The last three weeks zoomed by on this little island, and we are wrapping up data collections and switching over to conference mode for our last week in Hawaii.
We were up well before sunrise thanks to jet lag the first week, & enjoyed many beautiful mornings at the beach.
Joey & Blake love spending time with their grandparents
So how is it going? The short answer is fairly well. We (I) spent a huge amount of time prior to arriving carefully selecting a house that was suitable for kids and grandparents, planning travel to arrive a few days early so we could adjust & set up, finding local stores and restaurants, sussing out activities for them, and packing items like power outlet covers and night lights so we could quickly “baby-proof” the beach house. These efforts paid off, as the children made a fairly smooth transition to life in Hawaii. We had a very long day of travel and arrived after their bedtime, so thankfully they were tired enough to sleep until 5am local time the first morning (that’s 10am in Virginia- they usually would wake up at 7:30). Joey was good to go after that. Blake had a few tough nights and we had a little more trouble getting his nap schedule on track, but we are now cruising along with a good routine for everyone. The team agreed that the most crucial piece of planning to everyone’s happiness was the house – easy walk to the beach, bedrooms for everyone plus a lab, and a spacious backyard safe for the kids to play in.
The boys are getting very good at their job – clean dive/snorkel gear with hose
Group hike at Manoa Falls on a family morning
We got into work relatively quickly, sorting out instruments, unpacking gear, and connecting with local colleagues. We had tank experiments up and running within days. Weather kept us off of the water longer than we had hoped, but we managed to start collecting in-water data within a week of arrival and are now on track. Our first week was very busy and the boys started asking for more time with us. Thankfully we crossed off a few big hurdles early on (tank experiments!) and were able to adjust our schedule so that we had a fun family activity with them every few days. We are living in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, so grand adventures like kayaking, hiking, and swimming are easily within reach for morning play before nap.
Joey & Blake love swimming, especially with Grammy
Papa & I out for a snorkel
Simon collects a shallow water acoustic recorder from one of the patch reefs in Kaneohe Bay
The boys love spending time with their grandparents, and the beach is a few minutes walk from our front door, so in general their days are spent playing in the sand, swimming in the surf, and enjoying our luxurious backyard complete with banana trees while Simon & I work. When the weather keeps us off the water and/or we are able to schedule half a day off, we take them further afield to different parts of Oahu for hiking, beaches, tide pool exploration, and a couple of memorable boat & kayak excursions.
A sea turtle glides past our boat as we approach a work site
The NASA ER-2 aircraft flies over us collecting hyperspectral imagery of Kaneohe Bay, while we collect acoustic data & ecological surveys below the surface.
One of our data collection sites in Kaneohe Bay
We have almost completed our data collections, both in water and in tanks with collaborators at the University of Hawaii. We have a few instruments still taking data that we need to pick up early next week before we ship our equipment back to NRL on Thursday, but otherwise we are starting to clean and pack gear. In terms of work, we have shifted to preparing our presentations for the ASLO Meeting this week. My talk is tomorrow morning, so I’m finalizing the details of my powerpoint presentation today while Simon takes the kids on a rock pool adventure (apparently the sea urchins were their favorite animal). We are also taking care to back up data, start running codes for quality control, and organize our notes and photos from the trip.
Joey scrambles over volcanic rocks without trouble
Blake is now a confident walker
A few highlights from our time here include Joey’s growing knowledge of sea animals. After reading a couple of books about sea turtles ingesting trash by mistake, he has led us on quite a few beach clean-ups. Blake is now walking confidently on grass, sand, and rocks. Both boys love to play in the ocean, and scramble around on dark black lava rocks in bare feet with smiles on their faces. We are very happy with our decision to bring them along, and are immensely grateful to the spoilers (Grammy & Papa) for caring for the boys so well and on an ever-changing schedule while we take care of our fieldwork requirements and juggle work needs with family time.
The boys explore rock pools with Daddy while I prepare my conference talk
Joey discovered many types of sea urchins & claims they are his new favorite animal.
This expedition has been years in the making, from applying to proposals & gathering funds, sussing out a timeline, and making a plan where we could bring the boys, caregivers, and still get our work done. Here’s what is going to happen & how we got there:
Me & Simon (the science team), Joey & Blake (the nuggets), and Grammy & Papa (the caregivers) are flying to Honolulu on February 1 for one month. We are staying at a rental house by Kailua beach, a short drive from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, where Simon & I will be working. In addition to space for the six of us, the house has a semi-attached “in-law suite” that will serve as our lab.
It all started with a NASA proposal two years ago that I developed with my postdoc advisor, to inform the HySPIRI satellite mission during an expedition to Hawaii. NASA will fly over the Hawaiian Island chain with hyperspectral remote sensing imagers to simulate HySPIRI data, and during the same time a science team will be collecting data on the ground to validate and test the imagery. We are on the coral reef team. My question is how well coral reef health can be determined from some of the highest quality satellite imagery, utilizing the relative proportion of coral and fleshy macroalgae as the metric of health. This proportion can be detected from space with the correct sensor, and is a well established indicator of coral reef ecosystem state. A healthier reef has more live coral, and a more degraded reef has been overgrown with fleshy macroalgae.
The Freeman & Freeman paper that came out in December was a thorough investigation of passive acoustic indicators of coral reef state in the Hawaiian Islands from our 2012 fieldwork. One of our most interesting finds was that different acoustic signals come from reefs with lots of coral (healthier reefs), versus reefs with lots of fleshy macroalgae (more degraded reefs). We were very interested in testing this further, and seeing if we could use remote sensing & acoustics together to improve the overall ability to determine coral reef state from afar. When Simon started his fellowship as a federal scientist in June, he was given start-up funds and has been able to dedicate part of them to his own, complimentary experiments in Kaneohe Bay in February.
