interesting things that happened to me in costa rica

I am currently wrapping up  a field expedition in Costa RIca at the palace of all field stations La Selva Biological Research Station to catch bats.  Cool, huh?  Dull moments are few and far between in the field, but this particular trip seemed to be an endless bombardment of absurdity. I’d like to present the most ridiculous highlights.

[1] What better way to start off the trip than an encounter with an extremely venomous (yet still somewhat adorable) pit viper? Within 20 minutes of arrival as we were putzing around searching for places to set up the mist nets, we nearly stepped on were warmly welcomed by a fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper).

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“Bienvenidossssssssssssss!”

[2] After we each individually recovered from our lives flashing before our eyes, we treached onwards to set up the nets. What shows up next? A mother-flipping kinkajou (Potos flavus).

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merrr

As the week continued on, the following awesome events occurred in my life:

[3] I worked along side a Chewbacca riding a skeleton ant hanging from the ceiling.

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[4] I wrapped this bat (Carrolia castanea) in a blanket.

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[5] I fed this bat (Artibeus) a banana.

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[6] I posed for a picture with this bat and it actually smiled for the camera.

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[7] I walked into giant hollow trees to look for vampire bats.

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[8] I saw this Halloween snake (Urotheca) as it tried to scamper away and it was really freaking awesome.

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[9] I held the world’s cutest bat (Ectophylla alba) and all was well. 

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[10] I had to drive this car throughout all of Costa Rica and then drive to this random liquid nitrogen dispenser in San Jose and refill our gigantic liquid nitrogen tank.

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[11] And last but not least, I saw and fell in love with all of these spiders.

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mommy wolfie and her babies

Meep!

you must not know about me: women and science and beyonce

I need to share a recent encounter I had with an older female professor in my field whom I had never met before at the conference I just attended. I was approached by her and was first complemented on how she enjoyed my talk and we briefly discussed how the whole “women in science” issue. I am not even a hardcore feminist and usually don’t give it much thought but it was interesting to discuss at the time. The conversation then took a turn for the awkward and, in my opinion, somewhat appalling.

After telling me that I had reminded her of herself when she was my age because of being driven and focused, I took it as complementary and thanked her for the kind words. She then proceeded to tell me that I also reminded her of herself when she was younger because of the way I dressed. Finding this a bit odd, I asked her too explain. She elaborated on the fact that she used to “dress fashionable” and  used to like wearing short skirts and cute outfits. However, she felt it necessary to warn me that I shouldn’t dress as “sexy” as I do because no man is ever going to take me seriously in this field, especially regarding the dress I wore during my presentation. They apparently are not able to control themselves when a woman is giving a presentation in something that is remotely flattering on their figure. Therefore, it is up to me to “tone it down”.

Now maybe I am overreacting, but I felt two underlying messages emitted from this conversation: [1] I dress like a skank and it needed to be brought to my attention by complete stranger. [2] I should take it upon myself to change my appearance because men are disgusting pigs.

Allow me to clarify and defend my choice of wardrobe. For my presentation, I wore a neutral-colored, tailored dress that was form-fitting, but went down to my knees and by no means showed any sort of chest exposure. To me, it was my “business-formal” dress and it would be my choice to wear it to an interview or any other professional encounter. I realize there is a time and a place for dressing certain ways but I feel like I am tuned-in enough to the modern world to know what is appropriate and what is not.

Upon hearing her unload upon me that basically no one was paying attention to my presentation or cared about what I had to say due to the apparent massive erections in the audience, I was a bit taken aback by the unsolicited comment. And as I sat there trying to understand the point she was trying to make, I grew more and more disgusted with what she had to say.

Yes, I realize there is probably some truth to the statement, unfortunately. Yes, some men are repulsive who have issues with strong, independent women making their place in the world. But I would like to think we are at point in history where women can feel comfortable pursuing what they are interested in, whether they are at some sort of minority or not.

It actually wasn’t the “men are detestable creatures” message that horrified me though. It was the fact that she felt it necessary to tell me that she thinks I should feel like it is my fault if I were to be judged by another person for the way that I was dressing. While I’m sure her intentions were genuine, I couldn’t help but stew about the actual interpretation of the words. So I am supposed to submit myself to the prejudices placed upon women while I was just trying to look presentable to a general audience? Doesn’t that just propel the problem and continue to hide any sort of statement that a strong woman is trying to make? I am supposed to cover up myself and change who I am because of somebody else’s pervertedness? The more I thought about it, the more infuriated I became.

