Monday, October 12, 2015

Spiky balls of fun

Two weeks later... back to Woods Hole.  This time to discuss the amazingness that are sea urchins. The meeting is small, welcoming... and exhausting.  We think, talk, drink starting with the first session at 9 am until the last session at 9 pm and continue on through the poster and social hour till 11 pm .... but it doesn't stop there.  People from our conference closed down the Captain Kidd every night - catching up, discussing the latest talk, giving guidance to the burgeoning scientists, and drinking.  It is a wonderful group of people, who (for the most part) all really enjoy each others' company.
Conferences are always a time to reconnect with old friends. This conference we also remembered some who are no longer with us, including my postdoctoral El Jefe, Lynne Angerer, and a force of nature in the field, Eric Davidson. Lynne was still well represented with many of her disciples in the audience. We decided to take a belated lab picture - too bad we never took one with Lynne when we were all actually in the lab. -- Mental note... take a lab picture.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Back to the bottom

I left the deep-sea community after my PhD to learn the most cutting edge molecular techniques at the National Institutes of Health. Now that I'm back in a Marine Science Department (and my kids are a little older), I'm trying to get back out to sea and re-integrate into the deep-sea community.

The first formal reintegration step was to attend a DeSSC meeting.  DeSSC - Deep Submergence Science Committee - is a group of deep-sea researchers that connect the scientists to the administrators to ensure that the science community has the assets it needs. Each year, there is an early career component to the DeSSC meeting. They will pay for new users and early career scientists to attend this meeting to familiarize them with what is available and make connections within the community.  If you're interested, apply to go next year (always in December right before AGU conference).

Second formal step... bootcamp. I recently returned from an Alvin Bootcamp.  We got a full tour of the renovated submarine and its amazing new capabilities... and most importantly were schooled on tricks and tips for integrating it into our research projects and proposals. They're really trying to set up the next generation for success and at the same time ensure long term success of the Alvin program.

I'll be putting two proposals/preproposals in this winter... here's hoping that I get back out in this workhorse in the sea.  To the bottom of the drink....

Friday, August 14, 2015

Coral spawning take 2

We're back in Hawaii for the new moon - happening today.  Don't be too jealous, its raining and 90 degrees F.

Yes - we were just here for coral spawning - the (often mass) reproductive event when corals release their eggs and sperm. We went home to see our families (and dogs) in between because our target coral species, the rice coral Montipora capitata, only spawns the evenings around the new moon. The biggest days are usually the two to three days right after the new moon, but there are dribbles before and after the peak days. All in all, we can usually collect eggs and sperm for five to six days in June, July and August.  For those of you who work with model organisms, that probably sounds crazy. For those of you who have worked with other species of coral, you're probably jealous.  Many other coral species only spawn once, some for a few days in a row and some only for a single mass event.

So I headed out last night with a bucket and scooper with high hopes for collecting while watching the Perseid meteor shower. One of the advantages of being up at night for collecting is the star gazing - no moon to brighten the sky. I was very disappointed to look up and see nothing but clouds, but it didn't pour down rain and we did manage to find a steady dribble of what look like little styrofoam balls floating on the surface of the water - coral gamete bundles!

So initial success for day 1 of spawning. Here's hoping that they survived the night. The first 12 hours is the most critical for survival in this species. See the next post for why this time matters so much! (And check back for pictures coming soon.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Makes sense if you're a Marine Biologist

So there are some things that really sound strange unless you're a Marine Biologist.  Over the past 2 weeks doing field work in Hawaii, I've collected a few quotes that exemplify why this is the best profession... and how its easy to forget.

John - "Howzit?"
Diane - "Did any of your girls turn into boys yet?"
John - "Not yet."
Random guy - "That would be a really awkward question in any other place."
[It made perfect sense here though. John is studying a species of fish that changes gender to make sure that there is always a dominant male. In the absence of a male, a female (often the largest) changes into a male - coloration (in this case a stripe), gonads and all.]

