Girl Power!

This past weekend Bugs&Stuff including many of our colleagues were fortunate enough to spend time at the Girl Power event at Imagination Station (a children’s museum) in
Toledo. The Girl Power event brings together girls from the area with women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. It’s basically an event to show that everyone has potential no matter who you are!

Throughout the museum there were many booths including our own rather large booth. These booths often have demonstrations of activities that the women in a variety of STEM careers do on a daily basis. Our booth consisted of activities from four different labs.

Of course, our section of the booth focused on bugs. We included a large tub of sand with fake bugs and an ID key for each of them. This gave the visitors to our station a look at what we do every day. Much of our field work involves sifting through soil and litter to find bugs. We then return to the lab and ID these bugs using a dichotomous key. This is a key that takes you down through two choices until you successfully ID the specimen. While it’s often more difficult to identify real bugs, it was incredibly fun to go through the key with the children. If you want to know more about our lab you can check out our website!

Another lab at our booth brought live crayfish to the event. The Moore lab studies behavior and many of them use crayfish to see how these animals fight with one another. Often they ask questions about how the environment of the crayfish affect fighting. They have experimented with the affects that predators have on crayfish behavior, because even the presence of a predator can change  crayfish behavior. They have also looked at how toxins and other chemicals affect crayfish behavior. Finally, they have asked questions relating to the behavior of other aquatic species. I know that my explanation is not complete, so if you want to learn more you can check out the Moore lab website!

Getting back to our theme of bugs, we also had a representative from the McCluney lab who works on urban ecology. Specifically, her research tries to better understand how bugs are using resources (food and water) in urban settings. At the event she had two mini-ecosystems set up beneath headlamps, which represented a natural and city environment. The visitors could put their hands inside the habitats and see that the city landscape was much warmer. Because cities are often covered with hard impervious surfaces (surfaces that are impenetrable like pavement) they suck up the heat from the sun and are much warmer. In natural areas there are fewer impervious surfaces and you will notice they are much cooler because of the presence of vegetation. Here is the McCluney lab website for more info!

Finally, we had the Root lab at our booth. Their work focuses on conservation of land and wildlife. They have projects on bats, roadkills, the emerald ash borer (a beetle that is currently killing off native ash trees), and many other projects. At the booth they had examples of different eye reflexions, because different animals have different colored eye reflexions at night. These reflexions are caused by a mirror like surface within the animal’s eye that allow them to see better in the dark. This mirror allows the light to bounce around the eye a second time if it doesn’t hit the photoreceptor, or the eye cells that allow us to see. This helps animals that are active at night see better. The visitors were also able to demo some of the equipment that the Root lab uses for their research! Check out the Root lab here to find out more!

The event was a great opportunity to get out into the public and talk about what we do. Events like these allow children to see that scientists are real people who do cool stuff everyday! If you’re a scientist I’d strongly recommend trying to get involved in something like Girl Power to promote your science to the public!

If you want to hear more about the event Cari and I plan on dedicating a whole podcast episode on this event and giving you all ideas about how they can get involved. Whether you are a scientist looking to show off your science or you’re a citizen looking for a way to learn more about science! Stay tuned!

A little bit about bugs

I originally posted this on my own blog but I thought I would also post it over here since we have yet to really talk about bugs. This is a little background literature on Cari and my research but put into a way that I hope is easy to read whether you have a science background or not. Let us know what you think!

Like us, ants also seek out salt in their diets. Salted roads can serve as an oasis of the nutrient in forests where salt is lacking in the soil. Scientists have found that ants further from salted roads gathered at salty baits rather than sugar baits compared to those ants that were closer to roads, which can tell us a lot about the how their ecosystem is working.

This is contrary to what we might expect. We often think of road salt as detrimental to the health of the environment. As it gets washed from roadways into streams and ditches, road salt can damage plant species along roadsides. However, road salt has been shown to be attractive to plant eating animals from moose to butterflies. These animals are seen gathering and licking up the salt available in the area presumably because the environment they live in is lacking in salt. This is similar to what was seen in ants.

The scientists, believe that there may be gradients of salt from the road into the forest. Next to the road there is a large amount of salt. The ants have all the salt they need in this area so they are more likely to be attracted to the sugar bait. In this case the sugar is the limiting nutrient. Moving further away from the road, though, there is less salt available on the soil so the ants are attracted to the salt baits over the sugar baits.

