The ship’s engine roared to life at 2:30 a.m. and jolted me out of semi-consciousness. My head throbbed — in my dreams I hadn’t stopped cycling through the next day’s research plan, albeit in a strange, nightmarish way. I opened the curtain of my berth and took in my surroundings: the sounds of snoring shipmates — at least someone was getting extra sleep — the sight of my field notebook perched on top of the laptop with which I had spent my weekend synchronizing instruments, and the smell of coffee, coffee, coffee. Nightmare forgotten, reality filled me with eager anticipation.
As my plane began its steep descent to Christmas Island, 2’N, 157’W, middle of nowhere, I was reminded that the islands I was to visit are some of the most remote pieces of land in the world. I thought about the adventure of a lifetime I was beginning: meeting the sailing yacht Seadragon for a month-long expedition to study coral on three remote atolls in the central Pacific.
While the belief was totally unsubstantiated, I had long believed that conferences were a secret academic conspiracy. Yeah, you really need to go to Hawaii to meet with other scientists and share your work — this is something that just couldn’t be done via internet or phone. What a thinly veiled scheme to take a vacation and hang out with academic buddies! On my least cynical days, I thought it was merely a holdover from the pre-internet era when communication and dissemination of ideas would have been more difficult.
“May I suggest you consult the senior authors of your paper who should know how to label a scientific graph properly so that our readers can understand them even if they are non-specialists” read the e-mail from an unnamed scientific journal’s editor in chief (EIC). With my eyes and mouth wide open, I read it again: “…There is still not enough clarity about the labeling of the figures. …May I suggest …”
As undergraduates at MIT, we whispered under our breaths as we passed the Green Building about the lonely, mysterious graduate students who worked there — “The lights never go off! There is always someone there.” As a graduate student, I’ve had the privilege to meet some of those nocturnal souls. This is one of their stories. —Emily A. Moberg
The Internet is littered with quotes about how it’s the great questions and not the great answers that are important and shape history, science, and the universe as a whole. It’s not as if I had never thought about it; really, I had. I had just assumed this was talking about my research questions, the big important questions I could spend a lot of time crafting. I assumed those were the questions I was being judged on.
I have one of those roommates who is constantly curious, and often tactless, but usually insightful. She waits all of five minutes after I roll out of bed before insisting I explain to her how I perceive my relationship with my mother. Or, she wants to know if I think the app Tinder is morally okay. Most of the time, these questions fall by the wayside while the tea I’m brewing receives my full and undivided attention. However, the other day breakfast was served with a comment that caught my attention.