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Climate change certainty

So how certain is climate change, really?

Turns out the global scientific community is a lot more certain than you might expect, given how much climate change gets denied in politics.

Here’s the basic run-down of what we know:

  • Global warming has been happening — and the evidence is unequivocal.
  • Human activities have definitely contributed to global warming.
  • It’s 95% certain that human activities have caused most of the global warming since 1950.
  • The best estimate is that human activities have caused all or nearly all of the global warming since 1950.

Or to sum up in a single sentence: Global warming is unequivocally happening, and humans have caused most — maybe all — of it.

Continue reading for details and citations.

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When hatred isn’t urgent

I don’t think that Trump’s platform of hatred and bigotry got him elected. I think that too many decent people were willing to vote for him despite his racism, sexism and all the rest — because they thought other things were more important. The hatred simply didn’t seem like an urgent problem.

But when racism means that I could get shot by the police, it threatens my basic ability to survive. When sexism keeps me from getting a job, it threatens my basic ability to survive. And when something threatens my basic ability to survive, it’s urgent.

Too many of us with privilege don’t see hatred as urgent. We know racism and sexism are sorta problematic, sure  — but other things are more pressing. We’ll deal with them later, when we’ve got time and energy. If we remember to. If it doesn’t get in the way.

We need to change. 

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You don’t know what’s in your cleaning products

8115464937_bc1a808bfb_zWhat’s in your household cleaning products? Even if you’ve read the label, there’s probably still a lot left off. No law requires a complete list of ingredients on the labels of household cleaning products, unlike food or cosmetics. And what they’re not telling you about could still hurt you.

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Wading through the red tape to get a government job

Now that I work for the county, I’m getting questions about how to apply for jobs here. Government job applications play by different rules than the rest of the world, so most of the advice you find out there on resumes and cover letters don’t quite apply. I’d like to expand this further (with collaborative input) to cover the whole job application process, but here are some tips for now:

The first round of screening is a “minimum qualifications” round where anyone who doesn’t meet each and every one of the listed qualifications will get excluded. It can be brutal.

To help pass the qualifications screening, HR recommends copying the list of qualifications verbatim from the job posting and answering each one. I do this in the cover letter. I write a normal one-page cover letter, and then on the next page(s) I address the qualifications.

If you’re applying for a job that requires X years of experience, address that with a table that lists each position title, years in the position, and totals them up. Either include a statement that all jobs were full-time, or include an hours-per-week column and a full-time-equivalent column. Also, on your resume put the hours-per-week for each position. (It’s in the online application, but most people will use either the online or the paper copy, not both.)

For resumes, the usual “short and sweet” approach that works everywhere else is counterproductive when applying for government jobs. Your resume has to stand alone to prove that you’re well qualified for the job (if you’re hired, it actually gets submitted to the state for oversight). That means that it needs a fair bit of detail to show that you do indeed have all the skills, knowledge, and experience you need for the job. Yes, your resume will get long in the process.

The advice I was given by HR when I was applying is to make sure that all the keywords in the job description and qualifications are addressed in your resume. You don’t necessarily need to use the exact words, but you do need to make it very clear – the first screener may be an HR person who doesn’t understand the field well enough to understand specific terms — and in any case the screener will be working bleary-eyed through a stack of ~150 applications.

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Unleaded, please!

The last place I expected to find worrisome amounts of lead is in something designed to pipe water around the home — like a garden hose. But HealthyStoff.org (a project of the Michigan-based Ecology Center) tested 21 hoses, and found lead, phthalates, BPA, and other compounds of concern, including chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys. In a test where they left a hose in the sun for two days and then tested the water, BPA and phthalates far exceeded federal drinking-water standards.

Vilsekogen - garden with hoseI had never given it much thought — sure, garden hoses aren’t really built for drinking out of, but they’re used all the time for water we end up ingesting, whether that’s watering the garden, playing in a sprinkler, or filling up a water jug to take camping. If you had asked me yesterday, I’d have guessed that maybe they’re not officially food-safe, but they must meet some kind of standard, right?

