How *does* she do it?!

Make fun of me all you want, but my little black book (a.k.a, my agenda—don’t get too excited now) is my best friend. In the age of technology, I’m still attached to paper and prefer the tactile sense of writing my to-do lists. Nothing feels quite as good to me as physically striking off a task accomplished.

Nonetheless, I realize that not every method works for everyone. I try to become more efficient and effective (the two elements of productivity) every day, so here is some advice I’ve been given and tools I’ve found that might be useful to share:

Your Body is a Temple….ish:

  1. Exercise, sleep, and good food are important. Yes, high school health class was right and these things will help you be more productive and feel less miserable doing so.
  2. Breathe deeply and take time to distress. It will help you focus. 10 minutes away may translate 10-fold in productivity, so breaks aren’t always time lost. Listen to music, watch cartoons (my favorite), or go for a walk. Keep a hobby or take a sec to tell someone you love them. It’s worth it.

The Art of the To-Do List:

  1. Get it out of your head. Put it down on paper or in some tool so you’re not using your wonderful brain to try to remember what to do, but in actually doing the things you need to.
  2. Organize the list by priority. Your highest priorities—the things that need to get done now and well—should be the things that are both urgent and important. Subdivide your list by urgency and importance and it will shorten the list of “immediates” for you and help you accomplish the most critical things, while motivating you to do the things that aren’t going to make-or-break you.
  3. Break down each task into accomplishable sub-tasks. So, “write dissertation” isn’t accomplishable. But “Dissertation>Chapter 1>Figure 1> Work on legend formatting” is. Make sure you can accomplish the tasks in less than a marathon at your desk and you’ll feel more motivated to keep going and have evidence that you did indeed do something today!
  4. Inventory. Figure out what you did (this can be on a daily basis or more often) and set the nest steps. If your lists are clear, prioritized, and broken down, the next steps should be clear and you can keep working. If new things have come up, reassess the priorities and do some shifting. Basically, assess where you’re getting things done and not, and make steps to address any deficiencies you find.

So it’s no secret that I love to-do lists, so here are some tools for….

Making Ridiculously Awesome To-Do Lists: (allows you to make to-do lists nestable to make the tasks accomplishable) (simple, storable lists that work well for smart devices) (great for sharing to-do lists with others and organizing larger tasks)


Here are some more great tools you might appreciate for…:

Keeping Track of your Time: (tracking your time by device; nice progress reports on your time spent and where) (time yourself for the Pomodoro technique)


Keeping yourself Accountable (Particularly in Writing): (get down 750 words a day and you’re well on your way to finishing that dissertation) (the consequences are dire here; if you don’t just get it down, you can have the settings ERASE your progress to train you to work faster!)


Removing Distractions: (blocks certain websites) (blocks websites for specified amounts of time; good settings) (see this awesome post for ways to battle ambient noise)


Mental Health, Taking Breaks, and Staying Motivated: (taking regular screen breaks) (meditation breaks) (info on how “you” may function best)


Scheduling: (good for scheduling things like office hours by appointment) (good for group scheduling) (free trial available)


Keeping emails short and productive: (forces you to keep an mail short and to the heart of the message) (free trial available; tracks what’s been sent/opened) (allows you to presend/resend/send recurring messages on a set schedule; I loved this so much I upgraded from the free; don’t regret it a bit!) (great for achieving Inbox ZERO!)


Transcription services: (Works well for those narrating behavior vs. using a key logger; competitive pricing, but free option, too)

Google Voice (transcribe calls and forward calls through a free number if you want to have set hours for telephone help for your students, etc.) (Can get emails sent to you as messages and vice-versa; check out the free version)


Phew… lots of tools, and yes, the above are Firefox-biased. Hopefully after seeing the range of options available, you can search further to find the tools that work best for you, your browser, and your work habits. Happy, productive working, y’all!

Presentation Season!

Just a quick blog post update on the wonderful presentations my labbies have been doing.

Below is a picture of us, specifically Savannah, Gavin, and Ellyse, at  the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC) in early March, joined by four other BEACONites (Cory Kohn, Kevin Hall, grad students in Barry Williams’ lab; Maia Rowles and Kiyana Weatherspoon, undergrads in Rich Lenski’s lab).  This was their first regional presentation, and thanks to BEACON funds, we were all able to take a van down to the University of Dayton and present this year. It was a fun experience, especially traveling back in not the greatest weather (Thanks, Kevin!).

MEEC 2014-1

Marquita. who is new to our lab, joined in on the presentation fun with Gavin, Savannah, and Ellyse at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) yesterday. I heard lots of good things from judges and friends who popped by to check out their research. Way to go, y’all, and special kudos to Gavin for winning his section! Proud of you all!

So… how’d your interview go?

March 5th-7th, 2014, I had the pleasure to participate in the CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning) Network Exchange program as a former Future Academic Scholars in Teaching (FAST) Fellow at Michigan State University. I traveled down to The University of Georgia (UGA) to give presentations on both my Teaching-As-Research (TAR) project and dissertation research.

Preparing for the mock-interview visit took more work than I’d anticipated. I’d thought that planning the visit during Spring Break was a good idea, however, the weeks leading up to my visit were packed full of pre-break exam grading and a conference—both of which delayed my preparations. I now know that I’m not going to be able to do everything full-speed when I go to interview for jobs, and that if I intend to still accomplish many things prior to a visit, I will need to spread my schedule out and leave about twice as much time as I’d allotted. This is necessary not just in constructing the talks, but in leaving adequate time to practice and revise them based on feedback.

Traveling in right after a conference was tough, but my hosts made me feel more than welcome. I was glad that, although my visit was 3 days long, it began at 11am on the first day with lunch with my TAR host. We had a great conversation about the state of evolution education and what her experiences have been as a new professor, and she was also nice enough to share a few details about the venue where I’d be presenting my TAR research. This helped put me at ease and allowed me to focus on the moment, rather than the stress of the talks.

After a few individual meetings with professors and the opportunity to observe some of the classes taught by biology education faculty, it was finally time to present. My TAR talk was modified from presentations I’d given previously at MSU, with a few additions which described my future directions and changes based on feedback from my lab members and the FAST group.  The talk was centered on a model for how we currently teach the genetic basis of evolution and how we might be able to modify it for greater student gains.

I was pleased to be slotted into the normal meeting time for the Biology Education group, which meant I had plenty of people to give quality feedback. Furthermore, a few guests showed up to the group that week, so I was excited to receive feedback from them directly, in addition to the feedback I later got in follow-up, one-on-one meetings and over dinner with faculty and postdocs.

I was somewhat elated that day two involved class observations and meeting with lab groups. I was glad to relax after day one, yet still be able to observe and talk to many people from which I learned a lot. There are many kinds of reforms and research taking place in biology education at UGA, and I hope to bring back some of these to the courses I teach at MSU as early as this semester.

I also had the pleasure of meeting with the graduate students and postdocs in many of the biology labs. They were very hospitable and open with me about their departments, their research, and living in the area. It was nice to be able to compare notes across labs and institutions on the graduate student and postdoc experience.

Finally, I reached day three with just a few meetings and two talks to round out my visit. It was challenging to treat the entire experience like an interview, mostly because I didn’t want to believe interviewing would be this exhausting (Note: snack bars are your *best* friend to keep up!). Nonetheless, on day three, I met with a few faculty and gave two talks: one on my disciplinary research of how stickleback males change how they court with age, and one to the CIRTL leaders meeting at UGA on why these types of exchanges were valuable. I was glad once these talks were over to be able to chat, get feedback, and finally head home from UGA in the late evening.

The CIRTL exchange was a wonderful experience and the preparation required and lessons learned will be invaluable for future job interviews. It was a great exercise in planning, practicing, presenting (both my work and myself) well, and pursuing an academic career. After the work I did to prepare my talks and familiarize myself with the work of the people with whom I was meeting, I have a glimpse at what it’s going to be like on the job market, and I’m sure I’ve learned far more than I can even reflect on now. Thank you so much to Tessa, Trish, Rique, Bonnie, and everyone else who helped to organize, facilitate, and participate in my network exchange.

Early Spring, a.k.a. Rec-Letter-Bonanza!: Effort and Resiliency

I am blessed to have such amazing students, both in my classroom and working with me in the fish lab. And because spring is application season, I’ve lost count of how many rec letters I’ve written this season, although I’m proud to do it every time. (Proud does not mean I have unlimited time, y’all, but that it’s worth every bit I can give to it!). Thus far this spring, two students have won College of Natural Science Undergraduate Research Scholarships, and two have committed to the grad schools of their choice. In all, I’m overjoyed at all of the opportunities these students are pursuing, and a bit sad, too, to watch them go…. But boy, I can’t wait to see what they’ll be up to!

As my students make plans and move on to their next steps, I’ve reflected a lot on my journey to get here and how each “little” thing reaffirmed my journey to be working in science. That said, it has been hard to reiterate to students that, even for the best of scientists, their CVs, websites, papers, etc. only reflect the ‘highlights’. That is, for every application/paper/grant, there’s a ton of times where things just didn’t work out. So, when my students start to stare at CVs and websites for these people, I have to remind them, just like in experiments, even the greatest people have not always had things go smoothly and flawlessly.

