“Writing is hard”…but worth the struggle

A few posts back, I talked about how hard the first year of my PhD was.  I wrote about tackling insecurities and learning that I don’t have to know everything, that I do know something, and that I am always growing as a scientist and person (see the post here).

Today, I want to announce that the core of my master’s thesis was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series!  Oh happy day!  And this particular effort really taught me that writing is a hard process….but the end product is worth every bit of the struggle along the way.

I cried an ocean through the 2 years it took to get from the blank word document to the published pdf.  But with every rejection, criticism, and moment of writer’s paralysis,  I learned that I could keep pushing through the frustration and exhaustion – even when I felt that I could not look at that manuscript one more time!

And I also learned to celebrate every milestone…from the successful thesis defense, to submitting the manuscript for the first time, receiving the notification of its final acceptance, and rejoicing in its publication.

A link to the article can be found here: Invasive decor: an association between a non-native decorator worm and a native seaweed can be mutualistic and you can read more about this research here.  A huge shout out and thank you to everyone who made this publication possible! And a most special thanks to my co-authors and supportive friends who walked every step of the road alongside me.

So upward and onward onto the next writing project!  I am hoping that with every manuscript the process becomes a bit easier…but like most things in life that we hope to get better at, it is going to take practice.

And for me, writing will take A LOT of practice! I practiced every day when I was learning to play piano, or when I was swimming competitively. It is high-time I learned that writing is no different. It is time to commit to a daily writing practice! And hopefully instead of tears of frustration from having to write, I will joyfully embrace the opportunity to write and communicate the research I care so deeply about.


Science and Art event at BML: ALGAE!

This last weekend, I had the opportunity to coordinate a workshop on the science and art of algae.  The workshop was sponsored by the Bodega Marine Science Association (BMSA) and funded by Bodega Bay’s Fisherman Festival.  It was such an awesome experience to interact with the local community about a subject that I have been in love with for the past decade…ALGAE!  Read more about the event (and algae!) in this blogpost by fellow PhD student and current President of BMSA, Erin Satterthwaite…


A huge THANK YOU to all those who helped with the event….couldn’t have done it without you!


“________ is hard”…

I have spent the last year repeatedly uttering statements of the form “(insert challenging topic of the moment here) is hard”.  This tendency of mine started during my first quarter as a newbie PhD student in Population Biology.  What was the challenging topic of the moment that quarter?  MATH. On most days that fall, I would walk into our lab office and exclaim in frustration “math is hard”!  That quarter, I was learning a new (to me!) way of thinking about ecology and genetics – a way that involved algebra, probability, and calculus skills that I had long ago abandoned.  My math skills were out of practice and I sorely felt it every time I had to sit through a lecture or tackle a homework assignment.  To say I struggled was an understatement. My insecurities would get the better of me – I felt inadequate, frustrated, and scared.  I was scared that I did not “have what it takes” to be a successful PhD student, let alone a scientist.  Why did I believe this?  I think it was because I did not already know what I was supposed to be learning.

If you are immediately challenging the logic of that statement (and judging me for being overly dramatic) – you are right.  It makes no sense!  What is the need for learning if you already know everything?  But perhaps the bigger fallacy to challenge is the expectation I was placing on myself – that if something did not come easy to me, it was due to some irreparable personal flaw.  I had no confidence that I could meet the challenge of re-learning math and using that math to think about ecology and evolution in a new way.

That insecurity caused a lot of emotional distress this last year.  And although people tend to hide their insecurities, I am absolutely convinced that I am not the only one that struggles with this issue as a graduate student – or a human being for that matter.  Insecurities are the root cause of “Imposter Syndrome”.  Imposter syndrome is having a core belief that you are not good enough and a paralyzing anxiety that the world is going to discover what you are trying so desperately to hide.

So what is the answer?  How do we function day-to-day in the pressure-cooker that is graduate school (aka life) without letting our insecurities get the better of us?  I think one answer is to accept that we are always learning and growing as students of science and students of life.  While finishing my master’s degree, one of my committee members told me to tell myself every day that I know nothing.  At first, I internalized this as a means to protect myself from becoming arrogant.  As a first year Population Biology student – I actually believed it was true and that I did know nothing. However, now I have come to realize that I do know something, but I do not know everything (and I never will).  Which I think was the original intent of the message.

After four years of graduate school (three years of a master’s degree and one year down toward a PhD), I have also come to realize that I can handle more than I think I can.  Though “math is hard”, I still managed to pass my exams and ace my classes.  And now I can read papers on ecology and evolution that utilize mathematical models and not glaze over from ignorance.  I learned something I did not know before and I have a new set of tools in my toolbox that I can use to answer scientific questions.  For these lessons learned, I am truly grateful.

What is my next insecurity to tackle?

“Writing is hard.”

Gverm continues to invade the interwebs!

Check out this blog post by fellow Sotka Lab alum Courtney Gerstenmaier!  Courtney is now a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow working with the ocean education and outreach team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and NOAA fisheries.  She addresses the questions…are invasive species all bad? And what can we learn about this generalization from emerging research on the effects of Gverm on ecosystems in its non-native range?


Thanks Courtney!

Gverm blog!

A fantastic blog by Linsey Haram and Kaitlin Kinney out of Dr. Jeb Byers’ lab at the University of Georgia on our *favorite* non-native seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla.  Linsey is a PhD student in the Odum School of Ecology studying the effects of Gverm on salt marsh ecosystems and Kaitlin is a graduate of UGA, now a technician in the Byers lab.  I met these lovely ladies on the mudlfats of SC and GA – and there is something about pluff, Gverm, and boating adventures that bonds you for life! Thanks for spreading the word about this seaweed and the life of a mudflat ecologist ladies!

Here’s a link to their blog – most appropriately entitled “snailsnotwhales”: