Life after grad school

For a while there, it seemed like I was going to be a graduate student forever…then I graduated and got a job. And then I decided to go *back* to grad school (oh, Michelle…). But then, in December 2016, I successfully defended my dissertation – Huzzah! (I like to tell my nieces I made it to grade 22, how funny/terrifying!) Then about a month and a half after wrapping up my PhD, I started working (remotely) for JASCO Applied Sciences. (oh, and a couple of months after that I had a baby.)

JASCO is a company that does consulting and research for assessing and mitigating underwater noise. They sort of do it all – they design and build super cool underwater acoustic sensors, install those sensors and collect data all around the world, often in remote and dangerous locations. They measure sounds produced by marine animals like whales, dolphins, seals, fish, crabs… basically if it makes a sound and lives underwater, JASCO is probably gonna record it at some point. They also record sounds from noise sources like ships and seismic experiments. Then once all those data are collected, JASCO scientists crunch through it – signal processing, acoustic propagation modeling, interpretation, whatever needs to be done to understand what’s happening in the world of underwater sound.

My job at JASCO is a blend of things – data analysis and visualization, but also education and outreach. Here I am at my home-office, working on a comic about marine noise, and how we can measure it:

Communicating science + baby wearing, for the win.
Communicating science + baby wearing, for the win.
Hopefully I’ll have more posts to share soon, so stay tuned!

Adventures in javascript


After about two frenzied weeks of muddling through javascript and D3 (and html and css) Helena and I managed to wrap up what I think is a pretty neat D3 visualization of oceanographic data for the class we’re taking.

Check it out here: – just click on the map to see the temperature and salinity profiles. And if you’d like to see what’s going on under the hood (or re-create it from scratch), the whole thing is up on our github page (along with a fairly detailed readme file describing our process).

Helena has done some neat D3 stuff before – check it out on her site here.


I’m back! Maybe?

Let’s see, it looks like my last post was in November 2014. What can I say? Sometimes life gets crazy for a bit. It’s still crazy now, but I’m excited about some things that are happening. For example: I’m nearing the end of my PhD! I’m tentatively planning to defend in the next few months. Also, I’m taking a really fun (and very intense) data visualization class. So far I’ve had a chance to play around with Tableau and Trifacta Wrangler. But the biggest learning curve, but with perhaps the biggest reward (ie. awesome interactive web graphics) is D3. I’m hoping to post some stuff as I learn…

For today, I’m not making my own comic. But Helena sent me a link to this xkcd comic that captures my experience with git so far.


Krill and other zooplankton … and sequential hermaphroditism.

Have I mentioned this before? Fin whales love to eat krill. It’s a huge part of their diet (along with other types of zooplankton, small schooling fish, and sometimes a squid or two). Since zooplankton are so important to my animal of study, I’m taking a course on marine zooplankton ecology. Understanding more about them will help me understand more about fin whales!

It’s the second week of class, and we’re already giving presentations – phew! Luckily they are fun – we were encouraged to be creative, sing songs, write haikus – so long as we included the actual science in there somewhere. Here’s mine…

People gave really great talks today – one fact in particular that I found fascinating was that there are several types of animals (zooplankton and fish, at least) who are not only hermaphroditic (crazy in itself!) but that belong to a category of hermaphrodite that is sequential – they start off life as either male or female, and then at some point they switch genders. Amazing! (here’s the wikipedia page describing sequential hermaphoroditism)

T.A. time, version 2

In our department, one of the requirements for graduate students is that they TA for at least one quarter.  I’ve done my one quarter, and since then I’ve been hoping for a chance to give it another shot.  Not only is it fun, but getting a wide variety of experiences in grad school can really help down the road, both in getting a job, and in doing well at that job.

As of this quarter, I’m TA-ing again.  My favorite part? I get to help out with some of the online course stuff – which means I get to geek out on the background technical and web stuff, and (best of all) I get to make drawings to go with lecture topics! The idea is to try to make the class fun and interesting for first-year, non-science majors who might just be taking this course as a filler.

[The course is already offered as a regular lecture-based class, and the website for it is here: ]

I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about it.  So I’ve been breaking out the old paper and pen (or, um, the tablet and stylus…) to try to get back into the swing of things.  Anyone who knows me knows that it’s been absolutely forever since I made a cartoon.  Here’s my first stab at it.  It’s a bit random and isn’t particularly related to any one lecture topic.  It actually stems from a conversation I had with Dax a little while ago… (gotta start somewhere)

correlation vs causation

It’s that time of year…

The end of the quarter is here already! That’s right, it’s finals time. In-class finals seem to be a rarity in grad school, but lucky me – I have two (Complex Analysis and Chemical Oceanography)! Both on Monday. The figure above is just to give you a little taste of what my weekend will be like. It is a portion of my formula sheet for the complex analysis exam. We’re allowed one 5″x7″ index card with any formulas or notes we can fit on it.

Just for fun, here’s Mr. Bean taking an exam.

Science questions

I met with my advisor after we got back from the Bioacoustics workshop last week. I was really excited about all of the techniques and methods that I had learned about and wanted to try them all. Well, my plans weren’t exactly dismissed, but they were mostly relegated to back-burner status. After momentarily indulging in a little self-pity, I realized that, as usual, he was giving me useful advice and guidance. Given free reign, I will invariably get caught up in the excitement of writing code and solving immediate puzzles (fun for a nerd like me!). Rarely do I step back and ponder the bigger picture – which is exactly what I’m now being asked to do.

I like developing techniques. I like working out problems, and finding the best solution that I can. And the satisfaction of getting the code to work after hours of debugging has got to be one of the greatest feelings. But it turns out that in a PhD program (at least in oceanography) you’re actually supposed to answer SCIENCE QUESTIONS (dun-dun).

So, WHAT IS A SCIENE/RESEARCH QUESTION? And how do you find the right ones? I’m clueless here, so I thought I’d make a list (I like lists). So here’s my list of things to consider when formulating a Science Question:

  •  What data do I have, or can I obtain, over the next 2-4 years?
  •  What can this data tell me?
  •  What are others in the field doing? What is already known?
  •  What are the big questions that other researchers are trying to answer?
  •  What type of research is being funded, or could realistically get funding in the future?

WHAT IS NOT A RESEARCH QUESTION? (for me. In other programs the techniques themselves may be the question and the goal)

  •  How do you implement that python extension for Antelope?
  •  What’s the most efficient way to compute the intersection of an arc through a grid cell?
  •  Etc

Here’s to dedicating at least a portion of my limited brainpower to reading, writing, and thinking about possible research questions.

Advice is welcome!


A comment from Mark on Facebook:

“Well, Michelle, what would YOU like to answer in your field of choice using the techniques you have available?”

He makes a good point.  I forgot to add to the list the requirement that I find something that I’m actually interested in investigating.  Because I can likely find several possible paths to follow, but I need to choose one that I can stomach for several years.


I always liked the Goodreader iPad app. It was one of the first ones I ever got, and is the best for reading journal articles. It’s always been great, but over time, the few issues that I had have been resolved, and the new updates always have something unexpected, but awesome. A few updates ago they added Dropbox access. I was onboard immediately.

One thing that bugged me until just today was that I found it a bit tedious to make annotations. Getting to the annotation/notes menu took a couple of steps, and it just seemed like it was not quite as good as paper and a pen and highlighter. I think I can now say that the app has finally reached the point where it’s just as easy for me as paper. I finally just grabbed the latest update, and it’s fantastic. There are now file tabs, a new and improved page slider, and my favorite – the new side menu! It makes highlighting and taking notes so fast.

Here’s an example of an annotated page from GoodReader: