The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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Word Clouds and Receptions

The end is near! I am happy to report that both Chris and I have submitted our final dissertations to the graduate school. What a relief!  Now that my dissertation is off to the printers, I decided to do some stats…

Unsurprisingly, the most used word in my dissertation (excluding common words), is “stress,” clocking in at a word count of 392 (out of 35K total words). Close behind were CORT (296), lizards (225), immune (201), and ants (144). Sounds about right! (The most used word was “of,” with a word count of 681. Fascinating!)

I couldn’t help but display this graphically, because who doesn’t love a word cloud?

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A word cloud featuring the most commonly used words in my dissertation. Note that “killing” applies to bacteria only! (Make your own at wordle.net)

For those of you keeping track, this is the “cleaned up” version–the original was quite overwhelming! I removed the citations and statistics as well as a number of prepositions,  less exciting words (“may” was a big one), and anything that occurred fewer than 20 times throughout my dissertation.

In other news, Tracy and I recently attended the 2016 Penn State Alumni Association Recognition Dinner, where I was presented with the Alumni Association Dissertation Award.

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Receiving the award. Thanks Penn State Alumni Association!

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Dave Eissenstat, head of the Ecology program, and Tracy helped celebrate at the recognition dinner.

The 13 graduate student winners were invited to talk about their research. I chose to highlight the last two chapters of my dissertation, which have been submitted to various journals. Here’s a sneak peak of the findings, as described in my short talk/acceptance speech:

My dissertation research addresses the circumstances under which stress produces negative consequences. Animals, including humans, have a way of dealing with stress, called the physiological stress response. This response involves a suite of changes in the body to help an animal deal with and recover from the stressor—these changes can mobilize energy and induce certain helpful behaviors to help deal with the stressor. Because of this stress response, experiencing a stressor isn’t always a “bad thing”.

That said, in order for these changes to occur, an animal temporarily pulls energy away from other systems that aren’t immediately important—like growth and reproduction. That means when stress is frequent, when it doesn’t go away, there can be negative consequences on these traits—on growth, reproduction, and immune function.

The immediate consequences of stress are fairly well studied, but we know less about how stress experienced during development or in previous generations can affect adult traits.

To investigate this, I took advantage of populations of eastern fence lizards that co-evolved with different levels of stress in the environment. Some populations co-occur with invasive fire ants, which bite and sting lizards. These encounters are stressful for the lizards, and if you’ve been stung by a fire ant, I’m sure you can relate. So this study system gives us a unique opportunity to look at populations that have long history—many generations—of high–stress and compare to populations that do not have history with this kind of stress.

My research reveals that ancestral history with stress is actually really important. If a lizard’s ancestors experienced high-stress, that affects how it responds to stress as an adult—regardless of its personal experience with stress within its lifetime. So it’s not what it went through, but what its ancestors went through, that determines how robustly it responds to stress.

But it turns out the combination of a lizard’s personal experience and its ancestors’ experience that determines the immune consequences of stress. Researchers don’t usually consider how stress in previous generations can affect physiology, but my research indicates this should not be overlooked

Understanding when stress will become beneficial and when it becomes harmful will allows us to better predict how animals will be affected by the increasing amounts of stress due to global change, and to better allocate resources to manage these effects.

I would like to thank the Penn State Ecology Program and my advisor, Tracy Langkilde, without whom I could not have completed my degree. I would also like to thank my boyfriend, Rich, for his support and the Alumni Association for the recognition. It is a privilege to have your support, and I am excited to join the thriving community of Penn State alumni. Thank you.

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Major thanks to my boyfriend, Rich, who supported me not only at the dinner, but throughout my graduate studies. You’re the best!

 


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Veterinary School:  Is it worth it?

As the lab’s resident veterinarian, I’m frequently asked questions about getting a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Things like, “What were you thinking?” and “Does thinking about your student loans keep you up at night?” I thought I would cover a few of these topics here in the lab blog.

