The Great Grad School Search

In a couple of weeks, I will officially be a senior in college – which means it is time for me to Freak Out.

I’m 99.99% sure I want to go to grad school for my PhD, but that’s about all I know. I’ve been doing research in a lab for the last two and a half years (wow, it’s been that long?) and I absolutely love it. My main problem is that I find so many different things fascinating, that I have a horrible time picking a single topic that I will be focusing on for 3 to 7 years (hopefully closer to 3). If you ask me my interests, I’ll say genetics, evolution, and sex – preferably studying humans, but I’m willing to make exceptions. But if you know much about biology, that doesn’t narrow it down much.

And it seems the way to go about grad school hunting when you’re a go-getting undergrad like myself is to look more at individual professors instead of general programs. It’s not just about going to Harvard or UCLA – these schools are generally great at everything. You want to pick a specific research topic that you love – they’re all wonderful schools for genetics, but only Professor Jones at Suchandsuch University studies the gene regulation of sweat glands in wildebeest. So, this is kind of a problem when you’re like me and you love everything. And of course there isn’t some giant database of every researcher and all of their specific interests. There’s no “What professor should you work with?” Facebook quiz (oh god, thankfully).

Sometimes I wish it was more like recruiting for college sports. I could throw my resume into the mix and professors could try to snatch me up. “3.93 GPA??? Phi Beta Kappa? Publications?? Oh god, work in my lab, I have funding!”

Until the real world turns into my dream world, I guess I’ll just keep searching. Does anyone have grad school hunting tips? What to do or what not to do? Mistakes you made that you wish someone would have warned you about?


As a poor college student, I cook by the “What’s about to expire and what can I make out of it?” method. This week the ingredients were cream cheese and an unused container of cool whip. Time for a delicious peanut butter pie, I thought! I had the peanut butter, but I went to the store for the pie crust and some chocolate sauce. I’ve made this recipe before, and it’s sooo delicious. I anxiously waited for it to solidify in the fridge before I snarfed down a (delicious) piece.

I’m pretty sure I just gave myself food poisoning.

Why would I come to that conclusion? Well, an hour later experiencing violent stomach pain resulting to running to the bathroom and being very sad (I’ll spare you the details) were my main hints. I was a bit confused, since most of my ingredients were still a month away from the expiration date. That was, until I looked at the cool whip container.

Um…apparently it was supposed to be frozen this whole time. Not in the fridge. For like four months. My mind kind of didn’t make the connection that it’s a dairy product, since it seems more like a fake plastic filling thing than real food.

Well, that’s my hypothesis at least. Being the scientist (and masochist) I am, I’ll probably eat another slice tomorrow to see if it was just a fluke, or if I really am killing myself. Because the pie is just that fucking good that I will suffer through my stomach exploding for another piece.

Insert normal person vs. scientist comic here. Sigh.

I am such a biology nerd

I just got an email about the Darwin Conference they’re having at the University of Chicago in October, and I’m totally pumped. Practically it’s great, because it’s only about a 2 hour drive from here and $20 for students, which is dirt cheap for a conference. The one in Nebraska was 90 bucks, and that was just to watch student presentations. I was a little suspicious how it could be so cheap – maybe they just have crap presenters or something – so I checked the schedule of lecturers.

Omg. Jerry Coyne? Neil Shubin?? Daniel Dennett?!? E. O. Wilson?!?! Squeeee!

I think the only other evolutionary biologist that would make me fangirl more is Dawkins (ok, PZ too), but I’m still super pumped. I am forcing someone to go to this with me. And yes, I recognize how insanely nerdy it is to get excited over an academic conference. I’m a really a proto-grad student who hasn’t fully metamorphosed yet. Well, I take that back – I’m fairly certain even most grad students aren’t this geeky. Maybe once I actually become a grad student, it will break my (nonexistant) soul and I’ll tone it down a bit.

…Or maybe I’m just destined to be an uber-nerd.

Breaking News: Right Wing Religious Nut Jobs believe whatever they want to believe

Shocking, I know.

So, most of you have probably seen the disturbing and stupid anti-gay marriage video released a little while ago by NOM. If not, crawl out from whatever rock you’ve been living under, explore the internet a bit, and watch it. Stephen Colbert, in his infinite genius, created a parody…er, I mean, very serious follow up video, which is hilarious and will make you feel a little better after watching the original.

The funniest part? NOM thanked Stephen Colbert for making the parody. Not only do they think he’s a conservative pretending to be a liberal pretending to be a conservative (wrap your head around that wishful thinking), but they’re glad he gave them the attention. Even though, you know, he was basically calling them all either ignoramuses or hypocritical closet cases. But it’s cool, because there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Oh doublethink, you are an amazing and frightening thing.

