Hello from Washington, D.C.! My name is Skylar Bayer, and despite my current location, I spent the last six years of my life living in Maine for my Ph.D. through the University of Maine. I still consider it my home since my house, husband and two awesome dogs are still all there while I complete this marine science policy fellowship this year!
Thom & Me, Misha (tan dog) and Millie (black and tan dog) at our wedding day in Owls Head, Maine.
Us in front of our house! (November 2017)
Hobbies have been a very important way for me to get through the last eight years (two years for my masters and six years for my Ph.D.) They have made me maintain a healthy balance of my life and my work. Finishing a Ph.D. required surviving a series of sprints for sure, but I was mostly concerned with making it through the whole marathon (i.e. the Ph.D. program).
There are a few things to understand about me as a person. One is that I had heart surgery when I was born, so I have always maintained some kind of sport/physical activity in my life. Another is that six months into my Ph.D. program I was further diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia that kept me from SCUBA diving in my lab… which was a SCUBA diving lab. In addition, during the early years of my program, I had a big family medical emergency among many other events that come along with being an adult. Thus, taking time to appreciate life, spend time with family and friends is very important to me. As well as finding things to laugh about.
Dogs and walking in the woods!
SO to begin with, hobby number one has been taking care of my dog Millie a.k.a. Milbert a.k.a. Milbalina a.k.a. my darling thesis dog.
I got Millie three months into graduate school with no real knowledge of what I was doing as a pet owner. Growing up we had a dog that occasionally lived with us, but she was half husky and ran away all the time. Plus, I didn’t raise her as a puppy. So this was a whole new experience.
Millie has kept me going on walks out in the woods regularly, kept me getting up very early in the morning and always going home at a reasonable hour. She has also scared me to death by trying to play with sheep, goats, horses and seals (yes, even seals!)
Science Communication & Storytelling!
When I was diagnosed with my heart condition, I was no longer able to SCUBA dive in my lab. Instead I became the boat driver. So I felt like I had to fill in a skill gap, one that I could easily do from a remote coast in Maine. One that presented itself readily was… online science communication!
I started my blog, Strictlyfishwrap, as basically practice for getting better at writing. The biggest lift my blog gave me was when it landed me on the The Colbert Report. (I will not spoil it for you, go watch the clip).
That gave me a big boost in my confidence as a science communicator. I started Tweeting, really as a networking tool, and looked for science communication conferences.
I went to one conference in Miami in 2013 and pitched a story for The Story Collider about diving in Alvin, and it went over great and it made it onto their podcast.
I ended up producing a few shows in Maine between 2014 and 2016. Storytelling changed my life. It gave me a great outlet to practice my communication skills that I could use while teaching and during scientific presentations. You can hear some of my favorite stories that I’ve told here.
Erin Barker and I co-hosting for a Story Collider show in 2015. Photo by Jesse Stuart.
This led me to The Corner which is a local storytelling group in Lewiston, Maine. It takes about 75 minutes to drive there once a month, but it is totally worth it. Over several years, my husband and I became very good friends with the founder of The Corner and have made many friends along the way. The community there is rich with a diversity of stories and is a place that feels like home now (I miss it). Local storytelling events are a great place to make friends with your local community members.
In February of 2015 I became a local sports reporter/reader at VSTV for seven months. It was to make ends meet for a few semesters! I woke up at 4 AM five days a week to read off a teleprompter for a few takes of local and national sports news. I really loved the people I worked with but was happy to sleep in again after my time there ended.
My former co-worker, Lyn, and I goofing around on set of VSTV.
Before the TV work, I had started a radio show at a local radio station. I used the recording equipment at the radio station to make a podcast, The Strictlyfishwrap Science Radio Hour on WRFR-LP, and once my husband became my husband, he became my co-host, too.
Thom & Me in the WRFR-LP radio studio in Rockland, Maine.
This has led to numerous creative opportunities in multiple types of media. I am still trying to figure out if there are mediums I prefer other than just straight up live storytelling. Here’s a list of all the things I’ve tried so far.
Interviewing the conference organizer for the International Marine Conservation Congress in Newfoundland, Canada (August 2016).
Sports! All the Sports!
During my master’s degree, I had started doing Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When I moved to Maine, I didn’t know where to go for those activities, and really struggled finding a place I liked for those things. Maine is the kind of place where knowledge is word of mouth, so it took me a few years to find places I really liked. I did find a fantastic yoga place called Wicked Good Yoga. Going there regularly was particularly helpful during my comprehensive exams.
One day I picked up a flyer in a coffee shop to try out for the local roller derby team, the Rock Coast Rollers. Roller derby was AMAZING! I had a whole network of wonderful people to vent to everyday about my life, I had so much to learn. I had played hockey as a kid, and loved to ice skate, but wasn’t that into the stick-handling in hockey. Derby is all about skating, teamwork and strategy. It was a commitment that was well worth my time.
Roller derby! I’m in the orange tiger leggings above.
One of the only games in my career that I was captain and jammer (star on helmet) for a game. I won most valuable jammer for this bout!
We all had jobs while we were helping run our literal non-profit. I not only was a skater, but I got to be a trainer, a mediator, a captain and eventually the interleague liaison (i.e. the game organizer). We traveled up and down the east coast competing in events. My teammates were sailors, carpenters, teachers, homemakers, farmers, and just great Mainers. I spent three years on this team and then I had to say goodbye to my very supportive community because I desperately needed the time to finish up my Ph.D. program.
Some of my teammates and I posing for one of our event posters. Photo by Jim Dugan.
Our Breakwater Blackhearts team after a game back in 2015.
In 2016, I finally went back to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after four years. I love Jiu Jitsu because a person can be any age, any size and any physical form to participate, learn and grow from it. Every person has weaknesses and strengths in the sport no matter what shape, physical strength or intelligence level. It’s a game of physical chess, it’s very intellectual and it’s very technical. I am now on the third stripe of my blue belt and getting a lot of new training experience in D.C.
My blue belt that I received after my test in August, 2016.
Many of my classmates and instructors after a seminar in Maine. I’m in the upper righthand corner of the group.
All the other stuff
I’ve covered a lot of my major hobbies, but I get a lot of joy out of adventures with my husband and friends. I’ve gotten more into swimming because my husband does long distance swimming and I discovered last winter, while nursing a knee injury, that I can swim a whole mile, no problem. Thom and I even made a Dance Your Ph.D. video about my research on scallop spawning. We did not win, but we had a lot of fun making the video! We’ve had a couple of other adventures like hiking mountains, traveling to Iceland and telling stories together on stage.
Thom and I taking a selfie with some Icelandic ponies in Iceland on our very delayed honeymoon, December 2017.
My first time to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s the northern-most end of the Appalachian Trail. Thom has been up here many times. (September 2016).
Thom & Me storytelling together in New York City. Photo from The Story Collider. (June 2017)
I also love making art, although I haven’t made much time for this in recent years. However, I’ve made collages (cut paper, paint and markers) for a few of my talks:
Collage of a normal heart and a heart with transposition of the great arteries (TGA). I made for my TEDxPiscataquaRiver talk (May 2016)
Collage of scallops spawning for my Three Minute Thesis (3MT) video at UMaine. (April 2017)
Finally, I love postcards. I have a blog post in which I ask the universe to send me postcards. I wrote it in 2014 and I still continue to get postcards from all over the world. Every time I receive one, it makes my day, and I always write back to return the favor. Please send me a postcard if you have the time – I will send you one from wherever I am at the time, be it D.C., Maine or some other adventure I happen to be on!
All the postcards I used to keep on my office wall in graduate school. These kept me entertained for eight years.