To start with, to anyone who is considering applying to veterinary school:  It is NOT a smart economic decision. The cost of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree, on average, barely breaks even over the course of a man’s career, and actually slightly decreases the lifetime earnings of a woman. Given that 90% of veterinary students graduate with student loan debt (how did 10% of students manage to graduate without any debt??? So jealous.), and the average student loan burden is over $160,000, this is not surprising. Compounding the financial strain is the relatively low starting salaries of veterinarians, only around $67,000 a year if they start working full-time immediately, rather than pursuing further training such as a PhD, internship, or residency. And there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to attending a more expensive school; starting salary is in no way correlated to student loan debt or the cost of tuition.

Vet student debt to income

The direness of the financial situation of course varies considerably by field, with food animal and equine veterinarians having the worst debt to income ratio, and vets working in industry having the best. Veterinarians working in academia (like me!) fall somewhere in between, but we at least have a decent chance of paying back our student loans in a reasonably timely manner. Even if I do often feel like this:

Student loan debt

There is a pervasive myth that, in spite of the heavy debt load and relatively poor earning potential, there is a national shortage of veterinarians, so it is at least a good field to go into for job security. This, unfortunately, is not true. While the number of job openings for veterinarians are predicted to increase by 9% from 2014-2024, the number of graduating veterinarians has been rising by 1.8% per year for the last 30 years (we currently graduate ~3000 new DVMs per year), a trend which is expected to continue. And a 2012 report by the National Research Council (NRC) showed that there is no national shortage of veterinarians, except in some rural areas. This is also consistent with the findings of the 2013 AVMA veterinary workforce report, which showed that 12.5% of the veterinary capacity to provide services is going unused (this does not mean that 12.5% of veterinarians are unemployed or underemployed, just that as a whole, 12.5% of the potential services that could be provided by veterinarians around the country are going unused each year). However, this is not necessarily bad – there is also not an extreme surplus of veterinarians, and unemployment in the field is lower than the national average, only 3.4%. And having a moderate surplus of capacity means we can better handle emergencies such as disease outbreaks.

So, given that we’ve established veterinary school is a terrible, terrible, terrible financial decision, why do people still get the degree? And why am I among them? Well, for most people I think it’s more of a calling than a career. Most veterinarians desperately love their job, love caring for animals, and consider the incredible financial burden to be worth it if it means they get to spend every day saving lives. In my case, I never intended to be a full time practicing veterinarian. My plan was always to obtain both a DVM and a PhD, and work as a researcher. And, as I said earlier, the financial outlook for a veterinarian in academia is much better than for most practicing veterinarians; my salary is likely to be higher, and I can at least start paying off my student loans while working on my PhD.  The big payoff to the veterinary degree, for me, is a detailed knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of animals. I focused a lot of my study on interspecies comparisons, and how to extrapolate information from one species to be able to apply it in another. This has proven immensely useful in my academic career; even though I haven’t worked extensively with reptiles or amphibians prior to entering this lab, my knowledge in a wide variety of other species is still applicable. Medical training is also much more thorough, in general, than PhD classes are; there is no way I could have gained this depth of knowledge without having obtained a medical degree of some kind. And veterinarians are uniquely well-suited to answering questions about comparative anatomy and physiology, and to determining how likely a disease or medicine is to work in one species versus another (compare this to human medical doctors, who are taught the same things as veterinarians, but in only one species). This is invaluable in efforts to determine how wide-ranging an effect a research finding might have. For example, research done by Gail shows that stress causes immunological changes in the Eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus). My veterinary training makes me well-suited to developing hypotheses as to why this might be (questions based on what parts of the immune system are affected, what the time line of the changes are, etc.), and how likely this change is to be something that would occur in other species in the same situation (i.e., would a squirrel/snake/fish/etc. experience the same immune system changes when exposed to the same type of stress?). It also helps me explain some of our findings better, like how stress might cause changes in certain portions of the immune system, but cause no changes, or even opposite changes, in other parts.

While there has been a push to include human medical doctors in research using human subjects, there has not been as concerted an effort to do the same with animal subjects. All animals used in research are of course overseen by veterinarians, but usually their role is limited to the care and compassionate use of the animal subjects. I personally feel that most fields of animal research would benefit greatly from more veterinary input in developing hypotheses to test, and in study design and interpretation. One of my career goals is to illustrate how veterinary knowledge and training can benefit the research community, and encourage more scientists to obtain veterinary training, or encourage more veterinarians to participate in research.


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Starting the year with a bang!

2015 ended in style for the Langkilde Lab, and we are proud to report that thus far 2016 has been just as exciting! In the last few months, we have celebrated a number of lab accomplishments and enjoyed some attention from the media. Here’s a taste of what we have been celebrating:

 

Press:

LangkildeLizard 2Penn State News featured the lab’s work on adaptation to invasive species and anthropogenic noise in this great article by Matt Swayne, complete with disco references. It’s definitely worth the read!

 

Tracy1Penn State Science recently covered the lab’s research on the effects of stress, our collaborations, and Tracy’s mentoring style. The story quotes many lab members and also includes a “person-to-person” feature on graduate student Gail McCormick.

 

 

Other achievements:

  • PI Tracy Langkilde recently accepted the position as the Head of the Department of Biology.
  • Gail McCormick successfully defended her PhD dissertation and won the Alumni Association Dissertation Award. This award is among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students and recognizes outstanding achievement in scholarship and professional accomplishment.
  • Chris Thawley won the Intercollege Graduate Student Outreach Award, a university-level award that recognizes outstanding achievements related to bringing scholarship to the community. Chris will be defending in February and will be starting a post-doc with the Kolbe Lab in May, where he will be investigating the effects of urban light on anoles.
  • Kirsty MacLeod will be joining the Langkilde and Sheriff Labs as a post doc this spring. We are excited to have her!
  • Michaleia Mead will be staying on as a Masters student with Chris Howey. They will be investigating the effects of prescribed burns on amphibians and vernal pools.
Hooray!

Hooray!

Stay tuned throughout 2016 for more exciting research and updates from the Langkilde Lab!


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Classing Up Scientific Outreach

I’ve loved teaching since I was a middle school science teacher all the way back in 2005 (oh dear!). But, as a Penn State graduate student, it can be tough to find ways to bring science to kids and even more difficult to get experience teaching a class at the university level. To reach kids with cool science education opportunities, many graduate students, including me, build outreach activities for different venues (which I’ve discussed on this blog before). But is there a way to meet both these goals, doing community outreach and gaining experience with more formal teaching, at the same time? In short, yes!

About a year ago, I, and two friends who are also Biology graduate students, Allison Lewis and Zach Fuller, were being stereotypical graduate students and lamenting our lots in life. We’re supposed to be educators but the University won’t let us teach classes to get experience! Are we spending all this time doing outreach for nothing? Will anyone use our materials again? Why are we so whiny? Fortunately, bewailing the status quo can lead to good things if you get an idea for positive change. Zach, Allison, and I decided that the solution was to incorporate our outreach experiences into a class that would facilitate other students in conducting their own outreach from their own experience.

We first went to work convincing the University to actually let us teach a class. It is harder than you might think to actually teach at a university: there are many hidden requirements I never knew about and lots and lots of paperwork. To cut through this red tape rehash, I’ll finish by saying that we A) went all the way to the Dean to get permission to teach an outreach class (with a major assist from some supportive Biology faculty) and B) got a workable budget, a room to host the class, and a spot with the University Registrar. At long last, BIOL 497F, Science Outreach and Communication, a 1 credit class was born!

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The snazzy flyer for our class that we blitzed PSU with.

Of course, we also needed actual students for our class. We made up flyers and became very familiar with the distribution of bulletin boards in University Park. We spammed listservs and spammed them again. We asked our friends for recommendations, got the emails of incoming students before they were on campus, and plied professors for the emails of students they would recommend to take our class. By August, we had 13 enrolled students: 10 graduate and 3 undergrads. These students came into the class with a mix of backgrounds including neuroscience, biology, entomology, anthropology and ecology.

