FOOD! (and research, obviously)

Hello!

It’s finally bright outside, so I’m pleased. Funny how the weather plays so large a role in my life! Food as well—I have quite happily gone this whole week without making myself a single lunch :) . Professor Karen Atkinson (who shall henceforth be known as Karen), has told me I’m ahead of the game: attend enough lectures, she said, and you’ll feed your way through grad school :) .

And what interesting lectures they have been! Monday I went to the Material Science Symposium (I had to miss Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albrights’ speeches, but I plan to watch the live-stream clip; and let it be known that I believe I did spot the secret service vehicles). There were some important talks—I especially liked that of Professor Rockett, called “Photovoltaics as Part of a Renewable Energy Economy.” Other lectures, like “How to buy an elephant—a guide to specifying and purchaising thin film processing equipment” were also noteworthy— the whole schedule of events can be seen here. And not to be forgotten, the food was superb. I took way too many pictures celebrating that part of the event as well ;) .

Tuesday I went to a lunchtime AGES (astro, geo, environmental science group) meeting in which we were introduced to the tools we used to do our respective research. It was a great opportunity to see how other fields conducted their research, and we visited Wellesley’s telescope, the two geoscience labs, and saw powerpoints by one of the Astro groups and our group.

Wednesday’s lecture was my favorite, because it covered a topic that I find fascinating: science advocacy. Dr. Willy Lensch gave a talk called “An Introduction to Stem Cell Science and Ethics.” He is involved in the “hot” topic of embryonic stem cell research, and as well as doing research, devotes a significant portion of his life to explaining the facts about stem cell research to a non-scientific, lay audience. He believes that scientists have a responsibility to explain their research to the public, as a societal service, and should give one or two talks per year to the public about what their research is about, and why they do science. However, the downside of this is that the more time spent bridging the gap between scientists and non-scientists, the less time is spent doing the labwork that will advance a scientist’s career. I myself have been interested in this issue for a while, because I would like to make an impact in whatever I end up doing in my career. On the one hand, I would like to be a lab-bench scientist who makes a grand discovery that will help the world (however likely or unlikely that may be.) On the other, I’d like to advocate for science, because I think public understanding of science is an important goal. As Karen says, the problem is that people shouldn’t have to choose between advocacy and research (which, she notes, incidentally parallels the debate between research and family for female scientists.) Regardless of my feelings on that matter (which are still confused), there is no “right” answer, which is why I enjoyed how the lecture addressed these contradictions.

Thursday’s lecture was another AGES meeting (I attended this rather than attend the bio/neuro/psych group meeting or the CS/math meeting that were going on at the same time.) However, this time we were gathered to evaluate a potential candidate for a Wellesley geoscience professor position. Elizabeth did a wonderful job of explaining her research on the history of arctic ice cap glaciers, with many demonstrations (I wish I had pictures—it was the most fun and engaging lecture I’ve been to in a while!) I think it’s really admirable how Wellesley conducts an interview by having the candidates give an informal talk on their thesis work. Monica (my professor Monica Higgins) says that Wellesley is trying to combine the traditional interview on the candidate’s thesis work with the teaching interview, and that since Wellesley is more interested in teaching ability than many other schools, this is a good way to run it. I have to say that I enjoyed it (though it was probably much more stressful for Elizabeth), and there are two other candidate talks that we get to attend.

Today’s lunchtime meeting was by an alum, Dr. Tamara Hendrickson, on the Ethics of Science. She had us read an incredibly powerful paper before the lecture began: I would highly recommend reading it, which you can access here. (I was particularly troubled by the difficulty of defining “fairness” in the Wiscosin graduate students’ situation.) Dr. Hendrickson talked about the importance of public trust in the ethicalness of science, and how scientists are judged on another level than most fields, because science is about the pursuit of truth. It was a lecture focused on the rare case when scientists go wrong, discussing plagiarism, self-plagiarism, who receives the first-name spot on a paper, and, like Dr. Lensch’s lecture, addressed the public understanding of science in society. What astounds me the most is that I, and the other students doing research here over the summer, have access to lectures like Dr. Hendrickson’s and Dr. Lensch’s, but Wellesley students during the school year do not. And it’s worrying, because I feel that the topics these lectures covered were so thought-provoking and important that everyone (not even only Wellesley students) should hear them, and they are not.

But I must move on from the seriousness (and this is the most philosophizing I’ve done in a while, I must say!) First, my research is progressing well—Monica is leaving me for the next two weeks to get married (Yay for Monica!!), so we have gotten lots of work done this week. I have finished a preliminary life cycle assessment model on SimaPro, completed through lots of messing around on Excel and even a visit to Home Depot (I’m convinced my life is conversions. 2x4s (which are actually 1 ½” by 3 ½” [also, the construction industry is not a fan of decimal points] [or the metric system, but that’s my gripe about the US in general ;) ]) times thickness equals inches^3 converted into m^3 times density to get kgs… maybe with 100 different materials. Yes, conversions :) ). The final product looks excellent—and once we add in the hardware, electricity, plumbing, HVAC system, and miscellaneous items, we’ll be done! … Well, I do have 7 weeks left, so it’ll keep me busy. This whole process makes me appreciate the scale of research and building a home so much more than I did originally!

I’d also like to express admiration for Wellesley President Bottomly’s blog. We have been receiving many of her post in our inboxes, and every time I read them I am left feeling calm and appreciative. Here’s her latest post: it’s thoughtful, concise, well-spoken and warm. I think this would be my end goal for a blog; and my goal for public speaking—I highly recommend coming to hear President Bottomly speak if you can, because she speaks as fluently and thoughtfully as her words flow. Having the Women in Service Project taking place on campus is humbling, as all of these women have become important in the running of the world in different ways, while we’re still at the beginning of our academic lives. It makes me want to go out and accomplish something; and we’ve made few enough choices in our lives that we can go about that goal however we wish :) .

I’ll finish with my adventures from last Saturday, which will hopefully be repeated this weekend :) . On Saturday at 10am, Alice, Erin and I took the commuter rail into Boston to have dimsum. Along the way, we met with several other groups, and ended up going as a group of nine to one of the many dimsum restaurants in Chinatown. As dimsum is best enjoyed in large groups, we left well-pleased and happy :) . Then while much of the group split off to take free dancing lessons from one of the dancing festivals taking place, Alice, Erin and I took the T to North End, where we found an open-air market with ridiculously cheap fruit prices :) . After stocking up, we wandered over to the Gay Pride festival that was occurring the area—there was food, colors, and music, so of course we had to check it out :) . After that, we headed back to Wellesley, enjoying an ice cream along the way. It was probably my best Boston experience ever—life is good, guys, life is good.

Sunday Audrey, Katherine, Sebiha, Alice and I had our usual Sunday dinner meal, in which Audrey, Katherine, and Sebiha cook and I and Alice get to sample (though Alice brought cookies, I brought pineapple, and I hope to bring fruit smoothies next time.) It was a great few hours, and a fun way to hang out (as we usually don’t see each because we’re in lab!) I can’t wait for tomorrow and Sunday—I feel like this is what the best parts of college about, made a bit ironic, but even better by the fact that it’s happening over the summer :) .

So that’s all I have for this week! This has been a long post—feel free to comment as always! Hope you enjoy the pictures too—there’s lots of them to see :) .

Best wishes to all,

Monica


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