Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Different Take of Racial Politics

Although these posts are in chronological order, I highly encourage you to read the first post first. Don't worry. I'll be waiting for you here when you return.

And now for Post 2. To refresh our collective memories. A very qualified minority student applied for an undergraduate position in our lab. At least some portion of the time, I would be working with this student worker. So, as might be expected, the professor has asked my opinion about the applicants. Keep in mind that this is not my hire. It is not my decision, and I can only act in an advisory capacity here. It turns out, the professor is experiencing some internal conflict about her desire to hire a former student of mine (see post 1) or to seriously consider this qualified African American student. Now, the thing that I have left out of the discussion above (and below) is that the minority who applied for a job in our lab is 20-something, accomplished, and rather handsome. I saw him for a total of about 30 seconds today. Knowing nothing more than this person was applying for the job in our lab (and as yet knowing nothing about his qualifications) D-advisor remarked that D would tell her to hire this individual because he was a handsome black man. I told her I wouldn't mind working alongside a handsome black man. Then she commented that perhaps she shouldn't hire this applicant because....

wait for it....

D wouldn't leave this individual alone, sexually-speaking.

Excuse me while I have a major WTF moment.

How did we get from point A to point B? You can't begin to imagine how entertaining I find it when the qualities that I find sexually attractive in the opposite sex become valid for disqualifying job applicants. By all means, hire the buck-toothed, fat, white slob with his butt crack showing. Because then and only then will D be able to keep her hands to herself. Is it just me? Or do you people out there love when this shit happens to you? What? You mean this shit DOESN"T happen to you?

When I pointed out that I don't date anyone under 40, she said she wasn't sure she trusted me anyway.


Now there is funny and then there is way the fuck over the line. Where do you think this falls? Is it in the "Ha, Ha, Ha, Let's make fun of D's outside-the-box sexual interests"? Or is this in the "Let's accuse D of being completely incapable of acting in a professional, legal, and moral manner with certain members of the community"? I think it is not only firmly in the second category, it is indicative of a growing habit by this person to publicly attack my character out of freakin' nowhere. This faculty heard that I date African American men, so in the presence of an African American man both he and I would be completely unable to control our sexual urges, regardless of how inappropriate such advances might be. I mean, the ramifications of her actually believing that are extraordinary for me as a professional. Is this the person I want writing letters of recommendation for me as a graduate?

I thought to mention that I don't JUST date African American men, but that I ALSO date African American men, but then I thought, "how is that relevant to this discussion? It's not."

I may have mentioned that this person has made over-the-line-comments about me in the past. About three or four months ago, she and I finally had to have a talk about a comment she made that indicated she didn't think I was appropriate for a job working with children that I ultimately got. Though she had no reason to suspect that I wouldn't excel at the job, her feeling was that I wasn't appropriate for it.

I have wracked my brain to think of any reason that this person would have to seriously believe I possess any of the character flaws that she has accused me of. I mean, she has never seen me teach. She has never seen me interact with children. She has certainly never seen me interact with African Americans, male or female, students or love interests.

And let's not forget for a minute that there is a highly qualified job seeker in this story. Let's not forget that he scarcely made it out of the lab before the comments about his race came up. Let's not forget that I have never heard anyone comment on any of the other applicant's races. Is it fair in any way to this guy that he might not get considered for a position because someone in the lab just happens to find members of his race attractive? Do I deserve the burden that she has placed on me?

Let's break it down. While the other leading applicant is a white male, and the other lab members are white females interested in white men, only when a minority student shows up does she feel the need to raise issues of sexual tension between lab workers? And what prompted this? I must admit, at first I tried to see the humor in this interaction. But the more it sunk it, the more disturbing it became to me. Let me run through some of the things that were running through my mind as she spoke.

Does she think I'm sexually promiscuous? Does she believe that I am incapable of dealing in a professional manner with African Americans? Have I ever led anyone to believe that I do anything except behave in a strictly professional manner with my co-workers? Does she think I'm a pervert? Was this her way of telling me that she doesn't approve of the things I find sexually attractive? Was it a really bad attempt at humor? Was this a racist response? Where the fuck did this come from? Is she seriously going to toss this guy out of the pile because I am attracted to black men?

I decided to answer these questions.

Does she think I'm sexually promiscuous? Although I am decidedly not, I think she does believe that someone attracted to African Americans must necessarily have loose standards. For the record (as though you care) I have had a total of four dating relationships and two sexual partners in the past 9 years.

Does she believe that I am incapable of dealing in a professional manner with African Americans? Apparently so.

Have I ever led anyone to believe that I do anything except behave in a strictly professional manner with my co-workers? I have never, ever, under any circumstances commented or acted on my sexual attraction toward someone with whom I have a professional relationship, whether it is as colleague, boss-subordinate, teacher-student, or even something much less formal. I dare anyone to give me an example otherwise. *Starts humming the theme from Jeopardy* Unlike many of my peers, I do not mine the department for potential dates. In fact, I turned down the only offer of a date that came from one of my fellow grad students.

Does she think I'm a pervert? From the nature of these comments, I believe she finds interracial dating perverse and me by extension.

Was this her way of telling me that she doesn't approve of the things I find sexually attractive? I'd have to give that a big thumbs up.

Was it a really bad attempt at humor? I am sure she thinks her comments were hilarious. My question is, how serious was she about not trusting me with a black man?

Was this a racist response? I'll let you decide.

Where the fuck did this come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

Is she seriously going to toss this guy out of the pile because I am attracted to black men? I honestly have no idea.

So if there are people in this world who wonder why D's bullshit meter is full up, consider these sorts of interactions that exist as a part of my day-to-day interactions with others in a position of authority over me. We are going in to have a talk about this tomorrow. Oh yes we sure as hell are. Wish me luck.

Two Posts One Event

Today I had an interaction that was disturbing on two levels. For this reason, I'm splitting the discussion into two posts.

Post 1. I have always felt I was a good judge of character. And while I can jump to a radically unfair conclusion based on one or two bad interactions now and again, I am generally speaking, fairly satisfied with my take on people.

Take for instance one of our current grad students. True story. The first time I met this young man, he and another of his cohort were on their way out to lunch and coaxed me into joining them. So I did. Now mind you, this was perhaps the third time I had interacted with one of the fellows, and the first time I had ever met the other. On our way back into the building, the young man I had just met walked over to a car in the FACULTY parking lot and pulled off one of those Christian fish metal car decorations from a complete stranger's car. I asked him what the f*** he thought he was doing. He said, and this is a direct quote: "People who believe in God are stupid." I gave him a bit of a lecture about respecting other people's property, about the idiocy of damaging a faculty member's car, and so on. All I remember was him defending his actions based on not respecting anyone's ideology but his own. I was done with that one on the first day I met him. I stand by the validity of that opinion to this day. Despite having the ego of a megalomaniac, this individual has failed to impress scarcely a soul in our department. I don't like him and he knows it and I really don't care.

But back to our regularly scheduled program. Generally speaking, when I have a student in class, I do not develop any particular "judgement" about them. Most students keep their heads down and certainly do not draw undue attention. Now and again, though, I have an overachiever in that respect. I went to D-friend Liv's B-friend D-ennis' thesis presentation and I noticed a former student of mine in the audience. Apparently, the young man is now a student in D-ennis' department. I remember this student quite well because I had a number of discussions with the professor about him. He was unpredictable, volatile, and extremely opinionated. I feared that one day this student was going to walk into the classroom with a gun and create his very own Columbine. It was the first time I was ever afraid of a student and you don't soon forget that. I STILL stand by that judgement.

In another instance, I recommended a student for an undergraduate position in the department(only 3 weeks into the semester) who had managed to impress me. That student worked out extremely well, has been passed around from lab to lab and is now headed to Canada with our bryophyte contingent for a summer of field work. I STILL stand by that judgement.

I have hired employees and staff in the work world and while it may have been dumb luck, I have was highly pleased with my decisions. Out of fairness however, I will tell of you a time I was wrong.

My sister-in-law married my brother about 15 years ago. At that time, her children were in their late teens and early 20s. The son was a single Dad; the daughter was dating a guy that, well, let's just say that I think everyone hoped it was only a passing fancy. Indeed it was. But one day, she shows up for one of the holidays with an older fellow. A cop. Nice enough guy, but I got a distinctly odd vibe from him. I talked to him quite a bit. As I recall from that meeting, I thought him slightly arrogant,domineering, and though I can't begin to remember why now, I thought he was of below-average intelligence. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what the daughter saw in him. Imagine my discomfort when they turned up engaged a short time later.

Fast forward about a year. Another holiday. Summertime. Lots of beer and outdoor grilling and yard lounging. The engaged couple were there and we all enjoyed ourselves. I remember later that night at home talking to the husband and remarking that Ed didn't seem nearly the jackass that I remember. My husband said, "I was amazed that was the same guy." We laughed about how independently, Ed had changed both of our minds about him that afternoon. So sure--it is possible for me to be wrong. I like to think, as I was in this case, that I am able to change my mind when I see evidence that contridicts my first gut reaction. I think Ed is a really great guy now. The husband, on the other hand, is a totally different story. =p

Which brings us to the reason for this blog post. Today, my advisor approached our lab with a dilemma. She has been awarded support for an undergraduate worker. She told me that a former student of mine had applied for the job. I was never impressed by this student. He missed a lot of classes. He failed to turn in homework. He never asked a single question. As I would walk around the room and look at people's work, this student always seemed to take longer, understand less, and agonize more over the work. His main focus seemed to be to zero in on some minutiae, something that was outside the point of the lab, and spend an extraordinary amount of time on that and be unable to finish the work that was at hand. I recall once, I stayed for an hour-and-a-half after the end of lab to allow him to finish his work. Overall, his work was competent but not outstanding and when given an opportunity to make up work he had missed, he simply failed to do so. Overall, not an impressive record. Top of all that, this young man seemed to have a difficult personality. Not in a "can't get along with anyone" sort of way, but more a "isn't that fellow particularly odd" sort of way. When he interacted with me, I tended to walk away from the interaction thinking "that guy is a real piece of work." I suspected that he might have a learning disability and I generally gave him the benefit of the doubt, but in some nagging way, he seemed to test my patience.

While this student couldn't ask me a single question, he apparently didn't have this problem with the professor. He met regularly with her. And when he did, he had plentiful excuses for his absences, pressed for extra help (which I always found interesting since he failed to ever talk to me), and impressed her with his deep interest in the subject matter. She thinks he is destined for academia and is anxious to give him a chance to gain some research experience. Two takes. One guy.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

So here's the dilemma. Today, an extremely qualified minority applicant entered the lab and applied for the same job. By extremely qualified, I mean that he has a master's degree and is about ready to enter medical school. My advisor immediately felt torn. She felt that the former student would benefit from the job whereas the highly qualified minority applicant was likely to get just about any job that he applied for. I pointed out that if everyone thought that way, this highly qualified minority applicant would be sitting on his hands this summer while we had to work with Mr. Gives Me a Queasy Feeling.

She explained in more detail her desire to support the former student. That he had volunteered to work in her lab before he knew of the paid internship. That he wanted to go to graduate school. Let me say that I don't doubt his sincerity. Nor do I doubt that he will do well enough to earn a master's degree. I am simply saying that if he applied to work in my lab I would be highly reluctant to take him on for two years. It would a challenge and tiring process. But the real kicker was when my advisor said that she believed that if she turned over a problem to this former student--something we didn't have time to work on--that she felt he would excel at that, run with it, and make us all proud.

Oh, do I beg to differ. I realized at this point, however, that she had already made up her mind about the position. She had made up her mind to hire the former student and all Mr. Qualified Minority did was screw that up. I didn't contradict her projections about my former student, although I seriously question her judgement. I believe this student will need an unwarranted amount of hand-holding. I don't think he has the creativity to take off on a project handed to him. He just doesn't strike me as motivated enough or focused enough. He seems very easily distracted. He seems to agonize over everything. And it wasn't even that he agonized over everything. It was that he agonized over it and was unable to move on. It just stopped him in his tracks.

We must also keep in mind that this professor has made less than stellar hiring decisions. She hired a lab manager that basically fubared an entire research project and wasted a year's salary "perfecting PCR protocols" despite the fact that this wasn't his job. By fubared, I mean he took a PCR protocol that work and "tweaked it" until it wouldn't work at all. She hired another undergraduate who collected a paycheck and didn't do any work. He partitioned our hard drive (he drank the Ubuntu kool-aid) on his first day and wrecked a month-old computer. At some point, he simply stopped showing up and all the salary was gone.

Excuse me for having a little more faith in my gut feeling here. Too bad it isn't my decision. And now, on to post 2.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My feeling exactly

I think there are those around me who know the professional difficulties that people in Texas have caused me. So I can certainly give a big thumbs up to this video. h/t Dancing with Myself.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Technology Bekons

Things are going to loosen up financially for me in a few months. I am already eyeballing some much needed technology. First is a new computer. Now I have a bit of experience with PCs and I have to say that I'm a fan. However, I am not a fan of the PC industry and my particular bone of contention has to do with technical service. I have owned two Dell computers. A desktop and a laptop. In both instances, I purchased expensive, long-term service plans. What I have found when I attempted to contact Dell for technical service is a frustrating, nearly infuriating conversation with an undertrained representative who cannot: A) deviate from a script despite all attempts to get them to THINK, and B) deal with a problem that doesn't fit the mold. I have sworn more times than I care to remember that this will be the LAST DELL I EVER OWN. My laptop has had its screen replaced, the mother board replaced (2X), and every bit of it's internal goodies (except the DVD drive) replaced. When you can finally get them to send out a technician, they basically rebuild your computer so they never have to come back.

So yeah, I guess service support is pretty important to me. So which companies are better than Dell? Turns out none of them are. Dell, HP, Acer, Sony. When it comes to customer service, apparently they have all farmed their work to India and have opted not to employ technicians but customer service employees who can't help you. All of them. I mean, I flat out can't find a maker of personal computers with what I consider to be a minimally acceptable level of technical service.

There's Apple. Apple has skyscraper customer service satisfaction.

Have you seen what a f*&@#$ng Mac costs? I'm getting a raise, not an AIG bonus.

So what then? Well, beats me.

On the one hand I have a rarely used HP desktop sitting in my rarely used "office". I could take that computer to work and free up a room for...well, whatever. Maybe I should go without a laptop. Maybe I should de-emphasize my non-professional computer use. Maybe I should get a life outside of this little box.

Yeah, right.

Without this shining connection to a digital world, I'd have a freakin' panic attack. So, I've been toying with the idea of purchasing a small, inexpensive, technology-light laptop for little more than blogging, internet cruising, and DVD watching at home. The watchwords being: cheap and portable. No more dedicating a room to a machine. No more carting a machine back and forth to work. Just buying an inconspicuous little notepad of a computer and calling it done. And (hold your breath, friends and neighbors), not buying the extended service contract at all. Treating this little new toy as ....disposable (gasp).

OK, I can hear all the environmentalists gripping their armchairs as I speak. But what else am I to do? They have backed me into a corner by making their customer service so atrociously abhorrent. Do you hear that Dell? And HP? And Sony? Listen up all you PC makers. Your customer service is so bad that I am now treating your product with as much deference as a disposable camera. Do not expect me to purchase on the high end of your product offerings for this reason and this reason alone.

Given that I have just knocked customer service out of my buying decision, I am now looking at product quality. Longevity. Problem free.

Well, there's the Dell Inspiron 15. Approximate cost $550. Cheap bastard version.
15.6" screen. 4G memory. 250G hard drive. DVD player. 6 cell battery and a one year limited warranty that I am sure isn't worth the paper it's printed on. I can save myself $60 by scaling back to 3G memory and a 4 cell battery, but that is just tethering yourself to a wall socket.

Apple MacBook. Exact cost: $1299.00. Pretentious bastard version.
I don't care what you have inside the box. If I can't drive it home at that price, it ain't coming home with me.

HP Pavilion Mini. Approximately cost: $600. They killed Kenny--You bastards! version
Intel Pentium Dual Core Processor T4200. 1GB memory. 160GB hard drive. DVD. Nothing said about the battery.

Sony VAIO NS Series Notebook. Cost $780. Whoa. There was a reason I bought from Dell, you overpriced bastards! version

Intel Dual Core Processor. 4G Ram, 250G hard drive, DVD burner, blah blah blah.

You know, I'm really rather disappointed in the Sony price. I would actually be willing to try that computer. Maybe I'll get lucky and the price will plummet just before I'm ready to buy. But don't you hate when your set yourself up for a disappointing finish? I said that cheap and dependable were the deciding factors and since I can't tell diddly about dependability, that leaves price. And Dell beats the pants off them all. Damn. I hate that company.

Please. Someone. Tell me there is an alternative. Tell me Sony is so much more that I will never dream of buying another Dell. Save me from Dell Hell.

Wherein the author apologizes for being a self-absorbed twit

Sorry for all who took offense at my recent posts. I am going through a rough spot professionally speaking and I hope that you will all bear with me. Please don't think that my ramblings are any sort of indictment of my friends. I love you all.

Really, I'm not a full-time depresso agent. I simply play one on Monster Quest.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wherein the author cuts out the crap

Ok. I don't know what you'd call this, but I'm calling it a change of direction. I am 46 years old and I think I have earned the right to start taking control of my own life. I'm tired of doing things to please everyone else.

I know there is an entire contingency out there that can't believe I do ANYTHING to please anyone else, but you're wrong. I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to please other people and smooth things out for others, and make sure everyone else is happy and never giving a thought to what it is that makes me happy. But a recent series of events in my life have demonstrated, unequivocally, that my self-denial is without value. Let's just say that the lack of positive reinforcement for such behavior has led me to believe I am knocking myself out for absolutely nothing.

So the buck stops here. Presumably, half of my life is over. I think that gives me some latitude.

I have decided to stop coloring my hair. The reasons for this are two-fold. One. Coloring your hair isn't good for it. Two. Despite buying hair color that is designed to be "cool" and not highlight any red, every box of hair color I have tried over the past 4 years has turned my hair red. And it's not a flattering red. It's this weird red that I don't think favors my skin tone. And I guess there is also Three. My dad had grey hair and it looked really nice. I'm hoping my hair will go that way.

Now not coloring hair is a pretty radical thing in my family. It's sort of like saying you aren't going to shave your legs anymore. My 92-year-old Gram still colors her hair. She told me it wasn't polite for me to go grey before she did. I have a feeling that should anyone ask, they'd stare at me like I just dropped out of graduate school to join a commune if I told them of my decision. But color it I will no more. If it makes me look old, I guess that means I'm old.

#2 on my list. I have decided to start drinking Coca Cola Classic again. I love Coke Classic and I haven't allowed myself to enjoy it in years and years and years. I figure if I am going to be overweight and sexless, I might as well enjoy the things I eat. I don't drink enough soda for a can a day to make that much of a difference.

#3. I am going to make some new friends who have absolutely nothing to do with school. I am outgoing. I have always enjoyed a high level of social activity. I never had to wonder what was going to happen on Friday night, because something would come up. Social activity just spontaneously generated around me. And when I first came to Carbondale, we had a large group of grad students who enjoyed each other's company. I thought it would stay that way. But things have changed. People have moved on and new faces have arrived. There are cliques now and I'm part of none. I have tried to integrate but it just feels forced. I don't quite know how to put my finger on it. I'm generally forgotten. If I am not at the forefront of people's minds when it's time to do things, so be it. I'll do my own thing.

