P in Streams: A Day in the Life of Sophie Weaver

Where would I be without Sophie? She is my number one companion in this tumultuous graduate school experience. We have spent many hours sharing our experiences with experiments, coursework, fieldwork, labwork, advisors, peers, proposals, grant writing, the pressure to perform, and the doubts that inevitably surface about whether we are “smart enough” or if we “work hard enough” to successfully finish.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Sophie as much as I did last semester as I’m still paying off my dental bill for my first “real” cavity. I fell into the habit of stocking her office with sweets so they would be two floors away rather than just sitting at my own desk. I should take a leaf out of Sophie’s book and start stocking her office with (organic) Cheetos instead (no sugar, right Soaps?).

Sophie took the time to answer my Day in the Life questions at 1 am when she was experiencing graduate student “sleep”.

What is your research topic?
I’m studying nutrient and resource limitation of stream biofilms. I’m interested in how light availability, carbon quality, and inorganic nutrient concentrations can impact competition between autotrophic and heterotrophic microorganisms at the base of stream food webs.
Describe your daily routine.
I usually wake up fairly early, jump out of bed, eat breakfast, and head straight to campus. I’m most productive in the morning, so I try to either work in my office or at my favorite coffee shop for a few hours before classes/meetings. I give myself a break at lunchtime, then spend the afternoon in class or working in the lab. I’m trying to get better about leaving by 5, but sometimes I find myself in the lab till 7 or 8 pm. I also try to go for a run around 3 (peak distraction time) to break up the afternoon.
What practices do you employ outside of work time to support productivity and enthusiasm once you’re in the office?
Days off! I have a strict policy where I force myself to take at least one complete day off each week, regardless of how much work I have. This helps me hit refresh and allows me to be more productive on work days. I also try to get outside as much as I can to play in the snow with good friends and cute dogs. Yoga. Skiland!
What is the most productive part of your day?
Definitely the morning. I rarely get to campus later than 8, and I find that I get a lot accomplished in the morning because I have the lab to myself for a few hours. I lose momentum around noon just in time for lunch (candy)!
Do you have any rituals or habits that keep you going through the workday?
I like to take walks. I go to Murie to fill up my water bottle, to Irving to pick up or send packages, to the museum to get a mocha, and often (but not enough!) I walk on the trails with friends and their cute dogs. Even 5 or 10 minutes of fresh air helps keep me going. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Sometimes I listen when I’m doing something monotonous in the lab like acid washing, but also sometimes when I should be reading papers. They help remind me that grad school is just a tiny slice of reality, [especially] when it feels all-consuming. A little perspective!
What do you admire most in your supervisors? Do your supervisors ever act in ways that compromise your respect for them?
I admire my advisor’s ability to balance work and life while [still] being a successful scientist. I also appreciate his ability to see the humor in many situations. Sometimes he makes comments that make me question his opinion of my intelligence and work ethic, but overall I have a lot of respect for him as a human and a scientist.
Do you ever feel that your efforts in graduate school go unnoticed? Describe.
Does any grad student not feel this way? We work so hard but our advisors focus on our mistakes and slow slow progress. Luckily I have good friends to remind me that I’m working hard enough and making progress!
What is your favorite way to distract yourself from working?
I text my mom, check the weather at Skiland, chat with my lab mates, or paint my nails. Lately, I’ve been very distracted by online coverage of the Olympics.
What are some of your greatest doubts or anxieties surrounding your research?
I often question whether I’m smart enough to complete my research, or whether I’m a good grad student. I get anxious that people around me focus on all of the things I don’t know, instead of all of the things I do know and have learned so far in my research. I’m also completely terrified that I am going to break an expensive piece of lab equipment or ruin an analyzer.
In general, do you think that your fellow graduate students are healthy mentally and/or physically? Do you think that your graduate student environment is supportive and understanding? 
Yes and no. I’m really lucky that my lab has so many intelligent female students (3 MS, 3 PhD – all remote). We all get along well and I think we mostly live healthy (physically and mentally) lives. One student, in particular, thrives in a competitive environment and can occasionally be fairly condescending, which can be difficult (and probably negatively impacts the mental health of some of us. Ha). Overall, I think we are very supportive and understanding of each other, while also being constructively critical and holding each other accountable. I also try to surround myself with grad students outside of my lab that are supportive and positive. Students that understand what I’m going through but also have very different projects, advisors, and experiences in grad school. A former postdoc that recently left the lab (Dr. Ruffing) was extremely supportive and always gave thoughtful advice regardless of the situation. She was a great example of a mentally healthy and successful scientist, and I want to be her when I grow up. I miss her so!