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Civic Ecology

I usually describe myself as an “urban ecosystem ecologist” to convey, 1) that I’m an ecosystem ecologist, focusing on the large-scale picture of how nutrients, water, and energy move within and between ecosystems, and 2) I mostly work in cities and other human-inhabited landscapes.At first I resisted tagging my work as “urban,” because many of the questions that motivate me took hold while I was living and working in a rural area. It’s not about the big-city big-infrastructure components so much as the integrated social and ecological systems, and those are found in any of the ecosystems where people live.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the term “civic ecology,” because it also speaks to an important dimension of my work — that it’s in service to the public good, working to benefit the community. I work with households, neighborhoods, and local governments, looking for ways to increase nutrient sustainability and overall well-being. My work spans the boundary between fundamental ecological research (learning more about what makes the world tick) and practical decision-making (choosing ways to make it run “better”). Right now I’m on the academic side of that boundary, but I could easily see myself going back into government work in the future.

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Notes to my younger self

I recently found myself articulating something I wish I could have told my younger grad-student self: Go to your advisor even with problems you know she can’t solve.  I went through some rough patches in my first couple of years of grad school, so much self-doubt that I’ve since learned to file away under “impostor syndrome.”  And in those times when I wasn’t sure if I could make it, it was painfully hard to look around me and not see any gay science faculty.  It’s like my worst fears were suddenly being proven.  With empirical data.

I’ll leave for another post the importance of role models.  For now, this is about being an advisee.  I can’t say this advice is for everyone, but I happen to have the world’s best advisor (and yes, I’ve told her so).  In retrospect, I wish I’d had the courage (and common sense?) to bring some of my struggles to her.  For starters, it would have forced me to wrap words around my fears.  In order to tell her about them, I’d have to shrink the bogeyman in the shadows into something I could actually name and describe.  I think it would have made it a little less large and scary, facing it squarely like that.

Even more importantly, my advisor would have empathized and, in some fashion, understood.  She certainly would have cared that I was struggling.  I wonder what it would have been like to have that sort of validation, to have her hold a little space for me to wrestle with things instead of it all just taking place in my own head.  I wonder what it would have meant to me to know, to be told, that it’s OK to be struggling and scared.  To know that even if she can’t fix things for me, she’ll support me through it.

I know this is sounding like big deep scary emotional stuff — and remember that my advisor is, first and foremost, a scientist.  And yes, I have a really good support network of friends I turn to.  But turning to friends doesn’t break down the compartmentalizaton that was part of the problem.  I could really have used some way of feeling like all these parts of me were OK to have as a scientist.  I needed some validation in my professional life.  The conversation wouldn’t have looked this deep on the surface.  But small simple things can still carry an immense weight.  Just a small acceptance to make me recognize that I’m OK, warts and all.

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Favorite commute of the year!

Yesterday I taught a scientific-presentations workshop up at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve for the summer interns.  Many of the interns do an independent research project, usually in small groups, and this is the second year in a row I’ve gone up there to help them with preparing their presentations for the end-of-summer symposium.  (and a brief shameless plug:  I’m starting to put some of the resource sheets and such up here, too, in the Talking about Science pages)

It’s also the second year I’ve biked up to Cedar Creek (40-some miles each way).  I don’t go up there very often, and usually when I do I’m hauling samples,  equipment, or undergrads, or whatever I’m going up there for starts bright and early.  So this is my one opportunity when I need only to slip my thumb drive and my remote into my pocket and go on two wheels!  That makes it my favorite commute of the whole year.

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When I don’t know what I’m doing

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”   — Wernher von Braun

Yep, it’s been one of those days with novel mistakes and general fumbling-about-ness.  I can’t even claim that I was doing anything new and exciting — ti should have been routine but wasn’t.  Ah well, that’s science.

The quote from von Braun sometimes feels like my theme song for grad school.  It’s a good reminder that I’m no more incompetent than the next researcher.  So much of my research is using techniques that my lab isn’t familiar with or set up well for, protocols I have to alter significantly for my needs, and quite frankly stuff I’m making up as I go along.  There’s a fair bit of feeling stupid involved.  I’m just glad it’s mostly the sort of stupid that comes because I’m venturing into unknown territory.

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The thinking chair

One of the other professors on my floor has been looking for space to put a visiting grad student who’ll be working with his lab for the next two and a half months.  Our office is a bit deeper than the others on the floor, since we’re at the center of the outward-curved wall, so even though we’ve already got four grad students in the office the Powers that Be decreed that we make room for the visitor.

I said no.  Repeatedly.  I don’t want our office to get crowded. But the prof put his foot down and, quite simply, I lost that territory battle.

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