In the dark

Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.

So let’s start at the top.

My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.

For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.

Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.

It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.

Here are some examples:

Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.

Why is that one bird on a branch all by itself?

This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.

But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.

This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.

This one looks like I put a stocking over my lens to make the whole picture softer….

I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.

And it’s June!

Hellllooooo everyone. Sorry I’ve been away forever. Part of it was lab/work but part of it was that I had been away for so long, it was hard to get back into it. Every time something cool happened to me, I thought “Oh ho! I should post this on my blog!” and then I thought “… but it’s not Tuesday and that is my day of posting and I just remembered I have this super important thing to do right now that may or may not actually be important but I have to do it right now and I’m lazy and I’ll just post something about it next Tuesday…” Well guess what – it’s Wednesday and I’m posting! Plus it’s summer and there are a lot of crazy things happening so I kind of have no excuse to post anymore.

So I thought I’d post a list today of some exciting things and then we’ll pick one of them for next week.

  • The Bolder Boulder is an annual 10K here in Boulder on Memorial Day. This year, Cobalt spend the spring getting in shape and then ran the whole thing in under an hour. Whoa! Call me impressed.
  • A dose of Science Policy, please! At the end of April, I got the opportunity to go to Washington DC to spend a day on Capitol Hill talking to the kind representatives and senators (read: mostly their staff members) from Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri about funding for NIH. The NIH, or National Institutes of Health, funds biomedical research and it (and its basic research friend, the National Science Foundation) gave me the funding to attend grad school, which was extremely useful. During my trip to the Hill, I got to be a scientist who knew statistics like 1) how many jobs the NIH funds in the Congressperson’s state/district and 2) how much money we spend to treat vicious diseases vs. how much we spend to do research on how to cure them. It was an amazing and inspiring experience and I loved every second of it. We young scientists were paired with Biochemistry faculty members from around the country. My faculty member and I had a Fitbit battle all day (lots of walking between House and Senate office buildings). I totally won but it might be because he was crazy tall and because I was in a suit with a skirt and had to take at least two steps for every one of his. Anyway, there’s clearly a lot to talk about here so I will post more on this in future posts.

    Potassium with Boulder’s representative, Jared Polis
  • Add to that a strong dose of Science Communication! Since the last time I wrote, I officially accepted a position in the UCSC Science Communication program for the fall! So Cobalt and I are moving to CA this September and I am (finally) gonna be a banana slug! I am excited and terrified all at the same time but I think it’s going to be a fun adventure. P.S. If any of y’all know anything about housing in the Santa Cruz area, any advice would be greatly appreciated! Stay tuned for fun updates coming from here soon!
  • Exploration part 1 (of ??)! Because Cobalt and I are escaping from Colorado this fall, we decided that we really need to make this last summer count and explore the whole state/area before we go. For those of you who don’t know, while Colorado is pretty nice year round (depending on your fondness for random snow storms any time between September and May), summer in Colorado is amazing. Our first adventure took place last week – we went down to NM to see some of our friends/Cobalt’s family and then headed up into southern CO to see Mesa Verde, Durango, and Telluride. Turns out that that part of Colorado is beautiful! Cobalt and I took the most ridiculous route back to maximize seeing prettiness. It was amazing. More posts on this soon too!

    Cobalt and I had fun taking pictures of Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace through the lens of a viewfinder.
  • I started getting a monthly subscription to Scrawlr Box, which is an art supply box that comes from the UK. It’s awesome (and well worth the money)! Every month, I get cool pens/pencils/etc and a “Scrawlr Challenge,” which challenges to me actually use all my new stuff to create something! The challenges so far have been “Spontaneity” (which included tea to paint with!), “Manga Yourself” (which included a Gelly Roll pen woooo 7th grade!), and “Write ScrawlrBox” (which has been by far the most challenging for me but also the most fun). It’s been really inspiring and great for me to flex my creativity a little bit.

    This is the result of my “Write ScrawlerBox” Challenge. Let me know if you want to see the results of the other challenges (warning, there is definitely a shark theme).

Soooo what’s going on with you guys? Anything amazing lately? What trips do you have planned for this summer? What did you do for Memorial Day? Any of those things up there sound like something you want to learn more about? Vote for what I talk about first in the comments!

The good, the bad, and the coffee

I’ve been doing a lot of networking coffees/informational interviews with people around the University/across the US. It’s been pretty epic fitting all these events in with actually working in the lab; it means I am running around like a crazy person even more than normal. Plus I start teaching my section of the class I am co-teaching next week (how is it March already?!?!). I might explode!

Anyway, I want to talk about these coffees/interviews because I’ve noticed a striking pattern. I think that within the first minute, I can tell whether a particular interview will be useful. Then I either leave feeling inspired and excited about my potential future and career or I leave feeling miserable and like I totally missed the boat somewhere along the way. I’ve been going over my various interviews recently trying to figure out what’s happening in each scenario so that I can share them with you! Let’s break it down:

Good interviews:

  • make me laugh.
  • make me feel comfortable “in my skin.”
  • involve my coffee-mate listening to me and acknowledging that what I want to do is important.
  • include a list of potential contacts for follow up interviews, potential fellowships to apply for, potential new directions to go in, etc.
  • include a list of ideas for making me more a “competitive” applicant.

Bad interviews:

  • make me feel like I should have already figured out my life.
  • make me feel like I fail at communication and basic human interactions.
  • involve my coffee-mate not really listening to what I am trying to say and pushing their own agenda on me.
  • involve my coffee-mate telling me that everything that I want to do is competitive and assuming that I am not a hard worker and do not have the skills to succeed in the field of interest.
  • include a list of potential contacts for follow up interviews, potential fellowships to apply for, potential new directions to go in.
  • include a list of ideas for making me more a “competitive” applicant.

I think that the bad interviews are bad because I have a different personality from the person I am chatting with, not because I am not interested in learning more about his or her job. I guess I never thought about how completely jarring it would be to try to get career advice from someone who thinks differently than me. I am tempted to chalk them up as good practice but not too important but I feel a bit uneasy completely writing them off. I’m sure there’s good information in there (see the bottom two bullets of both categories) but I leave them feeling so down about myself that it’s hard to find it. Ideas for how to make the most of these situations? Is there a way I can take charge of these situations and refocus them in a way that’s actually useful for me? Should I even try? Anyone want to share their own job-hunting stories?

I’ll leave you with this picture of tasty tacos from last weekend when Cobalt and I went to Torchy’s tacos for the first time with our friends J and K. Delish.

Now I want tacos…. I should start setting up networking taco interviews………