PS: I hate all of you who want me to suffer through the Ken Ham book, but I’ll probably do it. What are friends for if they don’t encourage us to do horrible things? Maybe I’ll read a good book first to offset the nonsense.

Oh no…not another bad book

I think I’ve set up a horrible trend for myself. A biology grad student that I’m friends with gave me this book today, saying I’d probably appreciate the ridiculousness:
Noooooooooooooo, not Ken Ham!!! What do I do? Do I try to ignore it? Do I even bother reading it? Just skimming the book was fairly amusing, in a scary sort of way. It’s full of ridiculous cartoons and illustrations, which makes sense for the target audience…ahem. I actually have good books to read…but the stupidity emanating from my backpack is calling me. Gaaah! At least the Professor and the Dominatrix was just a failed work of fiction, not a book of fiction that people actually believe to be true.

Well? Should I be masochistic again, or hide this book away and forget about it?

Is "New Atheism" White Supremacist?

Apparently someone thinks so. Since my initial response of “WTF” isn’t too educated, I’m going to break down my reply.

But I’m no longer okay with atheist evangelizing. Firstly, I’m not okay with evangelizing, period. I don’t care if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, an agnostic Buddhist, or Richard Dawkins, I want you to leave me the fuck alone. You do it your way and I’ll do it mine.

You know what, once atheists start knocking on doors, trying to get schools to teach that there is no god, and threatening people with suffering and harm if they don’t convert, then I’ll agree with you. But atheist “evangelizing” in no where near the same as Christian (for example) evangelizing. What horrible things has Richard Dawkins done? Wrote a book that no one is forced to buy or read? Give talks that no one if forced to attend? I don’t think I’ve seen him on a college campus with a microphone shouting “There is no god, you bloody twits!” And you know, even if he did, he has the right to do that. Just like any other person you don’t agree with, you can just stop listening to them.

I’m happy to talk to politics with you, but my religious practice — which harms no one and in no way impinges on any other person’s rights — is really, really none of your business. I don’t care if the origin myth you’re peddling comes from science or from mythology. I don’t care how much history or evidence is on your side. I just want to be left in peace; I will do the same for you.

Again, once religious practices DO stop harming people and impinging on others rights, maybe we’ll shut up a bit. My goal as an atheist isn’t to convert people – if it doesn’t affect others and it makes them happy, so be it. But while planes are still being flown into buildings, while people are being fired at work for being atheists, while myths are being taught over science to our children, while gay marriage is having a hell of a time being legalized, your beliefs become my business because you’re not keeping them to yourself.

And as I said before, religious beliefs are no different than political beliefs. They don’t deserve any sort of special treatment, and should receive criticism like anything else.

The big reason, though, is that atheist advocates a la Dawkins and the rest are ethnocentric, colonialist cultural supremacists. When Dawkins says that sending a kid to Sunday school is child abuse, or that reasonable, tolerant, law-abiding people who happen to be religious are enablers of violent fundamentalists, he is not merely saying that religious people should stop believing in God/gods. He is saying that they should forfeit their culture.

Um, no. First of, do you know anything about Richard Dawkins? He, like many atheists, still joyfully celebrates Christmas complete with tree and religious songs and all the same traditions and culture that he had before he was an atheist. This past Easter many people commented on all the egg finding and bunny eating and family gathering that was going on. What’s the difference? We can still enjoy the culture we were raised in without cheapening it with supernatural nonsense.

The implicit claim here is that wealthy, white, Western secularism culturally neutral, the norm. And that’s bullshit. White, Western secularism is as much a subjective human culture as any other. There is no neutral. You can give up your ancestral culture, but it will be replaced. It will be replaced by white Western capitalism. This is what the atheist evangelists are advocating (or, if you prefer, advocating implicitly and spectacularly failing to disavow): assimilation.

Well, I disagree with you, but apparently since I’ve been implicitly advocating this all along, let me take a moment to disavow it: assimilation sucks. Culture and tradition are important. But, I have one caveat. Just because something is a tradition doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good or that we have to keep doing it. For example, prayer at public high school and college graduations. If the school’s principal or President argues “tradition” for keeping it, that is a giant cop-out and unwillingness to deal with separation of church and state (and not just for the sake of nonbelievers, but for minority religions as well).

Now that that’s out of the way (probably not), I’m not quite sure how atheism = capitalism. I openly admit that I am woefully uneducated about anything economic, so if I’m off base here, let me know. But I know from our club, a good chunk of our members are socialists or anarchists, aka, Very Much So Not Capitalists. Our current treasurer has a hernia if anyone says anything remotely pro-capitalist. But really, I have no idea what rejecting supernatural belief has to do with economic practices anyway, so this just seems like a random stretch to me.