There are thought to be other gradients similar to this one near roads. For example, another study showed that areas that were further inland had more ants gathering at salt baits compared to sugar baits. This may happen because areas, such as forests, that are further inland do not have the addition of salt coming from the ocean. Thus, the soils in these forests are lacking in salt and the animals are more likely to seek it out. Why do these animals need salt, you may ask?

Ants and other insects and animals all need certain nutrients to stay alive and keep their bodies working properly. Salt is one of these nutrients. Salt is important for ants and other insects because it can affect neurological development and signaling. In other words, if they do not get enough salt from their diets, these insects may not have efficient signaling between their brains and body. Without the proper signaling and development these insects may not be able to behave as efficiently.

Ants and other soil insects are important decomposers, or organisms that eat dead and decaying matter. Without these insects, everything that dies including animals and plants would have a difficult time breaking down. Also, understanding how these organisms break down this material can help us solve issues related to other nutrients getting into the environment, such as carbon which leads to climate change. This study also highlights the impact of humans. We are rearranging the way that nutrients find their way into the environment, which could have big impacts on the way ecosystems work.

Episode 6 – Application Pressure

In this episode, we discuss how to decided where to go to graduate and undergraduate school. We give advice and share stories about how we made our decisions. We also ask you to reach out to us! We want to get a better idea of who we’re talking to so we can tailor our episodes to you. So, please comment on Soundcloud, review on iTunes, tweet @bugsandstuffpod, or message us on our blog www.bugsandstuffpodcast.tumblr.com! Thank you in advance! We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

So you’re applying to grad school?

Before we get too far into it, I wanted to say that Cari and I have upped our podcast game! We bit the bullet and bought a new microphone. We hope that you see a noticeable difference in the sound quality! Of course we are still learning but it is our goal to make the best quality for all our listeners. If any of you have any suggestions to improve the quality of our podcast feel free to let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Anyway, let’s get on with what we talked about. This week we discussed getting into college and grad school in general. I think I’m going to split this post into a couple of sections, because we have a lot to say. If you enjoy reading rather than listening here is the first part of our discussion. Also, I should say that we both have a limited experience since we are both ecologists, but hopefully some of our advice will be applicable to you guys.

If you are currently searching for a graduate program in Ecology, our first suggestion is to sign up for the EcoLog list serve. Ecolog sends out emails adversing jobs, internships, and other opportunities for ecologists at any career level. Definitely check it out.

The process of applying to graduate school is quite a bit like its own research project. So allot enough time to get it done, especially because we all have busy lives. Once you’ve found the labs/programs you’re interested in, contact possible advisors. Send out an email telling them a little about what you do and why you are interested in their lab. Make it unique to that faculty (if you are contacting multiple people in a department they will be talking and it doesn’t look good if you just send a generic email).

Once you have a number of good candidates for advisors, plan a time to visit the schools that you are most interested in. I never visited any of the schools I applied for. I wouldn’t advise this. Even though it worked out for me, and it could work for you, visiting shows your potential advisors that you are interested in their program. It also allows you time to interact with your potential advisors so that you can see if you mesh.

Choosing an advisor that fits your personality is incredibly important. No matter how prestigious your advisor/school is, choosing an advisor that has a personality that does not work well with your own could make your life miserable for years. I’m going to give a little shout out to our advisor, Shannon Pelini right now. She is an incredibly easy to get to know and friendly. This carries over into her relationship with her students and I think this makes her incredibly easy to work with.

Most importantly, she has been one of the greatest supporters throughout my masters work. I had some stressful hiccups at the beginning of my research but she helped me get through those issues. That experience has made me stress to anyone thinking about a graduate program that it is important to ask current graduate students in the lab how their advisor handles issues that may arise during your project, because undoubtably there will be some issue even if it is minor. Your advisor should support you throughout the process. Grad school can be stressful and sometimes you need an advocate.

If you spend your time asking these questions about personality and support, you will be off to a good start in picking an advisor. Also I want to leave you with one last bit of advise. Please try to get some research experience before you start grad school. The only reason I knew that I would enjoy getting a masters was through working in a lab and then building my own project during my undergraduate career. Not only does getting research allow you to decide if you even like research but it will also she the faculty you contact that you are serious about research.