The timeline was heavily constrained by flight time for the NASA aircraft and instruments, but thankfully it was confirmed with enough advance notice that we have been able to get all of our coordinating pieces into place. Simon requested and scheduled his experiment. My parents were able to take a month away from work & home duties, which meant that we could bring the boys. We can’t express enough gratitude to them, as neither of us would be willing to leave our kids for a month right now. The kids, in turn, are so excited for a month on the beach with their grandparents:
We have dreamed for far longer than we have been parents about conducting joint fieldwork and having our children along, a-la Rosemary and Peter Grant style. What an incredible experience for them – an opportunity to live in a new place, enjoy a new culture, and learn about the diversity of the natural world. Not to mention lots of QT with the grandparents. We are beyond excited that this is happening, and can’t wait to share it with you over the blog-channels in the next few weeks.
One of our long-term dreams as a science family is to take on “family fieldwork.” The idea is that Simon & I would conduct joint or collaboratory fieldwork in the same location, and bring along our kids and caregivers for them. We are so excited to have the opportunity to do just that during the month of February when we will return to Hawaii. In the meantime, Simon had a short work trip to Nags Head, North Carolina last weekend and we were able to put together a mini-version of family fieldwork to try it out.
We visited Nags Head to facilitate collection of large, fresh, whole pelagic fishes including tuna and wahoo. These fish subsequently traveled with Simon & a colleague to San Diego for high resolution scanning in an MRI machine. The resultant data are a key first step to Simon’s newest project at NRL developing a fish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle.
November is the tail end of the season for the fish of interest, so a three-day window was allotted where Simon could assess the daily catch from his vendor fisherman and pick the specimens he wanted, then carefully package them for shipping to San Diego. Time was critical as he wanted to ensure the fish were whole fresh specimens (fresh is better when it comes to MRI) and never frozen.
The fish collection window fell over a holiday weekend, so I made plans to join Simon and bring the boys & their grandparents along for the ride. We rented a house in Nags Head across the street from the beach and brought along a stroller and sand toys. Overall, everything worked. The kids and I made it home safely, Simon is in San Diego proceeding with data collection from the fish scans, and the grandparents are still excited about our trip to Hawaii.
That said, we learned quite a few things to operate more smoothly next time!
Our children are still very young (3 years, 10 months) so having a safe space for both of them to play indoors is critical. When we travel to Hawaii I’ll bring/buy extra outlet covers, baby gates, pop-up toy storage, and doorknob covers.
Simon takes Blake for a sunset walk
Joey inspects a shark egg case that he found at the beach
This past weekend was REALLY hectic because of the aforementioned time crunch on getting the fish into the MRI as quickly as possible. We were only in Nags Head for three days. In addition, we had extra people coming and going from the house. This was definitely stressful for the boys. I was reminded (again) that we need to keep everything as simple as possible for them, and preserve their routine. I think things will be easier in Hawaii since we are there for a whole month, and they’ll have more time to get settled and used to the family fieldwork norm.
On the same note, buffer days are really critical for kids. I had a free day with them after arriving in Nags Head, and spent another day with them at the grandparents’ house in Williamsburg before returning to our home in Alexandria. That extra time really helped them re-group and stay happy.
The final challenge with family fieldwork is delineating my time between work and kids. At home, I never work when I’m with them – I reserve all work things for when I’m at my office, or when they are asleep. This is a harder line to draw with a shared house in a new place. We are still piecing plans together, but now will prioritize a clear schedule of work time as well as a separated office space in the house that the boys will not usually be allowed to access. I’m glad a have a few more months to brainstorm before we go so that V2.0 Hawaii Edition gets off to a smooth start!
Blake crossed off two big firsts last month – his first flights and his first scientific conference. He has many more of both ahead of him, so I’m glad to report that everything went well.
Joey stayed home with his grandparents while Simon, Blake, and I flew to New Orleans, Louisiana for the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM). We were quickly reminded of how easy it is to fly with an infant compared to a toddler!
We were thrilled to see lots of kids running around OSM, from tiny to school age. AGU kindly provides onsite daycare at a reasonable cost, with no obligation (parents can drop kids off when needed and pay by the hour). The meeting is divided into talks during the day, mixed with town hall meetings and big plenary talks, followed by poster sessions in the evening. The poster sessions are prime kid territory – there are food and drinks available, its already loud, and the posters are in a huge open space! Blake is too little to run around, but he was a great mascot at our poster.
At just over two months old, Blake was perfectly travel sized and spent most of his time engaging in that newborn specialty – sleep. Since he isn’t yet on a very regular schedule and likes to be with us all of the time, it was pretty easy to haul him around the conference in a baby carrier. Both Simon & I were participating in the meeting, so we could trade off baby duty. Simon held Blake in the back of the room during my talk. Some may find that distracting, but I was really pleased to have them there for support! He was also a good sport about participating in all of the lunch and evening networking & socializing that goes hand-in-hand with most conferences. This was a particularly fun meeting for us as we had the chance to reconnect with many friends and colleagues from Scripps, including one of the greats – Walter Munk – who Blake was photographed with.
Blake meets the father of oceanography, Walter Munk
Scripps friends gather for dinner in the French Quarter
Freemans at the Scripps reception
Schmoozing like a pro
Quick visit to the aquarium
Blake enjoys fancy hotels
Lauren & Blake with her PhD Advisor Art & his wife Jenny
We’ve employed a variety of strategies at scientific conferences in the past – bring baby & caregiver, bring baby & extra parent, leave baby & 1 parent at home, leave baby (once toddler-sized) with grandparents… Unfortunately this situation doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. But with some creative thinking, its definitely possible to pull it off. In our experience, it is rewarding and fun to bring kids along. When you are on break from the meeting you get a mini-family vacation in a cool new city, your old friends and colleagues get to meet your kid, and your baby is taking in the latest ocean science developments to prepare for kindergarten. That said, a baby older than about 6 months really requires a dedicated caregiver in our experience.
The adventures of Joey & Blake will kick into high gear in April – stay tuned!
