Let’s talk about how to talk about science….

Published November 24, 2015 by iampotassium

Soooooo I was getting ready to write a giant post that answered everyone’s questions about science when I realized how many of you responded by telling me that your eyes glaze over after 5 minutes of talking about science. Then I got worried – blogging is not so good for this type of conversation that I want us to have. It can very easily slip into me lecturing and you skimming because you feel like you are in over your head. I really want to be on the same page as you when I write these. I want you to know that you are talking to Potassium, the girl who likes sharks and whales and who likes taking pictures and being silly. Regardless of my role as the “scientist” in this conversation, I am still human, just like you (for an example – look how happy I am to see a fake dinosaur – below). So what do we do? How can we make this (awkward) medium work for us? Is there any way that I can write these posts in a way to make it more of a conversation? Let’s discuss!

Potassium with a new dino friend at the Dinosaurierpark in Münchehagen, Germany.

PS – Sorry for the super short super meta post about posting. I have been working super hard getting ready for the Thanksgiving break. Plus immediately after the break, my friend L and I are hosting a seminar speaker and we have been sending frantic e-mails out to everyone so that everything will be ready to go before everyone goes on break. Are you traveling for Thanksgiving? Cobalt’s and my families are coming to us! How exciting! :)

PPS – Let’s also set a schedule for these science posts. I want to post them regularly but I also want to make sure this blog is well rounded and I have room for photography and whatever other silly stuff I want to tell you about. What do you think is good for the science? Biweekly? Once a month?

Tolerance vs. Acceptance and more

Published November 17, 2015 by iampotassium

Hey everyone!

We have a lot to talk about today so let’s get started!

  1. France
    What to say?! My heart broke when I first heard the news and I’ve continued to feel uneasy about this situation since then. I’m so sad that this keeps happening – with the few crazy members of a culture wreaking havoc on so many people they don’t know. It breaks my heart to see a city that I love filled with terror. Plus I am sad about all the other places are being attacked and no one is talking about them. It also breaks my heart seeing people younger than me committing suicide to hurt other people. And finally, I worry about the anti-Islam backlash this attack is going to cause… Be careful with your blame everyone… :-/
  2. Science!
    For all of you who got excited about my post last week, yay! I am so excited too! I got a lot of comments concerning “who to trust?” considering anyone (including yours truly) can talk about science on the internet these days. Also I got a great question about what types of jobs we scientists can get these days (excellent question and super relevant to me as I am on the market for a specific type of job that may or may not exist right now). Finally, I had some general comments about what it feels like to talk about science with people who “get it.” I can’t wait to address all of these questions and comments. Soon… >_<
  3. Tolerance vs. Acceptance

    Last week, I spoke on a panel of Tolerance vs. Acceptance on the CU campus. I think it turned out really well! The room was packed! The first part of the panel was to ask our audience to discuss the definitions of tolerance vs. acceptance and we found that it was much easier to define tolerance over acceptance. I talked about how “tolerance” to me means being acknowledged but not being invited to “the party” that everyone else is talking about/attending. We decided that acceptance would then be being invited to the party and asked to dance! I talked about how I was at a loss about what to do with feeling accepted – I can’t figure out how how I got there. I don’t understand that I can just be accepted as I am. Clearly I had to have done something “right” to make people like me? Then everyone else started sharing their own personal stories about what acceptance looks like to them. It came down to opening up and being authentic with each other as well as being curious about people’s lives. So we practiced these in small groups! I feel much more closer to my fellow panel members after that and I hope everyone else in the audience feels closer to their group members now too! I think it was a pretty successful panel. I’ve heard a lot of really interesting stories about what it feels like to be an undergrad/grad student, postdoc, faculty, or staff on CU’s campus and excellent personal examples of what tolerance vs. acceptance looks like in general. The stories have continued over the course of this week and I hope people keep talking about this issue!
    Speaking of this panel – I will be on the radio this morning at 8:35 am (it looks like you can stream it live or listen to an mp3 recording on that website) talking about this panel and the new seminar series I helped start at CU. Check it out!
  4. Snow!
    I turned 30 last week!!! How does this happen?! Anyway, to celebrate my birthday and the fact that we had an unusually warm weekend, Cobalt and I went to Golden Gate State Park and ended up doing a 3 mile hike around in the snow. I injured my knees this past summer and have been not allowed to do any exercise besides walking for the past few months. It felt pretty good to be able to play a little in the snow with minor knee pain. I’m slowly getting better…

Now it’s your turn: What’s the weather like for you? I think everything is shifted back a month for us – nice October weather goin’ on for us in Colorado… not so great for people who like to ski though. Also – tell me your definitions of tolerance vs. acceptance or give me an example of what it feels like to be tolerated vs. accepted!