That’s all for part one! Stay tuned for part two if you are more of a reader than a listener. Also let us know if you have any particular questions about grad school. We can try to answer them!

https://soundcloud.com/cari-ritzenthaler/episode-6-application-pressure

Mental health

Today on the podcast we spent the time discussing the importance of self care and mental health. Now, because I know not everyone likes to listen to podcasts I’ve decided to step up my blogging game for this podcast and include more detail about what was discussed. This is going to be a trial run so if you have any requests or advice for future posts let me know!

We had two guests this week, both from out lab, Audrey and Eric. Audrey is a second year PhD student and you can find her and check out her work over on twitter @AudreyMaran and on her blog. Her work focuses on how emergent insects decompose on farm fields
here in Ohio. Eric is a second year masters student. His research focuses on how the functional traits of worms and millipedes (how they use soil and resources) are affected by warming.

We began our discussion by looking more closely at the difficulties of grad school. I know many of us feel stressed out on a pretty regular basis. Audrey mentioned that she often feels “hills of activity” where there will be moments of high activity and a lot of stress followed by moments where everything is more relaxed. If you are a procrastinator, I think these moments are even more apparent as you put off doing things until it becomes too stressful. Then there is a flurry of activity to get the task done followed by more inactivity. Lists are a good way to space out these moments.

Additionally, setting deadlines for yourself can also help to alleviate some stress. However, if you are someone who works best under pressure this may not work for you. One way around this is to set deadlines with your advisor so the pressure is a little more serious. Again though, we learned through our discussion that everything is dependent upon the individual person. Perhaps you crave the pressure of having a deadline approach or maybe you enjoy getting things done right away. As long as you get it done with as little stress as possible it is up to you!

Dealing the with stress is a whole other beast, though. We came to the conclusion that it is important to have hobbies outside of your work. For me, cooking helps me relax and get my mind of the stress of work. Setting aside time to make myself a healthy (or not so healthy) meal always makes me feel ready to tackle my next task. Along with this I also find myself watching a lot of cooking videos and Netflix. I love Netflix. As a graduate student it is daunting to come home and read or write after I have spent my entire day doing those two things.

Netflix or video games (basically anything mindless) is a way that many of us decompress and you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. We are all human and we need time away from work. Never judge your productivity against another person. If you need to take a day and watch Netflix don’t feel guilty because you aren’t being productive, even in your hobbies. If working every hour of every day makes you feel stressed and unhealthy that probably isn’t the way you should be living your life. Ultimately, you probably are sacrificing some productivity because you are stressed.

In academia, it is also incredibly prevalent to have feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. If you haven’t heard of imposter syndrome I urge you to give it a Google. Imposter syndrome often leaves you believing that your success was somehow a fluke or an accident; someone made a mistake and you shouldn’t be where you are. It affects most of our lab although it should be noted that it gets better. As you continue to reinforce that your success is legitimate, you begin to have fewer feelings of doubt.

Finally, we discussed illness and stress. Being stressed can weaken your immune system because you may not be eating properly or sleeping well. I know that I’ve been sick many times over the past couple months and I attribute this partially to stress. I also get chronic headaches caused by a variety of triggers. One of these triggers is stress. Headaches are annoying because at best they are distracting which limits your productivity and ultimately can make you feel more stressed.

Overall, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout grad school. Do not forget yourself during the process of studying. If you aren’t mentally and physically healthy it will be more difficult to get through all of your work. Also, as a final note, if you feel that your mental health is interrupting your everyday life please take advantage of the resources around you. If you are at a university chances are you are already paying for concealing services within your fees, so set up a meeting if you are feeling uncomfortable with the way you’re feeling or need help dealing with stress.

Hope you enjoyed the podcast and stay healthy friends!

Meat Substitute

Another edition of meat free meals! Today, inspired by our friends tacos and a coupon, I tried Quorn “beef” crumble! The texture was great, but the taste was a little off. However, I think it was because there was too little taco seasoning. There was more “beef” than I was expecting!

9/10 would make again, but with some modification to the seasoning.