An important part of being scientists is to attend scientific conferences where we share our work, learn about recent progress in the field, and liaise with collaborators and colleagues. We were presented with a fairly unusual situation a couple of weeks ago, even for us. Both Simon and I had scientific conferences during the same week – in different cities. The acoustics meeting (Simon) was in Indianapolis, Indiana and the optics meeting (Lauren) was in Portland, Maine. A few years ago this wouldn’t have mattered aside from us missing each other, but it was a pretty big challenge to figure out how Joey would be cared for during that week. Normally for work travel we would employ one of the following strategies:
All three of us travel to the site of the conference. The parent who is not involved in the conference takes the lead role in caring for Joey, while the other tends to scientific duties. The family would reunite in the evenings and during midday break sort of like a normal working day at home.
The parent involved in the meeting travels alone. The other parent stays home with Joey and takes the full care load. During work hours, Joey is with his nanny.
Joey is left at the grandparents’ resort while the two parents go to their meetings.
The fact that we each had a meeting at the same time in different cities completely ruled out 1 and 2, and 3 was not an option on this particular week. We first weighed the importance of the meetings and decided we would both very much like to go to our respective events. We then began emailing our friends, asking if they would like a free trip to Maine in exchange for hanging out with a fun one-year old during the day. This was surprisingly successful, and before we knew it we had booked a third flight on air points for Uncle Joe to come along to Maine to care for Joey.
How It Worked:
All 3 Freemans went to Maine first for a long weekend, where we stayed in the conference hotel. Joe arrived on Sunday night, also staying in the hotel with us. Simon stayed until Monday night to give Joe the down-low on childcare, and then took another flight to Indianapolis. For the remainder of the week, I got up with Joey each day and prepared him for his morning events, then left J&J to eat breakfast and go to various sessions. I ran back upstairs at 11:30 to take care of Joey’s nap-time routine. Joe stayed in the dark room working during nap-time while I returned to meeting activities. The evenings varied, but at a minimum I met the guys to take care of bedtime.
What We Thought:
First off, we felt extremely grateful to Joe for taking time out of his own life to care for Joey extensively and spend relatively little time with me. I felt guilty often during the week for leaving him in a dark room for 3 hours while Joey napped and the sound machine played rainforest noises… all the while I was having an enjoyable social lunch at the pub next door.
Overall, I don’t think we could ask for a much better setup. I wasn’t comfortable hiring a local caregiver without meeting them first (which there wasn’t time for). Joey adores his Uncle Joe, and I daresay vice versa is also true. I was able to participate actively in the meeting, show off Joey to fellow scientists at key times, and develop meaningful collaborations. I left the main social event (awards banquet) for half an hour to put Joey to bed, but managed to eat my dinner first and get back in time for dessert and entertainment. Joey was very happy all week, and enjoyed Portland’s prolific parks, crisp weather, and excellent children’s museum.
I’m back at work this week! Everything became very real on Monday when I waited in line to receive my name badge and found my office already said “Dr. Lauren Freeman” on the door. It has been a hectic month getting ready to send me in to work every day and Joey to childcare. I’ve been outfitting both of us with the best of the back to school sales, from a little red lunch bag with bicycles for Joey’s daily snacks and two midday meals to new work-appropriate attire for me. NRL has a slightly more formal expected dress code than Scripps (as in just having walked in from surfing or swimming and hanging your wetsuit out of your office window is no longer an option).
The first week has been extra hectic because none of our carefully selected care providers were available until September 1 (a fact that didn’t become clear until a couple of days before I started work, due to a communication error on the other end). Simon and I have been working a dreaded “split schedule” this week. I leave the house at 6:45 and work until just after lunch while Simon gets up with Joey, takes him for a morning activity, feeds him, and puts him down for his nap. We switch off between 1 and 2, and Simon is able to work until 8, getting home just in time for a quick family dinner before we put Joey to bed. It has been intense, but surprisingly fulfilling. I enjoy my time with Joey more now that it is limited, and I feel proud after having accomplished things at my job, taken Joey to the pool, and made dinner all in one day. That said, I am also glad that this heavy schedule was only for one week!
I am genuinely surprised at how HAPPY we all are about this. Leading up to my first day was a bit of a roller coaster – some days I’d be very excited about working, but I often felt concerned or sad about leaving Joey. While I certainly miss him very much at the office, I am excited for all of the new things that he gets to learn and experience! He is currently alternating between a nanny that takes him out on the town and teaches him
Portuguese, and a home daycare where he is making friends with other little people and learning how to share. At the same time, I feel a marvelous sense of freedom when I reach the office and know that someone else is fully responsible for his care over the next couple of hours. I am still on call if there were an emergency of course, and Iove getting photos on my phone or email of his adventures, but I appreciate the break to be me (non-mom me, that is). I think more than anything, our whole family is a little relieved to be on a semi-regular schedule again.
I digress – the point I’m getting at here is to go forth and do what makes you happy. For us, that means me and Simon both working on science and Joey enjoying himself in daycare/with a nanny in the meantime. I wouldn’t have guessed it from the outset, but we’ve been planning together over the past several months for a setup that keeps all three of us happy. Reading about the Harvard Grant Study and surveys of what makes kids happy over the past couple of weeks has really solidified those choices for me. There are several books and articles linked throughout this post that we have really enjoyed – I hope that you do too!
The later part of a PhD program can be a great time to have a baby
If you are married to another PhD student, you can use the flexible scheduling to your advantage x2
Be realistic about your goals – when someone tells you that you can get 2-4 hours of work done a day when your kid is 3 weeks old, believe them.
Having a supportive partner, family, and friends makes a huge difference
So does your own attitude.
Take advantage of the help! If people offer to bring you a meal, take your kid for a walk so you can work/nap, run a load of laundry, etc – always say yes!
Pay it forward when you can – always offer to help new moms in a way that makes sense to you. If babies aren’t your thing, bring over food or do a household chore 🙂
Don’t be afraid of childcare – it is worth the money to not have stress over being able to get work done!
Your baby and family are unique – work with what you have.
Ultimately what your family does is up to your family – no one can tell you that you were wrong. It is your responsibility to make it work.
It was part luck and part careful planning, but I wound up being able to take a full 9 months off of work to spend with Joey during his first year. When he was born, Simon and I were still PhD students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I graduated when he was 3 months old, and since then have been on self-proclaimed ‘maternity leave.’ I start my new position as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow on August 25 – a couple of weeks after Joey’s first birthday.
We spent a good amount of time before getting pregnant thinking about the best time to slot in a baby or two with our career plans. Several of our professors indicated to us that the end of grad school is actually a great time – the hours are super flexible since near the end your main task is writing and editing your dissertation and associated manuscripts. This was a little tough to believe during our hectic first years of classes, but we decided to give it a shot!
Having a kid in grad school worked out very well for us. We had been in San Diego long enough to have a great support network, and at Scripps long enough to be established with our own shared office. We installed an electric baby swing, and within a couple weeks of Joey’s arrival we started bringing him into work with us. We would work during his naps, then feed and change him and periodically take him for walks along the beach.
We spent long hours at Scripps in the time immediately preceding our defenses. I remember still being there at 10:00pm on the night of Halloween and feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten Joey a Halloween costume, so I took a photo of him wearing a dinosaur hat. He probably missed out on a few other things during his first few months since we were so caught up in work, but he was an incredibly good sport about letting us get what we needed done, and he also wound up getting to spend his entire days with one or both of his parents. We had some excellent friend babysitters that would take him for long walks when we needed to really focus, and my mom came to stay a couple of times before we graduated to help take some of the care duties so that Simon and I could both get our work done.
I had always intended to continue working after having kids. Simon and I dream of a joint science job somewhere beautiful along the water down the road. But after careful consultation with my advisors and assessment of our life situation, we decided to take 3 months off as a family after graduating to travel and visit Joey’s extended family/fatherland, and I stalled on my job search so that I could stay home with Joey until he was 1 year old. I’ve gotten less science work done during that time than I had hoped (two submitted papers instead of four), but more life work – updating the family photos, organizing our new townhouse, spending time with Joey and my family, and other good stuff like that.
Now that my start date is closing in, we are tackling the hardest parenting job we have faced yet – finding Joey suitable care while we work. The first daycare we visited us bluntly informed us that Joey would cry for the first several weeks after being dropped off at their house, may not eat, and probably would stop sleeping all night because he was so distressed by the change after being spoiled by a year at home with his mama. I imagine this was a poor example of a daycare provider (we haven’t visited another yet), but it was still a crummy first experience. We took the initiative to look into other daycares, nanny-shares, and part-time babysitters. We are still searching, but slowly honing in on the best choice for our family. Thank goodness I started this hunt six weeks before my job start date!
*UPDATE 11-20-14: Joey has a wonderful nanny that we all three love. She stays with him 3-4 days a week. On the other days, Simon & I work a split schedule*
I am so grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Joey, and also so excited to be returning to full-time work soon! Sometimes it is hard to keep the long-term perspective in our sights, but usually the other of Simon or I is quick to remind the distressed person why we are making these choices. The biggest key to our happiness is being realistic – how many hours a week could one work if providing 80% of the care for a small baby? What could one achieve in that time? If it isn’t enough, how can we pull in friends or childcare professionals to help us achieve our goals?
The academic and professional science environment can be a wonderful place to have a weird schedule, accommodate a growing family, and get in a lot of cool work travel. Ultimately it is up to you the scientist to be pro-active about making the situation meet your needs.
It was inevitable, although I did it sooner than many moms (and later than many other moms). I left Joey with his Grammy and Papa for a week of luxury baby resort – swimming, beach, friends, relatives, a dog, a big house, and tons of toys and books – while I went off on a science adventure without him. It would be easy for me to spend the week feeling sad and guilty for abandoning my child and husband, but I knew from the outset that I couldn’t do that. Several people including Joey and Simon worked hard to ensure that I could make this happen, and the least I could do to repay them is get the most out of my trip!
I am en route to the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station on St. John, USVI. I am going to help fellow Scripps grad and science mom extraordinaire Jessica Carilli with her exciting fieldwork. Jess makes a living by studying the records left in corals skeletons, and in this particular case is looking for the signature of sediment runoff in the coral record. The first step to getting at that record is extracting cores – long, cylindrical, sections of coral – for her to take back to her lab and study. Divers take the cores from both living and dead corals with an underwater drill, which is powered by SCUBA tanks. That’s where I come in – dive buddy was needed! I’m so happy to be back in the water and for the opportunity to work with a Scripps friend. While we aren’t working on Jessica’s data collection, you can assume that I will either be off exploring the reef with my mask and snorkel or working hard on my own papers. I set an ambitious goal of submitting two additional manuscripts for review before I start work (hopefully September 1), so I have a lot to do!
This is a fun learning experience for me also. I have never taken coral cores before. Simon’s and my work in Hawaii has prepared me for the innovative requirements of fieldwork, as well as for handling large and unwieldy objects underwater. The tools and methods we are using on this trip are new to me though, and I have much to gain from this experience.
In the meantime, Joey is hanging out with two of his favorite people and making the rounds to his Williamsburg fan club. He is already being spoiled by his grandparents, and while he gets excited to see Simon and I on Facetime or Skype, does not seem to be distressed by our absence. I am grateful that he is still small enough to take this in stride and not really understand that we aren’t in the same geographic area as him right now. It will be a very happy family reunion for all three Freemans next weekend, regardless!
We spent today getting settled into the VIERS field station and exploring the nearby reefs to suss out field sites in Lameshur Bay.
The cabin is very nice – two big bedrooms with a toilet/sink each and a kitchen in between. There is power, but everything is open air- a strip of screens around the entire building (all of the buildings), clothesline outside, super nice outside shower with warm water (soooo pleasant last night! moonlight, stars, crickets and frogs… I was in love). There are ceiling fans and it is cool enough to sleep inside. Our kitchen has a stove-top only, coffeepot, and small microwave. Most of our meals will be prepared in our cabin. There is a large ‘camp’ with many cabins, a communal cafeteria, office, little museum from the tektite project, and other living amenities. They have short (2 day) camps for kids here. Then it is a short walk or drive to the ‘lab’ which has lab space, a little dive locker (closet with lockers and drying rack), pier, small boat, freshwater shower, etc.
We visited the lab today to set up and run through our basic procedures. We are planning to start diving/collecting cores tomorrow morning. Today we went for a long snorkel to explore Lameshur Bay near the field station. The land part of the park is beautiful, dense jungle singing with birds and insects (no frightening bites yet!). The underwater park has scattered coral reefs and seagrass beds, with a wide variety of fish. The water is unbelievably warm – far warmer than anything we experienced in Hawaii.
I of course left my camera in the dive locker so photos will have to be added later, but wanted to leave a little bit of an update ☺
I have recently been getting to know the academic interview or “job talk” very well, as I search for an amenable position to begin in the late summer/early fall. I also have learned from the questions of friends and family that this is a somewhat unusual and unknown process, so I thought I’d break it down for you.
As with many jobs, academics start with some sort of job application. The specifics vary, but in general for postdocs I have been asked for a copy of my curriculum vitae (CV, a more academic version of a resume); the names and contact information for three references (I use my PhD advisor, co-advisor, and a collaborator from my dissertation committee); a cover letter; and a brief statement of research interests and/or proposed research.
Then a variety of hurdles must be crossed. Not everyone adheres to all of them, but in general the order is:
Someone reads your cover letter, CV, and proposed research statement. If they feel that you are a strong candidate, they contact your referees for letters of recommendation.
If your letters pass muster, you may be contacted for an interview via skype or telephone.
Finally, if you are doing really well, you are invited to give a job talk.
At this point (and possibly also before) a committee meets to discuss your merits compared with other candidates. They select a first choice, and make them an offer. If the first choice declines, they move on to their 2nd ranked candidate, etc.
If you are lucky (VERY lucky in these days of limited funding for science) you have multiple offers and can use them to try to leverage more funds or a more flexible work schedule from your first choice.
The main interview I’m referring to in this post is the ‘job talk.’ I get the impression my friends in other fields that their interviews are scheduled events in which they dress up in a suit, visit a climate-controlled location, and answer questions from a committee for 30-75 minutes before being excused. The job talk is quite different.
Academics are wonderful people, but tend to organize these things at the last minute. You set up the date and time and arrange your travel to the institution. Usually the hosting institution pays for you, but not always. If it is particularly far away you may need to spend a night or two in a hotel.
About 0.25-24 hours before you arrive, you will be given a schedule of the day’s events. This consists of tightly packed meetings with as many scientists and researchers as possible at the institution to discuss one another’s research, some kind of lunch meeting, and a scheduled talk. Here is a sample schedule from my interview at Princeton/GFDL:
(Lauren – wake up at 5:30, drive to metro station, take metro to union station in downtown DC to get on Amtrak northbound at 7:20am)9:46am pickup at Trenton Station10:30 – Scientist Meeting 1
11:00 – Scientist Meeting 2
11:30 – Scientist Meeting 3
12:00 – Lunch with Scientist 1 & 4
1:00 – Scientist Meeting 5
1:30 – Head to seminar location
2:00 – Seminar – “Oceanographic Controls on Coral Reef Habitats in Present and Future Climates” (given by me)
3:00 – Scientist Meeting 6
3:30 – Scientist Meeting 7
4:00 – Scientist Meeting 8 (Phew! at least this is someone I went to grad school with!)
4:45 – drop-off at Trenton Station
(arrive in Union Station DC at 8pm. Metro and drive. Hope to arrive home by 9:15 so that I can kiss my kiddo goodnight)
Since you are traveling to this place, you spend that time googling each individual on the list so you know what they look like, what their general field is, and what they have recently been publishing on. (This is especially important if you have never heard of them before.) I must note that Amtrak is great for this as you have spacious accommodations, free wifi, outlets for charing, and access to a snack cart with coffee.
The entire day is an interview. While it is best to appear relaxed, intelligent, and entertaining, you (should be!) constantly thinking in the back of your head – this person will get to vote on whether or not I get a position here. Make sure that they know it would be foolish to vote no. The meetings will focus on science, but topics can range from microbreweries to family life to fine literature. You don’t have to study these things ahead of time, but you may have to discuss them with some degree of charisma. Scientists love debates and analytically solving problems, so healthy disagreement is great – just be prepared to back up your claim. (For example, I am willing to point out unsustainable seafoods offered on a restaurant menu at the lunch event.)
The schedule is quite tightly packed (see above). You are unlikely to have a reasonable number of chances to go to the bathroom, fill your water bottle, or get a much needed coffee since you woke up at 5:30 am to meet with these people. If you see even the tiniest opportunity or someone frees you early – take it. Even if you just went to the bathroom 45 minutes ago, go again, and at least take the 2 minutes to yourself to regroup.
The talk is either the best or worst part depending on how you look at it. For about 45 minutes, you are allowed to speak uninterrupted about yourself and your research. For about 45 minutes, everyone is staring at you and you must be careful to not say ‘um’ or play with your hair. This is an excellent time to be confident and engaging. The talk itself is usually adapted from one you gave in the past. I started with my PhD defense talk and have made several spin-offs since. No two talks are identical, but once you have the pieces to work from it isn’t that hard to put it together. The delivery is key. After the talk, you don’t have to spend half of each meeting explaining what you do, and of course you will be more relaxed.
The job talk day is different to a classic interview. You certainly want to look presentable, but most academic institutions don’t expect you to wear a suit (I don’t – but I do switch out my everyday flip-flops for flats). Your demeanor and your science are the two most important factors. The meeting rooms may be hot, cold, small, dark, or really nice – but almost never a polished conference room with aircon running and a large fancy wooden table in the middle. You may have to walk up and down hills or stairs (this was a particularly big deal at Scripps – I remember feeling terrible for visiting scientists as I led them up and down ‘the hill’ along the 300 meter high sea cliff). Finding the locations of meetings is almost impossible if you don’t already have familiarity with the complex, so always ask for help. Instead of feeling scrutinized, there is a much warmer, welcoming feeling. Often scientists engage you with tales of how much they love their institution and how much you will also love it there. Because the truth is, you are interviewing them too. This full day process gives you a very real chance to learn who you would be working with and what science life is like at this new place. You get the sense that it is a low-key private club. If you leave thinking that everyone wanted you to join and also feeling that you would like to join, you have done well.
Finally, the wait time on this whole process can be REALLY long. I still have pending applications that I submitted last October. So rest assured, I will be letting you know when I have accepted an offer. I am far more anxious about this than you are!
After spending almost half a year in the Hawaiian Islands we’re on our way home! We’re excited to be back in San Diego with good friends, an apartment we can call our own, and reliable Mexican food…but we’re still sad to say goodbye to the Hawaiian Isles…for now.
Now that we have the luxury of hindsight we thought we’d write about our favourite experiences in the main Hawaiian Islands. If you’re ever thinking about paying a visit, maybe these places will be just as fun for you?
Surprisingly good hiking: out the back of Niklas’ house
Honolulu was perhaps our least favourite place in the Hawaiian Islands (but still very nice). The melange of third-world squalor and ultra-trendy tourist hotspots detracted somewhat from the idyllic beaches and spectacular views from Diamond Head. That said, there were some great experiences we had here, both on and off the beaten path. The most unbeaten path was the hike from the back of Niklas and Sharon’s house, where we were staying.
Honolulu and Waikiki Occupy a narrow strip of relatively flat volcanic rock between the ocean and a steep mountainous ridge, formed as erosive forces cut away at the volcanic cone that initially created Oahu. Walk inland a couple of miles from the beach and you’ve gained about 200 feet elevation. Walk a couple more and you’re at more than 2000 feet. Such is the steepness of the mountains behind Honolulu. The houses stop at the line between habitable land and steep mountainsides. Incredible wilderness beckons beyond.
The Schneider residence is right at the edge of the jungle. Walk inland and you’re instantly amongst groves of strawberry guavas and mountain apples. A steep and poorly maintained track winds through the trees and up ridges, climbing all the way to the top of the chain of peaks behind the city. A glorious view awaits atop the cloud-shrouded mountains. Honolulu city is but a small inhabited region to the South. The reclaimed land around Pearl Harbour and Pearl city are visible to the west. Facing North, Kaneohe bay and the “windward side” is visible beyond an immense precipice. It appears so shear that it seems you could lose 2000 ft in altitude by just stepping off the ledge. Luckily, most of the time the wind is so strong you couldn’t really fall off by accident!
Haleiwa and Aoki’s shave ice
Haleiwa is a quaint surf town on the North Shore of Oahu that still feels reminiscent of big wave films like North Shore. It was the first place we visited on our journey that really felt like Hawaii, and it is a great way to get out of the city. Near Haleiwa we enjoyed excellent diving and snorkelling, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, and Sunday afternoon polo by the beach, complete with live music. The gem of Haleiwa town, however, is Aoki’s shave ice. This is the second best shave ice we had in all of Hawaii, and is probably the best for ambience. The shop doesn’t appear to have changed much since its inception 50 or so years ago, the ice is fluffy soft and melts in your mouth, and the array of flavours is excellent. This was one of our favourite places to go after working (or fun!) dives.
Kaena point from the south side
During a scouting trip around the southwest side of Oahu, we decided to drive as far as we could to the West. We drove past electric beach and continued northwest. Eventually, we got to Kaena Point state park – the westernmost part of the island. We heard that one could walk all the way to the end of the point, but we did not (not a suitable hydrophone deployment site). However, just the ocean conditions at Kaena were very interesting. Past the last beaches, the shoreline was made of rough volcanic terraces. The water seemed exceptionally clear – its often very calm on the leeward side of the island, and Kaena Point park is on the inside of an “L” shaped portion of coastline. There didn’t seem to be any rivers to mess up the visibility and not many buildings to speak of. It looked like a fantastic place to dive, although we never got the chance (we deployed our gear at electric beach instead – one hour’s drive instead of two). We’d like to go back and dive Kaena one day, especially now that Simon has seen so many youtube videos of giant Uluas taken in those parts!
Search yelp for ‘cheap dinner’ in Waikiki Beach, and this shop is one of the first to come up. Nearly 5 star average with hundreds and hundreds of reviews, we figured it must be good. The concept is simple and executed perfectly. Thick Japanese wheat noodles (udon) are made fresh on one side of the tiny kitchen. They follow an assembly line from being rolled out and cut, to being placed in individual serving sizes, to being added to broth of choice. Every time we went we waiting in a 20-50 minute line out the door, and it was always worth it. It is always fun to watch your food being made, and although simple, the udon was delicious. You could buy tempura fried eggs, seafood, and vegetables to add to the soup. Even with that, we never spent more than $10 each. Excellent when you’ve just lost a $360 set of rental car keys.
This was certainly the best nature hike (with the exception of the lava hike on the Big Island, which was more about the lava) we did during our stay in Hawaii. The Kalalau trail is 11 miles each way through steep cutbacks and dense jungle and a full day’s work if you plan to do the return walk straight away. The terminus is at Kalalau bay – a surreal place that really evokes the fantastical meaning of the word “Paradise”. The mountainous surroundings are difficult to believe unless seen: Giant, unbelievably thin spires and sheets of rock rising more than 3000 ft from the ocean covered in lush green jungle and roaring waterfalls cascading down their sides. No wonder many people out here basically live “off the grid” – camping out for months at a time, growing their own food, living an idyllic lifestyle. Clothing optional. Simon and Rob Grenzeback made the walk out and back in a day, but regretted not staying. Next time we’re in Kauai, we’ll be sure to bring a tent!
Imagine a calm tropical beach with white sand and palm trees. Imagine wading into the water and snorkeling over corals from about waist deep. Swim out to sea about 50 m and witness the coral reef disappear from beneath you as you swim over an underwater precipice overlooking deep blue water. Such unusual bathymetry exists at Tunnels beach, but why the odd name? Dive down the underwater cliff and discover the massive underwater caves that reach far back into the cliff. Swim inside and observe snorkelers through the small holes in the ceiling. The underwater caves at tunnels beach are ancient lava tubes, formed when liquid rock flowed through and cooled from the outside-in. Once the flow stopped, the hot stuff in the middle flowed out to leave a hollow tube. Local divers say that some of these tubes go back under the beach, under the houses by the beach, and out under the road! Amazing stuff, but we didn’t dare go back too far without cave reels and lights.
Terry Lilley and Hanalei
We met great characters on every island, but Terry takes the cake for us. Without him we couldn’t have done much on Kauai – the dive store owner recommended we dive only one site on the entire island! We desperately needed local knowledge if we were to find worthwhile sites at which to do our work. Terry was our man – he’s done more than 1000 dives around Kauai and is out almost every day. Terry calls himself a marine biologist and is not affiliated with any university. Many people discredit him as he ‘only’ has an undergraduate biology degree. This is truly a sad thing, because Terry is more passionate about the ocean than 99% of the “marine biologists” we have ever met. Having known all three, we would put terry in the same basket as people like Lisa Levin and Paul Dayton.
Terry showed us how to dive Tunnels beach – ripping currents can take you away here if you’re not careful. He also dove Ahukini jetty with us, showing us how to avoid the strong swells that almost constantly bash that place. His emphasis was safety but not at the sake of adventure and scientific appropriateness. We’re indebted to Terry for helping us so much and hopefully we can meet up again…if he’s still around, that is. Terry and other residents of Hanalei (of “the descendants” movie fame) are fighting a big housing development that’s planned for the bay. The developers are extremely disliked by the locals, but official corruption on Kauai (which, when compared to the lawless Western U.S. of the 1800’s, isn’t so different in some regards) and other factors are driving the plans forward. Fearing the worst for the marine environment, Terry is an outspoken critic of the plans and local officials. Presently Terry is apparently recovering from having his arm broken. We hope things stay small in sleepy Hanalei.
The best shave ice (Ululanis)
Hands down the BEST shave ice in Hawaii can be found at Ululani’s on Maui. We tried a whole lot of shave ice during this trip, and the unbelievably fluffy texture here could not be matched elsewhere. The syrups were made from real fruits and had few ingredients, and were kept at a frosty temperature to keep them from disrupting the texture of the ice. You must go if you are on Maui!
Nu’u bay diving – our favourite in the MHI
The best place we reckon we dived over the entire main Hawaiian Island chain is Nu’u Bay on the southeast side of Maui. The combination of extremely clear water, remoteness, relative sheltwe from the trade-wind induced swell, position on the flank of Haleakala, and excellent marine life made this place #1. Nu’u was a challenge to get to by car along the lesser-known southern road to Hana. The road is not always paved and most of it is one windy lane. The real trick comes at the end, when we had to identify the correct gate along the road (which is never locked), open it and drive through, and navigate down a rocky drive that would have been moderately difficult for a 4wd.
Our Honda Odyssey was barely up to the task but we only managed to get it stuck once. Bring planks of wood to use as leverage. Other times we elected to remove heavy items like scuba tanks and carry them to keep the ground clearance as high as it could be. We never saw more than one local fisherman at Nu’u, despite gorgeous views, a pristine black sand beach, and unbelievable diving and snorkelling.
The north shore of Maui is famous for big wind and big waves. Some days we would see more than 60 kitesurfers and 40 windsurfers in the same bay. We sat there and counted the kites/sails in amazement. The steady alongshore trades and onshore swells make conditions ideal for fast sailing and wave carving, which looks extremely fun.
Along the “road to Hana” on Maui’s northeast side is a reef that only breaks when giant storm-driven swell from the Aleutian Islands of at least 25 ft in height rolls in. When these big waves arrive, they strike this deep reef in such a way that amplifies the breaking wave and creates the famous break known as “Jaws”. Although we didn’t witness the break under the right conditions, we had our own adventure driving out to one of the headlands overlooking the break. A search on google maps showed us that there was a dirt road that lead to this headland. We parked right where the turnoff on the satellite image was…and didn’t see it. The entire road had been overgrown with sugarcane. It was gone, but another dirt road a little way down the road appeared promising, so we took it. Some way down, we came across a burnt-out truck parked across the road with no wheels. It looked like it had been placed there deliberately, so as to keep people out. However, other vehicles had bravely forged a path around the truck, which we followed without questioning the abilities of our Honda Odyssey one bit. Soon the track became rutted to a level Simon would call “significant”. Our only hope was to keep the wheels out of the ruts, the depth of which now greatly exceeded the ride height of our minivan. Some problems arose when the ruts criss-crossed, but aided by the fact that the clay on which we were driving was dry (and therefore not slippery) we managed to fight our way to the end of the road. We drove on to a verdant green pasture of coastal grass that ended abruptly at a cliff overlooking the ocean. Some locals were hanging out and had recently deployed a kite, from which they were about to hang what looked like an entire eel affixed to a 12/0 hook. “Big Ulua” was their reply when we asked what they were going for. Penn International reels showed they were serious: Ulua are very powerful fish. The coastline was rugged but the ocean was an inviting clear blue. Giant boulders could be seen strewing the bottom. Simon imagined them teeming with lobster. Swell pounded some nearby offshore reefs but “Jaws” was too deep to create white water in this weather. This looked like a fantastic place to dive, but even Simon conceded that the cliff walk down to the beach was “a challenge”. Several rickety iron stakes were hammered into the crumbling cliff face. A series of ropes were tied to them, allowing you to semi-abseil down the “path”. In an effort to check out the path, Simon discovered that the ‘ropes’ were in fact either garden hoses or scrap wire. It might be possible to get down the cliff with scuba gear, but a safer option would probably be to either A) bring your own rope ladder or B) go elsewhere (which we did, to Maliko Gulch). Later, we talked to some local spearfishers who spoke of occasionally having to pay the fishing tax in this area. The currency was usually fish that had just been speared and the taxman usually wore a grey suit…
Best dive shop – Sandwich Island Divers.
