't follow the latest trends or have the coolest brand names in clothes. The thing is, when I would see myself in my mind's eye, I was 'seeing' a body that I don't have. It certainly jives with my hatred for clothes shopping. Wherever I go to buy clothes for a special function, I will admit, I'm not dressing for myself as I do on a regular basis, I'm dressing for other people, or at least the expectations that I think they have. Anyway, when I try on THOSE kinds of clothes, they NEVER look good of me. The body I projected that I had would probably have looked good in those clothes, but not my actual body. It's weird, I know.

I've made excuses in the past that have kept me from changing how I look. "Why should I change, I'm fine the way I am." (Ok that's not an excuse, I still feel that way) "Curvy is in, so I'm in." "I'm only a little overweight and psh what does the BMI know anyway?" Etc, etc. The truth is I'm lazy, I don't want to embark on a body-morphing endeavour because I know it's a lot of work.

Presto-chango, I'm doing it. I've opened (again) a myfitnesspal account and I'm actually sticking to it. Either it's less clunky or I'm more motivated, but either way, it's fun and I like measuring things (I am a scientist after all). I have a fitness tracker as well, which gently reminds me to move when I've been sedentary for an hour. It's pretty nice actually. For me, if I've been sitting for an hour somewhere, I've probably been staring at a computer trying to fill it with words, or losing myself down the rabbit hole of scientific databases and a walk to get away from the computer screen would be good for my brain as well as my body.

The underlying premises of both the myfitnesspal and Garmin Connect (the fitness tracker) websites are questionable. They both tout their own view of how many calories and how much activity you need to do in a day. It's a lot of hand waving when I enter calories from the database, but I'm tracking my activity with one source, and that consistency is enough for me. I can see where I go off track and when I stay on.

So there ya go. It's going really well 2 weeks in. I haven't even begun to lose interest (a pitfall of mine) and it's still fun. There is a forum where I share my weigh-ins once a week and now I think there will be this as well. I'm hijacking my never-used blog for weight loss purposes, muahahaha. Hope I don't lose too many followers. Oh wait, I don't have any! Wish me luck!

On dreams

Oh gosh I'm floundering. And in a bid for productive procrastination, I'm going to write about it. Things could be worse (a great way to start): I was totally caught up in my online course two weekends ago, this weekend I have three sections to do and I will be caught up again. My systematics class is going well and is my favourite class. We just had a midterm and I got an 'A'. Math is going so much better than two years ago, I don't know what mark I got on my midterm yet but I answered every question and finished in time. It feels a whole lot better than the practise exams did. My independent project, oh my independent project…

Today is a collection day. Today is a MODIFIED collection day because last week I just didn't want to go so I convinced myself (and my advisor) that it would be better if I went this week instead. Today, it turns out, was not a good day to go after all. Thursday afternoons are now reserved for identification of my plant collection, so I have to get out to the field early Thursday morning to get the four hours of collecting done by noon. It's October, so, and somehow this fact slipped my mind until this morning, the sun doesn't come up until 7:30, and unless I want to collect in the dark (which I don't) I can't start much before 8:00. This week I'm collecting samples Friday afternoon and I'll have to shift the rest of the collection dates to Friday afternoons as well.

Ok yay, problem solved right? Well, in the short term, the 'problem' of collecting is sort of sorted out. I still have to do it, and I still have to figure out a way to process these little guys, write my literature review, blitz through the processing, then analyze the results and write a final paper. This is what I wanted, the opportunity to do research, to design an experiment and to contribute something to the worldly body of scientific knowledge. And I still do want it, I guess I just wish that I didn't have to do all this other stuff at the same time. The independent project is my baby, and somehow that means that it's the easiest to drop. The expectations set for it are my own, so there's no one to impress but myself. I do have an advisor, but he is very hands-off and doesn't check in on me, so it's easy to forget that he has expectations at all. He's hard to read too, so even when we do talk about this project, I can't get a handle on whether he thinks I'm doing a good job or that I'm totally slacking off (which I feel that I am, so I might be projecting that onto him).

Blergh. I envy my partner's situation. His field site is thousands of miles away, so field work is compartmentalized into a blitz in the summer. It's intense, but it's all done at once and the rest of the year can be spent processing and analyzing the samples and data. I just want to have these galls collected so that I can move onto the next problem solving task: the clearing.

I'm happy that I chose a project that allows me to collect my own data rather than piggy-backing on the data of someone else's project. I just wish that there was more support from my lab. I think that's what it comes down to. No one talks to me, checks in to see how things are going, checks in to see that I'm actually doing things right, that their aren't giant holes in my design. No one has been out to my field site, there isn't room in the freezer for my samples so I've been storing them at home (next to the frozen pizza and chicken breasts), there isn't a lab or department vehicle so I use my own, and I don't know, it all seems kind of…podunk. I've said it all along that I like the autonomy that I've had to make decisions in this project, but I never envisioned being ignored.

