Updating Again

I'm not apologizing, but it has been a while. There is a growing crowd on Twitter who I interact with and learn from as a scientist (and in some cases, not as a scientist). And so there are fewer blogs that keep up with the times, and mine is one of them. Not to say Twitter is better. This post would be long over with over there. Probably, it should be soon anyway.

Graduation Day, 2018, Athens, Georgia. What a gorgeous day outside, everybody is dressed to the nines, and I like shaking hands with grandmothers and beaming parents. Just back from the Genetics graduation, bittersweet if ever one was. In addition to watching Wares Lab's own Katie Skoczen graduate and meet her fantastic family, Katie also gave a short remembrance and moment of silence for the equally astonishing Katelyn Chandler, whom we lost about eleven months ago. It is still hard to deal with this; I would have spoken but would have been unintelligible for the sniffing, throat-clearing, and frankly raw emotion still from losing a brilliant – I mean, brilliant – 20-year-old from this world. I thank the stars and rivers every day for both of these two young women joining my lab, and glad to see Katie moving on with a plan for the coming years. I should be able to submit one of her two papers very soon, and Katelyn's was of course out last summer as soon as I could get it published.

I also have to thank Sunishka Thakur, not my student at all but one whom I have felt really fortunate to interact with from time to time and loved meeting her family. I met her first when she rushed over to show me her poster at the CURO conference in Spring '17 and she made a great impression on me. I've since seen her in discussion groups, sitting in on the seminars, reading Log from the Sea of Cortez together for an Honors dinner. She is one of many fantastic people we will miss here at UGA, and I was astonished that she ran up today to give me a handwritten thank-you for all that she felt she'd learned from me even though she was never officially a student or a researcher working with me.

There are days when this job really gets me down, and the past few weeks for reasons I won't go into right now are one of those times. What keeps me coming back is the people who want to learn more and do better, the people who I teach and mentor and try to help reach their goals - they give me credit that means far more than that which I seek from those 'above' me. Suni's note has found a place on my planning board so I can see it every day (or every time I have a blank board to work with, it may be time to erase things that have been there for months). Thank you very much, and best of fortune to all of you. Happy Graduation Day!


Finally some time to catch my breath at the end of the semester. All the grades are in, I'm setting up a PCR (!), interviewed a prospective student yesterday. Updating the website a little bit so it looks better when I link it to collaborator's pages (and maybe so the prospective student will choose to come to UGA!). And of course following the news.

It can be hard to keep focused with such social and political turmoil around us. I'm trying to keep my focus on my family, our health, and keeping our home functional with some minor renovations over the break. And here in the office/lab, the little bit of Sanger sequencing I'm trying to finish before I leave for a short holiday is to pad the data for a paper I hope to have out to collaborators in January.

Academy Member and founding member of the UGA Genetics Department, Wyatt Anderson, once pointed out that what we should look for in our colleagues is having "a habit of writing". We are scientists, but the science isn't real until it is communicated. The better we can do at having a habit of writing, the more effortless it becomes. Not that there isn't a tremendous amount of headache and woodcrafting to make it all come together, not to mention the diligence of editors and reviewers to make it better. But I find that references, ideas, context, flow from me so much better than they once did. When I was a grad student, a postdoc, I felt like each paragraph was a monument to my ideas mixed with the great work that came before me. Now I realize that the paragraphs aren't about me or my ideas - they are the context that helps other readers, new to the field as well as experienced, figure out why I thought this had to be done, why I worry that there is more to do or to be done differently, and why this information might be useful.

My favorite paper on technical writing, by Gopen and Swan, establishes the need to meet 'reader expectations'. What things are the readers worrying about after each sentence? What keeps them on track? What gets my message across most effectively, and simply?

I can't claim I do that all the time, but I'm better at it for sure. I've tried to convey this to my students, undergrad and grad alike - and I'm always happy when one of them brings their own gifts to the writing and helps me become better through our interaction as well.

A bit of a long ramble, but I'm glad to have so many ways to spread the word of what I think is useful to track in science. This silly blog, my twitter, my publications, my teaching. Even when this job beats me down, it brings me a lot of joy at the same time.

Radio Silence

Hello all, it has been a CRAZY semester. Sorry I haven't posted here much. Coming up for air now that it is Thanksgiving break just to say I hope all are doing well, and I'll update more as the semester closes out.


It has been a busy summer. Doesn't feel like I had much time away from the office. I'm currently inundated with teaching duties - it isn't going badly, but it is taking all the energy I have to keep it from going badly. The goal of this course is a survey of why we study organismal biology, for students who are not majoring in biology. So we just spent the past few weeks learning about how organisms are intimately and physiologically tied to their environment (and introduced the problem of climate change as an opportunity to test this idea with surveys to compare with historical distributions and forecasts for the coming decades). Next up is the whole of biodiversity itself.

I was also able to finally publish Katelyn's paper in PeerJ. It came out really nicely thanks to the help of one kind peer reviewer in particular; I think I was emphasizing some of the wrong points in the first version of the manuscript and now it really makes it clear that the EF1A mutants (those carrying one copy of the mutant allele) are physiologically distinct beasts. Should be a lot of interesting work to be done following that up!

Otherwise, like you all, I'm overwhelmed. Too much to do, anxiety about doing it well, anxiety for how so many are being affected by terrible weather and yes, terrible politics. What a year.

Ups, Downs.

I'm back from my travels to Friday Harbor Laboratories - my zoologist "home base" since 1996, though only my 6th stay at the labs. The original intent of the trip was a micro-sabbatical (UGA does not have real sabbaticals, unless you find external funding for it) to write, prepare for teaching in the fall, and put my feet amidst the Fucus and Balanus again at low tide, in a habitat I know less well than I'd like but better than almost any other.

My plans were interrupted. First, by good news - my work on Pisaster is recommended for NSF funding along with colleagues Mike Dawson, Lauren Schiebelhut, Ian Hewson, and Pete Raimondi. Fantastic news that required some scrambling to address a few issues before anything could be finalized, and of course made trickier by me not being at my office. So, good news for sure and you'll hear more about that in the coming few years.

Then, the very next day (still in my first week at the labs), terrible news. One of the most incredible undergraduate students I've yet interacted with, Katelyn Chandler, passed away unexpectedly. She was only 20. I worked with her first as a teacher in my "Monsters" class, and then for 3 semesters in the lab where she learned how to do qPCR, genotyping sea stars, and eventually her Honors thesis on differential expression among EF1A genotypes of Pisaster. She was incredibly intelligent, engaging, diligent, and creative, and will be very much missed by all of us in the Wares lab.

Below is a photo I took of her presenting the poster she made with almost no help (in terms of design, content, and so on), discussing science that she had done much of the creative and intellectual work on.

Katelyn will receive a posthumous degree from the University of Georgia; in only 2 years at UGA she had already amassed tremendous number of credits, had completed her Honors thesis, had coauthored a scientific publication, and had touched the lives of very many.