National Science Foundation Proposals

Jen and Adriane here –

The National Science Foundation logo.

We are both writing up National Science Foundation (NSF) proposals. A proposal is a submitted document to any money granting agency. If the proposal is approved, the scientist(s) or educators who submitted the proposal is then awarded a grant in the form of money. Jen is submitting a grant for postdoctoral fellowship programs (postdocs are commonly 1-3 year appointments where you are further trained in research and writing after receiving your Ph.D.), and Adriane is writing up a full proposal with her advisor and colleagues to get funding for part of her dissertation (the document that is written for fulfillment of a Ph.D. program).

But before we go into the parts of an NSF proposal and how they are written, a bit more background about what these things are. In short, large grants (such as NSF or NASA) are the necessity of a researcher’s life. They are really large grants, usually on the order of ~$30,000 to sometimes over $2 million, that fund a scientists’ research, salary, and often the salary of their graduate students. There are different NSF programs; these can be thought of as different categories to which you can submit a proposal to. For example, Adriane is submitting a proposal to Marine Geology & Geophysics, a program that is great at funding all sorts of paleoceaonographic research.

If the scientist who wins the grant works at a university, the university takes part of the grant money for operating costs. This is fair, as the scientists use electricity, water, etc. in their labs, and the university also employs people to clean the buildings and grounds. Because the money from NSF grants comes, in part, from taxpayer monies, the entire review process a submitted proposal will go through is very rigorous. The granting agency wants to be sure taxpayer dollars are going towards research that will lead to the betterment of society in some way, or will fill a knowledge gap in the sciences that will open the doors for further research and development.

OK, now back to the parts of an NSF proposal:

Although we are submitting for very different purposes the format is relatively similar. There is a project summary that is a one page summary of your entire project. This is basically a one-page summary of your proposal, what you bring to the scientific community, and how you will provide something to the public through your work.

Figure from Jen’s recent postdoctoral fellowship proposal. She is interested in identifying how minor shape changes are shown in the skeletal elements of blastoids. Each plate circlet has a different color and as you can see on each of the blastoids the pattern quite different. These differences in plate shapes and sizes greatly affect how the organism would feed and breathe. The time periods that each animal lived are written below the specimens. This means that these differences continue through time, indicating an importance either evolutionarily or ecologically.

The project description is the full proposal that includes an introduction/background, your objectives and goals, the methods you will use, and the significance of the project. In addition, it includes lots of images and tables to justify why you want to do the science. Depending on the program you are submitting to there may be other things you need to incorporate into the project description. For example, Jen had to include an institution justification, professional development, and career training into her fellowship applications. To put this simply, why should you go where you are proposing to go – what does the school have that will help you succeed is the institution justification. Professional development means how will Jen grow as an academic while at the proposed institution – with details of projects or other mentoring opportunities. Career training goes hand in hand with professional development, this could be workshops or certificate programs that Jen can enroll in while at the proposed institution.

Adriane experiencing writer’s block on a Sunday morning. We can’t emphasize enough that these proposals do take a lot of time, and although they are lots of work, it is a huge honor to produce a successful NSF proposal!

Although the primary portion of the proposal is the project description, there are a series of additional files you must compile. The budget justification is a place to outline a detailed budget for the proposed project and explain what the funds are being used. Biographical sketches of the submitting members are required as well. This is a short summary of your education, training, publications, and other activities usually fit onto two pages. Collaborators and affiliations must be outlined as individuals that will not be asked to review your proposal. During the rigorous review process, NSF wants evaluation of proposals to be as unbiased and fair as possible, so they ask for a comprehensive list of all collaborators over the past several years. The data management plan outlines what will happen with all the data collected. This is particularly important because a key aspect of science is reproducibility (=the ability to reproduce another scientists’ results using their data).

So, there are a lot of pieces to writing an NSF proposal, and a lot of time goes into writing one! But probably the most important aspect to come out of research funded by the public is the ability for researchers and scientists to give back to the public in some way – whether that be through volunteering, lectures and teaching, or making fun websites to explain the science we are most passionate about so that everyone has access to our information 🙂

Lightning Talks

Jen here –

Lightning or elevator talks are a great way to practice quickly sharing your research or work. Elevator talks are just as they sound, use the amount of time an elevator ride takes to share your research with another person. This is usually about 1-3 minutes, sometimes less! You can think of it sort of like a TV or radio commercial about what you do.

So, you want to make sure to share your science in a way that is not confusing to people in other scientific or academic fields. You want your research to be understandable to everyone, not just people that work on the same stuff as you. I find it helpful to pretend I’m talking to my mom who has a general understanding of what I work on but doesn’t particularly need to understand all of the minute details.

Below is my first official lightning talk. Since this is a video, I was able to include additional images and even an extra supporting additional video clip. I plan to produce a few a semester to practice communicating whatever my current research may be!

Here are some tools to begin crafting your own elevator talk!

Tracing respiratory structures

Jen here-

Cartoon blastoid cut in half so you can see the inside of the specimen. Each slice in the video is taken horizontal to the longest axis of the specimen. Figure modified from Dexter et al. (2008)
As I briefly discuss on my research page, here, part of my main research focus is to better understand respiratory structures of extinct animals. I’ve embedded a video on how I actually go about doing this. I’m using acetate peels to trace the structures through the body. These are essentially thin slices that allow us to section or take pieces of the fossil bit by bit. There is a general agreement about where the respiratory structures of blastoids (called hydrospires) connect to the exterior of the body. This means I can find this location on the inside to find the structures.

Once I have identified the structures, I can trace each one! I use a drawing pad and it can actually be quite relaxing tracing the folds. But it takes a lot of time and we have thought about figuring out how to make the computer do it for us but in some cases the outline is faint or you can see extra folds that are not actually part of the layer you are on. This happens when the slices of the fossil are taken not exactly perpendicular to the long body axis. The slices that I am working with were made in the 1960s and were done by hand so it is common that they are not exactly perpendicular.

In the video below you can see me tracing the hydrospire folds on a slice of Pentremites pulchellus. Once we trace all of the folds we were interested in, we can hide the images of the slices and all that remains are a series of stacked line drawings. We use another program to create the three dimensional structures.

Citation: Dexter, T.A., Sumrall, C.D., and McKinney, M.L 2008. Allometric strategies for increasing respiratory surface area in the Mississippian blastoid Pentremites. Lethaia, 42, doi: 10.1111/j.1502-3931.2008.00110.x

What exactly does a planktic foraminifera biostratigrapher do?

Adriane here, reporting once again from the beautiful Tasman Sea!

Double rainbow in front of the ship after a rainstorm.
You may recall from my previous post that I am currently sailing the RV JOIDES Resolution (the JR), a research vessel equipped with a drill rig that is used for scientific ocean drilling. During these scientific expeditions aboard the JR, a team of about 30-35 scientists and several crew members (the JR can hold a maximum of 130 people) drill sediment from the seafloor. Everyone on the ship has a job to do, and in this post I’ll explain what my role is while sailing in the beautiful Tasman.

I am sailing as a planktic foraminifera biostratigrapher (click here to learn more about what that means, and here to read more about how we use fossils to tell time) or someone who uses fossils (‘bio’) to tell time from the rock record (‘stratigraphy’). Altogether, there are 9 paleontologists on the ship. Some of us are here to tell the other scientist what age the sediments are that we’re drilling into, and some are using fossils to interpret paleobathymetry, or the water depth of the Tasman Sea at different times in Earth’s history.

Every scientist’s role on the ship is vastly important, but the first thing everyone wants to know as sediment cores are being drilled and brought onto the ship is how old this sediment is. This is important for a few different reasons: 1. There are specific intervals in Earth’s history that we (the scientists on the ship) want to drill into; 2. With age, we can tell what was going on in the geologic past in the Tasman Sea and further interpret the plate tectonic movements and environments when the sediment was deposited, and 3. We can modify our drilling plan including changing out the drill bits, slowing down the drilling, or speeding up the drilling process to best capture key intervals in Earth’s history. Thus, being a biostratigrapher is initially a very important job, and one that can affect the drilling operations on the ship. That’s why there are four main fossil groups that we use to tell time: the calcareous nannofossils (which are REALLY tiny), the planktic (and in this case, the benthic) foraminifera, siliceous radiolarians, and pollen spores. All of the fossil groups are important to have, as there are intervals in the cores where one or two fossil groups may disappear, or there may only be planktic foraminifera in one sample, etc.

But enough about biostratigraphy, now to show and tell you the entire process we go through when we receive a core on the ship!

The first thing that happens when a core is pulled up onto the core deck is that an announcement is made, such as ‘Core on deck!’. I then put on a hard hat and safety glasses and grab a bowl to collect the core catcher sample (the end piece of the core that literally keeps the sediment in the pipe as the core is brought back to the surface). The core catcher sample is the very last 10 centimeters of the core that is given to the paleontologists to analyze for age. The technicians bring the core from the drill floor to the core deck, where the core is cut into sections. While the core is being cut, another technician is given the core catcher to disassemble, remove the sediment, and give to the paleontologist.

In the first image, the technicians are bringing the core that has just been brought onto the ship onto the core deck. While 4-6 people wipe off, measure, and cut the core into sections, another person disassembles the core catcher and removes the sediment that is inside (center image). In this photo, the sediment is relatively hard, or lithified. When the core catcher sample has been removed and measured, part of it is given to the paleontologists so we can do biostratigraphy (right image).

Once I have the sample, I take it back inside to process. If the sediment is very soft, I simply rinse it over a screen to remove small particles (refer to my previous ‘From Mud to Microfossils: Processing Samples’ post). But recently on the expedition, the sediment we are recovering has been very hard. In this case, the core catcher sample is cut into thin slices using a rock saw, then small pieces are shaved off of a slice using a sharp-edged tool. These smaller pieces are crushed with a mortar and pestle for a few minutes.

Left image: the core catcher sample that was obtained here was cut into thin slices. One of these slices is then cut into smaller pieces using a small tool (center image). The smaller pieces are then crushed into finer grains using a mortar and pestle (right image). Surprisingly, most of the tiny fossils survive this process!

The sediment is then rinsed over two screens: a 2 millimeter (mm) screen to hold back the larger particles, and a 63 micrometer (μm) screen to catch the microfossils. The >2 mm rock pieces are then crushed again until there is enough particles in the 63 μm screen to analyze for planktic foraminifera. The sediment, which we call the residue at this point, is then put into filter paper on a stand to drain out the extra water. The filter paper and residue are then put onto a hot plate to dry (yes, there have been a few times when the paper has burned!).

In the left image, the pulverized sample is rinsed over a screen several times. Once there is enough sediment, at this point called the residue, to work with, it is put into a paper filter to dry (center image). When most of the water has dripped out, the filter paper and wet residue is then placed on a hot plate to dry (right image).

This is my microscope that I have used (and it’s really nice!) for the past 5 weeks at sea. Notice the paintbrush, jar of water, green dye, slide (white and black rectangular piece of cardboard in an aluminum holder), and black tray with the dried residue sprinkled across. When I find a marker species that tells me something about the age of the sediment, it is picked using my paintbrush and put onto the slide. In this sample, I found an important marker species, named Morozovella crater. The top right image is a picture taken through the microscope of the specimen dyed green. The bottom right image is a picture of a different specimen of the same species taken using an SEM (which is basically a fancy, very expensive camera used to photography very small fossils and minerals).
After the residue is dry, it is put into a small plastic bag with a label indicating exactly where it came from within each core. At this point, the residue is ready for analysis! At my desk, I have a microscope, a small tray, very small paintbrushes for picking very small fossils, a jar of water, and green food dye. Because the microfossils that I look at are made of calcite, they are very bright under the lights in the microscope. Dying the fossils a green color cuts down on the reflectance of light off the foram’s shells, and enables me to see the details of the fossil necessary to identify it to the species level.

There are usually many different planktic foraminiferal species in each sample, but there are only a few that I usually look for that tell me about the age of the sediment. These are called ‘marker species’. The geologic time at which a marker species evolves or goes extinct has been calibrated by previous scientists before me over several decades, so when I find a species, or when a species suddenly disappears, I have a chart that I use to look up when that speciation or extinction event happened.

Once I have a datum (reference point of time) and an age estimate for the residue sample I’m looking at, I write this information on a big white board in the paleontology lab. All of the other scientists look at this board frequently to determine the age of the sediment that is being brought up.

Education and Outreach Aboard the JR

Every IODP expedition has an education outreach coordinator that sails with the crew and scientists. This person’s job is to blog, post photos on social media outlets (Facebook), and conduct ‘Ship to Shore’ linkups. These are scheduled events with colleges, university, and K-12 schools where the education outreach coordinator gives the viewers a live tour of the ship and the activities that are going on. Because every expedition is funded by public monies from several countries, it is our responsibility as scientists to engage with the public and tell you all what we’re doing and what we’re learning. I’ve participated in a few ship to shore linkups already, and have really enjoyed talking with students of all ages about fossils, what we’re finding in the Tasman Sea, and how we use the fossils to tell time!

If you are an educator and want to participate in a Ship to Shore video event, click here to sign up!

International School on Foraminifera, Urbino, Italy

Raquel here-

Ciao! Greetings from beautiful and sunny Urbino, Italy! For two weeks earlier this summer, I participated in the 10th International School on Foraminifera at ESRU Urbino. This workshop covers all aspects of foraminifera, from their modern ecology to their evolution since the Cambrian. The school is truly international as we not only have expert lecturers from all over the world, but also students representing more than 12 countries.

Raquel (front, 6th from right) and the other students and teachers that ran the 10th International School on Foraminifera in beautiful Urbino, Italy.

I was only 1 of 4 students from the U.S. I have made friends with fellow micropaleontologists from Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Israel and Russia and have enjoyed getting to hear what life is like as a scientist and micrpaleontologist in other parts of the world. This also means that for the most part, instead of learning any Italian I have been helping other students improve their English, something I am happy to do since English is the most prominent language of science. Each day we have lectures in the morning and in the afternoon, we look at samples and specimens under the microscope. This is great because everything we learn from lecture is reinforced with real forams and slides! As I am a Cretaceous and planktic person, my favorite lecture was biostratigraphy with Maria Rose Petrizzo. During lecture, we went through the important evolutionary changes in the planktic record and in the afternoon for our lab exercises we had just 10 minutes to pick different morphotypes from residue. Instead of speaking in terms of species, for foraminifera we speak in terms of ‘morphotypes’ this simply means we use shape (morphology) to define them. I had a lot of fun with this!

My microscope, notes, and a tray full of slides, each with different species of foraminifera.

I also really enjoyed the lectures on modern planktic forams. The coolest thing I have learned is that although there is a lot we don’t know about forams in the past, biologists studying modern forams are still puzzled by these amazing protists. There are many questions surrounding their reproductive cycle, feeding habits and general ecology that biologists are still working out.

I learned a lot, but I must say the best part of the trip is the other scientists and foram enthusiasts I am meeting and getting to know. We live, work, and eat together and are forming relationships and networks that I’m sure will last through our careers. We already have plans to meet up at the big forams meeting next year in Scotland!

Bye for now!

Life Aboard a Scientific Research Ship

Adriane here – (well Adriane via Jen, anyway =])

Until the end of September, I am sailing aboard the research vessel JOIDES Resolution in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. I’m one of 33 scientists working on the ship, as well as staff and drillers. Altogether, there are 127 people aboard, working together as a community to make sure the ship functions, it’s clean and tidy, and that we’re conducting excellent science.