I want to have a conversation with you about science

Published November 10, 2015 by iampotassium

Don’t turn around to see who I am talking to because I am talking to you! Yes you!

The “lab coat” at the Children’s Museum in Denver may be too small for Potassium but she is still serious about talking to you!

It doesn’t matter to me how much science you know, if you won the science fair or if you hated science and avoided it like the plague. Mainly the point is that I want to have a conversation with you.

I was thinking about the way we discuss science with each other nowadays and I think one problem is that we are not opening ourselves up for a conversation. Everyone is guarded. Scientists are on edge because they are unsure that nonscientists will understand the complexities of scientific topics and why they are important. Nonscientists are on edge because they feel judged by the scientists, especially when scientists take to lecturing because it is probably how they learned science. I am pretty sure no one really likes lectures, especially outside of the scope of academia. I certainly don’t.

Potassium thinks she looks funny when she lectures high school students about laboratory techniques…

Strange things happen when we feel uncomfortable with each other. It’s really hard to communicate when we feel guarded and unsafe. I think one strategy that we (scientists, nonscientists, etc) use when talking to each other about science and popular scientific topics is asseveration (isn’t that a cool word?) – that is boldly stating “facts” such as “People who don’t understand science are not smart.” Or “Scientists are wasting all our money doing nothing for us.” The great thing about this strategy is that it feels like communication – you have told someone your opinion about a topic so yes! Check that off the list. The bad thing about this strategy is that it really gives the people you are talking to no way to respond unless they completely agree with you. Anyone who disagrees with you is completely caught off guard and has a huge energy barrier to figure out how to tell you they disagree. So… not so great for talking about science. Everyone leaves feeling frustrated.

So what do we do about this problem?

I think we need to have conversations about science. We need to start sitting down in coffee shops and bars and really getting to know each other. Conversations allow us to be curious about each other’s thoughts and beliefs as well as be authentic by sharing our own. In this way, we can have a dialog about scientific topics without insulting each other. Hopefully this method allows us to all come closer to an understanding of what science means and what is currently happening in the scientific world.

So let’s have a conversation! First, here’s me being curious:
What do you want to talk about? What scientific topics are you interested in/afraid of/curious about/etc? We can even talk about other topics such as science communication or what do scientists do?
Second, here’s me being authentic:
I am kind of scared about doing this series of posts. What if no one wants to talk to me about science? What if I can’t explain the main points of science to you? What if I just end up confusing us both? I am also kind of excited to see what we end up talking about!

Finally – I am talking on a panel about the difference between tolerance and acceptance on a college campus TOMORROW at CU’s UMC during the Diversity and Inclusion Summit. If you live in Boulder, you should stop by so we can talk about this topic some more! :D

Now it’s your turn!

Did you forget to vote?!

Published November 3, 2015 by iampotassium

Someone should probably inform Tarantula that cats can’t vote before she freaks out any more about forgetting…

Greetings blog friends! It’s your long lost Potassium here to take another shot at this whole “blogging” thing. It’s been waaaaaay too long and I really miss it! I especially miss taking really neat pictures and sharing them with you. This weekend, I spent two hours a bit looking at all my blog posts for the past five years and it made me sad that I haven’t posted anything recently. Some of those posts are really cool (at least I think so) and I think having this blog here really helped me channel my creativity and inspired me to work on my photography and blogging skills!

Sooooo let’s start it back up again! I know what you’re thinking. I said that before and then look what happened……. but seriously. I want to try again. Plus it’s November, which is famous for NaNoWriMo and such, so I should challenge myself to write blog posts instead of writing a novel. We’ll start off slow with one post a week just to try to ease me back into the swing of things. Woooo. I pick Tuesday. Done.