It was then that I thought to myself, WWBD? (What would Beyonce do?) I think it is fair to say that if she were approached with words such as those that I received, there would be zero tolerance of submitting herself to changing who she has worked hard to become just because there are distasteful (and probably innately jealous) people who feel the need to make people feel bad about themselves. I am pretty sure that it would only further encourage her to walk out to her next presentation with more pride, bathing in the hate and giving zero thought to insecure people.

I’m with her–if you got it, flaunt it. Boy or girl. Be proud of who you are and if people are going to judge you, that is their problem. Don’t make it yours. They are the ones sulking with sour faces in the background. Embrace who you are. Haters are going to hate, but the more you fall under their insecure outlook on the life, the more empowered they become.

Okay maybe a bit over-the-top, but hear me out. If everyone is so gung-ho on getting women into the tenure track positions and making their place in the world of science, stop telling the one’s who actually show a shard of confidence that they are never going to get anywhere in life for trying to be who they are. YOU ARE THE FREAKING PROBLEM, not me. And if you can’t listen to what I have to say because you can’t focus on anything but my appearance, then you are the one with issues. So if you are a female in the field of science (or a female in any field for that matter), please never hesitate to do what you love in whatever appearance you feel comfortable in presenting yourself. Don’t ever for a second get to thinking that you need to change for somebody else. Don’t ever let them think they are the ones who are “irreplaceable.”

on love triangles (or circles, rather)

An ephemeral thought before I forget. As I currently savor Mike Doughty’s memoir (way too shamefully late in my life), he shares an anecdote of an encounter with a cute girl he met before a show he played way back when. In short, it goes something like this: Mike Doughty likes Girl. Mike Doughty thinks Girl likes Mike Doughty. Girl pays no attention to Mike Doughty because Girl actually thinks she likes Jeff Buckley because she thinks he speaks French. Girl meets Jeff Buckley after show. Mike Doughty’s feelings crushed by Girl. Girl meets Jeff Buckley after the show. Jeff Buckley later complains to Mike Doughty about Girl being annoying and crazy and couldn’t believe she thought he spoke French.

Love seems to have a funny way of stringing everyone together into this giant connected circle of fifths but no one is playing in the right key. People need to just tune their hearts up or down a half-step and maybe they will see how close they were to playing in harmony with another person.

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a day in the life of my present-day self

5:36AM I wake up to the relentless beseeching of my impatient cat demanding her breakfast. I groggily roll out of bed and begin to recall the journal papers I feebly attempted to read last night to prepare for the meeting with my adviser today, but was hopelessly unable to keep my eyes open.

5:50AM I take off for a run along the Long Island sound. The sun and I greet one another as it peaks up over the water illuminating a pink sky. I remind myself it is these moments of mental clarity and absorption of fresh, crisp air that I know I will thank myself later for waking up at dawn.  The first ten minutes drag by and I curse myself for forgetting to charge my iPod. I begin to pass the time by recounting the things I hope to get accomplished today. As my legs carry me along, I take notice of the birds also joining me in the morning glory. A swamp sparrow and his mate dutifully forage for the first meal of the day. This reminds me of the idea for a project proposal idea I had about the invasiveness of sparrows throughout the world. I begin to ponder ways in which I could answer this sort of question.

5:58AM The wheels of my mind are now rolling full speed. I applaud myself for thinking of such a simple, yet important question and fantasize of publishing in world-renowned journals and becoming a famous ornithologist. Oh, the directions I could take this project! The details of the execution such as months of sampling in the field and long hours cooped up in the lab are insignificant at the moment and the work seems effortless when I work it out in my head at this instant in time.

6:32AM Upon returning to the house, I am filled with a euphoric motivation to take on the world and excitement about all aspects of my life.

7:18AM I quickly am grounded from my high as inane tasks of daily life creep their way into immediate priority—I shower, pack my sack lunch, and eat a bowl of cereal sprinkled with blueberries.  I spend several minutes cherishing two cups of freshly-brewed coffee.