The JOIDES Resolution

The JOIDES Resolution leaving port in Townsville, Australia for two months at sea.
The JOIDES Resolution, or JR for short, is one of the most important research vessels sailing the seas today. The ship itself was built in 1978 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and runs off diesel, but generates its own electricity and has desalination equipment. Thus, we are never short of lights, power, or water. The ship was built for scientific ocean drilling, and has a drill tower mounted on it, called the derrick. Surprisingly, the ship can recover sediment from the seafloor through a maximum water depth of 27,000 feet! A few years back, the JR was in dry port for two years while it was being updated. Now, the ship has lab spaces for all kinds of scientists, with cutting edge equipment and machines to analyze the sediment cores that we recover from the seafloor.

Ship Life
Life aboard the ship is absolutely amazing! There are three meals provided for us everyday, and a few coffee machines scattered around. In addition, there are always cookies, snacks, and coffee in the mess hall. Another great feature about life on the ship is that the staff here does everyone’s laundry! In short, I’m getting spoiled by not having to cook, clean, or worry with laundry. But on the other hand, I am working 12 hour days every day until the end of September, where we will disembark the ship in Tasmania.

In addition to cake, there is also a coffee machine that makes lattes, mochas, Americanos, and hot chocolate.
The scientists work in two shifts so that we are continuously working 24 hours. The night shift is from midnight to noon, and the day shift from noon to midnight. I’m on the day shift, which was pretty easy to adjust to by going to bed later and getting up later. After our shifts end, there are plenty of things to do aboard the ship. The JR has its own movie room with a big screen TV, a pool table, and a nice collection of books. There is also a and a lounge with computers connected to the internet. We can’t get internet on our personal laptops because we have limited bandwidth available on the ship, most of which is used to conference with schools all over the world (we have two people sailing with us whose job is specifically to do education outreach through video chats, movies, and virtual meetings).

In the mess hall, there is a refrigerator that is always full of cakes and pies!
Scientists stay two to a room, where there is plenty of storage space, two closets, and a bunk bed. In the room is also a sink. Two rooms share a bathroom, which is located in the center of the rooms. The rooms never feel cramped, because the two scientists in the room work opposite shifts. But my favorite part about the ship is not the limitless cookies or fancy coffee machine; instead, it is the sense of wonder and amazement that come with being surrounded by ocean. When I am off shift, I love to sit at the picnic table at the front of the ship and watch the ocean, especially when we’re moving on a cloudless, bright night. The stars are unreal, as are the sunsets!

There’s nothing like watching the sun set over the ocean.

Interested in reading more on the work Adriane is up to? Check out these news articles about the project:

Follow the JR on Twitter here, follow Time Scavengers here, and Adriane here for the most recent information we have from Adriane’s JR experience!

Backyard Sediment Sieving

Jen here –

Our department recently moved into a new building and our rock room is not yet set up! The rock room serves as the go-to room for getting messy within the department. This can vary by project – you can be cutting samples with the rock saws, polishing samples, or washing sediment. I recently collected a lot of sediment in 5 gallon buckets that needs to be sieved. Some of it is for a fossil summer camp hosted through the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. Since the rock room isn’t ready to be used just yet, I’ve started sieving in my backyard! Sieving is useful for separating out different sizes of fossils. It helps you find the very small microfossils and smaller pieces of fossils that may not preserve together.

Example of how I started sieving. I ended up moving all the buckets much closer together!!

I usually let the sediment soak in water for a few days this helps get dirt particles and grass off the rock. I can rinse it by simply pouring out the top part of water. I usually fill it up several times and knead the sediment while I do this. For this specific project I’ll just use 3 sieve sizes: 4mm, 2.5mm, and 1 mm. At the summer camp we will be focusing on the larger fossils that we can pick out with our eyes rather than the microfossils! I start with the bucket full of sediment and plop some of the wet slop into the sieve. I then pour water over the sediment and shake the sieve until all that is left in the sieve is the material that cannot fall through the mesh. I usually give it another rinse and then dump it out in the small bucket. Everything that was smaller than the sieve mesh fell through into the other 5 gallon bucket.

Once the original bucket is empty, you can swap buckets and go to the next sieve size! Since I’m trying to get this sediment pretty clean I will soak the smaller bucket in water and rinse it several times and then let it dry! Usually, I would be very careful to keep all the different sieve sizes separate but I’m going to recombine this sediment once I’ve given it a good clean. The summer camp students will re-sieve the material and examine their findings in each sieve size!

Preparing for a scientific ocean drilling expedition

Adriane here –

The drill ship Joides Resolution, which will be my home for two months July-September 2017!

On July 28th, I will board the scientific drilling ship, R/V Joides Resolution, to spend 2 months in the Tasman Sea! This expedition, through the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) will recover sediment from the seafloor between Australia and New Zealand to learn more about the plate tectonics behaved in the geologic past and the climate and ocean history of the Tasman Sea. A group of scientists were chosen to participate on this expedition, all have a very specific job to do while at sea. My job is to look at the tiny fossils, planktic foraminifera (also called ‘forams’) recovered from the sediment, identify them, and tell everyone else how old the sediment is. This technique of using fossils to tell time is called biostratigraphy. Thus, I am sailing as one of four planktic foraminferal biostratigraphers on the ship.

Preparing for an expedition like this is no small task. In fact, it’s downright terrifying! I will be working for 2 months straight on 12 hour shifts, and will be around some of the best scientists of my time. I am certain I will learn a ton of new information, but it can be intimidating knowing you will, as a student, be working with such great scientists.

So, how does one prepare for an expedition of this magnitude? First and foremost, I am staying positive and reminding myself that this is a remarkable experience! Second, I have been reading scientific papers where the research focuses on microfossils from the Tasman Sea, and putting these important papers on an external hard drive to take with me on the ship. Third, my lab and I made a ‘Biostrat Book’, where I combined three different zonation schemes, or ways to tell time using planktic foraminifera, for use on the ship. This document also contains tons of pictures of important foram species that we use to estimate time.

A page from the biostratigraphy document I put together for use on my expedition. On the left is time in millions of years, from 20-35. The black and white bars indicate magnetostratigraphy, and the Period/Epoch indicates the geologic time (black for global, blue for New Zealand ages). There are three zonation schemes (or zones) here: the one from Wade et al. (2011), another from Jenkins (1993), and the last from Huber and Quillevere (2005). Genus and species names are italicized and match the color of the zones they correspond to. The number beside the genus and species names corresponds to age on the left.

I also visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Cushman Collection, which is a collection of foraminifera holotypes and paratypes. I did this so I could begin learning to identify all the species of planktic forams that I will encounter during my time at sea.

Sorting slides full of planktic forams in the lab!

But it turns out the best place to look at and learn different species of forams was right here, in the lab of my advisor! My advisor, Mark, has collected sediment samples from all over the world, and has amassed quite the collection of planktic forams. So as part of my training, I sorted all of our samples first by species, then by age. This collection will serve as references for me to practice identifying all the foram species!

And finally, the last way I’m preparing for this expedition is by relying on the support and positivity from my peers and lab mates, both previous and current members (I lovingly call them my paleo brothers and sisters). Several of my advisor’s former students have sailed aboard the Joides Resolution, so their advice and support has been invaluable to me!

Stay tuned for more updates from my time in Australia and aboard the Joides Resolution!

From Mud to Microfossils: Processing Samples

Adriane here-

I work with tiny microfossils, called foraminifera, that accumulate on the seafloor. Here, I’ll show you how I, and other paleontologists that work with microfossils (micropaleontoloigsts) acquire our fossils!

Core 21 from Site 1208.

All of the sediment cores that have been drilled since the late 1960’s are kept in one of three core storage facilities (core repositories) located at universities around the world. The University of Bremen, German currently stores 154 km (95.7 miles!) of cores; Kochi University in Japan has 111.2 km (69 miles) of cores; and Texas A&M University in the USA currently houses 132 km (82 miles) of sediment cores. Samples from any cores stored in any of the three repositories can be requested by scientists, and usually arrive in the mail within a few weeks! But let’s back up a bit and talk about where the sediment samples come from.

