Thoughts on Science
Since my research is on winter use of road salt, much of my field work has been completed in the winter. I've spent days climbing down storm drains to learn about municipal salt use. This year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I spent the day in the field with Cathleen Yung (an undergraduate student who has been helping me in the lab) and my helpful husband Hogan. We visited Sugar Creek in order to hunt for a large number of a single species of flathead mayfly for a toxicity study that I would be conducting over the following two weeks.
Normally, I wouldn't consider field work before Thanksgiving to be winter field work, but when we arrived at the site, the water temperature was only 3 degrees C and there were small patches of ice along some of the stream banks. We proceeded to spend about 7 hours in the chill water (with waders on), picking up many small rocks (and several not-so-small rocks) with our bare hands in order to look for our mayfly friends. While slow and tedious, this hand collecting method is the most effective for gathering wild specimens without causing injuries to the delicate critters - as long as you can still feel your fingers.
By the end of the day, we had collected over 450 mayflies. As someone who is working to preserve aquatic life, there is a part of me that regrets taking so many animals from the stream. Fortunately, I know that this stream is supporting a very large and healthy population of this species. Within the 120-meter segment of stream where we sampled, we left large patches of habitat undisturbed and did not take the smaller individuals. In addition, there were many other patches of prime habitat both upstream and downstream of the area where we collected. I share these bits of information because I want to make it clear that, as a responsible scientist, I consider the environmental costs and potential long-term effects of any collection efforts that I undertake.
Before I close out this post, I need to express my gratitude to my two amazing helpers. Hogan and Cathleen not only helped get the job done, they were cheerful and enthusiastic about it! I could not have asked for better help in less-than-comfortable conditions!
Last week, we held the annual kickoff to the winter chloride volunteer water quality monitoring program. This event is an opportunity for the volunteers to visit socially, review the program, and see what kind of progress we've made. In the past, we've have presentations from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and from the Metropolitan Sewer District (the entity responsible for stormwater quality in most of St. Louis city and county). This year, for the first time, the kickoff featured guest speakers from the scientific community. Two graduate students from the Hasenmueller Lab at Saint Louis University presented about their own water research.
Teresa Baraza Piazuelo shared her research on the movement of salt through roadside soils. Thus far in her project, she only had results on the sodium ions. She is finding that sodium is more concentrated near the road and that it seems to migrate down into the soil, though some is retained at the surface. She is eager to compare the movement of chloride, which is expected to move more readily than sodium through the soil.
Emily Deeba presented her work on the proportion of stormflow that is comprised of groundwater. She used concentrations of chloride that are found in groundwater and concentrations found in rainwater to perform a groundwater separation and identify what percent of the water in the stream during summer storm events is direct runoff versus older groundwater being pushed out of the porous limestone.
We closed the evening with a conversation about next steps for our program. While becoming more involved in the community of citizen science leaders, I have been reminded that the volunteers in citizen science programs are generally capable of accomplishing far more than just the monitoring aspect of projects like ours. Science is much more than data collection; based on our conversation last night, I can see that this group of scientists is ready to take another step. I hope you'll come back soon to learn more about our progress!
No adult becomes who they are without the influence of others. Generally, our parents are among the most influential shapers our selves. Often, we can also name our mentors; those who have guided us along the way. Many of our mentors are teachers or work supervisors, but mentors can be found in many places within the community.
There have been many times in the past several years that I have lamented not having a mentor, thinking that I should be able to think of that one person who really stands out as having provided ground-breaking guidance that changed the course of my life; I've heard stories of this sort of mentor. But I've come to recognize that it is often impossible to claim a single mentor, that we meet so many people in our lives who shape us - how can there be only one? So I've tried to pinpoint some of the individuals who have shaped me along the paths I've taken. Today, I'd like to share a little about a few of the people who I consider my mentors.
When I was in high school, I met Carol. She was the director at a wildlife-focused non-profit organization where I volunteered. She spent much of every day tracking the animals in her care, ensuring their health and safety, spending time with those who needed a little extra attention, be they wildlife or volunteer. I can't point to any single moment that exemplifies her role as mentor; she was just there, consistently demonstrating her work ethic and compassion. Carol showed me how to be focused, but still flexible enough to reach out to those in need.
I met Bob, John, and Tom while I was in college. Each of them are accomplished researchers in their own disciplines, and I was fortunate to work on projects with them. The time that we spent together was limited by design, but they helped develop the foundations of the researcher I have become. They got me started by asking interesting questions and pushed me to solve many challenging problems. They helped me gain self-confidence and self-reliance.
Marian was my supervisor when I landed my first 'real' job. She led her team by example, with dedication and professionalism. She provided enough guidance and reassurance to help me succeed as a new employee, while allowing me to claim each success as my own, including the eventual publication of my first manuscript. Her understanding of the needs of her staff was remarkable as she worked tirelessly to balance the strong personalities of her team. Marian demonstrated true leadership and trust in her employees, traits that I hope to emulate in my own leadership roles.
Ray has been a dedicated volunteer for many years. While his career in engineering engaged his skills as a tinkerer and builder, his true calling has been as a teacher. He tutors young students, but for many of them he also seems to serve as a surrogate grandparent: a person who will buoy you with well-earned praise, but whose disappointment is palpable when you fail to do your best. He has a lifetime of experience and knowledge, and he shares it readily, but he is also always ready to question. When Ray asks a question, sometimes it is because he knows the answer, but wants you to find it for yourself; as I said, he is a teacher. Sometimes Ray asks a question because he is filled with genuine curiosity and wants to learn more about the world; he is an explorer, too. Ray taught me how to become wise and reminded me that the title volunteer often belongs to individuals who embody both knowledge and passion.
These are a few of my mentors. I have many others - Marilyn, Richard, Bernadette, Omaira, Mary, Chris, Luis, Deanna, Kye-Han, Priscilla, Brian, Sheila, Aydin, Mark... - each providing a part of the person I'm trying to become. I've begun to see my mentors as the patches in the patchwork quilt of my self. The pieces are different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Some are a bit plain and seem to fade into the background. Others are bright and bold, drawing the eye. But without all of them together, I am incomplete. I am grateful to my many mentors and I hope that I can be as good a mentor as those who have guided me.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on mentoring. Please send a comment!