That really is the crux of the matter, and in the end, it's great a experience to have. My expectations SHOULD be the ones that matter the most. Just because other people aren't as interested in my work as I am, the value of the work is not diminished. I am likely ALWAYS going to care about my research more than my peers so I have to find a way to stay committed to it despite their lack of interest and the lack of accolades when I achieve some relatively small milestone. If this is to be my career, and it will be, then I need to rethink what motivates me to succeed. There aren't tests and assignments and other grade-generating steps to independent work. In the end, the issue is about transitioning away from being merely a student and into being a scientist, a researcher, an independent thinker.

How do I shift my focus away from the instant gratification of short term goals like tests and assignments, and toward the long term, delayed gratification of my career aspirations?


I can’t breathe. I feel the sensation to take a deep breath or to yawn and today, about one time out of 10, I actually fill my lungs. This started yesterday afternoon. Today my throat is starting to feel sore, like I’m shoving more air down it than it can handle. Getting to sleep was difficult last night. I get frustrated by this not-full feeling, it pisses me off, which makes my throat feel tighter, which makes it worse. Usually when I try to empty my brain, I concentrate on my breathing. With that option gone I thought I could just think about other things like what I’m going to do this week at work, what my favorite part of the weekend was, puppies, etc. It’s hard to trick the brain NOT to think about the thing upon which it wants to fixate. A movie and good company did the trick in the end. Well, exhaustion did the trick in the end, really.

I googled the feeling I had, and of course found numerous forums about “not being able to yawn” or “not being able to get in a full breath.” These wanderings are never very helpful. The possibilities posited by people on the internet always range from useless: “oh yeah, that happens to me too, does anyone know the reason?” to alarmist: “my aunt felt like that before she DIED OF HORRIBLE DISEASE.” Mostly they hover around half a dozen or so nebulous causes like anxiety or dietary conditions or hormones. Nobody actually goes to see a doctor and reports back, so you just have the musings of a bunch of confirmation-bias-y knuckleheads.

You become one as well, a confirmation-bias-y knucklehead. “Hmm, maybe the acid reflux argument is a good one; I drank a lot of coffee yesterday; maybe that’s it. (Even though there are other days when you’ve had the same if not more coffee AND more egregiously acidic foods and never had trouble breathing). “Ooo, anxiety, I’ve danced around that before. And I feel anxious about not being able to breathe. (Even though, DUH, who wouldn’t feel anxious about not being able to breathe???) “What about hormones, where am I at in my cycle? (Even though you’ve never experienced respiratory distress-like PMS. Although you have felt bat-shit crazy at consistent parts of your cycle.)

I did the grown up thing and went to the doctor. Tests were taken, other tests requisitioned. The doctor had excellent bedside manner. She looked concerned, but not alarmed. And now we wait.

There is a lot to be said for control in this situation. Losing control of my ability to breathe satisfactorily is an obvious one. But I feel a great impatience and lack of control for not being able to figure this out for myself, and for not being able to find the answer from my peers, and from having to wait for professional assessment. The perfectionist in me wants to tie this little mystery up and move on. Not being able to do that is a great source of stress for me. I WANT TO FIX THE PROBLEM AND I CAN’T.

The rational side of me keeps coaxing me to just be patient and wait and see. It reminds me that people have felt bad and gotten better without ever knowing what made them feel bad in the first place; they got over it. But the other side of me, I don’t know what to call her, she can only see this. This one thing that will not kill me, that will likely not even be thought of again once it passes, and that happens to hundreds of other people. She will focus on it until it goes away or she finds another similar thing to fixate on. “I can’t breathe” will become “I think she doesn’t like me” or “I’m not working hard enough” or “Why did I say that?” or “I’m so cruel” or “I think he’s mad at me” or “I think he’s mad at me” or “I think he’s mad at me.” Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
It's Sunday, I have coffee at hand, it's a lovely day outside, the birds are at the feeder. Ah, weekend life. My plan is to spend the majority of the day reading a book, The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is due back at the library soon. Later I'll go searching for the pine cone galls of Rabdophaga strombiloides, more on that in a bit.

