The following is my holiday letter from December, 2005:
I started out 2005 with a bunch of metal sticking out of my foot. I had
surgery at the end of 2004 to fuse the talonavicular joint in my left
foot because an old injury had left it pretty much completely lacking
in cartilage. A big C-clamp held together rods screwed into the bones
of my foot. I got around on a little scooter type thing called a Roll-a-bout
(www.roll-a-bout.com); it’s hard to explain but it was pretty funny-looking
and I got a lot of stares. It was much more convenient than crutches though.
At first I found it really embarrassing, but once I realized it made people
cater to my needs I thought, “the scooter is power.” My foot
seemed to heal fine, BUT it turned out I needed another surgery …
so last week I had a triple arthrodesis which is the fusion of three joints
in my foot. I have to be in bed with my foot elevated for two weeks!!
Fortunately my mom got a wireless network for the house (I’m recovering
at my parents’) so my laptop (do you really have a lap when you’re
lying down?) has Internet access. The upside is that I have time to do
holiday cards this year! Anyway, let’s hope this surgery is successful!
I’m still in graduate school, working towards a Master’s
in Entomology at the University of Maryland. In the summer of 2005 I finally
started my research for real. Previously my project had been studying
daddy long leg penises (no lie!). It was fascinating but I was having
a difficult time seeing the usefulness of it, other than being able to
have interesting conversations in bars. My current project is testing
the effectiveness of wildflower plantings in improving natural insect
control in soy. This means collecting bugs in soy fields in the heat of
summer. I have never sweated so much in my life! Actually, I love it –
I really love spending time on farms and some of my field sites are really
beautiful. And hey I really like to sweat – must be my Alabama upbringing.
So the plan now is to spend the summer of 2006 collecting more bugs in
soy fields, and then taking a semester or two to write a dissertation,
ending up with a Master’s by the spring of 2007. After that, possibilities
are getting a PhD at CATIE, a tropical agricultural research center in
Costa Rica, or leaving school and re-entering the real world.
During my time in graduate school I have discovered that graduate students
are horribly overworked and underpaid. Well, not much of a surprise, but
the current system actually doesn’t benefit anyone, most especially
not graduate students. It leads to a high dropout rate and sub-optimal
output, which ends up being a waste of money and time and effort for everyone
involved. In other parts of the country, grad students are getting more
rights so the situation is improving overall.
This led me to run for University of Maryland’s Senate and I actually
won! I have had a lot of fun with it so far and have met interesting people.
I wrote a letter to the editor of the school paper to point out that the
Provost was completely ignoring graduate students when talking about the
accomplishments and goals of the University. Then I figured if I am publicly
criticizing the guy I might as well meet with him. He ended up being really
nice and receptive. He put me on the PhD Completion Committee, which is
looking into improving UMd’s 45% PhD completion rate. So that’s
what I got for opening my big mouth -- I ended up with more work to do!
I earn my stipend by being a lab-teaching assistant, which means I run
lab sections for entry-level undergraduate biology classes. This includes
giving an initial lecture before the experiment, running the experiment,
cleaning up afterwards, grading all their assignments and exams, etc.
At first teaching was scary, but then I thought: “Finally, I have
an audience!” I love teaching and it’s a real joy –
I hope to teach in the future.
In August I got to take a vacation to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I took
buses to get around and went to little out-of-the way areas and generally
made things up as I went along (my favorite kind of trip). I did some
white water rafting on some Class IV rapids in Turrialba, CR. At one point
we got out of the boat and swam through some Class II rapids, which brought
me to the verge of aquatic panic. I had been to Costa Rica before and
loved it enough to return, but wanted to see something new as well so
I headed north to Nicaragua. I took a long boat ride in Lake Nicaragua
to Isla de Ometepe, which is made up of two active volcanoes and a strip
of land in between. At the dock, we (a cute Australian surfer I met on
the boat and I) negotiated a “taxi” ride -- really an old
beat up pickup truck that needed to be push-started. We stood in the bed
of the truck and sped down the extremely bumpy dirt road under a moonlit
sky. Halfway there, the “taxi” driver stopped, got out, and
tried to increase our fare. We held our ground though and didn’t
pay another Cordoba. (This was when speaking Spanish came in handy.)
The hotel was rustic to say the least, but it was clean, completely charming
and right by the beach. One night as I was changing, I saw a snake with
black and red stripes slithering underneath my door! Later that night
I saw another snake in my room. This time I was dressed and prepared.
I coaxed it into a plastic bag and went upstairs to show the Australian.
Also I went to the lobby to show the hotel employees, who were drinking
and partying because it was Saturday night. I was assured that it was
not a poisonous snake. However when I described snake #1, the employee
got very quiet and said it would be a bad idea to try to catch that one.
Turns out it was a red coral snake … one bite could kill someone
From there we went to the western coast of Nicaragua to an out of the
way surf town. To get to the hostel where the Australian’s surfboard
was stashed, we took a ferry, then a taxi, then walked along the beach
15 minutes and then up a hill into the woods. The hostel, called Dave’s
Hideaway, is being built by an alcoholic expat American. You have to bring
all your own food and there’s a kitchen, but no one to cook for
you. Getting to my room involved edging along boards laid across some
2x4’s tenuously attached to the wall. The windows didn’t have
glass or screens so beds had mosquito netting. The view of the beach was
unbelievably gorgeous. The water was great and I loved bodysurfing there.
There were tons of beautiful surfers and I have never felt so physically
inferior in my entire life!
In the fall, I finally moved into my own place, which has been completely
fantastic. Living with three roommates and a very barky dog was no longer
a good situation for me. Living alone is a little more expensive but well
worth it. Also I got a cat and she makes being at home even more fun.
She has 6 toes on her front feet and other adorable quirks. She gets excited
when I come home and follows me around and likes to scratch my shoes (it’s
okay -- previous owners had her declawed).
I hope your holiday season is wonderful and that 2006 brings you many