Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A slippery slope with slimy salamanders

Over the past three months, I have been living in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina conducting research on terrestrial salamanders. It has been an incredible experience to work in this system, and I have no doubt that I work and live in one of the most beautiful places in our country. But being my first field season on this project, I had my fair share of issues. Learning how to use my flow through system to measure evaporative water loss was insanely tricky. The relationship between temperature and vapor pressure is a tricky to manipulate, sometimes with experiment-ending consequences. Miscommunications and unexpected surprises from the salamander digestive system (that's poo) also produced significant hurdles.

As of right now, it appears I will actually finish my project - at least before the first day of school. I will be honest, I have never worked this hard in my life. I sleep during the day, and at night, I hike up mountains to catch salamanders and conduct my experiments. The learning curve has been steep, as well as the mountains. I'm pretty sure I have permanent nerve damage in my big toes; I haven't felt them in a few weeks. I also had a fun trip to the emergency room at 4 in the morning to remove a moth that lodged itself next to my eardrum.

In the end, I love my project, and I am thrilled to see my first data plots and analyze my data. But I have poured almost everything I have into this project. I can't wait to return to campus and....start working again (haha).

For those of you that are close or already have finished your graduate degree, I am just beginning to understand what it takes: everything.

Thanks for letting me vent; this blog is great for that.

Time for more experiments!



  1. Hang in there, Eric! Just think: you'll look back at this moment, and remember how much you rocked this summer! Grad school will often challenge your limits (physical, mental, emotional... you name it), but you'll be amazed at how much your diligence and perseverance will help bring your goals into fruition. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey Eric! Cheers on being able to finish your project in one season- that's HUGE! I'm sorry to hear about the troubles you've had this season, but with every set of experiments, there will be challenges. Fortunately, with the experience you've gained this year, you'll be able to clear similar hurdles in the future with ease (and likely able to solve new problems more efficiently). So, chin up, friend! You're growing into a stronger scientist! Remember to always look for that silver lining. I'm excited about your results and looking forward to hearing all about them when your analyses are finished, perhaps at SICB?? :)

  3. Thanks guys! Things are going really well now. And, I should be presenting at SICB, Vannessa! Plus, I really wanna go to Austin!!