And I refuse. I refuse to replace Judaism with capitalism. I refuse to replace my traditional foods with McDonalds. I refuse to replace my history with the vulgar lie of pilgrims and pioneers sweeping across an empty continent. I refuse to believe the claim that wealthy white men are the most evolved, the most enlightened; I refuse to believe the claim that white culture is superior.

Good for you! Keeping your culture is great! My Jewish atheist friends still call themselves Jewish. I’d pick yuvetsaki or pastichio or tiropita or anything delicious food from my Greek heritage over a greasy burger. I’m pretty sure most atheists don’t advocate rewriting history with lies either, since we’re kind of concerned…um…with truth.

And pigs will fly to the moon and back before you hear Richard Dawkins say anything along the lines of wealthy white men being the most evolved. That’s just…there are so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to begin. Do you know anything about evolution? The vast majority of evolutionary biologists would never make such a claim because it’s undeniably false – and when some idiot does try to insinuate something racist by using biology (Watson, I’m looking at you), they get torn apart and shunned by their fellow biologists and atheists.

And I’m still not getting where this “white culture is superior” thing is coming from. Can I get a quote of Dawkins saying that, please? Because until then, I can’t help but think of Christian slave owners making their slaves leave their tribal religions, or Christian missionaries today going to Africa and changing their culture, or our Christian-motivated government under Bush “freeing” Iraqis…and then all the atheists who have stood up and said This Is Bad.

If you think my attachment to my culture is a problem (even though I agree with you about every important political issue!), you’re a white supremacist.

Well, thankfully I don’t think your attachment to your culture is a problem. Culture can be good! But I just hope you don’t really mean that anyone who disagrees with you about the rest of your comments is a white supremacist, because that’s just silly and unproductive.

Lastly, it’s another lie that religion is the problem. Yes, religious fundamentalism (like all fundamentalism) is extremely destructive, and many innocent people have been killed in the name of religion. But secular, capitalist Western “democracy” is, today, just as destructive a force. This system is literally destroying the world as we know it — just ask a polar bear.

Me: Hey Mr. Pol
ar Bear, those shrinking ice
caps sure do suck, huh?
Mr. P. Bear: Why yes, Jennifer, they do. They make me a sad panda-I mean, polar bear.
Me: But has anyone tried to help you out?
Mr. P. Bear: Well, yes! Most of the people who are trying to help are scientists, many of which are atheists. And even non-scientist atheists realize this is a huge problem because this is the only life they have!
Me: But what about the religious people?
Mr. P. Bear: Well, a lot of them think that God gave man dominion over all the plants and animals on earth, so they feel they can do whatever they want to us. And they think any sort of catastrophic end is God’s plan through Armageddon, so they don’t want to stop it!
Me: Well golly gee! I guess it’s all the atheists faults for magically promoting capitalist democracy somehow!
Mr. P. Bear: Logically.


Now, does atheism have a hard time attracting and keeping minorities? Yes, I would say so. The movement is disproportionately white males. I know in our own club it’s only about 10% female, and probably 99% white. But is this because atheists are inherently racist and sexists? I’d argue no (though there are always a couple bad seeds in any sort of group). And if I had to give my best guess why this is (which is just a guess, I admit I’m not an expert) it’s that religion is such an important aspect of culture for these groups. So yes, culture is an issue to an extent…but that’s because people assume (like the person above) that atheism means abandoning your culture. No! You don’t have to. And even if you don’t want to keep your same old traditions but you need something, more and more atheist groups are forming to fill that void.

So do I think militant atheism is white supremacist? No. But of course, I guess that makes me a white supremacist. Darn.

A BS in Biology without Evolution

If you are at least vaguely aware of the Evolution/Creationism debate, you know there’s a lot of things wrong with biology education in the United States. You have rallying cries to “teach the controversy” (which doesn’t exist), but thankfully those are being shot down more and more often. There are some students who will never even hear the word “evolution” throughout high school. I know in my high school freshman biology class, which every student had to take, we never mentioned the topic. Once I got to AP Bio my senior year, we covered it well, but that’s only 50 students out of a school of 1400 – and those are the ones who are actually interested in biology, so they have a better chance of accepting evolution anyway! Why aren’t we teaching it when we have the chance to reach everyone?

Well, even when dealing with Biology majors in college, we fail at that.

Now, I’m sure some universities do a great job at teaching evolution to their Bio majors. Obviously since I’ve only attended Purdue, that’s the one example I have – but I’m sure their craptacular methods apply to other universities. It’s especially disappointing since Purdue likes to tout itself as this big Engineering/Science Research I University, yet it can’t even convince all of its Bio majors to accept evolution, not to mention other science programs here.

