I once had a near-life experience but it was long time ago and it now appears dimly in my memory. It was a feeling of weightlessness. On a Friday evening, I joined our department’s Ηappy Ηour. I remember a bright light at the top of the Pool table. The ability to see my own hand holding a drink, meet up with friends and loved ones who once were partners in crime in long night Flip-cup tournaments now surrounding me with an unanswered question in their eyes: “Where have you been?”.

This is the story of a graduate student’s (me) experience living life while doing a PhD.

Some of these near-life experiences can be positive. You feel like being in heaven embraced by your community and friends; a warm feeling that you were never gone and isolated in the office for weeks.

Other after-work experiences can often be a torture. They get to remind you what is happening out of your box and that the world is still turning while you are reading exciting papers on how eddy kinetic energy affects the presence of sperm whales. Several cases of fights with all sorts of demons have been documented by different PhD students.

Because hard work often pays off after time, while laziness always pays off now
Because hard work often pays off after time, while laziness always pays off now

During these near-life experiences, people often hear voices calling them. “Come with us”, they often say. “It’s Eric’s birthday today”, “free drinks at Dan’s goodbye party”, or “let’s go to Mexico” (sometimes it’s your own voice). And you attempt to follow the voices that take you down to dark hallways, to places with loud music or to open sunny spaces with beautiful mountains, luscious forests and sandy beaches. You follow them for so long that it almost terrifies you when the sound of your advisor’s email notification returns you “gently” to the familiar and safe work environment.

While the scientific community is unanimously still skeptical of the PhD students’ recounts of ski-weekends and friendly dinners with high wine flow, others support these near-life experiences to be proof of a healthy workstyle.

Proof of real-life experience
Proof of real life experience

And even though this perpetual debate continues, one thing is certain: graduate students can fulfill a proposal with a hangover. And the hangover is usually the proof that students are not making this near-life stories up.

Exactly what I meant by hangover. Replace “book” with “paper”.

After their experience, students commonly find themselves transported back to the lab, being filled with guilt and last minute inspiration to finish THE paper. That one that offers strong indications that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Soon after, what follows these awakening experiences is the deep belief and commitment to something sacred and superior. The Physical Exercise! Many have discovered the miraculous effects of endorphins to their mental stability during graduate life.


However, the question still remains: To sleep or not to sleep?

Between proposal writing, classes, working on your own research and other projects, reading papers and writing a thesis, doesn’t seem to be enough space for more activities. Some necessities like food and sleep have proved to help all forms of human beings or human doings to sustain oneself and flourish.

To do is to be (Nietzshe), To be is to do (Kant), Do be do be do (Sinatra)
To do is to be (Nietzshe), To be is to do (Kant), Do be do be do (Sinatra)

Nutrition can be covered in a well scheduled way. If you don’t mind eating the same food for 5 days, there is no way that you cannot find one evening to make the dish of the week. Just be equipped with five times the quantity of the ingredients you would use for a day’s dinner.

Note to self: I miss my mom.

Note to all: Pasta and legume dishes keep better than fish and salads .

On the other hand sleep is controversial. Some say that the minimum to survive will be enough to get you through graduate school. Others will support that you need enough to properly rest and be productive and good sleep is the key to success. My personal truth lays somewhere in the middle with most weekdays being filled with pints of tea (the amount of times that I get up to fill my tea cup can account for an average person’s daily work out), and during the weekends the bed becomes my best friend that I need to catch up with.

The philosophical mood of the author doesn’t end here.

Don't stop reading now, almost done.
Don’t stop reading now, almost done.

During graduate school there are certain times that I question the reasons why I do what I do and go through this pain. The same way that I question excessive body piercing and early morning (like it is still dark outside) jogging.

In reality I know very well why I do my PhD and suffer long working days and nights. It is my love for my subject of study and my passion for conservation together with my unsatisfied thirst for knowledge and inquiring nature that motivate me. But the denial comes every now and then, mainly when I bump into Matlab dead-ends.

The reasons behind all our actions are somehow related to the pursuit of happiness. Is it about love, success, money, or something else? It is a different story for each person. Each one has a different perception of what brings/is happiness. Similarly, different communities have diverse definitions of success, that often tend to affect personal beliefs. In a western society money seems to be largely the usual driving force. But fortunately this is not a universal given. Bhutan gives a different official definition of the term success.

