STEM Quick Tips: Creating Research Questions & Ideas

When I applied to the NSF Fellowship the first two times, I was just in the midst of switching fields and starting grad school. As such, I didn’t have a research project, nor did I have any real knowledge of what kind of research was going on in my new field. So, when fellowship season came around and I was was asked to write a “novel” research proposal, I just about panicked. How would I ever come up with legitimate research question in a field I was unfamiliar with?

Now, one year later I am being forced to come up with research questions for candidacy–on topics not even related to my research! So, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I’m planning on approaching this, in hopes that it might help some of you in similar predicaments.

Continue reading

Advertisements

How to Read Science Papers: An Update

I have been doing a lot of reading lately. A lot of reading. I’ve been scouring through the literature so I can have a solid foundation before/while I write my NSF fellowship  proposal for this year…the last year I can apply.  However, as I’ve been reading, I’ve noticed that my methods of going through my many, many piles of papers has changed since this time last year. Perhaps it’s because instead of reading just to read, I’m actually reading for information; to appear like less of a dumbass in my field. And because my methods have changed so much since the last time I wrote about this, I asked Tumblr if I wanted to see an updated version of this kind of post and I got an astounding:

screenshot_20160917-212515-02

So here we are…Again.

I shall note that the following tips are just what happens to work for me at this point in my academic career and I’m still modifying my methods as I go along (so stay tuned for next year?). This is probably a good reading technique if you’re just gathering background information, but may not necessarily work if you’re combing through methodology or doing anything more critical… Either way, I’m simply hoping that if anyone is struggling to read papers, this or last year’s post can at least provide good starting points in order to develop your own way of reading papers. Anyway, moving on!

Continue reading

Caltech’s Chemistry Graduate Program

ct_cellularsignaling_spotlightOh hi there! I see you’re interested in applying to Caltech’s chemistry program. I’m assuming that you stopped by our Graduate Program Website before heading this way, but perhaps just got a bit overwhelmed with all the information university websites seem to throw at you and the various different links you have to click through to get any useful information… It’s okay. I felt the same way. That’s why I’m going to provide a more digestible version, with the addition of my own insight and advice I’ve formulated from my experiences thus far.

Last edited on 9/11/17.

Continue reading

Science isn’t Glamorous: A reason to unveil our struggles with science

Glamorous_Science_CCBlog

Science is boring.

This is probably a phrase you heard at least once in your life. Most likely, it came from the mouths of those who didn’t particularly enjoy science or didn’t do well in science-related classes. It was a comment that us scientists (or soon-to-be scientists) were always quick to defend. Maybe a little too quick. Because regardless of who said it and in what tone it was said, I am a scientist and I’m here to tell you that I agree…science can be boring. In fact, more often than not, it kind of is. Continue reading

Lessons from the Field 3: Looking on the Brighter Side

Field_Lessons_3_CCBlog

I was thinking about just skipping this week’s blog post because I’ve been in the sourest mood this week. Many things have gone wrong and it seems that every day there’s been a new problem. As such, my first attempt to write this post became a whiny, complaining mess which in my opinion was not very fun to read, and I feared that I would deter some younger readers from the idea of field work. Because, yes, field work is messy and complicated. When things go wrong, they really go wrong and require a lot of tireless improvisation. But field work is also an exciting and rewarding experience. I would have never learned as much as I have these past few weeks by simply staying in a lab all summer. I’ve met so many cool people, learned plenty of lessons from the field campaign veterans and got not only a really unique and hands-on experience in the field of instrument development, but also a crash course on the awesome science we’re studying here at the PROPHET site.

And besides, important lessons seem to arise from difficult times. So here is the third installment of my Lessons from the Field series! This time, hopefully, with a more positive twist. Continue reading

Lessons from the Field 2: Becoming MacGyver

Field_Lessons_2_CCBlog

The field is tough. This whole blog post could probably be summarized by that one sentence. In fact, I might as well stop here. But I won’t. Because I’m mostly stress writing at this point. But anyway, if you haven’t done field work, take my word for it, while it can be a very rewarding adventure, it can also be a giant pain in the ass. (Or, in my case, both at the same time!)