Next step. What to talk about?! So much has happened since I last wrote in here! Cobalt and I went on vacation to Hawaii with my family to see my uncle’s and aunt’s sweet farm! We also went to Germany for Esther’s and Felix’s wedding! I co-taught not one but two biotechnology summer camp courses for high school students. I co-founded a new seminar series at CU that focuses on retention of underrepresented students and postdocs at CU by providing new networking and mentorship opportunities. You probably can see updates about that on my Twitter feed —–> (since that seems to be the only thing I seem to tweet about). Oh oh! And the big one! What the heck am I doing with my life now that I finally have my PhD? Well wouldn’t we all like to know? Let’s figure that one out together, shall we?

Now it’s your turn! What have you been up to?! Did you go on cool vacations this summer? New jobs? New other stuff?! Tell me everything!

P.S. It’s election day. Go vote.

P.P.S. It’s also my mom’s birthday! Yay happy day, Mom! :D

Tianjing and Jared got married (sneak peek)!!!!

Published July 7, 2015 by iampotassium

Hey everyone! Long time no see! Hopefully I’ll have some time to update you on all the fun going on in my life but for today, let’s celebrate my two dear friends Tianjing and Jared who got married last weekend at the Chapel at Red Rocks here in Colorado. It was a beautiful wedding on a beautiful day (the rain waited until we were safely inside for the reception) and I had the honor of being their photographer (along with my friend Jem!). Having a second photographer made all the difference compared to the first wedding I photographed where I was the sole photographer. I feel like Jem and I just waltzed in and took control of the situation by taking awesome pictures. I got to be extra bossy – not only did I tell Tianjing and Jared what to do, but I also requested shots from Jem too (we split up the work so that we had different lenses on our cameras to get a wide variety of shots without having any downtime to change lenses). Plus it was a lot of fun to be working with someone instead of just running the show by myself!

Aaaaaaanyway, let’s talk about the bride and groom! I’ve known Tianjing since the first week of our graduate program here in Colorado. Tianjing showed up late so she missed the annoying 2.5 weeks of orientation that we all had to go through but we were fast friends anyway – I think it was our combined love of eating and being silly that did the trick. Ever since then, we’ve been getting together randomly to cook or go out for delicious food (one example is our trip to Aspen)! One day when we bumped into each other in the Cell Culture Facility at school, Tianjing told me she’d met a guy…. As she told me more and more about him, I knew he had to be someone special and I couldn’t wait to meet him! I finally did and as I sat across the table from Tianjing and Jared at a Korean BBQ place, I couldn’t believe how perfect they were for each other. I had this thought over and over again pretty much every time we hung out after that and it was definitely at the forefront of my mind on their wedding day.

I truly enjoyed taking your pictures, guys. It was so fun capturing all the giggles, smiles, and kisses that made up your wedding day. I wish you two all the happiness in the world. :) Stay tuned for a deluge of pictures!

That’s it for your sneak peek, folks! I hope you enjoyed them. What’s that? You want just onnnneeee more? Okay….

Esther and Felix are getting married this year!

Published March 17, 2015 by iampotassium

Hellooooo world! It’s been forever since I posted. But what a good time to start posting again when I have Esther’s and Felix’s engagement pictures to show you! We had an eventful February weatherwise – it was the warmest February on record and also the snowiest! How does that even happen?! Anyway, all that snow made for a beautiful backdrop to take pictures with Esther and Felix! I’ve never had snow around for engagement pictures and it turns out that it’s really fun! We had some snowball fights, Felix stomped out their wedding date into the snow, and they made some snow angels together. It was kind of awesome.

I first met Esther in 2013 when she interviewed to be a postdoc in our lab. We pretty much hit it off right away (especially after experiencing an awkward brunch together on the last day of her interview) so I was really happy when she and Felix decided to move here! Since they’ve been here, we’ve done a lot together – Esther and I did yoga with butterflies; Esther, Felix, Cobalt, and I started a tradition (called “noodles”) of going out to dinner on Friday nights with any lab mates (and their significant others) who are free/hungry; we watched Germany win the World Cup together; etc. We spend so much time with these two that I was really excited when Esther asked me to take their engagement pictures! In October, Esther and Felix are getting married in Germany! I am so excited for you guys and I really hope that Cobalt and I can get over there to be there for the big day! Congratulations again, you guys!

