Fluorescence versus bioluminescence

As part of my service activities, I regularly participate in a few family scientific outreach events. Some kids that come in from their schools are supervised by their teachers, and some kids are visiting with their parents. The most recent event was at an aquarium. S.O. walked around with the little one and got some funny pictures with them making big-eyes at the larger-than-them fish swimming about. I was stationed as a docent. At this aquarium, like many aquariums, there were some jellyfish. This is where I was stationed. Many a child would come up and ask why some jellies would have bright green colors, and maybe why a comb jelly had rainbow colors. I would explain fluorescence and diffraction in a simplistic way, then they stare for a bit at pretty colors, thank me, and walk off. Maybe they won’t remember that in 15 years, but for a second they got a little smarter. Cool shit.

Now, when a parent walks up with the kids and the kids inevitably ask the “where do the pretty colors come from?” question, the parents will almost always respond with “bioluminescence”. Some jellies do have bioluminescence, but these do not. And I feel like a dick if I contradict the parent in front of their kids. So I let them walk off having bad information. What I don’t understand is that the parents could have read the information blurb about the fluorescence or diffraction responsible for the pretty colors, or ask the person wearing an aquarium docent shirt (me). I’m hoping that the person just didn’t know better and thought they knew, but not knowing the differences between fluorescence, diffraction, and bioluminescence are annoying to me. And then the child asked how bioluminescence occurs and the parent said “they just glow”. I was biting my tongue hard. At a different event, a parent talked about the octopus’s ear hole at the tank I was stationed at. Octopods do allegedly have an ear-like apparatus, but it’s not the funnel. Now the kid thinks the funnel is an ear hole because dad couldn’t be bothered to ask me about it (or read).

In my day-to-day life I ask a lot of questions if I don’t know the answer. More and more I have been coming across people that act like they know, but really don’t. And I think that they don’t know that they don’t know, which is worse to me. This has been happening with my students and collaborators, too. And I never know if it’s okay to correct them/I’m too scared to. So I sit silently and just let them spew incorrect information, and educate other people that believe them. I just wanted to get this off my chest (also, this versus that). That’s it.

First day back

Being on campus was bittersweet. I had to leave the little one at home for the first time. We’ll call him Slimer. Slimer is quiet, but when he looks up at you with his hazel eyes it’s tough to not want to be around. I want to be one of those parents that’s okay with getting a sitter or leaving them with the gparents so I need to be okay with telling those hazel eyes goodbye for short period. I’m still so concerned about my career taking a tumble even though everyone says I’ll be fine. I may already be overcompensating by the amount of work I’ve been doing from home. I don’t think I’ve ever read and edited so many papers in my life in the span of a week.

On campus my students had a bunch of gifts waiting for me in my office. The other faculty didn’t really care or notice I was gone (welcome to the solitude that comes with the ivory tower). Like I anticipated, the proactive students had good progress and the less motivated students were behind. I’m mainly glad that no one went down a rabbit hole and wasted resources. The slow ones continued on good paths and made good decisions, they just didn’t work as much so they didn’t make much progress. I told them that I wanted to know what slowed them down and put in some hard deadlines for papers, results, conference submissions, etc. So we’ll see if that lights a fire. But overall it was really nice to be back on campus. I was working my ass off right until the last second so everything would be set for the semester (hence the lack of posts). I have a few meetings next week with collaborators (one from industry that provides me funding), so there’s some prep and data I’ll need from students.

Overall, I worried more than was necessary about my lab and Slimer. It’ll take some time to balance these new roles, but thank you to everyone for the reassuring words!

Working from home

This semester I am not teaching. Not because I bought out my teaching load, but because a stork dropped of this baby and need to take care of it for a little. I haven’t been to campus since the semester started. My current plan is to go in once a week for the next month then see what we can do about scaling things up and/or if I can bring the little one in as an office-mate. S.O. can only take so much time off so they’re using their paternity leave to cover the home base during my weekly visit to ensure my students haven’t burned the lab down. So far, email, Google Hangout video (what will I do when Google gets rid of Hangouts?!?!), phone calls, and text messaging have filled in the gaps okay, but there’s nothing like being on the front line to really guide the research properly. Already in planning, I will miss the next big grant deadline I wanted to hit, but I’d rather wait a cycle and put in a better application since I only get three shots. I have enough funding, and the loss of recent industry funding is kind of a blessing because it’ll force me to focus and slow down a little, which is something I’ve been wanting to do.

What I’m most concerned about at work is that my less motivated students will drop in productivity a lot.  They don’t have the highest amount of motivation, and I’m already noticing their emails have dropped off, as have the quality of emails.  I don’t care if the students are there 40+ hours per week.  I just want to see results.  And from what I’m hearing they’re not even around enough to be getting results.  These were the students where I had to tell them everything from the direction of the project down to the minute details of setting up their experiments. I asked the senior students and my post-docs to check on them, and the only reports from them are that the unmotivated students aren’t around much. I know that it falls on me to have better set them up, but they’re green and I didn’t have as much time with them as I would have chosen. During my campus visits there will be stronger words for them.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s fall is going well. I hate being stuck at home, but this isn’t a bad reason to be here. There’s a lot of quiet for now with not a lot of excessive crying or demands. I think slowing down is going to be beautiful, I just hope that my lab productivity doesn’t take such a dip that I can’t ramp back up if I decide to pursue some new research interest. I do miss being on campus at the start of the semester. The leaves changes, the sound of students, and the energy on campus is great, but there will be future semesters. For now, I’ll be working from home in more than one way.