Plans for Next Year

I’m declared as a math major at UC Berkeley for the fall of 2012. It’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying… but that’s half the idea, right? To get entirely outside of my comfort zone and immerse myself completely in an environment devoted to learning. I have to admit–I’m really happy about it.

I think my time at Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies will have prepared me well for this transition. Romberg has taught me to work hard, be independent, and think analytically. It has also given me contacts in academia and (quite frankly) looks good on a resume. I can show any professor that I have done research and can keep up with them in their lab. The marine biology doesn’t entirely dovetail with my interests… but that’s alright. It was an invaluable experience nonetheless.

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The Sea Wall

One of the first things I did when I started at RTC two years ago was learn how to conduct a Sea Wall.

It’s a basic battery of tests (temperature, salinity, ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, chlorophyll, etc…) on the water just outside of RTC. What makes it special is that the Wilkerson-Dugdale Lab has been running it for almost ten years now. With some gaps, they have data–collected every three times a week–going all the way back to 2003. It’s ana amzing peak into the natural cycles of the San Francisco Bay.

Now, after two years of running Sea Walls, I finally get to analyze all of the data. I’m piecing it together (a pretty monumental task) and get to look at it as a piece. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to slap it (with some analysis) on a poster and present it to a conference. This is would be an advanced undergraduate marine biology project, but I get to do it before my first semester of college. I’m really excited to be working on this.

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Skills I’ve Learned

It’s hard to know where to start with this–I have learned so much at Romberg.

The first and most important thing I’ve learned is how to conduct myself in a professional environment. It’s one of those things that is never taught over the course of one’s normal schooling, but is invaluable later in life. Skills like communicating with colleagues–being clear and concise without sounding curt can be a challange–or being able to take care of your own work without the handholding that goes on in high school, are all extremely valuable skills to have.

I’ve also learned how to conduct research. How to keep track of exacly what I’ve done, be precise in my measurements, and skilled in the use of all the machines. But it has also taught me how to ask the important questions. Some things just aren’t interesting to look into, and being able to pick those out is a skill that (hopefully) will continue to serve me as time goes on.

Romberg has taught me many things I will never forget.

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A Day in the Life of Frances Wilkerson

She’s a busy woman. The co-head of the Wilkerson-Dugdale Lab at RTC with her husband, Dick Dugdale she has a lot of responsibility. Under her there are four graduate students, two technicians, and a postdoc. At the level she has reached, much of her time is spent teaching and administrating–the nitty gritty of the research is done by the people below her.

Her day may start by teaching a graduate seminar in marine phytoplankton. She’ll then return to her office and perhaps finish up writing a grant proposal for a new,¬†“dry”¬†nitrate sensor–one that doesn’t require any additional chemicals to function.

She may attend a talk, or plan out the next step in a big overarching project, collaborating with a researcher at the University of Maryland. But mostly, she just furthers hjer research, and our understanding of the world around us.

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Responsibilities

I actually have a quasi-portfolio put together from last year. One of the advantages to doing two years of Workplace Learning, I suppose.

For this final one I’d want to synthesize some of my best work from both years and put it all together for my final portfolio.

JNo let me leave the lastone unfinished (in deference to the fact that I had completed half the work of the seniors), so there are some holes to fill, but for the most part it’ll be me picking and choosing my best stuff.

It’ll be a pretty nostalgic job.

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Code code code

Well, I’ve been pretty busy.

I have two separate projects going on: PAR and ISUS. PAR stands for Photosynthetically Active Radiation (measured in micromoles of photons per square meter per second) and is essentially the amount of usable light that hits an area at any given time. SF State has been recording this (and lots of other data) here for a long time. I have to take a lot of that data and write a script to sort and integrate it all. Considering some technical issues with the server, that’s a bit harder than it sounds.

ISUS is a nutrient sensor that uses spectrophotometry to measure the levels of nitrate in the water. This is pretty advanced technology (we borrowed the sensor from Stanford), but the data is pretty noisy nonetheless. I’ve been working to find an algorithm to smooth it more nicely and make it look pretty (and useable). Again, technical difficulties have complicated this a little bit.

And that’s basically been the last month at RTC for me. Sorry I haven’t been posting more regularly.

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Thesis Defense

I didn’t do a whole ton of work, but the most enlightening day of my internship so far.

Sarah, one of the graduate students at the lab, did her thesis defense. She presented the research she has been working on for three years to a panel of four Ph.D’s and then defended it to them. It consisted of an hour long slideshow of her presenting her work and then another hour to hour and a half of questions from the Ph.D’s and from the public. Her paper was on the effects of certain pesticides on primary productivity in algal communities–something surprisingly relevant to what I’m doing in SEA-DISC now.

More than anything, it really showed me how academia works. These people are all part of the same organization, but some were downright cruel–starting with the assumption that Sarah was an idiot and proceeding from there. They really and truly tried to tear her apart. She defended herself wonderfully, and after all the questions were done she was locked in a room with the Ph.D’s as they discussed her fate….

She passed!

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