#4. Someone once said of me: "You don't seek to be a leader, but in the absence of true leadership, you will lead." I think that's on the mark. Professionally, I have floundered for 4 years. I thought I had the skills and the talent to raise money for my project. I do not. The entire time that I have struggled and panicked and come to terms with an unfunded project, I have done so alone. None of my professional mentors--even those that I thought SHOULD give a shit--offered a hand, any friendly advice, or any alternatives I might have considered. While I was out in the field over the past few weeks, I came to an epiphany. My path through graduate school has been impossibly harder than almost every other person I have studied beside. (I am willing to concede that the Chinese student who was involved in an arranged marriage, became pregnant, and her husband began to abuse her and her child--all while attempting to study for her prelims in a foreign language--wins that contest hands down.) But on a general ease-of-making-progress-in-graduate-school scale with my peers, I have come up as a significant outlier. I have waited on those who should have led to lead, and I waited in a vacuum. I have watched with some amazement as those people who ignored my efforts and needs bend over backwards to extend themselves to others. It is painfully clear I am now solely responsible for finishing. I am left to my own devices. So I am no longer looking for leadership, mentoring or advice from those folks anymore. I believe I have the skills I need to do the work. I believe I have sufficient funds to do the work. And since I traversed the hard times alone, I've decided to continue on my own. I think people who know me in my professional life are going to notice a big change in the coming year. Or worse, perhaps they won't even notice at all.

I don't know if this is all for the better or the worse. I don't really think it matters. I'll be a grey-haired, grumpy ol' fart, who stays home with her dog on Friday nights, or maybe I'll be a smart, genuine, person who finds a social circle that does enjoy my company and what I have to offer. Maybe Jake will be my only friend. Maybe I'll take up roller skating. Or sky diving. Or hip hop dancing. Maybe I'll spend every weekend in the herbarium. Maybe people will be pissed at me or maybe they won't even notice the change. So be it. There is more than one way to do graduate school and there is more than one way to live your life. From now on, I'm doing both in a manner that pleases me.

A new favorite place

Sand Canyon. California. In the vicinity of Mojave, CA. Or maybe it's more Monolith, CA.

In addition to a vast wealth of partridges, wildlife highlights also include a donkey rescue ranch. Did I mention that I think donkeys are the cutest things ever? If I ever had a farm of my own, I'd have a few donkeys. I'm just saying.

OK, that last one isn't in Sand Canyon. But it is still one of my new favorite places.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

5,318 miles and Two Double-Double Animal Styles

I thought I'd show off a little bit of my favorite plants. Here are my finds, in no particular order.

Abronia turbinata, Washington City, UT. At least I think it's A. turbinata. I had mis-identified it last year. (Not a new population)

Abronia turbinata. Riverside, NV. (Not a new pop and nearly an exterminated pop due to roadside grading)

Abronia elliptica near Hanksville, UT. (New pop)

White-flowered Abronia villosa, Lake Los Angeles, CA. (Uncommon) (New pop)

Purple-flowered Abronia villosa. Palm Springs, CA. (Common) (New pop)

Abronia latifolia (yellow) and Abronia umbellata (purple) grow in sympatry in Montana de Oro State Park. In all likelihood, they hybridize there as well. (Not a new pop) Interestingly enough, Abronia umbellata and Abronia villosa form a species complex that has perplexed Abronia researchers for quite some time. I guess it's up to me to unravel the mystery.

Abronia fragrans. I think anyway. Amarillo, TX. Note the woody caudex. I'm guessing these are perennial. (New pop)

Tripterocalyx micranthus. Riverside, NV. (Not a new pop)

Abronia pogonantha. I think. Near Twentynine Palms, CA. (New pop)

Abronia pogonantha. I think. Near El Mirage, CA. (New pop)

Abronia pogonantha, Lake Los Angeles, CA. (Not a new pop)

Abronia pogonantha, near Baker, CA. (New pop)

From a professional standpoint, it was a fairly productive two weeks. I found six new populations of my plants. I found all the species I had hoped to find and a few extras I hadn't planned on. Amazingly enough, I didn't take a single photo of A. maritima. I have plenty from last year and the two populations I visited weren't new to me, but I do find it interesting that I failed to take a single pic. After all, we are talking about me. So anyway, here's one from last year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lessons from the Road

I believe on each trip you learn something about yourself. Here's a quick run down of somethings I've learned about me.

1. I CAN find Abronia without Liv or Jack.
2. Not only that, I can find Abronia on the side of the road while going 65 miles an hour after dusk.
3. I am not cut out for California driving.
4. I am content to travel alone.
5. I am not a camp cook. I try to care about food on the road, but I don't. Apparently, my fixation with food is simply a hobby that I dabble in during idle hours in my every day life. Cold spaghetti from a can sounds better than dirtying a ton of camp dishes.
6. I will consider myself acclimated to the elevation when I stop losing blood through my nose.
7. Motel 6 is pet friendly and perfectly fine if the wind, cold, or quivering dogs threaten your sleep and sanity.
8. I am much more cognizant of other people's needs and feelings than they are of mine.
9. There are times when it is good that I am out of constant contact with my everyday life.
10. Ultimately, I am the only one upon whom I can depend.
11. My bullshit meter really is full up.

Bonus. During a few tense moments in the field and on the road, I have learned that I am fully prepared to harm someone who tries to harm me.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Drive By Rockies

Although I know how you people live for my pictures of roadside Abronia, there is more to life than great smelling, fantastically happy, moth-laden research systems such as these. While Abronia may grow in the ugliest of places, if you just turn around, you are usually rewarded with one of the world's most spectacular vistas. Such is the life of Abronia. The habit of a vagabond, the outlook of a king.

But today was a driving day. And though I know Bin would not approve, I thought I'd give you a taste of my drive-by shooting. If it is any consolation, I merely hold up the camera in the general direction and click the button. I get what I get. Sometimes I get a picture up my nostrils. Sometimes I get a picture of the dashboard. Sometimes, nothing but road. And keep in mind, I am cognizant of traffic at all times.

Here we go:

Jake likes snow

Since there is no way for me to put things up in order, I'll just offer this nice video of Jake at 9600 feet or so and this fine photo of me. =]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sick, Tired, and Windblown

I guess it was bound to happen. I'm sick. And not just sick of driving...although I am. And not just sick of grad school....although I am. I'm honest to goodness sick. I don't know if it is a mild case of food poisoning, or really, really bad indigestion, or a serious case of stress, but Whoa doggies! In any event, I've become adept at finding the <$40 hotel rooms in California. Thank god for internal plumbing. But food poisoning/indigestion/stress or no, the road show that is field research must go on. I went to the beach today hoping to be able to take daytime scent off A. latifolia. That didn't happen. I didn't trust the bags to stay on the plants in that wind. I worried about what sand hitting those expensive air pumps would do to their internal gizmos. And I wasn't entirely sure that I could handle sitting in that wind myself for 2 hours.

That didn't stop me from getting some great photos today. Almost all taken from the front seat of the car. By the way, the wind nearly ripped my car door off more than once today. So I hope you appreciate the challenges I have faced for your viewing pleasure. =)

Enjoy. I'm off in search of Pepto.

By the way, Jake hates the ocean. And wind. And rain. And thunder. And wind. He really, really hates the howling wind we are having out here. He is not having fun. This is his "I'm not having fun" pose.

Bovinus roadsidus var udderiferous. Seen more than one of these.

And can anyone guess where these two pics were taken?

This one was later, but I just thought it looked like someone had poked a stick in some dough.

Some dreams die hard...very hard

After my ex tried to kill me for the second time, I figured it was time for a change. After my boss had fucked me over for the umpteenth time, I knew it was time. I decided I wanted to become a professor. Oh, how naive I was in thinking it was just a matter of a few years in school.

As I sit in a hotel room chasing research that I am funding with my own money, I realize that I am paying a greater price than just the money pit that is graduate school. I am being changed by this process and I don't think this is a good thing. Let me explain.

I wanted to become a professor. I wanted to teach botany. I love plants. I wanted to pass on that excitement to others. I wanted to inspire in the way nature inspired me. I wanted to do research, to make some small contribution to science. I chose to go into "basic science" because at the time I started, the scientific community was saying over and over and over again that it's greatest need was for "basic"science. For systematists and taxonomists. So off I went secure in the idea that there would be plenty of funding and plenty of job opportunities awaiting me when I got out. If you think about it, I was doing a sort of civic duty for the scientific community.

After visiting a number of universities and getting a feel for their programs and approach, I picked this one. My criteria for selection was based primarily on a reputation for good science and an atmosphere that seemed low key and low stress. I'm too old to give a shit about competiting with my fellow graduate students. Hell, I'm older than most of the faculty. Some programs seemed intent on having students live in fear. I don't know how to explain this except to say that I've survived two attempts on my life. Professors can't scare me.

And then, I got to graduate school. And basic science fell out of favor. Like overnight. Everything is all global warming. No one cares about basic science. Funding dried up faster than my sex life. Not even top researchers in our department are able to get funding in systematics. My advisor told me, point blank, that mine was the last project she was taking on involving systematics.

Excuse me while I feel left out to dry.

I have written more than 20 grants in support of my research. The only funding I have received was a merit-based fellowship that came at the end of my fourth year. From the sounds of it, my department chair doesn't want me to be able to take full advantage of the two years of the fellowship because that will make me a 6th year graduate student. He wants me to graduate at the end of the fifth year. Despite the fact that this is the first funding I've had to do my project. The stress of all of this is crushing me. So, for now, I'm paying for my own research. I'm out in the field driving around looking for my plants with my own money. And it's not going well. It's time consuming, frustrating, and expensive. And it's all borrowed money. Money borrowed on the promise of a Ph.D. that is feeling more and more improbable, and a job that may or may not exist for me when I get out.

And this on top of being made to feel as though I don't measure up because my project has failed to garner funding. Every single day I enter my building, I feel a weight settle in on me. A big boulder I carry through my day that reminds me I am failing. That I'm not doing enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not a real researcher. Half the time, I wonder if professors pass me in the hall and think to themselves, "well, she didn't turn out as promising as we thought." There are days I dread waking up in the morning.

Sometimes, I wonder if my lack of "fear" of faculty makes it worse on me. I think some professors confuse respect with deference. Failure to fear the all powerful Oz equals a lack of respect to some.

I now have crushing educational debt. If I don't get the Ph.D., I fear that I won't be able to find a job that will allow me to pay off that debt. So I can't walk away. But with each passing day, I have less faith that it will happen. When I think about my committee, I don't think about a group of people working to help me. I see a very large obstacle standing between me and my dream. I thought a committee was a group of people helping to train you to a profession. I'm afraid to say anything to anyone about my concerns for fear that, if I do, they will actively work against me. That a PhD won't come at any cost. Graduate school is the only place I have ever encountered where you have no friends, no allies, no help, no hope, and no promise that anything, ever, will get any better. There seems to be a promise that all things will, in fact, get worse. Things happen TO you. You have no recourse. You just have to take it. Perhaps, it is some combination of people and circumstances and my own mental health that has brought me to this point. This point of hopelessness. This point of having no idea what to do next.

I see now why so few single people survive this process. It takes a team to prop up the one running the gauntlet.

I can't believe that this is what it takes to be a college professor. I can't believe this is the process. All I wanted to do was inspire some kids. Make some small contribution to a field that I loved. The job requires a Ph.D. The people who hold those keys don't seem inclined to help me anymore. I'm not really sure what happened, but I don't think it's all me. I don't think I deserve, or any graduate student deserves, the life-sucking, spirit-crushing process that is graduate school. I don't think I'll ever get beyond this. I don't think I have the ability to take on a student and put them through this process as well.

I want the person I was back. I don't like this person I've become.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Comes Around Goes Around

Two things are ubiquitous in the west. Sand and wind. It has been a wild day. I headed to Morro, only to find the winds gusting up to 60 mph. I didn't think that was possible without a hurricane. In any event, I don't suspect I'll be finding any moths out tonight. Excuse my finger in front of the camera. I was hanging onto it for dear life.

Funny thing. The room I am in right now is pictured somewhere in the header of my blog. I'm in another $40 hotel room. The closed the campground at Montana de Oro due to winds and falling limbs. That's okay. I've realized it's not the cold that gets to me, it's the wind. It just wears me down. But no loss. I'm working on not having a mental breakdown anyway. This helps.

Thank god for Jake. That's all I have to say.