Monday, January 24, 2011

Shameless self promotion

Scripps Pier and the gorgeous Pacific Ocean... ahh...
I'm head out in a few days to do a little self promotion on the west coast.  I was kindly invited to give a seminar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Ca almost a year and a half ago.  Budgets being the way they are, travel for out-of-towners has been one of the first things cut at institutions across the country.

I decided to take things into my own hands.  Sunny California sounds quite nice this time of year (high today in DC 30 F, in La Jolla 75 F) and I could use the practice and promotion.  Think the tickets are tax deductible? So, I'm packing up the kids and heading to grandma's house in LA for a mini-speaking tour.  I'll also be giving seminars at USC and Cal State LA.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Leaky pipeline

The movement to increase female representation in the academic workforce has identified and been (partially) perplexed by a leaky pipeline.  There are currently a large fraction of females attending undergraduate programs in STEM fields but the proportion in faculty positions, especially more senior positions, remains low.  While, I am sure that there are LOTS of reasons for this, I'd like to ponder some of the challenges facing women pursuing this career path that occur particularly at the postdoctoral stage. (Note that this is my based on my own experiences and does not represent any quantitative analysis of postdoctoral experiences.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

SICB Meeting

I think I may have found my new favorite scientific meeting.   While other meetings often have more friends at them, I feel like the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) embodies my scientific approach and is more accepting of my genre of work at the boundaries of multiple fields.  So intellectually, this has been a really interesting meeting and I'm only through part of the first full day.

So far my two favorite talks were on the effects of ocean acidification on sand dollar larvae and on brain and sensory development in Malawi fish.  Very different talks which each play to a more disciplinary aspect of my work - larval ecology or development respectively.  Since this blog is dedicated to larvae and scientists adrift, I'll provide a brief summary of the talk by Karen Chan of the University of Washington on ocean acidification and sand dollar larvae.

Many effects of ocean acidification (that is a drop in the pH of the ocean due to higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere) are non-lethal.  This is often the case for echinoderm larvae and some bivalve larvae which become smaller.  The consequences for fitness have been inferred and guessed, but only recently being explicitly tested.  Shorter arms for echinoderm plutei likely would affect swimming stability (based on models) and feeding potential.  Karen and her colleagues empirically tested in the lab both stability and, indirectly, feeding ability.  While one would predict a decrease in stability due to shorter arms, this was not observed.  Instead, a concurrent change in the angle of the arms compensated to maintain normal stability.  Unfortunately, there did not seem to be a compensation mechanism for the predicted decrease in feeding ability.  Larvae exposed to ocean acidification conditions had smaller stomachs, suggesting reduced feeding.

Chan, KYK, D Grunbaum and MJ O'Donnell. Effects of ocean acidification on swimming performance in larval sand dollars.  Presented at SICB Jan 2011.