The book is a magnificent read, not only because it deals with botany and in particular that discipline of science concerned most with the observation and study of species in their environment: natural history, but because it is beautifully written, and handily so. I fell in love with Gilbert's writing in Eat, Pray Love and Committed, and had been looking forward to her first foray into fiction; she does not disappoint. I appreciate the research that she must have done in preparing for this work, and being a botanist myself, it's lovely to see species that I know and adore mentioned in the book. I love, absolutely love getting to know the protagonist, Alma, who was encouraged from a very young age to cultivate a scientific mind. Even though I wouldn't want a Henry or Beatrix Whitaker as a dad or mom (in many ways, I already do), I envy the freedom and encouragement they grant Alma to discover the natural world. Something about her curiosity and hunger for answers bolsters and perhaps justifies my own inquisitiveness and lust for the same. She's a hero, from the past, who never existed, and aren't they the best role models?

Once I pick up the book, I read it for an hour at least, and today I plan to make some major headway. That said, here I am writing instead of reading! It's four in the afternoon, I had a nice sleep in and a lovely breakfast with M, and fuck it, it's Sunday, I guess. If I don't get out to search for galls so be it, although it would certainly be nice. For my independent project I'm looking into the relationship, if any, between gall size and larva size and the presence or absence of parasitoids within the gall former. This means a lot of poking around willow shrubs, the host plant, looking for cabbage or pine cone shaped deformities. These deformities are caused by the feeding of the midge larva within, and frick, they are hard to find!

From what I've read in the literature, they should be full size or very nearly so by this time in the season, however I have only found one, moderately-sized live gall, and 5 very small ones. It's possible that this year, in this region, galls are just growing slowly, but the main problem is the number. I need more! From the number of galls from previous seasons that are left on the plants, I feel like there should be more around for this season. It's possible that whatever factors induce an infestation of galls one year, may also affect the species of Salix favoured and maybe I just haven't found this year's preferred host. Alma would keep searching, so I will too. Alma probably would get off her ass and stop wasting time on the internet, so with that, I bid you adieu!

Lent Chronicle - Epilogue

I think overall this Lent went well. I didn't post much about it towards the end, mostly because I was studying and getting ready for Austria, then I was IN Austria, which was fantastic.

Despite not always following through with "being mindful" I have been thinking about it a lot. It's hard to keep on track when I get worked up about things though. For example, there was a bit of a schmozzle with my baggage on the trip home and I feel like I got more upset about it then I needed to. I feel ok now, but I couldn't stop focusing on the loss of my stuff. I can't tell where the worthy feelings end and where my own criticism of my reactions begins. I know that I make things worse by dwelling on the fact that I can't control my emotions, and how that makes me weak and how people will not want to be around me anymore if I can't get better, and it just goes on and on.

I listened to a TED talk by one of my favorite authors this morning and it's had me thinking about it all day. She talked about how to come back after a failure, or a great success. The way she expressed it, her failures and her successes take her away from where she is most comfortable or fulfilled, where she is doing what she loves. She said it was like her brain couldn't tell the difference between success and failure, it only felt the absolute value of how far it was from center, and that success can end up having a lot of the same feelings as failure. Her advise, was to come back to the thing that you love to do, the thing that you love more than yourself. I don't know what that is for me.

I feel like there are a lot of things that I do that make me feel comfortable, but that are definitely not things that I love to do. They are compulsive things, which is how this whole Lent thing started and really, I have been trying to be more cognizant of my actions for a long time now. It feels like the ever-present perfectionism under a different name.

Before I had a computer, I listened to the radio. I sewed my own clothing and I made stuff. I wrote in journals; often. And those things gave me energy and made me feel good. I want to go back to doing that, but I just can't seem to give up the mind-numbing internet-surfing, or movie-watching. It's like as I kept moving and pruning down the things that I had been carrying around, I also stopped making room for vital creative space. I have been making excuses for a long time that school takes precedence, or before that, I worked a job that I let drain every once of me until there was nothing left to create with. I just keep telling myself that in a "while" my circumstances will change and I'll have more time for that "later."

At present I am really happy with my life. I am going to school and learning (Learning is a thing that I love. The first time that I felt calm since I landed this weekend was when I was studying and writing my final exam this morning. I felt really good, I love learning.) I am in love and I am loved. I live in a beautiful city. I am successful and overall, my life has been on an upward trend for a few years now. I just can't seem to let go of the old me, the victim-me. I don't know what a new me looks like and the old me is always holding on for dear life. I just want to kill her so that she's gone altogether and I'm a new person without any of those faults. I know this is not realistic, or necessarily even wise.

That's all for now.

On fear

I had an appointment with my doc this morning to discuss anxiety. I don't know what I'm talking about or getting into when dealing with such a thing, so I decided to get more information from a pro. We talked about how certain events tend to trigger me to get a huge lump in my throat, talk funny and leak out of my face. These tend to include things like talking with profs about career goals and plans, being asked to explain my ideas, talking about my ideas, etc.

