Meet Laura's Holiday Letter, 2005

The following is my holiday letter from December, 2005:

Happy holidays!

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 (; 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 within minutes!

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 wonderful surprises.

Laura C. Moore

Copyright © 1997-2007 Laura C. Moore