The first portion of our class focused on teaching a core set of skills: how to tailor activities to different age levels and audiences, how to design and plan effective outreach, and how to evaluate learning. We collaborated with professional educators from different University entities, including Mike Zeman from the Eberly College of Science Outreach Office and Larkin Hood from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence to bring their expertise to our class (thanks guys!). Our students worked in small groups to build their own lesson plans for an initial outreach activity and then presented those to the rest of the class for feedback. We worked as a group to provide constructive criticism and refine these activities to increase their focus and effectiveness. In the midst of this, we included several classes focused on other important science communication topics including writing for a general audience, the importance of outreach in grant-writing, and a panel discussion with professional scientists who are successfully incorporating outreach into their research and careers.

At last, after much practice, cutting out of small paper shapes, tasting starbursts, and wrangling stick insects, the first outreach program (and major grade!) of the class arrived on November 10th as our students presented their own outreach activities at Exploration U at the Bellefonte Area High School. Exploration U is a biannual science fair run by the Science Outreach Office in which Penn State scientists and community groups present short, interesting activities about their research or other scientific topics for community children and their parents (hundreds of them at each event!). Some of the more dramatic activities include an inflatable planetarium, making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, a snake handling exhibit (not venomous ones!) and battling robots. Five groups from our class spent the evening discussing various aspects of science with the crowds.

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Kevin and Arash showing off their Bug-O-Vision activity.

Have you ever wondered how another organism experiences the world? Arash Maleki and Kevin Cloonan taught attendees how insects perceive the world differently from humans. Using colored glasses, they described how insects see different parts of the spectrum from humans and how insects may see “secret messages” such as targets or directional signals on flowers that are not visible to our naked eyes.

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Check out lots of other awesome pics of how flowers look to different organisms at Dr. Klaus Schmitt’s blog.

Cam Venable, Emilia Sola-Gracia, and David Stupski addressed the question of how plants are found everywhere when they don’t get up and walk (or fly or swim) like animals do. The answer is, of course, that their seeds do move, including via wind, water, and dispersal by animals. The kids loved an activity where they were able to make their own seed (with the aid of a little Velcro) and attempt to disperse it by tossing onto a passing fuzzy felt dog.

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Emilia shows a youngling the best way to “disperse” the seed he’s just constructed.

Styles Smith, Kokila Shankar, and Christian John created an activity that emphasized how animals’ limbs are adapted for the environments that they inhabit. Kids worked to match the skeletal structure of limbs to the animals that used them and then designed their own animals with different types of limbs. At the end of the activity, kids drew the habitat that their animal creations lived in and explained how their creatures were adapted to it.

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Styles describes how to go about designing an organism while a participant and her brainy younger brother listen.

Have you ever wondered why some folks just can’t eat their Brussel sprouts? Rebecca Coleman, Chloe Philip, and Chris Schmidt designed an activity explaining the heritability of taste, specifically focusing on why some are sensitive to bitterness (such as in those cursed sprouts) and others seem relatively immune. Kids and their parents tasted both sweet, sweet candy (Dum-dums) and a paper imbued with PTC, a chemical which tastes nastily bitter to a portion of the population. Chloe, Chris, and Becki used this experience as an entree to discuss how traits are coded for in our DNA and how these are passed between generations.

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As Becki and Chloe explain how traits are inherited, these kids are really developing a taste for science.

Carolyn Trietsch and Sarah Shugrue focused on how insects are adapted for different environments via camouflage, which prevents unwanted attention from predators (or allows predators to set up ambushes for unsuspecting prey)! They created an activity for kids to match bugs to their natural backgrounds and find hidden, camouflaged insects, including several live Vietnamese stick insects (which fascinated adults as well as the kids)!

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A young Darth Vader stays on the Light Side by gently petting a stick insect.

