I pushed the power button on my laptop at 9.00 this morning and walked out to fill the tea kettle with water. I swished a bit of water around my deeply stained teacup and rubbed my thumb about its rim. From there, I headed across the street for a muffin and a copy of The New York Times. Back at my desk, my e-mail had a second request from a professional journal for a manuscript review (I like to let these requests age a little before I respond). I sent a reply, agreeing to write the review but noted that it would take a few weeks because already two grant proposals and a manuscript from another journal make a small pile on my desk. After scanning the rest of my e-mail, I deleted most it.
On Fridays, I meet individually with each of my graduate students. This is a routine that I very much like. No matter how many times I may chat with my students during the week or look at their data or answer questions, I like the ritual of a regular Friday meeting devoted to each student. We review results and problems and plan for the next steps of research. There are times when students will come in with a plan to distract me from the needs at hand and at other times one will dash in to say he/she is at work in the lab and has nothing other to say than he/she is returning that moment to the lab. A meeting need not last long to have value.
I still hadn’t poured my tea water when B arrived for his meeting at 9.30. I ran out to pour tea and let it steep while B explained results of his phylogenetic studies after adding new data. His study of hybridization and polyploidy in phylogenetic diversification involves unruly data that he works hard to understand. As we talked, he held a sheet of paper, on which was printed a preliminary phylogenetic tree. Like a real tree, this phylogenetic tree had many branches and crowded at their tips like leaves were the tiny names of the many plants B had sampled. I put on my glasses and squinted over my teacup to see the evolutionary relationships as he talked.
After that first meeting, I went in search of my student J. She and I had worked this week to prepare a prospectus of her MS research to give to her thesis committee at a meeting scheduled for this afternoon. We reviewed my few final suggestions for the document and talked more about work that she might do for her thesis. J and I had talked in the prep room of the herbarium, where we sat at a large work table. When we finished I went back to my office, which is in the herbarium’s complex of rooms on the ground floor of our building.
My next meeting was with S, who is gathering the last data for his dissertation and writing papers based on data collected earlier. He has also just submitted his first job application. We talked about job applications and letters of recommendation as well as about data and the papers we are writing. When J left, I heard him call to my other graduate student, N.
N came in with a stack of papers and her laptop. N started PhD studies this semester, and we are designing her dissertation project. This is one of my favorite parts of training graduate students. She told me about the articles she had read during the past week and handed me copies of those that were especially relevant to her research. On a high pile of papers that persists on my desk, N set-up her laptop to show me data that she had amassed from the literature. There were patterns and questions in those data that may be the beginnings of new research.
It was nearly noon when the meetings with my graduate students were finished. I checked my e-mail, where there was a request for my signature. I went up to the departmental office, where I signed a form to pay for recent research charges in my lab.
There was a time when I would dash up to the student union for a freshly made stir-fry or a salad for lunch while having a quick look at the Times. Those good lunches took about 30 minutes. A couple of years ago the student union was closed for remodelling and when it re-opened this fall the only food available was fast food. Now the student union has a lovely interior with plenty of computer games and video screens, but there is no fresh food and little that is green and vegetable. I’ve been walking home for lunch when possible over the past couple of years. It’s a 12 minute walk and delightful in this season, although not always so pleasant in the winter snow or spring rain. Today I nudged a few fallen leaves as I walked. I had a small turkey sandwich, two slices of melon, radishes, grapes, a pickle and was back in my office about 1.00.
For an hour, I worked on a letter of recommendation and then went to J’s committee meeting. She did a great job of telling us about her plans, and her committee members asked questions. The discussion helped to refine some of the research plans. We finished about 3.00, and J and I walked back to the herbarium.
J mentioned to me that one of my colleagues has lab meeting from 3.00 to 5.30 on Friday afternoons, and I asked her whether we should switch to that format. (My lab meetings, where we discuss current research literature, are on Tuesdays after lunch) We talked about lab meeting formats with a couple of my other grad students for a few minutes, and then I headed back to my office. It was time to return to that letter of recommendation that I had started earlier. I typed for the rest of the afternoon, then closed-up my laptop and put it in my backpack for weekend work about a quarter until 5.00.