Monday, July 14, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

Sorry I have been away for such a lengthy period. First my dad was hospitalized with his third pneumonia this year, then my mom went in for chest pains, and my son-in-law for vomiting up blood. To say the least, I have spent more time in California than anticipated, as I had registered for 11 units this summer semester.

Started Chemistry 122, and hoping it goes well. 4 weeks, 2 hours of lecture each day with two three-hour labs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fortunately I am taking it with Dr. Martin, who I had for Chemistry 121.

Enjoying a wonderful summer storm with A LOT of thunder, and down pours. We all need the rain so no complaints here. I sat looking at the rain coming down, and realized just how peaceful I felt looking at it. I think as students, and definitely as adult children of aging parents, stress in ways we do not realize. I started having stomach problems of recent, and my brother who has been struggling with his own medical issues told me about Kefir. So I starting drinking it everyday and it is amazing how good my stomach is beginning to feel.

Taking Calculus 182 tests really pushed me to the limit with stress as I am not the best math student, but I work very hard and put in 8-10 hours everyday studying...but I learned a great trick from a friend who teaches. While out to dinner at a mutual friend's house I told her how stressed out I get. She shared with me some research she had read. I have tried everything, so although I trusted this woman sincerely, I doubted anything would help me stay calm. I have to admit that I was a little excited for my third Calc exam where I had planned to use this technique. It was AMAZING...it worked so well for me I have been sharing it with everyone I talk to.

If you have test anxiety try these few steps:
  1. Sit in chair with feet flat on ground. Tighten your legs, butt and stomach muscles as hard as you can. I even clenched my fists. Hold it for 15-30 seconds. Release.
  2. Take three nice deep breaths and exhale slowly. 
Your body will react as if you just ran away from your test. The body and brain start working together and thinking that the danger has passed (kind of like the Fight-or-Flight Syndrome idea). Blood starts flowing back into your brain and you think clearer.

So hopefully this will help someone else as much as it helped me. It improved my test grades by 1.5 letter grades. If only all my classes were geology...I never feared a geology test. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The most important skill to have at work

Recently I was contacted by an individual asking me what I thought was the most important skill one needs to be successful at work.  Pondering this request, I thought of many skills that were important to have, that aids in making one's work experience as successful and enjoyable as can be. Communication skills however won out as the most important skill to have. Communication however is broad, and does incorporate various aspects of human communication including electronic communication.

I have been guilty in the past of writing emails that were either not clear in their meaning, or were misinterpreted because of various reasons. Learning to communicate electronically is difficult, even for seasoned professionals who have remarkable speech communication skills. The issues with electronic communication is that the reader often incorporates their mood or emotion into reading an email, memo, or other electronically-sent letter. When this occurs, your writing can be misinterpreted, skewed, or worse, offend the reader.

My personal rules in writing communication that I send electronically are:
  1. Completely understand the program you are using to write the letter or memo (Outlook, etc). Know all the features to prepare a great document.
  2. Never write a sensitive-material letter when upset, angry, or in a foul mood, this just ends up becoming a rant on the computer screen.
  3. If I am upset, I do type it out...but NEVER, EVER send it. It is only one way that I can get it out of my system, if I have no one around to listen to me. Once I am done, I erase it from my computer so that I do not accidentally send it. Writing it down on paper is another way to sort out your thoughts.
  4. Always be professional when writing, Even if the person is some you know well. If it is business-related...write professionally. Dear Mr. or Sir, Dear Madam or Miss, Sincerely yours, etc. Business communication can be seen by many and leaves a lasting impression.
  5. Before hitting the SEND button - P R O O F R E A D - always!
  6. Finally, be clear and be concise.
Communication is key in any business and it provides the cornerstone for relationships developed through work. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

It Pays to Beg

Last semester I had a wonderful professor, Dr. Gordon for Geochemistry II. I loved the class, and really learned tons from her. My lab partner, Rick and I begged and begged Dr. Gordon for some undergraduate research work. She was busy with her grad students, understandably as they were getting their defenses together and graduating from grad school. It was a hectic and at times, chaotic semester. Nothing really developed for Rick and I, but we were persistent and kept telling her about our interest in getting lab experience.

At the very end of the semester, it happened! We were taken under the wing of our Dr. Gordon, who gave us an interesting research project on metamorphic rocks from the Himalayas. The project was originally a masters' project, however other possibilities came up for the rock samples. So, we started working in the heavy liquids lab at the Paul Laxalt Mineral Research building. It is a project that will take us in mid-June to UC-Santa Barbara where we will be working at the Laser-Ablation Split-Stream Petrochronology lab for three days. I am so excited to have this opportunity, and to learn how to work in the lab.

Frantzing at 0.3/20-degrees


My experience so far is using the Frantz magnetic separator that we are using to separate out some of the magnetic grains in the rock samples. We then follow-up using methylene iodide (CH2I2) and perform a heavy liquid separation in hopes of sinking monazite out of the samples. It is time-consuming process, but the real excitement comes when you look into a different world via the microscope. Seeing these beautiful crystals tinier than a pin-head is amazing.


MeI in separatory funnel with sample

I could never thank Dr. Gordon enough for her courage to take Rick and I on as undergraduate researchers, and her enthusiastic approach to teaching us all that she has. I am grateful for being accepted at a Tier 1 research university, where students like myself have these awesome experiences. 

Moral of the story: it pays to be a pesty undergrad.




Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where is the End?

Today at 12:30 PM I attended my last Final of the Spring 2014 semester. On my walk towards Fransen Hall, I walked down the tree-lined path next to the Quad. The Quad at UNR is the place where graduation for the College of Science - Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering happens. The site of the white plastic chairs all in  rows lined perfectly, with care reminded me why I was there. Why I sold my house in Modesto. Why I left my Mom and Dad, sister, brother, kids, and grandchildren behind to move to another state. It reminded me of all the hours spent  leaning over textbooks, reading chapter after unforgiving chapter. Why I came to a university where I knew no one.

Photo credit: UNR.edu


I lingered during my walk to Fransen Hall, reflecting on the long path I have been walking. Wondering what it was going to feel like to walk up and receive my B.S. in Geology. What lies afterwards for me. Teaching? Working at a mine? Whatever door opens for me, I will walk through it proudly, knowing that I worked and sacrificed for something that is so important to me. Something no one can ever take away from me. Knowing that my Mom and Dad, now in their eighties will be proud of their daughter, who at the ripe old age of 54 earned her B.S. First in my family to go to college. Daughter of a man with a tenth grade education.

This semester has one filled with hard-earned success. I had to take English 102 Composition as one of the core classes needed, since Nevada does not accept California's community colleges courses that are equivalent. Do not know why, just is. I absolutely hated English in high school. I really did not care for my English teachers, they seemed boring and stuffy. I was, however, amazed on how much I enjoyed English 102 with Professor Frank Merksamer. He is a quiet spoken, caring man who taught me "the conversation." Burkean Parlor style. I enjoyed all the homework he gave, writing reflections of the stories we read. I learned to consider a compassionate viewpoint towards animals. I learned what speciesism, biopolitics, and consumerism. I learned more than I thought I ever would in this class. I appreciate Professor Merksamer because he gave me an appreciation for English. His class was one of my favorites.

I also completed GEOL 260 Intro to Field Mapping. This class was very different than Frank's. Our instructor became ill during the semester, and the class was a little rocky (no pun intended). I had to purchase about $100 of books to understand the class. I felt that most of the class was self-learned, and not that this is bad, but wished a little more from it then what I received. I did receive an A, however I worked very hard for it. It did not come easy because the class was not a lecturing class whatsoever. GEOL 212 - Earth Materials and Geochemistry II was my favorite though. I loved learning about the geochemistry of igneous (new rocks made from magma), sedimentary rocks (cool stuff you see on Colorado Plateau), and metamorphic rocks. Up until this class, metamorphic rocks were probably my second favorite type of rock, first being igneous rocks. Dr. Stacia Gordon teamed up with Dr. John McCormack to deliver a wonderful (but not easy) semester.