We encountered the same challenge with every new island: find a dive store that would lend us lots of tanks, cheap! Our place in Honolulu was great at $5 per filled tank per day but the signs on their front door telling us how Obama was destroying their business made the place feel strange. The only dive shop on Kauai that would rent us tanks was great, but at $7 each they weren’t cheap and we felt sad when the owner told us we should only attempt to dive one place on the island. Luckily he gave us Terry’s contact details. The place on Maui was inexpensive (only $4 per tank!) but the owner was gruff and seemed to like the female component of the team much more than everyone else.
So, when we arrived on the Big Island we expected the usual pros-better-than-cons deal. Calling around, few dive stores seemed equipped to deal with us. “$10 a tank, as many refills of that tank as you want” was one reply. We explained we didn’t want to drive an hour each way just to fill up but no luck. Others didn’t call back or have enough tanks. Then we found ‘Sandwich Isle Divers’ in Kona, owned by the Myklebusts. They knew what we needed and were very accommodating, even allowing us to store our kayak at their store. So we found it, “best dive store in Hawaii” – from people who actually went through dive stores over the entire archipelago.
Kalapana lava walk – coolest non-dive activity
Search “Volcanoes national park” on the web and you’ll get all sorts of images of spectacular lava flows, giant eruptions, and people standing right next to flowing lava! Visit and the story is very different. Red tape everywhere, no approaches to lava allowed (unless you pay $200pp for a chopper ride, that is). Safety rules over excitement and experience. The only lava scene visible is the overlook of Kilauea caldera, where you can see the reflection of red light from lava on the steam and smoke billowing out. Boooring! Go to Kalapana, where you can walk a couple of miles and stand next to real flowing lava on public land, outside the park! One small caveat – you can save about 3 hours walk by paying some locals $100 to walk over their private land. Is it worth it to you? It was to us. This is how we ended up going with ‘Kalapana Cultural Tours’ – an outfit that takes tourists to the lava. This company is unique because they operate out of the “Hawaiian Nation” – a group of native Hawaiians trying to reclaim the islands as a republic/monarchy. Simon thought they actually have a strong case: there was a documented military takeover, it was against the will of the locals, no compensation has ever been negotiated. Maybe the NZ Maoris and their treaty lawyers should get together with the Hawaiians?
Anyway, after a walk over some land that was younger than us, we got to the fantastic lava flows. Totally worth it, and bring some sticks for roasting various campfire foods over the lava. Childhood dream realised.
Place of refuge snorkelling
This was probably the best easy-access snorkelling on all of the islands. The Place of Refuge was a temple that native Hawaiians could flee to if they broke a kapu (taboo). If you were able to reach a Place of Refuge and perform the rituals before you were caught, you escaped the rigid death penalty. This is just south of the marine park at Captain Cook monument, and often frequented by locals who use the boat ramp, swim, picnic, and lounge on the rocks. We found the snorkelling and diving here incredible, both in terms of coral health and sheer numbers of fish.
Morty the manta
The single most astounding thing that happened during our five month journey was our encounter with ‘Morty’. We were with Lauren’s parents touring the northeast side of the Big Island, and had stopped at one last beach for a short snorkel before heading home. We puttered around near the rocks, where the water was somewhat cloudy and the fish shy. As the parents were headed in, they asked Lauren if she had seen the manta ray! Lauren and Simon quickly confirmed that there was in fact a manta ray swimming around in shallow water over sandy bottom. He was filter-feeding on tiny animals that seemed to hover just above the sand, and was swimming back and forth at medium speed in regular rows, like you would mow the lawn. It literally looked like a winged vacuum cleaner was sweeping the sand clean! All four of us were able to swim with the manta and watch him find dinner for as long as we wanted, while the regular beachgoers and families nearby had no idea that they were within a stone’s throw from one of these magnificent animals. We were so impressed that we named him Morty. Native Hawaiians later told us that he was a manifestation of one of our Aumakua, or guardian spirits, which might help explain his unusual behaviour.
The southernmost point in the USA is South Point on the Big Island. The land just ‘ends’ here. No beach or anything like that, just a cliff face into deep water. The wind roars constantly, so much so that the trees are all bent over and there is a wind farm just up the road. The windward side of the point is always rough, but the leeward side is excellent for swimming, provided you can get in/out. A boat hoist serves as a diving platform where groups of teenagers dare each other to jump in. A steel ladder up the cliff offers an easy return. The water is very deep here, dropping quickly to >100 m about 100 m from the cliff edge. The cliff meets the water and keeps on going to about 10-15m, from which the rocky bottom gently slopes away at first. The water is always extremely clear as it hasn’t met land for thousands of kilometres before currents transport it briskly past South Point. It’s real open ocean here, and this is well known by the locals: dozens of guys with big game rods and ‘kites’ (black rubbish bags) run huge baits downwind, hoping for strikes on Mahimahi, Wahoo, and big Ulua. We saw a line get ‘taken’ while we were there but the hook let go before the fish was close enough to be visible.
We found a place where we could climb down a gully in the cliff and get in/out of the water easily. A huge, tightly circling school of bigeye trevally awaited us just past the boat hoist. The school was relatively skittish, so Simon was particularly excited about the possibility of some big boys showing up… but no luck. Lots of life adorned the cliff edge and we even found a few Hawaiian lobsters in some of the deeper holes (apparently this place can get picked clean because of the relatively easy entry).
We came home from Hawaii with a little souvenir… currently in vivo but it will be out and about in early August! Thanks for reading our blog, hope to continue this the next time we’re on an adventure!