I’ve come to realize that, as we mentor students, it is valuable to share both times when you have succeeded and times you have failed. I’ll be the first to admit that having not gotten certain fellowships/grants still stings, and so too do manuscript rejections. However, if we want to instill and build resiliency in our students, it is critical that we share these failures to demonstrate that we don’t *magically* get everything right, nor do we get it all the first time. We fail, too, and it’s not just them. Instead of being discouraged by our failures, we just have to get back on the horse each time we fall, and hopefully ride a little wiser next time.

To see someone else be resilient in times of struggle helps us to reflect on what is possible and to build respect for those putting forth the effort, putting themselves out there, and hopefully on occasion seeing the work pay off. Furthermore, I’ve seen rejections turn into a boost for some of my students, who come back fired up and ready to prove they’ve got more in them. Use these times of struggle as a foundation to build skills like resiliency and grit, rather than ignore them because of the discomfort. These times may not make it to the highlight reel, but they definitely contribute to what does.

To my students, I say this: Failures are teachable moments, not people. A few missteps are not going to kill your science dreams, nor do they mean you’re not cut out for science (or anything you want in life, really). You are smart and capable, and I believe in you. You can have the best of ideas and sometimes things don’t work out. Just keep swimming.

Check Out MSU Museum’s Mutation Station

In late October 2013, a new portion of the BEACON exhibit opened at the MSU Museum. This hands-on unit, called the Mutation Station, was co-created by BEACONites Julie Fick (MSU Museum) and Emily Weigel (MSU Zoology), and is intended to specifically address what  mutations are and how they impact evolution to shape species.

The exhibit activity is divided into 3 parts which address:
1. What mutations are (and are not!)
2. What effects they can have on organisms
3. How they affect evolution and shape species

To start, the mutation activity explains some basic types of mutations. Through a hands-on  approach using LEGO pieces (‘DNA’), visitors assemble ‘sequences’ which each reflect a non-mutated and various mutated sequences of DNA. When the LEGO pieces of DNA are added or removed, for example, visitors can easily see that the number of pieces differs and that information has been added or removed. Likewise, when pieces are rearranged, visitors can compare and see that the colors for each of the LEGOs are now in a different order, although the pieces of DNA within the sequence are all still present.
The second part of the activity uses a fictional insect species, Spartybugs, to illustrate what these constructed sequences ‘mean’ genetically — that is, how each of the mutations affect vision in Spartybugs. Here, visitors can see how their mutated Spartybug sees and associate a mutated sequence with, for instance, blurred vision. This portion of the activity points out not only the rarity of mutations, but also targets several misconceptions surrounding how various mutations can affect gene function.

Finally, the evolution portion of the activity asks visitors to pick a Spartybug and determine its fate within different parts of ‘Bugworld’. This habitat has several different regions where different sequences (mutated and not) are favored to different degrees, as noted by a smiley, neutral, or frowny face. This portion of the activity addresses the misconceptions that mutations are always good or bad, and has visitors work through examples where the effect of a mutation (good, bad, or neutral for survival and reproduction) depends on the Spartybug’s current environment.

We hope this simple activity will get visitors — even you! — to think about the connections between genes, the environment, and evolution. So go check it out!

[Written as a part of  my work with the BEACON Buzz]

Everyday Microaggressions: Avoid ‘Em!

So Emily, what’s a microaggression? And why would I want to avoid it?

Microaggressions, in short, are the pesky, hurtful little ways we say things that can make others (often those not of the dominant group) feel undermined, devalued, or generally less ok about ourselves. These are the subtle little ways that add up to destroy the wonderful diversity we have, and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

So, this seems confusing. Can you give me an example?

A person of Asian decent is asked where they are from. They clearly answer, “Detroit,” and a person replies, “No, where are you really from?” The subtext here is that the person can’t really be from Detroit, either because the asker 1. can’t reconcile being Asian and from Detroit, or 2. is ignorant enough to believe that if one is Asian, then they cannot speak unaccented English.

Some of you might be saying, “What’s so wrong with asking where someone is from and being interested in them? Where someone is from can be a relevant thing!”

Assuming where someone is from is germaine, it’s about the *way* you ask things. Re-asking a question with them emphasis on really means you didn’t ‘buy’ the first answer, as if it were a lie. Perhaps its better to say something like, “Detroit. That’s nice. What was it like growing up there?” And allow the person to elaborate whether or not they moved there. Or, you know, have enough conversational skills to keep talking and get to know the person well enough that their story unfolds itself.

Microaggressions divide us, and worse-yet, they stick everyone at one point or another in a box that’s far too small for the complexity that is a human being. Get to know each other. Talk. Share experiences that unite and complement the ways we view the world. Educate others, particularly your friends, family, and students. And for all that is Holy in the world, think about the way you say things before you do!!

For more examples, see here: (Trigger-warning: Many of these things go beyond what I’d call just straight-up microaggressions…)