Political Science

Politics and Science- More alike than you think

So I have an addiction problem. I’m addicted to news channels. And if you’re not living under a rock, you can bet that the majority of news right now is all about the republican candidates and the primaries.

This morning I was watching Melissa Harris-Perry’s new morning show (on msnbc) and she was talking about how she likes a strong two party system because they make each other better. Like they hold each other accountable.

Immediately, my mind went to Lakatos’ research programmes both degenerative and progressive. Let’s picture that the republican party is currently the degenerative programme – They have their theories about how government should work, and this disagrees with the current progressive programme (Democrats). And so they attack the progressive programme – point out where they are wrong and show them ways to do it better.

Exactly what happens in science (as Lakatos would argue)! A new theory and scientific program comes along and the degenerative – fighting to continue to prove their theory – will push the new theory to question every assumption and results

We might think that politics will be different than science because it involves a revolving door, where in politics, every x# of years there’s a chance for the degenerative and progressive parties to change. Instead in science we expect one to always win out and prove to be the better theory. BUT- while this happens a lot less often than in politics – history says, another, better, progressive programme will come along. And the degenerative program will do its job; attack the new theory, point out its flaws, and make it cover its tracks. You know, Science.

And we’re all the better for it.

[By the way, I wish Melissa Harris-Perry’s show was actually called Nerdlandia, as she joked a couple times]


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Quick Tip

When joining a new lab, the first thing you should do is become best friends with the technician. Or at least learn the best way to make them happy.

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Tis the season to be… recruited!

It’s time for your hard work of searching, choosing, and applying to pay off! If your application makes the admissions cut, you’re likely to be asked to visit your schools of choice for some tours and interviews. If you’re lucky- also for a fellowship! So if you got an invitation – congratulations!

Here’s where the dating analogies start… recruitment is kind of like you, your university’s, and maybe your advisor’s first date.  Not only are they checking you out, but you’re also checking them out – and don’t forget that. You’re going to spend your time trying to impress every person you meet, but don’t forget to take a careful look around yourself.

This is how the recruiting goes at MSU – but I’m guessing it’s similar at other universities.

There are three main components:

  • People getting to know you — this takes place in the form of usually a short introduction or a presentation to the faculty and/or current students. Here’s your chance to shine – make sure you’ve rehearsed your strengths and have a solid idea of where you’re going- and how this school/advisor fits into that. Also if you’re a good communicator, this is a good place to show that too. If you’re not, something you might want to try to improve beforehand.
  •  You getting to know the people — The researchers, the grad students, the support staff – this takes place in various social events (usually around food/drink) or more formally, with potential advisors, with a short “interview” (just a meeting really – and this is also them getting to know you).
  • You getting to know the school and the area — Campus tours as well as tours of highlights around the city. Ask about good places to live- if you decide to move here, that will come in handy later.

How to act/behave

If you’re like me, I was not certain at all that I was admitted to the university. Some people think, if they’re going to spend $1000’s of dollars on bringing you to the school, you’re probably in. And if you’re that secure, that’s fine. But I definitely wasn’t, and I honestly think, better safe than sorry!

On that note, I think there are really two important things to remember here.

  • EVERYONE you meet could be a potential friend/colleague/mentor/etc. for you in the near future. And they WILL remember you (esp. if you do something rude/stupid/inappropriate). Remember that when you meet with grad students, researchers and secretaries- EVERYONE. If you decide to attend this university, it will make things a lot easier. I don’t say that to make you nervous/scared while you’re there, but just don’t act like you’re never going to see these people again.
  • And with that, the only other important thing I want to note is that, if your recruitment is anything like mine, you will be served alcohol. Maybe never-ending supplies.  I know peer pressure is tough here, but if you don’t handle alcohol well, stay away. People may forget if you’re drinking a soda rather than a beer, but they will never forget if you do something rude/stupid/inappropriate whilst drunk.

In the end – have fun, and learn lots.

Be yourself – but be your-best-self.

How about you? How did your recruiting go? Or what else do you have questions about for your upcoming recruitment?

PS. These, “how to behave tips” are probably always a good idea in most social situations.

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City Tour, Holiday Edition

I had the great pleasure of having my undergraduate university (South Dakota State University) be so close to my parent’s home while I was attending but this also allows me to take time to visit there when I’m visiting SD for the holidays. Unfortunately, it’s also the time for many of my mentors to leave the city for the holidays, but I was able to meet up with my research advisor for lunch and catch up on the many changes in my life since I left SD just months ago. I also got to meet with one of my good friends that I did community work with. So I’ve changed since I’ve left the great town of Brookings, SD – but how much has it changed? Well, to start, there’s been a couple of new businesses that have opened (no word on the breweries yet). Obviously as someone who is interested in local community development (and food) I had to check out a couple of the new eateries.

For lunch, I was excited to visit the town’s new, Old Market Eatery (http://oldmarketeatery.com/). Located inside a historic bank, this complex contains a variety of businesses – the restaurant and bakery and then a salon, boutique, yoga studio, photography studio and a “honey-do” company. What’s great about this multi-plex is the businesses are mostly owned and managed by local ladies making both my local and feminist hearts happy.

Lunch was delicious and affordable. I got the walleye cake salad ($8) that came with a tasty dressing which made me overlook the fact that the “bed of mixed greens” was 90%  iceberg lettuce (something I detest). The walleye cake was moist and flavorful, making it a successful rendition of the traditional crab cake.  My coffee was the delicious Caribbean Queen roast from CherryBean, locally roasted in Parker, SD (http://cherrybean.net/). My lunch partner had the generously sized Market Burger and fries ($9). I didn’t personally taste the burger, but the fries were seasoned well, and clearly made in house. For dessert I enjoyed a soft and chewy mint-chocolate cookie and a piece of a uniquely flavor-paired cranberry-ginger “tart” (that was totally a scone).

The service was a little slow, and we ended up waiting a bit for the main course while the house remained less than full. Also, they stopped serving me coffee after we were finished eating, even though we stayed talking for a while longer. The atmosphere was great- modern but still rustic. We sat inside the indoor patio, which, along with our warm December, had me thinking of summer.  And I’ve heard from a friend that the “mature” bar scene they were aiming for has been achieved, but I’ll look forward to checking that out some other time. Another complaint I have is that I know they aren’t locally sourcing as much food as they could be – but I understand that starting up a new business costs a lot, and I can only hope as they get more successful, they will continue to be more local.

Another local business I checked out while in town was the Buttercrust bakery (http://www.brookingsregister.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=79&story_id=12988).  As with traditional bakeries, they have a menu that changes by the day, so I’ll have to make a couple trips in order to try everything. On this trip though, I picked up a loaf of the Honey White bread as well as a cinnamon roll, pecan cinnamon roll and a strawberry danish. I don’t have much more to say than, delicious, but can you really go wrong with a baked good? Especially a fresh, local made one. Since Hagman’s closed, I think Brookings has needed a new bakery – although it now has a couple!  (And Cider Hill might still be selling bread at Nature’s Paradise?)

There are a couple other new changes to my old town. The new visitor center at McCrory Gardens is finished, and looking beautiful complete with a new entrance and parking lot (http://www.keloland.com/NewsDetail6162.cfm?Id=122936 Seriously best picture I could find). I can’t wait to check that out the next time I’m in town too.  Along with new entrance to McCrory, there is another new one into Brookings and the SDSU campus Medary, just south of the Hwy 14 bypass. I don’t like money being spent on such things, but man, it does look nice!

It was a great day catching up with my old town and the people in it. I’m so happy to see both the town and the university growing, and I hope that both continue to do so with much success!



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Holiday Edition – What to tell you family about what you do

Season Greetings!

It’s that time of year that we love- full of tasty food, delicious goodies, presents, carol singing, and of course, awkward family parties. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky. Along with family gatherings comes that question that we’re always dreading – even during undergrad – “What do you do and what does that mean?” or “What are you going to do with THAT degree?” Unless you come from a family of academics, explaining your position in graduate school is bound to be a little tough. If your family members have heard anything about grad school, it’s probably from a joke, and therefore probably not all that informational or correct. Here are a couple strategies I’ve come up with in order to handle the questions.

1. Answer quickly, and change the subject. Yeah, this isn’t really a solution, but it’s an approach. Face it, sometimes our family members don’t actually want you to answer that question. They asked you out of formality and are just trying to get through the night while making small talk. Aren’t sure if they care or not? Look for the signs: Nodding with a blank stare, A bland “OK….” when you’ve finished, or eyes that are desperately looking for a different conversation to join. If however, they are engaged and ask a follow up question, they may actually be genuinely interested in your life. If so, try the next approach.

2. Educate them! This is part of our job right? Well, also consider yourself a spokesperson for graduate school.  Explain to them what graduate school is like for you- not all that much school, but much more about hands on learning, and developing as person and a scientist. Talk about what motivates you to pursue a graduate degree- your passion for learning, your desire to make changes in the world, etc. And also, the importance of graduate school (this might be more about breaking stereotypes). Scientists aren’t, for some reason, always seen in the best light. Consider this your opportunity to talk about the great thing science has to offer… advances in health, technology, etc.

3. Lie to them. OK, this one you might be too late to do – but if you haven’t told your family you’re in grad school yet – lie to them! I’m not talking a dramatic lie, like you’re an accountant or something- but if that’s your strategy that might be OK too!  No I’m saying, just tell them you took a research position at the university and you’re doing lab work – somehow this seems easier to swallow  than bringing up “Grad School”. Then after 5-7 years, start signing your Holiday Cards with “, Ph.D.” and request to be called Dr. So-and-So when asked to pass the salt at the table. I’m joking, of course.

How about you? How do you talk to your family about your position?

Happy Holidays! Here’s to surviving those awkward family parties!