I have the next FOUR days off. Meaning I have nothing on my plate but my personal life. I am going to California to attend my dear friends' annual wine party, see my Dad (still recouping from pneumonia), and of course my best girls....Mom, daughter-Megan, grandaughters-Eowyn and Lucy. Because Mother's Day was the weekend BEFORE Finals, I had to stay in NV so we will be celebrating Mother's Day this weekend.

On Monday the 19th I start my Summer Sessions. I am tackling Calculus 182, Chemistry 122 and Ancient/Medieval Cultures. I feel that there is no end to school and wonder if my classmates feel the same way. Last week, several of the Geology majors met at Mike and Scott's house for a barbecue for "Dead Day". UNR has what is called  "Dead Day" which is no classes, and basically you just don't do any thing related to school...and I didn't. I enjoyed the camaraderie with my classmates, relaxing, laughing and eating. I think we ALL needed that day more than ever. I am grateful that this semester, we all got closer as majors, and lean on each other when it gets a little rough.

I know the end is somewhere even if I cannot see it now. Seeing all those white lawn chairs gave me hope. And I know that soon, my family and friends will be sitting in those white chairs when I get my degree. I cannot wait.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Western Undegraduate Exchange

The joy of going to school and living on the Eastern Side of the Sierra Nevada...
If you are attending a community college, like so many of my friends are, or did...AND plan to transfer to a four-year to complete your BA or BS degree...you might want to consider applying for the WUE (Western Undergraduate Exchange program) which allows students in neighboring states with good grades, the chance to attend for little more than a in-state resident student.

Technically, the WUE Program is one that you are responsible for applying to if you are looking to go from say, California Community College to an Oregon University or Nevada University. Each 4-year has their requirements, but it is easy to apply as long as you have a good GPA (believe most are 3.0 or 3.2 +). What it will save you is thousands of dollars each semester.

Some other options for out-of-state transfers is that you pay the "out-of-state" fees for one year, and then you can apply for in-state resident after the first year. Unfortunately, I applied for WUE and received that, and they do NOT allow you to apply for residency after the first year. To stay WUE you have to keep up your GPA...which means you study like I do until 3-4AM every night...and have very little free time to enjoy. The dangling carrot at the end of the stick however is that your student loans are minimal - and you have a degree!

Would I like to be sitting out in the livingroom at night with my hubby, or for that matter go to bed at the same time...sure. But school IS priority, because it is only a few years of sacrifice for the ultimate goal.  If you are thinking about returning to school, and are curious about attending a university out of state...give a call to their admissions office...they normally are very helpful and willing to send you information.

I will be very honest here in closing. I do miss being with my family and friends, and spending time doing medieval reenactment with my group, but school is NOT forever, and it will be so worth all the sacrifices. Yes, there are some events and experiences that I missed out on, but I believe that my education and obtaining my degree will outweigh all the "fun" I missed out on.
Working with our Jacob Staff to record Verdi sed layers

University of Nevada Seds class out in field measuring stratigraphy.  




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Opportunities!

This summer break has been replaced with classes. I decided that instead of taking time to relax or involve myself in a home improvement project or two, that I would get a few necessary classes out of the way. So my first session will be full of Calculus 182 and Physics 151R, while my second session will be dedicated to Chemistry 122A/122L. Joy.

I believe that I am probably on some unconscious path of destruction, and that somewhere in this dark and crazy brain of mine, I feel that rest is something you earn when you die. Come Fall however I will only have to worry about my last Physics class, all upper Geology courses, and 2 stupid core history classes (NV did not all me to transfer my CA over). At least I have ONE awesome thing to look forward to this summer...research!!!