Somehow I’ve managed to survive until now. We’ve reached the half way point of the field campaign and we have some preliminary data, I suppose. But, we also came out here with a brand new, never tested, homemade instrument (designed and built within a year, might I add). Therefore, even when all this is over, there is still tons of work to be done in order to characterize the data, figure out our sensitivity to certain species and, well, figure out what the data we managed to get really means. Nevertheless, I guess by anyone’s standards, we’re actually doing pretty good. After all, at least half of our instrument is working (!!), but I digress. Continue reading

Lessons from the Field: Science-ing across the US

Field_Lessons_1_CCBlog

…Sorry, I just really wanted to use that title.

Anyway! Hello my Internet friends! I come to you from the land called Michigan while doing some field work with my research lab. I can tell you it’s been quite an adventure for several reasons (which I have conveniently listed in bullet points).

  • For one, this is my first official field experience as a grad student…so just about everything could be considered an adventure at this point.
  • Second, this field experience required me to drive from Pasadena, CA to Pellston, MI in an 18 foot truck…which considering I’ve never driven anything more than a small car… well… it was interesting to say the least.
  • Third, this is the very first time our instrument has ever been out in the field and considering we only had it working three days before we left… well, let’s just say that the troubleshooting might have to be a bit more creative than usual…
  • And fourth, not only did said brand new (and stupidly expensive) instrument had to survive both a 3.5 day road trip on the back of a truck driven by two inexperienced truck drivers, but it also had to be carefully hoisted 100+ feet up in the air by some rope and a simple pulley system in order to be placed in its current position on the research tower…

Let me say again…it’s been quite an adventure. Continue reading

Plants and Their Role in the Atmosphere

I finally did it! Here is another science post discussing the role of plant emissions (specifically isoprene) have on our air quality and climate. Admittedly, this is a very brief summary, as isoprene chemistry is currently a hot research topic and there were simply too many avenues to discuss on a simple introductory post. However, I still hope you enjoy this intermission post as I prepare to head off to Michigan for my research trip. Again, my presence on the interwebs, especially this week, will be kind of spotty. Nevertheless, if you have any related questions, I will be very happy to answer them once I have internet! Enjoy!

biopact_isoprene_photosynthesisTypically, when the atmosphere is mentioned, it’s usually in the context of air quality and/or climate change. The former tends to focus on the emissions and subsequent transformations of air pollution that may be hazardous to human health. The latter, on the other hand, focuses on how greenhouse gases and atmospheric aerosols affect the radiative forcing of our planet. However, regardless of which one is being referring to, both are influenced by a complex interplay of an assortment of reactive compounds found within our atmosphere. Continue reading

On Choosing Research Groups & Grad Advisors

working-with-your-advisors

So, I’m like a month late to the party, but April 15th was the final deadline for most US PhD students to officially accept a grad school offer. Congrats, you guys! In a few short months, you will begin your grad school adventure!

However, the big decisions aren’t over. After all, not all of you were accepted directly into a lab. In fact, most of you will have to participate in rotations or find some other means to narrow down which group you want to join and which professor you want to work under. In other words, the next choice you will have to make is deciding which research group do you want to spend the next 5+ years of your life working with. No pressure, right?
Continue reading

When Grad Students Aren’t Considered Employees

I feel like every other blog post I write starts off with the same theme: grad school is such a weird time in a person’s life. After all, you’re simultaneously trying to make it as an adult (pay bills, start families, etc.), yet are still forced to live the student life of crappy wages, weird work hours and never-ending papers and assignments. However, despite this odd balancing act we grad students find ourselves in, that doesn’t make what we do any less of a job.

Grad students are working adults. We are not interns. We are not volunteers. We work for our respective schools (either through research and/or TA duties) and are paid as such. Sure, we may have a required amount of classes to take, but the point of grad school is to do great research, bring in funding and publish lots of papers. It’s a full-time job. Continue reading