I was disappointed in the appointment because I went there for a solution to this problem that is different from what I have been doing. Mostly I think I’m disappointed that my doctor did not prescribe medication; I thought that she would. Doctors have done this in the past and I have always declined. Now, when I’m ready, no, desperate, to try something that will at least let me feel like a ‘normal’ human being, she prescribes counselling. Counselling doesn’t feel different enough to me; it feels like what I’ve been doing forever.

On thinking about it more however, what I’m doing isn’t counselling, it’s not very productive and it’s way too insular. I think about solutions and causes and factors and triggers and try to fix them myself by myself; I don’t talk to anyone else about them. And yet, in talking to one person, one time (my doctor, this morning) I have insight that I didn’t have before. And it’s not because she suggested things, it’s because she asked questions. I’m the one that came up with the answers, they were already in my head, but someone else poking around in my ideas made them obvious; like one of those right-side-up-upside-down visual illusions.

When she asked me if I had the same experiences of becoming verklempt when talking to profs at my old school I had to say no. I couldn’t even really think of times when I talked to profs much at my old school (except the dean, who made a point of getting to know each of us). I didn’t really care about my degree at BU, I was going through the motions, floating from what I liked to do in high school and continuing it in university. I did the things that were known to me and comfortable. I had no real plan. I liked music, but I didn’t want to go through the steps to become a professional musician. I liked learning, but kind of just for the sake of knowing stuff. The degree that I received from BU is a consolation prize, a sad piece of paper to commemorate a notion of merit.

Now I’m doing things that are totally unknown to me. I don’t know anything about being a scientist except what I’ve learned in the last 3 years, and what I did know prior to starting on this path was that science was not for me. I didn’t know any scientists, I didn’t know anyone with advanced degrees and I kind of thought that academia was for people who didn’t like to work for a living (thanks Dad).

Today, I have a plan to go along with my passion. I had passion for music, don’t get me wrong, but I shot myself in the foot by not tending to that passion and helping it grow and now it’s a sore spot, something that I quit because it was too hard; thinking about it just feels kind of crappy.

The aforementioned plan is to [ complete this degree, complete a master’s degree, complete a PhD ], to be something that I don’t yet know how to be. I don’t know how to be a researcher. I don’t know how to be an educator. I don’t know how to be an advisor. All of these roles come with a stupendous amount of confidence and belief. I’m faced with another hard thing that I love and I’ll be damned if I quit his time.

So yeah, I’m scared. I’m scared to fail. I’m scared to do it wrong. I’m just plain scared of this big important thing, which is pretty, well, normal.

Counselling has been a huge help to me in the past, so I don’t understand how I’ve gotten to a place where I’m scared of that too. I think I’ve forgotten that counsellors are not all-knowing, they are curious and compassionate. They help me get to the places that I can’t see. They don’t know more than me, they help me access what I know. I’ll start taking my doctor’s advice this week. The counsellor I saw in the past has since moved on to another place, so I will start over with someone else. This is a thing I can do, so I’ll start there.

Lent Chronicle Day 28

I've decided to call this year's Lent "Make a PLAN not a NOTION." And with that, I have to admit, I have fallen off the band-wagon the last little while (hence the lack of updates). To be fair to myself, I did move out of my apartment, which taxed my ability to focus to the max. I multi-tasked like mad while I packed boxes and indulged in simple movies while I decided what was going to stay and what was going to go. I think there may be some value in having something on in the background that allows me to get other stuff done though; especially things that do not take a lot of concentration and that are actually better served by doing them quickly and not lingering and thinking on them too much. This is a relief and a let-down. A relief, cause Yay! Excuses! A let-down because it would be better to know that a behaviour is just a nuissance all the time and then I could decide to get rid of it entirely. Go gray. Black-and-white-zero-sum loses, again.

Now I am settling into a new home with M and on the plan-not-a-notion front, things are actually not too too bad. I've gotten to sleep at an appropriate time and felt pretty great in the mornings compared to the last couple weeks. The move went really well and pretty much all of my stuff is neatly packed into a friend's garage and everything I need for work this summer is in my new home. I was overall really organized and there was minimal shrapnel left in the apartment that I either forgot to pack for storage or take to the thrift store.

School-wise, the plan yesterday was to "work" (work is a notion...fail) on my lab report for plant development (last one woot!). I looked up articles in the morning (notion complete! Wait, why is the report not done...) and spent the afternoon researching psycho-therapeutic drugs and some articles and websites about anxiety disorders (oh, that's why). So, on the whole not a total failure, but not sticking to the plan by any stretch of the imagination (because I didn't make one). Today, the aim is to write the Intro, Methods and Results of the paper by five o'clock (Booyah!). Ugh, even writing down a plan makes me sooooo not want to do it.

I guess that's how I know that it's probably the best thing to do, because I never really *want* to do the best thing.