Are you ready for this?!  

Bhutan has replaced gross domestic product (GDP) with the Gross National Happiness (GHN). It means that the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and the natural environment are used as a measure of success (read more about it here). Mind blowing. Earth shaking. Freaking awesome. Now let me check the climatology of Bhutan… Hmmm, mostly warm and sunny. That’s the place!

I have been recently diagnosed with the disease of being busy (on top of that nasty cold that I caught at the ski trip). Disease as not being in ease.

A characteristic symptom of this disorder is always replying “I am so busy” when people simply ask “hey, how are you doing?”. I also find everyone else replying the exact same thing when I ask them. I swear it is contagious. Being stressed has been quoted by the World Health Organization to be the epidemic of the 21st century. The easier  the communication becomes through technology and social media, the less time we have to essentially communicate with people during face-to-face situations. The same time, the busier we become the bigger is the need for an empty space, a pause.Like the pause in a song that gives it resonance and shape.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” He continued, “I’ll have to meditate for two.”

Following Mahatma’s example, I am attempting to acquire PhD and life balance. And clearly, this is how this post resulted. Balance is difficult to acquire. Especially if you are a tall person and the center of gravity is higher.

In my effort to improve my balance, both literally (obtain physical balance and built in attention and focus) and metaphorically (maintain mental health throughout my PhD), I took up Acro yoga. Acro requires a lot of balance.

Now, I can hesitantly admit a timid success. At least with the literal form of the balance I was going for.

The star (not me, the pose is called like that)
The star (not me, the pose is called that)









Small victories.

***Never give up***

I live only a couple blocks away from a busy section of railway, and every time I hear a train go by I am reminded of my work. You might think this is strange because my research is not related to trains, but it is not the train itself that reminds me…it is the blaring horn.

I am interested in looking at how noise in the ocean is disruptive to the animals that live there. Although it may be a bit anthropomorphic to say that my experience of a passing train outside my house is similar to a marine mammal in a shipping lane, many studies agree that noise (especially loud noise) is very disruptive.

In addition to weather and other animals, human activity such as shipping and fishing adds a great amount of noise to the ocean environment. And now the United States may to add even more noise by opening up new areas for oil drilling. Of course, drilling in the ocean is not new, but time and experience shows that it is not without problems. From searching for reserves, to rig installation, to the actual extraction, drilling is noisy and invasive.

Ocean drilling is a hot topic in recent news, but not every article mentions noise. As our government moves towards decisions about oil drilling in new areas, I hope that noise will become a larger part of the conversation.

Disclaimer: The aim of this post is to spread information, not start a debate. Politics are complicated and this is not my platform to share personal opinions.

Well… it’s that time of year again. I see little flashes of red out of the corner of my eye  when I’m out walking; everyone in my Ecological Stats class is talking about it, some with dread, some with stars in their eyes.  The air is abuzz with courtship, pretty little love songs, and dare I say it… hormones?

That’s right.  The red-winged blackbirds are back.

What?  You thought I was talking about some silly holiday?! Tsk tsk.

Let’s be serious.  Spring seems to be coming early this year in Oregon (see Danielle’s post about the heavy rain, warm weather, and early frog calls) and the blackbirds are no exception.  Red-winged blackbird males sing for a multitude of reasons, but most are  directly related to securing and maintaining a mate (and the territory to defend her, house her, and raise lovely red-winged blackbird babies).  The part of this whole ordeal that I love most however is the song. Red winged blackbirds produce one of my favorite bird songs, while not as complex as say a Pacific Wren or a Song Sparrow, it might be one of the loveliest sounds on earth. Go on, have a listen.


Admittedly, I am not a bird song (or bird call) aficionado.  I’m not even a novice birder, but I do love the morning chorus when I walk by the river, and the evening chorus when I ride my bike home.  It is one of the perks of living in the Willamette Valley. As you likely know, however, I am a marine acoustic ecologist by training (see my earlier post on SeaBASS), and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that blackbirds aren’t the only boys singing right now.

It’s breeding season for northern hemisphere humpback whales, and males in the tropics and sub-tropics can be heard singing in nearly any hour of the day.  Thanks to the Jupiter Project anyone with a broadband connection can listen to the live feed of a hydrophone in the Hawaiian Islands here. By contrast in the high Arctic male bearded seals are singing in and around the sea ice- presumably to establish and defend breeding territories… and impress lady-seals too. Listen to their strange love-song below.


While I eschew Valentine’s Day in general, it does bring me great joy that some of our most genuine expressions of human love, love songs, are something that we share with many animal species.  So while I’m unlikely to set aside my Saturday bonfire plans in favor of candy hearts, when I head out this weekend to walk my wild pups by the river and I hear the blackbird singing, I might for a moment imagine he is singing for me.

Have a wonderful weekend friends.



***Follow my monthly blog posts here, or check out my personal blog mfournet.wordpress.com for a comprehensive look at my research world***

“Danielle,” I hear you asking, “I’ve been missing my weekly dose of the coolest bioacoustics news! What happened? Where is my fun link of the week??”

Well, bioacoustics friends, field season is what happened.

My frogs are calling and so I must follow them. They seem to have started early this year, probably due to our relatively warm weather. So I have been out placing equipment, maintaining said equipment, and recording frogs for the past two weeks now. The data is rolling in, and while I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, so far the new field protocol has been successful.

So what does my typical day look like? Well, first let’s talk about how it’s not a “day” anymore, it’s a night. My fieldwork starts at dusk with a 30 minute visual survey, looking for frogs and egg masses. If we find any, we (my field assistants and I) weigh them and measure them. After the visual survey, we wait until 8pm rolls around and then take a directional microphone into the pond to record individual frogs. This goes along until 10pm or three frogs get recorded, whichever comes first. It’s often cold, wet, and a little tedious, but it’s always so exciting to be standing in the middle of a pond full of chorusing frogs.

But let me tell you, I am tired.

Fieldwork is great. I love having the opportunity to do it. But they never tell you how to balance fieldwork with classes and having a life outside of science and presenting at conferences and all the other things being a graduate student entails.

Even so, even with all of this on my plate, it makes me feel alive and full of enthusiasm for the science I do when I have a good day. And the good days are plentiful.

So, you want your fun link of the week? How about lots of pictures of adorable frogs, instead?

Little Pacific Chorus Frog male

Gravid Pacific Chorus Frog female

A long-toed salamander, for good measure

And if you really want to experience what frog fieldwork sounds like, go listen to this video.


As Niki mentioned in her post earlier this week, Niki, Danielle, and I gave a presentation at Hatfield Marine Science Center this week as part of the Monday Tech Talk Series. On the first Monday of the month, someone from the community shares their knowledge on a new bit of technology they use/feel is important, and the talk is a relaxed discussion type setting so the audience can ask questions and learn more about if that technology would be useful in their work. I’m a big fan of these talks so was happy to be able to give one.

Talking, talking, talking. Thanks Bruce Mate (OSU/MMI) for the photo!!
Talking, talking, talking. Thanks Bruce Mate (OSU/MMI) for the photo!!

Our lab signed up to talk about social media, because, we think we are pretty good at it (not a #humblebrag, just an actual #brag)! You are reading our blog aren’t you? And you may have followed a link to it from our Twitter or Facebook page? I wanted to use this week’s blog post to share our presentation and some of the discussion it sparked, for those of you who couldn’t attend (*cough cough* Sharon).

What exactly is social media?

A lot of people think of it as teenagers buried in their phones and computers, taking selfies, tweeting about Alex from Target. But it has become much more than that! The official definition from the reliable source, Wikipedia, is:

Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”

The point is, social media allows people to share information, over long distances, and very quickly, enabling them to reach lots of different people they may not know directly.

Science – Social Media Connection


That is where science and social media can come together. A huge part of our job as scientists is to communicate our science – to share what we find with colleagues, students, the general public, whoever is interested (or maybe not)! Social media is an outlet to share publications, glimpses into field work, what is happening at conferences, resources that may be helpful, events happening, conservation concerns, I could go on and on. To paraphrase Danielle at the end of our presentation – social media allows people to see scientists as real people, doing cool important stuff, who love what they do, not robots hidden away in a lab somewhere. We get excited about learning, about day-to-day new discoveries, and we have struggles, where things go wrong and we have to start over (or lock our keys in our car).

Types of Social Media

We covered four main types of social media, because those are the four our lab uses, and I posted the corresponding slides below. We wanted to highlight the differences between the different types, because that is the somewhat tricky thing about social media, each outlet serves a different purpose. Each has its pros and cons, and each should be used in a way that best takes advantages of the pros and minimizes the cons.

The audience asked “well which is best?” And I really didn’t have a single answer. Here’s the general consensus:


The website provides an official portal to the lab. Official information, links to all other social media, it comes up when search through OSU and has contact info for the lab. We don’t update it that often. It’s got long term blurbs about people an research.

The blog provides a more personal look into life in the lab. Each of the 5 grad students post once a month (we rotate through) and Danielle posts a fun Soundbites section ever Wednesday. These posts are longer, have pictures, and can be about anything we want…my parents and grandparents follow it to see what I’m actually doing, its sort of like an email to lots of people who care.



Twitter is our quick communication. It keeps us connected with collaborators, colleagues, “fans” (followers) and we have to condense what we want to say into 160 characters, or a picture. We can “retweet” things from other labs we follow, to share exciting papers, or new field work. This is a quick way to connect, but its over the short term.

Facebook is again a more personal way to communicate. It reaches out the same way as twitter in some sense, but posts can be longer, pictures are easier to browse, and we can connect with people through events, and more (see Niki’s post for more detail!!)

Other types of social media exist, such as Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and the science-specific ResearchGate. We are less familiar with these so didn’t discuss as much, but they are out there and maybe we will be on them in the future.

Discussion Points

I feel like this blog is getting on a little bit. Describing social media in science could probably be an entire series of posts, but I wanted to just give a brief intro here. I thought I’d wrap up with some of the great discussion questions we got during the presentation (we didn’t get to the end of the slides because of the great interest!!)  We don’t have all the answers, but please feel free to ask questions in the comments below and one of us will chime in (that’s the point of this interconnetivity isn’t it??)

How much time should we be spending on this as scientists? Is this taking away from our research?

What about the issue of misrepresentation of your research? (misquotes go misquoted go misquoted)

Where do you start?

Do you think it improves your writing?

What is the value in being able to condense your research to 160 characters? Should that be what we strive for in titles? Should a tweet of your abstract now be included?

Oh, and on a final note…

What the heck is a hastag (#hastag)??

For you scientists out there, think of it like a keyword, the keywords you would put on a paper. By putting the # in front of a word or phrase, it becomes searchable, and then connects your post (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) to other posts with the same hashtag.

#SciComm is a great one to start with to tell your followers you are communicating your science!

*Disclaimer: Niki and Danielle, I’m sorry if I didn’t do this post justice… I feel like I didn’t, but it’s hard to describe a discussion in a blog post!! Feel free to augment!!


All you wanted to know about Facebook and science and you were afraid to ask.

Most of us agree that communication is important. It is vital in every aspect of our lives and in everything that we do. It is the reason that most human belong in the category of social animals. For this reason sharing becomes important; sharing experiences and information. It has been mentioned before: this sharing is the foundation of culture.

Science is part of the information and experience that is ought to be shared. The term Science derives from the latin (yup,it hurts that is not a Greek reference this time): scientia  that means “knowledge”. And what is the point of knowledge if it is not communicated? Writing, itself has been invented for the more efficient transmission of knowledge that allows less spread of falsehoods and enforces memory.

Successful science is not only good results with powerful correlations and desired p-values. Significant part of the success is related to the impact that can have to the community. And the first step towards that impact is making it available to people.

Sharing our research results with fellow scientists helps to improve it, discuss future steps and enhances the knowledge on which other scientists will base their own research. That happens usually through conferences and publishing peer reviewed articles. It isn’t of any less importance to share it with the rest of the world. Until not very long time ago, the way to do this was through the news, documentaries, books and newspapers. Some scientists get a lot more of this type of exposure than others. Nowadays, everyone can give publicity to his/her scientific research and share it with family, friends, “friends” and more.

The ability to communicate and share information has been switched to another dimension since the internet and the social media have taken off. Social networks offer easiness in socializing in long distances and in the long term, and that has transformed this platform into an integral part of most people’s lives. I don’t argue that this media has also altered irreversibly the way we interact with each other; for good or bad.


But this is a subject for another blog or even a whole social sciences’ conference.


Social networking animals

Connections and networking are useful, especially if you are an early career scientist. And that is what Facebook is about. Using it to make people aware of science seems to be a good idea considering its impact. Numbers talk for themselves: 1/7th of the world population has a Facebook profile. In this fraction we don’t even account for China having it censored (I know what you are thinking: what do Chinese use to procrastinate and waste time?). This number can even be compared to the Catholic Church members!

Do the math:

  • World population: 7.291,658,406 billion
  • Facebook users: 1.35 billion and 757 million daily users (fake profiles: 81.000.000)
  • Catholic Church: 1.2 billion members
  • China’s population: 1.4 billion.
Virtuality: you can find everything you are looking for
Virtuality: you can find everything/one you are looking for

This network has changed so much human communication that in tech culture the year 2015 is translated as the year 11 a.F.; with “a.F” standing for “after Facebook” (it was funded in 2004). It has undoubtedly spawned a big variety of nasty and unpleasant habits but we largely agree that it is an effective platform for long distance communication.

...and short distance texting
…and short distance texting

I don’t blame you if you are skeptical about the relationship of science and Facebook but there are certainly advantages in using it for this purpose. A good example is the Facebook page IFLS  described as the lighter and funny side of science that has almost 20 million followers! There are plenty of similar profiles with millions of users around the world that get people interested into science. And this is the first main advantage of Facebook. It is global (besides China, North Korea and Tajikistan) and it allows international connections not just among friends and family members but also among colleagues and former lab members. It is particularly helpful for scientists since they tend to travel a lot (good reason to be one). Even the non-scientific Facebook contacts can be useful since you never know who is connected to whom. I have been a few times contacted through Facebook for work offers even by non-scientists friends. Information about new publications is immediately shared since researchers often, if not always, post their new publication as soon as it is accepted and often when it is just submitted. It is also a convenient way to follow updates and conversations if you are introverted since you don’t have to physically step into groups of people.

Almost all universities and research institutes have Facebook pages and that can be used for former or potential employers. Our ORCAA lab maintains a Facebook account. We use it for all sorts of updates that are related to bioacoustics and graduate student life and it is a direct and easy mean for people to contact us by sending us a message. New publications from our lab members are posted, as well as information related to conferences or meetings. However, the main reason we utilize it is for sharing our blog posts. Exactly, we post on Facebook to tell you that we blogged!


Pop Science

Since we concluded that Facebook can be useful for scientific purposes, here are a couple of tips on how to increase the impact of your posts.

I am sure that from personal use you will have noticed that the timing of your posts matters. It has been shown (there are figures below to confirm) that the most productive time to post on Facebook and get the most interaction (likes and shares) is during the weekends, especially on Saturdays and on a daily base just before and after lunch time. Too many posts are not a good thing; oversharing/overposting can have the opposite from desired results. Specifically one post every two days is highly recommended. When not to post? On Fridays. People are already away from their screens celebrating the entrance of the weekend. No worries, you will get them again on Saturday.

Wait for the right time
A post is not scientific enough if it doesn’t include figures

Now the question is what to post. It is important to translate your science in the most amusing and approachable way possible. Humor always helps; try to use quotes, jokes and fun facts. Everyone likes and remembers fun facts. ZeFrank is the King of fun facts and his True Facts (watch this link) series is legendary. I am surprised he doesn’t have an episode on sperm whales, they provide abundant “fun fact” material!

Pictures, photos and videos are worth a thousand words and an easy way to get messages across. Tagging people is a way to encourage interaction but do it with relevant to your post “friends”. Same is the case with questions; they raise interaction. To connect the scientist and his work with a non-scientific audience, to get people interested and involved is the goal. The challenge is to not vitiate your results or your methods in the process of simplifying them so they can be accessible. Just change the wooden, stiff scientific language into a more fun and personal expression.

You don’t have to be a professional science journalist. It would help but it’s not necessary. Writing never gets easy anyways. At least that’s what Elizabeth Kolbert said yesterday at the presentation she gave at OSU. She is the author of the book 6th extinction  and she writes a lot! Her comment caused an empathetic feeling to a lot of students in the auditorium. Including me.


*This post is based on the Tech Talk that Selene, Danielle and me gave last Monday at the Hatfield Marine Science Center with the title “#SciComm”. Selene will be posting a more comprehensive text on the use of different social media in communicating science*