Someone in the distance during a night snorkel to collect coral eggs - "Did we just swim through a warm patch or did someone pee?"
[It was actually a warm patch.  The coves and lagoons warm up during the day and then flush out the warm water into the cooler ocean mixed waters as the tide receeds. While it wasn't pee, the group would soon be swimming through a milky water filled with coral eggs and sperm. Yum.]

Diane - "I really don't want to go snorkeling today."
Kate - "Suck it up, its the last day."
[Poor us. We have to snorkel in Hawaii for our work, and have the audacity to complain!]

Diane - "I have the worst booty tan lines."
[In this case, my tan lines are on my ankles due to my swim booties that I wear with fins.]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The salty sea calls the OSTRICH

OSTRICH - Observations on SubTRopical ICHthyoplankton

The ostrich sticks its head in the water rather than the sand to observe the little morsels to eat.  The morsels that we care about are LARVAE.  The main objective of this research cruise revolves around patches of fish larvae, their predators, and their prey. 

I'm tagging along to look at the invertebrate larvae which may also be food for the baby fish.

We're doing a series of tows of an imaging system called ISIIS and also MOCNESS tows to groudtruth the images.

There was a lot of excitement upon leaving port - there was an eddy in the lower Florida Keys that could be generating patches, filaments and streaks of larvae.  We steamed ahead...

As my husband said... "Ah the elusive Eddy.  Its like the unicorn or the kracken."  While I don't hope to see the kracken, it would be nice to find the eddy soon.  It seems to be hiding from us... or at least running.

To follow the cruise, check out the cruise blog:

Friday, May 15, 2015

In the lab

I remembered how to do my own lab work this week. It was so nice to sit in lab and pipette, without students interrupting and asking questions, without having to run off to a meeting, and with all of the equipment and reagents I needed. I was productive!

I successfully troubleshooted some RACE PCRs that we need for some summer fieldwork. Yeah.

And I did my first Western Blot. Now, at this point one might think that I should have already done a Western. But alas, I came into molecular biology from, well, ecology, so I skipped the requisite western done in a molecular biology teaching lab. Besides, I can detect changes in gene expression using RT-qPCR, whole mount in situ hybridizations, fluorescent and histochemical immunostains. Why use more techniques?

In this case, the answer is because the antibodies aren't good enough for immunostaining in cells, tissues or the organism. So, I got to learn Westerns.  And the best part is that, though preliminary, it looks like I was able to knock down a gene in corals! Fabulous... now to be able to repeat it!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Close of Class

So maybe my silence this semester was in part due to the fact that I taught my first full class. Or maybe not... either way I learned a lot about how I like (and don't like) to teach.

Step 1) Choose a great topic. Done.  Ecological Developmental Biology.  What a great thing to discuss! We dove into fascinating ideas and hypotheses that spanned multiple biological disciplines. How do new phenotypes come about? What determines an individual's fitness? Is everything that determines who we are really in the genome?

Step 2) Teach with people you like.  Done.  I got to co-teach the course with Dr. Henry John-Alder, the chair of the Ecology and Evolution Department. As a seasoned vet at teaching, I felt comfortable diving into a new course - my first new course. He also knew all of the endocrinology that I glaze over.

Step 3) Let the learning begin... hum. My goals for the course were not to memorize content or understand the mechanics of gene expression. My goals for the course were more a change in perspective - introducing a new way of thinking about old problems. The environment doesn't just work as an agent of SELECTION on existing variation, it can also contribute to CREATING VARIATION.  While an amputated limb will not be inherited between generations, there are some traits acquired within a lifespan that CAN be inherited. The genome is a set of bases (ATGC) that serves as a starting point for something more dynamic - the development of an individual - with methylation, acetylation, transcription factor binding, microRNAs, long RNAs, and a mix of other things we don't even know about yet.

How do we teach new perspectives? Pedagogically, I don't know the answer. Our approach, right or wrong, was exposure followed by synthesis and application to their own research areas. I think some of it may have actually worked.

Step 4) Wait in the silence. A discussion based course requires, well... discussion. It is easy for us professors to fill any silence by listening to ourselves talk.  Oh, how professors love to listen to themselves!  It took me a while to accept the silence and wait for a student to fill it. But by the end, we had some excellent discussions that convinced me that the students were actually listening, reading and learning throughout the semester!

Step 5)  What I think we (or at least I) failed on was teaching some of the non-technical skills - presentations, writing summaries, meeting deadlines, promptness. Throughout the semester, these were things that drove me crazy... and I enabled. Any student reading this -- for all future courses, a deadline is a deadline. Miss it and I might not accept the assignment or I might dock a grade.  Why should I have do something on the weekend or at night because you missed your deadline? No more.  On a more positive note, tips and tricks for writing and presenting will become part of all future courses as well. Feedback, feedback, feedback.  I think having a multi-step final paper/proposal with drafts that received extensive feedback was valuable to everyone involved.

Step 6) A glass of wine to read through the final products of a good semester.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

With Honors

The end of the academic year is a crazy time with tests, essays, pomp and circumstance. We are saying goodbye to three of our undergraduate researchers.  Two of which were my first undergraduate researchers - Angela Coccagna and Christian DiLiberto. They both accomplished a lot - generating research results that will be included in future publications - Angela contribute to a manuscript on the evolution of phenotypic plasticity and Christian contributed to a manuscript on the role of Wnt signaling in urchin plasticity.

Christian made a huge commitment by doing a Seniors Honors Thesis. This means different things in different universities, schools within Rutgers, and departments. Christian did his in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MBB) - a tough department that also ranks the honors - No Honors, Honors, High Honors, and Highest Honors. Highest Honors is usually reserved for students who have done 3-4 years of laboratory research and generated a paper... and yes, many of the Seniors Honors students in MBB did 3-4 years of undergraduate research in a single lab.  Despite this, and the potential handicap of doing research in a Marine and Coastal Science Lab (aka the Adams LaRVAE Lab), Christian was awarded second place for best Senior Honors Thesis!  WELL DONE, Christian! 

We're very proud of all of our students. With three leaving and another taking a semester off, we are sad... we'll have to try to find more great people at Rutgers to join the lab.  Congrats, Seniors!  Best of Luck.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Welcome Colette!

Although the time will be short, we're very excited to have recently minted Dr. Colette Feehan join the lab this summer as a postdoc. Dr. Feehan is an expert in disease as a driver of marine community dynamics. Her PhD thesis focused on sea urchin disease in Nova Scotian kelp forests. She is a prolific scientist with more than 10 publications before she even got her PhD!

This summer, she'll be leading a new project in the Florida Keys investigating the barriers that are preventing the recovery of Diadema. Diadema is a sea urchin that was wiped out by disease the 1980s (when I was 3!) and again in the early 1990s. The demise of sea urchins has been blamed for an increase of algae on reefs that are out-competing and killing corals. Managers and vacationers, who want to see beautiful coral instead of algae, are very interested in facilitating the recovery of Diadema. Hopefully, the results of our research can help both the public and government understand how to do this successfully.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Women in Oceanography

As I prepared to submit my first proposal, I received an edit back asking to remove the statement in broader impacts that the proposal would support a beginning, mixed race, female faculty member.  'No one cares about gender anymore.'  The comment implies that females are equally represented now -- all the programs and efforts to retain women have worked. The job is done.

The December issue of Oceanography revisits the status of women in the field of oceanography ten years after their first special issue on Women in Oceanography.

The analyses presented there show that there is definitely progress. Numbers of females in all ranks of the faculty went up ~5%.  However, overall, women still comprise only 23% of the faculty in oceanography.  My department is right on the average with 7 females in a faculty of 30 - 4 of which are pre-tenure. This means that I spend my committee meetings often surrounded by elder, caucasian males.

The good news is that things are changing... but we're not there yet.  Some of it will just take time to reverse the inequalities at the highest level, but some of it will be concerted efforts to keep women in the academy and successful. The Oceanography special edition contains over 200 autobiographical sketches of women in oceanography - included as role models, points of inspiration and connection, others who have or are going through similar experiences.  I wrote one... its in there, along side many of my friends and women I've never met.  Maybe it will contribute to helping someone to keep on this path or, better yet, truly find their own path here in the academy or elsewhere.