PS – After reading through this draft, it sounds a little arrogant, like our family members aren’t able to comprehend what we do. That’s not at all what I meant. Instead, our jobs are much less publicized and hardly ever represented in the main stream. We’re usually the butt of jokes and labeled as what poor life decisions look like: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XViCOAu6UC0http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M98x-FLp7E). I genuinely hope your family is interested in what you do, and that you are able to start a dialogue about what grad school is really like. Obviously, that’s kind of the point of this blog.

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Tiedje Symposium Wrap Up

Pictures from the recent Tiedje Symposium are up on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/69569599@N06/) if you missed it or want to go through the memories again.

A couple of my favorites (and judging by the view count, other people’s favorites too):


Tiedje in front of his slide, “What my mentor taught me”. I was too busy enjoying the talk that I didn’t get a chance to write them all down. Here they are:

6. Write well, often; use proper antecedents and lots of red pens
5. Recalcitrant molecules: words are important
4. Don’t redo your thesis
3. Serve the world, educate international students
2. The most important research address real (practical) problems
1. The most important activity of a professor is to mentor students

Someone else made a similar list and I made some notes, but I’ve misplaced my notebook at the moment, so I’ll post those later.

My other favorite was this, http://www.flickr.com/photos/69569599@N06/6336904167/in/photostream

Rich Lenski, double fisting wine 🙂

The other popular feature at the event was the phylogenetic tree of Tiedje’s mentors and his mentees (not to be confused with manatees) – I hope to make one of these for my background soon 🙂

Were you there? What were your favorite moments?

Cheers and I hope the links work!



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My trip to the thumb

I’ve had a couple of stressful weeks pass by recently, so when the weekend opened up and my stress load dropped quite a bit, I took advantage of the last mild days of fall and headed into the woods. Well, kind of.

My first idea was to go camping in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but with time and money in mind, I decided to make it a day trip and go somewhere else. Some google-mapping informed me that Lake Huron was actually a little closer, or at least the same distance to Lake Michigan, so I left Lansing and headed towards Bay City. Of course, I just punched it into Jeeves (my GPS) and went on my merry way.

For some reason, Jeeves had the idea to go through the town of Frankenmuth – sometimes he takes weird routes, and when I don’t know the area, I can’t correct it. Ordinarily, I’d be in favor of rural roads as opposed to the interstates, but that’s when I’m thinking about roads that don’t go through Frankenmuth. By now, if you don’t already know, you’ve gotta be wondering what’s going on in this town. If you’ve ever driven through MI, you’ve probably seen signs for “Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland” [Emphasis theirs] which is located here. A huge, year round Christmas store with its share of tourist traps and enough billboards to be compared to Wall-Drug. But that’s not the worst part. No, the worst part is that this town also calls itself, “Little Bavaria”, and has every single German stereotype that you can imagine, all bundled with tourist traps and souvenier shops. And of course, crowded with people. (I thought the economy was bad?)

After leaving Frankenmuth as quickly as possible, I was well on my way towards the thumb. Now I had been under the impression that MI was mostly a forested state, and quite a few of my experiences had enforced that. So I assumed the thumb was going to be about the same. However, I soon found myself in familiar territory; flat, straight roads, surrounded by fields and farm equipment. It’s interesting how rural America can be so  similar. This time of the year, trucks parked on the sides of fields either for harvest or hunting. Small towns with run-down shops and cars. Small bars in the middle of nowhere that you know only serve those wearing camo or blaze, and probably both. It’s a depressing thought coming into one of these cities. You look around and wonder, what are the jobs here? What could the opportunities be here? And yet, these struggling communities are all too common across our landscape. Are their voices being heard?  Hmm.

I also started to discover something else I didn’t know about Michigan– they grow a shit ton of potatoes. Now I’m from an ag state, but 99% of the time, the crops I see are corn and soybeans. I was immediately interested with these fallow, tilled croplands I was seeing around me  — I honestly haven’t seen pure tilled land in years now that no-till is being used. But soon, I started seeing semis full of… could it be? Potatoes? I drove past a co-op that just had MOUNTAINS of potatoes. I’m not exaggerating!! Just piles and piles of potatoes, like dirt at a construction site. Nevertheless I was impressed.

Onwards. Most of the city/county parks I stopped at were closed for the season, but I did spend some time at Sleeper State Park near Caseville. Ate dinner at a roadside park that was in  a perfect location to watch the sunset. But these were both looking at Saginaw Bay, and I was hoping to get a look at the actual lake. Unfortunately, darkness came too quickly, so I ended up turning back. However, that still leaves something for next time.

In the end, I got my feet wet in my third Great Lake (!!) and had a relaxing drive with NPR and my own thoughts. Another reason for the trip was to take advantage of the break in between rotations to get back to my own research questions and start developing a thesis project. I can’t say I was too successful at that, but the break was beneficial nevertheless.

How are you spending your last days of fall?

Happy Travels!


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