Friday, June 29, 2012

Science at home: When your science geek passes to the next generation

Andrey Rogozin | IST

Eating our second helping of salmon for the day (sushi at lunch and lox at dinner)...

4 year old daughter: "Can I have more?" [after devouring her first helping... a rarity at any dinner]

Dad: "When mercury attacks." [handing over a large slice of lox]

4 year old daughter: "Daddy, Mercury can't attack.  Its a planet."

Dad: "Why not?"

4 year old daughter: "Because planets just spin in space.  They're not alive.  Silly Daddy." [giggles ensue like only a 4 year old girl can do]

Now, as a marine biologist, I'm a bit irked that she didn't know yet about bio-accumulation of mercury in fish.  As a scientist, I'm thrilled by her thought process and her knowledge about planets. I guess I shouldn't be too sad about bio-accumulation as I have taught undergrads who didn't get it.

Into the deep - again

Design of the New Alvin (c) WHOI
The submersible Alvin has been out of commission for a major upgrade since December 2010. But there is progress... significant progress towards meeting the goal of test dives in December of this year!

The biggest piece of Alvin to be updated was the personnel sphere. This was said to be the only original piece left from the original Alvin of the 1960s. Now it too will be turned in for something newer and shinier. The personnel sphere is a perfectly spherical hollow ball that houses the pilot and two observers as well as oodles of electronic equipment and supplies. (picture of the sphere being made)

The new sphere was delivered to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution today after passing its pressure tests. The original sphere was 6ft in diameter. The new one is larger. Most importantly the new sphere will increase the depth limit from 4500 m deep to 6500 m deep. To be rated to 6500m, the sphere had to pass pressure tests up to the equivalent of 8000 m (a 1500m margin for safety). Still not Cameron's feat of the Mariana Trench at about 11000 m, but this submersible is meant to be a scientific workhorse. While Cameron did include some features to allow for scientific collections, Cameron's Deep Sea Challenge can't match the scientific abilities of the research submersibles like Alvin.

We miss you, Alvin. I'm glad you'll be back in the water soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Job search - the illusive 'fit'

The job search process often felt like a act of random chaos, with little rhyme or reason. In the end, I applied to 55 jobs ranging across R01 research universities, teaching colleges, policy fellowships, and even an aquarium thrown in. There was apparently enough there for quite a few search committees to throw me in the short list and thirteen wise committees invited me for an interview. I interviewed pretty much across the range to which I applied - prestigious liberal art school to R01 university, and from Hawaii to the United Kingdom. Needless to say that I've covered a lot of ground and met a lot of great people along the way.  Again, stories of some of the best and worst interviews will come... I promise... but right now whats been on my mind is that final step from interview to job offer.

I did get more than one job offer, but not always the ones I would have predicted. In quite a few places, I was able to figure out my competition. Tip: If you want to know who you're up against, look on seminar schedules; if you know someone there, ask as it is usually public information; look at posters for upcoming seminars during your visit. I'm a pretty humble person, but at least on paper, I was a stronger scientist than some of the people who were offered the job. So why doesn't the best scientist always get the job offer? ... 'FIT'

What is this ambiguous and annoyingly illusive word - fit?
[read more]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

View into the Abyss

I've been to Brest, France once for a deep-sea biology meeting. It had been ravaged during WWII, so the architecture wasn't much to look at. The historic charm of much of France and Europe was absent. However, they do have a wonderful aquarium for those of you who are marine enthusiasts. This aquarium, Oceanopolis, now has a one-of-a-kind display - an AbyssBox. This high-pressure box can keep animals brought up from the deep alive and in view of thousands of visitors... spend millions of dollars like Cameron or without having to endure/enjoy a month long research cruise and an 8 hour dive cramped in a 6 ft sphere. True to my heart, they've chosen some vent animals to display. To learn more, check out

I love that more people can get to see some of the wonders that I've been very privileged to experience. I still prefer the long cruise and cramped submersible dive. There's nothing like witnessing the complete environment with your own eyes. Diving on hydrothermal vents is about as close as I'll ever get to going to a different world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


There are many science blogs out there. So why is mine justified? I'm not sure it entirely is, but it has been a fun and useful outlet to 1) keep me writing, 2) express my unique point of view, 3) update colleagues, friends, family and whoever else finds their way to this site on my scientific life, 4) provided some search committees with additional insight into who I am, and 5) forced me to get outside of my daily myopia.

Sushi Science and other bloggers have argued that more scientists need to blog - for their own benefit and the benefit of those who pay us, the taxpayers. That educating just 3 people more about science is worth the time. With now over 1,000 visitors (sometime in May) since inception a year and a half ago, I have hopefully sparked at least a couple of people to think about science, science careers, or life in a slightly different way. My meager 1000 pales in comparison to other blog sites with tens of thousands of visitors, but I'm okay with that. Thank you to you 1000 that have graced my blog with your time.

I'm getting ready for new journeys now. First to the US Agency for International Development, where science will be thrown into a whole new context. And then as a new faculty member. The battle for a scientific home is coming to an end and now I need to start thinking about the furnishings, landscaping, and scientific kids.