Changing the habit pattern of the mind

She woke up this morning before her alarm, as she often does. The loud birds were chorusing outside the window, tiny birds perched on oak branches. She lay there for some time. When her alarm sounded, she knew she wanted to lay in bed longer. She thought about coffee, and she felt happy. The unexpected voice of a dear friend was traveling its way from the kitchen to her bedroom, and she got up to investigate. The friend’s voice explained that he didn’t in fact drive home last night, as there was a tree on the road near the locked gate. All her friends drank coffee. The friend with the voice watched her as she stood on an outside table and played music, as he had watched her many times before. She thought she saw deep emotion in his eyes.

She was full of energy this morning, and happy. Life felt easy. She knew this wouldn’t always be the case, that one day she would feel challenged again, but she nevertheless enjoyed the moments of the morning: the shower and the coffee and snuggling a squishy, heavy, five-year-old girl in her arms.

Lately, the habit pattern of her mind has been of great interest to her. The curiosity is centered around fear of failure. The fear of failure is deep, deep. It has controlled her life for a long time, a menacing pilot seated in the nut of her consciousness. She has faced that fear in a very intimate way many times since the beginning of the year. She has woken up terrified that she would fail. She was perhaps more afraid that she would fail because she was too afraid to really try.

Letting habit patterns out to breathe is how she relaxes them. For weeks now she has gently massaged this habit pattern of the mind, talking with trusted friends, writing it all down, trying to logically piece this puzzle together. It is important to her to feel that she has tried her best. It is important to her to learn how to fail gracefully. It is important to her to recognize the gift of perseverance. And she is realizing that she can consciously change the habit pattern of her mind.

She sees that fear and love are two sides of the same coin, that failure and success are two sides of another coin, and that effort and ease are two sides of a third. She knows that comfort with failure means bravery in pursuing opportunity.

Overall, she is so grateful to be growing older, and learning more, and loving more. She is even excited by the gray hairs inspired by all this experience!

She felt radiant, clean, and well-fed. She left her friends and came into town. She tried on clothes with a dear friend, lots of clothes. She looked at herself in the large mirrors and noticed: her butt, her legs, her belly, her hair, her nose and smile and eyebrows in profile. She found an excellent pair of jeans. After dinner with yet another friend, she flew northward and reflected on her journey, how much can change in such a short time while nothing really changes at all.

mind art

The basic point of it all

Pema Chödrön:

The basic point of it [meditation] all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind – thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call “me” or “I”.

Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. Non one else can really sort out for you what to accept – what opens up your world – and what to reject – what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery…

…Because we are decent, basically good people, we ourselves can sort out what to accept and what to reject. We can discern what will make us complete, sane, grown-up people, and what – if we are too involved in it – will keep us children forever.

This is the process of making friends with ourselves and with our world. It involves not just the parts we like, but the whole picture, because it all has a lot to teach us.

From The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.

Photo credit.

Day 1: A list of experience

I’d like to make a list of ten experiences I had today, my first day capturing Spermophilus parryii, also known as the arctic ground squirrel, also known by their Inuit name, sik-sik.IMG_1130

  1. Throughout the tundra in Atigun Pass I carried fifteen small cages on my back with Schlepper #2.
  2. I played a sik-sik in the Toolik-wide skit competition. Our team, a combination of Winter (my lab) and Wet labs, won a custom gourmet meal from the kitchen staff for “Best Effort”.
  3. I caught my first AGS. Victor calls her “Gray-Gray”, because those are her ear tag colors. GG is notorious and feisty.IMG_1132
  4. I saw an AGS fall asleep in a large pickle jar with gas tubes so we could measure her. I saw Victor hold her gently until she woke up.
  5. For dinner I had eggplant and feta-stuffed portobellos, garlic asparagus, a delicate potato/yam casserole, and spinach/cherry/walnut salad. The meat-eaters dined on filet mignon, crab, and lobster. Dessert was chocolate cupcakes with ganache and strawberry shortcake.
  6. I heard a vicious swarm of mosquitoes, horse flies, and gnats swarm around my body for eight solid hours. It was an immense act of patience to just let them do it.
  7. I looked at this beauty all day:IMG_1135
  8. I rode the camp bikes to the lake with Victor, stripped down to nothing, and jumped in.
  9. I felt that I am happy to make new friends, but I also don’t mind if I don’t really connect with anyone by the time I leave. I felt this was an area of growth for me, to not pressure myself into being that social butterfly and connecting with everyone. I felt simply grateful that Victor and I get along so well. We are dissimilar in many ways, yet our love for science and nature and work are bringing us together in a genuine, satisfying way. I felt an amazement at the ability of humans to connect. I felt happy, at the same time, to choose to be alone and not participate.
  10. I fell back in love with scientific research, inquiry, precision, hard work, and creativity. I’m home again.IMG_1127

Two-thirty am; or, after much wine

My friend Sara Rose took me (Sara May) out for a birthday dinner on Monday eve. I’ve always been a lightweight (One-Shot Wonder, they (my little brother) call(s) me), so when Sara suggested we split a bottle of wine, I knew she didn’t know what I knew: that that was a lot for me.

