A Big Decision

As of 2:15 this afternoon, I am on WINTER BREAK! WHOO HOO!!! This seems like a good time to do a round-up of the classes I took last semester, and some other noteworthy activities.

One of the big themes this semester was evolution – and it’s funny just how much overlap there was with all of the classes I took. Which was good – I got a lot of reinforcement of topics, and there was a lot of material that I only had to learn once, and it got me through four different classes:

Animal Behavior, with Dr. Dan Crocker. I enjoyed this class – it was an upper division lecture class, with no lab, all about – you guessed it – animal behavior. We talked a lot about reproduction, and evolutionary concepts. I really like Dr. Crocker; he does his research on elephant seals, and he seems like a genuinely nice and funny guy. Plus, animal behavior is cool! We got to look at loads of pictures, and a few videos, of animals doing really interesting things.

Evolution, with Dr. Derek Girman. I feel like I really have some of these concepts down now, especially natural selection, the geologic timescale, and game theory. I can calculate the hell out allele frequencies, as well, and tell you if a population is in Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. Plus, I adore Dr. Girman. He’s my advisor, and he and I have spent a lot of time together outside of class this semester, because of some of my student representative activites, so I feel like I’ve gotten to know him (or, more importantly, that he’s gotten to know me) a bit more this semester. One of the things we did in Evolution was a group project in lab. The assignment was to create a game that illustrated evolutionary concepts. My lab partner and I came up with an AWESOME card game – it was so good that Dr. Girman asked if he could keep it, to use with his Vertebrate Biology class next semester (a class I’ll be taking, and I am SUPER excited).

Macroevolution, with Dr. Nick Geist. This was a graduate seminar, so it was a lot more laid-back than my other classes. We read papers and then sat around and discussed them. Each person in the class was required to choose a macroevolutionary topic, choose a couple of relevant scientific papers for the class to read on the subject, come up with a powerpoint presentation to give to the class, and then lead the discussion. The topic I chose was the evolution of flight, and I worked with another woman in the class to put together the presentation. I thought we put together a really good presentation – we talked about the four times (that we know of) that flight has evolved (insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats), and then talked in more detail about the evolution of bird flight controversy. (Did they evolve from dinosaurs? Or NOT)? That was fun, and Dr. Geist seemed to really appreciate the presentation we put together. As with Dr. Girman, I feel like I got to know Dr. Geist better this semester, which turns out to be SUPER important, considering a big decision I made last week. Oh, and our final exam? Took place at a local dive bar (The 8 Ball), where we shot pool and played the pub quiz machine and then went out for hamburgers. Totally cool. 🙂

Paleontology, with Dr. Matt James (in the Geology Department). This is probably the single class I have most wanted to take throughout my entire life . . . and it turned out to be a disappointment. Which is okay. I still love paleontology. But this class? Didn’t love, for reasons I don’t want to put into print at this time. One of the factors, though, was that we only covered invertebrates – which meant NO dinosaurs. Can you imagine a paleontology course with no dinosaurs? No? Neither could I, until now. It’s not that I minded learning about the inverts. Trilobites are freaking adorable, and we took a pretty awesome field trip down to Death Valley where we went fossil hunting, and I found a BUNCH of trilobite fossils, as well as some brachiopods, dendrites, oncolites and scolithos fossils. So, there were good things about it. In any case, it’s behind me now, and I needed it for my Paleo minor, so it was totally worth it for that reason alone. But, still. NO DINOSAURS! 🙁

The other thing I did this semester was begin the research for my senior thesis, which I’m doing in Dr. Geist’s lab. In a nutshell, I’m doing research on Western Pond Turtles, and I spent a bunch of time over the summer at our field site up in Lake County, and during the semester I started working with my data. I’m studying the nesting preferences, and possible nest site fidelity of females – whether or not they return to the same site year after year to lay their eggs. It is super cool, and leads me to my big decision . . .

I’m going to grad school. I’ve decided to stay at Sonoma State to earn a Master’s Degree in Wildlife Biology – there are a bunch of reasons I want to do this, but the thing that really clinched it for me was looking at job postings for the type of work I want to do, and realizing that a B.S. will land me an entry-level position, and I’d have to spend a couple of years working my way up the ladder. On the other hand, I’ll be qualified to go directly into higher level jobs with an M.S., especially since I’ll be able to develop a lot of contacts and relationships with professionals in the field during the course of my studies.

Oh! And I also wanted to talk a bit about the big extracurricular thing I did. Last semester, the Biology Club elected me to be the student representative for the Biology Department, so I’ve been doing that this semester (and will continue next semester as well). Which means I attend all the faculty meetings, which is very interesting, and I’ve had some opportunities to work on additional projects, as well.


Early in the semester, I learned about a possible collaboration between SSU and the city of Fort Bragg, who wants to donate some land to SSU as a research/nature/education center facility. A committee was formed to find out if there was enough interest among campus departments to try and make this happen, and I volunteered to be part of this, so I was appointed by the ASI president to represent SSU students on the committee. If the project goes ahead (which I very much hope it will), it will be called the Noyo Center for Science and Education at Fort Bragg. It was a really good experience for me to be on this committee – I wrote a survey which was sent out to as many students as possible, gauging their interest in the project, and then I wrote the “Student Response” page of a document which was given to the school’s Provost, in the hopes of convincing him this would be a good collaboration for SSU to pursue.

The other big thing I’ve done this semester as student rep is my involvement in curricular revision. For a variety of reasons, the Biology Department has decided to completely, from the ground up, revamp its curriculum. Right now, there are a lot of classes in the catalog that never get taught, and some classes that aren’t offered regularly enough for students who need them for their concentrations. Plus, the make-up of the faculty is different now that it was when the current curriculum was created, so overall, its a good time to start from scratch and come up with something that will better serve the needs of students and the department.


When they started talking about this in faculty meetings, I let them know that I’d be more than willing to help in whatever way I could with this process – I thought having some student input could only be a good thing. Most of the faculty members agreed with this, and were really supportive of me being part of this process (particularly Dr. Girman, who chairs the curriculum committee). There were a few faculty members who weren’t quite so keen on the idea of a student being involved . . . but I think I’ve mostly won them over. At least no one has been dismissive of me or my ideas during the two faculty retreats I’ve attended.


I created a student survey asking questions that we decided would be helpful in deciding what direction to take with a new curriculum, and I’m also sitting on the committee which is working on a recommendation for Upper Division curriculum. We’ll be meeting on Monday to try and come up with some sort of a general plan, and I think it will be a good meeting – I like all the faculty members on my committee (which is why I chose it :D).

So, all in all, I’ve spent a LOT of time in meetings this semester, between weekly faculty meetings and various committee meetings. But I think it has been really beneficial for me. I enjoy being involved, but even more important, it means that the faculty and the staff are getting to know me . . . and, from what I’m hearing from a couple of reliable sources, I’m making a very good impression on people (part of the reason I’ve decided to stay at SSU for grad school).

So, that’s my semester in a (rather gigantic) nutshell.

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