One of my professors, who shall remain nameless until a future date has taken pity on me, and has extended a chance for me to do undergrad research with her and two of her doctorate students. SO EXCITING!!! Can't really get in to detail just yet but it involves rocks from distant lands and the chance to work at UCSB with their petrochronology lab equipment. I am literally on Cloud Nine and look forward to doing some cool things this summer besides math, physics, and chemistry. It really pays to "bug" your professors...because there just might be one that thinks that you could be beneficial to them.

Personally, I just wanted something to be able to put on my resume, and never expected to land such a cool project. May 23rd, I will take my mandatory lab training class, and after that be ready to go. I just hope now that I will do a great job for my professor, and hopefully have a few more doors open up to be in the near-future. I am fortunate there are opportunities here at University of Nevada and that I have such awesome professors in the Geology Department who care.

Last thing to share is my geological map project for my Final in GEOL 260 (Intro to Field Mapping) that I did on the Red Rock Canyon State Park in California. Here it is...

It was a fun project that took over a month to do. Glad it is over, and done with. Keep in mind this is non-published, undergrad work, but comments are always welcome.




Monday, April 14, 2014

You might be young....

My poor dad is back in the hospital and at this point of the game I am fearing that he will not see me graduate UNR. His heart is starting to weaken from all the health issues. I think about my dad when I was 12-years-old, and was out in the middle of Darwin Street in Hayward (CA) pitching softballs to him and taking his advice on how better to throw. He was never a huge man (5'11 and 185 at his best) but to me he was a giant. Seeing him so frail and sick is very hard but I know everyday he fights.

My mom who was born September 17, 1933 in Old Town, Maine is still working. She works at Osborne School in Turlock a few hours a day, and she oves the kids there. They keep her young. I come from an obvious tough family with great genes, and know that I have another good 20-30 years to offer working. I am like my folks, and even though Dad is suffering a lot of health problems - the point is he has not given up. He fights and he fights. My mom is from a tough-breed of pioneer Quebecois folk, raised in a New England, by a lumberjack father and a mother of 7, who became a nurse.

I have been thinking a lot lately about people my age who are retiring or getting ready to retire. I fit in neither category. I am preparing for a second career. I see the kids I go to school with, many who are brilliant young people, scholastically, but who have not yet earn their notches for life experiences. In the employment world they have their youth to offer. I, at 54, have experience and great work ethics. I do not feel sometimes as smart as they are, as most came from high school right into college. I left high school in 1978, married in 1980 and was a mom by 1981. I raised my awesome kids, and decided to go back to school for a degree.

Do I regret losing my youth? Honestly, I do not. I do miss being young enough not to care what I do to my body, because now I have to be cautious of what I do and how I do it. Do I regret not going to college right out of high school? Not one minute of regret there...I have two great kids who have given me four beautiful granddaughters (so far) and I am young enough to take them camping and go and play with them. I regret nothing.

I do worry that youth is much more appealing to employers than my middle-aged status. I worry that I might be someone who is judged for age only. Here is the truth of the matter...yes my age is 54. Yes I feel aches and pains. Yes I love Advil. No I am not giving in. I do not care that I ache or hurt. I will NOT lay down and feel sorry for myself. I will not use my age or limitations to get out of doing what is expected of me and my younger peers. I hurt when I am done, and work hard at keeping the pain at bay until such a time I can relax and rest, letting my body heal.

Sure the students I am in the geology program with are much younger than me. I remember who I came from, how I got here, and why I am doing this. Being a geologist is what I exist for. Learning and developing my skills are all a part of this great time of my education that I will carry with me to my grave.  My peers are young, but I am not dead yet. I still have much to give. I look forward to the day I can walk away with a degree in hand, and start my career. I got this!