All in all, our class’ outreach night was successful as an educational experience both for the families who attended and the students in our class, who gained valuable experience. Moving forward, these students are designing and conducting their own independent outreach activities. Some lessons include: the use and importance of photography, including via drones (!), in biological research at State College High, demos of insect life cycles at Mount Nittany Middle School, and a scientist-in-the-classroom visit via Skype to a Philly elementary school to discuss how awesome ants are! We’re proud of the creativity and dedicated work that our students have put in over the semester and are excited to see them continue to do outreach in the future. For me, this class has provided great experience: in designing a class from the ground up, learning to navigate bureaucratic pitfalls, and co-teaching a class with two other dedicated instructors. It’s also been inspirational to see the impact that a small but dedicated group of students can have in advancing scientific education. Looking forward we hope to make this class a yearly offering in the College of Science to encourage a growing culture of scientific outreach in the graduate student community.

If you’re interested in seeing a syllabus for this class, here you go!


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Science Communication and Art!

In addition to answering herp- and stress-related research questions, the members of the Langkilde are also very interested in outreach and science communication. I am personally quite interested communicating science and recently exercised my scicomm skills by interning with Penn State Research Communications. I wrote two stories over the summer and hope to write a few more later this year.

The first story covers the use of drones in research and conservation by recent Penn State Ecology graduate Jeff Kerby. Jeff does great work across the globe and is a photographer himself. Check out the story, entitled “Ecology on the Wing,” for more on his research and some of his photos. (For more of Jeff’s amazing photos, check out his flickr and instagram.)

Penn State graduate student Jeff Kerby used drones for his ecological research in Greenland and is sharing his expertise to enhance research and conservation efforts worldwide. Image: Martin Holdrege

Penn State graduate student Jeff Kerby used drones for his ecological research in Greenland and is sharing his expertise to enhance research and conservation efforts worldwide. Read the story at Penn State NewsImage: Martin Holdrege

The second story I wrote was a news story, which, unlike the “feature” story highlighted above, is written in AP (“news”) style and focuses on the results of a recently published paper. I summarized a study by Penn State Ecology and Neuroscience grad student Lauren Chaby, which was recently published in Animal Behavior. Lauren investigated whether stress in adolescence affects problem solving in adult rats. Read the story, entitled “Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges,” for more information.

"Unpredictable stress can have dramatic and lasting consequences, both for humans and for free-living animals," said Chaby. Image: Lauren Chaby/Penn State

“Unpredictable stress can have dramatic and lasting consequences, both for humans and for free-living animals,” said Chaby. Read the story at Penn State News.
Image: Lauren Chaby

Thanks to my new connections at Research Communications, I was also able to revisit one of my other hobbies–paper cutting! As you may have guessed by our herp-flake holiday door, I am also a paper artist. I was commissioned to create three paper cut illustrations for a story about the evolution of skin color in the Penn State Research magazine.

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski; Research at Penn State Magazine 35(2) Fall 2015

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, printed in Research at Penn State Magazine 35(2) Fall 2015

The story is based on the work of Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski. The first illustration is a portrait of Nina, based on a photo by Patrick Mansell. This is probably the most complicated portrait I have made to date!

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, created for the Research at Penn State Magazine.

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, created for the Research at Penn State Magazine.

Curious how this was made? Check out this work-in-progress video:

As part of Nina’s research, she and her colleagues created a map predicting skin colors of indigenous peoples based on ultraviolet radiation. I converted this map to paper for the story’s opening spread.

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The opening spread for the story, written by David Pacchioli.

Both the portrait and the third piece posed quite a challenge, as the black shadows blended into the background in one seamless piece. The third piece in particular was quite stubborn, but it turned out all right in the end.

Paper cut hands created for the Penn State Research Magazine. Based on a photo by Patrick Mansell.

Paper cut hands created for the Penn State Research Magazine. Based on a photo by Patrick Mansell.

I am very pleased with how these illustrations turned out! Pick up a copy of the magazine on campus to see them for yourself.

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Research | Penn State – Fall 2015. My illustrations can be found on pages 12-17.

You can learn more about my paper art on my website and facebook. I also take commissions–or at least, I will after defending!

 

Modified from a post originally at gailmccormick.wordpress.com.


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Making a Case for Supporting Science

This past week, I, along with fellow PSU Chemistry grad student Jared Mondschein, battled our way through horrible traffic into Washington, DC to attend a 2-day workshop about science policy given by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Making our CASE (CASE=Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering; DC loves acronyms) workshop brought together students from over 40 different institutions to learn about how science is funded by our government, how science serves the public interest, and how we, as scientists, can better be a part of those processes. The first night featured a networking reception in the Washington Plaza Hotel where the workshop was held and which provided easy access to the AAAS building as well as the Capitol complex.

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View from our hotel room west across Thomas Circle and Downtown. Unfortunately, the pool wasn’t yet open for Spring…

The workshop began in earnest the next morning with a session about how the federal budget process works and the role of various agencies in creating and advising on the budget, which was led by AAAS staff and folks from the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP, of course). Matt Hourihan covered the history of Research and Development (R+D, natch) funding in the budget, and discussed how R+D funding (in constant dollars) generally increased up to around 2004, but has since leveled off. In general, Defense spending accounts for about half of all the nation’s R+D expenditures, which was a little bit of a surprise to me. I was also surprised to learn that the National Science Foundation (NSF, which has been the major funder of almost all research I have been involved in as a graduate student), makes up a relatively small portion of the R+D budget. For the life sciences, the greatest source of funding by far is the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

R&DAgencyIn the past, there has been strong bipartisan support for R+D, including basic research, as this is broadly recognized as a driver of economic growth and development. However, with sequestration and other budget cutting moves, R+D funding has been cut as well, and funding levels may be reduced through 2021 (depending on how the budgeting process plays out). For more info, check out the AAAS R+D Budget Primer.

Much of the workshop focused on the particulars of how science funding is actually determined (proverbially, “how the sausage is made”). In this case, the R+D budget is determined in broadly the same way as other types of funding. The President puts forth a budget request, which is followed by proposed budgets from both the House and Senate. The two arms of Congress attempt to produce a budget that reconciles their spending differences and will also not be vetoed by the President. If this is not achieved by the end of each September, the government may shutdown…oops! As such, the proportion of the budget devoted to science is balanced with many other factors. However, since a decline following the Space Race, the proportion of federal discretionary spending allocated to R+D has remained fairly constant.

BudgetDISC_0The afternoon of Day 1 featured a role-playing activity asking participants to work as congressional committee members to reconcile an appropriations bill and make hard science funding decisions. We also learned about the distinction between Policy for Science and Science for Policy. Policy for science refers to the government’s funding of science and directives for how that money is allocated to various agencies and the priorities given to different research areas. Science for policy is the use of scientific information to make informed policy decisions. Science for policy is one way in which scientists can serve the greater community.  After a long day in conference rooms without seeing the sun, I took off to enjoy the lovely weather in DC (sunny and 70!) which had brought the cherry trees into full bloom. A 30 minute stroll from the hotel brought me to the National Mall and Tidal Basin where I enjoyed the beautiful trees (along with thousands of other people) and took in some familiar DC sights.

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The Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin with cherry trees in full bloom.

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Tourists and residents alike were enjoying a balmy late afternoon on the Mall.

On the second day of the workshop, we ventured to the Capitol building and entered the new Congressional Visitor’s Center. We had a long wait on a rather rainy day, but once inside we were treated to a meeting with Rush Holt: former representative (D-NJ), plasma physicist, 5-time Jeopardy champion and defeater of IBM’s Watson, and current CEO of AAAS.  We also listened to engaging presentations on how Congress is structured, and the finer points of how budgets are passed from subcommittees to become the law of the land. Towards lunchtime, we heard from a panel of congressional and committee staffers about how bills are negotiated in committees, and best ways to discuss issues with staffers.

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Huddled under an arch at the Capitol Visitor’s Center to avoid the rain at the beginning of Day 2.

On the way back to AAAS HQ for the afternoon sessions, Jared and I took the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress for a quick tour around the interior, which is beautiful. Definitely recommended if you find yourself in DC!

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The awesome main hall and ceiling in the Library of Congress.

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View into the main reading room of the Library of Congress. Better be quiet!

The final sessions of the workshop included discussions with lobbyists and advocates as well as some science policy career advice and discussions of jobs and fellowships, including the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships. Jared and I also worked together to craft an approach for our meetings with legislators and staff on the Hill that Penn State had lined up for us the next day. We had to create a simple, clear message that we could deliver in the 10-15 minute meetings that we had with the offices of various representatives and senators. We chose to focus on how Penn State supports a diversity of research programs, from my basic ecological research (the lizards from this blog!) to Jared’s work searching for new materials for fuel cells. Many types of research are needed to meet the ecological and technological challenges of living in a rapidly changing world. Both of our labs are supported by NSF, which is the primary government agency supporting most basic research. We also wanted to describe how Penn State encourages collaborations between departments and researchers and supports us in developing our projects.

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Posing for a quick snapshot in front of AAAS HQ after a long day of meetings and strategerizing. This was quickly followed by a dinner of Disco Fries and Root beer and an early bedtime.

On our last day in DC, Jared and I worked the Hill from 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening. We met with staff from the offices of Pennsylvania’s two Senators, Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), as well as Steve Israel (D-NY), Jared’s Congressman. We also personally spoke with two representatives: Rep. Pat Meehan (my own Congressman!, R-PA) and Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), the representative for PA District 05, which contains Penn State. We also rode in an elevator with Rep John Lewis (!!, D-GA), who was super nice. In general, the folks we talked to were supportive of science funding at both the federal level and at Penn State in particular, but they acknowledged that most types of discretionary spending are under pressure in the current Congress. We also had the chance to attend an informal Penn State alumni get together and debate science funding with other representatives and staff from multiple agencies. Hopefully, our visits and discussions will have put a personal face to scientific research and communicated the importance of continuing federal support for scientific research.

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Meeting with Glenn “GT” Thompson in his office at the Capitol. Notice the Penn State football in the cabinet on the left! Also, I am probably the only person on Capitol Hill with any sort of facial hair.

All in all, the CASE workshop was a unique (and exhausting…so many meetings!) experience for me and an introduction into a part of the scientific process I have rarely considered. Hopefully, I will be able to use this experience to better communicate science to a broad range of audiences, including our elected officials, and advocate for science throughout my career.


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Studying and Staying Sane

The researchers in our lab have many interests, not all of which are related to science. In this post, undergraduate Tommy Cerri describes his preparation for the MCAT…as well as other actives that help him stay sane. 

Spring 2015 has been one of the most hectic semesters for myself. My time is split between working in the lab, being a full time student, and studying for the MCAT. I plan on taking the MCAT exam this summer in June, and the studying process so far has been grueling. Here is a picture of my study materials I got in the mail earlier this semester. A total of 9 books that I have to get through in only a few short months.

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As of April this year, the format for the medical school admissions test has been changed. Most importantly, it is no longer a test of about 4 hours, it is a test that runs about 7 hours. This means they added biochemistry, sociology, psychology, as well as a few other topics that will be tested on the exam. Either way my studying has been going swimmingly, and I continue to study on a daily basis hoping for the best (fingers crossed)!

Due to this huge time commitment, my participation in the lab has not been as big as I would have hoped. I do help out though! As of late, I have picked back up where I left off last semester assisting Gail with lizard behavioral videos. I do enjoy these videos: the lizards are extremely active, which can be quite amusing. A few other miscellaneous tasks have come up within the lab and I love helping out with whatever needs done when I have the time.

Outside of lab I have given a handful of tours for prospective Penn State students. Don’t worry, I always give the Langkilde Lab a shoutout on each of the tours. Many times the parents are very interested about the research we do in the lab and I am always happy to fill them in on all the amazing things we are all doing! Parents of prospective science students are always intrigued by the potential research opportunities we have to offer here at Penn State, and I love to talk about some of my awesome experiences I have been presented with. The students always get a good laugh when I tell them I fed crickets to lizards once a week when I was a freshman.

In other news I did score 2 goals in my most recent intramural soccer game last Monday, and my team won our IM basketball game as well! Club sports might be on the horizon of my senior year, who knows…