8:06AM My dance party with myself to Mike Doughty’s Haughty Melodic  as I decide on today’s outfit is rudely interrupted when I glance at the clock and realize I will be late for class.

8:36AM I waltz in several minutes late to Biometry class and stumble around in the back to get to the open seat.  The next two hours are spent with divided attention between taking notes on logistic regression and catching up on reading the papers I was supposed to read last night in order to have some sort of educated discussion with my adviser.

10:45AM The other students in my cohort and I discuss the impossibility of beginning the problem set due next week before Monday. I scramble together last minute notes on progress I have made in forming my research question to discuss with my adviser. I casually  glance at my calendar but then nearly break out into a mad panic because I just notice that registration and abstract submission for the international Evolution conference is due tomorrow. Suddenly, everything I had planned for the day comes to a standstill.

11:49AM After meeting with my adviser, my franticness level subsides as she helped in organizing my thoughts. I sit down and begin furiously typing everything we have just discuss for the abstract and try to think of a catchy title for my presentation. I want people to find it interesting! I send a first draft to my adviser.

12:38PM I am struck with a moment of disappointment when I realize I left my sack lunch this morning sitting on the kitchen counter. I head down to buy a cup of soup from the Life Science Building food cart. Roseann, the lady who works behind the counter, dishes me a bowl of Tomato Bisque and reminds me that I am only allowed to take two packets of crackers.

1:20PM My adviser sends her feedback basically tearing the pathetic thing to shreds. As I chuckle at some of her comments and question what I was thinking when I wrote that sentence, I begin to rewrite.

1:36PM The flow of productivity is interrupted when the undergraduate helping me with my project comes into the office and asks me to take a look at some of the data she has been editing. Happily willing to procrastinate, I help her with some of the questions she has.

2:45PM Wow, where the hell does time go? Time for class again. I hurriedly make a second round of coffee and bring the entire pot to class. I talk myself out of bringing my computer so I will actually pay attention during Population Genetics. Focus, Laurel. FOCUS. The first 30 minutes slog by, but things do pick up when I snap out of my daydream and ask a question. This sends the professor off on a 45-minute tangent and it actually turned out to be pretty interesting. I am glad I asked.

4:30PM I realize I have not yet finished anything I had intended to today. I wrap up editing the abstract and catch my adviser before she walks out the door to get the “okay” to submit it. Whew! I make a mental note to check off this task of my endless mental to-do list.

5:44PM I spend the rest of the evening not reading the chapter in Biometry that I was supposed to and instead share with two of my classmates a deep discussion regarding how it is possible for birds to be colorful if the male and female are the identical in coloration. Usually colorfulness evolves for mate selection and only the male is adorned with beautiful feathers while the female remains quite drab. Okay, that was not necessarily productive towards anything in the immediate near future, but it somehow instilled inspiration and I am once again motivated about life and the beauty of its diversity. I bring home 3 textbooks and several papers I plan on reading through when I get home.

7:41PM Upon returning home, I nearly topple over my cat as she runs to greet me (which in turn, becomes a desperate imploration for dinner). After feeding her, I remember how hungry I am and warm up some leftover tuna casserole. Will this leftover dish ever end?

8:32PM I crack open a Stella and sit down to putz around the Internet for a few minutes. I then grab my guitar and strum of the few simple songs I know. I surprise myself as tonight I actually feel motivated to practice my scales.

10:20PM I crawl into bed with my computer and all the readings I intend to do. I open up Evolutionary Ecology, but somehow cannot bring myself to get through the first sentence. I look longingly at the Game of Thrones series I cannot wait to begin reading again when summer finally commences. Instead, I open up the April issue of Runner’s World.

11:43PM Realizing that I need to do something research-related, I grab my copy of Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is and suddenly all the passion for this topic comes back to me. After reading a chapter, I convince myself that I accomplished something and allow myself to say that is enough for the night.

12:20AM I toss and turn for several minutes, concerned that I achieved nothing I had set out to this morning. However, I do remind myself that everything always seems to work itself out and submitting the abstract was quite productive. I briefly question why I am doing any of this if I spend the majority of my day stressed out. However, I recall the fact I am getting paid to think of any question in the entire world that I find interesting and spend the rest of my life answering it. What an incredible gift. I drift off to sleep and a similar oscillatory rhythm ensues the following day.