ACS Conference for “Fun” not “Work”?

You might think I’m crazy.

But I think that it’s really FUN stuff. And I don’t even consider this WORK per se. I get paid to travel and talk about my science. I may meet a scientist whose work I have only read about in big scientific papers, but never actually sat down and discussed it with them. But here they are, right in front of me!

Not a lot of jobs can provide unique experiences like that.

For those who are not yet aware, a big part of science is about science communication. It does not matter whether you produce ground-breaking results in your experiments or come up with a theory to explain an important phenomenon, if you cannot tell others about it.

Now, the communication can come in many ways: scientific papers, news, blogs, and presentations to name a few. Scientists of all levels hold national and regional meetings, such as the American Chemical Society (ACS) for chemists, where some of us present the latest and greatest results to the audience.

And having the opportunity to give a presentation at a national-level conference is a BIG HONOR for a graduate student. Usually, faculty and experienced scientists dominate the roster. But, I was lucky enough to have a) a great advisor, b) helpful and supportive collaborators, and c) membership to Environmental division of ACS that truly cares about their graduate students. I think they recognize that we are the ones who will be spearheading the future of science one day. I appreciate their investment and really cannot thank them enough for this opportunity.

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Figure 1. This was the title page of my presentation at ACS. This work was funded by National Science Foundation through the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment.

So anyways, this was the title page of my talk (Fig. 1). My title was based on the recent work we did in University of Iowa with a microscopy technique called “Atomic Force Microscopy”. We pride ourselves in being able to use this technique to characterize atmospherically-relevant aerosol particles (more information on our research). I cannot say much more as to the actual content, because we are preparing this work for a publication in a scientific journal. Hopefully, once it does get published, I can write a public-friendly synopsis of our results!

I was able to present this as the very last talk in the session. Normally, they reserve the very first and last talks as the power positions for the most exciting content. So am I being too cheeky? No, because I am quite sure that it was a simple coincidence, but nevertheless, am thankful for the opportunity.

Of course, I would be lying if being the last of the entire session was not daunting. But don’t let the evil monsters inside your brain dictate what happens. Remind yourself that the audience DESERVES to know what you discovered. It’s your DUTY to spread the science.

What are your experiences with science communication in general, as well as attending scientific conferences? Comment, like, and share below!



A Rainbow Granted by Mother Nature

In my opinion, there is nothing like traveling that will facilitate creativity in science.

Being forced to adapt to new environment and getting outside of your comfort zone can sometimes spark new ideas. Inspiration can bring about new motivation that can energize you to continue the grueling competition with overly-critical peers.

But I understand why many cannot find the time or resources to travel often. This is quite evident for PhD. level graduate students and post-docs, who often need to spend all of their time trying to get an experiment to work. I myself find it tough to travel within the U.S. due to lack of available time, and international travel was out of the question until very recently.

Despite my busy schedules however, I always wanted to answer this question: what other worlds are out there?

So my family and I traveled to Toronto, Canada for the weekend. There, we spent all of Saturday at Niagara Falls. Let me tell you, if you have never visited the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, you’re missing out.

Figure 1. You can see the bridge that connects the U.S. side of the Niagara Falls (right) to Canada side (left).

Now as a small background note, this mini-vacation came at a good time. I’m at the point in my PhD. career, where many graduate students feel burnt out. I’m not an exception. Although I love what I’m doing, sometimes the world of academia and science can take a toll on both the mind and body. So new experiences that can help me recharge is welcome, if not, absolutely necessary.

On our arrival, we were welcomed with this first scenery in Niagara falls (Figure 1). As part of the Journey Behind the Falls, you walk through a network of tunnels to reach this edge of a cliff. There are also boats that will take patrons very close to the waterfalls, which is  highly recommended if you want to fully soak in the Niagara Falls experience.

Figure 2. Waterfalls on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. Some of the spray generated from waves crashing would float up to the atmosphere and the rest would condense down.

When you turn to your right, there is an insurmountable amount of water coming down to the bottom (Figure 2). The color of the water is emerald due to the water current stripping the minerals off of the rocks. Once the emerald-color water smashes onto the surface water below, and generates an amazing amount of spray. I think some of the spray contributed to cloud formation above us. In fact, the clouds got heavily saturated and it rained twice in a span of few hours during our visit.

It’s not always fun having to walk through a downpour, but the scenery was so beautiful that I did not care. And the beauty really shines on this picture (Figure 3).

Figure 3. I was hoping to see a rainbow after the heavy downpours. And this is what Mother Nature granted us.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see the rainbow on this picture. But what’s really beautiful about this, is not necessarily the rainbow itself. Instead, it was as though Mother Nature granted me a rainbow.

It didn’t happen after the first downpour, but amazingly, it did on the second downpour. It was as if Mother Nature knew what I needed to lift up my spirits (selfish thought, I know).

Overall, the experience made me feel rejuvenated, which was something I needed to lift myself back up in the midst of rejections from publications, stress of preparing for a conference seminar, and the news that our research may run low on funding. Although this travel does not necessarily “fix” the problems I need to solve, it does provide me with new energy that I can now use to put my head down and get back to work.

What are your experiences with traveling and adventures? Do you think graduate students need to travel more often? What about professors and post-docs? Comment/like below!

Did you mean “Science and Coffee”, not “Science with Coffee”?

No. But that was the original title to this website.

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Figure 1. Typical morning writing and drinking coffee. 

To be frank, I am not exactly a coffee-connoisseur. Sure, I have been drinking coffee almost daily for at least 5 years now. But I only own 2 different coffee makers (french press and Keurig), and my coffee palate isn’t exactly what you would call “sensitive”.  Often times, I’m confused by those notes of flavor that are supposed to be there, but to me, they just aren’t. I just taste coffee. Also, to dismay of some true connoisseurs, I don’t even grind my own coffee beans fresh!

But I do consider myself a science-connoisseur (I don’t recall this phrase ever being used like this) and I often do science with coffee. I find that a lot of scientists intake copious amounts of coffee when they do their work. After 2 years of graduate school completed, I’m now surprised when I hear a new student joining the program to tell me of their dislike for coffee. That will change pretty soon, I always say.

The reason why I do science with coffee is a) because drinking coffee puts my brain into this “get ready to work” mode. Sometimes, I come into work unmotivated, undisciplined, and uninspired. But it seems to be that reset button that throws me back into that focus zone, ready to experiment, analyze, and hopefully uncover one of Mother Nature’s secrets.

Another reason is b) that coffee seems to facilitate really good scientific conversations. I recall numerous deep discussions I had with my advisor about our research over coffee. It’s the same story with other scientists that I get to interact with, either in daily life or conferences. Discussing science with someone who is more knowledgeable and smarter than you are is really fun, which is actually one of the biggest reasons why I am in science.

So that’s the reason why I named this website “Science with Coffee”. It comes from my personal experience as a graduate student in science. If alcohol is considered a social lubricant, then I think coffee would be a deep-discussion battery. You may find it to provide the energy to hold fun scientific discussions.

Do you find this to be your personal experience as well? Comment/share below!

What the h*** am I doing?

I’m still asking myself this question.

There are so many negative voices in my head, telling me that this blogging is just another one of your silly ideas. You don’t have the time, the energy, or the talent to do this. It won’t gain traction. There are far better blogs out there from people who are more qualified than you are. You’ll just make yourself look stupid in front of others. You have NEVER been a talented writer, average at best. You’ll probably quit soon.

So what the h*** am I doing? Why did I start a blog? And why am I STILL writing?

I have long felt that graduate students do not take writing very seriously, which in my opinion is paramount to success in academia. And I find this to be a hilarious but devastating oxymoron, as graduate students are ultimately judged by the quality of their publications, but even experienced students often lack the practice and guidance required to produce high-quality writing. I am not an exception, as I continue to struggle even with the strong support from my research advisor.

But, I was fortunate to be a part of a seminar led by Dr. Joshua Schimel, who came to coach graduate students on writing science. During the seminar, Dr. Schimel briefly mentioned his blogs, and I remember thinking that this was exactly the catalyst I needed to improve my writing! And maybe it can also inform others about the exciting science that we do!

So the answer to the question is this: it’s my selfish desire to use blogging as as an excuse to do something different in my life, in order to improve my writing and shamelessly spread science.

But who will be my audience? Who is actually going to care and spend the time reading my blogs?

It may be the prospective students who are beginning a long journey in education and science, either in undergraduate or graduate levels. Maybe they want to know what factors influenced my decision to become a chemist and pursue a Ph.D. It may be those wondering what it’s like to be a research assistant, working in a laboratory for 4-5 years to contribute to a new knowledge to science and our world in general. Or it may be those who want to know how crazy I am, spending years of hard work making less than $20,000 per year as a graduate student when I could be making 3 times that working in the industry. But to be honest with you, I don’t have a clear answer for this one. I have a feeling that this is one of those things that I will slowly come to realize.

But while fulfilling my selfish desire to do something new and improve my writing, I hope that there are few out there who may find this to be somehow useful to them. And thinking about that, I am already excited to contemplate on my next blog entry.

Are there any specific subject/writing that you would like to see? Comment/like below!