Back

It’s weird the things you forget.

I used to know where everything in the lab was. Pipettes, tin foil, flasks–you name it. Someone has done some serious redecorating and it feels a little strange. I’ll go straight to where I thought the concentrated hydrochloric acid used to be kept… and it’ll no longer be there.

Despite all of that, it feels really satisfying to be back. The work last year was always stimulating, and this year promises to be no different. A lot of the things I was working on last year are coming to fruition more and we’ll get to see where they go.

Really, it just feels right to be back. It’s almost like I never left.

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Calling Again…

…or not.

The advantage to being a part of Workplace Learning for two years is that I’ve already established a rapport with Dr. Wilkerson and RTC. I was able to just send her an email and get a quick response telling me to come back in. Easy-peasy.

I’m excited about this. Even though it may seem like the safe option, the continuity being at RTC again provides me really opens up my opportunities in terms of what I am able to do. No training necessary, no awkward introductions, no nothing. I get to jump right in and start working. I should have an expanded role; running more data and (hopefully) doing more coding and analysis.

I’ll keep you updated.

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Small thanks to SEA-DISC

SEA-DISC (Studies of the Environment Academy, Drake Integrated Studies Curriculum) has been a tremendous help to me.

Conceived as a science-based academy that focuses on the environment, it has become much more than that. While the environment remains firmly at the center, it has no expanded to advocacy and awareness based projects. It attempts to teach approximately 50 Juniors and Seniors every year (over the course of two years) essentially everything they need to know to be conscious and responsible citizens of the world.

Projects as varied as the Creek Paper, which was the first thing I had ever written that came to over 10 pages (it was 45….) on the health of the San Anselmo Creek. We analyzed the water, the soil, took a census of the plants, and did what seemed like endless research to determine what had to be done. Then, in true SEA-DISC fashion, we did everything we wrote about and restored the San Anselmo Creek.

SEA-DISC isn’t perfect. But neither is traditional schooling. And SEA-DISC, despite some faults, prepares students for the real world in ways a traditional classroom setting just can’t. And also, without SEA-DISC I would not have an internship at RTC. I wouldn’t be talking to you, kind reader.

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The Cruise

Easily the best part of my internship was the cruise I went on.

Remember when I told you about the SWAMP cruises? Yes? Well, this was one of those. I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed out to Paraidse Cay. We left for Suisun Bay by 6:00.

The people on the cruise were the first suprise. RTC is affiliated with San Francisco State University–but the people on this cruise were not simply Univeristy guys. There were two represetnatives of USGS as well as a member of a private environmental consulting firm. There were also several Univeristy researchers (of course).

Everyone was friendly, and we were soon on our way. Essentially we were just going to collect water at various stations USGS has been collecting from for over 30 years. We use them because we have enough background data to shwo definitively that any results we get are not just part of some natural cycle.

The boat was a good 40 feet, and the back had a hydraulic powered U-frame which could be let out over the back of the boat. On a winch (and attached to the you frame) was our primary collecting machine–the CTD. It stands for the things it measures: Conductivity (another way of measuring salinity), Temperature, and Pressure. It would be lowered out over the boat, and would automatically collect samples at various depths.

But really, it was mostly just an enjoyable day. The work wasn’t too hard, the weather was beautiful, and the conversation was interesting. It was an excellent chance to see what the life of a marine biologist is like outside of the lab. It was pretty damn nice.

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Dr. Frances Wilkerson

…is my mentor.

Wonderfully brilliant woman. She has Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography and studies the complex interactions between the currents, the climate, the nutrients, and the phytoplankton of San Francisco Bay.

Her day varies quite a lot, depending on the project she has active at the time. Recently she has been running the SWAMP cruises with her husband, Dr. Richard Dugdale. She has to write grants for funding, collect and process data, and (most importantly) interpret the data. The most important thing about her expertise is not that she can collect water samples and run them through a machine, but that she can look at that data and see what it says.

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Personal Skills

It’s interesting having to actually work.

At school there’s hand-holding. There’s a teacher always watching over, making sure you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s.

But my advisor at Romberg doesn’t do that. She isn’t constantly checking to see if I poured the correct amount of phenol, or if I recorded the data correctly. Everything is explained to me beforehand–of course. But after that I am essentially on my own.

This level of autonomy is not something expected of you in high school.

And though I never thought of it till now, it’s absolutely expected of you in the real world. People are expected to be on top of things–responsible for themselves. For me at least, that’s a new concept.

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Technology at a Research Lab

It’s interesting being at RTC and seeing the slightly incongruous mix of old and state of the art technology.

On the one hand they have positively ancient computers (that is to say, 7-8 years old….) some of them still running Windows ’98–though most have XP on them.

And on the other they have things like the Flocytometer and the Mass Spectrometer. These are expensive, wonderfully sensitive, and endlessly complex machines.

Learning how to work them is not all that complicated. Most have a program that interfaces with a computer that they’re hooked up to (which is actually the reason the operating systems are so old, still doesn’t explain the hardware itself though….). But even being around a Mass Spec is pretty exciting.

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