Month: August 2017

Aurora Roth, MS of Geophysics, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Hello! My name is Aurora and I recently completed a masters degree in Geophysics focusing on glaciers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I grew up in Fairbanks and after bouncing around from Minnesota (for college), to Maine, to Montana, I found myself back in Alaska as a graduate student. I’m excited to be sharing a story with you today because I believe it’s incredibly important for scientists to be whole people and for scientists to be seen as human. There are the obvious individual benefits, better mental and physical health, more creative thinking, and ultimately better science, but it’s also important for the public’s view of scientists. A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showed that Americans view scientists as competent but not trustworthy (Fiske and Dupree, 2014), and people listen when they find someone trustworthy. Being viewed as more trustworthy by the public can be as simple as telling more personal stories about science or your experience as a scientist, or even instagramming your work in the lab or the field.

So here’s my more personal story about being a scientist and a strategy I found for myself for better mental health:

Despite dedicating more than three years to studying glaciers and being an active mountain lady, I’ve only just started to become comfortable calling myself a “glaciologist”. There is a specific image that comes with any title ending in “-ologist”, and on a day to day basis, I didn’t feel like I met the requirements of the image of “glaciologist”. A glaciologist should wear crampons more often than shoes, have a body as chiseled as rocks found in glacier moraines, always have a sunglasses or goggle tan, and fly their own plane to their field site. In contrast, I spend much of my time sitting at a desk, slumped in my seat, picking through code, and staring at the results of computer simulations.

Sometimes these results are interesting and engaging, and sometimes it’s a complete slog just to do anything. During graduate school, I spent more and more time in front of the computer and less time outside (on my own time or in the field), my mental health degraded and how I felt in my body became more negative.

aurora mountain

I found myself having panic attacks, something I had never experienced before. There were multiple times I found myself curled up on the floor of my room, not knowing how to make myself stop breathing so fast, stop crying. I felt like my mind was broken and pulling me into a dark hole. These panic attacks happened most often when I was neglecting the other parts of myself. I felt stuck and trapped when I had fully taken on the identity of “grad student”, leaving no space for other pursuits that made me feel confident, valued, or allowed me to connect with others.

I started talking with a counselor, something I highly encourage anyone struggling in grad school (or in life in general!) to do. In our sessions, my counselor encouraged me to work on self-compassion in many different forms. This also coincided with a friend introducing an art sharing project to me. She created a blog for a handful of friends to share art they were intending on making every day for the month of January. The blog and sharing helped keep us accountable so that we would actually make time every day to practice art making.

Painting and sketching with watercolor has always been a relaxing outlet for me. I’m not the best watercolorist, but I love playing with the physics of water. There is a constant game of relinquishing control and being surprised by what the water and paint will do. I also love having the time to get to know a landscape or object better through sketching. It’s a time where I am completely focused, relaxed, and in the flow. Not surprisingly, my favorite subjects to paint are glaciers, ice, and mountain landscapes. I deeply value experiencing glaciers through the lens of a scientist AND as an artist.

While I had taken time to get to know glaciers by painting them, I had never applied this to myself. For the January art blog, I decided to sketch or paint a self portrait everyday. At the time I felt guilty carving out time to do a quick self portrait every day. “I should be working instead of doing this,” I thought. But, with the positive peer pressure of the blog, I still made time everyday. Increasingly, I became more comfortable with this time and more intrigued by how this process was changing the way I was thinking about my body and myself. I got to know folds of skin that I couldn’t stand to look at before. I began to appreciate my differently proportioned body. I remembered how much I simply enjoyed painting.

aurora studies

The blog was also a way to connect with friends and see what beautiful art they were making. Reading poetry from a friend in Minneapolis, smiling as I looked over sketches by a friend in California, feeling resonance with art made by a friend in Southeast Alaska.

There are still ups and downs in grad school, and I still struggle with body image and leading a balanced life. But, I’m slowly getting better at prioritizing my whole self over the “grad school self” and remembering to find joy in other places. Actually, right at this very moment, I’m packing and preparing for a kayaking trip with a dear friend. This past month there were times when I thought it would just be easier to cancel this trip and try to do it another time because I’m feeling crunched with research and writing. I’m holding myself to this time off to be full person, to gain some perspective, to laugh a lot, to dance, to get rained on, and to not think about research for a little while.


Happy trails everyone! And thanks Megan for providing this space to share and to find inspiration!


Katie Pingree-Shippee, PhD (c), University of Victoria

Hi! My name’s Katie Pingree-Shippee and I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria studying seasonal predictability of extratropical storm activity. I’m currently in, dare I say, the home stretch of my PhD – I’ve completed my data work and am now in the writing stage. I have one manuscript published and two others in prep. Introduction and conclusions chapters are also on the ‘to do’ list (along with a couple appendices of additional figures) in order to complete my paper-based dissertation. So it’s write, write, write in my little world and make my committee happy! Needless to say, I’m a bit busy so I don’t have a ton of time for crafting but I try to fit some in when I can.


Visiting Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.

When it comes to crafting, I’d call myself a dabbler, primarily due to my lack of time to really get working on projects. Nevertheless, one crafting activity I return to when I get the chance is sewing. I’m not particularly great at sewing, owing back to, once again, lack of time to develop my skills. Nowadays, my sewing is pretty much limited to mending holes in clothes and reattaching buttons to shirts from time to time and, more commonly, preforming “surgery” on dog toys – the most recent “patient” awaiting surgery is a stuffed sloth toy whose arm is half ripped off due to an overexuberant game of tug of war between my husband and our 90 lbs. of muscle chocolate lab, Denali.


Denali out for a walk in Mt. Doug (a.k.a. Pkols) in Victoria, British Columbia.

Tucked away, though, I do have a nice little sewing machine that I’ve used in the past to primarily make skirts (mostly because I struggle with finding ones that I like in the stores). Aside from the practical reasons to sew, I’ve always enjoyed the activity for the activity itself – the hands-on component, the attention to detail required, the planning of a product, the sense of accomplishment when the project comes together and eventually is completed… it’s a bit like doing science without necessarily doing science. Eventually (post-PhD), I’d like to expand my sewing skills to include quilting – it feels like there’s endless creative opportunity there! For now, though, since sewing is a solo hobby, it will remain on the back burner with free time spent on activities such as camping and hiking with the husband and dog.

Denali 2

Camping outside Port Alberni, British Columbia.

            Camping and hiking does allow me to more frequently dabble in my other main interest – photography. When I was younger, I wanted to be a photographer and was strongly influenced by the work of Linda McCartney (this was one of various ambitions throughout my formative years, which included being a member of the Boston Pops, being a color commentator for the NHL [Go Bruins!], being the person with the light sticks on the tarmac directing airplanes, and closest to my chosen profession, being a hurricane hunter/storm chaser). Nowadays, photography is still just a hobby, my equipment is a smartphone, and my ‘muse’ is usually Denali or just natural landscapes. While I have no training in photography (I’d like to take a photography course or two someday), I like to think I can take a nice picture (and when you’re printing and framing photos for your own house, you’re the only critic that matters. Well, maybe your partner, too. But that’s debatable 😉 ).

Denali 3

Denali and an Arbutus tree on top of Little Mt. Doug in Victoria, British Columbia.

Rogers Pass

Near Rogers Pass, British Columbia.

I enjoy thinking about how to get a nice photo – how to use the natural landscape to frame the picture, how to force a certain perspective, etc. Of course, having your ‘muse’ being a dog can make having these thought processes challenging as time is of the essence (after all, there’s so many things to smell and squirrels to chase when you’re a dog!). The great thing nowadays, with digital photography, is that you can, essentially, take all the photos you want (space permitting of course) and not have to worry about wasting film as you work on taking that “perfect picture.”

Denali 4

Denali looking extra large as he cools down at Qualicum Beach, British Columbia.

When Megan first asked me about writing a post for this blog, I thought “Sure! I’m not the craftiest person but I dabble, so sure!” Then when I read Megan’s post and her hope that the blog would provide some insight into the unique lives of academics and advocate the importance of crafts and hobbies in general to a healthy work-life balance I thought, “This is awesome!” But I don’t think I quite got it until I started writing my post. It really is easy to get caught up in academics and have that become the main focus of your life, but hobbies outside of academics are key! Even when academics are thrust into the forefront, and understandably so, such as during PhD candidacy exams, the importance of even just getting out for the evening dog walk is highlighted as it provides a much needed sanity break.

Denali 5

Denali’s version of “helping” with academic pursuits.

As I first started to write this post, I struggled to think about what crafty activities I do – I thought, “Beyond sewing, what is there? I suppose photography as well. What else?…” But then I realized all the hobbies I have in my life that get me away from academics – cycling, cooking or baking when I get the chance (which is often a team effort [I’m usually the slicer-dicer and my husband puts it all together into something delicious], going to the symphony [Beethoven’s my jam!], and even just sitting down to read for pleasure from time to time. When I think back to my Masters degree, other than walking the dog and going to hockey games (go UMaine BlackBears!), it was pretty much academics all the time and I was burnt out by the time I was done (just over 2 years). Nowadays, I have a much better (though still far from perfect) work-life balance and thankfully don’t feel burnt out despite being a few months into year 5 of my PhD. Writing this post really has served as a nice reminder of the importance of my hobbies, both big and small, to my sanity. So thanks Megan for inviting me to contribute and thanks to those who’ve read this post! Cheers!

Nicholas Peasley, JD at Willamette University

PeasleyMy name is Nicholas Peasley, I’m a first year JD student at Willamette University, though my background was not originally in Law.  I was a History and Political Science major in my undergraduate years and then snapped up a Masters of Education and taught History for a couple years.  I was that kid in the undergrad who did all my readings because I liked the material and was enamored with the subjects.  If I wasn’t so crushingly monolingual, I would likely have been a PhD candidate in a history program somewhere, blithely meandering musty tomes in search of information on Carthage.

My story is all from my time in my M.Ed.  For those of you who haven’t gone through student teaching in America, I’ll drop a play by play of things: You have a full time job teaching (in my program for 7 months), you have been dropped on the metaphorical professional version of a desert island with your mentor teacher as your only real tool (you’re BRAND new to the subject; it’s quite close to a literal baptism by fire at times), you work more than 40 hours a week (because… teaching), you still have courses and finals as a portion of your M.Ed, and the real kicker, all of it is unpaid (you still pay tuition).  If you don’t have any coping mechanisms, you do and will fall apart.  On top of that, as you slowly drift away from your undergraduate years the subject that you are supposed to be the student’s guide on begins to fade.

Forgetting curve

This is a graph loosely put together by 19th century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.  Basically what he found was that your memory of things halves in a matter of days if you don’t review things.  In his book Brain Rules, John Medina puts the amount of an undergraduate degree that is forgotten at 80% of information taken in.

I had noticed just after my post-undergraduate time that I was losing my memories of my favorite thing from my time at the University of Washington: anecdotal stories about Vikings, Plato, and all the aimless stories that history people love to tell.  I didn’t want to be that teacher who responded to every question with a clandestine “why don’t you look it up yourself?” to deflect the fact I didn’t know the answers.  It was a professional point of pride to know my subject and a point of personal pride to try to know what I had spent so much time and effort researching and reading in the first place.  As a result, I started up a blog (shamelessly plugged and criminally un-updated at: to codify and put to paper as many of my stories that I remembered as possible.  Between my blog and periodically spraying history factoids onto facebook, I found that I was slowly archiving my history stories and improving my recall of the information.

This is where student teaching comes back into the picture.  I found that my flailing forays into amateur historianship were, to steal a phrase from the Odyssey, keeping my mind teeming.  My stories were what made me successful when I taught history, and what drew out the most awe and interest from my students.  Whenever I would finish a day and found myself with a lick of free time, I would go careening across the internet or blazing into used bookstores (by the way, nobody seems to buy history books so they’re always on clearance) in search of stories to distill and plaster onto the internet with my pseudonym under the heading (p.sure I didn’t break copyright laws, but that’s what the JD will tell me in a couple years…).  My relief during my M.Ed was to cocoon myself in books and random history, literature, and political factoids.