For my research, I recently requested samples from three cores stored at Texas A&M University. The cores I requested samples from were drilled from the northwest Pacific Ocean (see the sea surface temperature and site location map on the ‘Our Research Explained‘ page). On the left is what a core looks like. All cores, after being drilled and pulled back up onto the drill ship, are cut in half. One half of the core is photographed and kept as a sort of reference, and the other half is used for research (we call this the ‘working half’).

The core pictured here was drilled from Leg 198 (all of the major drilling expeditions are given a number), Site 1208 (the specific site that has coordinates attached), Hole A (in a number of cases, more than one core will be drilled from the same location to ensure the scientists get enough sediment, or recovery). The last number, 21X, is the core number and the letter corresponds to the drill bit that was used to drill it. Because this is Core 21, that means that there are 20 cores younger, or that were drilled before, this one. This core was cut into 4 sections, each approximately 150 centimeters in length, plus the core catcher, which is the last bit of core brought up. Notice the white square of styrofoam labeled ‘PAL’ in the core catcher; this was the sample taken out of the core that was given to the paleontologists on the scientific expedition to determine the age of this sediment.

OK, now back to the samples! My samples arrived within 2 weeks in 3 large boxes. Notice the samples are just chunks of mud. First, I (with the help of my husband) sorted the samples according to what site they were from (1207, 1208, or 1209).

Then, I put the chunks of mud in glass jars and dried them in a low-temperature oven in our lab. This is done to evaporate any water from the mud so we can weigh the samples. After the samples are dried and weighed, they are put into bottles with water to break the mud apart (I call these bottles of mud my ‘Mud Milkshakes’). Notice the labels on each bottle: these indicate which site the sample is from (in this case, all are from Site 1208), the core (the samples in these bottles are from cores 24 and 25), the core section (the third number), and the depth from the top of that section where the sample was taken (125-127 and 127-129, measured in centimeters).

The samples soak for about a week and are then sieved over a small screen. The screen is small enough to let very tiny particles of clay through, but not the microfossils I’m interested in. The sieved samples are then put back into glass dishes and dried. When completely dry, the microfossils are put into small glass jars. Notice the jars are also labeled just like the bottles to indicate the exact location in the cores the sample was taken. This is very important information to know, as later  in my research, I convert depth in the core to age (more on that later)!


Yates Dissertation Fellowship Recipient

Jen here –

Something that is expected in academia is applying for fellowships, scholarships, and grants. A career in academia relies heavily on getting funding to produce new original research in a lab or in a remote location on Earth (or on another planet, in some cases). Very simply, research can be expensive. Not just research but the cost of living. Many faculty members or primary investigators must incorporate graduate student or post-doctoral researcher funding into their grant proposals. Funding for students is often the most expensive aspect of a grant proposal. In turn, it provides one of the largest impacts. This funding allows young scientists to expand their horizons and produce wonderful science.

Recently I was selected as a recipient of the Yates Dissertation Fellowship. This fellowship allows me to cut my teaching load in half and focus more on writing my dissertation next year. Three students that show high potential for success were selected this year. I applied for this fellowship a few months ago as a “this could be very useful next year” sort of thing. Applying was not terribly difficult. I provided an updated CV (Curriculum Vitae, it’s basically an expanded resume), a cover letter, and the graduate director of our department had to write a letter for me. I provided him with information and Colin (my advisor) and I discussed how the letter should be framed to exploit my strengths. The specific purpose of the fellowship is to free up your time so you could focus on writing. Through the letter of support from my department we were able to highlight by strong publication record and my dedicated work ethic.

Being successful at receiving additional funding is critical to success in academia. It is particularly important that, as young scientists, we are actively applying for fellowships, scholarships, grants, and awards. Each of those things adds another layer to our CV’s – which is one of the things that gets looked at when we are applying for jobs. The more impressive you are in your CV and statements submitted to jobs, the more likely you are to receive an interview.

If you are in the stages of writing small grants for your graduate research or applying for anything that you are a little nervous about please contact us. Sarah (another site collaborator) and I edit each other’s work constantly we also exchange successful proposals so that we can have a base line to start. It is a difficult task to complete all on your own.