How to write and defend your PhD thesis in 2 months

Published November 10, 2014 by iampotassium
  1. Start working from home. It’s lonely but it allows you to have whatever writing schedule you need every day and keeps you from distracting yourself by hanging out with your labmates. Only go to lab for mandatory meetings with your advisor or to get information out of your lab notebooks.
  2. Teach your labmates all your lab jobs (editing websites, taking over the lab safety and hazardous waste removal jobs, etc) for you while you are out. They will do them so beautifully and without asking very many questions. For this, you are forever grateful.
  3. Sometimes working from home means going to a coffeeshop and drinking a cappuccino while working. Your advisor agrees to meet you at the coffeeshop so you don’t have to go all the way into lab to meet with her. Also sometimes your labmates will join you.
  4. Work every day for 1.5 months straight, taking breaks when you need them but never taking a break that lasts for an entire day.
  5. Get on an antidepressant that reminds you to eat and sleep on a semi regular basis despite all the anxiety and stress you constantly feel. As soon as you defend, you can get off of it but for now, it’s necessary.
  6. Go home to California for a week and write feverishly at the desk you used to do your homework at in high school. Your parents will make you tasty food, force you to take breaks when you need them, and cheer you on. Plus one or both of them will stay up late every night playing on their tablets while you write so you won’t be as lonely.

    You and Gustav making weird faces on a tiny plane heading home…

  7. Exercise at least a little every day. It helps break up the monotony and the lamity of sitting at a desk all day and it reminds you that you are a human – not a writing machine. Soccer, swimming, running, and biking work pretty well. Take Cobalt on your exercise adventures if he’s around.

    One of your exercise breaks includes going to see the aspens change color with Titanium and her mom. So pretty… you could have stayed there all day. You tried to but Titanium and her mom said you had to go back to work…

    While you were looking for pretty aspens, you also found this cute little puff…

  8. Attend two of your friends’ weddings. Weddings let you take a break from your stress bubble and remind you that you are surrounded by wonderful people. :)

    One of the weddings you attend is at the Denver Botanic Gardens during the Chihuly glass exhibit. Having gone to undergrad in Tacoma, Washington, you can recognize a Chihuly piece anywhere but you still find it beautiful in this setting…

    One of your favorites is this boat. You even come back after the wedding to photograph it all lit up at night.

  9. Let Cobalt take you to a movie sometimes. It’s nice to do stuff with just Cobalt even though you are a stress ball.
  10. Go to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with Cobalt, your sister in law, niece, and nephew because it’s great to spend time with people you love and also because the balloons are majestic and awesome to photograph.

    You go on opening weekend and it is packed! But it is a perfect day for balloons so the sky is also packed!

    You and your family get there early (~6 am) to see the first balloons go up. Included is this Wicked balloon, which you think is pretty neat because you are going to see Wicked later that day.

    You are among the first people to ever witness the Yoda balloon, which was unveiled this day.

  11. Learn how to use Adobe Illustrator in 3 days (your skills expand drastically when you NEED to make Figures)
  12. Go suit shopping with your friends the day you turn in your thesis. This is great because you get to shop for fancy adult clothes in celebration of turning in something epic and also you really need a suit for your defense talk…

    Here you are super nervous because your defense is the next day. At least the suit looks great!

  13. Go to your favorite undergrad conference to recruit new graduate students to CU even though you defend your thesis in a week. You’re stressed out, yes, but the students’ excitement to go to graduate school and learn is inspiring. Plus you have really cool conversations with your fellow recruiters, your sister (who is recruiting for her school), and some of your friends that you haven’t seen in forever (who are recruiting for their schools!)

    Look at you and your fellow CU grad students at the SACNAS 2014 conference, recruiting new grad students for your school! You look like a freak, but at least your friends look good. :)

  14. Be prepared to reanalyze your data at least 4 times while writing and then again right after you defend.
  15. Surprise your advisor by finishing everything on time even when she thought that “no one” could do everything in that short amount of time.
  16. Present your research to your family and friends with only one minor technical glitch that is easily solved. Do not lose your composure over the glitch or over the whole situation because your presentation turned out awesome and you really know your stuff!
  17. Shake hands with your committee faculty after your defense because you’re a doctor now! Yes, it feels weird and anticlimactic now but just keep smiling and it will slowly feel more and more real! Congratulations! Now it’s time to figure out what’s next…

PS – Is it obvious that you just read Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Adventure Autobiography?


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