The real beauty of being a history person is that 10 lbs of books only costs $4

Lo and behold, by the time I finished my student teaching days, I had roughly a month of time to kill before my paperwork went through and I could be a real teacher.  I decided to compile all my blogposts and Facebook scraps and found that I had nearly 200 pages of amateur history.  I decided to spend the month filling out the material and researching the background to all the odd little stories and intellectual sorties, to pitch any that I could find no background on and to flesh out the short blurbs until I had a page or two on each topic.  30 days, 30,000 pages of books, JSTOR and google scholar, and 220 hours of writing later, I churned out a semi-edited, self-published book of anecdotes under the title “Veni, Vidi, Didici.”  It netted a grand total of $21, but it was never about the money.  It was to follow through with something that kept me sane through student teaching and to give me something to look through when the memories began to fade to remember all the information that I had put so much time and effort into learning in the first place.

Book photo
The physical representation of my spare time during one of the most stressful times of my life.


Jaylene Murray, Phd (c), School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan

Photo 1

My name is Jaylene Murray. I’m a second year PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan in the School of Environment and Sustainability. My focus is on student activism for sustainability in higher education; I want to know how and why students care about the environment and the ways in which they are working to further the uptake of sustainability in universities. As a social scientist, I am curious about why people do what they do, how they do it, and what lessons the rest of us can learn from the experiences of others.

Photo 2

(Photo: Home)

In between the privilege of conducting interviews, collecting data, analysis, and writing on a computer, I yearn for nature interaction. Growing up on the west coast of Canada, I was raised in close relationship with nature. As a child of mixed-ancestry of European settler and Indigenous ancestors, I had the honour of learning from Stö:lo elders and teachers who taught us that everything has a spirit, that we can learn from rocks and trees just as much, in fact sometimes more, than we can from humans. I learned that we live in relationship with our more-than-human relatives; the air, Earth, streams, ocean and all the other more-than-human creatures that surround us. We live in relation to each other, and to survive we need to live in balance, in harmony, in peace. These teachings were further ingrained through experiences with my grandparents, parents, and siblings as we explored the lakes, streams, and ravines, playing, creating, and being.

Photo 3

(Photo: Gaining Perspective)

With teachings deeply rooted with Land, I find it challenging to remain seated behind four walls that make me claustrophobic, behind a computer incessantly yet silently buzzing, with LEDs and fluorescence bathing my skin yet lacking the essential vitamin D’s I need from the sun… So I have to escape to reconnect, to break from the heavy use of the left side of my brain, to exercise my creativity, to connect with the right side of my brain. To do so, I find nature. Even in the middle of this city I temporarily call home, there are pockets where I can reconnect. And when I can’t, I can pull from the memories deeply ingrained in me, and express them through the tip of my pencil

Photo 4

(Photo: Weaving of inanimate objects (book, buttons, light-bulb, electricity) with nature)

I immerse myself in journaling, poetry, and/or sketching inspired by this Land. Sometimes I find myself dabbling in my Nana and Mother’s art of painting, although that’s a bit trickier for me. Actually, it’s all tricky. It’s all challenging in a way that academia is not. It’s also challenging in some of the same ways – it requires determination, resilience, and passion. I enjoy academia for the same reasons – I’m constantly challenged, have to overcome obstacles, have to remain steadfast, and I am fueled by my passions to do so. Without these, art and academia would be meaningless.

Photo 5

(Photo: Murray submission to ‘Of Land and Living Skies’, Issue 5, p. 26)

My nature art escapes give me the opportunity to break from the rigidity of academics, the freedom to explore and create with no end goal but to release, relieve, and remember. They allow me to thrive in an environment I am not accustomed to, to find my foundation when I feel ungrounded, and to soothe my soul when I desperately miss the ocean and the mountains. I find time to sit and be with nature among my more-than-human relatives, and rather than recreating on this land, I find time to re-create myself with this land, as part of this land, with my relations.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to express yourself in a new way, check out the Journal ‘Of Land and Living Skies’. They honoured me with a spot in their 5th Issue to present a photo essay ( p. 23). This is an excellent avenue to practice weaving together your creative side with your academic side and see what magic emerges! My photos, drawings, attempts at poetry, and various other ramblings all help balance me out in this academic world. Whether the end product is ‘good’ or not, does not always matter; sometimes it’s simply the therapeutic process of losing ones’ self through the journey of self re-creation with Land.


(Photo: Finding self with land)