13 March 2011

I bleed for my thesis: Part I

No, really. Throughout the course of research for my dissertation, I have endured a wide variety of physical maladies, ranging from mild to fairly serious, all directly related to teaching, field work, greenhouse maintenance, etc. As I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel for my dissertation, I'm going to record all of these events for posterity. Here I will begin with the first, and perhaps most notable, experience.


My second field season turned out to be far more exciting than I intended. I had done some plant collecting in southern Missouri and was meandering around central Arkansas looking for spiderworts. I found and collected from an absolutely amazing population in the middle of nowhere and got back in my truck to head to a nearby campground. I was driving down a narrow rural highway, dropped a wheel off the side of the road, and it blew out. I spun all the way around in the road and turned over upside down in the ditch on the other side (better than the alternative, which was a fairly steep, long hill).

You know the theory about drunk people not getting hurt in an accident because they don't have fast enough reactions to tense up and cause skeletal damage? My incredulity at having caused such a horrible accident likely kept me from getting hurt in much the same way. I remember the truck spinning, my shoulder slamming against the door, and my world turning upside down. It was only
when I hung there, wondering why the airbags didn't deploy, that I realized the full extent of my predicament. The week old camper shell on the truck apparently saved my life, as the cab was barely compressed. I unbuckled my seatbelt and fell to the glass-littered bottom/ceiling of the cab. I crawled out of the passenger side window and emerged into the sunshine, feeling like I had been reborn.

The pickup following a half mile behind me pulled over to help. The family didn't quite believe I was alone in the truck; apparently my collection and camping gear was far too much for one person. I grabbed my purse out of the pile of glass at the bottom of the ditch and found my cell phone. Although I was assured no signal would be available, I managed to reach emergency services and they dispatched a state police officer and ambulance.

After several more attempts to connect, despite crappy cell coverage, I finally talked with my boyfriend at the time. Nearly 6 pm, and he was hungover and at work. All I told him is that I was in a car accident, and that he should get in his car and start driving to central Arkansas. I was in the process of attempting to contact a few additional friends and family when I realized I was standing in a fire ant nest. I extricated myself from that travesty, and started picking the glass out of my arms and legs a safe distance from the domiciles of any biting insects.

The emergency contacts took their sweet time getting there. I apparently should have specified more about the severity of the incident. I refused medical treatment, and supervised the tow truck as it pulled my vehicle and possessions out of the ditch. I stared dispassionately at the mess, and contemplated pitching a tent in the adjoining field to stash my gear. I glanced down and spotted a flash of purple amid the small chunks of glass. My mother had given me a chunk of amethyst to keep in my car "for protection," and it sparkled poetically amidst the wreckage of my vehicle. I plucked it up off the ground and pocketed it, not sure if it had done its job, but instead hoping to reclaim everything possible.

A nice woman who volunteered for emergency services and lived a mile up the highway came by and offered to transfer me and my belongings to a hotel in nearby Glenwood, Arkansas. At that point, I had collected nearly 50 live plants, each of which were ensconced in their own large ziplock bag and placed carefully in huge tupperware boxes. My new friend stared at the jumble of plants in the ditch and said, "You're gonna have to go back and pick all your pretty flowers again." Yes, indeed. We loaded up all non-plant materials in her car and placed the plant tubs in the back of the sadly crumbled truck.

We stopped off at my friend's house to feed her dog, a dachshund aptly named Pecker. She then dropped me at a hotel in town, where I spent the next few hours shaking all of my belongings free from glass and grass. I touched base with my mother, father, and a few of my best friends while I periodically directed my boyfriend to the speck of a town I inhabited. He made the eight hour drive in record time, ending up at the hotel in the wee hours of the morning.

We slept a few hours, stopped by the tow yard to claim the rest of my belongings, and made the drive back. The boyfriend humored me by stopping to collect some plants near Joplin, Missouri. I tallied the final damage when I got back home. Truck was totaled. My shoulder was bruised, and my pride even more so. I had to cancel a professional presentation about my research to a university along my collecting path, and the rest of my collection trip was delayed. My arms and knees had numerous small cuts, and my legs had fire ant bites. But none of my equipment, including my laptop, was damaged, and all of my plant collections were salvageable.

My mom helped me locate another pickup within a few days, and my insurance payout covered most of it. The camper shell salesman didn't even bat an eyelash when I was back only a few weeks later with a different truck and a request for another shell. As soon as I was able, I drove straight to Texas to finish collecting plants. My research persevered, and I emerged wiser. The repercussions were relatively mild, all things considered, but there were some interesting side effects in my personal life....but then again, that's a whole other story. Suffice it to say that this was the first time I literally bled for my research.

22 February 2011

All about R

I'm an evolutionary biologist. Right now I happen to work on genomes, and I really like the way the world looks from this corner of biology. These days, though, evolutionary genomics involves lots and lots of bioinformatics and computation, so I'm gradually honing my skills in Terminal, on servers, etc (I'm a Mac girl).

My latest obsession is R, which happens to have a ton of awesome packages for evolutionary analysis. I was lucky enough to be featured on my friends' blog, Teaching My Wife R. I'm Princess Trad! I'm almost useful! I'm learning AND teaching, hooray! If you're even more of a glutton for punishment, you can also check out some of the cutting edge development in evolutionary analysis in R.

25 January 2011

My new career plan.

Inspired by recent events in my personal life, I've decided that a backup plan (in case this PhD thing doesn't work out) will be to design greeting cards. Here are some ideas for invitations to a divorce party:
  1. We don't love each other anymore, but we still love you! Come celebrate our divorce!
  2. Our marriage is trashed, so come get trashed with us!
  3. Come celebrate our divorce by drinking some liquor that was aged longer than our marriage lasted!
Genius, right?