I came home four hours later full of life and smiles, fries and cab sauv. SR and I had been getting deep into philosophy as we swirled the dregs in our glasses. She ended the dinner conversation with something like, “Sara, we just have to tap into the heartbeat of the universe and live there fiercely.” And the way she said it, I was just, yes!

And so after Ian and I said goodnight I went into my little room and read some of my Osho book before falling asleep and, lo and behold, good ol’ Osho is going on about, you guessed it, the heartbeat of the universe. How we have the ability to connect our humble heartbeat to that of the entire UNIVERSE! The night was getting more profound by the minute!


At two-thirty in the morning I woke up to pee because, naturally, I had drunk more wine that evening than the total amount of wine I had consumed in my entire 27th year. I was in and out of sleep until 7:49 am, experiencing monumental insights. In one of my more lucid moments I turned on my red lamp, found my pen and paper that I always keep right by my bed/head, and wrote:

Growing up is making decisions not based on fear or the possibility of mistake but out of love and wisdom.

The freedom in that is beautiful and can be terrifying.

Think about that!

Good night! May your dreams be beautiful blankets of warm, universal love.

Heart by Taylor Penton.
Universe photo.

From Pinckney to Philly

Last we met was at a tea house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since that time, nearly two weeks ago, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania have happened to the Patchy caravan.

Danjacquiandsara spent a fun two nights with couch surfing hosts Beth and Max. We ate of good food, shared in good stories, and played games like: “Guess the Repairman’s Name” and “How Many Catnip Mice Can Sara Find in her Bed?” and “How Did You Get the Shower to Work?” It was a quirky, laughter-filled stay, and we left feeling like we had made great new friends. Shows were played in Ann Arbor, Columbus, and Pinckney, a small down in eastern Michigan. The Pinckney show was at a palace-like B&B called Sunset Cove. We took princess baths in our gargantuan suites.

Our first stop in central New York was with Allison and Trevor Whiting at their home in the pastures outside of Victor. Nearly sixty highly attentive yet memorably enthusiastic and slightly intoxicated adults provided an incredibly warm welcome to NY. Halloween was spent in Ithaca, kicked off with a downtown Harry Potter party (legitimate) and completed with Ghostbusters, snuggling, and brownies.

The next part of the tour was perhaps one of the more challenging stretches. We played two shows in a row to fewer than ten people each (an organic beauty salon in Little Falls and a parlor show at Elliot Wells’ apartment in downtown Ithaca). When you’re deep in tour you begin to require dedicated audience participation and substantial, excited listeners to keep up the excitement, motivation, good cheer, and creativity. We were supplied two such shows on Thursday and Friday of last week, the first at the Kirkland Art Center in Clinton and the second at The Nelson Odeon in Cazenovia, both quaint college hamlets somewhat near Utica and Syracuse, respectively. We were fed, appreciated, and applauded well both evenings.

The end of this segment found ourselves in Downingtown, PA, home to Dan, Jacqui, and Dani. We arrived at the Sherrill’s on Saturday to relax, hot tub, eat, and prepare for our house show in Dan’s own childhood home. The audience and entire eve were both exceptional. Sunday was spent visiting such important sites as the home of the now-famous Mrs. Henry and neighbors Becky and Jeff’s fairy sanctuary and magical elven home with thirty wooden flutes, a beautiful piano, and all sorts of whimsical instruments to bang, pound, smack, and blow. Dan, Sara, Ian, and Dani got out a few weeks of tour stress by improvising fascinating renditions of on-the-spot originals (“We’re in the Garden” led by Dan Sherrill) and old favorites (“Rye Fiddle Sticks” on piano two hands and piccolo Native American flute). Sunday evening was spent at the Sprout Music Collective in West Chester with Pennsylvanian family and friends. Art Aubert finished the show off with a tender speech and roses for the three Patchy women and Eowyn.

Lora Reehling and Brian Swift surprised Sara at the Sprout show! They all immediately decided that Sara would come to Philly that eve to spend the night and following day to explore and connect. Sara woke up to cuddle with Leroy the sleek tom cat before falling asleep for a few more hours.

Sara and Lora spent Monday drinking coffee on the back patio before biking to Old Town Philly and eating a leisurely lunch. Total girl time for hours. Ethiopian food with Brian is on the horizon.