What’s the problem? The only time evolution is taught in a class required by all Bio sub disciplines is BIOL 121. That’s the introductory class you take the fall of your freshman year, and a whooping four class periods (that’s less than 3.5 hours) are devoted to evolution. While it’s explained well, it’s still so cursory that I knew more about evolution just because I was a nerd and perused Talk Origins in high school.

Other required biology classes will briefly mention evolution, but not in a way that teaches it to a class. You can see some students rolling their eyes when a professor says something like “You can see how this could have evolved.” I’ve had multiple students – some in the very top of the program – tell me that biology courses at Purdue have actually strengthened their faith in God and creationism. They claim that learning all the complexities of biology prove God had to have a hand in it (and then my brain subsequently explodes after hearing “Irreducibly Complex” for the bajillionth time).

Most of the Bio majors allow you to choose the official Evolution class (BIOL 580) as an elective, but that’s only one of your choices out of maybe 20 to 30. And if you don’t accept evolution, how likely are you to take a graduate level class about it? I think the scariest realization pops up when you look at two Bio majors in particular:

Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology:
You think this would be evolution-crazy since, you know, it’s the Evolution degree, right? Well, not so much. You’re required to take 580-Evolution, but that’s all. The only two other evolution related classes are Evolution of Behavior and Sex & Evolution, but you can pick your classes such that you don’t have to take those. They’re just suggestions. They don’t even include any of the human evolution courses offered through anthropology as options for your degree…and past that, I don’t think there are really any other evolution courses at Purdue. I don’t know about you, but it’s a little unnerving that someone can get a degree with “Evolution” in the title after only taking one class.

Biology Education:
This, however, is the scariest of the two. You’d think with all our educational woes we’d desperately try to train a new generation of Biology educators who could properly teach evolution. Well, we don’t. Evolution is one of 47 electives a Bio Ed major can choose, and even though there’s an Education course specifically about teaching Evolution, they’re not required to take it. It’s not even listed as a biology elective – it would just be a general elective if you had any free time (haha, free time! What a ridiculous idea). I would think this is pretty damn important for a future biology teacher to know.

I guess this explains how you can still get rogue creationist teachers who feel that it’s their duty to sabotage teaching evolution with their own beliefs, even when the curriculum is pro-evolution. You can graduate from many places with a degree in Biology and still not even have an elementary grasp of evolution. This is a Serious Problem. All the biologists and scientists who lament about our country’s rejection of evolution need to put the education of Average Joe on hold for a bit and start worrying about students. Professors especially need to speak up. Now, they’re not the blame – the professors who do teach evolution do a great job, and curricula are riddled with bureaucratic bullshit. But they’re our best hope for having some say in the matter. So to any biology professors out there, please fight to ensure all biology majors take at least one comprehensive course in evolution. Even if most of them are bound for med school, we can’t hope to educate the public until we educate our own kind first.

Day of Silence

In honor of the Day of Silence tomorrow, please join me in watching this mind-numbingly stupid video made by the Illinois Family Institute and pointing out the horrible logic they employ. You know it’s going to be good, because they have “Family” in their name:

Actually, I lied. I could only get to the part where the parents are duct-taping their child’s mouth closed before closing the video in annoyance and disgust. Sigh.

Busy with real life

Don’t have any super insightful post today, sorry. It’s that time of the year when the semester is winding to an end, and all of your classes decide to go crazy at once. I’m just trying to finish my programming project (hooray for Python…) tonight so I can go to Miss Gay IU tomorrow. Fabulous drag shows >>> programming!

I also have to hurry up and start planning my trip to Fairbanks, Alaska for this summer. I won an undergraduate honorarium for the American Society of Mammalogist conference to help fund my trip there, woo! I need to actually buy the plane tickets and reserve hotel rooms and all that jazz. I also need to figure out what site seeing I want to do while I’m there, since who knows if I’ll ever get the chance to go to Alaska again! I know I’m definitely going to try and see Denali, but any other suggestions? Unfortunately I’m going alone, so I’m not sure how much I want to hike around the Alaskan wilderness. I’d kind of like to avoid being mauled by bears or shot by Sarah Palin while I’m there. My advisor wants me coming back in one piece, mainly because I have a manuscript to finish, ha. I’m just kidding though – he’s a great advisor. He’s loning me his fancy expensive camera that has a nifty telephoto lens so I can actually do some good nature photography, and he’s going to let me take off as much time as I want, basically.

So, anyone ever been to Alaska before? What are the “must see” places, preferably around Fairbanks?