Greetings, readers, and welcome to my first blog entry. Ever. The evolution of how this blog came about was an amalgamation of sorts. Take one part long-standing contemplation, coupled with a massive chunk of serendipity that came flying at me in the form of a volleyball. The notion to foray into the world of blogging about my experiences in grad school has been in the back of my mind for a quite some time. I’m a Ph.D. student in the Biology department at Duke University. Because of the bleak outlook for jobs in academia, our department encourages us to look beyond those increasingly unavailable jobs to the more hidden “gems” like industry, governmental work, or science writing. I never really thought about science writing as a career–I was focused more on K-12 science education/outreach–but after being interviewed by a science writer employed by Duke about my research as a grad student (view the final product here: http://www.genome.duke.edu/genomelife/2013/04/from-studies-of-lemurs-a-glimmer-of-possibility-for-human-hibernation/), I thought science writing would be something I would really enjoy and probably be good at, given my propensity to actually enjoy grant writing and editing manuscripts (I know…weird, right?). I’m also quite fascinated by science books geared towards the general public, as a means to incite excitement for scientific research (Woot! Science!). As an aspiring science writer, I’m going to exploit this blog (sorry, blog…) as a way to practice communicating science to the general public, using my research as a model. Because, let’s face it, if I can explain my own research in a way that makes sense to people (after being immersed in all the nitty-gritty details on a daily basis), then I can certainly communicate the importance and potential impacts of others’ research. I’m hoping my logic is sound.
Onto the second reason that this blog has been a budding idea in my mind: My research takes me to the beautiful island of Madagascar roughly three times a year. Last field season in March 2013, I forcibly grabbed the title as the first researcher to successfully obtain internet access at our very, very remote (even by Madagascar’s standards!) field site. I owe it all to the wonderful invention that is the iPad, excellent Apple customer support, and the nice woman at the airport in Antananarivo who activated my SIMcard in her cell phone. So what does internet access at a field site have to do with blogging about your research? Let me put it this way: When you spend up to a month in the field at which time your study animals are hibernating underground, well there isn’t much else to do. Enter blog. Firstly, a fair forewarning: much of my time blogging in the field will probably be about food. More specifically, about rice and beans…and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. It turns out, I spend a lot of time thinking about food in the field….
Now, enough blabbing about the contemplation part of the blogging mix. Onto serendipity (and mnemonic devices?)…the serendipitous occasion in question occurred as I was playing a pick-up game of sand volleyball with a bunch of people I had just met. One particularly friendly volleyballer apologized profusely for not having remembered my name after my initial introduction. Here’s the conversation breakdown:
“I’m sorry. What was your name again?”, asks friendly fellow.
“I’m Sheena”, I reply.
“Oh yeah!”, he exclaims. “Like ‘Sheena, Queen of the Jungle’. That was the mnemonic device I was using to remember your name. So much for mnemonic devices…”, he mutters.
Now for those of you that don’t know, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle was a comic book about Tarzan’s counterpart first published in 1937.
Sheena is fiercely efficient in fighting with improvised weaponry and possesses the capability to communicate with wild animals. I cannot. If I could, my research would be a whole heck of a lot easier (“Tell me, dwarf lemur, why do you hibernate? What determines when you enter and emerge from hibernation? When did hibernation evolve in your lineage?”). See what I mean?
(Also, Wikipedia informs me that Sheena was ranked 59th in Comics Buyer’s Guide’s “100 Sexiest Women in Comics” list. Thanks, Wikipedia, for filling my brain with useless knowledge. I am forever indebted to you.)
That’s when it hit me. Incorporating friendly volleyballer’s mnemonic device into my blog title would be perfect, especially given that I will be documenting adventures in the jungles of Madagascar (well, more specifically high-altitude rainforest, but who’s keeping track?). Now, I must offer a little disclaimer. I am not a queen. Nor do I actually live in the jungle (well, most of the time anyways). Now, I know that right now at this very moment, you’re probably picturing me as a statuesque Nubian princess cast in the warm amber light of the setting sun, stoically standing proud, head balanced gracefully on her swanlike neck as her eyes gaze off into the distance. You would be wrong. This is me.
I’m average height, my skin can be quite pasty sometimes, and I am an extreme form of clumsy. Especially in hiking boots. But above all and despite the clumsiness, I am a budding scientist. I study fat. More specifically, I study fat metabolism. Even more specifically, I study the genomic controls of fat metabolism in hibernating dwarf lemurs. BOOM! Spread that on a piece toast and enjoy it with juice.
Now, to follow-up with my new volleyball friend. He has since been forgiven for initially not remembering my name. It was his forgetfulness that gave me the inspiration to use this blog to hone my writing skills, share my science, record life lessons learned (sometimes the hard way), and for those of you who wonder what field work in Madagascar is really like, allow me to keep you up-to-date with my experiences in the Southern Hemisphere.
It’s a jungle out there!